Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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2024 NHL All-Star mock draft: Maple Leafs join forces on Team Matthews, Team Hughes keeps it patriotic

The NHL All-Star Player Draft is back, and that means a lot of players sitting around awkwardly as they slowly realize how little their peers think of them. This season, four pairs of co-captains will be selecting their respective teams from a field of 36 All-Stars.

In the past, the All-Star draft has provided moments such as Alex Ovechkin consuming an unknown number of beverages and begging the team captains to pick him last because he needed a new car. Unfortunately for hockey fans everywhere, there will be no Ovechkin at this year’s draft.

That said, there will still be a lot of talent in Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, and it will be interesting to see how each set of captains (and celebrity captains) build their team. Will they target their teammates first? Will they go for the best players available in hopes of winning the prize money? Which poor soul will experience being picked last for a hockey game for the first time in his life?

With just over 24 hours until the 2024 All-Star Draft begins, we took a crack at predicting how things will play out. We each took two teams and started rattling off picks in a snake draft format, which will also be implemented Thursday.

Team Matthews

Captain: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Co-captain: Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

Bengel: Team Matthews had quite a strong start with one of the most gifted goal scorers in the sport in Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews. With Matthews already having teammate Morgan Rielly to help out on defense, it’s quite possible he could elect to keep a common theme of selecting Maple Leafs players. It’s extremely possible Matthews takes Toronto teammate William Nylander with his first pick in the Player Draft. After all, Nylander has been a source of constant offensive production for the Maple Leafs this season. Could he feel it up with another Maple Leaf? It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that Mitch Marner could also land on Team Matthews.

The biggest question mark will likely be when goaltenders start flying off the board. I may have jumped the gun a little bit with the goalie position, but it’s hard to stay away from Winnipeg Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck considering how dominant he’s been in the crease this season. After all, we’re talking about a goaltender that is likely the current Vezina Trophy frontrunner and has only yielded three or more goals on three occasions over the last two months.

After the onslaught of Maple Leafs, Team Matthews has some terrific secondary scoring in the form of forwards Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota Wild), Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes) and Travis Konecny (Philadelphia Flyers). This would be a well-rounded team with plenty of offensive firepower.

Team McDavid

Captain: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Co-captain: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

Nivison: If I’m speaking objectively, the fact that this team started out with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the roster already was kind of unfair. As the person drafting this team, I absolutely loved having this dynamic duo locked up before even making a pick. I also loved Nikita Kucherov being available for my first selection. Between those three, I had a combined 209 points on my team before the second round even started.

I then had another elite forward fall into my lap in the second round with Elias Pettersson, who is eighth in the NHL with 64 points. With my forward group stacked already, I looked to the blue line. Since Team McDavid is the only squad without a built-in defenseman as a co-captain, I went with the best (and only) defenseman available in Rasmus Dahlin. Over the next couple rounds, I completed a trio of Canucks with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. Getting them on the ice with Pettersson will be a) cool and b) a competitive advantage due to their chemistry.

In the later rounds, I just looked for solid playmakers who could get the puck to these lethal scorers in dangerous areas. That landed me Mat Barzal and Robert Thomas. Putting off the goaltenders until the final two rounds was a strategic gamble because I assume this roster will be able to outscore every other one in the mix, and saves are hard to come by in All-Star games anyway, no matter who is between the pipes. Besides, Cam Talbot and Sergei Bobrovsky should be more than good enough to get a couple wins for this lineup.

Team MacKinnon

Captain: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Co-captain: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

Bengel: It’s safe to say Team MacKinnon had quite the start with the Colorado Avalanche duo of forward Nathan MacKinnon and defenseman Cale Makar. It’s also a huge benefit that Team MacKinnon has one of the league’s top defensemen in Makar, who packs an offensive punch as well. With David Pastrnak sitting on the board with its first pick, it’s hard to imagine this team would shy away from the Boston Bruins star. 

Sidney Crosby is still an elite option, and it doesn’t hurt that both MacKinnon and Crosby hail from Nova Scotia. It’s quite possible MacKinnon draws on that connection and gives his team a huge bump in the leadership and playmaking departments. Even at 36 years old, it was hard for me to pass up pairing up Crosby with the talents of MacKinnon to give Team MacKinnon two of the top centers in the game.

Much like Team Matthews, Team MacKinnon could elect to shore up the goaltender position fairly early on. Like Hellebuyck, Vancouver Canucks netminder Thatcher Demko has been one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders this season. It also wouldn’t be surprising if MacKinnon selected teammate Alexandar Georgiev to be his squad’s backup goalie. Demko and Georgiev certainly would be one of the better goaltending duos any of these teams could come up with.

Team Hughes

Captain: Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
Co-captain: Jack Hughes/Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils

Nivison: Sometimes, these events are less about which team has better plays and more about which ones have the best vibes. While applying a best-available approach to Team McDavid, I went with the much less scientific vibes-based approach for Team Hughes. With the Hughes brothers serving as captains, I realized after the second round that I could bring Team USA (and a few other guys) into Toronto and win the All-Star Game. This plan did take a hit when it was announced that Hughes would not play due to injury, and his New Jersey Devils teammate Jesper Bratt would serve as his on-ice replacement, but we march onward.

I really just went red, white and blue as often as I could in hopes of getting some USA Hockey chemistry going. While that did lead me to skip over some more talented players at times, it did land me what is arguably the best goaltending tandem. Jeremy Swayman and Jake Oettinger are two of the best young goalies in the league, and they could provide a slight edge in what will otherwise be an offensive barrage Saturday. Brady Tkachuk will bring some tenacity to the lineup, and honorary American Sam Reinhart will bring a scoring touch.

As for the rest of the group, Alex DeBrincat and Kyle Connor should be able to thrive with all the space three-on-three hockey provides. Massachusetts native Frank Vatrano isn’t the biggest name, but he has 21 goals and impeccable vibes this season. The last two selections, Nick Suzuki and Boone Jenner, are not American. However, as a Montreal Canadien, Suzuki would have no issue spoiling Toronto’s fun. Jenner was the last pick of the draft, which probably makes him the proud new owner of a CR-V or something, but I love a gritty player with something to prove. I think Team USA (and three other guys) has some real upset potential.

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