Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Starting today, and for the next week or so, I will be bringing you features on the next wave of NHL players. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical draft profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Prospects”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2017 Draft Articles Click here. We will be sure to bring similar coverage of the 2018 NHL Draft.
With the CHL season a good eight weeks old, a month or so of NCAA hockey, plenty of games for the US National Team Development Program, the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, an international break in Europe, and the Canada-Russia Series all being played since we last updated our draft rankings, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the 2018 NHL draft are doing this year.
That said, as a staff, we haven’t seen every player yet—it’s quite simply not possible this early in the season. If there is an obvious name left out, we’ll do our best to get a look before the February rankings; as well as before our final rankings that go from April through June.
The group we haven’t seen a lot of our European prospects who, for whatever reason, haven’t had much exposure on the international stage. With the World Juniors, Five Nations, and the Under-18 all to come later in the year, we should get a better look at most of those players.
2018 NHL Draft- November Rankings and Reports #11-15
11.) Bode Wilde, Right Defence, US NTDP U18, 6’2″ 194 lbs
Despite being born in Montreal, Wilde plays for the US NTDP and is part of a strong American contingent for the 2018 NHL Draft. After scoring 19 points in 57 games last year, Wilde has picked up his offensive game this year. He has four goals and 15 points in 21 games with the Under-18 program. He was committed to Harvard, but has changed that and is now committed to the University of Michigan for the 2018-19 season.
Wilde pairs excellent size with smooth-skating and two-way ability. He is strong defensively, with the physicality to clear the front of the net as well as win battles in the corners. His speed and footwork allow him to keep attackers in front of him, maintain good gap control and force them to the outside. It also allows him to join the rush. Wilde has an absolute bomb of a point shot and understands how to keep it low and on the net to give teammates an opportunity for a deflection or rebound. He is a decent passer, starting breakouts and making plays at the point as well.
12.) Ryan Merkley, Right Defence, Guelph Storm, 5’11” 170 lbs
The first overall pick in the 2016 OHL Draft, Merkley had a tremendous first season while playing for a rebuilding Guelph team. He put up 55 points in 62 games to lead all OHL rookies, and take home the Rookie of the Year award. Merkley followed that up with six points in five games, helping Canada to gold at the Hlinka. He also has 31 points in just 25 games for the Storm this year.
Merkley is a dynamic offensive defenceman, with great skating in both directions. His tremendous edge work, pivots and agility allow him to cover a ton of ice. He also has an excellent point shot and loves to let it go from the point. His slap shot is powerful and accurate. Merkley is a very good passer. He can quarterback the power play and lead the rush. He shows poise at the blue line, and good stickhandling ability to get the puck out of danger and to create offensive chances. However, he must show improvements in his strength and defensive play to continue to move up the ranks. There are some big question marks concerning his work in his own end.
13.) Rasmus Kupari, Centre/Right Wing, Karpat, 5’11” 163 lbs
Kupari burst onto the international stage last year. He played for Finland in the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge. He was also an underager on Finland’s Under-18 World Championship team. His real coming out party though was the Hlinka tournament, where he put up seven points in just four games. This season he has split his time between the SM-Liiga (three goals, four points in 19 games) playing against men, and in the Finnish U20 league (three goals, seven points in 11 games).
Kupari is most dangerous with the puck on his stick. He is a tremendous stick handler and can beat defencemen one-on-one. He has very good acceleration and agility, which allows him to make quick cuts or change speeds to fool defenders. Kupari also has very good passing skills and excellent vision. His wrist shot has a good release, but he needs to work on both the accuracy and power. He needs to add mass to his frame though, as he can have issues being pushed off the puck right now.
14.) Ryan McLeod, Centre, Mississauga Steelheads, 6’2″ 190 lbs
Ryan Mcleod’s older brother and teammate Michael McLeod was drafted in the first round by the New Jersey Devils in 2016. The younger McLeod put up 42 points in 68 games for the Steelheads last year. However, he took a real leap forward with 20 points in 20 playoff games. That improved playoff play has been a real springboard for the new season. With brother Michael rehabbing an injury in New Jersey, and Owen Tippett playing for the Florida Panthers the Steelheads needed someone to step up on the first line. McLeod answered the bell with seven goals and 26 points in 25 games so far this year.
Like his brother, McLeod is an outstanding skater and very good two-way player. Despite being just 17, he is a key man on the penalty kill. His line is also matched up against the other team’s top line on a regular basis. McLeod also has very good vision and passing skills. He can create off the rush, using his speed and stickhandling ability to get past defenders. He can make quick cuts to beat them or take them wide off the rush. McLeod uses his ability to change the pace as a weapon, beating defenders by quickly accelerating or creating lanes by slowing down. Working down low, he can also control the puck, slow down the play and set-up plays when his teammates get open. He also has a decent wrist shot but does not use it often enough.
15.) Akil Thomas, Centre, Niagara Ice Dogs, 5’11” 170 lbs
After a strong rookie season where he scored 21 goals and 48 points for the Ice Dogs, Thomas has taken the next step in his early season play. He has 6 goals and 26 points in his first 24 games this season. Thomas was also part of Canada’s gold medal squad at the Ivan Hlinka, scoring six points in five games.
Thomas is a speedster, who also has good acceleration, edgework and agility. He plays a solid two-way game, as he hounds puck carriers on the backcheck, and then quickly transitions to offence. He maintains that top speed with the puck on his stick. Defenders are forced to back off or risk getting beaten to the net. Thomas is a smart player taking advantage of this time and space to create passing lanes to teammates and set up scoring opportunities. His wrist shot is average though. There is plenty of room for improvement, which would make him a more dynamic player overall. Thomas is poised with the puck and keeps his head up. He also plays the point on the Ice Dogs powerplay, excelling in the role of quarterback.
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