In the days leading to the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas on June 22-23, NHL.com will break down the top prospects by position. Today: The top centers available.
There's a strong chance that for the first time in 16 years, a top prospect listed at center by NHL Central Scouting will not be chosen among the top five picks in the NHL Draft.
"It's just the way the cycle goes sometimes, but everybody is looking for the big center too, so it's interesting when you look at how teams are trying to build," said Troy Dumville of NHL Central Scouting. "At the end of the day, teams are going to draft the best players available. I think it could come down to preference on draft day, so it's about what teams are looking for and that's the fun part about the draft. It's pretty wide open from what I've been hearing from different teams and what they're looking for."
[RELATED: Top 10 right wings | Top 10 left wings | Complete Draft coverage]
The last time a player listed at center was not among the top five selections of the draft was in 2002, when Joffrey Lupul was taken by the Anaheim Ducks with the No. 7 pick.
Here are NHL.com's top 10 centers available for the 2018 draft:
1. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (FIN)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 6 (International skaters)
Kotkaniemi (6-foot-2, 181 pounds) averaged 15:35 of ice time for Assat in Liiga playing center and left wing, had 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) and was 44 percent on face-offs in 57 games. He's a playmaking center with good hockey sense, a good compete level, a quick release and a nose for the net. Kotkaniemi, 17, ranked third in scoring for gold medal-winning Finland with nine points (three goals, six assists) in seven games at the 2018 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
2. Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 8 (North American skaters)
Veleno (6-1, 191) was the first player from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League granted exceptional status to play as a 15-year-old. He had 31 points (six goals, 25 assists) in 31 games in his third season with Saint John before being traded to Drummondville on Dec. 19. He had 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) in 33 regular-season games with Drummondville, and 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 10 playoff games. Veleno, 18, was 46 percent on face-offs this season, skates well, is aggressive on the attack and plays with confidence.
3. Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 9 (North American skaters)
Whether playing center or on the wing, the left-handed shot reads the game very well and is aware of his responsibilities with or without the puck. Hayton (6-1, 190), awarded the Bobby Smith Trophy as the OHL scholastic player of the year, had 60 points (21 goals, 39 assists) and was 49 percent on face-offs in 63 games this season. The 18-yead-old can play the power play or penalty kill, has good hockey sense and a high compete level, as evidenced by his five game-winning goals.
4. Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (SWE)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 8 (International skaters)
With a good combination of speed and skills along with excellent offensive instincts, Lundestrom (6-0, 183) had 15 points (six goals, nine assists) and a plus-7 rating in 42 games, averaging 16:04 in ice time. The 18-year-old had two goals playing a bottom-six checking role to help Sweden to a silver medal at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.
5. Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 15 (North American skaters)
The right-handed shot had 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists), 32 power-play points (six goals, 26 assists) and was 53 percent on face-offs in 68 games for the IceDogs. Thomas (5-11, 171) looks to become the 11th black player chosen in the first round of the NHL draft in the past 13 years; the most recent is defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph at No. 23 to the Arizona Coyotes in 2017. Thomas, 18, offers a great wrist shot and wants to be a difference-maker each shift.
6. Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 16 (North American skaters)
McLeod (6-2, 206) has deceptive speed and arguably is one of the best passers available in the draft. He had 70 points (26 goals, 44 assists), six power-play goals, and was 54 percent on face-offs in 68 games for the Steelheads. The 18-year-old brother of New Jersey Devils forward prospect Michael McLeod is reliable and smart away from the puck.
7. Jacob Olofsson, Timra (SWE)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 9 (International skaters)
Olofsson (6-2, 189) had 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 43 regular-season games, and four points (three goals, one assist) in 10 playoff games for Timra in Allsvenskan to help promote the club to the SHL in 2018-19. The 18-year-old is strong, has good acceleration, and is a calm and confident two-way forward.
8. Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (FIN)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 11 (International skaters)
Kupari (6-2, 189) had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 39 games for Karpat in Liiga, and represented Finland at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. A strong skater with good offensive instincts and creativity. Karpat coach Mikko Manner said the 18-year-old "is a mix of Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton Oilers) and Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes)."
9. Ty Dellandrea, C, Flint (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 25 (North American skaters)
Dellandrea (6-0, 184) was Flint's top offensive weapon, scoring 59 points (27 goals, 32 assists) in 67 games. The 17-year-old has plenty of speed, scoring ability and puck pursuit. He led the Firebirds in goals, power-play goals (10) and shots on goal (239), and was 50.6 percent on face-offs.
10. Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 20 (North American skaters)
Groulx (6-1, 193) had 55 points (28 goals, 27 assists), eight power-play goals, and was 50.6 percent on face-offs (680-for-1,345). He is the son of Benoit Groulx, coach of Syracuse of the American Hockey League, the affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 18-year-old competes hard, has good vision, is strong below the dots and skates to the tough areas to make plays.