The NHL Draft is just around the corner and teams are gearing up for what promises to be a very busy weekend in Vancouver on June 21st and 22nd. The combine is now complete and teams have interviewed potential draftees for their team. We will examine the Atlantic Division and their NHL Draft Team Needs.
Click each players name to get a full scouting report provided by Last Word’s own Ben Kerr.
2019 NHL Draft Team Needs: Atlantic Division
Draft Position: 30th Overall
Recent First Round Picks: Urho Vaakanainen, Charlie McAvoy, Trent Frederic
The Bruins have an immediate need on the wing as outside of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, the production from their wingers completely fell off. Specifically on the right side where it’s bare both at the NHL level and in the prospect pool. A longer-term need, however, is on the back end, specifically on the left side. Chara is coming back for one more season and Torey Krug and John Moore are creeping up on 30. While they do have a solid prospect in Urho Vaakanainen, it’s pretty bare after that. It’s unsure what they have in former first-round pick Jakub Zboril, so the Bruins should look to accumulate some more defence prospects for the future.
Projected Pick: Alex Vlasic
The cousin of San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a monstrosity of a player standing at 6’6” and weighing 200 pounds at just 18 years old. While he will surely put on muscle as he matures, he already has the size desired for the backend. As you can imagine, being this size would certainly affect his skating. However, as Ben Kerr points out in his scouting report, he has improved this area of his game and should continue to improve as he develops. Vlasic has decent puck handling skills and makes a good first pass. However, his bread and butter in his defensive game. The towering defender uses his size to win puck battles and clear the front of the net. His long reach also allows him to keep players to the outside and cut off passing lanes. As Chara’s career is coming to an end, the Bruins could replace him with a player much like him in Vlasic.
Draft Position: 7th Overall and 31st Overall
Recent First Round Picks: Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt, Alexander Nylander
The Sabres have a ton of young talent due to consistently picking the top 10 at the NHL Entry Draft. They will add to this once again, as they will be picking in the top 10 for the sixth consecutive year. With the pick, the Sabres should go offence. With the draft being heavy on elite offensive talent the Sabres need to take advantage of this pick and grab one of these players to add to their pool. The Sabres finished 23rd overall in goals for last season and is certainly an area where they could use some help.
Podkolzin answers the bell to what the Sabres need desperately. In terms of skill, Podkolzin is one of the best in the draft. However, the KHL factor may cause teams to shy away from him. Podkolzin can beat you in so many ways. He has great skating ability to beat you off the rush as well as the hands to dangle opponents. He’s a powerful player which allows him to win puck battles and drive his way to the front of the net. Not only that but he also has the vision and passing ability to opens up teammates and create offence that way.
However, Podkolzin’s best strength is his shooting ability. Podkolzin is a pure sniper. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot with a lightning quick release. He also possesses a lethal one-timer. There’s no question that he has the ability to become one of the premier goal scorers at the NHL level. The only question is when he will come over to do it.
The Sabres could compliment Podkolzin’s goal-scoring ability by drafting a gifted playmaker to go with him. That’s what they would be getting by selecting Pelletier with their second pick of the first round. Pelletier plays a speed game where he can beat defenders off the rush and will either look to go hard to the net or look for his teammates for an open pass. Pelletier is undersized, standing at 5’9” and weighing 160 pounds, however, he does not play that way. If there is a scrum, you can guarantee Pelletier is in the middle of it. Very Brad Marchand or Brendan Gallagher–esque if you will. He along with Podkolzin could be a very lethal duo for the Sabres down the road.
Draft Position: 6th Overall
Recent First Round Picks: Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, Michael Rasmussen, Dennis Cholowski
Detroit’s need this year is the same as it was last year. Defence. Last year the Red Wings had Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno fall into their laps and had no other choice but to make the selections. They did, however, manage to nab Jared McIssac in round two. With only one defenceman under contract past this season, that being 30-year-old Danny Dekeyser, there’s a lot of uncertainty with the Red Wings defence. It’s time they start beefing up their defence prospect pool.
Projected Pick: Philip Broberg
It could be very tempting for the Red Wings to draft one of the highly talented forwards in the draft. Many say it is always best to pick the best player available. However, to the Red Wings, that best player may just be Philip Broberg. Broberg fits the need as well.
Broberg is an outstanding defenceman. He plays a strong two-way game and has good size at 6’3” 203 pounds. Broberg’s best aspect is his skating ability. He uses this ability to lead the rush on offence but can just as quickly turn to get back and defend in his own end. He has outstanding vision and hockey IQ allowing him to read plays effectively and create turnovers. His skating ability mixed with his hockey IQ and vision is what makes him such a strong two-way player and could make him a potential top pairing defenceman at the NHL level in the future.
Draft Position: 13th Overall
Recent First Round Picks: Grigori Denisenko, Owen Tippett, Henrik Borgstrom
The biggest immediate need for the Panthers would be in goal. Roberto Luongo‘s career is coming to an end and James Reimer has not worked out for the Panthers. However, Florida is rumoured to be a front runner for the services of Sergei Bobrovsky, so those needs could be filled on July 1st. Another need would be depth up front. Florida was exposed when they lost Vincent Trocheck to injury last season. Although they have promising prospects in the pool, it doesn’t hurt to grab another with a selection as high as 13. Especially in a draft littered with high-end offensive talent.
Projected Pick: Peyton Krebs
In a draft dominated by centres early in the first round, Krebs is one of the best. Best known for his playmaking abilities, however, he has shown the ability to be able to score as well. Krebs is an outstanding skater with great vision and passing skills. He also plays a strong two-way game as he is very responsible in his own end. He uses his excellent hockey IQ to read plays as well as setting himself up in the right spots positionally. His strong two-way game makes him a strong asset on both special teams. Krebs has played both wing and centre at the junior level, however, as Ben Kerr states in his scouting report, giving the tools in his repertoire, he projects to be a centre at the pro level.
Draft Position: 15th Overall
Recent First Round Picks: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Mikhail Sergachev
The Canadiens used the last two draft to fill their longtime need at centre by drafting Ryan Poehling and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Now it’s time to focus on the left side on defence. The Canadiens only have Victor Mete and Brett Kulak under contract, not including Karl Alzner who’s days in Montreal are potentially coming to an end. With only Alexander Romanov labelled as a high-end prospect on the left side in the system, the Canadiens may want to use their 15th overall pick on one of the top left shots in the draft.
Projected Pick: Thomas Harley
Harley fits the Habs needs perfectly. A left shot puck-moving defenceman with the ability to quarterback the powerplay. Harley is a gifted skater with good puck handling skills and vision. He also has developed his shot, making him even more dangerous on the power play. His skating ability allows him to be effective at both ends of the ice. His speed and edgework allow him to close the gap between him and his opponent and keep them to the outside. As Ben Kerr states, with these tools, he has the ability to become a top pairing defender who will quarterback the powerplay and log big minutes if he can reach his ceiling.
Draft Position: 19th Overall
Recent First Round Picks: Brady Tkachuk, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Shane Bowers, Logan Brown
The Senators are in a complete rebuild and have been stocking the cupboards full with high-level prospects. However, there’s no telling if each and every one of them will hit. Also, most of their top prospects are forwards. As it stands today, the Senators have zero defencemen locked up past this upcoming season. The Senators have promising young defenceman in Thomas Chabot and prospects Erik Brannstrom and Jacob Bernard-Docker. It would be wise to add another one to this group.
Projected Pick: Cam York
York joins a crop of outstanding puck-moving defenceman in this year’s draft. He skates well, is a solid puck mover and has outstanding vision. However, according to Ben Kerr, his hockey sense is his best asset. York uses this to continuously make the smart play both with and without the puck. He fills the lanes correctly, pinches when necessary while always keeping in mind his defensive assignment. York has the ability to make the long stretch pass, however, if he sees it to be too dangerous he will rush the puck out himself or circle back to make the smarter play. He projects to be a top-four defender with the ability to quarterback the powerplay.
Draft Position: 27th Overall
Recent First Round Picks: Cal Foote, Brett Howden
Tampa Bay’s biggest need comes on the back end. With the club only having Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh on long term deals, the Lightning is going to have to start stocking the cupboards with some talented defence prospects. The club currently has tight cap restraints so developing some talented defence prospects and having them in the lineup on entry-level deals would pay huge dividends for the Lightning and their future cup runs.
Projected Pick: Ville Heinola
Ben Kerr describes Heinola as a boom or bust type of prospect. He has the tools needed to be a solid puck moving defenceman in today’s game. He just needs to work on his skating and his overall strength to be effective at the next level. His vision is outstanding as are his puck handling skills. Heinola has the ability to quarterback the powerplay. His hockey IQ allows him to be effective in the defensive end as he reads plays well to intercept the play and quickly move the offence in transition. With work on his skating and adding a bit more muscle, Heinola could potentially develop into a top pairing defenceman. However, as Ben Kerr mentions in his scouting report, he could still be effective as a second pairing defenceman and on the powerplay even if he does not reach his ceiling.
Draft Position: 53rd Overall
The Maple Leafs will not pick until the second round, 53rd overall as they traded their first-round pick in exchange for Jake Muzzin.
Recent First Round Picks: Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Auston Matthews
The Maple Leafs biggest need is on the right side on defence. The Leafs do not have a legitimate top pairing right defenceman on the club as it is and the only hope they have in their minor system is 2017 first round pick, Timothy Liljegren. The Leafs certainly need to start stocking up on some right shot defence prospects.
Projected Pick: Jordan Spence
Like most players selected late in the second round, Spence would be a bit of a project. He is an undersized defenceman who has great skating and puck moving abilities. Spence is responsible in his own end and will always look for the safe pass rather than try to make the long bomb. Teams will have to take their time with Spence as he will need to get stronger in order to be effective at the NHL level. Given his size, he tends to get out muscled down low in puck battles and in front of the net. As Ben Kerr states, with work on his strength and shot, he could potentially develop into a top-four defenceman at the NHL level.
Main Photo: MONTREAL, QC – APRIL 06: Christian Folin #32 of the Montreal Canadiens and William Nylander #29 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skate after the puck in the first period during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on April 6, 2019, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-5 in a shootout. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)