In preparation for this year’s NHL Entry Draft, NashvillePredators.com spoke with NHL.com Draft Expert Adam Kimelman about this year’s draft class and other items of note around the weekend, including some names to watch around the Preds first two selections (picks Nos. 37 and 50, both in the second round).
NashvillePredators.com: How does the top end talent in this year’s draft compare to the past few drafts?
Adam Kimelman: I think the first thing you look at is there’s no jump off the page absolute guaranteed No. 1 draft choice, whereas the last few years there’s been a Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall. There isn’t that absolute certain No. 1; there could be three or four guys who go No. 1. It’s just a different feel to the top of this year’s draft than in the recent years. There are still a lot of top-end highly touted kids, but they probably aren’t going to make that Year 1 instant impact. Probably five or six years from now – when you can really start to assess a draft – it wouldn’t surprise me if there are a lot of top-end NHL players or guys who are on track to develop into top-end NHL players.
NP.com: How deep is this year’s draft?
Kimelman: I think there’s a group of five or six guys who are in the top, top of this year’s group – Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Mikhail Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk, Filip Forsberg. Maybe you can put Morgan Reilly and Jacob Trouba in that group, so maybe extend it to seven players. After that group it’s not that there’s a big drop off, but opinions seem to widen. The guy you might get at eight may still have been available around pick 18. It becomes more of those fine lines between which scout likes which player better than the other. After that top five to seven, the rest of maybe the first round is all pretty close.
NP.com: What impact has the US Development Program had on the NHL Draft and the view of US-born players within scouting circles?
Kimelman: I think as the years have gone on, the USA National Development Program continues to get better – better coaching, better facilities, better atmosphere for producing top-end talent. And we’re seeing it year-after-year come Draft time. It reveals itself at the Draft, it reveals itself with Team USA’s success at the World Under-18 Tournament, it reveals itself with Team USA’s success at the World Juniors Tournament, and now it is impacting the Olympic level. Look at Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and a whole host of those guys … Ryan Kesler, David Booth, Ryan Miller, they all came through the US National Team Program. That’s the first generation from the program and now we’re starting to see the next generation of players, whether it is last year’s group with JT Miller and John Gibson or this year’s group with Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei, Nick Kerdiles, Stefan Matteau, all guys who are going to be drafted early and it won’t be a surprise if they not only make it to the NHL, but they excel in the NHL. That’s the talent level coming out of the US Program and that’s the players these guys are expected to be.
NP.com: What are some names who might be available when the Preds are picking at the No. 37 slot? Three or four names to watch.
Kimelman: I think this year especially, because of the different opinions on some kids, it becomes a real crapshoot as to who is around early in the second round. A guy who Central Scouting has ranked in the low 20s could easily fall into the second round. A guy like Mike Winther or Philip DiGiuseppe – guys ranked No. 21 and No. 22 – could still be around for that No. 37 pick. Both have pretty good scoring ability but might slide a couple slots to Round 2 depending on how teams evaluate them. Or you could be looking at a guy like Lukas Sutter who comes from the famous Sutter family, so you know what type of two-way responsibility you are going to get with him. Or a Tim Bozon, a Swiss forward playing for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western League; a nice offensive player who still needs to grow into his game a little bit. Generally the guys around that 37 spot this year are the guys who are going to need another year in Junior or College and a year in the American League to continue to refine his game to get bigger, stronger, faster, think the game a little quicker. But Nashville’s known for its patience in development, so it is really nothing different from how the Predators usually approach things.
NP.com: What are some names who might be available when the Preds are picking at the No. 50 slot?
Kimelman: At No. 50, then you’re looking at maybe a forward like Ben Johnson from Windsor or a Francis Beauvillier from Rimouski of the Quebec League. Maybe a Matia Marcantuoni from Kitchener. Maybe Zachary Stepan from Shattuck St. Mary’s, a cousin of NY Rangers center Derek Stepan. All guys that I think can still be on the board in that range. And don’t forget, Nashville does a really good job of scouting Europe, so there may be some kid that really stood out to the Nashville European scouts who enters the discussion for the 50th pick.
NP.com: If the Preds decide to go offense, are there any under the radar scoring forwards who might be available in the middle rounds of the draft who could be a “diamond in the rough” type of a player?
Kimelman: The guy who is really interesting to me is Mark Jankowski. Central Scouting has him ranked No. 43 among North American skaters. He played for the Stanstead school in Quebec right on the Vermont boarder. He’s a unique kid in the case that he hit a growth spurt real late and went from 5-foot-3 or 4 all the way up to about 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-3 heading into the draft. Academics are very important to him so he stayed in school there, but you question the level of talent he’s been matched up against in the Canadian Prep School circuit. We don’t usually see a lot of players come out from that route to the NHL. He is highly regarded, but you wonder how he’ll handle the step up in talent when he moves on to the next level; he’s committed to Providence College next year in the NCAA. That’s a big step up in talent. He had 53 goals in 57 games this year, so he could be that hidden gem that drops through to late second or third, or possibly even a little later, and could become that type of player we’re talking about five or six years from now.
NP.com: Central Scouting’s Final Rankings have been released for over a month now. Based on the Draft Combine, the end of the Junior playoffs, the Memorial Cup, and other tournaments, are there any players who seem to be rising up draft boards? Or would be ranked higher now than where they were ranked in the final rankings?
Kimelman: The player who stood out to me in the combine was Alex Galchenyuk. I don’t know how much higher he can go because he’s already a top prospect, but he missed all but two regular season game, came back for just six playoff games because Sarnia was knocked out early. Still he came to the combine after missing all that time with a serious knee injury and takes the Wingate bike test and proceeds to test out as the most explosive skater at the combine; he won the peak power output competition. What that says to scouts is if there’s a loose puck in the neutral zone, he’s going to be able to jump on it and pull away from defensemen better than anyone else in the draft class. I’m sure that is something that caught the eyes and attention of the scouts. You never know how somebody is going to recover from a serious knee injury, but he certainly showed what type of athlete he is. And his personality is a plus; I’m sure he tested well in the interviews. You put all that together and he maybe moved himself from bottom of the top-10 into the top-5. He’s No. 2 in my mock draft. He’s a guy who has risen a little bit since the final rankings came out.
On the ice, I think Griffin Reinhart a defenseman from the Edmonton Oil Kings. Anybody who had any reservations about what kind of a player he can be, he answered them in a positive fashion at the Memorial Cup. Edmonton finished fourth among the four teams, but he was probably their best player. Either him or Henrik Samuelsson, who is also available in this year’s draft. Both had wonderful tournaments and definitely took advantage of the tough atmosphere as a chance to shine. If anybody was on the fence for either of those guys, they certainly got good final reads on those guys. Reinhart is ranked No. 10 in Central Scouting’s final rankings and probably stamped his slot in the top-10. Samuelsson, whose dad Ulf played a long time in the NHL and whose brother Philip was drafted in 2009, is ranked No. 75 in the final rankings, but probably will end up going earlier now.
NP.com: Last year there were a lot of trades at the draft; a lot of high profile players and top picks were moved. Do you get the sense that this year’s draft will be as active or will it be a quieter weekend on the trade front?
Kimelman: I don’t think you’re going to see the big free agents have their rights moved. For Nashville fans, David Poile has said he’s not going to move Ryan Suter’s rights. I don’t envision New Jersey moving Zach Parise’s rights. There still could be some players moved, though. You keep hearing Rick Nash’s name and Roberto Luongo’s name both thrown around in trade rumors. They could be moved at the draft, but they could also move between the draft and the start of free agency on July 1 or even after July 1 as teams lose out on free agents they targeted. The top three teams in the draft – Edmonton, Columbus, Montreal – will probably all listen to offers up until the very end. So there’s a lot that “could” happen, but I’m not sure there’s a lot that actually “will” happen.