The Journey – First Round Surprises
The NHL draft is always full of surprises and this year was no different. Things got started early with a surprise top-five pick and continued throughout the first round. Here are a few such picks that caused a few eyebrows to raise on the draft floor.
While the first four picks went pretty much as expected, things got really interesting with pick number five where the Arizona Coyotes selected Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds centre man Barrett Haydon. That’s not to say that Hayton wasn’t expected to be a high pick, but most prognosticators had him pegged around the 10 to 12 slot. Buried on a deep and powerful Greyhounds team, Hayton put up solid, if not truly eye-popping, numbers. In fact, they were eerily similar to his teammate and surprise 2017 first round pick, Morgan Frost. In 63 games, Hayton scored 21 times and dished out 39 assists with these 60 points being the sixth most on the team. Considering he was primarily used in a third line capacity, these numbers are certainly encouraging. He added another eight goals and 21 points in 24 playoff contests, tying for fifth on the team. Hayton was named the winner of the Bobby Smith Trophy given to the OHL Scholastic Player of the year. Looking at the list of past winners, every one since 2006-07 (not including Nic Hague or Sasha Chmelevski) has gone on to become an NHL regular. So take that for what it’s worth.
Hayton is known for his advances all-around game. There may not be elite level tools in his toolbox but he’s no slouch, especially when it comes to his playmaking ability. There probably going to be a lot of second-guessing on this pick unless Hayton can people a reason to believe he is a worthy fifth overall pick. A draft+1 year like his teammate Frost had would go a long way.
Every year there tends to be one first round pick that rockets up the draft rankings thanks to an incredible second half. This year it was Columbus pick Liam Foudy. Back in January, NHL Central Scouting had Foudy ranked in the 90’s but something happened that changed this immensely. The London Knights shipped off top players such as Robert Thomas and Cliff Pu with Foudy being given a larger role and he seized this opportunity in a big way. Prior to January 1, 2018, Foudy has registered just seven points in 34 games for the Knights. But once the calendar flipped to 2018 he went on an absolute tear by reeling off 33 points in 31 contests. All told he finished the year with 24 goals and 16 assists in 65 games. Of these 24 goals, five were shorthanded, which tied him for third in the OHL in this category. Jeff Marek did an interview with his mother shortly after he was drafted where Marek said the Foudy family mantra was “Build the athlete first and the hockey player second.” And what an athlete Foudy is. He absolutely killed it at the combine, finishing first in a number of the tests. In addition to being one of the best junior hockey players in the country, he’s was also an elite level track athlete. It should be no surprise given his genetics with his mother being a world-class track athlete while his dad spent half a dozen years in the CFL. Unrelated side note: the number 18 is turning into his lucky number. He was drafted 18th in the OHL, wears number 18 in junior, and was drafted 18th overall in the 2018 NHL draft. Foudy can flat out fly. He might even be the fastest skater in the entire draft class. Add that to his proven ability to pile up the points when put in the right role and you’ve got all the makings of a tantalizing prospect.
While a number of teams reportedly had Merkley on their “do not draft” list, that didn’t dissuade the San Jose Sharks from making the Guelph Storm defender the 21st overall selection in the 2018 draft. From an offensive standpoint, he’s a hard player to overlook. In his two seasons in the OHL to date, Merkely has been everything one would expect from a number one overall selected from the OHL draft. In his rookie OHL campaign, he led all first-year players in assists with 43 and his 55 points were both a team high as well as the top mark for rookies. He rightfully won the Emms Family Awards as the Rookie of the Year and earned a spot on the First All-Rookie Team. His draft year was even better as Merkley eclipsed the point per game plateau racking up 67 in 63 games to finished third in OHL defenseman. His 54 assists were second among defender, ninth best mark overall, and his 32 power play helpers were tops in the league. No one denies the skill that Merkley possesses. His vision and playmaking ability are second to none in this draft class. But to quote Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino, “there’s too much noise there. “ Attitude and coach-ability questions swirl around him are his defensive game is, to put it mildly, a work in progress. He’s “led” Guelph in back-to-back years by having the worst plus-minus on the team; -41 in 2016-17 and -29 in 2017-18. So here we have a highly skilled defenseman with character concerns. Does that sound like someone from a few years ago? Anthony DeAngelo anyone? Merkley seems almost a carbon copy of DeAngelo and how has that worked out so far for poolies? The latter is currently on his third organization and has struggled to stake a claim to a permanent roster spot, granted he is still only 22. Someone in your pool is going to find Merkley too tempting to pass up in your draft. Don’t let that someone be you. Even if he puts up 100 points next year, I’m still not touching this guy.
As always thanks for checking out this week’s edition of The Journey. Give me a follow on Twitter @BradHPhillips. For all my fellow Canucks, have a safe and happy Canada day!
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