DALLAS -- The Buffalo Sabres are expected to confirm what NHL scouts and prognosticators have projected the past two years when they select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on Friday.
Dahlin (6-foot-3, 185 pounds), No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of International skaters, has been on the radar of NHL scouts the past three years and projected as the top pick of this draft for the past two.
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"Dahlin is the diamond of this draft and if he can just get everything going, he's going to be a star before long," said Goran Stubb, Director of NHL European Scouting.
Dahlin, a left-handed shot, had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 41 games for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, making him the highest-scoring under-18 defenseman in the history of Sweden's top division after two seasons. He was the youngest player by seven years on his country's roster for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
"Dahlin is an exceptionally talented prospect who will be able to contribute, influence and impact a team's fortunes much in the way that Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators) and Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) have in the NHL," said Dan Marr, Director of NHL Central Scouting. "If you wanted to pick a player from the 2018 draft who could potentially be viewed as a generational talent, Rasmus would be the only candidate. There is that much respect for him and his abilities."
The first round of the draft is Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN). Rounds 2-7 are Saturday (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN).
Here are five questions entering the draft:
1. Who will be the first forward off the draft board?
Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said on June 6 that forward Andrei Svechnikov of Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League "is certainly at the top of our list." Svechnikov (6-2, 192), No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, was named Canadian Hockey League Top Prospect of the Year after leading all OHL rookies with 72 points (40 goals, 32 assists) in 44 regular-season games. He missed 17 games because of a hand injury sustained on Oct. 14, and had 58 points (30 goals, 28 assists) in 34 games upon his return. Besides Dahlin, Svechnikov might be the one other player of this draft class to fill a role on an NHL roster in 2018-19.
Video: Highlighting the top prospects in the 2018 NHL Draft
2. Who will be the second defenseman drafted?
There are a number of high-caliber prospects on the list after Dahlin. Our guess is right-hander Noah Dobson (6-3, 177) of Acadie-Bathurst in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Dobson set career-high marks in goals (17), assists (52), points (69), power-play goals (11) and shots on goal (276) in his second QMJHL season. He helped Acadie-Bathurst to its first Memorial Cup title after scoring seven points (two goals, five assists) in four tournament games. There are three other players in the running to be the second defenseman selected: right-hander Evan Bouchard (6-2, 196) of London, right-hander Adam Boqvist (5-11, 165) of Brynas Jr. in Sweden and left-hander Quintin Hughes (5-10, 173) of the University of Michigan (Big Ten).
3. Who will the Montreal Canadiens choose with the No. 3 pick?
The Canadiens will set the tone for the entire first half of the first round, because they can go several different directions, including trading down to gain additional assets. General manager Marc Bergevin told NHL.com the No. 3 pick isn't necessarily the player who appears to be the best today, but the best in five years. "Sometimes a team will pick someone with an early pick," Bergevin said, "and you'll say, 'Wow, that was a surprise. And then down the road, you find out that, yeah, it was a really good pick." If Svechnikov is selected by the Hurricanes at No. 2, expect the Canadiens to choose either center Jesperi Kotkaniemi (6-2, 181) of Assat in Liiga, forward Brady Tkachuk (6-3, 191) of Boston University in Hockey East or forward Filip Zadina (6-0, 197) of Halifax (QMJHL). Each would fill a need; Kotkaniemi is a fabulous playmaker with good hockey sense and shot, Tkachuk is effective in all areas of the ice and Zadina is a natural goal-scorer with a great finishing touch.
Video: Morreale gives his input on the 3rd overall pick
4. When will the first goaltender be selected?
It doesn't appear a goaltender will be chosen in the first round of the draft. That doesn't mean a few NHL clubs wouldn't consider taking a chance on the hardest position to develop beginning later in the second round. The three goaltenders to consider that early probably are Olivier Rodrigue (6-1, 156) of Drummondville (QMJHL), Justus Annunen (6-4, 207) of Karpat Jr. in Finland's second division, and Lukas Dostal (6-1, 166) of Trebic in the Czech Republic second division.
5. What could potentially be the top story at the completion of the draft?
Forward Liam Kirk (6-0, 161), No. 65 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters, has an opportunity to become the first player born and trained in England to be chosen in the NHL draft. The expectation is Kirk will be selected at some point in the later stages of the draft. He is also expected to be chosen in the Canadian Hockey League import draft on June 28 and play in North America for the first time in 2018-19. Kirk's 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) for Sheffield were the most scored by an under-18 player in the history of the Elite Ice Hockey League in Great Britain. No player born and trained in the United Kingdom has played in the NHL.
Video: Sam Cosentino previews the 2018 NHL Draft