The Journey: Risers from the 2018 First Round

by Brayden Olafson on June 8, 2019
  • The Journey
  • The Journey: Risers from the 2018 First Round

As we approach the 2019 NHL Entry draft, much of my writing efforts will be focused on the days that lie ahead. Today, however, I’d like to take one last opportunity to look back on the year that was. In particular, the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and what has changed since that fateful day last June.

First, for reference (and for fun), let's look back at what some of the immediate reactions were, following the completion of the first round…


I have a lot of respect for Sean’s work. This analysis of his is a great way to visualize the reaction to the first round of last year’s draft.

Generally speaking, Noah Dobson, Joe Veleno, Filip Zadina, Barrett Hayton and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were some of the biggest surprises following day one of the draft. The three former falling past their projected draft slot, and the two latter being selected higher than expected. Of the five, Kotkaniemi and Zadina seem to have developed in such a way that their current values are now much closer to their actual draft slots. That is to say, Kotkaniemi has almost certainly done enough as a rookie in the NHL to be considered a worthy third overall selection, by and large. On the other hand, Zadina’s AHL production in his D+1 campaign aligns more closely to what we would typically expect from a 6th overall draft pick, and almost certainly wouldn’t be drafted higher than that slot if we were to re-draft today. In fact, based on the development of other first round picks from last summer, a re-draft could conceivably see Zadina fall outside of the top-10. Rather than spoil all of the fun in this recap though, let’s put some labels down…

Biggest Risers

Rasmus Sandin

At the time he was drafted, Rasmus Sandin was considered a “comfortable” selection – that’s out of Kyle Dubas’ mouth, not mine. In part, it was assumed that the Soo connection played a role in the Maple Leafs trading down to select Sandin at 29.

The risk associated with selecting him there was low – lower than, for example, a player like Ryan Merkley, who the Sharks selected at 21st overall. Merkley was considered a high-risk type of selection, however, at the time was perceived to have a higher offensive upside.

A year later, it’s Sandin who looks to have more, if not, the same offensive upside as Merkley. In addition, the Leafs acquired the 76th overall selection in the draft by trading down. The following day that pick turned into Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, an undersized speedy forward and a fantasy prospect for certain.

Noah Dobson

Back in November it didn't seem at all possible that Dobson would have cracked this list – in fact, at that time it looked more likely that he’d be a part of the “Biggest Fallers” list. Today, however, the QMJHL’s playoff MVP is the second defenseman to have bolstered his stock a year removed from being selected by the Islanders at 12th overall.

Returning to Bathurst after a Memorial Cup Championship in his draft year saw Dobson get off to a painfully slow start. His offense was stagnant, as was the entire Titan squad. It wasn’t until being dealt to the powerhouse Rouyn-Noranda Huskies that Dobson truly engaged beast mode. The 19-year-old more than doubled his point per game production with his new squad, over what should be considered a fair sample size. He also blew his plus/minus rank out of the water, going from a -30 to +10 (cumulatively) by seasons end.

Playoffs were no different for Dobson, as he led the Huskies to what would be his second consecutive Memorial Cup Championship. There’s little doubt that the Islanders have hit a proverbial home run with this pick. Dobson leads by example and has the poise, skill and determination of a future leader and top pairing defender.

Joe Veleno

Nearly missing the first round of selections last June did little to set back the former exceptional status forward from Montreal. Veleno’s fall from grace landed him in Detroit’s lap at 30th overall and the organization couldn’t have hoped for a better return in trade that sent Tomas Tatar to Vegas.

The 19-year-old center returned to the QMJHL for his D+1 season where he broke out offensively with 42 goals and 104 points. Because of his exceptional status, Veleno has now completed four full seasons in the CHL, making him eligible to play in the AHL next season, regardless of his age.

If re-drafted today, it’s difficult to see Veleno fall much further than the Blue Jackets at 18th overall in place of Liam Foudy.

Biggest Faller

Filip Johansson

In terms of the scale of the first round, it’s tough to argue that Johansson could be a major faller, but make no mistake, the Wild had other options at 24th overall. Despite being selected by the Wild in the late first round, many mock’s and rankings had him falling to the mid-second round. While players like Jay O’Brien and Ty Dellandrea were considered “reaches” on draft day, the way that they’ve followed up the big day has them looking like solid selections. Johansson, on the other hand, has struggled to justify his first-round draft selection in the year that has followed.

Scoring only a single goal and adding three assists through the span of 47 contests in the Allsvenskan league, Johansson was left off Sweden’s evaluation camp for the 2018-19 World Junior Championships.

As the first draft selection by rookie GM, Paul Fenton, Johansson certainly is not looking like the off-the-board home run he would have hoped. The 19-year-old will attempt to hold down a position in the SHL next season though, an opportunity to redeem himself and get back on track.

Of course, we’re not quite a year removed from these players’ draft day – they’re young, and for the most part, remain full of potential – Not to mention that today we’ve only evaluated the first-round of picks. For that reason, I struggled to add other players to this list of “fallers”. Players such as Oliver Wahlstrom and Filip Zadina may have made their draft slot seem slightly more appropriate, due to their struggles at different points through this year. In the grand scheme of the draft though, it’s difficult to say they weren’t drafted appropriately.

Keep the points from today’s article in mind when the 2019 first round comes along on June 21. Remember, stay loose, as whatever you think you know on draft day will probably be at least somewhat inaccurate. Enjoy the ride and remember what we’re all here for.