Macklin Celebrini Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

5 Early Predictions for the 2024 NHL Draft

Joe Yerdon

We're just under a month away from the 2024 NHL draft, and while we're down to four teams, and soon to be two, for the Stanley Cup, the rest of the league is preparing for the future.

With the draft comes expectations—not just for what's to come with which team is picking which players—but the rest of the shenanigans that go on at the annual event. Trades, speculation...intrigue! We love all of that juicy stuff, don't we?

But we've got some time to kill before the draft kicks off in Las Vegas on June 28 with the first round, and Rounds 2-7 on June 29. Let's look into our crystal ball and see what could occur during the draft.

Given it'll be the last time (for now) that the draft will be done with everyone in the same spot and with a grand location like Sphere as the setting, there's no doubt there'll be some theatrics. We can hope for some fireworks, too.

But let's have some fun and come up with some predictions for the draft. And look, if we're right, we'll take our act to somewhere else on The Strip because who doesn't love a good psychic?

Defensemen Will Dominate the First Round

Artyom Levshunov Michael Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images

We'll all be talking about Macklin Celebrini going first to the San Jose Sharks, rest assured, but the draft really gets interesting after him.

The 2023 draft was full of intrigue after Connor Bedard because there was a host of forwards who could've gone in any order after him. This year there are plenty of high-end forwards to be found beyond Celebrini (Ivan Demidov, Cayden Lindstrom, Berkly Catton among others), but it's blue liners that will dominate the discussion.

College stars like Artyom Levshunov (Michigan State) and Zeev Buium (Denver University) along with Anton Silayev (Nizhny Novgorod-KHL), Zane Parekh (Saginaw-OHL) and Sam Dickinson (London-OHL) could all be top-10 picks and then you'll have Adam Jiricek, Carter Yakemchuk, Aron Kiviharju, and Henry Mews factoring into the mix in the first or early second round as well.

It's a good year for teams high in the draft to need high-end defensemen to fill out their prospect ranks and those searching for a future No. 1 or No. 2 will be in luck.

You Are Going to Feel Really Old

Tij Iginla Dale Preston/Getty Images

Watching the NHL Draft is a good, fast way to have an existential crisis in the first place because it's an event filled with 17- and 18-year-olds being selected by NHL teams to become the next wave of stars in the league. That's one thing but seeing the sons of former NHLers is a whole other way to help question the passing of time on this planet and when they're the children of guys who seemingly just got out of the league that only makes it worse.

This is where Kelowna Rockets forward Tij Iginla's arrival on the scene should help put all of us in our places.

Tij is the son of Calgary Flames legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla who retired from the NHL in 2017. Sure, that was seven years ago and sure we should be used to this whole thing by now, but it hits a little harder when it's a guy who seemingly was still playing recently at an elite level.

Tij won't be the only son of a former NHLer in this year's draft, but he's the one whose dad had the most prominence in the league. No offense to Jiri Fischer's son Lukas, Derek Plante's son Max or Miroslav Satan's son...Miroslav, of course.

If this is a new feeling for you reading this to wonder, "My gosh, am I old now" after seeing the kids of players you watched when you were presumably younger, let us be the first to welcome you to the club of realizing time never stops even though it may have frozen for you in your mind.

Chicago Will Trade Up One More Time

Chicago GM Kyle Davidson Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was a bit of an eyebrow-raising moment a week ago when the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders completed a trade in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Those sorts of things do happen on occasion, but they usually involve players.

Chicago acquired the No. 18 pick from the Islanders in exchange for the No. 20 pick and two second-round picks (No. 54 and 61). Trading up in the draft isn't uncommon either but those kinds of deals usually occur on the draft floor the day of the event, not a month out from it.

GM Kyle Davidson has not been shy about wheeling and dealing at the draft. His first one in 2022 saw him acquire first-round picks from Ottawa for Alex DeBrincat, Montréal for Kirby Dach and Toronto in the Petr Mrazek deal.

Chicago has a load of young prospects already and they've got the No. 2 pick to go along with the No. 18 pick this year. That they gave up two second-round picks to move up two spots and swap places with the Islanders might be the cost of doing business, but it also makes us think they've got more up their sleeve to make a bigger splash in Las Vegas.

Considering they'll be able to pick anyone not named Macklin Celebrini at No. 2, their need to add more defensive talent to their prospect pool as well as more scoring means there's an equal chance of them selecting Ivan Demidov, Anton Silayev or Artyom Levshunov with that pick. Maybe they think they can use No. 18 and more to move up again to perhaps pick Demidov and then one of the many excellent defensemen that would likely be gone by the time they pick again.

Vegas Will Steal the Show

Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Every team that hosts the NHL draft always tries to do something to get the hometown fans pumped up when it's their time to make a pick, particularly on the night of the first round.

Call it a cheap pop, call it showmanship, call it whatever you want—it's part of the fun of the draft. We're all for it because, more often than not, it means making a big trade. With the Vegas Golden Knights hosting the draft this year, perhaps the last one with a big audience and a show to put on, there's no way they play it cool, right?

Think of any player in the NHL who might be available in a trade. Go as big in your mind as you want to and then think about Gary Bettman walking to the podium at Sphere and saying: "We have a trade to announce. The Vegas Golden Knights trade..." and filling in the rest with that player's name. Mitch Marner? Sure thing! Leon Draisaitl? Why not, live a little! Juuse Saros? OK, go nuts!

Anything is possible with Vegas and they'll do whatever it takes to put themselves in a better position to go deep in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup. Kicking off the next season to hype up the fans by stealing the show at the draft with a blockbuster trade would be the logical first step.

They're going to do something, and the only questions are: When will it happen and how big of a trade is going to be?

Utah Will Be the Most Active Team

Utah owners Ashley and Ryan Smith Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Weirdly enough, all eyes at the draft in Vegas will be on Utah.

Even though the hockey side of operations are all the same from Arizona, including GM Bill Armstrong, the entire offseason will be dominated by what the Utah franchise will do given their newfound freedom to spend. But before free agency gets potentially wild, the draft is where they'll be able to fire their first salvo that things are going to be different.

The first real bold prediction for the Utah group is that they'll have their nickname ready to announce by the draft. Owner Ryan Smith recently called into the Pat McAfee Show and said he's got it down to four potential names with Mammoth and Yeti included in the mix.

With a month until they'll hit the stage at Sphere, it's hard to believe they'll walk up there without being able to make their first pick and not know what they're going to be called. It's a momentous occasion for them and they're picking sixth so they're going to be selecting a very good player for the future.

They're also going to have seven picks in the first three rounds of the draft (one in the first and three each in the second and third rounds). They can make those picks, sure, and building up their prospect base more is a good idea...but they can also use those picks in trades to add players to the NHL roster to give them an honest to goodness push for a playoff spot next season. Doing that on top of having money to spend in free agency means things could change in an instant for Utah.

They're going to be busy and it's only a matter of just how busy they'll turn out to be.


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