Every year, the SB Nation network of hockey blogs conducts a mock NHL entry draft prior to the real thing, with each team-specific site making picks on behalf of the club they cover. Four years ago, Fear The Fin selected Tyler Toffoli 28th overall (he ended up going 47th to Los Angeles while the Sharks drafted Charlie Coyle). In 2011, our pick was Boone Jenner whom the Blue Jackets selected at 37th while San Jose ended up trading their pick in the Brent Burns deal.
Two years ago, in a stroke of dumb luck, we went with Tomas Hertl at 17th overall a week and a half before the Sharks did the same thing in Pittsburgh (that seems to have turned out pretty well so far). Last year, our pick was Andre Burakowsky who ended up going to the Capitals at 23rd while the Sharks moved up to grab Mirco Mueller.
This year, with the 20th overall pick in the SB Nation Mock Draft, Fear The Fin selects winger Sonny Milano from the United States National Team Development Program. Here's the full list of the first nineteen picks in the mock draft so you have an idea of who was still on the board when our turn came (in case the 19th pick isn't up there yet, Tampa Bay selected Haydn Fleury). It was a difficult decision, as we also seriously considered a pair of Czech forwards who plied their trade in Sweden's top two men's leagues last season in Jakub Vrana and David Pastrnak along with a pair of Russians who played in the CHL this past season in Nikolay Goldobin and Nikita Scherbak. I'd personally be perfectly fine with the Sharks picking any of those players 20th overall next week but the 5'11", 180-pound Milano's combination of high-end skating ability and elite offensive talent was too good for us to pass up.
Milano scored an eye-popping 86 points in 58 games for the USNTDP this past season, a comparable points-per-game rate to what American superstars like Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel managed during their time with the program's under-18 squad. The caveat there is that Milano was riding shotgun with projected 2015 No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel but scouts seem to agree that Milano was far from a passenger on that line. Milano, who is committed to play at Boston College next season, is ranked 16th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, 16th overall by International Scouting Services, 20th by TSN's Craig Button, 27th by The Hockey News, 17th by Future Considerations and 12th by ESPN's Corey Pronman. Here's Pronman's take on Milano:
Milano put up giant scoring numbers with the USNTDP compared to even what most top forwards have done in the past. Some of it was due to playing on a line with elite 2015 draft prospect Jack Eichel, but he was not a passenger on that train. When you watch Milano, "soft hands" and "offensive instincts" are the things that stand out immediately, and what I heard scouts say about him. His puck skills and offensive hockey sense are among the best in the draft. He's not selfish with the puck, as he sees the ice and distributes at a high level. Milano is also a good if not an excellent skater with high-end acceleration. His defense is not amazing, but he's improved significantly in that area, even taking on some PK duty for the NTDP. His most notable weaknesses are his size (5-11, 185 pounds) and strength, and he can turn the puck over a little too much with his flashy plays. He is committed to Boston College for the 2014-15 season.
Shawn Reznik of The Hockey Writers sees Milano's NHL potential as a first-line playmaking winger who can contribute on the power play. Here's his scouting report:
An impressive playmaker, Milano drags defenders away from the play creating passing lanes. A pass-first forward, he is a versatile player capable of playing center or left wing when called upon. His relatively short stature allows him to be nimble on his skates, and his fluidity when accelerating and stopping is top notch.
His lack of size doesn’t play a factor as many people would expect since his skills help balance his game. He carries the puck up ice with grace and poise. Puck control is second to none as would be expected.
Finally, here's Red Line Report on Milano:
A terrific skater with excellent instincts at the offensive end. Generates lots of speed through the neutral zone and is very dangerous creating off the rush. Has a variety of slick moves that he can make at top end gear, and can make even strong defenders look foolish. Very unselfish with the puck and makes imaginative plays. Not big but competes well in scrums and is elusive and tough to get a clean hit on. Has a quick stick and can pinpoint shots to corners.
YouTube scouting is usually ill-advised but Milano's highlight reel from this past season is something else. My favorites are the pair of rushes that begin 2:27 into this video. He doesn't score on either of them but good god are they impressive:
Milano still needs a lot of work defensively and will likely require at least two seasons in the NCAA before he can be considered NHL-ready but the Sharks are well-stocked with defensively responsible bottom-six forwards like Chris Tierney and Freddie Hamilton. What they need, now more than ever, is high-end skill specifically at the forward position. Regardless of whether Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are traded this offseason, the fact remains that neither is getting any younger and the Sharks don't have much in the way of realistic replacements in their system beyond Tomas Hertl.
It's difficult to get that caliber of player at 20th overall and the only way to really do it is to go for a boom-or-bust type prospect instead of a safe choice. Milano would be an excellent pick if he's still on the board, as would Josh Ho-Sang (who was taken by Minnesota in our mock) or someone like Goldobin or Pastrnak. I'd really prefer the Sharks take a forward at 20th overall (there aren't many defensemen projected to go in the first round anyway) and, while it's hard to argue with their scouting staff's record of finding NHL players throughout the draft, one with high upside would be a wiser decision here than a safer pick like Dylan Larkin or Conner Bleackley.
Given the players available at 20th overall in our mock draft (again, here's the list), who would you have gone with? Cast your vote below.