6. Elias Lindholm, Center, Brynas (SEL)
Lindholm, like Barkov, is a uniquely advanced player for his age. He had a special season for an 18-year-old in the Swedish Elite League, often recording over 20 minutes per game as a premier scoring option for Brynas. He has high-end offensive skills, displaying plus skating ability. He regularly shows his speed in transition, and he can pressure defensemen quickly on the forecheck. Lindholm has great hand-eye coordination and he can really dangle with the puck. His ability to make plays in tight spaces is very impressive. Lindholm's two-way hockey sense is also high end, as he is a great offensive playmaker. He sees the ice at a high level, and he knows where to position himself in the offensive end. In his own zone, he makes good reads, and he commits to staying with his assignments. As with most young players, he needs to continue to get stronger. That said, he is fairly firm on the puck, and he can muscle players off of it defensively as well. He is a tad undersized, and that is his one notable weakness.
Ranking explanation: There is a notable tier separation between the sixth spot and the seventh spot, making this ranking a simple decision. The top six all project as NHL All Stars or better. I cannot make that claim in regards to anyone beyond this spot. Sean Monahan, ranked seventh, has some dynamic qualities, but he is not elite enough in one particular area to project as a star. He could be an average top-line center. That still makes him valuable, but his lack of multiple top-end skills holds him back from belonging in the same tier as Lindholm and above.
7. Sean Monahan, Center, Ottawa (OHL)
Monahan is a smart two-way player who has shined in the OHL over the past two seasons. His ability as an offensive playmaker is high end, as he has tremendous instincts, displaying the ability to make quality passes. Monahan regularly shows the ability to slow the game down. He controls play from the perimeter on the power play. He is patient, creative, and he does not simply rely on one dimension, either. He has good puck skills; while they still lag behind his hockey sense, he can make some defensemen miss. Monahan possesses good size (in order to shoulder off checks). If defenders try to overplay the pass, he has a great shot, and he can finish from medium range if given the chance. His skating is fairly average. He is not a total liability on his feet, but his skating stands out as the least impressive aspect of his game. Monahan projects as a quality defensive center, capable of winning faceoffs consistently. He does not have a clear developmental weakness in his game, which bodes well for a team that may be looking for him to make the transition to the NHL within a year or two.
Ranking explanation: I have similar expectations for Monahan and Rasmus Ristolainen in the areas of upside and projection. Thanks to Ristolainen's high-level reads (in both ends), he projects as a top-pairing defenseman. However, he lacks an elite skill, or dynamic tools capable of taking his potential to that next level. When two players are similar in projection and potential, I favor the forward due to less developmental risk. That said, there is a case for Ristolainen's position risk being lower than usual. He has a late birthdate (as does Monahan), and has played tough minutes in a pro league. Still, in a dead tie, there is no reason to take on the extra risk, unless team needs dictate drafting a defenseman.
8. Rasmus Ristolainen, Defense, TPS (SM-Liiga)
Ristolainen had a quality season in Finland, where he often logged tough, heavy minutes for TPS. That is an impressive role for an 18-year-old defenseman in that league. He is not a flashy player, but he does everything well. He best skill is his hockey sense. He thinks the game at a level well beyond his years, and he does not make many mistakes on the ice. He is an aware, effective defenseman who can close gaps with his body or with his stick. With the puck, he shows calmness, but he can process the game quickly when the situation calls for it. He can man the point on the power play. He is a solid to above-average skater (I have heard an NHL scout classify him as high end in that area). His puck handling is at a similar level; he can flash significant offensive ability, but the bulk of value will come from his work in his own zone. To that point, he will lay the body, and he can provide quality hits. He could fast track to the NHL quicker than a typical defense prospect.
Ranking explanation: Monahan and Ristolainen are grouped together because they are "safe prospects." Like all draftees, they still possess a level of risk, but I am substantially less concerned about their development than with players of similar talent level, such as Max Domi or Hunter Shinkaruk. Domi is an undersized player, and some wonder how his physical game will project at the top level. He does not possess the same skill level as Drouin, nor does he have the strength and defensive ability of Lindholm. His talent level is close to Monahan's (an average top line center), but he has more risk, due to his limited size, and his less-rounded game.
9. Max Domi, Center, London (OHL)
Max is the son of former enforcer Tie Domi, but he differs completely from his father in talent level. Max is a highly-skilled player who can impact an offense in multiple ways. One NHL source said he possesses clearly high-end playmaking abilities. He controls the puck, and he can make quality passes in a multitude of ways: slowing the game from the sideboards, through tight spaces in pressure, or saucers over a defender's stick. Although he is undersized at 5'9", he has very quick feet, and he displays a good level of speed and agility. He has the explosiveness a small player needs to play on a top line in the NHL. Combining his speed with his high-end puck skills makes Domi a dangerous scoring threat. Domi possesses dynamic qualities when creating offense, but often, he tries to be too fancy. He has a high on-ice work ethic and he does not shy from contact despite his size. He will need to improve his defense at the next level.
Ranking explanation: Domi is similar to Hunter Shinkaruk in many regards. They are both small forwards who skate well, work hard, and possess the offensive ability to score. They handle the puck with proficiency, and they both possess high-end hockey IQ. This is a marginal decision, at best. Domi is a slightly better skater and puck possessor, but Shinkaruk's size is better suited for NHL success. It is a close decision, but I ultimately prefer Domi based on how much I have liked him on tape.
10.Hunter Shinkaruk, Center, Medicine Hat (WHL)
Shinkaruk has been a top scorer in the WHL over the past two seasons. Despite being a little on the smaller side, he deserves a top 10 ranking, as he possesses an immense amount of unique offensive talent. He moves effortlessly as a skater, showing the ability to gain power from each stride. That allows him to divert more energy to playmaking. His agility makes him tough to check in open ice. He turns his hips a lot, and his wide skating stance makes it difficult to predict where he will move. That said, his speed only ranks as good, not top end. Shinkaruk has rapid hands, and he can be very dangerous due to his creativity and coordination. Shinkaruk's physical game is his main issue. He is a small player, but he does work hard. He shows the ability to grind for the puck, but he will need to become stronger to keep it at the next level.
Ranking explanation: For this spot, I considered Sault Ste. Marie defenseman Darnell Nurse, a player who has displayed intriguing qualities. He has high-end defensive skills, and while he is a good offensive player, he is not dynamic in that area. Still, he is a better bet to become a top-pairing defenseman than Ryan Pulock, the next blueliner on this list. Nurse is a clearly elite prospect, with less than usual projection risk for a defenseman. In spite of this, the risk factor with him is still higher than it is for Ristolainen, which is why I have not ranked him as highly. Nurse is a 1995 birthdate who has not yet been challenged at a particularly high level of competition. Ranking Shinkaruk ahead of Nurse was another byproduct of preferring a forward to a defenseman. The two have roughly equal potential and risk factors, albeit for different reasons.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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