Sat. Jul 13th, 2024


Franchise fortunes could change for the better at the 2024 NHL draft.

Teams looking to rebuild will aim to add future assets, while contending teams could pawn off draft picks for a chance to be better today.

It all goes down at The Sphere in Las Vegas in what is expected to be one of the last in-person drafts the NHL holds.

So, which team will come out of Vegas having hit the jackpot?

The B/R NHL staff is ready to judge by providing grades for every selection in the first round.

Follow along and sound off with your thoughts during the event in our app comment section.

Note: Scouting Reports written by B/R’s Adam Herman and Hannah Stuart. Full scouting reports were taken from our final 2024 NHL Draft Big Board.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

B/R Rank: 1

Analysis

Macklin Celebrini was hands-down the best player available in this year’s draft. Selecting him means the San Jose Sharks now have a confident, 200-foot center with elite-level skills. He’s going to be the key piece as they rebuild and for a long while. Obviously, this one is an A-grade choice.

Pick Grade: A

Scouting Report

The 2024 draft class may not be overly impressive, but that has nothing to do with the man at the top of the list.

Celebrini had one of the best freshman seasons in NCAA history. The 17-year-old center posted 32 goals and 32 assists in just 38 games for Boston University. His goal total is the highest for a draft-eligible player in men’s college hockey; more than Paul Kariya, Jack Eichel and Adam Fantilli.

That alone doesn’t describe what Celebrini accomplished this season. The BU Terriers won 28 of their 40 games largely on the back of their freshman center. The next-highest goal scorer on the team had 18, and the second-ranked point producer was a defenseman (Lane Hutson). Celebrini dragged an otherwise unimpressive team to the Frozen Four semifinal.

Celebrini is a true five-tool player. What first stands out is how he is eager to attack with the puck. Celebrini combines bold thinking with silky hands and above-average skating ability to create offense for his team.

He loves to gain speed through the neutral zone and, when holding the puck, he is super comfortable making plays through the middle lane; an essential trait for any high-level center. He has no signature move but instead mystifies defenders with his unpredictability. He cuts diagonally across the zone and then feeds a teammate into the space he just left. The Canadian can deke past defenders with moves through their bodies

Celebrini is an equal parts shooter and playmaker. The release off his stick is effortless, and he can roof it over the goaltender’s shoulders from distance. He grades highly in terms of his 360-degree vision on the ice, and his ability to execute and feed the puck onto his teammate’s tape. He makes high-difficulty plays but does so with a level of calmness. Rarely does he try to force a play that isn’t available.

At 6’0″ and 190 pounds, Celebrini doesn’t play a violent game, but he’s not going to be intimidated by the physical components of NHL hockey. He is strong on his skates and does not shy away from battles.

His defensive temperament is also laudable. Regarding players his age, the hope is often that they can simply keep their heads above water in the defensive end. Celebrini has advanced beyond that stage already and was more than capable defensively, even against good NCAA teams.

The only real knock on Celebrini is that he does not have a trait that stands out as bordering on generational. Conor Bedard has his shot. Connor McDavid is defined by his skating. Celebrini is a fantastic shooter and has high-end puck skills, but they are not at such a rare level as to be unmatched. As such, he is not a generational prospect.

Yet there is no doubt that Celebrini is the top player available in this draft. The gap between him and the rest of the group is enormous.

Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

B/R Rank: 4

Analysis

Artyom Levshunov has elite-level skills that allow him to frustrate opponents in his own zone and create offense (though whether the latter translates to the NHL remains to be seen). He’ll be a valuable addition to the prospect pool of the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks, who already have a nice stockpile of forward prospects. His skating, in particular, will complement Connor Bedard and other teammates.

Pick Grade: A-

Scouting Report

All of the tools are there for Levshunov.

He’s 6’2″ and already well over 200 pounds. Despite his bulky build, his skating does not lag. He could build some explosiveness into his first few steps, but once he’s moving, he has a powerful stride. With his length and power, he can cover a lot of ground.

As such, the Belarusian is always looking to join the rush and activate from the points in the offensive zone. This aggressive form allows him to become a creator of offense both on transitions and while involving himself more down low in the O-zone. Though he does sometimes need to pick his spots better, he is usually able to get away with taking risks specifically because of his range; Levshunov covers a lot of ground on the backcheck and gets back behind the puck in time to prevent odd-man rushes.

Levshunov has some ability to manipulate defenses, though his decision-making with the puck can be questionable. Levshunov’s outlets are always quick, whether that’s a soft flip to a teammate supporting the breakout or a missile through the neutral zone to a forward hovering at the opposition’s blue line.

And in the offensive zone, Levshunov can create space for himself with the puck along the blue line. His shot is a missile but he wisely waits for traffic and tries to beat goalies through screens or try to create rebounds. He’s not looking to pick corners from the point, which represents a necessary evolution for defensemen like him in the modern NHL.

Nine goals and 26 assists is impressive for any 17-year-old defenseman in the NCAA. Levshunov did it on a low-scoring team. On the other hand, I do not see a player who creates high-danger chances either as a shooter or passer. Whether he is a legitimate offensive catalyst or a supplementary producer at the NHL level remains to be seen.

He’s strong in the defensive zone. He bullies players who attempt to get in the front of the net. He boxes out well as a preventative measure but can deal out pain to move players. When he defends with his body, Levshunov does a good job keeping puck-rushers to the outside. He needs to lean into that part of his game. Despite his skating and strength, Levshunov tries to defend with suboptimal swipes of the stick way too often and, in doing so, stops moving his feet.

Levshunov is the exact type of defenseman who can simultaneously intrigue and terrify a scout. The high level of his tools is inarguable but will he be able to put it all together? There is so much to like about his game and he has the foundation to address the weaknesses. With some patient development, he could be in the mold of Noah Hanifin.

Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

B/R Rank: 9

Analysis

Beckett Sennecke was one of this draft’s late risers, and when you watch him play, you understand why. He’s consistently dangerous in the offensive zone, thanks to his high-level intelligence and quick hands. The Ducks clearly have a vision for their future—relentless, high-octane offense. Sennecke could be an excellent fit for that vision.

Pick Grade: A-

Scouting Report

With this class being such a wide-open field, there was plenty of room for late risers. Sennecke, right wing for the Oshawa Generals, came on strong in the second half of the season, and though his rise coincided in part with the return of fellow General and Colorado Avalanche prospect Calum Ritchie, Sennecke’s tools are too good to attribute his success to his teammate.

An obvious concern some may leap to is that Sennecke, at 181 pounds and 6’2″, could stand to add strength to his frame—he isn’t really used to his height yet, and he could stand to be a little harder to push around. That sort of thing isn’t enough of a knock in our view, though. Adding strength and muscle comes with time, and Sennecke’s talent level is too high to leave him out of the top 10.

He’s a strong skater—he’s very agile, with his edgework allowing him to evade pressure from opponents—and he isn’t afraid to drive the net. Sennecke is a terrific, deceptive playmaker, and a key reason is the confidence with which he handles the puck.

He reads the ice extremely well. His fast hands allow him to use his creativity and hockey IQ at the game’s top speeds to pull off absurd plays that, at first glance, seem like they shouldn’t work out. He’s not just a playmaker, though. He’s persistent on the forecheck, and he can fire the puck off with one of several releases he has in his back pocket.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

B/R Rank: 3

Analysis

Clearly, the Columbus Blue Jackets have no concerns about Cayden Lindstrom’s back injury potentially lingering. He bolsters CBJ’s center depth significantly with his offensive ability and relentless nature on the ice. If he can unlock another gear in his passing and puck-handling, this pick will look even better.

Pick Grade: A-

Scouting Report

It’s Lindstrom’s athleticism that stands out. Having turned 18 in February, he’s already 6’3″ and 210 pounds, and that frame suits him well. Despite playing in the middle, he is at his best when he’s carrying the puck along either wing.

The 18-year-old is a powerful skater in straight lines, which gives him an edge on transition rushes. He then lowers the shoulder and holds off most checks while driving from the outside toward the crease for a true power forward’s goal.

His in-zone offense is also credible. Lindstrom has a powerful wrist shot and can shoot while being stationary and while curling toward the high slot. He has good puck handles for his size and can beat defenders and escape pressure in smaller areas of the ice.

Lindstrom plays with tenacity. He’ll drive through puck-carriers with his body to throw heavy hits. He wins battles using his size as leverage but also by moving like a freight train as the first forechecker into the offensive zone.

While Lindstrom’s decision-making doesn’t set off any alarms, there are limits to his vision and puck poise. His playmaking is on the lower spectrum relative to top center prospects.

He is a good passer off the rush but hasn’t shown an ability to create the passes that unlock defenses. And sometimes, when he does locate those opportunities, he fails to execute, putting the pass where a teammate cannot easily receive it.

In his defense, he hasn’t had too much of a chance to develop that skill. He often plays net front for Medicine Hat—particularly on the power play—and he missed much of this season with a back injury. Maybe Lindstrom turns into an average second- or third-line center, or maybe his drafting team eventually decides his speed is best served on the wing.

But he could just as easily round out his game and figure out all the little ways to dominate with his size and speed. The injury offers a lot of what-ifs about where Lindstrom might’ve slotted had he had a full season to develop and build a résumé. His upside is very high and, in a weaker draft such as this one, the cost/benefit analysis pushes in his favor.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

B/R Rank: 2

Analysis

In terms of pure offensive skill, Ivan Demidov is top of the 2024 class. He’s exceedingly creative, and his deceptive puck-handling stymies opponents. There have been some questions about whether his offense will translate outside the Russian junior league, but we have a feeling he’ll answer those questions quickly.

Pick Grade: A

Scouting Report

Demidov is a hard player to project for a few reasons. A comparison is hard to find both statistically and stylistically. He has played almost exclusively in a weak MHL, and Russia’s lack of involvement in international tournaments stopped most attempts to directly size him up against his peers in this draft class

Nevertheless, a team will bet on the most offensively talented player in this draft class.

Demidov made a mockery of the MHL this season with 23 goals and 37 assists in 30 games. That is the highest points-per-game average by a draft-eligible player in MHL history, with nobody within shouting distance. His numbers in his draft-minus-one season were similarly bountiful; only Flyers top prospect Matvei Michkov outranks him in MHL history.

Demidov’s top tool is his hands. He keeps the puck on his stick like they’re glued together, and he can beat defenders with creative misdirections like it’s nothing. Forget about worrying about whether Demidov is a perimeter player. He actively thrives off being able to take the puck from the perimeter and directly penetrate the defense with moves to the middle of the offensive zone.

Demidov’s speed needs work, but his skating is better than advertised. Demidov is good on his edges, and his ability to effortlessly change speeds, in combination with his tricky hands, sends defenders the wrong way.

He keeps his feet in the 10-and-2 position more often than most players, and the few who do so are usually defensemen. Demidov makes that work for him all around the offensive zone.

Primarily a playmaker, Demidov sucks defenders to him because of his unpredictability and his legitimate ability to beat one or even two defenders with skill. Remarkably, Demidov will draw that pressure and then change the angle of attack and send a pass to a now-open teammate. But he also has a good shot and beats goaltenders with his unpredictability.

He’s not an imposing physical player, but he plays with energy and will take contact to make a play. Demidov is at his best when he holds the puck, but he puts in the work off the puck to find ways to get open.

The lack of proof of concept at any level other than Russian juniors will make some scouts nervous, and he has some kinks in his game he’ll need to work out. But Demidov’s skill is a rarity even at the NHL level and his upside as an electric first-line offensive producer makes him the second-best forward in this draft class.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

B/R Rank: 7

Analysis

With the first pick after its move north, the Utah Hockey Club made its mark by selecting the son of all-time great Jarome Iginla. Tij Iginla has a relentless motor that allows him to push the pace of the game, and he is always looking for the puck. If his development path includes successfully refining his decision-making, Utah will have nabbed a key offensive producer.

Pick Grade: B+

Scouting Report

Tij Iginla shares some similarities with his Calgary Flames legend father but is best evaluated as his own person.

Iginla is one of the most talented players with the puck in this draft. He is a crafty stick-handler who lives to take on defenders and beat them with weight shifts and stick maneuvers. He splits the defense through the neutral zone and is excellent at taking the puck from the walls to the middle of the offensive zone with decisive movements and stick work.

Iginla’s wrist shot snaps off his stick, and he is shrewd with how he hides or changes the angles of his release. He can be eager to shoot but will also wait to see how lanes develop and find a teammate in scoring position as he draws attention to himself. Though he is also effective when a teammate has the puck, Iginla is a guy who wants the puck on his stick and creates both for himself and his teammates.

Iginla is 6’0″ and 185 pounds, though his August birthday leaves room to grow. He’s well built for his frame given his age already, and it shows in his game. Iginla is rabid on the forecheck and insatiable when protecting pucks, fighting for inside position and proactively finding a low stance for leverage. He’s not necessarily going to blow defensemen through the glass, but he is going to force a lot of turnovers.

The key to Iginla’s development will be calming his game. Sometimes with the puck, he’ll take the scenic route when there are more efficient options available. Though the overall skill will translate, he won’t get away with convoluted moves as often at the NHL level.

This is true off the puck as well. In the defensive zone, he can occasionally be too eager to fly the zone in hopes of a teammate sending him a home run pass. And while his relentless effort on the forecheck is a major asset, he too often is overeager to force a clean turnover at full speed when the moment calls for him to contain.

Those are forgivable traits. Coaches will love his motor and fearlessness and will work with him on optimizing his decision-making. Iginla has a definite top-six upside as a point-producer and momentum shifter. And if he misses that mark, It’s frankly hard to see him not making the NHL in some capacity.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

B/R Rank: 14

Analysis

As evidenced by his 30 goals this season, Carter Yakemchuk is a shoot-first kind of guy. He wasn’t the best defenseman left on the board here, but clearly the Senators were attracted to his unique offensive potential. He’ll need to improve his skating to live up to that potential, however.

Pick Grade: B-

Scouting Report

The Calgary Hitmen defenseman, on puck skills alone, is a special player. He’s a big guy, offensively gifted and isn’t afraid to play physical.

This past season he scored 30 goals, becoming the defender with the highest goal total since 2002, and was second only to OHLer Zayne Parekh in Canadian major-junior hockey goal-scoring. He ended up with the fifth-most productive draft year by a defenseman in WHL history.

He has incredible puck-handling skills—Yakemchuk is able to deceive opponents and can dangle creatively with the best of them—and he has a terrific shot, with a release that’s already NHL-worthy.

Still, his mobility just isn’t where it needs to be in order to use those puck skills most effectively. Yakemchuk really needs to improve his mobility in order to support his puck-handling at the speed of the NHL game. He lacks explosiveness, and he simply isn’t an agile skater.

He’s got so much potential, but you just can’t do all the things an offensive defenseman needs to be able to do at the NHL level unless you can move. Dramatic improvement to his stride is going to be a key part of his development.

Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

B/R Rank: 8

Analysis

Berkly Catton is a zippy, intelligent play-driver whose fearless game frustrates opponents. He won’t jump into the NHL immediately, but the Seattle Kraken’s patience will pay off with this one. He could stay at center, or could shift to a top-line winger, and will be a benefit to the Kraken in either spot.

Pick Grade: A

Scouting Report

Catton is a dynamic offensive force. The Saskatoon native is incredible at both generating and executing off-rush offense. Despite his sub-6-foot frame, Catton has no problems operating in the middle lane and holding off attempts at disruption from much bigger players.

That is credited to his tremendous edgework and gifted stick handling. Catton has the acceleration to blow past defenders to their outside. Yet if a defender attempts to keep pace, he’ll just as easily do a quick cutback to lose the defender and create space high in the offensive zone either for him to move into and shoot or for a trailing teammate to skate into like an open runway.

What’s most impressive is how he can make dangerous plays rushing down either side of the offensive zone. Left-handed shooters typically have a tough time making plays down the right wing because they are forced to lead with their backhand. Catton can keep teams honest with a good backhand shot or the ability to dish the puck laterally, and that creates the foundation for the real danger. Catton is adept at cutting outside-in to put the puck on his forehand as he cuts across the slot.

With a great wrist shot, high-end vision, and the ability to create zone entries to then either take on defenders by himself or hold up to set up a sustained O-zone possession, Catton was able to score 58 goals and add 62 assists in just 68 WHL games. Only Connor Bedard has scored more as a draft-eligible WHLer over the last 20 years while his 1.71 points-per-game ranks fifth in that same span.

Catton put in effort defensively and even got some time on the penalty kill in Spokane this season. A lack of physical game and reach will lead to some questions about whether he can truly stick at center, though there are no doubts as to his capability to play in the middle offensively. Even if he does eventually move to wing, his offensive skill set indicates a bona fide top-six NHL offensive winger.

Candice Ward/Getty Images

B/R Rank: 5

Analysis

Zayne Parekh is a steal at No. 9, if that’s possible. His vision allows him to control play, evading opponents like he could skate through them rather than around them. The combination of his poise and the dynamic nature of his game will be a difference-maker for the Calgary Flames when he arrives.

Pick Grade: A

Scouting Report

Statistics aren’t everything, but sometimes it’s not worth overthinking what they indicate. In Parekh’s case, they tell the story of one of the best offensive defensemen of a generation. He led all OHL defensemen in both goals and points this past season, but that’s just the warm-up. His 33 goals and 63 points would make him a top prospect at any position, let alone defense.

In fact, among all first-year draft-eligible defensemen in OHL history, Parekh ranks second by goals scored and third by points. Nobody has put up the numbers he has in well over 30 years. Not Aaron Ekblad, not Evan Bouchard and not Ryan Ellis.

There is a calmness to the way Parekh operates. His posture is casual with the puck and, although it may give scouts the wrong impression, there’s a method to his madness. There are a lot of offensive defensemen who get described as “evasive,” but he truly embodies that term in a way few can. Parekh floats around the ice and carves up the opposition with agility and tight puck-handling.

His wrist shot is excellent. He is tremendous at finding lanes and then shooting through traffic from the blue line but he can also torque his body to rip one past goaltenders as he’s skating into dangerous shooting areas. He is a brilliant passer who can operate in crowded spaces and make those lateral and diagonal passes across the slot to set up high-danger scoring chances.

His defensive game is a work in progress but there are reasons for cautious optimism. Parekh is brilliant at timing his movements to keep loose pucks in the offensive zone and recycle possession or outright bait a pass and then jump in to intercept it. While that’s not technically defensive hockey, teams can’t score when they don’t have the puck and are stuck in their own end.

He’s a bit of a rover. So too was Pavel Mintyukov, who also played in Saginaw’s system and has successfully translated his game to the NHL level. They are different players, but the greater point here is that talented offensive players often figure out how to shore up the defensive side with experience, physical growth, and the right usage.

It’s easy to see Parekh’s path to becoming one of the NHL’s top offensive defensemen and a high-end power-play quarterback. Maybe the defensive side forces teams to shelter him in certain situations, but so what? There are five other spots in the lineup for shutdown defensemen. Parekh presents an opportunity to potentially add a unique difference-maker.

Candice Ward/Getty Images

B/R Rank: 12

Analysis

Anton Silayev is the rare combination of enormous (he’s 6’7″) and an explosive, controlled skater. He’s impossible to get around when he gets in your way. With as many freewheeling offensive players as the Devils already have in their system, Silayev will add a bit of security in the Devils’ end.

Pick Grade: A-

Scouting Report

It’s easy to get enamored with a player’s size in hockey, but in reality, it’s more about how a player utilizes his tools than what he looks like.

With Silayev, it’s hard to ignore his size. The Russian defenseman, who turned 18 in April, is a breathtaking 6’7″ and 207 pounds. There are several ways in which Silayev utilizes that size, and we’ll get to that.

But what makes him such an intriguing prospect is how well he moves. No, not how well he moves for his size. If he was 6’1″, he’d still be considered one of the draft’s best skaters. Silayev is explosive in straight lines. His stride is clean, and his four-way mobility is incredible.

He can move laterally with ease thanks to his long legs without the downside of skating himself out of position, as can be the case for bigger defensemen. It’s not just that Silayev is fast, but it’s that his movements are extremely controlled.

A refined skater with the reach of a 6’7″ defenseman? That’s the recipe for a monster. Silayev always seems to be in the way. He’s impossible to get around on the rush. He is on the winning end for so many races to free pucks. He gets in shooting lanes in the offensive zone.

Despite his size, Silayev first attempts to defend with his stick and body positioning. That being said, he does utilize his strength. He ends forechecks and cycles by smothering players along the walls. He boxes out from above the crease with ease. He does need to learn to make better decisions defensively, as he got burned a few too many times this past season when he abandoned the net front without support to chase behind the net.

Few draft-eligible players in Russia get meaningful minutes in the KHL, and the ones who do are typically wingers. For a defenseman to have played a regular role for a decent KHL team all season is nearly unprecedented.

Where opinions diverge is about Silayev’s offensive game. His three goals and eight assists in 63 KHL games are solid, but most of that output came in a small run of games early in the season. His production at the junior level was close to non-existent. He is composed with the puck and keeps his head up, but he struggles with the accuracy of his passing on breakouts.

If Silayev can turn his tools into offense, then he’s going to become a special player. But I’m far less inclined to buy the Victor Hedman-esque hype that some scouts are offering.

Regardless, Silayev is a true outlier. If his trajectory holds, then he’s going to be one of the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL with the kind of makeup that many teams will spend years searching for without success.

Candice Ward/Getty Images

B/R Rank: 10

Analysis

Sam Dickinson is a mobile skater who is dangerous on the breakout—though he won’t be the one leading it—and he has an excellent shot. In an ideal world, he’ll be particularly effective alongside Celebrini, so the Sharks’ logic here makes sense.

For that to come to fruition, though, Dickinson will have to improve his decision-making, which still isn’t where we’d like to see it.

Pick Grade: B+

Scouting Report

One of the subplots to this draft is how many defensemen there are who can skate.

Yes, that applies to the smaller guys who can zip around the ice. However, players like Dickinson show how hockey is changing. Size is only as valuable as a player’s ability to make use of it, and NHL teams are finally realizing that.

Dickinson is indicative of that change. He’s 6’3″ and over 200 pounds, but he is really mobile for that size. His testing scores ahead of the 2024 CHL Top Prospects Game show how well he gets around the ice both forward and backward and with or without the puck.

He is as dangerous as the trailer or far-side option on a breakout. Dickinson changes directions without having to pump the brakes. When he has a chance to build speed he absolutely blows past the opposition in the neutral zone. His ability to transition the puck up the ice with his feet is a real asset.

Dickinson’s strong backward skating and crossover ability mean he can use both large and tight gaps when defending the rush. He also has his movements in rhythm with those he is defending.

I like his ability to extinguish rushes. Dickinson needs to learn to implement his size more when defending, but his timing is excellent when tying up sticks in the defensive zone, and particularly at the net front.

In the offensive zone, Dickinson’s standout trait is his shot. He has a quick release and his slapshot is deafening. Dickinson tallied 18 goals and 52 assists in 68 games for the London Knights of the OHL this season.

He has the tools to become a really good NHL player, but I’m not as sold on his likelihood of achieving that upside as others are. For one, he makes some decisions that cause fans to want to throw pillows at the TV. He’ll try to force passes or he’ll toss the puck into vulnerable areas without due diligence, resulting in some painful turnovers.

Of course, he’s still 17 and played an elevated role for London this season. He’ll have a lot of time to improve his decision-making. The bigger limitation to his game is a lack of creativity. If he can’t beat a defender with speed, then he likely won’t with stick-handling, vision, or poise. Inside the offensive zone, he does not routinely break through the other team’s structure with passes.

On a good NHL team he’s probably not on the top power-play unit. If Dickinson can add a manipulation component to his game with the puck and become someone who creates on controlled breakouts and within offensive zone cycles, then he could be a top-pairing, maybe even No. 1 defenseman.

Currently, there’s a hesitation to push him above the threshold of a second-pairing defenseman who drives possession for his team.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

B/R Rank: 6

Analysis

The Minnesota Wild traded up one spot, sending the 13th pick and a 2025 third-rounder to the Flyers for No. 12. With that, Zeev Buium is finally off the board, many picks lower than he should’ve been.

His poise and agility are phenomenal—the defenseman will be useful for the Wild anywhere on the ice. You don’t see offensive numbers like Buium’s from a freshman often, and if you wonder whether they will translate, just look to Norris Trophy winner Quinn Hughes.

Pick Grade: A

Scouting Report

What do Cale Makar, Hughes and Roman Josi all have in common? Elite edgework.

This is not a promise that Buium will turn into a superstar, but the point is that he has a foundational trait that will set him up for success in the offensive end.

Buium is a brilliant skater. The straight-line speed is good, but he wows with his agility. Buium casually sidesteps pressure. He can walk the blue line in the offensive zone. He slaloms through forecheckers in the neutral zone. He can escape pressure when retrieving pucks in the defensive end.

The proof is in the numbers. On a Denver team that won the national championship, Buium ranked second in points.

And while Buium has some work to do in the defensive end, the same knocks against him about his lack of size and absent physical game were sloppily applied to Hughes at the same age.

Here’s the deal: No, Buium will never be the coach’s top choice for the penalty kill nor push a 6’4″ center out of the crease. What separates him is his skating and brain; that should be enough to defend at the NHL level. He can gap up tightly to puck carriers, defend against transitions by closing space, and ensure the puck stays out of the defensive end by escaping the forecheck with either his feet or a quick pass.

He already proved this as a 17-year-old against the top players in college hockey. He’ll do it again at the pro levels.

It won’t be a surprise if he settles in on an NHL second pairing, but Buium’s ceiling is much higher, and he could be a top offensive defenseman.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

B/R Rank: Unranked

Analysis

Though Jett Luchanko was not on our final big board, this is still a decent pick for the Philadelphia Flyers after a trade down.

The center’s ability to step in for former teammate Matthew Poitras took scouts by surprise. The Flyers will need to let him season a bit, but he’s one of the youngest players in the draft, and as he gets more experience in that bigger role, we should get a better picture of the player he’ll be.

Pick Grade: B+

Scouting Report

Luchanko was tasked with stepping up this season when Guelph lost Matthew Poitras to the NHL and the Boston Bruins, and step up he did.

His motor took over, and he showed that he could not only push the pace of the game but create as well—he’s not just fast on his skates, but he’s also fast with his hands, finding teammates easily.

There was a glimpse of what he could do with better teammates around him at the U18s, as well. His playmaking skills are still developing, but if he can unlock that extra offensive gear, he’ll shine.

Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

B/R Rank: 11

Analysis

Konsta Helenius is a poised, composed puck-carrier who is able to create anywhere on the ice. He held his own in the top Finnish men’s league last season as an underage player, and he has an incredible hockey mind, thinking the game at a high level.

When he comes to the NHL he’ll be an incredibly valuable addition for the Buffalo Sabres.

Pick Grade: A

Scouting Report

The word that comes to mind for Helenius is “mature.” He held his own as a 16-year-old in Finland’s top league two seasons ago and thrived this past season. Helenius scored 14 goals and added 22 assists in 51 games for Jukurit, plus six points in six playoff games.

And though the point total doesn’t prove it—just two in seven games—the 17-year-old Helenius was one of the few bright spots for a putrid Team Finland at the 2024 World Junior Championship.

Back to his maturity: Helenius thinks through the game at a high level.

He has a good awareness of where all the chess pieces are on the ice and how to manipulate them. He has strong anticipatory skills both with and without the puck. Using his mobility, Helenius can move with the puck harassed, evading checkers.

Off the puck, he has really good instincts for where the puck is going to end up and how to best support where the play is headed. His feet are always moving and he’ll touch all areas of the offensive zone on a typical cycle shift, whether that’s to support the cycle below the goal line or to cover for a pinching defenseman.

More a playmaker than a shooter, Helenius times his passes well to hit his teammates in stride and finds teammates in the slot from the perimeter. He’s not a big shooter, but he has a deceptive release off the rush and accuracy in the slot to beat goaltenders.

He lacks elite tools, and that is why Helenius wasn’t a top-five pick. But he grades out average to very good in every category. The motor, agility and brain are enough to make Helenius a top prospect. He’s going to be a 200-foot player in the NHL with the upside to match up against other teams’ top players as a second-line center.

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B/R Rank: 15

Analysis

At No. 15, Michael Brandsegg-Nygård is the highest-drafted Norwegian in NHL history. He brings a particular combination of physicality and intelligence. When you look at his tenacity on the backcheck, it isn’t surprising that the Detroit Red Wings wanted to add him to their ranks.

Pick Grade: A-

Scouting Report

Brandsegg-Nygård could be the best forechecker in this year’s draft. He and countryman Stian Solberg are on track to be the first Norwegian-born first-round picks ever. He spent his draft season in the HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-tier Swedish pro league, and ended up with 18 points (8G/10A) in 41 games.

Brandsegg-Nygård already plays like a pro, pushing opponents around with purpose as he goes after the puck. To say he hits hard feels like an understatement, and it’s not just singular forceful hits—he’s also got subtlety in his physicality, jabbing at the puck until he can steal it for himself and doing whatever necessary to win those battles.

While his game begins with physicality, though, it doesn’t end there. He’s a smart player, knowing how to position himself to be most effective and able to read the ice to determine the smart play in a given situation.

He’s defensively responsible, using his vision to support teammates, and he’s an excellent and persistent backchecker. He’s also got an incredible shot to go along with smooth, confident puck-handling—his playmaking may not snap necks, but that doesn’t matter when opponents can’t catch him thanks to his quick skating.

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B/R Rank: 16

Analysis

Though Adam Jiříček’s season ended early because of a knee injury, he’s still a good pick here. His hockey sense and puck skills, in particular, will translate quite nicely to today’s NHL, and he’s able to remain poised under pressure. His skating stride will need to improve to support his vision and hands, but he’s proved he has the work ethic to do so.

Pick Grade: A-

Scouting Report

Jiříček fell down some draft boards this past season, but not because of his play. Due to sustaining a knee injury in Czechia’s first game of the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship, Jiříček only saw 19 games in the Czech Extraliga this season. He ended the season with one assist.

Not surprisingly, this does not tell the story of Jiříček as a player, and a smart team will recognize that.

He has excellent vision that allows him to slow the game for himself in order to identify the correct play at the sport’s top speeds. He has great puck retrieval and puck-moving skills and a high-end hockey sense that translates to playmaking that lets him manipulate opponents. He’s a fantastic passer, confident with the puck even under significant pressure, and is composed and poised when defending opponents.

He could stand to add muscle to his frame, but he can already handle the physical nature of higher-level hockey. The biggest issue with Jiříček’s game is that the mechanics of his skating stride are, frankly, not pretty. Combine that with a nasty knee injury and the concerns about how he’ll play down the road are understandable.

As a defender, being a step behind is less than ideal, especially as the game grows more dynamic and roving. Still, he’s a very hard-working player who will no doubt put in the effort to improve, and there’s a lot to like about the tools he has.

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B/R Rank: 31

Analysis

Terik Parascak is a bit of a reach at No. 17. If a team was going to make this reach, though, it makes sense for it to be the Washington Capitals. His point totals are gaudy, to put it mildly. His skating needs dramatic improvement, as does his play-driving ability. This is truly a high-risk, high-reward pick.

We’ll reward the chutzpah with a slightly better grade than it might deserve.

Pick Grade: B-

Scouting Report

You might be asking why a guy who scored 105 points (43G/62A) in 68 games was ranked No. 31 on our Big Board. It’s simple, actually: Parascak has a terrific offensive skill set, but for the most part, he’s not the player in the driver’s seat.

The Prince George Cougars forward is incredibly clever, with impeccable timing when it comes to being in the right spot at the right moment. He’s capable of setting up his teammates, but he can finish the play himself if that’s the right choice—he’s got a solid arsenal of shots, as his 43 goals showcase.

He can either sneak around defenders or draw them to himself to create room for his teammates to make a play. He has the potential to be a significant offensive threat if his puck skills continue to improve.

Parascak’s skating needs work; there’s no doubt about that. More pressing, though, is his need to improve his play-driving ability. There’s nothing wrong with being a useful guy who can shine alongside a play-driving center; these types of players are necessary in the modern NHL.

But with Parascak’s vision and instincts, he could be doing so much more. He thinks the game at a high level, and as such, he shouldn’t settle for being a passenger or a complementary guy. This was, of course, only his first WHL season, so we’ll see where he takes it from here. There’s a lot of promise, but sometimes promise fizzles.

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B/R Rank: 24

Analysis

We’re seeing more and more high-level talent out of the USHL in recent years, and Sacha Boisvert is no exception. One of the key draws of Boisvert is his goal-scoring ability, but it’s likely the Blackhawks were just as attracted to his work ethic and attention to detail. His skating stride needs work. His hockey brain absolutely doesn’t.

Pick Grade: B+

Scouting Report

The Canadian center has spent the last two seasons with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, where he ended this past campaign with 68 points (36G/32A) in 61 games. Sacha Boisvert

Boisvert is foremost a goal scorer. He has an excellent one-timer, his wrister is impressive, he’s a great netfront presence—you name it. When he’s at his best, you can see his puck control shine, whether that’s snagging loose pucks or carrying pucks in or making deceptive passes to his teammates before opponents can foil his efforts.

He’s got great attention to detail across his game. The vision and hockey sense is there. He could just stand to use it more consistently, and playing at the next level should push him to do this. He’s also extremely useful off the puck, where his intelligence allows him to read the ice and have excellent timing.

Boisvert is headed to the University of North Dakota next season, where he should focus on improving his skating. His stride is almost clunky, in terms of mechanics, and it runs the risk of holding him back when it comes to his playmaking.

With how well he’s able to process the game, and how great his offensive skills are when he’s at his best, no one wants to see that go to waste. With a little work, it won’t.

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B/R Rank: 18

Analysis

We do not believe it is appropriate to grade this pick given off-ice concerns discussed in the scouting report below. From a purely hockey standpoint, Trevor Connelly is one of the most skilled talents in the draft and will be a valuable addition to the Vegas Golden Knights offense on the ice.

Pick Grade: N/A

Scouting Report

Connelly is incredibly talented—probably one of the best talents in this draft—but a board like this, much like an NHL team scout’s board, can’t be built solely on talent. Any discussion of him as a draft prospect has to begin with the acknowledgement that there are character concerns.

In terms of solely on-ice play, Connelly is a phenomenal skater with tons of speed that allows him to create space for himself and for his teammates. He’s a creative, intelligent playmaker—his hockey IQ and vision are high-end and make him one of the more dynamic offensive players available this year.

He can get a little too creative at times, which can cause turnovers and get him into trouble. That could be a concern at a higher level. Connelly will join the Providence Friars of the NCAA in the fall, where he’ll get more experience against older, more physical players.

College hockey should be a good field against which to work on his defensive responsibility and judgment at the game’s top speeds.

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B/R Rank: 13

Analysis

It’s very possible that, with patience, Cole Eiserman will look like an obvious steal here for the New York Islanders. His goal-scoring upside is absolutely unreal. The Islanders are smart to take a chance on college hockey helping him round out his game.

Pick Grade: A

Scouting Report

Eiserman is a goal scorer. It’s that simple.

He lit the lamp a ridiculous 55 times in 55 games for the USNTDP this past season and then buried six goals in five games at the U18 World Championships. In the history of the USNTDP, only he, Cole Caufield and Phil Kessel have achieved a goal-per-game pace.

But it is by scoring that Eiserman will either sink or swim. The limitations to his game are obvious. He doesn’t have an impact physically. His defensive game is lacking. He has decent playmaking within the offensive zone, but he’s not someone who will either drive his team up the ice or make the connecting plays on breakouts in the defensive and neutral zones to gain possession. Nor is he a puck hawk on the forecheck.

None of that will matter if he can score 40 goals in the NHL. How Eiserman scores is what is critical in an optimistic analysis of his future. Yes, he is at his best when he is ripping the puck above the circles in an umbrella formation.

However, he is not a power-play merchant, and he does not solely rely on a teammate feeding the puck into his wheelhouse in loads of space. Eiserman can score many different types of goals with many different types of releases. His catch-and-release is lightning-quick, and he has the dexterity to receive passes in different spots and shoot without much of a hitch.

He loads his front foot while in stride and shoots past defenders off the rush. Eiserman will also use a sneaky flick of the wrists to score while in motion and posturing for a carry or pass.

Although he is better off the puck than on the puck in the offensive zone, he does create enough of his own shooting opportunities. He has good bursts of speed and has enough agility and puck skills to find space around defenders. His off-the-puck movements are also really commendable.

He’s continually moving his feet and shifting his positioning in reciprocation to the puck, finding new spots to be just open enough to receive a pass and use that release before the defense can close down.

No doubt, Eiserman is an uncertain commodity. If the rest of his game is sufficient, he could be like Caufield or Kessel. If not, he’s the next Oliver Wahlstrom or Kieffer Bellows. Finding game-breaking talent is extremely hard in free agency or trades, so the draft is the one chance for teams to make it happen.

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B/R Rank: 20

Analysis

Michael Hage has all the tools to be a dynamic center in the NHL, and the Montreal Canadiens are clearly willing to be patient while he puts those tools together. His excellent skating, high-level hockey sense and vision, and impressive hands make Hage’s offensive upside impossible to deny. Ideally, college hockey will help him reach that next gear where he takes control of the game.

Pick Grade: A-

Scouting Report

Add another entry to the book of talented players the Chicago Steel have prepared for the path to the NHL. Hage, who was arguably the best center in the USHL this past season, really shone in the second half of the year, finishing with 75 points (33G/42A) in 54 games.

He’s leaving one powerhouse and heading to another this fall, making the jump to the NCAA to play for the University of Michigan.

He’s quick, with a great first step and terrific edgework that allows him to separate himself from his opponents. The dynamic nature of his skating combined with his excellent hands make him a terrific puck-carrier, especially on the rush. He’s also able to use his hands to create space for his shot when necessary. Adding muscle and putting more strength behind his shot will only make it better.

Hage’s defensive game improved across the season as well, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue as he makes the move to college hockey. He does need to improve his pace, particularly defensively, and really learn to take control in game situations to allow himself to use his playmaking abilities to their fullest and more consistently.

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B/R Rank: Unranked

Analysis

Yegor Surin is a reach at No. 22, but we can understand the appeal for the Nashville Predators. He never runs out of batteries, always moving, and he’s fearless. His puck-handling is excellent. The issue with his game is that his hockey sense doesn’t measure up to his hands.

Pick Grade: C+

Scouting Report

Surin has been ranked all over the board, from as high as 26 to as low as 63 by various outlets. He’s relentless, always moving all over the ice like the Energizer Bunny, and he plays a fearless game, driving through opponents and to the net.

He’s not afraid to enter battles, and the defensive side of his game shines—you can’t accuse him of not being engaged when he doesn’t have the puck.

Whether his hockey sense can support his puck-handling skills enough for his offense to translate to the NHL is in question. His anticipation isn’t what you want to see from a player headed to the NHL, and his skating will need to improve, though he does have good speed.

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B/R Rank: 22

Analysis

Stian Solberg is a menace in his own end—and everywhere else on the ice that he can find an opponent. The best way to describe his game is mean. The defenseman won’t be in the NHL just yet, as he’s got a longer development path, but when he arrives on the Ducks he’ll be good support for the dynamic offense they’re clearly trying to build.

Pick Grade: B+

Scouting Report

Solberg played in the top Norwegian men’s league this past year and really came on strong late in the season, beginning to showcase the type of player he has the potential to be at the NHL level.

He has a reputation for being difficult to play against, even as an 18-year-old, and when you take a closer look at his approach to the game, that isn’t a surprise.

Solberg is an absolute menace of a defensive defenseman with a terrific physical game that allows him to box out opponents. He’s reliable and has a very strong work ethic, but the biggest hallmark of his game is that he plays mean as all get-out. He’s intimidating and isn’t afraid to go for his opponent’s weak spots to get the puck.

When you combine that with his skating and the flashes of playmaking ability he’s shown, it’s easy to see why scouts salivate over his potential. Solberg is always willing to try to make the offensive play even though it’s not always successful, and he has a lot of confidence bolstering his game.

He has a longer development road ahead of him than some other defenders in this draft, but it seems very clear that path is one that will come to fruition for a team that can afford to be patient.

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B/R Rank: 29

Analysis

Cole Beaudoin creates chaos on the ice. There’s no other way to put it. Behind that chaos is an incredibly intelligent mind and a relentless work ethic, all wrapped up in a player who gets his teammates revved up. That’s a great guy to add; however, Utah traded up to get him and with Beaudoin’s skill set being good, but not elite, there is talent left on the board at this pick.

Pick Grade: B-

Scouting Report

If you look up the word “tenacious” in the dictionary, you might see a picture of the Barrie Colts center. None of the skills in his toolbox are elite, but when you watch him play, you can sometimes find yourself questioning whether that actually matters. Beaudoin finished the season with 62 points (28G/34A) in 67 games, and he can only go up from here.

He’s a very smart player who will work his tail off from the second he steps on the ice. Despite the lack of truly elite-level skills, he knows exactly how to use the passing and shooting skills he does have, and has an incredible work ethic to go along with his playmaking—he’ll go out there and try stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, always looking for an opportunity.

He’s strong, too, winning battles, infuriating opponents and generally churning up mess in a really productive way that gains puck possession and tilts the game back in his team’s favor.

He’s improved his skating over the course of the last year, but it would be great to see more work in that area—particularly with regard to his edgework and his stride. Adding an improved skating ability to the skills he already has will give any team a forward who can light a fire under his teammates, and that makes him absolutely worth the risk late in the first.

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B/R Rank: 32

Analysis

Dean Letourneau is a reach at No. 25 (we felt he might be a bit of a reach at 32), but the Boston Bruins clearly feel they can be patient enough for the risk to pay off. He played prep school hockey this season, and he dominated—but he’s quite a raw player.

He is a very agile skater, especially for his 6’7″ size, which will serve him well as he works to refine the consistency with which he uses his high-end skill set.

Pick Grade: B-

Scouting Report

Letourneau is large. That’s not why he was on our first-round Big Board. At 6’7″, it often feels like he shouldn’t be able to create offensively the way he does. The prep school player from Ontario spent the season ruining his opponents’ lives—he finished the year with 127 points (61G/66A) in 56 games—and his quick, soft hands and playmaking touch caught the eye of many scouts.

Letourneau is relentless on the forecheck, moving more freely than his size seems it should allow. He’s a good skater, explosive and agile (a word that initially doesn’t feel like it belongs to a player with a 6’7″ frame, but that does apply). He knows how to use his size to protect the puck, and he’s got a quick, heavy release. He can be a little awkward sometimes, but it didn’t impede him at the prep school level.

Letourneau is still a project with a good bit of development ahead of him. While he was planning to play in the USHL this fall, an opening at Boston College (thanks to the signing of San Jose Sharks prospect Will Smith) finds him headed to the NCAA instead.

It’ll be important that he improves his consistency this season, showing that he can be engaged night in and night out, regardless of who he’s playing against. Thanks to his high-level tools, his upside is incredibly high. He’s likely worth the risk at the end of the first, especially for a team that trusts its development staff. The possibility of combining size and skill is just too appealing.

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B/R Rank: 17

Analysis

Liam Greentree is an excellent addition to the Los Angeles Kings’ forward pool. He was asked to shoulder quite a load in Windsor of the OHL this season, and he stepped up. That leadership and accountability alone says a lot about Greentree as a player.

He makes absurdly creative plays look easy, he’s got a heavy shot and he works his tail off. Our main quibble with Greentree is his skating stride, which does need improvement, but that’s where that work ethic will pay off.

Pick Grade: A

Scouting Report

The Windsor Spitfires captain shouldered the leadership of an admittedly awful team this past season and came out looking like a clear and determined first-round choice. Greentree had 90 points in 64 regular-season games, including 36 goals, and led the second-highest scorer on the Spitfires by a 24-point margin.

He was, more or less, asked to do it all, and he really rose to the occasion.

He’s like watching a highlight reel in action. Greentree makes complicated plays look easy as can be—he’s such a creative player, and he has fantastic puck control. He’s able to slow the game down for himself to problem-solve in the moment, and he works his tail off (not that he had the option to do otherwise).

He’s also a big guy and able to throw a lot of power behind his shot, especially his wrister. He’s got a quick release, something that is undoubtedly agitating to goalies as it makes his shot hard to track, and his wrister isn’t the only good shot in his arsenal.

There are legitimate concerns about Greentree’s skating—he’s never going to be the fastest, flashiest skater on the ice, for example—but the fact that scouts keep complimenting his work ethic makes it clear he’ll be willing to put in the effort to improve his skating stride. It would also be great to see him use his intelligence to be a little more aware of what’s going on around him, though having better team support will likely also help in that area.

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B/R Rank: Unranked

Analysis

Marek Vanacker was off our board, but not by much—we had him pegged as an early second-rounder. With the Blackhawks trading up to get him, they clearly have had their eye on him for some time, and we can understand why. He has a high-level hockey sense along with great stick-handling and passing. We’d just really like to see more consistency in that area of his game.

Pick Grade: C+

Scouting Report

Vanacker pounces on opportunities as soon as his high-end hockey sense lets him spot them—he anticipates gaps with the best of them and uses them to steal pucks and get them to teammates before his opponents realize what he’s up to.

His offensive skill set is very well-rounded, with good passing, shooting and stick-handling skills that allow him to make clever plays.

The issue comes in with consistency. We didn’t see Vanacker at his best every night. He doesn’t have the high-intensity motor you prefer to see in a player who feasts on offensive opportunities. We also don’t see defensive urgency in his game. That could change with a bigger role next season.

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B/R Rank: Unranked

Analysis

The USHL’s leading scorer was on our list in the third round, not the first, but the Flames clearly see something they like. Matvei Gridin’s upside, however, looks more bottom-six than top-six. That’s not the kind of guy you reach for in the first round. There will be plenty of bottom-six forward types available later in the draft.

Pick Grade: C-

Scouting Report

Gridin’s scoring totals were impressive this past season—there’s no doubt about it. But his game lacks the true dynamism necessary to translate that sort of offensive skill to the NHL. He does, however, outwork just about everyone else on the ice. He also has an excellent eye for detail that allows him to identify key lanes to utilize both his shooting and passing abilities.

His upside may not be first-round quality, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be an effective NHL player.

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B/R Rank: 30

Analysis

Emil Hemming is a manipulative, hard-working forward who is just as good shooting the puck as he is backchecking. His tools are all high-end. We’d like to see him use them more consistently and to show more than just flashes of the playmaking ability we’ve seen.

Pick Grade: B-

Scouting Report

Don’t look at Hemming’s scoring totals. Look at his toolkit.

This, of course, could be said of every player in the draft, but it feels especially important to note for the 17-year-old Hemming, who spent the majority of the season with TPS of Finland’s top men’s league.

There has been some hesitation about Hemming because he didn’t look as good in the Liiga as he did playing U20, but that’s not surprising, and he’s a smart call in the late first round regardless.

Hemming’s high-end skill set allows him to manipulate opponents, though there is growth to be had both in this area and his playmaking ability. His standout entry in that toolkit is his shot—he has several different types in his arsenal, including a dangerous one-timer, and he has a very good and quick release.

He’s consistently hard-working on the backcheck and isn’t afraid to drive the net or aid his teammates in a breakout situation. He’s incredibly mobile, with excellent acceleration.

Ideally, Hemming will display the flashes of higher-level offensive ability more consistently. That’s a factor that seems to separate the top group in this year’s draft class from the next tier of guys—players who have really good tools but just aren’t using them at 100 percent yet—of whom Hemming appears to be one. With time, he projects to be a solid power forward.

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B/R Rank: 28

Analysis

There’s a lot to like about EJ Emery’s game, and it begins with his phenomenal vision. He reads the ice exceptionally well, which allows him to shut down opponents. More importantly, he’s got the skating to support it. He needs seasoning before he’s NHL-ready, but the New York Rangers can wait.

Pick Grade: A

Scouting Report

Another product of the US National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Emery is a fantastic rush defender, and it all starts with his skating and posture. Fluid skating is such a foundational part of what makes a good defender in today’s mobile, high-speed hockey game, and he’s got what it takes. Emery is a smooth backward skater with a great stride, he’s speedy, and he uses this ability to close gaps on his opponents.

Emery has exceptional vision, and he’s able to use that to identify scoring opportunities for his teammates; he’s also a skilled passer, which complements that vision nicely. He could stand to improve his puck-handling, especially in transition—he has shown improvement in this area across this season, but development here will ideally continue.

He doesn’t have flashy scoring totals and probably won’t ever be a dynamic scoring defenseman, but his contributions come in other areas. He sees chances and creates space for teammates to take advantage of those chances. Emery is 6’3″, but he uses his size in his reach—when he’s using it to force opponents to the outside, for example. His high-end hockey sense, especially in the defensive zone, allows him to take away opponents’ lanes and break up rushes or entries.

He could stand to add muscle to his frame, but that sort of thing comes with time. Emery’s next stop is the University of North Dakota.

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B/R Rank: Unranked

Analysis

Ben Danford wasn’t on our first-round Big Board, but he wasn’t far outside the first round. We even briefly toyed with including him—and for good reason. The way he thinks the game is already NHL-caliber. If his execution of that vision improves, this pick will look great for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Pick Grade: B

Scouting Report

Danford’s true abilities became more clear as last season wore on—enough so that quite a few scouts started putting him in their projected first round. Though he didn’t quite make it there for us, we can understand why, and the biggest reason is his brain. Danford thinks the game at such a high level that, if that were the only factor, he would’ve been a no-contest first-rounder.

Execution is where the question comes in. He tried some impressive moves, but he couldn’t always complete them. That began to shift as the season wore on and he began connecting those creative plays, engaging opponents more physically and winning more battles. If he keeps putting it together like we saw in flashes, this pick will make a lot of sense.

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B/R Rank: Unranked

Analysis

Sam O’Reilly looks like a solid shutdown center with some scoring ability. It’s possible that he continues to improve and that description shifts to simply “great 200-foot center.” This is a pick that looks like a risk on the Edmonton Oilers’ end because there was still a fair amount of talent on the board when they made it.

In a vacuum, O’Reilly is a smart addition to a prospect pool.

Pick Grade: B-

Scouting Report

O’Reilly was third in scoring among OHL rookies this past season, with 56 points (20G/36A) in 68 games. If he hadn’t been a supporting player on a deep Knights roster (is there any other kind?), that total likely would’ve been even higher. As it was, he was tasked with being a shutdown center, and he stepped up. His defensive details are a highlight of his game, with excellent positioning and smart reads. His work ethic is also stellar.

Flashes of the future are seen in the quick, smart passes his hockey sense allows him to get off. Next season will be a good litmus test for whether he can drive that offense to the next level, but an important note here is that his floor is good, and his ceiling could be even higher than it looks now if trends continue.




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