Every year, NHL teams spend countless hours scouring the world for their next young star players, weighing the benefits of spending an ultra-valuable draft pick on one teenager over another. However, every NHL Draft’s first round only has room for 31 players, leaving hundreds of others disappointed and forced to wait to hear their names called over draft weekend.
Luckily, the NHL Draft is more about luck than skill, as many of the game’s top players have come from humble beginnings as late-round draft picks and overcame long odds to become regular contributors for their teams at the highest level. This year’s Hart Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov, joined the Lightning via the 58th-overall pick back in 2011.
Plenty of the NHL’s top names, including Johnny Gaudreau, Brad Marchand, Artemi Panarin, and Mark Giordano still found themselves without a home after the first day of the draft. Here are some players who could exceed expectations and make teams regret passing up on them with a first-round pick.
Raphael Lavoie, Halifax Mooseheads
Raphael Lavoie had a disappointing end to an otherwise outstanding pre-draft season, losing in the QMJHL Finals and Memorial Cup to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. However, Lavoie is a budding power forward who scored 30 goals in each of the last two seasons. Coupled with a big frame and a strong showing in a deep Halifax playoff run, it’s surprising that Lavoie fell out of the first round.
Looking at where Lavoie was ranked prior to the draft, it’s fair to say that he should be a hot commodity on Day 2 of the draft. If he can continue the strong two-way play and offensive flair he showed at the end of the year, he could end up being a steal for whoever takes a chance on him.
Bobby Brink, Sioux City Musketeers
Bobby Brink was something of a late riser in the draft rankings, bursting on to the scene with a record-breaking rookie season in the USHL and proving his talents on the international stage with the US National Team. Despite his 5-foot-8, 165-pound frame, Brink’s outstanding hockey sense and elite puck skills landed him inside the first round in most mock drafts.
However, it seems his lack of physicality and inconsistent defensive game made him too risky for a Day 1 draft pick. Despite his shortcomings, Brink’s a lightning-quick forward who can drive the play on his own line and produces big numbers wherever he plays. Brink should be a priority target for teams with early picks in the second round.
Arthur Kaliyev, Hamilton Bulldogs
Arthur Kaliyev had a head-turning sophomore season in the OHL, notching an incredible 51 goals and 102 points to join an exclusive list that includes Jeff Skinner, Steven Stamkos, and Alex DeBrincat. However, some questioned his play away from the puck and consistency throughout the season, leading to a slip in his ranking prior to the draft.
Despite his flaws at a young age, Kaliyev’s production and ability to find the soft spots in the offensive zone are promising signs that he can become a contributor at the highest level. It seems as though he’ll be one of the first players to hear his name called in the second round.
Matthew Robertson, Edmonton Oil Kings
Matthew Robertson entered the season as a player to watch after impressing scouts as an underage player for Canada at last year’s World U18 Championships. Despite getting off to a slow start, Robertson ended up as one of the most important defensemen for Edmonton as they opened some eyes with a deep playoff run.
Robertson doesn’t have any single elite skill, but he’s a smooth skater on the blue line and shows off some good patience with the puck. While he didn’t get many prime opportunities to produce points on a stacked Oil Kings offense, Robertson has some great upside thanks to his skating ability and puck handling ability.
While there were plenty of surprises on Day 1 of the NHL Draft, there is still a plethora of talented young players still waiting to hear their name called. No matter how things shake out heading into Day 2, one thing is certain: Ottawa will be getting plenty of calls about their first pick on Saturday afternoon.
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11