NHL Mock Draft 2018: Philadelphia Flyers select Rasmus Kupari with No. 16 pick

We add another skilled, speedy center to the Flyers’ prospect ranks with our first pick in the SBN mock draft.

When we last checked in on the 2018 SBNation NHL Mock Draft, we (on behalf of the Philadelphia Flyers) were doing some moving and shaking, bumping ourselves up a spot via a trade with Dallas before moving back three more to pick up an extra second-rounder from Colorado. That brings us to today, at the No. 16 pick, where it is our turn yet again.

To recap the happenings so far:

  1. Buffalo selects Rasmus Dahlin, via Die By The Blade.
  2. Carolina selects Andrei Svechnikov, via Canes Country.
  3. Montreal selects Filip Zadina, via Eyes on the Prize.
  4. Ottawa selects Quinn Hughes, via Silver Seven.
  5. Arizona selects Brady Tkachuk, via Five for Howling.
  6. Detroit selects Adam Boqvist, via Winging It In Motown.
  7. Vancouver selects Noah Dobson, via Nucks Misconduct.
  8. Chicago selects Oliver Wahlstrom, via Second City Hockey.
  9. New York Rangers select Evan Bouchard, via Blueshirt Banter.
  10. Edmonton selects Martin Kaut, via Copper & Blue.
  11. Washington* selects Jesperi Kotkaniemi, via Japers’ Rink.
  12. New York Islanders select Ty Smith, via Lighthouse Hockey.
  13. Colorado* selects Joe Veleno, via Mile High Hockey.
  14. Dallas* selects Joel Farabee, via Defending Big D.
  15. Florida selects Bode Wilde, via Litter Box Cats.

* Trades:
NY Islanders traded the 11th pick to Washington in exchange for the 31st pick and Phillipp Grubauer.
Dallas traded the 13th pick to Philadelphia in exchange for the 14th pick and Petr Mrazek.
Philadelphia traded the 13th pick and the 127th pick to Colorado in exchange for the 16th pick and the 58th pick.

It’s our turn again, and this time we actually pulled the trigger on making the pick. Hope you liked it.

/walks up to podium

/grumbles in very Ron Hextallesque fashion

With the 16th pick, Philadelphia selects, from Kärpät, Rasmus Kupari.

/highlight reel starts playing, with accompanying Whitesnake song

The basics

Position: Center
Birthdate: 3/15/2000
Measurements: 6’1.5”, 189 lbs
Team/League: Kärpät/Liiga (Finland)
Handedness: Right
2017-18 Statistics:
6 G, 8 A in 39 GP (Liiga)
0 P in 5 GP (U20 WJC)
2 G, 1 A in 4 GP (U18 WJC)

Adding some speed and skill down the middle, but with some clear room for improvement

We’ve discussed Kupari a bit on this site before, as he grabbed the No. 13 spot on our Community Big Board earlier this month. (He was the highest player left on our board when we made this pick, so really, this was a pick for you, the people.) Kupari is a dynamic player who you first notice because of his speed, as he’s probably one of the quickest pure skaters in this draft class. That speed is supplemented by a good offensive skill set; Kupari has nice hands and a pretty good shot, to go along with decent size. (Kupari also performed well in testing at the Combine, for however much weight you put into that; he had the top bench press results of all prospects at the event, and did well in overall fitness testing on top of that.)

Kupari’s year involved a lot of time being spent playing at levels that should normally be above the weight class of a 17-year old. He played in a minor role on Finland’s under-20 World Juniors team, which lost in the quarterfinals to the Czech Republic in a shootout. He also played at Finland’s highest level in the Liiga, getting into 39 games with Karpat and posting 14 points in those games, second only to Jesperi Kotkaniemi (who went 11th in this very mock draft) among under-18 players in that league.

The highlight video above (and any highlights you’ll see of him) showcase what Kupari can do on a good day. His speed is a legitimate weapon, not only to win races outright but to force defenders to stay honest and give him room as he attacks in the offensive zone. On top of that, you see that he can place a shot with some precision and make good passes when he’s under control.

But “when he’s under control” is the key part here, and it’s what makes this pick a bit of a gamble rather than a safe pick and what makes Kupari a mid-teens prospect rather than a top-10 guy.

This is the part where we admit that, as Flyers bloggers who primarily focus on the NHL, we don’t get to spend a ton of time diving really deep into film study on 17-year olds in the Finnish league to get to know their intricacies, strengths, and weaknesses, to the point where we feel like we have the authority to speak confidently on them. So here we turn to the opinions of the experts, folks who do take the time to do these things and/or are well-connected with people who do. And a recurring theme from these types when it comes to Kupari is that he still has some work to do when it comes to lining up his near-world-class skating with his on-ice decision-making.

Hockeybuzz’s Bill Meltzer wrote about Kupari earlier this month, contrasting Kupari with another recent first-round center who we’re all familiar with: current Flyers prospect Morgan Frost. The two both skate very well, but the similarities cease to an extent there, and in talking about the two of them together, Kupari’s biggest area for improvement becomes clear (emphases ours):

Kupari is one of the most polished and fastest skaters in the Draft pool this year. While he is not considered to be on par with Kotkaniemi from a sheer hockey smarts perspective or in terms of playmaking creativity, both players are willing to compete for space and both have quick and accurate shots although neither is a world-class sniper. Kupari is sound defensively and has at least third-line potential even if he does not pan out as top-six caliber scorer or playmaker. There is a chance, however, that he could become a player who slots closer to the top of an NHL lineup if his ability to execute plays offensively catches up with his breakneck pacing.

In some ways, Kupari is a bookend to Flyers’ prospect Morgan Frost. While Frost has excellent speed when he employs it, he typically prefers to slow the play down, assess his options and then carve up the defense when he sees his opportunity. Frost’s playmaking, ice vision and stickhandling are all excellent. As he advances to the pro level to play against NHL caliber defenses and has less time and space, along with getting stronger physically, Frost will have to pick up the pace of his game to fully utilize his raw skating ability. The jets are there, but currently aren’t turned on except when he really needs it.

Kupari is a player whose speed is his number one weapon, but his feet currently work faster than his reads on plays off the rush. He could actually stand to be a little more methodical at times, ala Frost. However, if Kupari can execute on the fly with greater consistency, he’ll be an all-situations weapon in the NHL especially if he can be paired with linemates who can also play with pace shift-in and shift-out.

The Athletic’s Corey Pronman alluded to something similar in his final draft rankings (in which he ranked Kupari 12th overall), saying that Kupari needs “to learn when to play quick and when to slow plays down”.

When you’re a young player and you’re more physically dominant than everyone around you, it can be easy to skate by (pun not intended, at least not at first) simply on something like high-end speed. But as you get to higher levels, and as those kinds of advantages inevitably diminish with the increase in quality of competition, speed alone can only really get you started. The opportunities to make plays, the windows in which a player has to do something great, can come and go with the snap of a finger at hockey’s top levels, no matter how fast you’re actually moving.

And thus entails the biggest challenge facing Kupari. As he continues to play against men in the Finnish league, he’s either going to need to find a way to make decisions with his hands as quickly as he does with his feet or learn how to harness his speed in a way that helps him find and make the best play available to him. Or, potentially, both.

In some ways, this makes Kupari an interesting contrast not only to Frost but to the two guys who figure to sit atop the middle section of Philadelphia’s lineup into next decade. Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick are both just-OK skaters (with the caveat that Patrick has been hampered by injury for much of the past few years and will, hopefully, get better there as he gets further removed from core surgery), but they’ve both got high-end vision and generally seem to know where they need to be. In a world where Kupari rounded out that center lineup (we’ll forget about Frost for a second here), he’d add something of a curveball to the Flyers’ current offerings down the middle, but one with a skill level superior to that of, say, a Scott Laughton-type.

You can see the upside with Kupari. There’s always inherent risk when it comes to taking guys who clearly have skill and skating ability but haven’t quite put it all together in the complete package yet on the ice. But the risk in this case isn’t that bad — even if Kupari ends up never really harnessing his full potential, there’s room on most teams’ third lines for a fast skater that has occasional wow-worthy flashes of skill. And the upside — that those flashes become regularities rather than occasions — is tantalizing, which is why he was our pick here.

We’re up tomorrow at the No. 19 spot (unless we traded the pick — did we? Who knows?), so we’ll talk again then. In the meantime, follow along with the mock draft here, and let us know your thoughts on this pick using the comments and/or the poll below.

How do you feel about our selection of Rasmus Kupari with the No. 16 pick in the SBN NHL mock draft?

Love it - he’s who I’d have picked too147
Like it - not my #1 choice here, but happy with it243
Meh - I accept it, but definitely not the way I’d have gone128
Hate it - I am disgusted with this pick and you should feel bad about it40