Rasmus Dahlin is not only the best defenseman in the 2018 NHL draft, but he’s the best player. The Swede from Frölunda in the Swedish Hockey League is the runaway choice to be taken by the Buffalo Sabres with the No. 1 overall pick, and a solid bet to suit up at the NHL level next season.
After Dahlin, there’s still plenty of top-level defenseman for teams to choose from. In 2017, Miro Heiskanen (No. 3 by Dallas Stars) and Cale Makar (No. 4 by Colorado Avalanche) were the only defenseman selected in the top 10. This year looks to be different with some mock drafts having as many as five going in the top 10.
The Chicago Blackhawks have two draft picks in the first round at Nos. 8 and 27 this year. In 2017, the Blackhawks selected Finnish defenseman Henri Jokiharju in the first round and signed him to a three-year entry-level contract earlier this month. Chicago is expected to add to their blueline again through the draft this year.
Here are 10 of the top defenseman available in the 2018 draft, starting with the clear-cut favorite and the rest following in no particular order:
Rasmus Dahlin, Frölunda (SWE)
Size: 6-foot-1, 181 pounds
Stats: 7 goals, 13 assists in 41 games
Dahlin is the cream of the crop and will be the first defenseman taken No. 1 overall since Aaron Ekblad in 2014. Dahlin possess outstanding vision and skating along with exceptional hockey sense on both ends. His offensive game is separates him from the pack, but he’s quietly good on defensive with a physical game to win puck battles. He’ll also become the second Swedish-born top overall pick, following Mats Sundin in 1989.
Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
Size: 6-3, 180 pounds
Stats: 17 goals, 52 assists in 67 games
Dobson is one of the bigger blue liners available in this draft and has decent skating ability for a layer with his large frame. He had a lot of success running the point on the power play in the QMJHL, but there is some doubt about how well those skills will translate to the NHL level. He’s likely closer to being in a shutdown role as a defenseman than being an offensive dynamo.
Quinn Hughes, Michigan (NCAA)
Size: 5-10, 170
Stats: 7 goals, 13 assists in 41 games
Many outlets have Hughes as the second-best defenseman available in this draft behind Dahlin. The Michigan blue liner has unmatched skating ability that allows him to navigate the offensive zone and skate himself out of trouble in the defensive zone. And if a lane to skate isn’t there, Hughes has the hands to make a pass to relieve pressure or start an attack the other way.
Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)
Size: 6-2, 193 pounds
Stats: 25 goals, 62 assists in 67 games
Bouchard put up some gaudy numbers during the OHL season, helping lead Patrick Kane’s junior team to a playoff spot. That offensive ability was especially noticeable on the power play, a spot he’d likely occupy on whatever NHL roster he reaches. The questions on Bouchard revolve around his ability to handle tough matchups in his own end of the rink.
Adam Boqvist, Bryäs (SuperElit)
Size: 5-11, 168
Stats: 14 goals, 10 assists in 25 games
The selling point on Boqvist is his incredible stick-handling with the puck and his knowledge of what to do with that puck when the opportunities are available. He reads the play as well as any defender in this draft, knowing exactly when and where to jump into the play as part of an attack. Of course, all that offensive ability means there will be some doubting of his ability to prevent goals on defense. Adding on to his slight 168-pound frame would be a huge help.
Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL)
Size: 6-0, 170
Stats: 13 goals, 54 assists in 63 games
Merkley is not going as high as he did a few years ago in the OHL draft at No. 1, but he should still be an early pick Friday night. His passing ability is one of his attributes, as 54 assists in 63 games this season would suggest. But the biggest red flag on Merkley is his attitude, because he’s been known to have a short fuse on the ice, even getting sent home on at least one occasion this hockey season.
Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)
Size: 5-11, 176
Stats: 14 goals, 59 assists in 69 games
Every scouting report about Smith touts his skating, something that helped him average more than a point per game last season, which was a better rate than Chicago prospect Jokiharju. Smith is a touch undersized for the ideal defenseman prototype, but that skating ability can make up for it at times. And he’s yet another player who would look great as the quarterback on the Chicago power play.
Bode Wilde, USA Hockey NDTP
Size: 6-2, 195
Stats: 12 goals, 29 assists in 61 games
There’s plenty of an undeniable talent in Wilde’s game, according to virtually every report available on Wilde. And he’s effective on both ends of the ice. But the knock on Wilde is a lack of consistency, which can stem from subpar decision-making, at times, which can leave him out of position or chasing the play. But as a right-handed defenseman, a rarity among hockey players, he shouldn’t fall too far in the first round.
K’Andre Miller, USA Hockey NDTP
Size: 6-3, 206
Stats: 9 goals, 20 assists in 58 games
Miller is one of the more intriguing blue line prospects in this year’s draft, largely because he was a late arrival to this position, being recently converted from forward. Thanks to his prior experience on offense, Miller can skate quite well and combining that with his size makes for a solid combination of abilities. But the learning curve for defensemen is always steep, and it only gets higher when a player is a late arrival at that position.
Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)
Size: 6-1, 196
Stats: 9 goals, 38 assists in 65 games
Flashy plays are not part of McIsaac’s repertoire, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a defenseman. McIsaac had a knock for being positioned properly and consistently making the smart, simple plays during his time in the juniors. He also on the plus side of things with his skating ability, providing an all-around quality package for a player who appears to epitomize the good-but-not-quite-great category.