We have already covered our top 32 as well as forwards that could bring value past the first round, so now it’s time to look at some defencemen and goalies. As for defencemen, there are plenty of players that hold NHL potential, but they are not of the same quality of the forwards. As for goalies, it’s likely all of them go outside of the first round with a couple holding high value based on their rankings.
Let’s look at some names that could have bring great value although there are not certified first-rounders.
Highest Ranking: 25th
Lowest Ranking: 110th
Luca Cagnoni is a super fun player to watch. He’s one of the best offensive defencemen in the draft and works great through transition. His skating is fantastic possessing some top-notch agility and quick foot speed. Once Cagnoni enters the offensive zone, he takes control of the game, moving around effectively with his puck control and skating, and then running the cycle with his passing ability.
His defence is actually quite good for the junior level, but it may not translate into the next level. The only big knock on his game is his size, as it may force him to play a pure offensive game. Cagnoni projects to be a top-four defenceman who can quarterback a power play.
Highest Ranking: 28th
Lowest Ranking: 73rd
In the earlier parts of the season, Caden Price was a for sure first-round pick according to rankings, but his wildly inconsistent play has seen him drop. Price has shown to have some good puck-moving skills, the puck running through him in the offensive zone, and making high quality outlet passes. When retrieving the puck, he looks to make the best play and can fight off the oncoming forechecker.
But the catch is that this is only when Price is feeling it because when he’s not, he’s very bad. When he’s bad, Price looks out of sync and lost, committing many mistakes such as turnovers, and providing no offensive value. The only constant is his off the puck play, using his stick effectively in transition and having solid gap control. If things go right for Price, we’re looking at a top-four, maybe top-pairing defender, but if the struggles continue, he’ll probably never be more than a bottom-pair guy.
Highest Ranking: 32nd
Lowest Ranking: 94th
Beau Akey is one of the most stable defencemen in this draft class. To start, he possesses a strong shutdown traits being able to push oncoming opponents to the perimeter, close down the middle of the ice, stick check against an opposing rush, and read when to pinch and do so effectively. One of the reasons he has such a strong shutdown game is overall skating ability. Akey can use an explosive stride to reach a quick top speed and then pivot without losing any of that gained speed. He can also make abrupt turns causing opponents to be caught off guard.
His skating is of a strong two-way defender, but has yet to develop any offensive skills above the average. Shooting, passing, and handling all have flashes of being higher end, but have yet to break through. In my eyes, it’s very likely Akey will build a better offensive game before reaching the NHL and that will tremendously help him. I think at the worst, Akey ends up as a fifth defencemen on a good team and at the best, we’re looking at a number three who can eat minutes and play on the power play and penalty kill.
Highest Ranking: 43rd
Lowest Ranking: 79th
Aram Minnetian seems to be a consensus mid second- to third-round pick and it would be very surprising if he wasn’t picked in that range. Minnetian is an offensive defenceman with raw skill and it will take some time to develop him properly. Something he does really well is providing support for his teammates, he’ll show up at the perfect moment as a fourth option or create space by drawing attention. Minnetian has a pass-first mentality, always looking to create passing lanes and opportunity whether it’s in the zone or on the rush.
He isn’t the best on defence but has shown flashes of improving such as being able to push attackers to the outside. For his game to take the next step, Minnetian will need to stray away from simplicity and try new things as well as building true separation speed. As already mentioned, Minnetian will need time to flesh out his game and if done properly, you’re looking at a solid second-pair defender.
Highest Ranking: 46th
Lowest Ranking: 138th
Matthew Mania is a prospect with a lot to like whether it’s his fun name, higher upside, and/or his strong underlying numbers. Mania is creative as some of the top forwards in this draft class. He excels at deceiving and manipulating his opponent allowing him to create high-danger chances and some times, highlight reel plays. His favourite move seems to be the forehand to backhand toe drag and will very often get by the opposing players with it.
Mania is also gifted with very good shooting and passing skills. He has a strong wrist shot, can make long stretch passes, generate slot shots, and have nice give and goes with his teammates. Usually a defender with this much creativity and deception falls victim to risk taking and turnovers and Mania is not an exception. He’ll be caught forcing plays or looking lost, trying to somehow work his way out of a bad situation.
Although he’s solid defensively, his reads can be poor and he can be caught chasing the rush or trying to lunge at an opponent. Mania should be a top-four defenceman one day, but there is a smaller chance his problems hold him back from getting solid minutes.
Highest Ranking: 55th
Lowest Ranking: 158th
Ranked to go anywhere in the second to fifth rounds, Carter Sotheran would be a solid pick in any of them. Sotheran provides a solid overall game highlighted by his hockey IQ. Defensively, he can lead opponents into vulnerable positions causing him to strip them of the puck. When it’s time to retrieve the puck, Sotheran will scoop it up and do his best to start the counter attack immediately. While on the rush, he’s patient and waits for better options to develop, creating more quality offence for his team.
He’ll avoid board battles attempting to reel back and set up his teammates instead. Improved skating could go a long way for Sotheran’s offensive game allowing him to be more smooth with retrievals and cut backs. Sotheran projects to be a bottom-pair defender with potential to become a number four.
Highest Ranking: 66th
Lowest Ranking: 179th
The main part of Albert Wikman’s game is his skating and he’s not the biggest guy so it may be surprising that he’s mainly a shutdown defenceman. Wikman uses his above-average skating super effectively on the defensive end. He has great gap control, being able to time his gaps and execute consistently. Driving opponents to the outside with quick turns and speed is something that Wikman can and does do. He also uses his stick to be a solid transition defender. Offensively, Wikman is starting to test things, using his speed and edges to be effective in transition and providing more chances. Just like Sotheran, Wikman is looking like a bottom-pair guy with a chance of playing as a number four.
Highest Ranking: 78th
Lowest Ranking: 177th
Francesco Dell’Elce is a very intriguing player in the later rounds as he has the potential to be the steal of the draft. Dell’Elce uses his powerful skating, a combination of a strong stride and deceptive edges, to be a useful player through transition and on the rush. To compliment his skating, he uses his pretty good set of hands to fake out oncoming forecheckers and leave them in the dust. He loves to look for passing opportunities on the rush, and if he doesn’t see one, he cuts back to wait for one to arise or build pressure.
With some toe drag releases and a shot with power, Dell’Elce provides good goal scoring abilities. His smaller size holds him back from being physical defensively and forces him to rely on his stick. Being an offensive-minded defenceman at a low-level of competition will always ensure risk being attached to his name. I could see a timeline where Dell’Elce never makes the show, but I could also see a timeline where he develops into a top-four defender. In the mid to late rounds, Dell’Elce will be a risk worth taking.
Highest Ranking: 83rd
Lowest Ranking: 202nd
Luke Coughlin is a smaller-sized, offensive defenceman whose stock took a hit with a early season injury. Coughlin doesn’t have some defensive qualities such as reach and strength, but his skating definitely makes up for it. He’s quick and has acceleration, but his edges and four-way mobility is what stands out the most. His skating allows for him to be great in transition and provide offence on the rush. He’s got decent enough passing and handling skills that get the job done in the offensive. A bottom-pair, power play specialist is likely the career path for Coughlin with a small chance of making it as a number four.
Highest Ranking: 87th
Lowest Ranking: Undrafted
Hudson Thornton is the only over-ager on this list and it’s for good reason. Thornton was one the WHL’s best and most productive defencemen this season scoring 74 points in 68 games. Alongside that, Thornton had some really good underlying numbers. He pairs solid skating with some good puck-moving abilities to be a threat offensively and through transition. He also plays a decent defensive game, keeping the inside lane shutdown and pivoting to control gaps. Thornton may not get drafted at all again this year, but I’d say he’s a solid player to take a chance on in the later rounds as he might be a bottom-pair guy who has a tiny chance of being a fourth defenceman.
Highest Ranking: 41st
Lowest Ranking: 103rd
Jacob Fowler is quietly one of the more consistent goalies in this draft class and Twitter scouts love him. The 6’2″ goalie hasn’t posted anything less than a .921 save percentage in all of his tracked seasons and even though the leagues are lower level, it’s still a bit impressive. Fowler has great lateral movement and it’s what stands out most about him. He pushes off his leg to swiftly go from post to post leaving little space to finish. Something about Fowler that’s valuable is his ability to quickly go from the VH position to standing up which can be effective against quick puck movement. When the opposing team is applying pressure, Fowler can become prone to getting low and slow, leaving it easy to score on one timers and high shots. Fowler should be a starter at the next level with the potential to be a high-quality one.
Highest Ranking: 71st
Lowest Ranking: 291st
Something that is super cool about Damian Clara is when he likely hears his name called on Thursday, he will become the first Italian-born player to be drafted into the NHL. Immediately what sticks out about Clara is his massive frame coming in at a tall 6’6″. For a big goalie, he moves smoothly in the net and can make strong pushes to move side to side. His size gives him two advantages, he can challenge the shooter and he covers large parts of the net when in the butterfly position. If Clara can learn to use his size even more effectively as well as not get as easily beat by dekes, things will look very good for him and his potential will sky rocket.
In the defence and goalie department, the Flames are at two different ends of the spectrum in each. For defencemen, the only prospect who truly sticks out is Jeremie Poirier, so being able to land a couple of the mentioned defencemen would be huge for their future. On the other hand, the Flames hold the rights to arguably the best goalie prospect in the league in Dustin Wolf, so while it would be nice to have some depth to be comfortable with, goalies shouldn’t be priortized. Just like the forwards, all of these players vary. Some look like sure shots in lower roles while others project to have top-four roles in the NHL with a bit more risk to them, so once again, preference can and will play a massive role.