2015 NHL Draft Profiles: At 39th overall, a defenseman may be the best option
Nicolas Meloche is just one of a bevy of strong defensemen likely to be available for the Sharks in the 2nd round.
In the first round of the draft, and especially in the top-10, drafting the best player available is almost always the best course of action. But in the 2nd round and onwards, the difference from player to player is so minute that positional and stylistic needs can be taken into account. It of course all depends on who the Sharks select in the first round, but the likelihood is that going into Day 2 of the draft, defense will still be the biggest need in the Sharks organization. Fortunately for the Sharks, there are several great options to be considered when picking at 39th overall.
I. Noah Juulsen
Juulsen is a two-way defenseman with NHL size that has been steadily rising as the season goes on. He is mobile, physical, and composed, three traits that are very desirable in a defenseman. While he began this year mostly off the radar, his play has earned him a rank in many scouts' first round. Juulsen is also right-handed, which is something to take into account given the difficulty of acquiring right-handed defensemen compared to their left-handed counterparts. He is a strong skater, good on breakouts, and is willing to join the rush.
Juulsen recorded 52 points in 68 games, which indicates that he has a solid amount of offensive upside at the NHL level. He was first among draft eligible defensemen in primary assists, over top prospect Ivan Provorov and teammate Ryan Pilon while playing shutdown minutes. His +15% relative even strength goals for percentage leads all WHL and OHL draft eligible defensemen by a good margin, reflecting his strong two-way ability.
All-in-all, Juulsen is a good well-rounded two-way defenseman with the stats to suggest further offensive upside. While he was only ranked #37 on Bob McKenzie's final list, most other publications have him in the late 20's, so don't be surprised if Juulsen's name is called in the first round. That said, if he is available at 39th overall he would be an excellent option for a team searching for a strong top-4 two-way right-handed defenseman, which is to say every team.
II. Vince Dunn
Dunn is another player who rose towards the end of this season. He's a mid-sized offensive defenseman whose skill with the puck on his stick is high-end. If you're looking for a pure upside pick, Dunn would be a great choice in the 2nd round. He has the kind of game-breaking offensive ability from the blue line that the Sharks desperately need after Brent Burns. Dunn can handle the puck at top speed and loves to jump into the play and put the puck on net.
As tracked by Todd Cordell, Dunn scored at a .61 points per game in the first half of the season, which is respectable enough, but exploded for 1.03 points per game in the second half and only trailed Mitchell Vande Sompel, who we'll get to, and Ivan Provorov among draft eligible CHL defensemen. Despite this, Dunn ended up at #36 on Bob's list and most scouts ranked him in the early-mid second round. His defensive play is a work in progress, and the fact that he's a late 1996 birthday should be considered, but defensemen with Dunn's level of talent don't grow on trees and you have to take a chance if you want a steal.
III. Nicolas Meloche
Meloche is part of an abnormally strong crop of defensemen coming out of the QMJHL this season which includes Jeremy Roy, Jakob Zboril, and Thomas Chabot. He is a two-way right-handed defenseman who is known for his snarl and willingness to throw the body while still playing a positionally smart game. At 6'3" and 205 lbs, Meloche is the type of defender that forwards hate to play against. While not being a speedster by any means, Meloche is quite mobile and an effective skater even though he could seriously improve his game by increasing his quickness.
Meloche scored 34 points in 44 games this season, including 10 goals. In fact, Meloche also put 3.41 shots on goal per game, which led draft-eligible Q defensemen by a full .5 shots per game (shots on goal aren't tracked by the WHL or OHL). While not the flashiest of offensive players, Meloche offers the toolkit of a nasty shutdown defender while putting up the numbers to prove that he's no coke machine.
One of the most attractive things about Meloche is how young he is; Meloche doesn't turn 18 for a full three weeks after he'll be drafted. Looking at past defensemen drafted in the second round that became stars, a surprising number of them had later birthdays (May or later). That list includes names like Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Travis Hamonic, and younger guys like Damon Severson and Tyson Barrie. The trend doesn't stop with 2nd rounders, as a disproportional amount of 1st rounders and late rounders who made the NHL in top-4 roles also had later birthdays, but it is especially jarring with 2nd round defensemen. Meloche's age makes what he's accomplished in the Q that much more impressive. He came in at #44 on McKenzie's list and is typically ranked in the early forties and therefore is likely to be available when the Sharks pick in the 2nd round, but Meloche is a good bet to outperform his draft position.
IV. Mitchell Vande Sompel
The dynamic offensive blueliner is a darling amongst internet stat-mongers and for good reason. Although he checks in at just 5'10", making him distinctly below-average in terms of height compared to the average NHL defenseman, Vande Sompel's offensive moxy is just too hard to ignore. Vande Sompel put up 63 points in 58 games for the Memorial Cup-winning Oshawa Generals, good for fourth on the team and by far the tops amongst blueliners. Skating and quick decision-making highlight Vande Sompel's skillset and facilitate his aggressive offense game.
Detractors point to his defensive and physical game as counterpoints to his statistics, and additionally Vande Sompel did play some games as a forward when the Generals needed him to, but hey, what's wrong with rovers? If anything, this gives the team drafting him options if his size turns out to be too much of a problem on a NHL blueline. Vande Sompel is worth taking a risk on, especially for a team with exactly zero future offensive defensemen and zero future powerplay quarterbacks in the system. Vande Sompel is ranked anywhere from the early 2nd to the mid-3rd round by scouting agencies, so he'll almost certainly be on the board at #39 and might even be available as a trade-back candidate.
V. Rasmus Andersson
In his first year in the OHL, Andersson came to the Barrie Colts and did his very best to fill the void left by last year's first overall pick, Aaron Ekblad. While it was a tall order, Andersson managed to put up 64 points in 67 games, which was good for fourth on the team and triple the output of the Colts' next most productive D. Andersson has good size at 6'0" and 212 pounds as well, and a full season as a quality producer in Sweden's tier-2 league as a 17 year old under his belt.
Despite this, Andersson is only ranked #59 by McKenzie's list, and can be found anywhere from the late 2nd to the 4th round in various rankings. Two reasons for this are his skating and decision-making. Andersson is a very heavy-footed skater, even if he's not slow per se, and his skating could hold him back at the NHL level. Additionally, one of the things that stands out in his game is that his decision-making can at times be glacial, particularly when trying to break out of his own zone. Between these two factors and the fact that Andersson was dead last in the Wingate and second to last in VO2 max at the Combine earlier this month, the latter test one that consistently has future Sharks amongst its best results, and Andersson has some serious questions around him.
If the Sharks want Andersson, they would be best suited to trade down to the late 2nd round and take him there, while acquiring another pick. Andersson is clearly an interesting prospect, but he's not as strong as some of the others on this list.
VI. Jacob Larsson
Larsson is a steady two-way defenseman out of Sweden who split this season between J20 and the SHL this season. At 6'2" and possessing good skating and smarts, Larsson has the tools to become a good modern day shutdown defenseman. He is defensively inclined, with good gap control and a willingness to engage physically in front of his own net, but he is not a pure defensive defenseman. He is a decent puck-mover and has a quick and accurate shot, which he is willing to use. Larsson is steady and composed and effective, but he is not flashy and he won't wow you with coast-to-coast rushes or dekes.
The other defensemen on this list have higher upside that Larsson, especially offensively, but Larsson is a solid pick in his own right. Larsson is consistently ranked in the early thirties by scouts, so the likelihood that he's available when the Sharks pick is somewhat in the air. Two-way Swedish defensemen with size tend to be sapped up quickly. Larsson's 6th place finish in VO2 max testing makes it likely he's on the Sharks' radar.
VII. Erik Cernak
Cernak has flown under the radar playing in the Slovakian men's league this season, but there is a lot to like about him. He uses his 6'3" frame and long reach (6'7.25"!!!) well to defend in his own zone and in front of his own net. Cernak is a punishing yet restrained physical player and uses his physical advantages to their fullest. While not an exception skater, Cernak is mobile and can get around. Combining his physical tools with a good hockey IQ and Cernak is a very intriguing prospect.
Cernak is another righty and another late birthday, two factors out of his control that are certainly appealing. Additionally, he is said to have untapped offensive upside and could be a home run pick. There are very few comparables for Cernak since there aren't a lot of Slovakian defensemen drafted out of their top league, but one might be Oilers defenseman Martin Marincin. In their respective draft years, Cernak more than doubled Marincin's point production. Additionally, Cernak put up 2 points in 6 games at this past winter's WJC, which puts him in the same company as top prospects Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, and Zach Werenski.
Scouting services have Cernak ranked anywhere from 20th (Corey Pronman) to 90th (Future Considerations), so trying to peg where Cernak will be drafted is not easy. If a team believes in his upside, he could be gone before the Sharks pick; it only takes one team. But the likely scenario is that Cernak is available at 39. He finished at #41 in McKenzie's rankings, so he shouldn't be a reach if the Sharks do decided to select him.
VIII. Oliver Kylington
What? it could happen.
While it is possible that a high-upside forward like Daniel Sprong, Jeremy Bracco, or Anthony Beauvillier could be on the board at 39th overall, there probably won't be a clear consensus BPA at that point in the draft. The Sharks could take that opportunity to bolster their system with the best defenseman on their board. Any of the guys on this list would be acceptable to fantastic selections. Defensemen that the Sharks should probably stay away from are pure defensive guys like Brandon Carlo, Gabriel Carlsson, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Matt Spencer. In terms of later round picks, Jesper Lindgren, Veeti Vaino, Caleb Jones, Sebastian Aho (SWE), Gustav Bouramman, Alexandre Carrier, Jeremy Lauzon, Vili Saarijarvi, and Kyle Capobianco are names to look out for.