2018 NHL Draft

The Top 25 Wingers

Abundance of firepower from the flanks increases value of 2018 draft crop
Steve Kournianos  |  05/29/2018 |  Nashville  |  [hupso]

Team USA’s Joel Farabee is an elite playmaker with leadership qualities and a high compete level (Photo: Rena Laverty)

NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) – It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what position is hockey’s most important. Some feel building from the net outward with goaltending and defense is a smart recipe for success. Others may view the center ice position as the most critical ingredient in constructing a Stanley Cup-winning roster. But you rarely, if ever, hear an NHL front office type talk about how essential it is to have elite play from the wing. Although that sort of talk may seem either rare or infrequent, their actions at the draft table reveal that teams drafting forwards in the top 10 care more about immediate impact and far less about specific position. Of the 23 forwards drafted in the top 10 since 2015, 14 have been centers and nine were wingers. The 2018 draft results should even those numbers out, as the first four forwards expected to be taken in what appears to be a defense-heavy draft are all pure wingers — Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk and Oliver Wahlstrom. Throw in superior flankers like Joel Farabee, Vitaly Kravtsov, and we could see this year become the first draft in NHL history when not a single center was picked within the first 10 selections.

The immediate impact made by top overall picks like Alexander Ovechkin (2004), Patrick Kane (2007), Taylor Hall (2010), as well as 2016 second overall pick Patrik Laine, should make team executives and scouting staffs more inclined to not only draft takenting wingers early, but plug them right into their respective NHL lineups the season immediately following the draft.

Below is a list of the top wingers eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft.

1. RW Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie Colts, OHL | 6’2, 188): Elite goal scorer with size who combines power and finesse with an exceptional understanding of his role as a top-line talent. Svechnikov has the uncanny ability to not only stickhandle in and around traffic, but also position himself away from the puck while defenders are fixated on his equally skilled linemates. You have to keep tabs on Svechnikov at all times, and it seems as if opponents play tentative every time he’s on the ice. Svechnikov is an excellent skater with a powerful stride and exceptional balance, and he uses his speed to create separation even although he shouldn’t be defined as a roadrunner. He possesses a blistering shot with one of the quicker releases you’ll find — Svechnikov can score on set plays off a faceoff or rifle one from the circles

2. LW Filip Zadina (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL | 6’0, 195): Rangy skilled winger with soft sands who mixes his game-breaking skills with a tremendous appetite for success. Zadina arguably is the best forward prospect to come out of the Czech Republic in the last few seasons, and since he was 16-year-old has been hand-picked to lead his country at the biggest international tournaments. He has exceptional vision and hockey sense that makes every teammate a threat to score when he is on the ice. Strong on his skates, Zadina is extremely difficult to contain because he’s as elusive moving laterally as he is when jetting in a straight line, and even the most competent defenders struggle to maintain a tight gap.

3. LW Joel Farabee (U.S. U18, NTDP | 6’0, 169): Farabee is a cerebral three-zone playmaker who consistently adheres to textbook fundamentals in addition to being one of the most lethal scorers in his draft class. He can tailor his style to fit any game — wide open; slogging matches; physical…it simply does not matter. Farabee is a top-line winger for the NTDP and he plays that role in every situation no matter the score or time on the clock. He’s very quick in open ice and possesses a devastating change of pace that catches defenders flat footed, and he’ll use a rapier-like inside shift inside if taking the puck wide isn’t the preferred route. One thing you notice instantly is his work ethic on the ice — Farabee has a nonstop motor and will bust it from start to finish on every shift.

4. LW Brady Tkachuk (Boston University, HE | 6’3, 196): Skilled, two-way power winger with a soft touch who mixes physical play with elite vision and hockey sense. Brady with his helmet off may look like a teenager, but every aspect of his play on the ice makes you wonder how a kid so young can perform with such savvy and maturity. Tkachuk is a relentless puck hound with decent speed and a long, smooth stride. His agility and exceptional stick-handling buy him more than enough time and space to create for his linemates. And although his zone entries are controlled and calculated, he has mastered the art of the soft dump-in and chase — Tkachuk has a long reach and finishes his checks with authority, and defenders appear weary to turn their backs for puck retrieval. Additionally, he is deadly from in close, using an array of moves and dekes to bury the puck.

5. RW Oliver Wahlstrom (U.S. U18, NTDP | 6’1, 204): Wahlstrom is a dominant power winger with elite puck skills, highlighted by a devastatingly accurate shot. He is one of the top goal scorers available for the draft, but he does far more than simply fill the back of the net. Not only is Wahlstrom Team USA’s top-line right wing, but he is also a key cog in both the power play and the penalty kill. Although it seems like he never turns down the opportunity to crank one towards the cage, he is blessed with an acute sense to quickly identify a defender’s intentions, then exploit the tiniest of windows and turn a seemingly harmless 1-on-1 into a clear dash for the cage. Wahlstrom has very good speed with an above-average first step.

6. LW/C Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Assat, SM-Liiga | 6’2, 188): Alert and versatile forward with good speed and a wide range of attributes who has performed well beyond expectations as a 17-year-old playing key minutes in Finland’s top league. Kotkaniemi comes across as a smart, clean player with or without the puck and can play either center or wing. He is used on the penalty kill and in late-game situations, showing defensive prowess regardless of the job he’s assigned. He has a nose for sniffing out opposing intentions, and his quick hands and keen vision can turn a run-of-the-mill enemy breakout into a quality chance for him or his mates. His natural position is center, but he spent his entire SM-Liiga season playing wing and looked quite comfortable doing so.

7. RW Vitaly Kravtsov (Chelyabinsk, KHL | 6’2, 170): Soft-mitted goal scorer who can beat you in a variety of ways, Kravtsov had an excellent season as a rookie winger in the KHL. He was one of Chelyabinsk’s top playoff scorers and tallied several timely goals, which is a rarity for pre-draft teenagers in such a competitive league. Kravtsov uses his size and reach to exploit his elite puck skills, and getting close to the cage for quality chances came rather effortlessly for the youngster. He still has some bulking up to do, but he’s strong on his skates and protects the puck extremely well. Kravtsov is a serious threat in open ice thanks to his skating and agility, and he requires only a step or two to reach top speed. His shot and release are lethal; one of the best among 2018 draft prospects, but he keeps opponents guessing thanks to his vision and playmaking ability.  The one thing that stood out most was his ability to read plays and correctly determine when it was time to vacate his zone and create odd-man rushes.

8. LW Grigori Denisenko (Loko Yaroslavl, MHL | 5’11, 176): Denisenko possesses most skills associated with today’s modern-day offensive forward — speed, agility, deception, finishing, playmaking and explosiveness. He’s a right-handed shooter who can play and score from either wing, and completing plays with either his deadly shot or nifty backhander is what makes him a legitimate top-line candidate. Denisenko in one moment looks graceful and calm with the puck, only to change gears and dart to the net in the next. He has excellent hands that can deaden the toughest of passes, and is the perfect choice for set-play one-timers off offensive-zone draws. Although he won’t intimidate with physicality, Denisenko gets riled up and will get involved in battles to give an opponent the business.

9. LW Blake McLaughlin (Chicago Steel, USHL | 5’11, 170): A skilled Minnesota-born playmaking winger who demands the puck, McLaughlin is blessed with excellent vision to turn any teammate into a scoring threat. He is one of the more talented set-up men in a draft relatively deep in terms of puck distributors, but McLaughlin is one of the best from the North American crop. His zone entries are a thing of beauty, and his speed and elusiveness create a decision-making quandary for defenseman — he spins away if you play him tight; exploits open ice if you back in too deep. He is one of the top scorers in the USHL and should be groomed to be a first-line player who can orchestrate the power play but also finish his easier chances in front of the net. There’s a lot of Mathew Barzal in his game, not only for his passing ability but also for making proper reads, running the power play, hustling on the penalty kill and providing puck support when necessary. McLaughlin, who led Grand Rapids to a high school title last year, is committed to play collegiately for the University of Minnesota.

10. LW Dominik Bokk (Vaxjo, SHL | 6’1, 180): Powerful skater with a deadly shot who is the top German-born draft prospect since Leon Draisaitl went in the Top-10 in 2014. A CHL import pick of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, Bokk is a goal-scoring winger with soft hands and an excellent release. He is a pure goal scorer who can deke or dangle his way into prime shooting areas, and he has the size, puck control and balance to ward off harassment. His plays hard in all three zones and will drop down below his own goal line to lend support, but is smart enough to sniff a possession change and dart into open ice for a counterattack.

11. RW Serron Noel (Oshawa Generals, OHL | 6’5, 205): Big, mean power forward with a hard shot and soft hands who can look like a finesse center when he’s stickhandling his way around obstacles. Noel has a ton of potential to excel in any setting or in-game scenario, and he is pretty low maintenance in terms of finishing once he establishes position in the slot. He takes full advantage of major junior opponents thanks to an obvious size advantage, but Noel also uses a variety of fakes, stutter steps and pivots to give him the extra second necessary. His agility and lateral quickness seemed to improve over the course of the season, and his straight-line speed and first-step quickness are very good for such a hulking winger.

12. RW Dmitry Zavgorodniy (Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL | 5’9, 173): Lightning-quick sniper with an excellent shot/release combination that doesn’t require much time or space to use. Zavgorodniy is an excellent skater with elite hockey sense who can sniff out eventual passing options and immediately turn an easy steal into a quality scoring chance. He may not look big, but Zavgorodniy has serious upper-body strength and will not only deliver a hit, but absorb them from bigger players. He’s as close to a complete player as you’ll find in a two-way winger listed less than six feet tall. He consistently looks for the cross-ice set-up, especially if the strong side of the puck is overloaded, and he has no problem connecting regardless of how dense the maze of sticks and skates is before him. He is extremely strong along he boards and will dangle or fake his way from a lengthy puck battle right into a prime shooting area. Zavgorodniy is a specialist on both the power play and penalty kill, and as a winger is used as the lone forward on 5-on-3 disadvantages.

13. LW/C Filip Hallander (Timra IK, Allsvenskan | 5’11, 176): Aggressive forward with skill who combines finesse with physicality. Hallander made money in the Allsvenskan and was one of Sweden’s best forwards at the February under-18 Five Nations tournament. Initially labeled a 2nd or 3rd round pick, Hallander should no longer be considered a sleeper. He’s an excellent passer with keen vision to find the open man, even with the walls collapsing around him. His in-your-face style on the forecheck creates a lot of opportunities, and he anticipates puck travel as good as any draft-eligible forward. Hallander is a strong skater with good speed who displays a quick first step when he sniffs out a lazy pass or corrals the puck while static. His quick hands and clever stickhandling moves make him perfect for tightly-checked affairs.

14. RW Jesse Ylonen (Espoo United, Mestis | 6’0, 167): Speedy winger with a nice assortment of puck skills who arguably was the top teenage player in Finland’s top minor league. Ylonen, whose father Juha played in nearly 350 NHL games in the late-1990s and early-2000s, is an offensive-minded player with the endurance to play lengthy shifts while never wavering on his effort. Being a late-1999 birthdate excluded him from competing against most of his first-year eligible peers, but Ylonen was a key contributor for Finland at several under-20 events, including the February under-20 Five Nations when he was one of the tournament’s top players. He is an excellent stickhandler and the perfect option for clean zone entries, and he makes the right decisions as he speeds up ice. Although the slippery Ylonen is slight of frame, he gets a lot of mustard on his shot and can finish from in close.

15. RW Martin Kaut (Pardubice, Extraliga | 6’2, 176): Responsible 200-foot winger with excellent vision who competes hard, battles in corners and provides coaches with situational versatility. Kaut’s area of responsibility kept expanding as his season with Pardubice progressed, playing on both the power play and on the penalty kill. He’s been a top-six fixture for several deep Czech teams at international events, including the under-20 world junior hockey championship where he was the key set-up man for both Martin Necas and Filip Zadina. You can count on Kaut to get his hands dirty and pay a hefty price to win his one-on-one situations, but his size, strength and leg drive make him a threat to cash in on opportunities near the net. Playmaking aside, Kaut doesn’t have a specific skill that blows you away, but he has deceptive straight-line speed and a wide stride that makes him difficult to stop or slow down in open ice.

16. LW Jonatan Berggren (Skelleftea J20, Superelit | 5’10, 181): Berggren is one of the most fearless “smallish” forwards seen in recent years, which says a lot when you consider he’s listed at 5’10. A two-way winger with a nonstop motor, Berggren’s speed and anticipation causes havoc for opposing defenders, but it’s the plays he makes after forcing turnovers that separate him from most players his age. His active stick and quick hands turn harmless dump-ins into quality chances, and his speed allows him to blow past defenders at the blue line. Playing and thinking at the same time is a rare combination for young players, but Berggren does both at high level. He was one of the top players in Sweden’s J20 Superelit, where his ability to evade or bypass traffic in the neutral zone helped him produce consistent efforts on a nightly basis. He makes up for the lack of an overpowering shot with great hand-eye coordination and a quick release.

17. LW Ivan Muranov (MHK Dynamo Moskva, MHL | 6’3, 183): A sturdy goal scorer with an occasional mean streak who uses his body and strength to finish checks with authority and outmuscle opponents for positioning in the crease and low slot areas. Muranov is a very good skater for a power forward and is effective as a dump-and-smash forechecker. It’s his ability to sneak into high-danger areas immediately after or during a cycle that gives opponents headaches, as Muranov has a rapier-like release for his heavy snap shot. He is a legitimate threat on the power play no matter where he is positioned, and he gets enough leverage on his stick to keep his blade in the perfect position for deflections. The poise and vision he displays while handling the puck on entries causes defenders to back in, leaving him plenty of room to unload his elite shot.

18. RW Michal Kvasnica (Trinec Ocelari, Extraliga | 6’1, 187): Big, powerful yet shifty forward who attacks the net with authority and confidence. Kvasnica possesses excellent edgework and pivots on a dime, only to change direction again for a controlled dash to the net. Kvasnica has good size, balance and upper-body strength that allows him to buy time while controlling the puck, but don’t get him confused with some sort of lumbering type — he’s a fast skater with a hard shot who can finish off the rush. Without the puck, Kvasnica positions himself properly in all three zones and is useful as a net-front presence.

19. LW Kole Fonstad (Prince Albert Raiders, WHL | 5’10, 162): Heady playmaker and tough competitor who may very well turn out to be the best first-year eligible forward to come out of the WHL this season. Fonstad is a smooth, fluid skater with very good speed and outstanding agility. Having a bevy of puck skills is common among draft prospects, but Fonstad falls within the select group who can identify openings before opponents are quick enough to react to them. You hate to tie an outdated stereotype to a teenager, but Fonstad is the perfect Western Canadian prospect in that he competes hard, plays tough, and absorbs hits as well as he gives them. He was a key cog in Prince Albert’s attack and during the power play thanks to his soft hands and passing skills — Fonstad is a reliable saucer passer on either forehand or backhand. Shooting off the pass with accuracy is also a key component to his game inside the offensive zone.

20. RW Ruslan Iskhakov (Krasnaya Armiya, MHL | 5’8, 152): Tenacious and explosive skater with quick hands and excellent footwork who pivots like a pro and makes sharp cuts while moving at a high rate of speed. He is a flashy player who can beat you with a variety of shots delivered via deadly moves made close to the goal. He also has pro-level vision and delivers his set-ups perfectly. He is a strong stickhandler and will get busy on the forecheck. Iskhakov also has a hard accurate shot with a quick release, and he still picks his corners while shooting off the pass. He has no problem taking the puck right to the net and draws a lot of penalties.

21. LW Jonathan Gruden (U.S. U18, NTDP | 6’0, 171): A quick skater who requires only a stride or two to reach top speed, Gruden had a strong year on an NTDP squad that on paper seemed a bit top-heavy. Gruden is a dual-purpose winger in that he can play the role of either finisher or set-up man. He is deadly off the rush and executes odd-man rushes cleanly, and his hard, accurate shot keeps goalies honest as he closes towards the goal. Gruden can be very deceptive with the puck, such as using the boards for bank passes and dishing out behind-the-back feeds, both serving him well while playing on the power play. Although he isn’t an overpowering force, Gruden proved to be useful in penalty-killing situations by keeping his feet moving, blocking shots and intercepting cross-ice passes.

22. LW Sampo Ranta (Sioux City, USHL | 6’0, 183): Jersey-flapping Finnish winger with a deadly shot/speed combination who is one of the USHL’s top rookie goal scorers. Ranta at this stage of his development is a one-trick pony, but similar things were said of some the NHL’s most feared snipers. Ranta has good size and balance, and powering down the wing with a full head of steam forces defenders to mistime their step-ups or retreat into the circles. He should be a fixture on any power play and counted on to create his own shot, but Ranta probably isn’t the kid you would want on the ice to hold a lead. Now that Ranta’s got the shooting thing down, he’ll need to learn how to incorporate his linemates into the offense and make more high-percentage plays.

23. LW/C Jan Jenik (Benatky, WSM-Liga | 6’1, 161): Jenik, a crafty player who is a net-front presence and does a lot of dirty work for his linemates. Tall yet wiry, Jenik revealed a proclivity for getting quality chances near the goal, and is a fixture on both the power play and on the penalty kill. His footwork is excellent, as he pivots and curls away from pressure before changing gears and darting up ice. Jenik competes in all three zones and will support his teammates in any zone, and once he has the puck, he’ll play poised before using timely lead passes that trap opponents. He was quite productive last season for both Liberec in the Czech U20 junior circuit and Bentaky in the adult-age minor leagues, and the fact that he made 2018 draft eligibility on the absolute final day of shows you he’s ready for the rigors of the elite Extraliga.

24. LW Matej Svoboda (Kometa Brno U20, ELJ | 6’0, 180): Smooth-skating power forward with an excellent shot who causes defenders to back way into their own end, thus allowing him to exploit the added time and space. Svoboda has good size, but he’s also thick and strong on his feet. He fires a hard, accurate shot, especially off the rush that forces goalies to either make a tough save or put a rebound into the slot. Svoboda is used on the penalty kill and has an active role, whereas his contributions on the power play are limited to one-timers, battles for loose pucks and establishing slot positioning for deflections. Like most physical wingers, Svoboda exerts a lot of energy throwing his weight around and is susceptible to occasional disappearing acts in the later stages of games. When he’s on, however, he can be an unstoppable force.

25. RW Niklas Nordgren (HIFK, SM-Liiga | 5’9, 169): Stocky but slick winger with a boatload of skills and an infectious attitude who is developing a reputation as the kid you simply can’t sleep on. At first glance,  Nordgren looks like a pre-teen barely out of junior high school. But all it takes is one shift for him to make you realize how devastatingly advanced his stickhandling, sharp directional changes and finishing abilities are. Nordgren maintains a low center of gravity but packs a lot of power into his short stride. He plays fearless and will not hesitate to barrel his way towards the net while maintaining complete control of the puck. Nordgren has very soft hands and off the pass can fire either accurate shots or crisp touch passes. He can curl, toe drag or deke to buy some extra time and space, and he’s clever enough to spot cutters or back-door options. For all his strengths, Nordgren’s average straight-line speed is the only thing keeping him from being considered one of the elite wingers in this draft.

HM. RW/LW Nando Eggenberger (Davos, NLA | 6’2, 198): A power forward with skill and fairly good speed who at international events was leaned on to handle important duties, Eggenberger is a versatile winger who can be used in all situations thanks to his positioning, active stick and ability to read plays. But make no mistake — this kid is a sniper with a deadly shot/release combo. He is a hard worker who hustles and follows the puck appropriately while killing penalties and is a threat to score shorthanded, and he comes in handy on the power play as either a net-front presence or his off-wing for a one-timer from the circle. Eggenberger has improved his skating to the point where he can win footraces or get inside of a defender, but his stride is both short and choppy.