When you boil it down, there are two ways to approach the NHL draft. Teams can pick the best player available, or draft to fill an organizational need. Most draft pundits feel taking the former approach is the smartest way to build a strong, deep prospect pool. Some teams, however, disagree.
If every team drafted purely to fill an organizational need in 2018, what kind of player would they be seeking?
After breaking down the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, here's a look at the Western Conference. Note: For some of these teams, "need" is relative to their prospect pool and not a commentary on whether that pool is strong or weak from a larger perspective.
With their first pick falling at 23rd, toward the end of the first round, the Ducks should target one of the skilled, intelligent defensemen remaining on the board. Their forward prospect pool is in good shape comparatively, and it’s possible they’ll find someone who can make an impact – someone like Alexander Alexeyev.
In addition to their first-round pick, the Ducks have the 54th, 79th, and 85th selections. It would serve them well to use one of those third-rounders on a goaltender, given their current goaltending depth. Depending on how other teams’ picks shake out, Jakub Skarek could still be on the board.
Like many of their fellow Western Conference teams, the Coyotes are noticeably thin on the wing. One solution to this is to take a center and shift him over to the wing. But if there's an option to draft a talented winger, why not do it? If the Coyotes are drafting for need at fifth overall, someone like Oliver Wahlstrom will be tempting.
Arizona also holds the 55th pick at the end of the second round and then picks 65, 73, and 74 in the third round. At 55th, selecting a right-handed defenseman like Jett Woo would be wise. There’s a pretty good chance the Coyotes won’t use all three of their third-rounders, but if they keep No. 65, winger Sampo Ranta might still be around.
The Flames don’t have a pick until the fourth round when they select 105th overall. That’s less than ideal, and it’s difficult to project how picks so far down the draft order will develop. There’s a decent chance the Flames make a trade between now and then for a first- or second-round pick, and we’re going to operate on the assumption they do.
In this hypothetical post-trade scenario, we’ll assume the Flames get a mid-to-late pick in the first round and a mid-round pick in the second. Players who fit Calgary's needs – wingers who can score – available at those picks could include Grigori Denisenko in the first round and Jesse Ylonen in the second.
At first glance, the Blackhawks’ defensive depth looks solid – but looks can be deceiving, and quantity does not equal quality. Aside from standout Henri Jokiharju and college players Ian Mitchell and Chad Krys, no names in Chicago's defensive pool stand out.
The Blackhawks pick eighth and 27th in the first round and aren't on the board again until 69th in the third round. If they focus solely on their defensive need, at eighth the Hawks should take whoever is available among Evan Bouchard, Quinn Hughes, Noah Dobson, or Adam Boqvist. At 27th, options could include K’Andre Miller or Rasmus Sandin.
Outside of their NHL right wingers (a skilled group led by Mikko Rantanen), the Avalanche are noticeably thin in that area. Additionally, most of the prospects who play other forward positions and can be used at right wing don’t exactly inspire confidence. It’s time for Colorado to reinforce that group.
The Avalanche hold the 16th, 47th, and 58th picks. Wingers available at No. 16 could include Vitali Kravtsov or Martin Kaut. In the second round, the Avalanche should target players like Dmitry Zavgorodniy or Ranta.
It’s difficult to have too many complaints about the Stars’ prospect pool. It contains impressive names like Miro Heiskanen, Riley Tufte, and Jason Robertson, and the Texas Stars, the team’s AHL affiliate, are playing for the Calder Cup.
So if we get picky, one skill the Stars should draft for is speed. Bolstering the speed of their prospects leads to the opportunity to develop more players who can hang with the team’s marquee names.
The Stars hold pick No. 13 in the first round and select 44th in the second. Pursuing a forward like Joel Farabee in the first round and a defenseman like Calen Addison in the second will considerably improve the speed among Dallas’ young depth pieces.
The Oilers need to stop wasting their contract spots on middling, supposedly reliable former college players, and instead invest in fast and skilled prospects. No player signed by the Oilers over the past month will grow into the kind of player who can keep up with Connor McDavid. It's time to draft more players like Kailer Yamamoto, and fewer who prompt headlines like “(Player Name) Is A Good Depth Signing.”
Edmonton owns the 10th and 40th picks in the first two rounds. At 10th, a center like Jesperi Kotkaniemi would fit well, and there are reports the Oilers are interested in him. If Kotkaniemi isn’t available, Joe Veleno would be a suitable fallback option with his blazing speed. And at 40th, if center Aidan Dudas is still unclaimed, the Oilers should roll the dice.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are short on wingers, and this year's draft has plenty of promise at that position. Los Angeles needs to steer its focus away from larger players and has moved in a better direction there recently. Size shouldn’t be a priority because that's limiting.
The Kings hold pick No. 20 in the first round and select 51st in the second. In the first round, wingers like Dominik Bokk or Grigori Denisenko may be available. In the second, their options could be Jonatan Berggren (who can also play center) or Matej Pekar.
The Wild pick at 24th, then not again until the top of the third round at 63. Fortunately for them, a solid goaltender should still be available at 63rd – someone like Alexis Gravel of the Halifax Mooseheads, for example. At 24th, the Wild would be better off selecting a skilled forward like Bokk or Ryan McLeod, if either is available.
The Predators are deep down the middle. While some of those centers can switch to wing, that doesn’t solve the problem of Nashville's shallow winger pool, especially because it's unlikely many of those prospects will make an impact in the NHL.
There’s one problem, however: The Predators' first pick doesn't come until the end of the third round at 89th overall.
If David Poile trades for a first-round pick, the Predators will have options to draft a skilled winger. If their first pick remains at 89th, they could be looking at someone like Johnny Gruden from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are lucky the early rounds of this draft will feature many high-ceiling defensemen. Their prospect pool does not, and it’s difficult to identify any young Sharks defensemen capable of making a serious impact at the NHL level. Smart puck-movers should be a priority this year.
The Sharks pick 21st, then don’t select again until 114th in the fourth round. There’s no telling who will still be on the board in the fourth round, which puts the pressure on that 21st pick, assuming San Jose doesn't acquire others.
Good options are Miller or Bode Wilde. Who knows, the Sharks might even get lucky and see skilled WHLer Ty Smith fall down the board due to his size.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are another team thin on wingers who can be relied on to make a splash at the NHL level. Jordan Kyrou is capable, and he should be in the NHL next season.
The Blues select 29th in the first round and 45th in the second. Serron Noel could be around at 29th, and clearly, the Blues have done well with OHLers in recent years (see: Robert Thomas, in addition to Kyrou). In the second round, options may include Ylonen or Niklas Nordgren.
What do the Canucks need? What don’t the Canucks need? While they have some very good players in their system – look no further than Elias Pettersson – Vancouver could add high-octane prospects on defense. The seventh overall pick allows them to do that this year, as at least one of Bouchard, Dobson, or Quinn Hughes should be available.
The Canucks also pick near the top of the second round at 37th, where Jonathan Tychonick may also be up for grabs. If he is, Vancouver shouldn’t hesitate – he has first-round talent but could fall due to playing in the BCHL. Jared McIsaac may also be available.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights are in a unique position. Their prospect pool is just getting started, so they need depth everywhere. We saw their goalie depth in action this season when Dylan Ferguson briefly left the WHL to see some NHL ice time. Puck-Moving defensemen and dynamic wingers are what Vegas should focus on this year.
Barring a trade for a first-round selection, the Golden Knights hold picks 61, 99, and 115 to get started. A defenseman like Calen Addison may still be around at 61, but the Vegas scouting staff needs to dig deep to find wingers with potential.
A quick look at a Jets depth chart shows they’re lighter on the wing than at center and defense. There are many skilled wingers available this year, but the Jets are another team without a first-round pick. That makes their task difficult, but not impossible.
Barring a trade, their first pick won't come until No. 60, the end of the second round, followed by pick 91 at the end of the third. Wingers available at the end of the second round could include Cole Fonstad or Zavgorodniy.
Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter at @HockeyWthHannah.
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