2017 NHL Draft: Top 32 Prospects

Lets start all of this off by saying, this is not shaping up to be a good draft.  The way I see it is there is a top 2 in this draft, I think one guy is a clear cut 3 who could still make it a top 3, but that isn’t very flattering.  No Matthews, no Laine, sure as hell no McDavid (and no Adrian Dater, Laine will never be the player McDavid is or will be).  And from what I understand at this point (and I make no bones about it, I learn as I go about these draft classes) this draft doesn’t have a ton of depth either.  Probably a better draft than 2012 (which is probably the worst draft in the last 17 years), better than 2007’s top 10 (no 1st line centre’s or number 1 D-men were in that one), but it’s not looking pretty.

 

For this piece, it is only a top 32 (31 sounds dumb to me, and it likely won’t be long until there are 32 teams in the NHL).  Like I said, I’m still learning about a lot of these kids, so it would be ridiculous to do a top 40 or 50 at this point when I really have trouble finding reliable information about 32 of these kids.  Especially in this draft.  Bob McKenzie said it back around Christmas and it’s still holding true, there is just zero draft buzz this year.  We really need some kids to start emerging.

 

As for what I look for?  I really look at trends and try to project where these kids may end up, so I put risers higher than most, and guys falling lower than most.  I also like rare, so I might value things like elite speed, elite size or right handed shooting centres and D more than most.  I’m really into building a team not just compiling talent, so I really put a premium on centres and D over wingers.

 

There, no you know.  You can tell me what a dip shit I am in the comments section below.

 

 

dw_nolan_patrick_brandon1. Nolan Patrick  Brandon  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 198  Shot: R

Comparison: Mark Scheifele

The only question about Patrick is whether he’ll be that elite 1st line centre.  He could be.  I love the Scheifele comparison because nobody saw Scheifele becoming a PPG player that he’s been in the last 100 games he’s played.  Scouts, for some insane reason, think that if a guy’s skill level isn’t off the charts that he can’t produce big numbers.  He does all the little things that’ll help him produce big numbers.  He’s a kid who’ll be a coaches dream.  Don’t expect him to be a fixture on Sportsnets “Plays of the Month” or see much of a TSN’s “highlight of the night”.  Just expect him to be a cornerstone piece for whichever franchise gets him.  Even if that’s only as a real solid 2nd line centre, he will still be a vital piece to anyone’s puzzle.

 

hischier2. Nico Hischier  Halifax  QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 176  Shot: L

Comparison: Joe Pavelski

One thing I’ve noticed watching him first at the World Junior’s and then in the top prospects game, he’s bigger than I thought.  He’s a very legit 6’1 already and wouldn’t be surprised if at the combine he measures close to 6’2.  Of course he’s slender right now, but being 6’1.5 or 6’2 he could stand to get up to 200 pounds without it hurting his wheels.  Great vision, and where the Pavelski comparison comes from is he’s got a tremendous shot and is terrific on the PP.  Neither of this top two are locks to be first line centres in the league, but as I said with Patrick which will be true here with Hischier, both are going to be vital pieces to any teams puzzle.

 

timothy-liljegren-rogle3. Timothy Liljegren  Rogle  SHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 191  Shot: R

Comparison: Kris Letang

Everyone will have their own comparisons, and they will seldom differ.  But I don’t know if I like a comparison I make in the rest of this piece more than Liljegren to Letang.  He plays really smooth, really mobile, terrific in the offensive zone especially running a pp, and ok in his own zone, but not necessarily going to be used in a shutdown role, of course that can change as his game develops.  Add in, size is similar, as is the hand he shoots.  As an Oiler fan, I’d kill to land the 3rd pick in this draft, as Liljegren is EXACTLY what the Oilers lack.  He’s exactly what a lot of teams lack.  With how difficult it is to find a high end RH shot D-man, I STILL believe Liljegren has a outside shot at being the top pick come June.

 

vilardi4. Gabe Vilardi  Windsor  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 198  Shot: R

Comparison: Ryan Johansen

I know the calling card on Vilardi is his playmaking, and everyone loves Johansen’s shot, so why the comparison?  Well, obviously the size, the right handed shot, to me the skating ability is very similar, but also Johansen has been much more of a playmaker since that 33 goal 2014 campaign.  And it isn’t as if Vilardi has a muffin of a shot.  So I believe this is a very fair comparison.  I think Vilardi has a chance to move past Liljegren into the 3rd spot, but being a centre like the top two are I don’t believe he can get himself into that top spot mix.  I just don’t think he has the ceiling Patrick or Hischier have.  But a RH shooting centre with real good size and isn’t afraid to mix it up physically…he’s going to be a great add for someone.

 

 

mittelstadt5. Casey Mittelstadt  Eden Prairie  USHS

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 194  Shot: L

Comparison: Bryan Little

He started the season in Green Bay of the USHL, but he left the Gamblers around December I believe it was and gone back to his high school team in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  Unlike Riley Tufte last season, Mittelstadt tore up the USHL while with Green Bay, and from my understanding this was more about wanting to finish high school at home rather than not being able to hack it in the USHL (he was more than “hacking” it in that league!)  Anyway, some people may look negatively upon the Bryan Little comparison, but Little has been one of the most underrated centres in the league the last five seasons.  And he’s a safe player who can be used in just about any situation and I see that as being what Mittelstadt can be.  Maybe he pans out to be better than Little, but that type of guy.  Doesn’t really have a flaw in his game and I wonder if he was playing in the NCAA or CHL if he wouldn’t be in the discussion for the top two in this draft.

 

 

rasmussen6. Michael Rasmussen  Tri-City  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 215  Shot: L

Comparison: Jeff Carter

Just to tame the comparison a bit, Jeff Carter in that he skates real well (not as well as Carter) and he’s a shoot first centre.  Believe it or not, when I was first doing a list up back in November (that I never put out, but I did a top 20), I had Rassmussen 6th when everyone else had him out of the top 10.  Now Bob McKenzie comes along with his brilliance and great looks (what?) and has him at 7.  For me it’s mainly because I’m seeing him as another Ryan Johansen or Logan Brown.  That’s not a comparison in playing style, but rather a comparison in draft rankings.  Both those players were considered back end of the 1st round type talents at the start of their draft years, and slowly worked their way up the boards.  Anyway, Rassmussen has 55 points in 50 games as of writing this.  I’m guessing, should he keep it up, this is more of the ranking range you’ll see him in come June, maybe even higher.

 

7. Cale Makar  Brooks  AJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 175  Shot: R

Comparison: Dan Boyle

This is the wild card of the first round…at this point anyway.  It’s clear he’s rocketing up everyone’s board which is the main reason I made it a point to putting him higher than most, because that’s where this is headed, it almost always does.  But he plays in the AJ.  Remember people going nuts over Joe Colborne and Dylan Olsen?  It isn’t exactly the toughest competition.  Makar is as flashy of a defenceman as there is.  He needs to prove he can play without the puck though.  That’s a vital trait for centre’s and wingers let alone D-men!  But a right handed shooting D who can fly and has the confidence with the puck that this kid has is very intriguing.  It’s one of the toughest pieces to find in the NHL, which is the big reason I have him ranked this high without seeing Makar play against top competition (though I have personally seen him play quite a bit).

 

tippett8. Owen Tippett  Mississuaga  OHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 202  Shot: R

Comparison: Joffrey Lupul

He’s very one dimensional.  He’s a lot like Keiffer Bellows in last year’s draft, who lots of scouts seemingly loved more than NHL teams did.  I never too high on these types of players early in the draft, but frankly it just goes to show you how thin this draft is.  Speed, shot, and decent size.  I fear he’ll be a one dimensional player, but he has the tools to be more of a complete player than he shows right now.

 

9. Cody Glass  Portland  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 180  Shot: R

Comparison: Charlie Coyle

There are always a few guys like Glass in the draft where I really want to know if they’re a legit centre or not.  I see centre a lot, but TSN has him as a C/RW.  It’s so rare that if a guy is playing both in junior that he’s a centre in the pro’s.  Yet last year, Pierre-Luc Dubois was one of those rare guys.  Glass is a tremendous skater, has real nice size, as always with me I would want to know how intelligent of a kid he is (not saying he’s not, I just have no idea).  If those two things check out, I’d probably have Glass higher than this.  Size, speed, big numbers (65 points in 47 games), so I’m asking myself what the big flaw is?  Hell, he’s even a right handed shot which is a tougher find around the league.  So he’s definitely someone I’m going to dig deeper and keep an eye on from here on out.

 

necas10. Martin Necas  Brno  Czech

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 167  Shot: R

Comparison: Ales Hemsky

Another guy who is listed as a centre, but I’m not sure he’ll be a centre at the next level.  I compare him to Hemsky simply because no matter where he plays, he has that same level of confidence with the puck and is much more of a playmaker than a shooter (which if you’re an Oilers fan would drive you nuts at times).  He’ll need a year or two to pack on the pounds if he wants to play centre in the pros, but this kid could be an elite point producer in the show someday.

 

tolvanen11. Eeli Tolvanen  Sioux City  USHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Mike Cammalleri

This is lower than most have him, but if you read my draft stuff then you know I am harder on size and position than most seem to be.  So a 5’10 winger, I am by no means suggesting he can’t play or produce in the NHL, but I just see it as an easy piece to acquire which for me hurts a players draft stock.  Also, I see Tolvanen as a one dimensional guy, much like the guy who I compare him to.  But that one dimension is vital to an NHL teams success.  A pure sniper with a tremendous shot.

 

12. Miro Heiskanen  HIFK  SM Liiga

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Nick Leddy

He was maybe the best player for Finland at the WJC this year, which means a lot less in 2017 than it did in 2016.  Last year they won it all, this year they humiliated themselves.  Still, it’s something, and far from the only impressive thing he’s done this season.  The kid is seeing pretty big minutes for HIFK which is pretty rare for a kid in his draft year.  He might have the best stick defensively out of any kid in this draft, and engages physically though at his size he tends to lose a lot more of those battles than he wins.  He provides everything you would expect a D-man ranked this high and at this size to have.  Speed, escapability, great passer, great vision, the only flaw other than his size for me is he doesn’t have a big shot.  He likes using a wrist or snap shot on the point, which can work just fine as it has for the Flames Mark Giordano.  Get the shot through and let your forwards to the rest.

 

foote13. Callan Foote  Kelowna  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 200  Shot: R

Comparison: Adam Foote

Old school type defenceman.  He defends first, which the analytics community does not like.  The fact of the matter is that there is going to be a hell of a lot more time when a player is on the ice that he doesn’t have the puck, so you better know how to play without the puck.  Having a good stick, good positioning, shot suppression, puck retrieval, zone exits, zone entries, all area’s that should be examined in a D-man’s game, not just simply looking at his offensive numbers.  And this isn’t at all to suggest Foote is hapless offensively.  40 points in 50 games as of writing this.  Only 5 goals though, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that number.  Much like Matt Tkachuk and Kieffer Bellows a year ago, Foote plays a VERY similar game to his dad (hence the comparison).  And while Adam was never an offensive force, he was an elite shutdown D-man.  No reason to believe Cal can’t be that same guy.  That type of defenceman really gets undervalued these days, so I doubt Foote goes as high as I believe he should.

 

hague14. Nicolas Hague  Mississuaga  OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 208  Shot: L

Comparison: Colten Parayko

You see a kid who is 6’5, 208 and you think defensive D-man who is basically a coke machine.  Hague is actually very active offensively, and it’s his defensive game which needs the work.  A lot of the Parayko comparison (other than his similar size) comes from his bomb of a point shot and how much he utilizes it.  I still have him relatively high even though McKenzie’s rankings had him dropped to the 20’s.  I wonder if that’s scouts once again believing that a guy isn’t intelligent because of his defensive zone play, but he was the OHL academic player of the year which at least tells me at worst he isn’t a dumb kid.  If he cleans up the play in his own zone this kid is going to be a heck of a pick.

 

15. Elias Pettersson  Timra  SWE-Als

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 156  Shot: L

Comparison: Ondrej Palat

Right now he’s rail thin obviously, but a lot of scouts are in love with this kids upside because of that.  And he already is impressive, as his numbers are equal to what Alexander Wennberg’s were at the same age and only a point of where Filip Forsberg was.  Highly skilled, and plays a complete 200 foot game.  I’ve seen some question his toughness.  Tough to say when he’s this slight if he’ll get more brave so to speak once he’s up to 180-195 pounds.

 

lias-andersson16. Lias Andersson  HV71  SHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 198  Shot: L

Comparison: Frans Nielsen

Versatility is what this kid is all about.  I list him as a centre, but he plays all three forward positions.  And while that isn’t a very sexy attribute for fans or media to discuss, coaches adore these guys.  On that alone Andersson is a pretty safe bet to play in the league someday soon.  I do question his upside though.  Not that being a 3rd line centre isn’t a need, I probably value it more than most!  But if that’s all he becomes, those aren’t the most difficult guys to find.

 

juusovlimkitricityamericansvkelownabtjfhmygp2_l17. Juuso Valimaki  Tri-City  WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 204  Shot: L

Comparison: Ryan Murray

Bob McKenzie’s list has him ahead of both Cal Foote and Nic Hague, but I just don’t see it that way.  Valimaki is at a PPG pace which is great (42 points, 42 games), but neither of the former two are that far off that.  I totally get that the game has changed and smaller puck moving D-men are all the rage right now, but I’ll still take the guys who can be all world than guys who will be challenged to play a shutdown role.  Valimaki will get his nose dirty with the physical stuff and unlike his countryman Miro Heiskanen he already has the thick frame to hold up to the punishment.

 

poehling18. Ryan Poehling  St.Cloud State  NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 202  Shot: L

Comparison: Paul Stastny

Had a great Ivan Hlinka this summer, one of the best players in the tournament, but then has struggled making the jump to the NCAA this season.  Still, real good size, seems to be committed to learning a 200 foot game, has good wheels, good hands, good vision, there is no real reason to believe this kid can’t be at least a 3rd line centre in the NHL and definitely has the upside to be a solid 2nd line centre.

 

19. Shane Bowers  Waterloo  USHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 178  Shot: L

Comparison: Brandon Dubinsky

Love this comparison.  I should point out, Bowers is a Canadian kid despite playing in the USHL, so don’t think I just compared a 6’1 American centre to another 6’1 American centre.  But if you think of the way Dubinsky plays it is extremely similar to the way Bowers plays.  He’ll be in a guys face all night, and as we’ve seen this season with Nazem Kadri, that is the type of centre all teams would love to have on their team.

 

20. Robert Thomas  London  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 185  Shot: R

Comparison: Derick Brassard

Shocking, another London Knights prospect.  This kid is a major riser this season.  I have him higher than likely anyone, but his trending arrow is pointing straight North and it’s pretty rare that draft risers don’t continue to rise.  But also just look at the assets he has.  Awesome wheels, obviously not big but his size is fine, has that right handed shot which I never shut up about, and he’s a tremendous playmaker who can change his pace of play.  The more ice he’s seen this season, the better he’s been.

 

21. Nick Suzuki  Owen Sound  OHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 187  Shot: R

Comparison: T.J. Oshie

Size is fine, putting up good numbers, but this kid is going to play in the show because he’s always engaged.  Has a tremendous motor.  I can see him being a guy who’ll do whatever it takes to play in the league someday.  Won’t be concerned with being a top six guy, which can end up hurting a lot of players.  Wheels are good, can play in any situation (four short handed goals this season), decent size, and a good shot.  So to me Suzuki is a very safe pick.

 

kristian_vesalainen122. Kristian Vesalainen  Frolunda  SHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 207  Shot: L

Comparison: James Van Riemsdyk

He’s slipped this season, so he slips even further in my mind.  It’s just a fact with these rankings that when a players stock is on the rise he’ll likely go higher than expected and when a players stock is in free fall then he’ll likely go lower than expected.  Still, the kid has that great size, and he’s great around the net (where the JVR comparison comes from).  The concern’s are his wheels and his motor, which obviously isn’t an original story for a player with size and skill.

 

23. Kailer Yamamoto  Spokane  WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’7  Wt: 153  Shot: R

Comparison: Cam Atkinson

He’s tiny, and I likely wouldn’t have him this high most seasons.  But this season, he’s worth using a 1st round pick on.  63 points in 43 games for the Chiefs this season, he’s got a high motor, obviously a ton of speed and skill, and despite his stature is pretty willing to go anywhere on the ice.  Obviously he’s not going to dish out the punishment, but he doesn’t shy away from the corners or front of the net.  Again though, my concern with a lot of these guys isn’t so much if they’re willing or not, it’s are they going to get overmatched in those area’s in the show?

 

oettinger_horizontal24. Jake Oettinger  Boston U  NCAA

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 203  Glove: L

Comparison: Braden Holtby

As unpretty as this draft is shaping up to be, the one that looks stronger than most years is goaltending.  Oettinger, Mike DiPietro, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Ian Scott, Cayden Primeau, Keith Petruzzelli, Maxim Zuhkov, there are a LOT of goaltenders in everyone’s top 50.  Now, perhaps that’s great goaltending, or that’s a product of a weak draft so the attention tends to go more in that direction (it did in 2012).  Oettinger is worthy of this ranking though.  The kid has the size, has the athleticism, very technically sound and smooth, has phenomenal numbers, he’s everything you look for a goaltender to be.  Now, that’s physically.  Mental toughness is the most important component for a tendy which is why they are the biggest wild card’s to draft.  He was the 3rd goaltender for the States at the World Junior’s this year, though he never got a chance to play with Tyler Parsons and Joseph Woll both playing so well.

 

25. Urho Vaakanainen  Jyvaskala  SM Liiga

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 185  Shot: L

Comparison: Nick Schultz

It gets a little redundant after a while, but Vaakanainen is much like most other smallish puck moving D-men.  Great skater, moves the puck well (obviously), decision making is suspect at times, keeps a good gap defensively, good stick.  He’s a safe pick, I’d say the big question mark with him right now is how much can his offensive game grow because at his size you expect a guy who can put up at least 30-40 points from the back end.

 

comtois26. Maxime Comtois  Victoriaville  QMJHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 199  Shot: L

Comparison: Milan Michalek

Let’s just be honest about Comtois.  This kid is going to be at best a 2nd round pick because scouts have soured on him and so his stock is in free fall right now.  This happened to Kale Clague last season, he fell from the preseason rankings and despite having a good 2nd half of the season and a fantastic playoffs, he ended up going 51st in the draft, and nobody had him as a potential 1st round pick by June (except me).  I’m not ready to completely bail on him because of the things I had heard about him last year.  Perhaps he’s playing through injuries, who knows what’s going on off the ice, perhaps he’s just put far too much pressure on himself this season, could be that he over trained in the summer which has hurt his game.  We don’t know.  Look at Nicolas Roy.  You all found out how great he was at this years WJC, but he was expected to be a top 20 pick heading into the 2015 season, and completely fell on his face.  Could be the same case here, just don’t expect him to be in my mock drafts.

 

27. Henri Jokiharju  Portland  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: R

Comparison: Tobias Enstrom

Another Finnish D-man.  He’s just a pure puck mover.  Great skater, passes the puck very well whether it be with zone exits or on the PP, and maybe his best attribute is how good of a stick he has defensively.  He isn’t real flashy, but he is very effective.

 

28. Conor Timmins  S.S. Marie  OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 180  Shot: R

Comparison: Mark Pysyk

I love that he isn’t your standard puck moving, won’t get his nose dirty type D-man.  He plays with aggression in the D zone, in addition to putting up good numbers, being a right handed shot (there it is again), and being a kid who can play in any situation.  Late birthday has him just slightly behind Jokiharju for me, but both are nice prospects.

 

kostin29. Klim Kostin  Moscow  KHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 196  Shot: L

Comparison: Thomas Vanek

Well, if you follow other draft rankings you are saying “FINALLY” with a lot of rage in your heart.  Look, Russian forwards are extremely unpredictable.  The big, and/or skilled, “unstoppable” Russian winger seem to bust more than any other type of player, and they’ve burnt their bridge with me.  Filatov, Burmistrov, Yakupov, Grigorenko, Nichushkin, Gurianov has had a rough year and a half since being picked, I’m just done with these guys.  You will likely point out Tarasenko and Kuznetsov, but they weren’t picked in the top 15, all those guys I mentioned were.  Added to the bust factor, this kid is now out for the rest of the season.  So I’m not touching him anywhere in the top 20.  At 29th though, for the right team, he would be well worth the shot.  He’s kind of the opposite of Comtois in that I won’t have him as high as others, but he’ll likely go in the top 20 of my mock draft.

 

30. Kole Lind  WHL  Kelowna

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 176  Shot: R

Comparison: Alex Killorn

Good speed, good shot, and plays gritty.  Probably not shocking that these are the qualities a Saskatchewan kid possesses, I know.  But there is always a spot for a kid like this in the show.  Something that helps separate Lind from other kids around this range is also nothing of a shocker.  Kelowna simply pumps out more quality prospects than anyone else in the WHL.

 

31. Michael DiPietro  Windsor  OHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 196  Glove: L

Comparison: Marty Turco

I have railed against people who basically champion for the undersized kids in the draft.  It’s clear to me that they’re A) pulling for who they view as the underdogs, B) they don’t pay close enough attention to how GM’s need to build a team as opposed to just simply compiling talent, and C) pulling for all GM’s to move in this direction because it’s much more fun to watch.  It isn’t as if I disagree with the latter, but I also try to keep in mind what has been much more successful over the last 100 years in the NHL, which is size.  But in THIS scenario, I just believe DiPietro is getting drastically undervalued and it’s obviously because of his size.  Something that he has working for him this season though is Juuse Saros has been exceptional, and he was a kid who the Preds debated drafting in the 4th round because of his size.  DiPietro has ridiculous numbers to this point.  2.15 G.A.A. and a .925 Sv%.  He won’t go in the 1st round, might not go in the 2nd round, but this is my top 32, not my mock draft.  Sometimes you just have to say “f*** the size, this kid is just damn good”.  If I’m a scout, the big thing I would look for with an undersized goaltender is whether or not teams are beating him up top while in the butterfly.  If they aren’t, I don’t see what the concern would be.

 

32. Isaac Ratcliffe  Guelph  OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 196  Shot: L

Comparison: Dustin Penner

As is the case with a lot of big players, Ratcliffe needs to work on his first step.  But at 6’5 and only 196 pounds, you could likely chalk that up to being a lanky kid who doesn’t have the strength to match his frame.  At top speed his skating is great for a player his size.  Hasn’t shown a nasty streak to this point, so doubtful that’ll ever come.  Leading goal scorer and point producer on a weak Storm team this season.

 

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