The 2018 NHL Draft is very far away, but from what has been seen so far, there is an intriguing crew of defensemen coming into the NHL in 2018.
While the 2017 NHL Draft has yet to come and go, the 2018 draft is setting up to be an interesting one. There have been some great performances from players eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft throughout the 2016-17 season, meaning there is more to come next season and leading up to the draft next year.
These performances have been produced by defensemen, for the most part. There is a great crop of them leading the pack in 2018. Guelph Storm’s Ryan Merkley and Frolunda’s Rasmus Dahlin, from what has been seen so far, are the two leading candidates for the first defenseman to be selected at the 2018 NHL Draft.
There are others that are looking to make a climb next season in order to challenge Merkley and Dahlin. Coming from the CHL and US to overseas, there is a large crop of good defensemen in next year’s draft which opposes this year’s draft.
Starting with the two defensemen previously mentioned, there are two two-way defensemen playing at the potential of future top two defensemen.
Ryan Merkley, who was previously selected first overall in the 2016 OHL Draft by the Guelph Storm, came out in his first OHL season and impressed many. While his size at the moment is rather unattractive at 5’11” and 165 lbs, Merkley has been able to make quite a few plays in the defensive zone. His stick work is rather impressive and his play in the offensive zone, especially with the puck, is a treat to watch.
Here we see a great example of what Ryan Merkley brings to the table as a transitioning offensive defenseman. Finding open ice and creating plays is something he just has a knack for.
Merkley started out the year strictly as an offensive threat, but gradually throughout the season has really improved his defensive game and developed into quite the prospect.
His size may cause him to lose the occasional board battle, but his stick work and positioning are above par.
Rasmus Dahlin blew the doors off of the 2017 World Junior Championship with Team Sweden. His quick feet, playmaking ability, hands, and his shot got people excited for the 2018 NHL Draft.
The offensive instincts of Rasmus Dahlin shown in the World Juniors scream first overall selection, but some of his defensive liabilities weigh him down a tad. He shows a lot of promise in his own end, but there have been times where he has been beaten to a puck or been caught out of position.
While Dahlin and Merkley have shown great promise and look to be future successes in the NHL, there are other defensemen eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft that produced at impressive levels and carry a deadly skill set.
Orlando, Florida native Quinton Hughes has been brilliant for the U-18 U.S National Team. Hughes is another defender that does not have a large frame but makes up for it with quick feet and creativity.
Hughes is a University of Michigan commit who has time to really work on increasing size and mass while playing at the NCAA level. He is a playmaking force at the blueline for the US. With 38 assists this season, Hughes ranks 6th all-time for the program. He is behind Adam Fox, J.D. Forrest, Chad Krys, Ryan Suter, and Cam Fowler.
Hughes has great vision. He can see the smallest gaps in coverage and start a scoring chance from it. A lot of this comes from controlling the game. To do that Hughes slows the game down and sticks to his strengths, he told Becky Olson and USAHockeyNTDP.com.
“Being more comfortable and doing what you are good at which is sticking with your strengths,” he explained. “That really helps you to become more comfortable and let the game slow down.”
Having the offensive skill set that he has, Hughes can develop into an intriguing two-way defenseman with the guidance of a proper defensive game. He may not have the body to throw around, but with the right skating technique and body position to force the rush to the outside, he can easily get the play going the other way.
Red Deer Rebels defenseman Alexander Alexeyev was sidelined for a good portion of the season this year, but in the games that he did play, he was able to acquire the honor of Defenseman of the Year and Rookie of the Year for the team.
Alexeyev is a big-bodied, smooth skating defenseman that can set up plays off of the rush as well as his ability to protect the slot. There is a lot to like about Alexeyev.
Although his lower-body injury is of concern to his stride, his play until that point was stupendous. Alexeyev quickly became the go-to defender for the Rebels as a 16-going-on-17-year-old. His heads up play on the back end was a large contribution to the Rebels success. His first pass started the rush and playmaking in the offensive zone finished it.
If Alexeyev can show his skating skills have not been hindered by his season-ending surgery at the start of next season, he can prove he is still that exciting prospect he played like last season.
Rasmus Dahlin is not the only offensively talented defenseman coming from Sweden in the 2018 NHL Draft. Adam Boqvist, who is playing with Brynas’ junior team, is a speedy defenseman with nifty hands and a strong hockey IQ.
Again, Boqvist does not have the biggest body for a defenseman, but he is offensively gifted. He is always ahead of the play when making decisions in the offensive zone. Thinking one step ahead when deciding where the pass should go.
Out of the defensemen previously discussed, Boqvist has the longest way to go to develop a defensive side to his game that would allow him to play professionally. Boqvist is still a 16-year-old playing in Sweden, so he has the luxury of staying in Sweden until his draft year and then make the switch to American ice by playing in the AHL.
There is a large group of offensively skilled defensemen that could be selected in the first round of the 2018 Draft. Merkley, Dahlin, Hughes, Boqvist, and Alexeyev, are just the start of a strong defensive crop that is coming into the draft. Evan Bouchard, Bode Wilde, Jett Woo, and Jared McIsaac are all very good skaters with a great first pass and stellar offensive zone instincts.