Florida Panthers: Top 31 Players and Full Mock Draft

KOSICE, SLOVAKIA-MAY 13: Kaapo Kakko #24 of Finland slash Jack Hughes #6 of USA during the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Slovakia group A game between United States and Finland at Steel Arena on May 13, 2019 in Kosice, Slovakia. (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)
KOSICE, SLOVAKIA-MAY 13: Kaapo Kakko #24 of Finland slash Jack Hughes #6 of USA during the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Slovakia group A game between United States and Finland at Steel Arena on May 13, 2019 in Kosice, Slovakia. (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images) /

To those who were disappointed the prospect rankings were broken out by position, I am extending an olive branch. Below you will find my top 31 prospects, regardless of position.

This list is a prioritized best player available blueprint for the first round. If I were to create a mock draft using simply ‘best player available’ in my own opinion, this is what it would look like.

The first thing you will note will be the preference for defense at the top of the draft. This is based on a few thoughts and opinions.

I’m clearly higher on some defensemen than most others. Heinola, Bjornfot, and Johansson are consistently outside the top 20 (but not always). Bjornfot and Johansson are sometimes in the second round or even later.

That presents an opportunity to move back and get one or more of these players in the real world, instead of taking them higher up.

Outside of the real world, my Top 31 operates much like my forward and defender rankings — I leaned in on my already against-the-grain picks. If I am right, this Top 31 will age well.

Another reason to pick defenders early is the growing importance and changing role in the game. Their value is trending high over the last few years and it doesn’t look to be slowing down (especially right-handed D).

A top-four defender who can do a little bit of everything, even with a quiet or subtle game, is always in need. Think of what some teams pay for well-rounded, steady D. That is the floor for all the defenders on this list but Honka (who has a high ceiling).

Where else would you find these defenders, if not at the draft? Trading assets means losing top-end forwards, or multiple drafts picks.

Free Agency gets expensive, with Tyler Myers looking at 7 years, $6 million per. Waiting at most 2-3 years for a top-four defender to join the NHL on an ELC is worth it with the importance of ELC contributors to the roster in the salary cap era and the potential minutes and impact they will have once there. Not many forwards arrive sooner.

Kakko over Hughes comes down to two things: NHL readiness and more verifiable production. Kakko proved himself in a top professional league against men.

He outscored Sasha Barkov, breaking what was the goal record for draft-eligible forwards in Liiga. Kakko will have no problem playing in the NHL next year. He was an important part of the Finnish Men’s gold medal team in the World Championships. A tournament Jack Hughes was out of place.

Hughes would be the first player to make the jump from the US Development Program to the NHL. That would be less daunting if Hughes did not have injury concerns with a frame that doesn’t cushion much.

Comparing Hughes’ production to Kakko, while both record-breaking, is a bit useless. Hughes was outpaced by Turcotte in USHL play in points per 60, showing how high-end that USDP team was, in minor junior USHL competition. Kakko’s points are easier to invest in.

You may also notice that the top 31 does not strictly adhere to the rankings. For instance, Cole Caufield is rated higher in my rankings than Philip Tomasino on sheer shooting skills.

Below in my Top 31, Tomasino goes first, banking on the potential as a center. Both Caufield and Tomasino are likely to go high given the sentiment around the league. The list just shows which player I’d be more willing to jump for.

This list does not have any player write-ups — to see what I would have copied and pasted here, go to the Forward and Defender Ranking posts.

Less talk. More list.


Top 31 Prospects

  1. Kaapo Kakko / RW, C / L / FEB 01 / TPS / Liiga
  2. Jack Hughes / C, LW / L / MAY 01 / USDP / USHL
  3. Philip Broberg / L / JUN 01 / AIK / Allsvenskan
  4. Kirby Dach / C / R / JAN 01 / Saskatoon / WHL
  5. Vasili Podkolzin / RW / L / JUN 01 / SKA 1946 St. Petersburg / MHL
  6. Arthur Kaliyev / LW / L / JUN 01 / Hamilton / OHL
  7. Ville Heinola / L / MAR 01 / Lukko / Liiga
  8. Victor Soderstrom / R / FEB 01 / Brynas  / SHL
  9. Dylan Cozens / C, RW / R / FEB 01 / Lethbridge / WHL
  10. Bowen Byram / L / JUN 01 / Vancouver / WHL
  11. Alex Turcotte / C / L / FEB 01 / USDP / USHL
  12. Matthew Boldy / LW / L / APR 01 / USDP / USHL
  13. Tobias Bjornfot / L / APR 01 / Djurgårdens / SHL
  14. Albert Johansson / L / JAN 01 / Färjestad / SHL
  15. Patrik Puistola / LW / L / JAN 01 / LeKi / Mestis
  16. Philip Tomasino / C / R / JUL 01 / Niagara / OHL
  17. Moritz Seider / R / APR 01/ Mannheim / DEL
  18. Peyton Krebs / C, LW / L / JAN 01 / Kootenay / WHL
  19. Nils Hoglander / LW / L / DEC 00 / Rogle / SHL
  20. Pavel Dorofeyev / W / L / OCT 00 / Metallurg / KHL
  21. Cole Caufield / RW / R / JAN 01 / USDP / USHL
  22. Thomas Harley / L / AUG 01 / Mississauga / OHL
  23. Raphael Lavoie / RW,C / R / SEP 00 / Halifax / QMJHL
  24. Ryan Suzuki / C / L / MAY 01 / Barrie / OHL
  25. Lassi Thomson / R / SEP 00 / Kelowna / WHL
  26. Trevor Zegras / C / L / MAR 01 / USDP / USHL
  27. Albin Grewe / RW / L / MAR 01 / Djurgardens / SuperElit, SHL
  28. Ilya Nikolayev / C / L / JUN 01 / Loko Yaroslavl / MHL
  29. Mikko Kokkonen / L / JAN 01 / Jukurit / Liiga
  30. Maxim Cajkovic / W / R / JAN 01 / St. John / QMJHL
  31. Anttoni Honka /R / OCT 00 / JYP / Liiga

Mock Draft

Every year I always try my best to predict the unpredictable NHL Draft. Most years I am happy when I get zero, or only one wrong in the top 6 or so picks. Beyond that, my mocks always look like paint covered smocks.

For the below Mock Draft, I did my best to try to fit the team with the player I think they would realistically select, from my distant perch. Some of these players may not even be on my list.

With FLA’s pick, I may have let bias creep in there. I also assumed no one would trade their pick, and these picks are as of Wednesday morning. So it doesn’t adjust for whatever monumental move happens between now and draft day.

1 / NJD / Jack Hughes

Devils stick with consensus. Sure, they could switch it up but it’s an unnecessary gamble as a GM, most feel.

2 / NYR / Kaapo Kakko

Rangers have the easiest pick of the draft. I’ll buy the first person who sends me a screen image of this post a Kakko t-shirt jersey if he (or Hughes) doesn’t get picked here.

3 / CHI / Alex Turcotte

Blackhawks aim to backfill Toews. Realistically down to Byram, Dach, or Turcotte it’s believed.

4 / AVS / Kirby Dach

Avalanche take the best player available with this freebie. I also think Colorado needs to make up for Jost’s lackluster start. Cozens and Zegras are options as well. Thanks, Ottawa!

5 / LAK / Bowen Byram

Kings add needed skill by taking the first defender. If Byram is still available, that seems an easy pick. If he isn’t, I think they take Caufield to play with Kupari.

6 / DET / Trevor Zegras

Red Wings add a center to their recent rash of wingers. More smoke to Zegras in Detroit than Cozens, but I’d prefer Cozens. DET took the falling winger last year, not sure they do this year.

7 / BUF / Dylan Cozens

Sabres assist Eichel, take the last top-end center off the board. Buffalo still needs everything, so nothing would surprise me here.

8 / EDM / Matthew Boldy

Oilers draft a winger for Draisaitl. There is a lot of talk Edmonton will draft a defender. But outside Nurse, they don’t draft D, and many would argue their wings are more depleted now.

9 / ANA / Philip Broberg

Ducks will take the best defender available with lack of centers on board. Anaheim is a team that sticks to their strengths as well, and they can really draft and develop defenders.

10 / VAN  /Alex Newhook

Canucks swing big on a complimentary player for their forwards. Vancouver has the young forwards to wait out Newhook, and withstand any Jay O’Brien like draft +1 year fall offs. Vancouver is likely to stick forward, and I could see them reaching for a center like Tomasino.

11 / PHI / Victor Soderstrom

Flyers pick a needed right-handed top 4 defender. Soderstrom would be the best move the Flyers have made in a while, and a needed fix to a problem that required Niskanen and Braun as stop gaps. Philly could easily take Podkolzin knowing they can wait, or print enough Comcast money to buy out the KHL contract.

12 / MIN / Arthur Kaliyev

Wild take Russian goals without fear of repeating Kaprizov past. Minnesota needs to quickly add high-end skill to rebuild the decaying Parise-Suter core. I could see Minnesota taking Spencer Knight here as well, signaling the rebuild.

13 / FLA / Ville Heinola

Panthers shop for Ekblad partner. There’s a lot of smoke around #13 and right-handed defenders Soderstrom and Seider would make sense if FLA still believes in Matheson long term. They are short on both sides of the blueline, so I’m not focusing on handedness. Heinola is my best left-handed defender, which is why he’s my pick.

14 / ARZ / Cole Caufield

Coyotes hunt for goals they have trouble finding in free agency. GM Chyka has reached and traded back before but with Caufield, I think he just steps up and takes a more traditional pick.

15 / MTL / Moritz Seider

Canadiens go with a popular pick. By draft day, Seider could easily be trending as the second defender off the board. He’s that popular among some, but I think beyond the hype the development isn’t reliable or turn-key enough for an earlier pick.

16 / AVS / Vasili Podkolzin

Avalanche inherit the falling winger they can wait for. Avalanche would also be primed for Spencer Knight if he got here. Grubauer timeline ends right around when Knight’s would begin. Avalanche have feasted in the first round and don’t terribly need more top-end skaters with 4th overall this year as well.

17 / LVK / Thomas Harley

Knights need to fill traded Brannstrom’s spot. Harley has the rising potential to increase his value over next year, much like Brannstrom. The defenseman Knights keyed in on (Schmidt, Miller, Theodore) play similar style games.

18 / DAL / Cam York

Stars continue to build through defense. DAL has two top-end offensive defenders, which makes my concerns over York’s true offensive skill pretty moot. York won’t need to carry the offense, but just transition the puck and focus more on his defensive effort.

19 / OTT / Peyton Krebs

Senators make up for a lower draft slot with Krebs who falls due to Achilles injury pre-draft. Here’s another landing spot for Knight. OTT scouts drafted a good prospect pool with a stash of picks built up. Taking falling forwards or making a big reach feels equally as possible.

20 / WPG / Tobias Bjornfot

Jets trade back into the first to replenish their defense. Bjornfot is pretty versatile and can play both sides and many roles. After Morrissey, who knows what WPG D will look like in a few years.

21 / PITT / Philip Tomasino

Penguins jump to take the best player available. Bjornfot would also make sense here, as I see similarities in Letang and him. Penguins lost Sprong and cycle through forwards pretty quickly, good bet they get one here.

22 / LAK / Spencer Knight

Kings prepare to move on from Quick. Knight may not make it this long, and if that’s the case, I think Kings go forward, maybe Suzuki or Hoglander.

23 / NYI / Patrik Puisitola

Islanders continue the trend of selecting a highly skilled forward. After Bob McKenzie’s rankings, I have worried Puistola will fall out of the first round. NYI are definitely a team that could take the high-skilled winger.

24 / NSH / Ryan Suzuki

Predators lack centers and Suzuki could make up for Turris down the line. Nashville has used defenders as currency so they may just invest in a defender to flip one now, or to even flip later (like Sam Girard).

25 / WSH / Pavel Dorofeyev

Capitals gamble on their success with this type of prospect. No reason for Washington to change philosophies now. Heck, Ovechkin will be playing through most of this Russian winger’s RFA years I bet.

26 / CGY / Albin Grewe

Flames draft playmaking winger with their preferred sandpaper possession style. Flames could also use a center but this pick may not provide that. Grewe will fit alongside their core forwards and has played center. Flames tend to pick Swedes I like.

27 / TBL / Lassi Thomson

Lightning head back to Kelowna to get a promising defender. It would not shock me to see Thomson also get the bump Seider is rumored to be getting as we head into the draft. Similar size and skating, with a big shot.

28 / CAR / Nils Hoglander

Hurricanes add more skill up front with a player who may be close to NHL games. CAR doesn’t fear small size, and Hoglander has the creativity to play with the core forwards they have. Can Hoglander play in 2020-21?

29 / ANA / Jamieson Rees

Ducks use their second pick to address team need.  Rees is a high-skilled center who didn’t play many games because of injuries and a suspension. For me, he is a mid-round option but to others, he’d have been here with more games.

30 / BOS / Bobby Brink

Bruins swing for fences on Brink’s scoring, worry about skating later. BOS has made a few headscratchers in the first round, some that have worked out. Brink has the offensive tools and compete that they liked in Vatrano and Debrusk.

31 / BUF / Mikko Kokkonen

Sabres add a low-risk, steady defenseman. Sabres try to move on from the O’Reilly trade by banking a pretty safe top-four defender. Kokkonen may not hit 35 points in the NHL a year, but he should play 20 minutes, be positive in the defensive end, and kill penalties.

Next. FLA Should Consider Drafting Defenseman Cam York. dark

Stay tuned for our next piece, as we will breakdown a seven-round mock draft for the Florida Panthers.