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Learning about 2018 NHL Draft prospects: Volume 1

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The draft will be here before we know it; let’s know some guys!

Guelph Storm v Windsor Spitfires Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft just a few weeks away, General Manager Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers could be adding up to nine prospects to the organization. There’s already a lot out there on those who are expected to be drafted in the top 31 to 62, but what about the guys who are supposed to go anywhere from 63rd to undrafted? In a series of articles before the draft, I’m going to try and analyze both the well-known prospects and some of the lesser-known prospects who aren’t expected to go relatively high next month. Let’s know some guys.

Ryan Merkley
One can’t argue Ryan Merkley’s offensive upside, but there are a few other concerns to his game that may make him drop a bit in next month’s draft. The 5’11”, 170-pound right-handed defenseman had 13 goals and 54 helpers for 67 points in 63 games for the Guelph Storm this season in the OHL, as he was one of the best point-producing blue liners in the league. Of the 59 OHL d-men who played in 63 OHL games or more this season, Merkley finished tied for second with ten goals, third with 0.38 points-per-game, and sixth with 30 points at 5-on-5. A dynamic playmaker with high-end skating capabilities who has amazing vision, Merkley is suited with attributes that help him convert chances at both 5-on-5 play and on the power play.

If it came down to just the offensive side of his game, it sounds at though Merkley would be a lock to be taken in the top 15. However, there is a reason he dropped from 21st to 45th among North American skaters from the mid-term rankings to the final rankings. He needs to work on a lot of things on the defensive side of his game and it sounds as though he has some issues handling his emotions. To go along with the dispute between him and former Guelph Storm head coach (and Philadelphia Flyer) Jarrod Skalde, Merkley received a three-game suspension for slashing Daniel Walker of the North Bay Battalion back in February. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman wrote about Merkley not too long ago and the long list of issues he’s seemingly had on the ice.

As you can see in the highlights, Merkley has a really good wrist shot and isn’t afraid to let it rip. He also loves to carry the puck into the offensive zone, and isn’t afraid to drive it to the net or attempt to make plays below the opposing goal line.

DraftSite has Merkley going 18th overall in next month’s draft, while SB Nation’s Die by the Blade has him going 25th.

Dominik Bokk
Another player with amazing offensive upside with some (lesser) concerns about the defensive side of his game in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is Dominik Bokk. A right winger from Schweinfurt, Germany, Bokk stands at 6’1” and 179 pounds. He posted 14 goals and 27 assists for 41 points in 35 games for the Vaxjo Lakers HC J20 team while producing one goal and one assist in 15 games for the organization’s SHL team.

Bokk has some of the best hands in the draft and is great at winning one-on-one battles with the puck on his stick. His shot is also underrated to an extent because of how much everyone focuses on his passing. Add in his ability to read plays well and his quick acceleration, it’s easy to see why Bokk’s play in the defensive zone may not be that important to his overall appeal. Eyes on the Prize summarizes this well in their scouting report of Bokk from last month:

“The defensive aspect of his game, especially in his end, is a work in progress, but not a glaring weakness. He is an effective forechecker, able to steal the puck from defenders and act as a solid support, assisting defenders when facing an opposition rush, and creating quick counterattacks from the neutral zone.”

Draftsite has Bokk going 31st overall, while Die by the Blade had him going 32nd. He is most likely to split time between the SuperElit and the SHL for the Vaxjo Lakers HC in 2018-19.

Jay O’Brien
A 6’0”, 174-pound center from Hingham, Massachusetts, Jay O’Brien moved up the North American skater rankings from 44th to 32nd due to another monster high school season. After he had 24 goals and 41 assists for 65 points in 30 games for Thayer Academy in 2016-17, O’Brien provided 43 goals and 37 assists for 80 points in the same number of contests this campaign.

A prospect that managed to receive such a high ranking despite playing high school competition, O’Brien’s game has drawn a lot of attention. A lot is made of his ability to work hard every single shift, but he also has an incredible shot and is a fast skater who uses his speed to effectively backcheck. O’Brien’s style of game is reminiscent of one current NHLer, according to Ben Kerr of the Last Word On Hockey:

O’Brien is a project. He will need some time to adjust to faster games, and to the level of competition, he will face in the NCAA. Expect him to spend a year or two in college before moving on to the pros. There is high-end potential though, and this could be a very good risk/reward type pick for a team. O’Brien’s game is reminiscent of Nathan MacKinnon, however, this is just a stylistic comparison and not one based on potential or ability.

That could explain why O’Brien could have received such a high ranking despite his competition.

His tenacious forecheck and recognition to turn defensive stops into odd-man rushes the other way are highlighted in this video, but he also puts home an impressive goal that showcases patience at 2:25.

O’Brien is anticipated to go 78th overall, according to DraftSite. He’ll play for the Providence Friars next season in the NCAA.

Jack Drury
Although the family lineage is there and he jumped from 60th to 27th on the North American skaters rankings, there are some reasons to not be too high on Jack Drury. Chris Drury’s nephew is 5’11”, 179 pounds and put up 65 points in 56 games as a center for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL this season.

The point total isn’t too bad for Drury, but digging a little deeper on Drury’s numbers doesn’t make the Winnetka, Illinois native’s season look too great. He only had 12 points in 44 games last season and produced just 24 of his 65 points at 5-on-5 this season, which put him 47th among 99 USHL forwards who played in at least 56 games. With 24 goals on 151 shots, Drury’s 15.89 shooting percentage isn’t astronomical, but it’s a little high. As Pronman also pointed out recently, Drury also may not be counted on as The Guy at the next level, which limits his ceiling:

“Drury is a smart and hard-working, two-way forward. He makes a ton of clever plays all over the ice. His best offensive attribute is his vision, as he’s able to make plays to teammates and do so at a quick pace. Drury will get to the net, play hard and, despite his size, win pucks and kill penalties. I question his offensive upside, though. His skating is average. His hands are average. He doesn’t project to carry a line or QB a power play. He could be a very fine bottom-six forward.”

Obviously, there are still strengths to Drury’s game, which are evidenced in these highlights. He has a quick release that he is able to either fool goalies for goals or create rebounds for his teammates. Drury also illustrated his ability to crash the net on the man advantage to put home a greasy one or show his wrist shot accuracy from close.

DraftSite has Drury going 128th overall in the fifth round. He’s committed to Harvard University for the 2018-19 season.

Zach Solow
Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint why many scouts aren’t in favor of a draft-eligible prospect. In Zach Solow’s case, it isn’t that hard, as the 5’9”, 183-pound center went undrafted last year despite being named the USHL’s forward of the season following a nice campaign with 69 points. With five goals and 21 assists for 26 points in 38 games for Northeastern University this season, the smaller forward went wire-to-wire as 204th on the North American skaters rankings.

The undersized forward is a unique case not just for his stature, but because he’s not from a usual hockey hotbed. Similar to Shayne Gostisbehere, Solow is from Florida and makes an argument as to why that should make him a more appealing NHL prospect. From Kevin Allen’s article for USA Today on Solow back in February of 2017:

“People think of Florida, they think sandy beaches not hockey,” Solow said. “But in Minnesota and Massachusetts you have to fight to get the ice. In Florida, hockey is accessible. The ice is always there. I can always go to the rink and work on something and I can do it at a reasonable time. In other states, you have to go at 6 a.m.”

After he was mocked to 84th in 2017, Draftsite mocked Solow to go 117th overall in the fourth round of this year’s draft. He will return to Northeastern University for his sophomore season in 2018-19.

Jacob Bernard-Docker
Similar to Cale Makar in last year’s draft, Jacob Bernard-Docker is making some noise as a right-handed blue liner in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. After he was ranked 62nd at the mid-term rankings, this 6’1”, 172-pound rearguard finished 33rd among the North American skater rankings. Although his numbers this season aren’t as insane as Makar’s last year, Bernard-Docker did post 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points in 49 games for the Okotoks Oilers.

Bernard-Docker is a tremendous skater with a high hockey IQ, which helps his two-way play. His hard shot helps to make him a great power-play quarterback as well. Regarded as a d-man that does a lot of the little things right, his focus and leadership is something that has caught the attention of the right people. Here’s what Oilers’ head coach Tyler Deis told Derek Neumeier of Future Considerations about Bernard-Docker back in April:

“For such a young guy, his professionalism is unbelievable. He’s just always wanting to get better, not just on the ice, but off the ice — his academics, his athletics. He’s a focused kid that, at the end of the day, he knows what he wants and he’s willing to put the hard work into it.”

Slated to go 41st overall in the second round of Draftsite’s mock draft, Bernard-Docker is committed to the University of North Dakota in 2019-20.

Jachym Kondelik
A 6’7”, 218-pound (yeah) center from Hannover, Germany, Jachym Kondelik had an underwhelming season in what was expected to be a bounce-back year. His 16 goals and 18 assists for 34 points in 44 games with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL isn’t ideal and most likely led to his drop from 27th to 48th among the North American skaters rankings. With just 15 points in 43 games during his first season in the USHL in 2016-17, more was expected out of Kondelik, a towering forward who registered 23 goals and 46 assists for 69 (again, nice) points in 44 games for HC Ceske Budejovice’s U-18 team in 2015-16.

Regarded as a gigantic net front presence that uses his body to his size, Kondelik is still looking to harness his two-way play and frame into points. Steve Kournianos does a great job summarizing Kondelik’s game in his Prospect Notes for the 2017 World Jr. A Championship:

“Powerful two-way center with size and soft hands who played quite well in his two games before leaving the squad to join the Czech Republic’s U20 world junior team, which is holding camp in Upstate New York. Kondelik hasn’t produced as much as expected over his two years in the USHL. But he seems to step his game up when he plays for his country. Kondelik, who is committed to the University of Connecticut, can be an imposing player when he’s engaged, and he makes quick work of defenders who try to dislodge him from the crease area.”

As a teenager that is over six-and-a-half feet tall, it’s hard for Kondelik to do anything without it looking at least a little awkward. That being said, he showcased a power move that he should be using with that size in this highlight.

Kondelik is committed to the University of Connecticut for 2018-19 and was mocked 76th in Draftsite’s mock draft.