Itching for the NHL Entry Draft already? Several fan bases are, as many teams are beyond a reasonable shot at the postseason as the unofficial second half of the season begins. After a recent rash of mid-season draft rankings were published, NHL.com writers Adam Kimelman, Mike Morreale, and Guillaume Lepage tried their hands at a mock draft of the first round for the upcoming draft. They did not conduct a lottery simulation nor did they try to predict how the playoffs would unfold, so the mock is strictly the current standings inverse. However, each of the trio made their own selections and interesting trends can already be spotted. Of course, all three had the Colorado Avalanche, using the Ottawa Senators’ first-rounder, taking U.S. National Team Development Program phenom Jack Hughes first overall. Regardless of who picks first, Hughes is the unanimous pick to go No. 1 in any scenario. There was also a consensus for Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko going second to the New Jersey Devils and Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin going third to the Los Angeles Kings. However, there was not much agreement the rest of the way. Western Hockey League centers Dylan Cozens and Kirby Dach and USNTDP forwards Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras went early for all three writers, but no two agreed on the fit for any one team. There was also dissent over the first defenseman taken and where, as Kimelman placed Swedish rearguard Philip Broberg at No. 6 to the New Jersey Devils, while Morreale and Lepage had Canadian blue liner Bowen Byram going No. 7 to the Florida Panthers or No. 8 to the Edmonton Oilers, respectively. One of the biggest surprises was Morreale’s selection of wunderkind goaltender Spencer Knight to the Panthers. While many consider Knight to be the best draft-eligible goalie prospect in some time, no keeper has been taken in the top ten since Carey Price in 2005. The other two writers had Knight at No. 14 to Colorado and No. 24 to the Vegas Golden Knights. Later in the round, opinions differed greatly on OHL defenseman Thomas Harley and hyped overage forward Brett Leason as well. There is still a lot to be decided about the upcoming draft board, not to mention the draft order and the impact of trades, but it is interesting to get a good look at this point in the season as the picture becomes more clear for both the teams and prospects.
- Arizona State University continues to make waves this season in college hockey. In just their fourth year of existence as an NCAA program, ASU is currently ranked No. 17 in the country and could push for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. As AZ Central’s Jeff Metcalfe writes, the play of forward Johnny Walker and goalie Joey Daccord is making all of the difference and beginning to draw national attention. After blanking the immensely talented Boston University Terriers 3-0 on Saturday night, Walker’s two tallies put him in the NCAA lead for goal scoring, while Daccord’s shutout was his NCAA-best seventh of the year. Daccord, 22, was a seventh-round pick of the Ottawa Senators back in 2015 out of Cushing Academy and it is beginning to look like the Sens’ late-round waiver on the long-term project could pay off. Daccord is a junior and could be enticed to turn pro this off-season if Ottawa hopes to avoid him becoming a free agent after another year. Walker, 22, went undrafted as a Phoenix native playing in the NAHL and is only a sophomore at ASU. However, that won’t stop NHL teams from trying to pry him away from college to get a look at his near goal-per-game pace at the pro level. A tournament run by Arizona State would only further amplify the status of these unlikely heroes of the collegiate campaign.
- Veteran forward Jussi Jokinen has been unable to find NHL employment this season. The fact is somewhat amazing considering Jokinen played in 14 or more games with four different NHL teams last season. The well-traveled 35-year-old signed a PTO with the Detroit Red Wings this summer, who would have become his tenth different NHL team, but it did not pan out and no one else has come calling. Finally, Jokinen has decided to move on. Finnish reporter Pasi Tuominen reports that Jokinen is set to sign with Karpat of the Liiga in his native Finland for the remainder of the season. Jokinen will be a valued mentor for top NHL prospects like Rasmus Kupari (LAK) and Aleksi Heponiemi (FLA) while with Karpat and may even lead the first-place team to a championship. Regardless, it is highly likely that Jokinen’s days in the NHL are done. The well-liked and respected forward leaves a great legacy behind him in North America, but will surely continue to play overseas for a few years to come.