With the 2018 NHL Draft on the horizon, let’s break down the top wingers in the upcoming prospect pool.
Wingers have taken over the 2018 NHL Draft prospect class, especially toward the top. The same names remain in the top five, as was the case for seemingly months on end. However, other wingers such as Jesperi Kotkaniemi have moved significantly up the poll since the World Junior Championship in December.
What makes the class so out of the ordinary when comparing it to recent years is that no centers are predicted to be in the top 10 picks of the draft. The past few years have seen the obvious franchise centers in Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Nico Hischier, but that isn’t the case this year.
An increasing need for productive wingers over the years has shown for clubs around the league. Teams that have been selecting at the center position now need players to surround them. The teams in the top five of this year’s draft have a great chance to do that with the luxury of youth, speed and development on their side.
Wingers make up for half of the ten opening picks in mock drafts such as this one. It’s the position of depth throughout the seven rounds, so missing out on the players in the top end of selecting could mean that there will still be some gems later on.
However, out of the deep pool of wingers, five talents have stood out for a good portion of time. It’s finally the year for wingers in the draft, and these five players mentioned in this piece will most likely be touted as high-end talent, and for good reason.
5. Jesperi Kotkaniemi
As mentioned before, Kotkaniemi has slowly moved up the ranks of this year’s draft class since the beginning of the NHL season. Sublime performances at the international level with Finland combined with his league play with Assat in Liiga have really propelled Kotkaniemi up the ranks of his draft class.
The 17-year-old is not the type of winger to get the puck on his stick and immediately think of shooting. Kotkoniemi is very patient and waits for lanes to open up. He seems to look for the pass more often than the shot, which can be a good and bad thing.
The Pori-born winger is very good along the boards at even strength and the man advantage. Opponents seem to lay off of him when he stays towards the high-slot, but there’s obviously no chance he’ll be experiencing the same level of opposition at the pro level.
Kotkoniemi isn’t very physical in terms of board play, either. He relies on pace to get him out of situations below the red line and usually looks to swing the puck up to a defenseman.
However, the most important thing for a player like Kotkaniemi is that he scores the goals and provides the helpers. He had 10 goals and 19 assists with Assat this past season, while amassing three goals and six assists with Finland at the World Junior Championship.
Other areas of the game for Kotkaniemi will hopefully come over time. Another boost to his game is that he can play center, too, which surely helped raise of rank in this year’s draft class.
Kotkaniemi will need time either back in Finland or at the AHL level. At the moment, he falls in the range of the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks, all of which could use a winger with great hockey intelligence.