Welcome to the first annual Crier Media First Round NHL Mock Draft. The NHL front offices are descending onto Nashville to prepare for the biggest off-season event in hockey. Let’s look into Crier’s crystal ball and mock up the predictions on what the first round on Wednesday night could look like for Canada’s NHL-based franchises. Now there could be more trades made, but as it stands now, Saturday the 24th, these are the picks all of the Canadian-based Franchises hold. Let’s first list the teams that traded away their first-round selections.
Ottawa traded this pick to the Arizona Coyotes as part of the Jakob Chychrun trade. This pick sits 12th overall. This may be one of those trades Senators fans look back on and regret were made. That may not be the case if Chychrun becomes a true top defender in the NHL. But that won’t stop the “what if” from being posted all over social media.
The Edmonton Oilers traded this pick to the Nashville Predators as part of the return in the Mattias Ekholm trade. This pick ended up at 24th overall. With the Oilers’ need being on defense, they would have used it to find themselves the type of defender that Ekholm is, big, mobile, and physical. Instead, they get Ekholm himself, and it is an excellent fit for the Oilers who needed his veteran presence, especially as this is a franchise that is in “win-now” mode.
Now, moving on to the Canadian clubs that kept their picks, or traded to get back into the first round
Montreal Canadiens– 5th Overall – Will Smith – C – USNTDP
Matvei Michkov is the player the fans want management to select, however, the San Jose Sharks take that decision away from Habs management as they select the Russian winger. The Sharks have the luxury of time, so they can wait for him to finish his KHL contract before joining the NHL. Leaving the Canadiens with a tailor-made selection as they pick centerman, Will Smith. The 18-year-old from the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) finds himself reunited with general manager (GM) Kent Hughes, who was his coach in youth hockey.
The 6’0”, 180-pounder scored 66 goals and 169 points in 80 games played as part of the Program, placing him second in scoring with the UNTDP behind only Gabriel Perrault and his 177 points. It was in the U18 World Junior Championships however that Smith stole the offensive show as the leading scorer in the entire tournament (9 goals and 20 points) helping to lead Team USA to a gold medal. He is committed to Boston College (along with his linemates Gabe Perreault and Ryan Leonard), giving him time to develop and add strength before making the leap to the NHL.
Vancouver Canucks – 11th Overall – Nate Danielson – C – Brandon Wheat Kings WHL
The Canucks are in a strange predicament. They need to retool to add pieces to help their star core of Quinn Hughes and Elias Petterson. They also want to compete for a playoff position immediately, which would indicate they are very impatient and will want a prospect ready now. But at 11th overall, they won’t get that, so instead, they choose to add a piece they desperately need, a quality center prospect by the name of Nate Danielson.
Danielson, a 6’1” and 187 pounds, has good size and is an excellent skater, making him by far the best center remaining on the board. He has great compete, excellent defensive skills, a high character, and was the only standout on a terrible junior team. As captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Danielson was their leading scorer this season with 33 goals and 78 points and did so taking only 38 minutes in penalties, which highlights his ability to control his emotions. Danielson projects as Vancouver’s second-line center who can play a two-way and shutdown role.
Calgary Flames – 16th Overall – Brayden Yager – C – Moose Jaw Warriors WHL
With the roster in significant turmoil as three of their top four scoring forwards, Tyler Toffoli, Elias Lindholm, and Mikael Backlund are all expected to depart soon, Craig Conroy, their new general manager, might be pressured to target a future replacement at center. An excellent option in the middle of the first is Brayden Yager of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. He is a skilled offensive player who could slide to this pick due to his lack of size. However, he is a reliable puck distributor, who makes his linemates better. He is a strong transitional player due to his vision, puck-handling skills, and highly effective skating skills. He is also a strong defensive player thanks to a high hockey IQ, which he uses to identify danger areas for, and against, his team that he can exploit or prevent. Yager also has legitimate scoring talent. The Flames could get great value at 16th on a highly skilled player.
Winnipeg Jets – 18th Overall – Gabe Perreault – LW – USNTDP
The Jets are another Western team in flux. They will be looking at a full rebuild in the coming seasons and will need a solid start at the draft table in 2023. What better way to start than selecting Gabe Perreault, son of former NHLer Yanic Perreault? It doesn’t hurt that he is also one of the players with the most upside they’ll have the chance at selecting. He has incredible playmaking skills, on-ice vision, a high offensive hockey IQ and an excellent shot. So why is available at the 18th? His size. At 5’11” and only 165 pounds, he is very thin. He will likely need three years, maybe all four, of his NCAA eligibility at Boston College to bulk up and add strength before making his NHL debut. The Jets are about to go through a complete organizational shift, and adding his skill set and scoring will be an excellent start on that journey.
Toronto Maple Leafs – 28th Overall – Etienne Morin – D – Moncton Wildcats QMJHL
Treliving knows the importance of defensemen, he adores defensemen. For a Leafs team that has success by pushing the pace of play, they need a puck-moving defenseman, enter Etienne Morin.
Morin plays heavy minutes in all situations, regularly seeing upwards of 30 minutes per game. This was more as a necessity for a weak Moncton squad who relied on him heavily to mount their offensive attack, he finished as the team’s leading scorer with 20 goals and 65 points in 64 games. He’s a safe pick for a team looking to add defensive depth as he is projected to be a strong second-pairing, two-way defenseman that can also play on the power play. He has a solid work ethic, and it will be put to the test as he will need to dramatically improve his defensive game to be a reliable defender in the NHL. But for a team that has the luxury of time, they can develop him properly before he is inserted into their lineup.
Montreal Canadiens – 31st Overall – Ethan Gauthier – RW – Drummondville Voltigeurs QMJHL
A QMJHL Draft day trade saw Ethan Gauthier go from the Sherbrooke Phoenix to Drummondville. There he will become the main offensive force. In Sherbrooke, he rode shotgun to Canadiens prospect and Team Canada (U20 WJC gold medal) top-line winger Joshua Roy. As the son of former NHL defenseman Denis Gauthier, Ethan knows what it takes to make the NHL and to compete at that level. Also, he adds an element that seems to be important to many members of the local media and fanbase, he is a Quebec-born, francophone prospect. At this pick, the Canadiens add a player that is familiar with another of their prospects but is also seen as a safe choice due to his projectable skills. He is also seen as the top QMJHL prospect and one that can become a reliable middle-six scoring forward with excellent defensive skills. A strong work ethic, and ability to play gritty but also with a high pace of play makes Gauthier an ideal selection for anyone at the end of the first round.
Do you agree or disagree with these selections? Is there a player you believe is a better fit for your team?