Proving teams wrong: Ten under-the-radar 2018 draft prospects coming off of a fantastic season

NHL scouting departments don't get paid for making the easy picks. It's finding the gems well below their draft rankings that can help make or break the future of an NHL club. Here are 10 players picked outside of the first round coming off of a fantastic season.
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Scouts don’t make the big bucks because they recommend drafting a star player in the first round. Choosing someone like Connor McDavid or Jack Hughes doesn’t make you look smart, but selecting Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Lundqvist in the later rounds will.

There’s are reasons teams have their own scouting departments, spending years looking at each draft class to make the best picks possible. Part of the prospect development process is following the progress of under-the-radar guys a year after their draft. You see a good mix of talent that was hiding the shadows late in the selection process proving teams wrong and making your scouting department look like geniuses for picking them.

That’s what we’re looking at today. With the 2018 draft having been completed nearly a year ago and after talking to pro and amateur scouts alike, here are 10 players picked outside the first round coming off of a fantastic season:

Alexander Romanov, D, 19 (Montreal, 38th overall)
If you didn’t know much about Romanov before the World Junior Championship, now you do. Despite a small 5-foot-11 stature, Romanov plays well above his weight and showed it by a multitude of big hits with the Russians. He also spent the year with CSKA Moscow in the KHL, putting up four points in 43 games. Not much of an offensive threat, Romanov is exactly the type of strong defenseman the Canadiens want, and he has proved he can play with the big boys in his native land. He’s a few years away, but he’s the best defenseman in Montreal’s system.

Bode Wilde, D, 19 (NY Islanders, 41st overall)
If you don’t follow bantam hockey (so, most people), it’s easy to overlook the fact Wilde was once regarded as a top 2000-born prospect. Even in his draft year, he was lauded for his many fantastic traits, such as a great shot and splendid top speed. But in his own zone, Wilde is seen as a liability, something that’s kind of important if you’re a defenseman. But with Saginaw, Wilde finished the season with 51 assists and 70 points, good for third among OHL defenders. Wilde will be in contention for the league’s top defenseman award in 2019-20.

Tyler Madden, C, 19 (Vancouver, 68th overall)
Would Madden have received more attention in 2018 if he played for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program or in the OHL? Absolutely, and his play this season proved it. After a strong showing at the World Junior Championship for the Americans, scoring three goals and four points in a depth role at 18, Madden had 28 points in 36 games with Northeastern for one of the more impressive rookie seasons in college hockey. He helped his school win the Hockey East championship and was an honorable mention for the all-star team, too. Madden is a stud in the making for the Canucks.

Lukas Dostal, G, 18 (Anaheim, 85th overall)
Dostal moved often this season, playing in three Czech leagues, two Finnish teams and the U-19 and U-20 Czech junior teams. He was impressive everywhere he went, taking Ilves in the Liiga into the post-season after putting a beating on the Czech second league earlier in the season. At the world juniors, Dostal surprisingly took the starting role away from Jakub Skarek, and while the Czechs struggled throughout the tournament, Dostal finished with an impressive 1.25 goals-against average and .957 save percentage to finish as one of the best goalies. With Dostal set to be Ilves’ starter next season, the Ducks should be pleased with his development.

Jachym Kondelik, C, 19 (Nashville, 111th overall)
Think the Preds like to draft big? Kondelik is further proof, with the 6-foot-7, 218-pound monster showing this year that he’s more than just a large presence. Kondelik had 26 points in 33 games with the NCAA’s Connecticut this year, with his 22 assists tying him for fourth among freshmen. How’d he do with the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship? He only scored one goal, but it came off a deflection off his face, and he didn’t miss any time as a result. Yeah, he’s tough, but he is a pest in front of the net and he showed he can set plays up, too.

Philipp Kurashev, C, 19 (Chicago, 120th overall)
The Hawks couldn’t have asked for much more from Kurashev. Sure, they maybe would have wanted a slight boost in his QMJHL output in a year that saw him put up 65 points in 59 games, but with six goals and seven points at the World Junior Championship and another four markers at the World Championship with Switzerland, Kurashev didn’t disappoint. He even played a few AHL games with Rockford and looked OK despite failing to put up a point in three games. As a fourth-round pick, Kurashev is looking like a very impressive future depth center.

Mathias Emilio Pettersen, C, 19 (Calgary, 167th overall)
In terms of prospects coming from smaller European hockey programs, Great Britain’s Liam Kirk stole most of the spotlight last year. But of all the risers from the draft, few were as good this season as Pettersson, a Norweigan. As an NCAA rookie, Pettersson finished fourth among freshmen with 30 points in 40 games with Denver while putting up six points with Norway’s U-20 team at the Division IA World Junior Championship. He’s got the skill and now he has the numbers to show for it. How long until the Flames try to pry him from college?

Veini Vehvilainen, G, 22 (Columbus, 173rd overall)
Passed over a whopping three times, Vehvilainen was a polarizing figure among draft nuts. On one hand, Vehvilainen had a history of spectacular performances in domestic and international play, but he also had more than a few ugly moments, too. Vehvilainen won the Liiga’s top goaltender award a second year in a row after leading the league in GAA (1.58) and SP (.923) in an effort that saw his Karpat club lose out on the title. Now signed to the Blue Jackets after winning gold at the World Championship, Vehvilainen will battle for an NHL spot in training camp with Sergei Bobrovsky sure to move on. Fellow rookie Elvis Merzlikins has the edge on him so Vehvilainen will likely start in the AHL.

Tyler Tucker, D, 19 (St. Louis, 200th overall)
Heading into the draft, Tucker looked like a kid who excelled in the physical game with some good puck-moving traits but lagged on the production side of the game. But this season, the seventh-round pick truly exploded offensively, scoring 14 goals and 59 points to surpass his previous high of three goals and 23 points with the Barrie Colts. Tucker was often Barrie’s best player this season and will likely serve as a mentor for GTHL star Brandt Clarke next season. Tucker is a legit NHL prospect now.

Trey Fix-Wolansky, RW, 20 (Columbus, 204th overall)
Teams were scared to pick Fix-Wolansky in his first year of eligibility in 2017, but the Blue Jackets are looking very smart with yet another impressive late-round addition. Sure, at 5-foot-7, there are questions about his size. But after leading the Edmonton Oil Kings with 102 points (a 40-point gap to Vince Loschiavo in second), Fix-Wolansky showed he’s capable of doing damage. Yes, he’s older than a lot of the kids he put up points against, but the Oil Kings weren’t afraid to use him in any situation. His skill set should translate to the pro level because he has the upper-body strength to deal with bigger players.

Other notables: Akil Thomas, C, 19 (Los Angeles, 51st overall), Mac Hollowell, D, 20 (Toronto, 118th overall), Riley Damiani, C, 19 (Dallas, 137th overall), Samuel Ersson, G, 19 (Philadelphia, 143rd overall), Pavel Shen, C, 19 (Boston, 212th overall).

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