One thing that draft analysts do – other than ranking the prospects up for the draft – is determining where the dropoffs in talent in a particular draft class are. For the 2018 class, the first major drop is widely considered to be after the 9th selection.
That consensus “top tier” group of prospects is made up of Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson and Brady Tkachuk. Those nine players are expected to be taken with the first nine picks in the draft.
For the most part, scouting services and draft analysts have found consensus on the top nine available prospects. However, the same can not be said for the 10th best. There’s little agreement on who the 10th best player is; at the conclusion of the majority of prospect’s seasons in March and April, one of Ty Smith, Joe Veleno, Joel Farabee and Barrett Hayton could typically be found in that 10-spot, depending on the service.
However, the group of contenders for selection at #10 has expanded since then. Powered by a strong U18 World Championship, Finnish forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi thrust himself into the mix, and now has a legitimate chance at cracking the top 10.
The most likely landing spot for him would seem to be 10th, because of the “Big 9” at the top of the draft, but there’s actually a fair chance that if Kotkaniemi ends up going in that top 10, he is actually selected somewhere between pick #3 and pick #9.
That is because Kotkaniemi is the ultimate reach candidate in this draft. The 2018 class is notably deep on defensemen, and has it’s fair share of wingers as well, but it’s lacking down the middle of the ice. This low volume of high quality centres means that if a team really wants a centre in that top 9, they’ll have to reach for it. Kotkaniemi’s status as the top centre will make him the top candidate to be taken above their consensus ranking.
The Montreal Canadiens have been thin on centre for years now, and will be looking to address that need via the draft after failing to fill the need by trade over that span. If they are desperate enough to plug that hole and add a “true centre” – rather than Brady Tkachuk, who can play some centre but is primarily a winger, Kotkaniemi is likely at the top of their list, although Quebec native Joe Veleno may garner consideration as well.
Kotkaniemi could also find a fit with the New York Rangers, who will be looking to add to their core down the middle, or possibly the Detroit Red Wings.
Ultimately, whether or not Jesperi Kotkaniemi goes in the top 10 will depend on whether teams decide to draft for need or just take the best player available.
Typically, teams take the “BPA”, but there are always a few teams that go the other route.
If one of those teams that choose to address a need are drafting in the top 10, it’s likely that Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be the one selected. He’s rarely featured in the top 10 of mock drafts, but maybe he should be, as the possibility of him going in the top third of the first round is very much legitimate.
We’ll see on draft day.