Like most of the finer things in life, the journey can often be more interesting than the destination. That is the goal I strive for as I take you all with me on the long and winding road to the 2018 NHL entry draft. Far before the final rankings appear or the draft lottery balls are drawn or even the World Junior Championship, the draft class is alive and jockeying for position right this very minute.
Following the draft has become one of my favorite parts of this hockey hobby of mine and draft day has become my Christmas morning. But it’s not just because of adding new prospects to the Avalanche stable, which is of course exciting, but to see how the final chapter of the year long draft process unfolds. I hope to color in some of those storylines, momentum shifts, big events and tough moments as the picture on the 2018 draft class grows, changes and gets clearer.
Although it is still August, the hockey season is more than just a glimmer on the horizon. In fact, one of the major events for draft eligibles has just completed in the Ivan Hlinka tournament in which a soon-to-be star studded Canada defeated the Czech Republic to take home the gold medal. Camps for rookies and preseason games are already underway in the QMJHL with the WHL and OHL to follow not too far behind. Therefore, there’s already a few storylines brewing and to keep an eye on as September approaches.
While Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov are heavily penciled in one-two in the rankings, it’s a wide open contest for third. One name who is going to get a lot of buzz for that spot is 6’0 two-way playmaking center Joe Veleno. He was the first QMJHL player granted exceptional status but hasn’t quite dominated like people were expecting. He has battled injuries and hasn’t scored more than 43 points in a season. Whispers were starting to swirl that maybe he didn’t really deserve the exceptional status or billing at the top of the 2018 draft class. Even after a good showing in the Memorial Cup with three goals and four points in four games, it seemed Veleno had the most to lose heading into the draft season. All that changed after Veleno captained and topped Canada in scoring with 6 points to lead the team to gold at the Ivan Hlinka. It was finally a showing that people wanted to see out if a potential very high end prospect. Now Veleno needs to take the positive momentum into the season with him in Saint John where he will have the chance to be the focus and primary offense driver for the defending champions which just lost a lot of veterans. Veleno predicts to be the top center in this draft and for that reason alone will bring him a lot of attention.
Another name to watch out in the QMJHL is Anderson MacDonald, a big 6’2 205 lb power forward who is an expected first round talent. MacDonald had a good rookie season with Sherbrooke as he scored 29 goals and 41 points. He made the Ivan Hlinka team and had a good showing there scoring a goal and an assist in a more limited role. News dropped upon his return from the tournament that he would not be reporting to Sherbrooke for training camp and that he requested a trade. Seems MacDonald had issues with his coach and wanted a change of scenery. There were rumors of daily weigh-ins which would lead to periodic benchings and the need to teach him accountability and discipline. MacDonald had his wish granted as he was just traded to Moncton and will join a very young team with a lot of talent. It will be interesting to watch and see if the move proves successful and if the issues follow him or was just a case of clashing with a hard-nosed coach.
Much like the 2017 draft, the class of first round defensemen are difficult to sort. Canada had an all-first round caliber blueline at the Ivan Hlinka and they all bear watching. Jared McIsaac and Noah Dobson from the QMJHL, Nick Merkley and Kevin Bahl from the OHL plus Ty Smith, Calen Addison and Jett Woo from the WHL. Swede Adam Boqvist and American Quinton Hughes are entering their draft year with momentum as well. For Avalanche specific purposes, Jared McIsaac is one in particular to watch as a big 6’2 left handed two-way defenseman and lefty Ty Smith, though a bit smaller at 5’11 also has well rounded tools. And of course it must be said that Rasmus Dahlin remains the top blueline prize should the Avs get lucky enough to be in a position to select him.