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2019 NHL Entry Draft Preview: The First Round

Looking ahead to this weekend’s draft, and turning focus from some of the top prospects the Caps could snag to some other hidden gems in the first round.

2009 NHL Entry Draft, Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Here’s more on the upcoming NHL Draft from special guest contributor Luke Adomanis:

Yesterday we talked about the Big Five: the five players the Capitals should select if one of them falls to pick #25. This article will cover other first round potential picks in case the Big Five are off the board. Most of these players are projected to go in the second round, and most probably will, but it wouldn’t be a problem to reach on some of these players. And there’s a chance one of them could be there in the second round for the Capitals with their pick.

First Round

JAKOB PELLETIER, LW
QMJHL
65 games played: 39 goals, 50 assists
5’9”, 165 pounds

Whenever I watched Pelletier played I instantly thought of Brad Marchand, but without the after whistle shenanigans. He’s a small guy but he wins a lot of battles and absolutely hunts the puck down until he has it. He’s a great playmaker with good vision. It’s his smarts that also makes him a good defensive player, because he knows where the puck will be. He’s isn’t a check you type physical but he will always be in front of the net or in the slot.

There really isn’t much to hate on Pelletier - he kind of does everything right. Really the only knock against him is maybe his size, and the fact that as a smaller forward his skating isn’t as good as it should be, but he certainly isn’t slow by any means. And what he lacks in size and high end speed he makes up by being a highly skilled offensive talent that you can trust defensively and that can make great plays and score some goals.

He’s the eight best forward in NHLeS with 25.10, which is top first 10 talent. Across the whole CHL (that means WHL, OHL, and QMJHL) Jakob ranked fourth in 5v5 goals per game, fourth in 5v5 points per game, and 2nd in Expected Goals (xG) per game among draft eligibles. Those are some promising results, which makes sense when you see him smarts and playmaking ability.

NILS HOGLANDER, LW
SHL
50 games played: 7 goals, 7 assists
5’9.5”, 188 pounds

Hoglander is maybe one of the most fun prospects in the draft. Not because he’s some highly skilled, fast wizard with the puck, but because watching him is like watching a buzzsaw on the ice. He’s everywhere, all over the place, hunting the puck down. He’s pure energy that gets his team amped to play. A player every team wants.

He arguably has the best hands in the draft. He can deke in a phone booth before dishing out a pass to a wide open teammate for a tap in goal. His skill is high end and he loves entering the zone with possession. He’s very slippery and hard to take the puck away from once he has it in his possession. He isn’t super physical, but his elusiveness allows him to win a lot of battles. But if someone does catch up to him he can get pinned easily.

His boxscore and underlying numbers aren’t great, but he was only getting bottom six time in a men’s league, so he wasn’t going to produce much or be able to show off his game much. So numbers don’t really tell the whole story. The eye test is where Hoglander really shows his worth.

A good comparison might be fellow Sweden winger Viktor Arvidsson. Both small guys but with speed, grit, and skill. Some more season by season comparisons:

  • Arvidsson 17yo Super Elit: 40GP 34PTS (15G 19A)
  • Hoglander 17yo Super Elit: 22GP 22PTS (14G 8A)
  • Arvidsson 18yo SHL: 4GP 0PTS
  • Hoglander 18yo SHL: 50GP 14PTS (7G 7A)
  • Arvidsson 19yo SHL: 49GP 12PTS (7G 5A)
  • Hoglander 19yo SHL: ?

PATRIK PUISTOLA, LW
Mestis
22 games: 15 goals, 11 assists
6’0.5”, 175 pounds

Patrik is a highly skilled, playmaking winger with a nice scoring touch. While he isn’t a sniper, his smarts get him in the right areas and he knows how to shoot - but his bread and butter is his playmaking ability. He has amazing hands and vision that allow him to get around defenders and find an open teammate. He’s at his best with the puck on his stick. He’ll break defenders’ and goalies’ ankles with his moves, despite not being the best skater, and if he had a bit more breakaway speed he’d be even scarier.

All that said, he’s doing all of this in the second-highest league in Finland, which makes it a little tougher to evaluate him and project how he might perform against tougher competition.

What is interesting is that he’s had a better U18 Mestis season (22GP 1.18 points per game) than Patrik Laine (36GP 0.33PPG) and Jesse Puljujarvi (15GP 0.87PPG), which is not nothing. There is definitely a top six winger toolkit in Puistola’s game, it’s just a matter of transitioning it from a second tier Finnish league ability to a NHL league ability. But there’s no doubt his hands, visions, and playmaking ability have NHL potential.

NICHOLAS ROBERTSON, LW
OHL
54 games played: 27 goals, 28 assists
5’9”, 162 pounds

If you’re looking for a highly skilled kid with one of the best shots in the draft (and remember, that’s exactly who the Capitals should be looking for) then Nicholas is your pick. Robertson loves to shoot, he ranks third among all OHL draft eligibles in shots/60, and has the shot to back it up; he can snipe it with a hard wrister. But he’s more than a shooter, he has good vision and passing ability. It isn’t as good as his shot but still above average. This offensive package makes him very deadly.

There isn’t too much not to like about Roberston other than maybe he isn’t that physical, though he can still hold his own fighting for the puck. He can get too fancy sometimes and lose the puck, but with maturation that should happen less. But it’s also understandable as to why he tries to do too much, he led his bad team in points even after playing around ten games less than most. What’s also fascinating about Roberstson is he’s one of the youngest players in the draft. Four days older and he’d miss the draft entirely.

His numbers aren’t amazing but he is ranked 11th among all draft eligibles in NHLeS with a 24.91 score, that’s easy first round value. As of now, he’s projected to go in the second round so whoever grabs him will get an absolute steal. Combine his high end skill and young age, he could very well show next season why he should have been picked earlier in the draft.

CONNOR McMICHAEL, C
OHL
67 games played: 36 goals, 36 assists
6’0”, 182 pounds

It’s not easy finding goal scoring centers late in the first round, but Connor McMichael should be there for the taking. His 36 goals this season in the OHL ranked him first in the whole CHL by draft eligible centers. And his 10.46 shots/60 ranked him fourth among CHL draft eligible centers.

But he isn’t just a shooter, he has above average vision and can find teammates all over the ice. He’s very smart and knows what to do with the puck at both ends of the ice, making him a reliable center. This is proven in him being ranked fourth in the CHL in 5v5 primary assists per game and fifth in 5v5 primary points per game.

His underlying numbers aren’t groundbreaking like the others on this list, but many believe McMichael is better than those numbers and as he matures the more consistent he will be, which was an issue this season. He’s a good not great skater, but competes very well. The Capitals haven’t had a top six potential center shooter (or at least a center that likes to shoot) in a long time, it would be good to add one.

NATHAN LEGARE, RW
QMJHL
68 games played: 45 goals, 42 assists
6’0”, 206 pounds

If you want a thick body that can score goals than Legare is your man. Not only does he have one of the best shots in the draft, but he shoots a lot. Among all draft eligible players, he ranked fifth in shots/60 with a bit over 12. Combining his great shot with his shot volume lead to him leading all draft eligible CHL players in 5v5 goals per game (first in overall goals in the QMJHL), was third in 5v5 primary points per game, and second in 5v5 points per game. These numbers make sense when you see him using his big body to park around the net.

There really isn’t much to hate on Legare besides his skating ability. He isn’t a slowpoke but a faster game would make him even more deadly. The concern is that he’s already a pretty big boy, so is his speed the best he’s going to get? Still worth a chance considering his offensive upside.

His NHLeS is a solid 21.81, which is first round value. He’s projected to go mid to late in the second round, but unless the Capitals can grab an earlier second round pick, it would be totally worth it to take them with their first round pick if the other players ahead are off the board.

SAMUEL POULIN, LW
QMJHL
67 games played: 29 goals, 47 assists
6’1”, 212 pounds

I don’t think there’s much difference between Nathan Legare and Samuel Poulin’s game. Legare is definitely more of a goal scorer and Poulin is more of a playmaker. But both are big bodies that play a power forward game. Poulin is almost a complete package. He’s big, strong, and has some great skills. His vision is high end and able to find players all over the ice. His hands in close to the net are next level, able to raise the puck bar down on the forehand and backhand.

Every shift he’s giving 100% and wins most battles he gets into due to his size.

The reason I say almost a complete package is because he lacks any real speed. He isn’t a snail, but you’d like to see more top end speed for him. He has good bursts that are very helpful at getting around defenders; he drops the shoulder and pushes his way into dangerous scoring areas. But straight-line speed you’d like to see more. He’s also not strong defensively and it’s a part of his game he needs to work on.

His strength is in playmaking. He’s first in QMJHL forward draft eligibles in primary points/60 and third in primary even strength points/60. He also third in expected goals per games played. His NHLeS is 21.57, which is still first round value. If Capitals draft him and help him improve his skating he could definitely be a top six power forward. Reminds me of a playmaking Sam Bennet.

YEGOR AFANASYEV, C
USHL
58 games played: 27 goals, 34 assists
6’3”, 204 pounds

There’s a lot of back and forth on Yegor (or Egor in some places), and trying to nail down his game has been hard due to the lack of video I could find on him. Some say he’s a legit first rounder and others say third rounder. Some say he can skate others say he can’t. It’s been a journey trying to figure out his potential.

What we do know is he’s a big power forward that has fantastic hands and offensive ability. His skill level is high and he works on improving his game every day. His heavy shot is NHL ready and hard to stop. He ranks seventh among all draft eligible players in shot/60, that’s also first in the USHL. He loves to score and it shows.

There really isn’t much to hate about his game via the eye test. His underlying numbers are a concern though. His NHLeS is 17.56, which isn’t terrible but that’s second round value. He also isn’t top of the USHL in some major stats. The argument is that he’s still fine tuning his game, trying to become a complete player in North America, which may take some time. But if he hits his ceiling he’ll be a dangerous top six power forward with scoring ability.

BRETT LEASON, RW
WHL
55 games played: 26 goals, 53 assists
6’4”, 210 pounds

Brett Leason is a very interesting case. It’s not just his size that makes him a standout, but age. He is a double overager (meaning he wasn’t selected in his first two drafts). It’s not often a double overager is even drafted, let alone in the first round. But there’s a reason he’s been climbing up the draft boards this season. He is the complete package: he’s not only an absolute unit, but he can skate and has fantastic offensive skill. He’s not just a bigger, older guy that’s just pushing kids around to rack up points; he’s using his high end vision and ripper of a shot to score goals.

A way to test if Leason is worth drafting his comparing him to players in his draft year (2017). For instance, Cody Glass, one of the best forward prospects in the league that was selected sixth overall was second in the WHL this season in 5v5 primary points per game with 0.87. The only guy better was Leason with 0.93. So the question becomes “If you drafted him in the first round in 2017, would you be happy where he is now?” The answer is most definitely yes. So he should be worth a first round pick now, or at the very least an early second round pick.

His NHLeS isn’t amazing at 19.88, but since that stat weighs age, it really hurts his numbers. He was also third among all draft eligibles in shots/60. A bonus in drafting Leason is he’s pro right now. He will instantly go to the AHL, or maybe even the NHL. This speedy return on a prospect could be perfect because the Capitals are still in a win now mode. So instead of drafting a kid and waiting 3-4 years for him to make the NHL, Leason could be there now or in one year due to his physical maturity.

SAMUEL FAGEMO, LW
SHL
42 games played: 14 goals, 11 assists
6’0”, 190 pounds

Fagemo is a very good draft+1 (meaning he’s a year overager) goal scorer with a good set of wheels and nose for the net. His best asset by far is his wrister. It comes flying off his blade, giving goalies a hard time to track the puck. He also has good vision that he should probably be utilizing more. His hands are quick and can deke goalies out when he’s in alone.

And though he’s a D+1 player (2018 draft), he outperformed than all of his SHL Junior teammates such Dominik Bokk (25th pick) and Filip Hallander (58th pick), both two highly touted prospects, in both points and points per game. And though he didn’t have more points than great prospect Emil Bemstrom, a 2017 draft pick, he still had more 5v5 points than him (22 to 21 5v5 points respectively) even though he played five less games. In fact Fagemo led all Junior players in the SHL in 5v5 points.

There isn’t much to hate on Fagemo other than he is an overager. He could certainly use some defensive practice as well, but which young European player doesn’t? He possesses the tools to be a top six player in the NHL for sure. His NHLeS 21.78, which is first round value and would be a good fit for the Capitals.

ALBIN GREWE, RW
SuperElit
25 games played: 13 goals, 21 assists
5’11”, 190 pounds

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish the Caps would draft Axel Johansson-Fjallby 2.0”, well then Albin Grewe is your guy. He’s nearly an identical player except he’s upped the physicality (by a lot) and offensive potential. A scout called him a t-rex that eats everything. That’s a pretty good description. This guy will run you threw the wall, steal the puck, and create a scoring chance.

His shot and playmaking abilities aren’t amazing but they are above average. And when you combine them with his north-south buzzsaw play that it makes a good package. He could definitely tone down his play sometimes, shown by his 102 penalty minutes in 25 games. He reminds me of when Tom Wilson, before this past season, when he would just skate around hitting everything that moved, wasting energy. Albin needs to be more picky with his hits because as we know with Ten Train, if you want to stay in top six in the NHL you can’t go chasing hits when you have the skills to help put the puck in the back of the net.

He has a good NHLeS at 22.21, which is first round value. His 37.47Inv% was best among all European draft eligible players and 13th overall. And his 1.36 points per game in the SuperElit was good for second overall this past season. Those points per game is the exact amount Elias Lindholm had his draft year in the SuperElit league. Not a bad player to match up with.

BRAYDEN TRACEY, LW
WHL
66 games played: 35 goals, 45 assists
6’0.5”, 170 pounds

Tracey led all WHL rookies this season by nearly 20 points, which will entice a lot of teams. His offensive skills are high end and when he has the puck he’s very dangerous. His vision is great and can find players all over the ice. His shot isn’t amazing but it’s good nonetheless. He has a lot of deception in his game, whether he slowing down then speeding up, curl and dragging, or dishing out no look passes.

His skating isn’t amazing but it’s good enough to get him where he needs to be. He definitely needs to put on some weight, because he’s very stick figure like. In the pros he would get tossed around. But his lack of a big physical body doesn’t stop him from going to the slot where he scores a lot of his goals.

The reason he isn’t ranked higher is he was on a line with the second and third highest scoring forwards in the WHL this season. This is why his NHLeS (26.70) is ninth among all draft eligible players this season. So it’s hard to discern how much of it was Tracey and how much of it was his linemates. Now it shouldn’t be looked down upon that he produced with a good players, it isn’t a given you will score just because you play with good players. It takes skill to hang with the best and he’s definitely able to do that.

MAXIM CAJKOVIC, RW
QMJHL
60 games played: 22 goals, 24 assists
5’11”, 187 pounds

I’ve debated a lot about whether to put Maxim on my first round list or not. There’s no denying his skillset: good speed, vision, and a quick release, but the numbers just aren’t there. It isn’t his fault per-say, because he’s on a terrible team. 73 players had more points than Cajkovic’s team’s leading scorer, who was Cajkovic! If he was on even a decent team his numbers probably shoot up.

His best asset is probably his shot, which looks NHL ready. It’s hard and accurate. He also protects the puck very well, but could still get dirty more often. It takes him a second to get to full speed but once he hits it he’s gone. Mix that with his good vision and hands he can make some nice plays when he needs to. Issue is you didn’t see it often because his team lacks other great talents.

His underlying numbers aren’t great. He has just a 17.17 NHLeS, which is second round value. But again, how much of that is just him not being able to produce from the lack of talent around him. He could probably be taken with the Capitals second round pick, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing to take him in the first round. But there should be more certain talents available then.

Conclusion

Even if the Capitals miss out on the Big Five, there are many highly skilled forwards with top six potential that should be there for the taking. Between the players on this list there are certain tiers. From Pelletier to Poulin, the Capitals can find some great value. The players after that are still good choices, but there should be better players still available. And there’s even a chance one or two players remaining on this list could be available in the second round, so it’s still worth inspecting them.