Lukas Dragicevic, selected No. 57 overall by the Seattle Kraken, is a 6-foot-1, right-handed offense-first defenseman who plays in Washington State already, with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL.

Instant reaction

This pick made so much sense. A perfect combination of need (right-handed defense, transition play, power-play production, and offense from the blue line) with value in the late second round (Dragicevic was ranked as a mid-first-round pick in our data and analytics ranking).

It was well documented going into the draft that the Kraken were lacking in depth on the right side of their blue line. The team had invested just one pick in each of their first two drafts on the position and neither player has top-of-the-lineup ceiling. 2022 third-round pick Ty Nelson has shown scoring touch at the junior level, but some questions about his projection to the NHL persist due to his style of offensive play and 5-foot-10 frame. 2021 fourth-round pick Ville Ottavainen is a towering defense-first blueliner who has not done much in the way of scoring during his time in the top Finnish league, Liiga, but is scheduled to join the Coachella Valley Firebirds this season.

Enter Lukas Dragicevic. Dragicevic has been on my radar for months because his scoring profile befitted a first-round pick. Setting aside U.S. and Canadian high school players, no right-handed defenseman eligible for the draft for the first time this season scored more in total points (79) or on a per-game basis (1.07 points per game). Among all defensemen, only QMJHL lefty Etienne Morin scored at a slightly higher rate, and, when accounting for the relative strength of those two major junior leagues, there is an argument to be made Dragicevic’s production was more impressive.

In other words, to quote to the Elite Prospects Draft Guide: “Lukas Dragicevic is the best offensive defenseman in this year’s draft.” My NHLe calculation, which primarily relied on point production and incorporated only minor adjustments for age and height, pegged Dragicevic as the eighth-best player in the entire draft. And the consensus in the analytics community was not far behind, placing the Tri-City blueliner as the 19th overall prospect.

Before the draft, I was tempted to project Dragicevic as a first-round fit for the Kraken but resisted due to the potential high-end value of first-round forwards. As I explained then: “My hesitation on targeting Dragicevic (or Gulyayev) in the first round relates back to positional value. High-end forwards are hard to find and typically deliver the most value in the game. Setting aside a few truly transcendent players, a team is capping its upside by drafting on defense in the first round. Add in the significant probability that Dragicevic settles in as a bottom-four guy and a bit of a defensive liability, and I can see the arguments against using a first-round pick on the player.”

Research on draft outcomes by SEAHAC presenter Chace McCallum suggests defensemen drafted in the top 50 have delivered less value overall than forwards. Thereafter, the dynamic shifts, and defensemen provide (marginally) more value.

As a team with a heavy focus on these types of analytics, it would not be surprising if the Kraken have reached a similar conclusion. Seattle snagged three forwards at 20, 50, and 52. Then, with Dragicevic still available at 57, it was a no-brainer. He was a perfect fit for the Kraken at No. 57 and brings the high ceiling the Kraken have lacked amongst their right-handed defensemen.

Lukas Dragicevic player profile

Right defenseman | HNV71 (SHL) | Age: 18 | Height: 6’1″ | Weight: 194 lbs | Right shot

2020-21Tri-City AmericansWHL6000
2021-22Tri-City AmericansWHL6262632
2022-23Tri-City AmericansWHL68156075
Regular season stats; source: HockeyDB

What does the Big Board say?

Dragicevic was ranked at No. 33 on the Sound Of Hockey Big Board. Dragicevic’s highest ranking was from McKeen’s, which placed him at No. 20 overall. Bob McKenzie, often a good indicator of sentiment inside the league, had him ranked at No. 35 overall. Dragicevic being available at No. 57 was likely a surprise to Seattle and a welcome one.

How does he look on the ice?

What are scouts saying?

Source: Mitchell Brown of Elite Prospects

Strengths: “Dragicevic possesses elusive footwork and slick hands, which he can use in tandem to dance around and embarrass anyone who tries to recklessly pressure him. He has an absolute bomb of a slap shot that he loves to uncork and lean in to, but he also has a hard, accurate wrist shot that he can use to try beating a goalie clean or send in for a deflection. As good as he is on the attacking line, he’s also not shy about getting closer to the net to generate offense, whether that’s by driving the puck himself deep along the wall or into in high danger, or by moving forward with a burst of quickness to get open for a bang-bang play or trying to sneak in undetected. Unsurprisingly, he’s a monster on the power play and has what it takes to quarterback a top unit in the NHL one day. He’s also a major factor at driving the play up the ice and into the offensive zone, keeping his head up and controlling the puck at full flight as he weaves through traffic.” – McKeen’s Draft Guide

Weaknesses: “Dragicevic’s game has some real warts, highlighted most notably by, as one scout aptly describe to me, ‘clunky feet.’ He gives too much in his gaps, likely to compensate for his footwork and also his processing speed (he’s just doesn’t pick up on when to close gaps in real time fast enough). He lacks foot speed going in straight lines forwards and backwards, where his stride can look rushed and heavy, and his pivots are a real issue.” – Scott Wheeler of The Athletic

Where can I find more information?

  • Corey Pronman of The Athletic (link) ($$) ranked Dragicevic No. 31 overall
  • Scott Wheeler of The Athletic (link) ($$) ranked Dragicevic No. 36 overall
  • Chris Peters of FloHockey (link) ranked Dragicevic No. 34 overall
  • Smaht Scouting (link) ranked Dragicevic No. 44 overall
  • Lizz Child (Area 51 Sports): Profile and interview with Lukas Dragicevic

Last thoughts

Following a theme of this draft, Dragicevic is not without risk in his profile – he’s relatively new to his position, struggled with rush defense, and wasn’t particularly effective as an in-zone defender either. As Mckeen’s notes: “The sheer range of possibility for how his career goes is immense from one end to the other. It’s entirely possible that he ends up as one of the 10 best players to come from this class, yet at the same time, it also wouldn’t be particularly surprising if his development went sideways, and he never ended up sniffing the NHL.”

Dragicevic needs to develop significantly on the defensive side and at least some scouts suggest he needs to clean up aspects of his skating. How that goes will determine his future. If the arrow points up in those areas, first-pair potential is not out of the question, particularly if matched with a stronger defensive partner. With moderate progress, he’s a bottom-four type. With little or no progress, he may never become an NHL regular. Still, he’s a terrific bet at pick No. 57 – a steal, in fact.

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