The NHL Draft is just around the corner and based off recent history, General Managers are looking to make a splash on draft night, including Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blues. The Blues lost their original draft pick (#14 overall) in the Brayden Schenn trade during last year’s draft day. However, Doug Armstrong managed to acquire the first round selection of the Winnipeg Jets in a package that sent center, Paul Stastny to the division rival during the trade deadline. St. Louis is penciled in to select at 29th overall on Friday night. As we all know (look at last year’s first round for example), Doug Armstrong isn’t afraid to make a big move on draft night. “We’re preparing with a group of our staff to make the pick and we’re preparing with another group of our staff to see if we can use that [pick] to get better immediately,” Armstrong said. In reality, there’s three different options that Armstrong and the Blues could execute.
Option one: Simply keep the 29th overall selection and draft a player to add to one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. Bill Armstrong, Blues director of amateur scouting, has a very promising track record – especially in the first round. In recent years, Bill Armstrong has played a huge part in the Blues decision to select players such as Colton Parayko, Robby Fabbri, Ville Husso, Evan Fitzpatrick, Robert Thomas, Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, and Tage Thompson, just to name a few. There will be plenty of valuable talent late in the first round to select from, especially at forward. If the Blues select to go down this path, here are five names that would make sense for St. Louis to draft at 29th overall: Note, I’m very cautious of who I listen to whenever it comes to prospects. My friend, Grant McCagg is a former NHL amateur scout and is one of the few people I trust. Of the players listed below, I added McCagg’s skill assessment (scale of 1-10) of the prospects.
Potential selections available at #29:
Ryan Merkley, D (OHL): Ryan Merkley was once looked at as one of the top prospects in this year’s draft. He has “boom or bust” potential according to a few scouts that I’ve spoke with. Merkley tallied 67 points in 63 Ontario Hockey League games last season. At 17 years old, Merkley is still a few years away from being NHL ready, but the Blues could replenish their defensive prospect pool with the selection of Merkley. His speed and offensive awareness are off the charts. He could evolve into a quarterback on the power play in the NHL. If he continues to improve his game, within the next three years, the right side of the Blues defense could potentially include Pietrangelo, Parayko, and Merkley.
McCagg’s skill assessment:
Skating – 8, Skills – 9, Playmaking – 8
Shot – 7, Sense – 6, Compete – 5
Character – 5, Size factor – 6
Akil Thomas, C/RW (OHL): Akil Thomas is one of my three favorite prospects in this year’s draft. His game is similar to last year’s first rounder, Robert Thomas. Akil was penciled into the top 20 at the beginning of the season, but some scouts questioned his defensive ability and work ethic. Akil’s hockey sense and vision are well above average, in my opinion. Last season Akil produced 81 points in 68 games, as well as 11 points in 10 playoff games. He’s expected to have a huge year next season, possibly pushing 100-plus points in the OHL.
McCagg’s skill assessment:
Skating – 8, Skills – 8, Playmaking – 8
Shot – 7, Sense – 7, Compete – 6
Character – 6, Size factor – 6
Martin Kaut, RW (Czech): Martin Kaut is a 6’2 right winger with fantastic hands and offensive talent. He spent last season in the Czech league and seemed to put things together at the end of the season. Kaut had a slow start in the pro league, which led to only producing 16 points in 38 games. However, Kaut found his game later in the season and produced 5 points in 7 games in the playoffs. Kaut’s offensive upside is one of the highest in the draft, in my opinion.
McCagg’s skill assessment:
Skating – 7, Skills – 7, Playmaking – 8
Shot – 7, Sense – 8, Compete – 7
Character – 8, Size factor – 7
Vitali Kravtsov, RW (KHL): Kravtsov is a scoring winger with the ability to get to the net with his skating. Kravtsov arguably has one of the best shots in the draft with his quick release. His game reminds me of Klim Kostin. He has an NHL frame of 6’3, 185 and contains a lot of speed with his long strides. Kravtsov is already a mature player in his own zone. He’s known to already have a solid defensive game in his arsenal. He blossomed in the KHL playoffs, leading his team to the conference finals as an 18 year old. He produced 11 points in 17 playoff games for Traktor. Kravtsov has the potential to become the most dynamic goal scorer in his draft class.
McCagg’s skill assessment:
Skating – 7, Skills – 8, Playmaking – 8
Shot – 7, Sense – 7, Compete – 8
Character – 8, Size factor: 7
Ryan McLeod, C (OHL): Ryan McLeod will have to drop in order to get to #29 overall. His skating is off the charts and already has an NHL ready body at 6’2, 205 lbs. McLeod has been voted one of the three best skaters in the OHL’s eastern conference in back to back seasons in the annual coaches poll. McLeod’s playmaking ability is going to be talked about for years to come. McLeod has drawn comparisons to Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom.
McCagg’s skill assessment:
Skating – 8, Skills – 8, Playmaking – 7
Shot – 7, Sense – 8, Compete – 6
Character – 7, Size factor – 8
Option 2: Doug Armstrong and the St. Louis Blues could have a little déjà vu and make a blockbuster deal that involves the 29th overall pick in a trade. Not only are there many names swirling around the rumor mill, but the Blues are linked to quite a few of them as well. It’s known that Doug Armstrong is looking to improve his forward group, specifically in the top two lines. St. Louis is in the market for difference makers, players that can rise up to the occasion and either set up or score a big goal in a crucial moment of a game. Not only do the Blues have a first round pick in this year’s draft to deal, but they also have an abundance of prospects with mid-high trade value. Here is a list of 7 potential names the Blues could target via trade on draft night:
Possible trade targets (the obvious):
Jeff Skinner, LW: The Hurricanes retool is expected go begin with trading Jeff Skinner. The speedy left winger had a down year last year after his 37 goal, 63 point season in 2016-17. Skinner’s game is similar to Mike Hoffman, a player in which the Blues shown interest in as of late before he was dealt during draft week. The former #7 overall pick would be a dynamic addition to the top six and power play. I’m not sure on what the potential package would be for Skinner, but I’m sure it would have to include the 29th overall pick.
Ryan O’Reilly, C: O’Reilly would likely be one of the most expensive pieces to acquire this off-season. He’s one of the league’s best two-way forwards and can provide much needed offensive awareness. O’Reilly has produced at-least 55 points in five straight seasons, including scoring at-least 20 goals in four out of the past five seasons. TSN’s Scott Cullen projected a few trades this off-season and included O’Reilly to St. Louis in exchange for Robby Fabbri and Klim Kostin.
Phil Kessel, RW: Things took a turn for the worse this year for Kessel and the Penguins. Kessel was unhappy with ice time and found himself in a few altercations with teammate, Evgeni Malkin. Kessel’s 92 points last season would improve any team’s offense. In my opinion, acquiring Kessel wouldn’t break the bank for the Blues. It’s a solid option and he can easily slide into the top six right away.
Max Pacioretty, LW: The Canadiens have a couple of options this offseason, including trading their captain. The Blues were heavily interested in Pacioretty around deadline time last season, but ultimately the price was too high at the time. The 6’2 sniper would be a good fit in St. Louis. He would add leadership, size, scoring, and a net front presence to the organization. Sounds like the type of player the Blues noticeably lacked this past season (Backes). Not sure what the price would be for Pacioretty, but if it’s reasonable, it would be worth the gamble for the Blues.
Possible trade targets (newly surfaced):
Wayne Simmonds, RW: Three days before the NHL draft, the Flyers are reportedly shopping veteran right winger, Wayne Simmonds. The 29 year old is in the last year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer. Simmonds played through injuries all season long but still managed to score 24 goals in 75 games played. He’s a right shot right winger, something the Blues desperately need. He provides a heavy game and his net front presence is elite. Simmonds is a great value pickup as well, considering his cap hit is $3.975 million. If that doesn’t sell you on the idea, how about a 2nd line of Schwartz, Schenn, and Simmonds?
Artemi Panarin, LW: Arguably the best player available this offseason, including John Tavares, is Artemi Panarin. Yes, he’s best friends with Vladimir Tarasenko. Yes, they have great chemistry. Yes, he’s right handed. Yes, he would improve the power play. All signs point to Panarin being the perfect acquisition for the Blues this offseason. The Blue Jackets are reportedly taking offers on the Russian after he told them he wasn’t interested in extending at the moment. Panarin has one year left on his contact with a cap hit of $6 million. Also, for what it’s worth, Panarin’s agent has a great relationship with Doug Armstrong and he also represents Blues prospect, Klim Kostin.
Possible trade targets (sleepers):
Vladislav Namestnikov, C/LW: Namestnikov was dealt to the Rangers on deadline day but is a current restricted free agent. At 25 years old, the Russian Center is looking for a long term deal. The Rangers are in a rebuild and could acquire a good package of picks and prospects for Namestnikov. This could be an under the radar move.
Sam Reinhart, C: Reinhart’s name has been swirling around for about a year now. The former #2 overall pick buried 25 goals last season. Reinhard is still 22 years old and looks like he’ll become a 30-plus goal scorer. Not to mention, he’s right handed. Reinhart would be a good fit in St. Louis, in my opinion.
Matt Duchene, C: Matt Duchene could potentially be traded for the second time in less than a year. The Senators fire-sale began Tuesday when the team traded Mike Hoffman, the one player that Duchene had great chemistry with. Duchene is entering the last year of his contract and will be a unrestricted free agent next summer. His $6 million cap hit would be very reasonable for the Blues to add to the books. At age 27, Duchene arguably is still entering his prime and would be an interesting fit with Vladimir Tarasenko on his right wing.
Option 3: As I’ve mentioned a couple of times already, Doug Armstrong has a variety of assets to use in a trade, including this year’s second round pick (45 overall). Option three for the Blues would be to trade either up or down from 29 overall. I believe the Blues could package the 29th and 45th overall and possibly jump into the 18-24th overall range. It would be smart for the Blues to target teams with multiple picks in the first round, such as Ottawa. I could see a situation where St. Louis sends Ottawa 29th and 45th overall for the 22nd overall pick. This would put the Blues in a much more familiar drafting position (Fabbri at 21st in ’14, Thompson at 26th in ’16, and Thomas at 20th in ’17). But that is all speculation even-though it’s still a possibility.
Here is my 2018 NHL mock draft:
Full 1st round mock draft:
1) BUF – Rasmus Dahlin, D
2) CAR – Andrei Svechnikov, LW
3) MTL – Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C
4) OTT – Filip Zadina, LW
5) ARZ – Brady Tkachuk, C
6) DET – Quinn Hughes, D
7) VAN – Evan Bouchard, D
8) CHI – Oliver Wahlstrom, RW
9) NYR – Noah Dobson, D
10) EDM – Adam Boqvist, D
11) NYI – Barrett Hayton, C
12) NYI – Ty Smith, D
13) DAL – Joe Veleno, C
14) PHI – Grigori Denisenko, LW
15) FLA – Joel Farabee, LW
16) COL – K’Andre Miller, D
17) NJD – Vitaly Kravtsov, RW
18) CBJ – Rasmus Kupari, C
19) PHI – Dominik Bokk, RW
20) LAK – Martin Kaut, RW
21) SJS – Bode Wilde, D
22) OTT – Rasmus Sandin, D
23) ANA – Ryan McLeod, C
24) MIN – Serron Noel, RW
25) TOR – Ryan Merkley, D
26) NYR – Ty Dellandrea, C
27) CHI – Liam Foudy, C
28) NYR – Isac Lundestrom, C
29) STL – Akil Thomas, C
30) DET – Jonatan Berggen, LW
31) WSH – Kirill Marchenko, RW
• The Senators make a splash. I’m not sure if it’ll be Karlsson, but Ottawa is looking to tear it down and rebuild. That could mean Mark Stone or Matt Duchene could be shockingly dealt on draft night. Either way, I think we see the Sens make another big trade.
• I think 2 of the most dynamic players in the entire draft class include Vitali Kravtsov and Martin Kaut. I think both guys will be undervalued in terms of their draft position. In 5 years when experts re-draft the 2018 NHL draft, I believe both players will be in the top 5. I would be ecstatic if one of these two somehow gets drafted by the Blues. In my mock, I just don’t see them sliding down to 29th overall.
• If Ryan Merkley is available at 29th overall, unless Kravtsov or Kaut remain on the board, the Blues must select him. Merkley, in my opinion, will be an offensive powerhouse in the NHL. He’s going to be a fantastic offensive defenseman that can quarterback a power play and always make a great first pass out of his own zone.
• This isn’t so much a prediction, but a warning. Don’t be surprised if Doug Armstrong pulls a rabbit out of a hat and pulls a shocker. There has been growing interest over the past couple of weeks for some Blues players: Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri, and Colton Parayko to be exact. I’d like to think two of those three names are somewhat safe, however, anything is possible on draft night -especially when you miss the playoffs in the prior season.
• I’m predicting the Blues will package their 29th overall pick in exchange for a top six forward. It seems like Doug Armstrong’s priority is to ship the pick in a package deal. It takes two to tango, but I think the Blues will find their partner on Friday night. Question is, who will it be?