2018 NHL Draft Prospect Series: Volume 1
Although the NHL regular season is still in progress, hockey fanatics like us at FH are already gearing up for the 2018 entry draft. Each year, a new host of elite young players enter the NHL, signalling a passing of the proverbial torch to future generations. Each draft represents limitless opportunities for rebuilding teams to secure their coveted franchise player, and for successful teams to build on their strengths and eliminate weaknesses from their rosters. In this series, our analysts identify blue-chip and "sleeper" prospects for this summer's entry draft. Each article will showcase one projected-first-rounder and one player who may deserve more attention than they're getting right now.
Isac Lundeström – C – Lulea HF (SHL)
Current mock drafts have Lulea centre Isac Lundeström going anywhere from 10th to 40th overall, but he’s generally projected to go in the mid-late first round. My research reinforces the general consensus that he should be a first round pick – I believe he will be taken in the top 20 this summer in Dallas, deservedly so.
Lundeström showcases tremendous patience on offensive, and seems aware of where his teammates are at all times. He makes alert, clever plays in tight windows, and finds open teammates for good looks on a regular basis. He doesn’t force things or rush into decisions, usually electing to be patient and survey the ice to make the best possible play.
He’s also a willing and relentless forechecker, using smarts and some strength (6’0 176lbs) to win puck battles, which gives him an edge versus more one-dimensional opponents. He positions himself well and is an elite skater both with and without the puck. His knack for getting deep into the offensive zone and making plays out of virtually nothing is very impressive; especially at the SHL level, where the majority of his opponents are grown men and seasoned veterans of professional hockey.
One concern is that Lundeström is not a pure centre, as face-off consistency has been cited as a concern by scouts and analysts. Personally, this is not a major concern, as face-offs can be perfected with hard work and dedication. It’s much more important that he possesses good instincts and skill at his foundation. And although his shot is not yet elite, he has called himself more of a playmaker, and his confidence shooting the puck will only increase as he develops further. He can certainly put the puck in the net when required, and does a great job maintaining possession through traffic.
Overall, Lundeström‘s package of skills and intangibles make him an alluring prospect – even if his numbers don’t jump off the page. He's registered just four less points (15) than 2017's 7th overall selection Lias Anderson had in the SHL in his draft year (19). Look for him to be taken on day 1 of the 2018 entry draft and continue his development in the SHL until he transitions to North America.
Vladislav Yeryomenko – D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Yeryomenko has flown under the radar for a few reasons. He’s a ’99 birthday who turns 19 in April, and plays for a bottom-5 WHL team in Calgary – but I believe he carries tremendous individual promise as a 2nd-round-or-later sleeper in this year’s draft. After all, this is a player who was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ development camp last summer.
Although he will need time to continue developing at the Junior level, he could blossom into a top-6 regular in an NHL lineup 3-4 years from now.
The 6’0 171lbs Belarusian is slight in frame, but possesses elite skating ability and is a versatile defenseman with two-way upside. He has a knack for knowing when to pinch in the offensive zone, and regains defensive positioning well when a counter attack occurs. He has a high work-rate both ways and is an intelligent, aware defender in his own end. From goal-line clearing defensive plays, to getting his stick or body in passing lanes, Yeryomenko is a d-man with outstanding instincts.
On top of compiling a solid 40 points in 60 games for Calgary, Yeryomenko was impressive at the WJHC for Belarus, where he accrued four points in just six games. His ability to produce at a high level against the best junior hockey competition shows that he belongs in the conversation amongst the top junior players on the planet.
Yeryomenko also played alongside Jake Bean, 2016’s 13th overall pick to Carolina, until he was traded in the middle of the season, where he surely garnered invaluable experience playing in a defensive partnership with an NHL-level prospect.
Yeryomenko is a gifted young talent who is on the smaller side for his position, but makes up for it with great skill and high-level decision making. I would not hesitate to select the Belarusian once the 2nd round begins, but he could fall even lower come draft day. I project that one lucky – or smart – team will secure the smooth-skating D-man, and never look back. An intriguing two-way defenseman who thinks the game through at a very high level.