Which teams just drafted their new No. 1 prospect?

Chris Peters
ESPN INSIDER


There was a high likelihood that teams that picked early enough were going to come out of the 2018 NHL draft with their new No. 1 prospect. The way things shook out, I think there were even a few more than I expected.

There were also a few teams that added the player who likely becomes their second-best prospect, including the Vancouver Canucks, who already boast Elias Pettersson in their system and now have Quinn Hughes, too. I think Vitali Kravtsov also slots immediately behind Filip Chytil and just ahead of Lias Andersson in the New York Rangers' system. Meanwhile, Barrett Hayton may have been a bit of a reach at No. 5, but I wouldn't put him too far behind Dylan Strome -- yes, I still believe in his NHL upside -- on the Arizona Coyotes' prospect depth chart. Those are just a few examples.

Here's a look at the players who will be the new golden boys of their teams' respective futures.

Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin, D

After the draft, the Sabres' prospect pool is starting to look more like that of a team on the right track to a rebuild. Having Dahlin right at the top, if only for this summer before he graduates to the NHL roster, makes a big difference for a team that already boasted one of the top prospects in hockey with Casey Mittelstadt. Both should be on the NHL roster next season, starting their full-time NHL careers and pushing Buffalo further toward competitiveness. There is still work to be done, but this prospect pool is deepening.

The Sabres have never had a player win the Norris Trophy in the franchise's history and have been seeking a No. 1 cornerstone defenseman for years. Dahlin has as good a chance as anyone to end that search. There is more work to be done around him, but having two true blue-chippers like Dahlin and Mittelstadt gives the Sabres a leg up on several other teams in similar situations.

Also of note, the Sabres added Mattias Samuelsson in the second round, signed SHL defenseman of the year Lawrence Pilut this spring, still have time for Alexander Nylander to push forward developmentally and have a legitimate goalie of the future in Linus Ullmark. That's not to mention a number of prospects deeper in their system who still show NHL upside. Dahlin, however, offers the organization a substantial step forward in its position of greatest need.

Carolina Hurricanes: Andrei Svechnikov, RW

The Hurricanes have been graduating so many of their young players so rapidly in recent years that Svechnikov didn't have a ton of competition, though I will say that Martin Necas is among the elite prospects outside of the NHL right now. Having those two in the mix and likely on the roster as early as next season is going to give head coach Rod Brind'Amour two new assets to add to a forward group that could still change a little more through trades and restructuring. In fact, over draft weekend, the Canes dealt for the rights to defenseman Adam Fox. If he signs with the Hurricanes, he becomes their top defensive prospect ahead of Jake Bean.

Svechnikov has a chance to be an immediate-impact player due to his physical strength and elite goal-scoring capability. As much as I like Necas and think he's going to be a substantial piece, Svechnikov's advanced skill is going to give him a chance to be a franchise cornerstone for this new regime in Raleigh.

Montreal Canadiens: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C

Maybe the Habs didn't take the best player available, but their prospect pool got a lot better after what they did in this draft. Coming into last weekend, Montreal's prospect system was not much to write home about. Ryan Poehling, Will Bitten, Nikita Scherbak and a smattering of others gave the team some nice future pieces, but the 11 draft picks they had last weekend filled a lot of holes that existed. There wasn't one bigger than the potential top-six center hole they had organizationally.

Kotkaniemi appears to fill that void. There is some debate on whether he truly is a No. 1 center, but the Habs obviously think he will be. I know that when I saw him play center internationally, he was a dominant force who only got better as he got more comfortable. His skill and hockey sense move him to the top of the system, and I'm not sure anyone in Montreal's pool is very close to his potential at this point.

Ottawa Senators: Brady Tkachuk, LW

The Senators have steadily been building a respectable stable of prospects in recent years. Logan Brown, Drake Batherson, Colin White, Alex Formenton and Filip Chlapik all look like they could have some NHL impact in the near future. Goalie of the future Filip Gustavsson was a solid addition via the Derick Brassard trade, and top OHL scorer Aaron Luchuk was a nice bet as an unrestricted free agent. However, the biggest boom potential among them belongs to the No. 4 overall pick in Tkachuk.

There were some Senators fans -- or at least one who went viral over the weekend -- who weren't terribly happy with Tkachuk over Filip Zadina. While I also had Zadina ranked ahead, I think there's been a vast oversimplification and underestimation of Tkachuk's potential because he didn't have amazing numbers in college. Even if he'll forever be compared to Zadina, I think Tkachuk tops out as a top-line power winger who can drive possession and create offense while also showcasing the versatility to be on the penalty kill and take on tough defensive assignments. He still has room to tack on more muscle, and when that happens he'll have an even better chance to become a dominant force.

Detroit Red Wings: Filip Zadina, RW

How happy was GM Ken Holland when Zadina dropped to the Red Wings at No. 6? There's no way they could have expected him to be there, but then there he was. Zadina is far and away the top prospect in a system that is improving rather quickly. Detroit's 2018 draft probably couldn't have played out much better with the skill players the Wings were able to add with their first three picks, but Zadina is the true difference-maker.

Having seen what he did in the QMJHL and World Junior Championship last year, you'd have to expect Zadina to slot right into Detroit's lineup with a chance to make a top-six impact very quickly. He has the speed, the skill and the shot to make Detroit better right away, but his ability to combine all of that with unrelenting energy is why I think he's going to be a fan favorite for years to come. I really believe the Red Wings have a new star on their hands here.

Chicago Blackhawks: Adam Boqvist, D

The Blackhawks have been focusing on defense with the knowledge that Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are on the back ends of their brilliant careers. After drafting Finnish right-shot blueliner Henri Jokiharju in the first round last year, the Hawks drafted two defensemen in 2018. Boqvist was available at No. 8, which may have surprised them a little bit. Lucky for Chicago, things played out a little differently than most expected in the seven preceding picks.

The thing about Boqvist is that he's a player who will require some patience. He played most of last season in the Swedish junior ranks. It is likely he will be playing for the Brynas pro side next season, which is going to really indicate how close or far away he is, but it's hard to see him being ready in under two years. That said, the Blackhawks took a bet on skill, as Boqvist was one of the most dynamic defensemen available in this draft class. His offensive skills are of the high-end variety, but his defense needs work and he has a lot of strength to build. Still, he has the best upside of any player in Chicago's system, which had thinned out a bit in recent years. The Blackhawks did themselves a huge service with their 2018 draft haul, with each of their first four picks looking especially strong.

Edmonton Oilers: Evan Bouchard, D

The Oilers got just what they needed in an offensively gifted right-shot defenseman who can make an impact on their power play when they selected Bouchard at No. 10. I think he slots in just ahead of Kailer Yamamoto on the team's prospect depth chart, with 2018 second-rounder Ryan McLeod also having a pretty good case for being one of the team's top three prospects already.

With 82 points in the OHL last season, Bouchard had one of the best statistical seasons by a U19 defenseman in the league in the last 20 years. The big question at this point is if he can play at the pace the Oilers are going to need to play at to fully maximize their best young players. Edmonton will certainly have to give Bouchard time to adapt, but with his hockey sense, there's a decent chance he makes the 2018-19 opening-night roster and could make a case to stay there. Either way, he fits a significant organizational need.

New York Islanders: Oliver Wahlstrom, RW

It is really hard to add a goal-scoring talent of Wahlstrom's caliber outside of the top 10 in any draft, but the Isles managed to do it and now have a new No. 1 prospect in the fold. Wahlstrom leaps to the forefront ahead of Kieffer Bellows, Joshua Ho-Sang and Ilya Sorokin. Noah Dobson, selected one pick after Wahlstrom, would slot in at No. 2 on the prospect depth chart for me, as well.

Hot on the heels of Mathew Barzal's Calder Trophy-winning rookie season, the Islanders added another offensive wizard in Wahlstrom who has size, speed and a truly deceptive and accurate shot. He's probably a season away from having the chance to jump into the team's lineup. Following the Islanders' strong draft, they have one of the stronger prospect systems in the NHL heading into next season.

San Jose Sharks: Ryan Merkley, D

So this is a little bit of a tougher call. You may know by now that I had Ryan Merkley at No. 41 on my final big board ahead of the 2018 draft, which may make his inclusion on this list a surprise. Even after you take into account the inherent risk that comes with selecting a player who had on- and off-ice red flags, there's still enormous potential there. Additionally, the Sharks have one of the shallower prospect pools in the NHL right now with Josh Norris, last year's first-round pick, the biggest contender for No. 1 prospect status in this organization.

The Sharks have said all of the right things about the due diligence done on Merkley prior to selecting him. They also showed more of a willingness to go for the high-risk, high-reward kind of players in this year's draft. I respect teams for taking swings, even if they wouldn't be the ones I'd take at that particular time.

Merkley still has all of the same risks he did on draft night. His defending needs to be cleaned up in a major way for him to have a chance to stick at the NHL level. If he can get there, and can continue getting stronger, his offensive talent is off-the-charts good. We've said all along that Merkley is the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in this draft. If he hits, the Sharks are going to look really smart, but I think there might be more than a few people just waiting to say "I told you so" if he doesn't. Either way, Merkley gives this prospect pool an extra influx of talent and skill that wasn't there before, particularly among defensemen in this system.




Montreal Canadiens: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C

Maybe the Habs didn't take the best player available, but their prospect pool got a lot better after what they did in this draft. Coming into last weekend, Montreal's prospect system was not much to write home about. Ryan Poehling, Will Bitten, Nikita Scherbak and a smattering of others gave the team some nice future pieces, but the 11 draft picks they had last weekend filled a lot of holes that existed. There wasn't one bigger than the potential top-six center hole they had organizationally.