The Journey: Early Returns from the 2018 Draft
The events that unfold in the 12 months leading up to any given NHL entry draft are typically paramount when writing the individual stories of the players who are selected (or not selected) on that day. Although the NHL as a whole has become far more effective at detecting late bloomers, in many cases, a player's apparent value on draft day has an enormous impact on the opportunity that they receive when it comes to their professional career.
The best modern example of this is Nail Yakupov – a player with an attractive draft status who received six years’ worth of NHL opportunities, based almost entirely on his apparent draft value. On the other hand, there are hundreds of players who enter the league without what some refer to as draft pedigree and are forced to overcome the barrier that is their lack of pedigree, before being given an equal opportunity.
With that being said, from each draft, there are a handful of players that are up to the task: Connor Brown, Ondrej Kase, Oskar Lindblom, and many more. They aren’t isolated to a single background and don’t follow any trend, but in most cases, their rise to the challenge begins shortly after the day they’re selected on day two of the draft.
Today, we’re going to have a look at which players from day two of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft are making an early case for the next late round breakouts. Most of these names will be unfamiliar, and of the group of them, only a handful is likely to get an honest crack at making an NHL career for themselves, but in any case, they should be finding their way on to your fantasy radar.
44th | Albin Eriksson | Dallas Stars
Skelleftea AIK (SHL)
At the time of his selection by the Dallas Stars, Eriksson had dressed in a total of 17 games in Sweden’s top league, the SHL. His international record wasn’t overly impressive, especially in his recent history. Jim Nill was obviously able to look past those short-comings and see this player for what he truly is. Eriksson is a power forward with a lot of skill, and an excellent shot.
Twenty games into his sophomore season with Skellefteå AIK, Eriksson is maintaining a 0.5 point per game pace – a comparable rate to Andreas Johnsson’s D+1 campaign in Froulunda.
58th | Filip Hallander | Pittsburgh Penguins
2017-18 Timra IK (HockeyAllsvenskan) → 2018-19 Timra IK (SHL)
A consensus late second-round pick to be, Hallander competed primarily in Sweden’s Allsvenskan league in the year prior to his draft. He has a very well-rounded style of play that is highlighted by his puck handling skill and playmaking ability.
His 0.5 point per game pace in the countries second-tier league has translated to nearly an identical rate in the SHL where he’s off to a hot start with Timra IK. The Swede should be a lock for his countries World Junior squad where we’ll get a better sense of his development in peer-peer action.
92nd | Connor Dewar | Minnesota Wild
Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Rookie Minnesota GM, Paul Fenton, whose 25-year background in scouting led him to his current position with the Wild took the helm for the 2018 Entry Draft. Fenton made four selections prior to Dewar, who was taken at 92nd overall. The 5-10 Everett center had been projected to go almost two full rounds later by most scouting agencies, but so far, Fenton’s gamble looks to be paying off. Almost a third of the way into the WHL season, Dewar is on pace for over 110 points with the ‘Tips, a feat that seems unimaginable given his previous draft status.
A sustained offence at his current pace will have him drawing comparisons to Blue Jacket’s prospect Vitali Abramov (65th overall, 2016), or even Tampa Bay center, Brayden Point (79th overall, 2014).
94th | Matej Pekar | Buffalo Sabres
2017-18 Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL) → 2018-19 Barrie Colts (OHL)
The Sabres haven’t been messing around since drafting Pekar in the 4th round of the 2018 Entry Draft. Only a couple of weeks into his D+1 campaign with the Barrie Colts, the Sabres signed off on the forward’s three-year entry-level contract. The Czech had previously committed to the NCAA D1 program at Miami, which wouldn’t have permitted the pro-contract.
Pekar’s adaptation to the OHL isn’t overly surprising, considering the success that he enjoyed last year in the USHL with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. He’s an extremely high energy player with skill and tenacity incorporated into every part of his game, going as far as to admit that he tries to emulate Brad Marchand’s style of play. While it’s still likely that the provocateur takes a longer development path than some, he’s showing signs of adaptability and a sustained offensive trajectory.
135th | Brandon Kruse | Vegas Golden Knights
Bowling Green State University (WCHA)
One of the sneakiest picks of the 2018 Entry Draft, the under-sized and over-aged Kruse could have likely made it through to the seventh round – but the Knights knew they wanted him. Kruse was recruited by Bowling Green State rather unconventionally, coming up through a second tier US junior league, the NAHL. Nonetheless, he’s becoming one of the NCAA’s most prolific young playmakers.
While the modern NHL has experienced an infusion of speedy undersized forwards, a barrier remains for those players to overcome before they are able to make an impact. The WCHA doesn’t have as great of a track record for producing NHL level talent as most of the other NCAA conferences, and almost none in terms of smaller players. On his current offensive trajectory, however, the fifth-round pick will be in line for an NHL contract by the time he graduates.
167th | Mathias Emilio Pettersen | Calgary Flames
2017-18 Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL) → 2018-19 University of Denver Pioneers
Brad Treliving didn’t own a single draft pick inside the first three rounds of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but what he did in the fourth round on was satisfactory, to say the least. His last two selections, in-fact, are thus far turning out to be excellent value. At 167th overall, Pettersen is a highly skilled forward, with a sharp mind for the game. Although he isn’t particularly explosive, his positional game has proven to be a key component in the transition from the USHL to the NCAA.
A dozen games into his collegiate career, the Norwegian hasn’t missed a stride, contributing on 14 tallies for the Denver Pioneers – good for fifth among drafted players under 20, and beating out highly ranked prospects such as Ryan Poehling and Joel Farabee. With a few years of contract-free development ahead, the Flames should be happy to sit back and enjoy the view while Pettersen continues to impress.
169th | Mathias Laferriere | St. Louis Blues
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
Laferriére, not to be confused with Lafreniére hadn’t recently been projected to be a top selection at the 2018 Entry Draft. After being drafted seventh overall by the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the 2016 QMJHL Entry Draft, Laferriére became part of the trade that sent Pierre Luc Dubois to the eventual playoff finalists. In his first year of draft eligibility, the 6-2 right-winger managed a respectable 41 points, however, struggled on the defensive side of the puck. His lack of production in playoffs also contributed to the Screaming Eagles first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Drummondville Voltigeurs.
The 18-year-old’s lack of high-level skill may have turned teams away until this point in the draft, but his frame and vision are perfect for a mid-round project, and early into the QMJHL season, he’s making a case that he could be even more than that. With 12 goals and 21 assists, he’s already matched his goal total from a year ago (in less than half the games) and is on pace for a team-leading 80-90 point campaign.
198th | Dmitri Zavgorodny | Calgary Flames
Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
In his first year of eligibility, Zavgorodny nearly slipped through the cracks of the 2018 Entry Draft. While he had been projected to somewhere in the range of the third to fifth rounds, the Russian who had already been playing in the QMJHL dropped all the way to, wouldn’t you know it, the Flames in the late seventh round. The 5-9 forward didn’t waste time stewing on the disappointment of his late selection though. After a brief return to Russia, he made a point of spending almost his entire summer training in Calgary with established NHL players from the Flames organization.
His combination of speed and skill make the Rimouski Oceanic forward an intriguing prospect for the Flames organization, especially given the low cost of acquiring his rights. Now twenty-six games into the QMJHL campaign, he’s on pace to eclipse his draft year point total by more than 30; all the while playing second line minutes behind 2020 eligible prospect Alexis Lafreniere. As far as seventh-round picks go, this is a guy to have on your fantasy radar.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of the Journey!
Feel free to get involved in the comments or find me on Twitter @olaf1393 for any questions about the topics covered the last couple of weeks!
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