With the NHL Draft fast approaching, all anyone can talk about is the highly touted top-10 of this year’s draft. However, as we have seen from past drafts, it is a team’s success in the following rounds that can be the difference between a good draft and a great draft. Some of the best players in the league have been taken in the 2nd round. Players like P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Shea Weber, Nikita Kucherov and Ryan O’Reilly are just a few examples. This draft is extremely heavy on defensemen and wingers, but has a glaring drop off in top-end centers.
Nonethless, the 2nd round, and end of the first round, has a glut of potential top-six centers that can be selected. This article will seek to shed light on these young pivots. Without further ado, here’s a look at who your team might be drafting in the 2nd round this year:
Jake Wise USNDT
Last year this time, Jake Wise was being compared to Jack Eichel due to his shifty skating and great vision. This year, the 18-year-old pivot put up 28 points in 18 games, which is extremely impressive. Had future 2019 1st overall pick, Jack Hughes, not been on the team, he would have played even more. In as such, he was playing on the second line all year. Had he played the full season on the top-line with Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee, Wise would most likely be a 1st round pick.
He is extremely creative with the puck and is able to make precise cross-ice passes with ease. The USNDT centre is able to run a very effective power-play and also possesses a precise one-timer from the circle. Wise projects as a top-6 centre in the NHL and would be able to quarterback a powerplay in the pros. He is able to burn past defensemen with ease in the USHL, but some question whether this will be possible in the NCAA or, eventually, the NHL. The fear is that Wise’s game might not translate well to the NHL. However, as we have seen with smaller players, Wise’s Hockey IQ and talent simply cannot be ignored.
The only major knock on Wise is his size. Standing at 5’10 and weighing 189lbs, he is on the smaller side. However, he makes up for his lack of size with great vision and speed. Many scouts think he could be a sleeper to jump into the first round due to a lack of centres. However, should Wise stay in the 32-38 range, any team would be extremely happy to select this first-round caliber talent. When scouts talk of picks 32-40 being an extension of the 1st round, they think of players like Wise.
Jakub Lauko, Piráti Chomutov
Not many people know of Jakub Lauko, the 6’1 172lbs pivot from Braha, Czech Republic. He broke into the Czech league this year putting up 9 points in 48 games. That’s not an easy feat for a player who turned 18 at the end of the season. He played centre the whole season, which is rare for a rookie in the Czech league. Most young players are not defensively responsible enough and are thus pushed to the wings for a year or two. He is able to use his size to control the puck and shrug off fore-checkers. His defensive zone positioning is excellent, which is why he is often trusted with PK responsibilities.
Lauko first caught my eye while playing at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, where he put up 4 goals in 5 games. His wrist shot, albeit a tad imprecise, is extremely strong and the release is extremely quick. Some friends in the Czech Republic compared his puck control ability to that of Jaromir Jagr, as the elder Czech legend was known for being able to create space for himself with excellent puck handling skills and positioning. His best asset, however, is his speed, as he can easily catch defensemen flat-footed on the rush.
He does not have top-end level talent, but he does everything right for his team. He could go anywhere in the mid to late second round to a team lacking centre depth. His size, strength and defensive ability make him a safe pick to make the pros. Lauko’s potential ceiling would resemble a player of the ilk of Lars Eller, who was an integral part of the Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory. Should he develop his offence further, he would be a home run pick from the 2nd round.
Allan McShane, Oshawa Generals
McShane is a playmaker through and through. He put up 45 assists, along with 20 goals, for 65 points in 67 games for Oshawa this year. His vision is excellent and he can find his teammates almost anywhere on the ice. The 5’11 190lbs pivot has a very high Hockey IQ and is often in the right place at the right time. His pass-first mentality has left many scouts wanting more from him, but his teammates are thrilled.
He plays the point or the half-boards on the power play and distributes the puck similarly to Niklas Backstrom. He can cross-ice saucer pass quite easily and it often meant that he was double covered on powerplays. However, for all his offensive prowess, McShane plays a full 200-foot game. His work away from the puck has proved to be quite effective down low. Furthermore, his ability to read the play and cut passing lanes allow him to quickly set-up a counter-attack. In short, McShane can control a game on both ends of the ice.
The major knock on him is his skating. His first few steps are not as explosive as you would like a center to be. He is by no means too slow, but his stride will need significant work if he is ever to solidify a top-6 job in the NHL. He is a very shifty player, but he is not able to distance himself quick enough from opposing defenders. With that said, this is something that can be rectified with a few summers of intense training. We have seen other players rectify their skating strides to become above-average skaters. McShane need only fix this detail to assure himself a top-6 position in the NHL. The rest is up to him.
Jacob Olofsson, Timra IK
For anyone who is not yet familiar with Olofsson, you soon will be. He might not even be available in the second round, as many scouts might see him as a late 1st round pick. He currently plays for the Allsvenskan’s (Sweden Division 2 league) Timra IK. Olofsson put up 21 points in 43 games while playing center and having a prominent role on the team. He followed up a strong season with even more impressive playoffs, putting up 3 goals and 4 points in 10 games. His team eventually earned a promotion into the SHL (Sweden’s top league). He is expected to return to Timra IK next year to continue where he left off. Olofsson is perhaps 2 years away from the pros, and developing in the SHL would be ideal for the young pivot.
He has deceptively good speed. Not McDavid speed, but the kind of speed that allows him to separate himself from defenders. Many scouts believe that he has to increase his lower-body strength in order to maximize his stride. Once he hits the gym regularly, his speed might actually increase further, which intrigues many scouts. He is the type of player that is most effective on the rush, as he can easily beat a defender and cut to the net for a scoring chance.
Many scouts believe that he is not overly creative, but 4 points in 5 games at the Ivan Hlinka tournament display that he is far more versatile from a creative perspective. He played on the top powerplay unit of the best team in the Allsvenskan as an 18-year old. This would indicate that his creativity is underrated. The reason he is not a surefire 1st round pick is simply that scouts are not sure if his offensive game will take the next step. After seeing him a few times this year, it certainly looks like he could be a top-6 center. At the very worst, he will be a very good third line center on a competitive team.
Jack McBain, Boston University
The young pivot put up 58 points in 48 games for the OJHL Toronto Jr. Canadiens. He has committed himself to the prestigious Boston University hockey program for next year. McBain would most likely have been a 1st round pick if this was 2011, but he ranks in the 2nd because of a lack of speed. Don’t be fooled though, he projects as a strong, bruising center.
Jack McBain is a monster at 6’3 195lbs and he could get even bigger. He plays an all-around solid and in-your-face game that is extremely attractive for teams. McBain uses his size to make space for himself down low and release a very heavy wrist shot. He does not have the greatest hands, but he is an extremely effective stick-handler.
He is able to use his long reach for key takeaways, which makes him an ideal candidate for defensive missions. His ability to protect the puck along the boards and down-low allow him to play the cycle-game like a wizard. However, when he does turn the puck over, he has been called out for his nonchalance for back-checking. He also needs to improve his skating if he wishes to keep up with the speedy NHL game. His positioning and size make up for his lack of speed in the OJHL, but he must get quicker.
Cam Hillis, Guelph Storm
Cam Hillis started his junior career a little later than most players his age. As a 17-year-old rookie for the OHL Guelph Storm, Hillis put up 59 points in 60 games. The young pivot will only be turning 18 a day after he is set to be drafted. Talk about a nice birthday present! Many scouts see untapped potential in his game as they believe he has a high development curve ahead of him.
Hillis was the best defensive player on the Storm this season, which is extremely rare for a rookie. He outperformed his teammates and often found himself in the right place for a takeaway or poke-check. Furthermore, he is extremely effective in the faceoff circle, winning over 50 % of his draws. His possession stats are extremely high and his puck handling skills are off-the-charts. He is one of those 2nd round picks that can explode the year after being drafted and my dark horse boom-or-bust pick in the 2nd round.
The only thing that will hold him back is his speed right now. Scouts have applauded how much his game has improved over the last calendar year. Many believe Hillis will take even bigger strides after he adds some mass and perfects his stride. Once his speed and size come to the level of his offensive skills, he would be a force on a 2nd line in the NHL.
2018 NHL Draft: Deeper than most years
There you have it. These are just some of the excellent players available in the 2nd round for a team looking for centres. The quality of talent in the 2nd round is utterly impressive and there could be many surprises in a few years. There is a solid chance that more than one of the aforementioned players eventually develops into a top-6 centre. In as such, it speaks volumes to the depth of this draft and should fans excited. Teams like Detroit and Montreal who boast multiple second round picks will be licking their chops come June 23rd.