It All Started in the 2014 Offseason

Had the day off work on Friday, so I’m just sitting around the house and I’ve got in the habit of going through YouTube when I get up and have nothing to do.  I have a tendency to find old sports video’s, games, just shit that a sports geek like myself loves.  Lately, I love finding and putting on the old drafts.  As of writing  this I’ve let last year’s draft play.  Brett Howden just got picked.  Friday morning, I tried to look up the 1999 draft.  Didn’t find it, but I did find a video of a guy (mid 30’s-mid 40’s) in Red Wings gear and a Canucks banner in the background talking about the 2000 draft and spitting standard media clichés the entire time such as “you can find guys if you draft right”.  Ok bud, and what is your philosophy on how you “draft right”?  I do this blog because A) I can’t give up on a dream, B) it’s a passion project, and C) I feel like I can give you different perspectives on this shit instead of just the standard media B.S. or the “only my numbers that I find matter” agenda that a lot of the analytics crowd seems to have.  I’m not wearing a jersey, or a team hat, or have any cheap memorabilia on my wall just so you know.  My long winded point here is that I really hope/pray nobody looks at me and this blog the way I looked at that total zilch!

 

Wow, Sam Steel’s sister (I think) is such a babe!  In saying that, I’m very hopeful she’s at least over 18.  She looks over 18, so I think I’m safe.  Also Steph, if you’re reading this, I’m totally kidding…

 

Anyway, the Stanley Cup Final starts tomorrow night.  And as my title suggests, the road to this final started in the 2014 offseason.  And it was a trade ironically enough between David Poile, whom at the time was looking to breakaway from the way he had always done things, and Jim Rutherford, whom was looking to re-tool a team that had gone from potential dynasty to the league’s biggest disappointment, that was part of it all.  The swap was James Neal to Nashville, for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.  The players in this deal aren’t the reason either team is here, but the direction and statement both organizations were looking to make in doing the deal is.

 

Sometimes in life, it all starts falling into place.  David Poile has been an extremely competent GM in the league now for over 30 years.  He was the guy who always made the most of what he had, but didn’t do anything to push his luck so to speak.  Take 2012 for example.  Didn’t have a 1st round pick, yet I personally figured he had made the most of it, which as we now know…he did:

Nashville – They didn’t have a 1st round pick, yet they walk out of the 2nd round with 2 kids that easily could have been 1st round picks.  Of course they got Colten Sissons….they ALWAYS get these kind of players.  He will play in the league, maybe only as an effective 3rd line guy but none the less.  Pontus Aberg should be just a real nice, reliable 2nd line winger.  Then they get Portland Winterhawk Brendan Leipsic who is undersized but has BIG talent and was a huge contributer to their run to game 7 of the WHL finals.

 

Maybe went overboard with my thoughts on Leipsic…anyway…Until this season however, Poile had never been past the second round of the playoffs.  Conservative guy all through his tenure in Washington and for the first 15 years or so in Nashville, he had to do a couple of moves that were completely out of his wheelhouse.    Obviously bringing in James Neal was an indication that he wanted to add more scoring, but as I stated, it wasn’t THE move that would transform things for the Preds.  It was one of three which would.

 

Prior to the deal, Barry Trotz was let go as Predators head coach.  Trotz was the only coach in Predators history at the time, and widely regarded as one of the top coaches in the game.  But it was time for a change, and time for  Poile to bring in someone who perhaps saw things a little differently from himself, and Peter Laviolette was definitely that guy.  How underrated is Laviolette?!  Three teams to three finals, none of which were loaded rosters or heavy Cup favourites entering the playoffs (correct, the Hurricanes weren’t viewed as big threats despite being the second seed in the East in 06).  He has a shelf life everywhere he’s gone, if the over/under on his time in Nashville is three more years then I’m taking the under, but you can’t deny this guy is a hell of a coach.

 

You could see a big improvement under Laviolette through his first year and a half behind their bench, but it still didn’t look like they were going anywhere as a franchise.

 

On January 6th, 2016 they finally took a much needed step.  Loaded on D, not much up front, same way they’d been for the previous 12 seasons or so.  It was status quo for a Poile team.  But he FINALLY took the swing he always needed to when he moved Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen.  Poile could afford to part with Jones, he needed a big first line centre, and he pulled the trigger.  Granted, Johansen wasn’t quite the franchise centre teams crave, but he had that upside and was already a big points producer.

http://soupsonhockey.com/2016/01/07/jones-vs-johansen-who-wins/

 

Don’t get me wrong, you need to draft well (as they’ve always done), and you need to make smart signings (as they’ve always done), but those three moves have likely had the biggest impact on taking the Predators from plucky underdog who always made the playoffs to being a legit threat in the West.

 

Notice I didn’t mention the biggest trade they’ve made?  Look, the Preds got the better of that deal without a doubt.  The Habs clearly had an issue with Subban and wanted to get him out of their room.  But having said that, analytics guys can stop celebrating as if this was some big win for them.  Shea Weber in that spot would have made them that much worse would he?  Come on.  The impact of that deal will be felt in the years to come as the already not great skating Weber gets even slower, but to claim it’s made this massive difference to the Preds success in 2017 is a bit ridiculous and speaks to you having a large bias if you’re trying to make that case.

 

Perhaps the most impressive thing in all of this for the Predators though is that they didn’t ever sink back to the bottom to build a contender.  I’ve been on the Preds to at least make the final four all season.  Most were.  Don’t confuse second wildcard team/8th seed in the West for playoff afterthought.  If you know hockey, I’m not about to criticize anyone for picking the Blackhawks in the first round, but you could see how the Preds could and should contend.

 

Of course we know this story is completely different for the Pens.  It’s been a tale of two teams for the Pens during Sidney Crosby’s tenure.  You had the Ray Shero teams, and now we are seeing the Jim Rutherford teams.  I think that fans and media maybe forget just how bad things had eroded under Ray Shero by the 2014 offseason.

http://soupsonhockey.com/2014/06/23/these-penguins-cant-fly/

 

The trades I suggested in that piece aren’t that bad!  Giving up Sutter and then Letang for O’Reilly I’d take out, but considering how massive and league changing they were….I’ve made worse suggestions!

 

I won’t say I was wrong about the Jim Rutherford hiring, because the man had Crosby, Malkin and Letang to build around right from the jump.  But in fairness, you still have to make it work which Ray Shero had stopped doing.  And after a year and a half of running them even further into the ground with decisions such as trading a 1st round pick for David Perron and hiring Mike Johnston, Jim Rutherford began to figure it out.

http://soupsonhockey.com/2015/12/14/crosby-was-under-better-management-this-summer-at-tim-hortons/

 

Since I wrote that piece, this organization has become the best in hockey, it’s not even close as the head to their second straight Cup final.  Mike Sullivan was smart enough to figure out how best to utilize Crosby/Malkin/Kessel which looked like a disaster under Johnston.  They moved Perron who couldn’t keep up with their pace, for Carl Hagelin who fit it perfectly.  They understood Trevor Daly was still very useful despite that Joel Quennville and Stan Bowman had given up on him.  They were smart enough to realize Justin Schultz could be a valuable piece if put into the right role.  They’ve simply made all the right moves.

http://soupsonhockey.com/2016/06/14/remember-when-sid-was-done/

 

So here we are.  The loveable Preds playing the role of David, vs the behemoth Pens playing the role of goliath.

 

The big story for me in this series though is this team and Crosby in particular are chasing greatness now.  Three Cups for Sid moves him ahead of his owner Mario Lemieux and Joe Sakic, and ties him with Steve Yzerman and Jonathan Toews.  For the Pens as a group, they have a chance to be the first back to back Cup champs in 19 years, and set themselves up to be called a legitimate dynasty by winning one more in either 2018 or 19.  I get that the Preds story is much more enduring to fans.  They’re the underdog, they definitely have much more of a cool factor going on between how loud the crowd is and all the country music stars they’ve trotted out to sing the national anthem.  But it’s so rare in sports today that we get greatness that is what I would call authentic (unlike a certain round ball league where all the stars just look to team up with each other).

 

As for the matchup, it’s interesting.  Two teams that are really beat up coming in.  It feels like the Pens have been through much more of a grind, but it’s actually only been an extra game in each round (three more total for those of you who don’t have your grade one math).  I’d say it’s the top 1-2 combo down the middle in the league against the best blueline in the league.  The scary thing for the Pens entering this series is that the Preds can match their speed, and play with the physicality that could wear down the Pens over seven games.  The scary thing for the Preds is that they haven’t seen a team who can not only match their speed, but likely exceed it.

 

I’ve been an asshole on Twitter pointing out how I had this matchup when I did my All-Star break look at all 30 teams.  While true, I also had the Preds losing to the Kings…yes the Kings…in the Western Conference final at the start of the year, and the Pens losing to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final.  Obviously both missed the playoffs and I’m actually an idiot.  I also had Preds losing to the Ducks in the Conference final in my playoff preview, and the Pens losing to the Ducks in the Cup final.  So trust me, I don’t think I know it all, or even partially know it all!  But the long winded point I’m looking to make here is that I’ve liked both teams all season and can truly see either winning this series.

 

In the end I have to stick to what I believe, and what I believe is that strength down the middle trumps strength on the blueline.  Just barely, but it does.  Without Ryan Johansen and a beat up Mike Fisher, I just believe it’s going to be too much for the Preds to overcome in a seven game series.  Also, despite going seven games in the Eastern final, having the weekend off will help the Pens a ton.  The Preds will be on more rest obviously, but the Pens will have enough.  Pens in seven.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Edmonton Oilers Post Season Top 10 Prospects

I was listening to Oilers Now yesterday.  Full disclosure, I don’t normally listen when Bob doesn’t host, but I wanted to hear some of the fan feedback after the game seven loss.  No doubt it hurts, but that was likely as easy of a game seven loss as a franchise will ever suffer!  I was expecting fans to be disappointed, but all pretty pumped.  NOPE!  Callers to radio shows are always going to be a bit off.  But every caller?!  It really makes me question if fans aren’t so scared from what’s gone on here the last decade that they can’t comprehend what this team is on the verge of becoming.

 

I’m certain most of you reading this understand it though.  And it’s not to be a fan boy about it, and it’s not to discount that there is still work to be done.  But this team is going to be picked to win the Cup starting this fall.  Not by all, but by some, and it’s not going to be any kind of hot take.  They’re now a contender, and they’re setup to last a long time.

 

Obviously I’m hyped about what’s on the roster and the fact that this team is loaded with kids 24 and under, a lot of whom aren’t just on the team, but are leading this team.  And with the team taking that massive turn we had all been eagerly awaiting since the 2010 draft, what has flown under the radar is how well this team is all of a sudden drafting and developing.  Obviously we know why this has flown under the radar, but unfortunately it is now the offseason and we need to start looking to the future.

 

Being a big draft guy, I’d like to focus for a minute on the 22nd pick.  The way I’m looking at it, you either go centre or defence there.  Even if the Oilers don’t manage to land Spencer Foo in free agency, you can always put a centre on the wing.  I’m getting to the point now where, at least for me, where the winger has to knock me on my ass with his skill set to like him over a centre.  Now, who am I right?  But I’m certain there are NHL GM’s who see this the same way.

 

The kid I’ve loved for months now is Owen Sound centre Nick Suzuki.  In February that looked possible at 22.  Now, not a chance if you ask me as he has rocketed up a lot of lists.  In my latest mock draft I had London Knights centre Robert Thomas.  5’11, 185 pounds, right handed shot, great wheels, already real good in the dot and a point per game player this season.  Another one I really like is Jaret Anderson-Dolan out of Spokane.  He’d be a BIT of a reach at 22 the way most lists currently look, but the same size as Thomas with better point totals and just as good of speed.  Was held off the board at the U18’s for Canada, but was named captain of the team which is always a positive.

 

If you’re thinking a blueliner is the way to go, Henri Jokiharju is the kid I like.  6’0, 176 pounds with a right handed shot.  He’s a great skater, needs work in his own zone but what I really like about the kid is he’s always playing on his toes and does not lack aggression both in terms of taking chances and willingness to battle.  The one thing about taking a D-man in the draft, even though the Oil are pretty stocked with them right now, is that they always have great trade value.  Trades are nearly impossible to make these days, but defencemen are at an all time high as the Hall/Larsson swap proved, so you really can’t go wrong taking a defencemen.  Especially a right handed shooting puck mover.

 

But enough draft talk for now, onto the top 10.

 

Before I get started on the list, let’s make one thing very clear.  While I go glass half full with all these kids, it’s all hypothetical.  I’d say if four of these guys become SOMETHING, then it’s a massive win.  Also should mention, the ages are as of September 1st, 2017, so some guys aren’t as old currently as they’re listed (i.e. Ethan Bear).  I also put their team as who they played for the majority of this season rather than who they’ll be with to start 17-18.  Hopefully that puts to rest any misunderstandings of how I did this.

 

Honourable mentions:

 

Ryan Mantha  Niagara  OHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 225  Shot: R  Age: 21

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 1st, 2017

One of the latest additions to the Oilers stable.  Mantha was originally drafted by the Rangers in the 4th round of the 2014 draft, but they chose not to sign him.  I have a tough time at this point ranking him.  That size and those numbers this season say he’s a hell of a prospect, but he was an overager this season for Niagara.  Intriguing package, but the jury will still be very much out on him for now.  I’m guessing he’ll start the season in Bakersfield, likely part of the agreement when he chose the Oilers.

 

Filip Berglund  Skelleftea  SHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 209  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2016 draft

This kid has me personally really intrigued.  He was originally set back with a knee injury in his draft year, hence not being taken until last June.  Seems to get pretty positive reviews at both ends of the ice.  His skating isn’t poor at all, but what I will say is that if he can make a subtle improvement with it that it’ll go a very long way.  Some really like the skill he will flash on occasion.  A long shot, no doubt, but it feels like they might have a diamond in the rough here.

 

William Lagesson  UMass-Amherst  NCAA

Pos: D  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 198  Shot: L  Age: 21

Acquired: 4th Round, 91st Overall, 2014 Draft

When I’ve seen and when I read up on Lagesson, everything points towards a Darius Kasparaitis type.  Bigger offensive numbers would without a doubt be nice to see, but he skates real well, and he’s simply miserable to play against.  As a prospect he reminds me a lot of Brandon Davidson, not at all in style of play, but in the sense that every time I watched and read something on Davidson, I liked it.  Same deal with Lagesson.  I love that he’s going back to Sweden next season, I believe it’ll really help his development.

 

Bogdan Yakimov  Nizhnekamsk  KHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 232  Shot: L  Age: 22

Acquired: 3rd Round, 83rd Overall, 2013 Draft

Full disclosure, I’m not sure how it works with his rights.  I don’t see why he wouldn’t be under team control next season, but he is listed as an RFA this summer so I’d assume he needs qualifying?  For now, I’m listing him here.  He’s still got a very intriguing skill set.  I would never get overly excited about what he can bring to the table should he come back over, but I do believe he’s capable of being a Brian Boyle type with the upside to be more Michal Handzus…which of course is code for “a 3rd or 4th line centre”.  I’m definitely not holding my breathe on him, but until they officially don’t own his rights I believe he is still worth mentioning.

 

10. Nick Ellis  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 180  Glove: L  Age: 23

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed April 7th, 2016

Ellis had a Sv% in the AHL this season that was 10 percentage points higher than Laurent Brossoit’s.  The size is a concern though, as he is very small by today’s goaltending standards.  He plays a very composed style, very similar to Cam Talbot.  At his size I fear he’ll have to go above and beyond proving himself to earn a shot with the Oilers, but so far he’s off to a good start.

 

9. John Marino  Harvard  NCAA

Pos: D  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 190  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: 6th Round, 154th Overall, 2015 Draft

In the 6th round of the draft, I feel like you have to stick to a few rules.  If it’s me, I’m looking for kids who have decent size, skates real well, and a high IQ.  Marino checks all those boxes.  Obviously he’ll go back to Harvard for at least another season in 2018, and likely 2019 as well, so we’re talking about a kid who is still a long ways away.  But he took a pretty big step in his development in his freshman season at Harvard and should see an increased role next season, although he does have Calgary 2016 3rd rounder Adam Fox to contend with.

 

8. Markus Niemelainen  Saginaw  OHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 200  Shot: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 3rd Round, 63rd Overall, 2016 Draft

I really didn’t understand this pick.  It was great value, as most had Niemelainen as a late first/early second round pick.  But he was just more of what the Oilers had.  Adam Fox (getting mentioned twice in an Oilers piece, impressive) was taken two picks later by the Flames, and I personally felt Fox was a lot better fit for the Oilers in the organization.  Of course this is where I explain that as years have gone on I’ve become much more of a pick for need guy than a BPA guy because of the difficulty making trades has become.  Having said all this, he is similar to Adam Larsson in that he will not wow you in anyway, but can completely shut down the other teams top line.  He’ll be around 215-220 once he fills out, has great mobility for his size, and despite low offensive numbers he moves the puck very well.  Like William Lagesson, I’m a big fan of the fact that he’s headed back to Finland to play pro next season.  Should help his development a lot.

 

7. Ziyat Paigin  Kazan Ak-Bars  KHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 209  Shot: L  Age: 22

Acquired: 7th Round, 209th Overall, 2015 Draft

Man, it’s still ridiculously early, but the hope is very much alive that Peter Chiarelli knocked it out of the park with the D-men he selected post McDavid in the 2015 draft.  Paigin’s calling card is his bomb from the point.  But he has a long way to go in his development.  He has the skill set you want (size, mobility, willingness to engage physically), but he still needs a season in Bakersfield.  I can’t find and didn’t hear anything about how he played in his five games after coming over, although I wouldn’t put much stock into those games having just come over from Russia to what is a vastly different league and style.

 

6. Tyler Benson  Vancouver  WHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 190  Shot: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2016 Draft

Two brutal seasons from an injury standpoint.  The other scary thing about Benson is he isn’t the most fleet of foot player, definitely needs to work on his first step.  Having said this, there are too many positives in his game to quit on him as a prospect.  First and foremost, look at what he was doing while healthy this season (42 points in 33 games).  I’d be lying my ass off if I said the groin/pubic bone injury reoccurrence didn’t worry me.  Absolutely does.  But, should he play 60-70 games next season, he likely plays in the WJC, and he’ll likely dealt to a contender before January 10th.  At this point I’m definitely not writing him off, and still think there is a good chance he’s a steal.  It’s just going to take a bit longer than some thought.

 

5. Dylan Wells  Peterborough  OHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 182  Glove: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2016 Draft

I first got hyped about Wells right after the Oilers drafted him last June.  A few OHL scouts I follow on Twitter were raving about the pick moments after the pick was made, as they both firmly believed that Wells had all the tools to be a steal, he just hadn’t put it together to that point.  Fast forward 10 months, and he’s really started to put it together.  Wells has had a great season, but his play went to another level around midseason, and continued to be incredible during the Petes playoff run. Through his first 11 playoff games, Wells had a Sv% of .941.  That did dip thanks to Peterborough getting destroyed in their final playoff game, but it was still a 2.51 G.A.A. and a .930 Sv%.  Size wise he isn’t much bigger than Nick Ellis, but with Wells only being 19 he is more likely to pack on the 20-30 pounds both netminders need to play in the league.  Goaltenders are a crap shoot, but I will say that had the Oilers taken Wells with a late 1st or early 2nd round pick, we’d all be raving about Wells right now.  It’s still so very early in his development.  BUT…so far, the pick has been a home run.

 

4. Griffin Reinhart  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 208  Shot: L  Age: 23

Acquired: Trade, June 24th, 2015

As bitter as you are about this trade…I’m a whole lot more bitter about it than you are!  I immediately hated the deal, and could not be talked out of it no matter how hard some of my buddies tried.  Had they not done it and simply selected who they liked (sounds like Joel Eriksson Ek would have gone 16th, Brandon Carlo would have gone 33rd) they’d have one of the best prospect pools in the league right now.  But, it’s done and we all need to get over.  We also all need to understand that just because that trade was awful that it doesn’t mean Reinhart can’t play in the NHL.  From all reports, he came on real strong around January in Bakersfield.  It was only one game, but in his 13 minutes of play in game six, he did look solid.  It’s the same old story with Reinhart.  If he can get a chip on his shoulder and play with an edge (and I’m not just talking about throwing hits once in a while, but learning to play on his toes), he still has a chance to become a real solid top four defenceman.  I’m hopeful he’s not about to be snagged by Vegas in the expansion draft, but I also have a feeling the reason the return was low on Brandon Davidson was because Peter Chiarelli knows that George McPhee will take one of Pouliot (likely) or Fayne, perhaps thanks to Peter greasing the wheels a bit.  There for it was viewed as not only getting Desharnais, but shedding over 5 mil off the cap for 2018.

 

3. Ethan Bear  Seattle  WHL

Pos: D  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 205  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: 5th Round, 124th Overall, 2015 Draft

It’s tough with Bear, because on one hand you can’t help but get giddy about the numbers he’s put up in the WHL the last two seasons and the fact that he was named the WHL defenceman of the year.  But on the other hand, that foot speed just simply isn’t good enough right now.  It’s not an easy thing to improve, but man, if he can get it to the level he needs to, this kid is going to be a huge steal.  The fact that he’s playing in the WHL finals with what is suspected to be a broken hand really speaks to this kids character and toughness.  And he’s not just a big shot on the PP.  That PP runs through Bear just as much, if not more so (when I’ve seen them play) than it does through Matt Barzal.  I really believe the upside on this kid is that he can be a Ryan Ellis type.  But even if his skating doesn’t improve to that level, I still believe he can play in the league as a number six guy who is sheltered five on five but sees a ton of minutes on the PP and PK.

 

2. Caleb Jones  Portland  WHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 190  Shot: L  Age: 20

Acquired: 4th Round, 117th Overall, 2015 Draft

I’m not the only one noticing that he could be pushing for ice time next season am I?  I’m not saying out of camp, but I could see him start getting looks on the big club around midseason or so, and by the 2018 offseason I could see a scenario where they’re looking for a way to get Sekera’s deal off the books to not only create cap space but also fit Jones onto the big club (depending on how Nurse’s development continues to go).  62 points in 63 games for Portland this season and was used on the top D pairing for the U.S. at the WJC this year in more of a shutdown role.  He’s been a hell of a find.  Some will scream that Bear should be ahead of Jones, but with Jones there is zero concern about his skating ability.

 

1. Jesse Puljujarvi  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3.5  Wt: 208  Shot: R  Age: 19

Acquired: 1st Round, 4th Overall, 2016 Draft

I’ve heard some people get worried about Puljujarvi.  Guys, R-E-L-A-X.  He just turned 19 five days ago.  He was great in the AHL.  He has nowhere near the strength to match his body size right now, you can see it with how he skates.  He’s going to be an offensive driver.  I believe his explosiveness will improve as he gains strength, and with that big frame and big ass he will be able to dominate defenders below the hash marks much like Jagr and Hossa can (not saying he’s going to be either of those guys, just in terms of how he protects the puck).  He’s also going to live off McDavid feeds on the power play with that righty one timer he has.  The Oilers have an absolute stud here.  I could see a scenario in a few seasons where McDavid, Draisaitl and Puljujarvi are each anchoring their own line much the way Mike Sullivan used Crosby, Malkin and Kessel last season.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

What an Oppurtunity

I have to admit, I’m getting a little fatigued with the ref talk.  We all know how horribly they have screwed the Oilers in the last two games with two of the worst blown calls (everything considered) in the last 17 years (hope Sabres fans notice I didn’t say 18 years).  And while nobody wants to get over it, you have to get over it because there is still a series to win here.  There is an opening here to get to the Cup final and everyone (fans included) have to keep that in mind.

 

The team and yes, the fans, have to keep this positive.  I’m not the most positive guy, more of a realist.  But I’ve found myself saying since the end of game five “what a chance they have here”.

 

First of all, I believe the team and the fans need a way to look and get past the officiating.  That way?  Well the way I’m trying to look at it is that Dana White always says with fights in the UFC “don’t leave it in the hands of the judges”.  So many awful decisions have come from fights going to the judges score cards.  And really, that’s what happened with all these awful calls against the Oilers.  They’ve left these games in the hands of the refs.  Yes they were screwed, and if you don’t think so you’re just attempting to troll Oilers fans.  But they left it in the hands of the judges so to speak and you can’t do that.

 

The one concern going into tonight without a doubt is that the Ducks confidence couldn’t be any higher now.  You may have heard Bob Stauffer say earlier in the series, part of Ryan Getzlaf’s confidence is coming from nothing being called against him (not to whine about the officiating, but it’s just been a fact).  Well now this team has gotten away with two blatant goaltender interference calls, combined with a dramatic comeback has to have them believing nothing is going to go wrong.

 

But don’t sleep on the stat Jack Michaels tossed out on Twitter after game five though:

Two of the last three years, it’s followed this exact same pattern.  Lose first two games at home, win the next three.

 

I’m sure many are expecting the Oilers to fold in this one after all that’s gone on.  I’d be shocked if the Oilers folded tonight.

 

If they were going to fold, they would have done so in game five against San Jose, they didn’t.  They would have done so down 3-0 in game three of this series, nope.  Would have done so in the third period of game four, another no.  Would have done so in game five, wrong again.  Would have done so in the first OT in game five, ONCE AGAIN they did not.  So if you’re expecting that tonight, I can’t help but think it’s your pessimistic attitude, because this team, while frustrating at times, has given none of us any reason to believe they’ll fold their hand.

 

Fold their hand…remember hearing that non stop last year?  I’d say it’s been a lesson learned.

 

One of the most resilient teams I’ve ever seen in sports was the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.  Twice in the 2001 World Series they were an out away from grabbing that series by the throat, and twice their closer Byun-Hun Kim gave up a game tying home run and eventually the Yankees won both games in extra’s.  Similarities?  The D-Backs won the first two games.  The D-Backs were also down 3-2 with game six at home.  They dismantled the Yankees in game six.  You kept thinking as that series went on “this HAS to of killed them”, and nothing did.  The end of that series was them down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth with Mariano Rivera on the mound, who at that time hadn’t blown a postseason save in 23 straight appearances (his career postseason E.R.A. was 0.73 entering that game).

 

Goes without saying but the Oilers have to get another two or three nothing lead.  You may emphatically say “DUH!!” , or “the Ducks will be fine just like they were the last two games”, and that could be the case.  But I’m certain at least some of those Ducks wouldn’t be fine.  I’m certain some of them would be flashing back to what’s happened in anyone of the last four seasons.  If it’s only happened once or even twice it’s probably just a coincidence.  Four straight years?  It’s a mental thing.  In 2015 there was no way they should have lost to the Blackhawks.  They were the better team in all of the first five games, and they flat out choked in games six and seven.  And I have little doubt that’s what went on last year against Nashville.  So it’s vital the Oilers get them on the ropes again.

 

That D-Backs World Series win is one of the best sports stories I’ve ever seen play out in my life, and here are the 2017 Oilers with a chance to do the same.  Absolutely every reason to fold up shop and call it a year.  Bet they don’t.  And if the Ducks don’t finish them tonight, they’ll be questioning themselves.  Not just from what’s happened in the past, but they’ll be asking themselves “why won’t this team just die?”  After outplaying the Oilers for the majority of the series, keeping McDavid in check for the most part, by my count five what would be at best questionable goals in the series, and two what should have been absolute back breaking/crushing and crucial goals which should have been called back and weren’t…that momentum all goes the other way with an Oilers win tonight.

 

Think about how sweet winning this series would now be.  Think about what that would mean for this team once they become serious Cup contenders and what a brick jaw they’d collectively have thanks to having gone through this.  Hell, think about what it’d do for the team moving forward in THESE playoffs!

 

What a story this team has a chance to write.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

2017 NHL Mock Draft 2.0

This is very poor timing.  Being an Oilers guy, releasing my top 50 prospect list and mock draft right after Anaheim ties the series.  No, I’m not throwing in the towel on that series, although I always had Anaheim to win that series and win the Cup (hence the reason my order is the way it is for the last four picks).

 

As always, a little insight to how I look at things.  I’m looking at what teams have age 25-27 and under in their organization.  I look at need and not just the BPA (best player available) these days as do most teams because it is getting more and more difficult to make trades in the NHL.  Also I try and look for patterns with teams and their past four or five drafts.  Do they go CHL heavy?  Do they love the NCAA/USHL kids?  Maybe they’re big on Europeans?  Do they not like taking defencemen high?  Do they value size?  Skill?  There are just a ton of things to take into consideration.

 

The number on the right side of the players name is the ranking I have on the player in my top 50 list which you can read here: http://soupsonhockey.com/2017/05/05/2017-nhl-draft-top-50-prospects-may-5th/

 

 

1. Nico Hischier (2)  Halifax  QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 176  Shot: L

Comparison: Kyle Turris

The draft is very “trendy”.  Hischier has been the trendier guy between himself and Nolan Patrick.  He also is going to be viewed as the safer pick of the two.  You ask me though, the Devils didn’t win this lottery, Philly did.  Jersey has to make the choice, Philly just has to sit back and pick the other guy.

Other Options: Nolan Patrick

 

 

2. Nolan Patrick (1)  Brandon  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 198  Shot: R

Comparison: Mark Scheifele

As I just said, a perfect spot for the Flyers.  And if it plays out like this, I believe they’re getting the better player in the long run.  Patrick has had his fair share of injury problems (not just this season, although this was the worst), but I doubt anything that’ll effect him long term.  Even if he only is a 2nd line centre in the show, he’s still going to be an extremely valuable player with what he brings to the table.

Other Options: None

 

 

3. Gabe Vilardi (4)  Windsor  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 198  Shot: R

Comparison: Ryan Johansen

Craig Button had them going with Miro Heiskanen here, but the Stars situation reminds me a lot of the Oilers in that everyone says they need D, and they do, but not in the draft.  They have a ton of great young D-men either on the roster or in the organization.  Meanwhile Jason Spezza is 34 years old, 35 in February, you can’t pass up a chance to get a prospect like Vilardi to step into that role in a few seasons.

Other Options: Casey Mittelstadt, Cody Glass

 

 

4. Miro Heiskanen (8) HIFK  SM Liiga

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Nick Leddy

It’s not like the Avs couldn’t have used Hischier or Patrick.  It would have made a Matt Duchene deal much easier to do.  But in this spot they should be able to get the top D-man in the draft, and then focus on perhaps getting a centre for Duchene instead.  I don’t have Heiskanen as the top D-man in this draft, but much like Hischier he’s the trendier guy right now, and he’s the best LH shot D-man in the draft, which is the bigger need for the Avs.  Prefers the right side, but I’m certain he won’t have an issue playing his proper side if need be.

Other Options: Cale Makar

 

 

5. Casey Mittelstadt (6) Eden Prairie  USHS

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 194  Shot: L

 Comparison: Matt Duchene

Tough to say at this point who they’ll prefer between Mittelstadt and Glass.  I probably prefer Glass because I feel his game translates a little better to the league, but no doubt Mittelstadt is the more dynamic of the two.  Call me nuts, but I actually believe the Canucks aren’t the ocean away from competing for a playoff spot like most do.  They need to hit a homerun though on one of these picks though, and Mittelstadt might have a better chance to be that home run and maybe compliment Bo Horvat a little better.

Other Options: Cody Glass

 

 

6. Cody Glass (5)  Portland  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 180  Shot: R

Comparison: Charlie Coyle

Ending up picking 6th might be best for the Golden Knights in their initial entry draft.  Now the pressure is off to find “the face of the franchise”.  Just take the BPA, and don’t rush him.  A kid like Glass could be a great fit as he has quite a bit of versatility in his game.  The hype train has really amped up for Glass the last little while.  I had him 9th in my top 32 back in February asking “why don’t more scouts have this kid ranked higher” and now scouts are going nuts on him saying he’s either Ryan Johansen or Mark Scheifele just because he’s a thin 6’2-6’3 kid who has put up good numbers.  EASY guys.  I like him, but let’s use safer projections.

Other Options: Cale Makar, Timothy Liljegren

 

 

7. Cale Makar (9)  Brooks  AJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 175  Shot: R

Comparison: Dan Boyle

Makar, much like Glass, is a kid who I fear scouts are going a little overboard on.  Love the potential obviously, but he’s a ways off and could just as easily be another Ryan Murphy as much as he could be a Dan Boyle.  But for the Yotes, I see them loving Makar.  They have a lot of pieces up front (although I would guess they aren’t feeling very certain about Dylan Strome’s long term outlook at this point), and even though John Chayka and Dave Tippett were able to add Jakob Chychrun and Cam Dineen in last year’s draft, I think the play is still to go D.  Add to that, if you have D, you can make trades in this league, it’s that simple.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see as many as four D-men go in the top 10 of this draft in large part because of that reason.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren

 

 

8. Juuso Valimaki (10)  Tri-City  WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 204  Shot: L

Comparison: Wade Redden

This is a reach for most (not me), and a lot of a need for the Sabres.  Having said that, if this is what they do I’m going to be in favour of it.  I’d take Timothy Liljegren here myself, but I’m accepting of the fact that he is this years Jakob Chychrun and is going to fall.  I don’t agree with it at all, but you can see it coming.  Anyway, the Sabres take Valimaki here and I actually do think it’s a solid move.  I’d maybe explore moving back if you’re going to do it, but trades even in the top 10 of the draft now days are scarce.  You don’t want to move out of range where you’d miss your guy.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren

 

 

9. Martin Necas (11)  Brno  Czech

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 167  Shot: R

Comparison: Ales Hemsky

Tons of skill with Necas who needs to round out his game.  The Wings have THRIVED off drafting these types of players.  Slowly bring them along, never get to the show until they have their 200 foot game rounded out at least a bit.  The big need for them is on D (RH shooting D to be specific) just like it is with Jersey, Colorado, Vegas, Arizona and Buffalo.  So why not Liljegren here?  In my opinion it would be the smart and obvious pick, and maybe Ken Holland knows better than most of these guys.  But I just am already seeing it coming with Liljegren.  Independent scouts are souring on him, which indicates to me that a lot of teams amateur scouts have soured on him even more.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren

 

 

10. Michael Rasmussen (7)  Tri-City  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 215  Shot: L

Comparison: Jeff Carter

With Dale Tallon now back in power for the cats, I see Rasmussen as his kind of guy.  Size, speed, skill.  Gudbranson, Bjugstad, Barkov, Ekblad, and Crouse were all Tallon’s picks.  This team looks solid moving forward on D with kids like Pysyk, Matheson, McCoshen and of course Ekblad they look pretty solid.  I wouldn’t go as far to say that they can’t use one in the system, but more so that they’re in position to go with the BPA and I believe if Rasmussen were there he would fit too well for Tallon and company to pass up.

Other Options: Owen Tippett, Elias Petterson

 

 

11. Nick Suzuki (18)  Owen Sound  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 187  Shot: R

Comparison: T.J. Oshie

This is a reach according to everyone’s board other than Craig Button’s.  I love Suzuki, but he probably shouldn’t go this high.  But my thinking here is he’s a centre which is a big need for the Kings, he’s out of the OHL and the Kings have loved taking kids out of the OHL, and he’s a relatively safe pick.  He’ll play.  Might only be a 3rd line centre, but he’ll play and he’ll be effective.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren, Owen Tippett

 

 

12. Owen Tippett (11)  Mississuaga  OHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 202  Shot: R

Comparison: Joffrey Lupul

Not EXACTLY how I believe the Canes would like this draft to fall, but if you consider them one of the leading contenders to land Matt Duchene this summer (and I do), then Tippett is a perfect fit.  Even if they don’t land Duchene though, this team is going to be real good soon.  Don’t be shocked if YET AGAIN they go with a D-man with their top pick should the BPA be a D-man, because Ron Francis is a heck of a GM who understands D-men have all the value on the trade market right now.  Tippett is really going to need a disher to play with down the road if he’s going to make an impact in the show.

Other Options: Timothy Liljegren, Elias Petterson

 

 

13. Timothy Liljegren (3)  Rogle  SHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 191  Shot: R

Comparison: Kris Letang

FINALLY the other option goes!  For the record, I’m going to be dead set against the Liljegren fall which is coming at the draft.  If it’s within range to do so, I’m praying the Oilers trade up to take him because he is exactly what they need in the system, and is falling for a completely stupid reason.  Some will say this pick won’t happen (of course they easily could be right) because the Jets are already three deep on the right side on the blueline.  True, but Byfuglien is now 32 years old, Tyler Myers can likely now be listed as injury prone, and Jacob Trouba still likely wants a trade.  It’s a sneaky need for the Jets.  If Liljegren doesn’t go by this point, I still think he wouldn’t get past Tampa with the next pick.  Quite the fall for a kid looked at as a sure fire top three guy for the last year and a half.  I’m still a big believer, but I seem to be on an island.

Other Options: Elias Petterson, Cal Foote

 

 

14. Lias Andersson (17)  HV71  SHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 198  Shot: L

Comparison: Frans Nielsen

The blueline should be the major concern for the bolts.  Craig Button had Cal Foote going here.  While he fits the need for a RH D-man, I don’t believe he fits with the pace that they want to play in Tampa which has clearly been a mandate with the way they’ve drafted.  It’s also not really their style to take a D-man high.  The times they do, it seems to go poorly (Slater Koekkoek, Anthony DeAngelo).  But with Tyler Johnson continually having injury concerns, Valteri Filppula and Brian Boyle now gone, this team has major concerns down the middle.  And with Andersson, while every centre can go to the wing, Andersson is extremely comfortable on either wing which could be a need too should the Bolts move out Jonathan Drouin this summer.  Andersson feels like a kid they would love and would fit in great with the break neck style the Bolts play.

Other Options: Elias Pettersson, Eeli Tolvanen

 

 

15. Elias Pettersson (13)  Timra  SWE-Als

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 156  Shot: L

Comparison: Ondrej Palat

Probably another team who could use a kid like Cal Foote.  But the Islanders under Garth Snow haven’t seemed to like going D high in the draft and passed on kids like Tyler Myers, Cam Fowler, Dougie Hamilton, etc in the first round.  Then you factor in that he drafted Griffin Reinhart which he turned into two more forwards, and Ryan Pulock who he seems to dislike and I find it tough to believe that Snow would go D in this spot.  Tolvanen could fill their need on the right side which they’ve had pretty much through John Tavares’ entire tenure with the Isles, which ironically could be finished draft weekend if he doesn’t want to commit long term.

Other Options: Eeli Tolvanen, Cal Foote

 

 

16. Callan Foote (15)  Kelowna  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 200  Shot: R

Comparison: Jake Muzzin

Not an ideal spot for the Flames.  They really could use a right handed shot up front, whether it’s a centre or a winger.  So Tippett or Necas would really fit the bill.  They could reach on Robert Thomas or someone like that, but this is a good spot to pick Foote.  Plus he’s a RH shot on the blueline which is always a valuable chip to have if you’re looking to trade, but the Flames aren’t loaded with RH shot D-men either.  Michael Stone is a UFA who I’d expect to re-sign there but I guess we won’t know until the GM situation is sorted out.  Rasmus Andersson and Adam Fox are in the system, but neither are anything of a sure thing.  So Foote actually makes a lot of sense.

Other Options: Eeli Tolvanen, Kailer Yamamoto

 

 

17. Nicolas Hague (16) Mississuaga  OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 208  Shot: L

Comparison: Colten Parayko

I could see the Leafs using this pick to acquire a defenceman.  Ideally, Cal Foote would have fallen to them.  I do think there is a great chance for the Leafs to move up a few spots if they want (Tampa has never been shy to move back in the draft while Steve Yzerman has been there), but I believe they’re going to look for a young top four D-man this summer and this pick could be used as primary trade bait.  But should everything fall like this and the Leafs pick, I like Hague.  He plays the right side despite being a LH shot, he has tremendous size as you can read, he has a bomb of a shot, and moves well for a kid his size.  The hockey sense has been called into question, and the offensive numbers weren’t as big as some were hoping (18-28-46 in 65 GP), but if I’m the Leafs I’m not overly concerned with that.  I’d want to find a potential shutdown D-man who can play with a Morgan Rielly down the road because I believe if Rielly starts playing with the right partner that his game will go to another level.

Other Options: Robert Thomas, Erik Brannstrom

 

 

18. Ryan Poehling (19)  St.Cloud State  NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 202  Shot: L

Comparison: Steve Rucchin

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Despite the shit show that has been the Boston Bruins front office the last few seasons, their system is looking pretty solid.  Not nearly as solid as it should look, but solid nonetheless.  As for Poehling, you have to think this would be a tremendous landing spot for his development considering the Bruins have two of the best 200 foot players in the last eight years or so in Patrice Bergeron and David Backes.

Other Options: Shane Bowers, Robert Thomas

 

 

19. Kailer Yamamoto (22)  Spokane  WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’7  Wt: 153  Shot: R

Comparison: Cam Atkinson

The need for the Sens in this spot is a D-man, but it might be a pretty big reach to take that guy here.  For some reason Yamamoto really stands out to me as a great fit with the Sens.  Really undersized and incredibly speedy, plus while it’s not a big need they aren’t overloaded with RW’s in the system.  More of a BPA pick (not by my list but others), but really feels like a great fit.

 

 

 

20. Eeli Tolvanen (14)  Sioux City  USHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Mike Cammalleri

This is a BPA pick, plain and simple.  The Sharks feel like the team that would say “this kid can’t fall any further”.  But like Timothy Liljegren, Tolvanen appears to be falling in the eyes of a lot of people as well.  He’s really one dimensional.  So while it’s great to have a big shot and be a pure sniper, you simply don’t win hockey games building around those guys.  I believe the need for the Sharks is a centre, and there are a lot of centres to be had in this range.  But I believe they’ll be a top contender for John Tavares this summer should he be available, or perhaps Matt Duchene.

Other Options: Kailer Yamamoto, Robert Thomas

 

 

21. Shane Bowers (20)  Waterloo  USHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 178  Shot: L

Comparison: Brandon Dubinsky

I love this kids game and I could see Doug Armstrong feeling the same way.  What might hurt Bowers in this draft is that one area this draft is actually solid in is two way centres which Bowers is near the top.  So perhaps the Blues would hold off until their Washington pick to take a kid like this.  Either way, I expect Armstrong to jump on one of these centres as the Blues could use more help in the middle as they attempted to address last year with the Tage Thompson pick.

Other Options: Robert Thomas, Kristian Vesalainen

 

 

22. Robert Thomas (21)  London  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 185  Shot: R

Comparison: Derick Brassard

Finally he goes.  Both with Thomas and Liljegren earlier, just feels like they fit for a lot of different teams.  This pick is going to depend a bit on Spencer Foo’s decision.  He is going to be the type of kid who you can move up and down the lineup and play in any situation.  If he doesn’t sign in Edmonton then I believe it opens up another need with Jordan Eberle almost certainly to be shipped out in the offseason.  But even if Foo does sign elsewhere, in the draft I believe the way to go (especially in the 20-30 range) is with one of the centres.  For me, I got ten centres in the 17-37 range.  Thomas might have the highest ceiling offensively of those ten centres.  Righty shot which they can really use.  He’s also a great faceoff guy which wouldn’t carry over immediately but does give hope to being a key guy in the dot down the road.  I believe a trade down to the 30-35 range in an attempt re-coup the 2nd round pick lost to Boston because of how many centres who can be had and fit their need in this part of the draft is very possible.

Other Options: Henri Jokiharju, Jaret Anderson-Dolan

 

 

23. Kristian Vesalainen (23)  Frolunda  SHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 207  Shot: L

Comparison: James Van Riemsdyk

It’s risky to suggest Vesalainen will end up getting to this spot.  I have trouble being much of a fan of his because of the wheels, but perhaps it won’t be a problem for some other teams earlier on.  If he gets to 23 though, I can’t see Marc Bergevin passing on him.  I’ve never seen a guy try so hard to increase a teams size, with really minimal results.  Vesalainen doesn’t just help out with the size desires, but also the desire to increase their scoring.

Other Options: Henri Jokiharju, Klim Kostin

 

 

24. Aleksi Heponiemi (39)  Swift Current  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 147  Shot: L

Comparison: Sebastian Aho

This is the pick the Coyotes acquired from the Wild in the Martin Hanzal deal.  I’m interested here, because now with both these Arizona picks I’m assuming they’re going to go all in on numbers and f*** the players size!  That’s KIND of what they did last year, but the team builder side of me says having a team full of undersized guys is a recipe for failure.  I’m personally really intrigued by Heponiemi.  Even though he’s only a few months younger than Yamamoto, he’s a 99 kid.  So at a similar weight, three more inches of height, and his numbers aren’t far off (28-58-86 in 72 GP).  Plus, for me anyway, I always put more value on a kid who has been playing the middle rather than the wing, even though Heponiemi likely will be on the wing in the pro’s.

Other Options: Erik Brannstrom, Jake Ottinger

 

 

25. Erik Brannstrom (25)  HV71  SWE J20

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 173  Shot: L

Comparison: Sami Vatanen

I’m thinking there is a very good chance Ryan Murray is moved this summer.  Could be because of the expansion draft, or it could be in an attempt to fetch a centre like Matt Duchene.  Another thing to look at here is that the Jackets don’t have what I’d consider an “A” level prospect on the blueline, so it might be a good idea to keep adding to their depth.  All that being said I really like them to take one of the four D-men I have ranked from 24-27 in this spot.

Other Options: Henri Jokiharju, Urho Vaakanainen

 

 

26. Klim Kostin (47) Moscow  KHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 196  Shot: L

Comparison: Thomas Vanek

The need here is defence.  That blueline is getting old pretty quickly and there is no sure thing on the way.  Maybe Gustav Forsling, but notice I used the word maybe there.  But the problem is that Stan Bowman has never used a first round pick on a D-man, it’s been all forwards since he took the reigns from Dale Tallon.  There are a few teams who I believe would be willing to take a home run swing on Kostin, and at the moment I’m willing to bet that the Hawks are who ends up taking the swing.  I don’t like him at all with the Russian bust factor and the Russian flight risk, but at 26 and for the Hawks in particular, this would be completely justified.

Other Options: Marcus Davidsson, Josh Norris

 

 

27. Jake Oettinger (30) Boston U  NCAA

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 203  Glove: L

Comparison: Braden Holtby

This is the pick the Blues acquired from the Caps in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal.  This is a little bit of a need, I guess that depends on how high they are on Ville Husso.  But more so I just believe if they address a need down the middle with Bowers at 20 then they don’t have a real glaring need up front or on D, so I think more so this is about taking the BPA.  For some, Oettinger or U.P. Luukkonen are going to be ranked high, it’s just a matter of whether or not a team is willing to take a goaltender in the 1st round.  A lot won’t, but I believe in this spot the Blues could.

Other Options: U.P. Luukkonen, Isaac Ratcliffe

 

 

28. Jaret Anderson-Dolan (32)  Spokane  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 180  Shot: L

 Comparison: Nick Bonino

Last year’s draft couldn’t have fallen much more perfect for them.  The one thing they kind of had a need for in the system was a RH shot D-man after moving Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, and that’s exactly what fell into their lap with Dante Fabbro.  So with that task completed, this season it looks to me like a forward of some sort is the need here and I really believe Anderson-Dolan really fits the Nashville culture.  Plus if it’s me, always go centre over wing.

Other Options: U.P. Luukkonen, Josh Norris

 

 

29. Alexei Lipanov (40)  Balashikha  MHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 165  Shot: L

Comparison: Mike Riberio

This would be a home run swing by the Rangers, who really need to re-stock the cupboard after years of dealing away their first round pick (four straight years without one).  Lipanov has tremendous skill, but needs to fill out and will likely find himself on the wing in the pro’s, although he’s no smaller than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was when he entered the league.  At this point in the draft, for a team that doesn’t have much on the way, I wouldn’t mind this pick at all should it all break this way (trust me, it wont’).

 

 

30. Henri Jokiharju (24)  Portland  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: R

Comparison: Tobias Enstrom

One of these D-men I have ranked in the 24-27 range will fit perfectly with the Pens who love their undersized puck moving D, and I happen to feel like Jokiharju is the best of that bunch.  Unless they still haven’t given up on Derrick Pouliot, it appears the Pens have absolutely nobody on the way, and they have to be at least a little concerned with how Kris Letang will bounce back from his neck surgery.

Other Options: Connor Timmins, Marcus Davidsson

 

 

31. U.P. Luukkonen (31)  HPK  SM Jr. Liiga

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4.5  Wt: 196  Glove: L

Comparison: Pekka Rinne

What do you get the team that has everything?  I still really believe this team is winning the Stanley Cup this season, and if they do I do not recall a team winning the Cup while having one of the best farm systems in the league.  I don’t see a goaltender in that grouping though.  I know John Gibson is still real young, but you always want to make sure you have another guy coming, so Luukkonen could be a great fit.  But of course, they can wait on a goaltender if they prefer.  It’s a pretty big crap shoot in these spots when the draft is good.  In a weak draft, it only increases.

Other Options: Kole Lind, Scott Reedy

 

 

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2017 NHL Draft: Top 50 Prospects May 5th

Just like back in February, allow me to start all of this off by saying that this is not shaping up to be a good draft.  There is a clear cut top two, but don’t expect either of them to be superstars.  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.  Maybe a better draft than 2012 (which is probably the worst draft in the last 17 years), maybe better than 2007’s top ten (no first line centre’s or number one D-men were in that one), but it’s not looking pretty.

 

This is my first top 50 of the year.  Back in February I did a top 32, now I got my 50 and I really like the kids I have in there, but you really notice the hype level being down for so many of these kids.  It’s as if either one of the last two drafts were to simply start at ten.  But having said that, kids will undoubtedly emerge from this draft and fans will always want to look at how their team can or will improve.

 

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 starting to put more and more stock into birthdates.  So for this draft in particular, late 1998 birthdates I tend to pay more attention to their numbers from last season, and I also put stock into guys who are near the youngest amongst the draft class.  I’m also really into building a team not just compiling talent, so I put a big premium on centres and D-men over wingers.  Finally, I tier my prospects.  I’m not sure why more lists aren’t done this way (a few are), it makes much more sense to me and I have been told that this is how most NHL teams tend to look at things as well.  So pay more attention to the tier a guy is in and less as to what the number is beside his name.

 

Also did my mock draft today so if you’re interested on how the pieces may fit: http://soupsonhockey.com/2017/05/05/2017-nhl-mock-draft-2-0/

 

So we good?  I don’t care, I’m getting started anyway, enjoy.

 

Tier One

1. Nolan Patrick  Brandon  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 198  Shot: R

Comparison: Mark Scheifele

Most aren’t going to have him number one come draft day.  I know how this works.  Hischier will be the guy, Hischier will go first, but until I get what I feel is a good reason to move off this, I’m sticking with Patrick as my top guy.  The injuries are a concern no doubt, but we aren’t talking knee or back injuries, so I don’t believe the groin and collarbone stuff should be a long term concern.  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.  He’ll 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: Kyle Turris

One thing I 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.  Of course he’s slender right now, but being 6’1 he could get up close to 200 pounds without it hurting his wheels.  Great vision, great shot, can pick teams apart 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.

 

Tier Two

timothy-liljegren-rogle3. Timothy Liljegren  Rogle  SHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 191  Shot: R

Comparison: Kris Letang

Scouts can knock him down all they want, I’m not.  The reason I’m not is because the reason they’re knocking him down is for having mono this season.  It’s ridiculous.  As a friend said to me “he’s probably lost 20 pounds!”  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 him, 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’d hope front offices wouldn’t be SO stupid to let a prospect like this slide to the 10-20 range.

 

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 can’t bring myself to rank him ahead of Liljegren even though I’m about the only one left who wouldn’t.  I still see Liljegren as having elite potential while Vilardi at this point projects as a high end second line centre.  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.

 

5. Cody Glass  Portland  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 180  Shot: R

Comparison: Charlie Coyle

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). Size, speed, big numbers (94 points in 69 games), so back in January when I did my top 32 list I kept asking myself what the big flaw is?  Hell, he’s even a right handed shot which is a tougher find around the league.  Now, everyone seems to have finally noticed this kid is a really solid prospect.

 

mittelstadt6. Casey Mittelstadt  Eden Prairie  USHS

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 194  Shot: L

Comparison: Matt Duchene

Two big things could hurt him in some of the rankings over the next two months.  He’s a late 98 birthdate and those guys normally drop as the process goes on (you’ll see I talk about this a lot throughout this list).  Also going back to Eden Prairie won’t help.  He started the season in Green Bay of the USHL, and decided he wanted to go home.  Riley Tufte did this last year and while it’s far too early in his development, a lot of people have soured on him.  It’s tough because you try to juggle how a kid’s skillset will translate, their numbers this season, their past numbers, upside, bust potential, etc.  For Mittelstadt I have to think the skillset translates perfectly.  Speed, skill, willingness to play 200 feet, real good down low, I compared him to Duchene but as time goes on a Chris Drury type wouldn’t shock me in the least because of that willingness to play 200 feet already.

 

Tier Three

rasmussen7. 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.  Rasmussen was another kid I was bigger on than most around midseason, but unlike with Glass, he’s dropping for some because of the fractured wrist that shut him down for the season.  Still had 55 points in 50 games this season, and I think his combine testing and interviews could shoot him back up on a lot of teams lists.

 

8. Miro Heiskanen  HIFK  SM Liiga

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Brian Campbell

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.

 

9. Cale Makar  Brooks  AJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 175  Shot: R

Comparison: Dan Boyle

Back in February I actually had him two spots higher than this while everyone was still slow on him.  After so many years of following and quite frankly studying the draft, you can see these things developing.  But now I’m starting to get worried that the hype is going too far.  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!  He will likely need in my opinion either two years at UMASS or a year at UMASS and at least a bit of time in the AHL, but if he goes top five, which at this point it sure looks that way, he easily could be rushed.    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.  I’ve seen him play a lot, and get the intrigue.  But I have my concerns with what may happen with his development.

 

juusovlimkitricityamericansvkelownabtjfhmygp2_l10. Juuso Valimaki  Tri-City  WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 204  Shot: L

Comparison: Wade Redden

What I really like about Valimaki is what I read about his play in his own zone.  The headliner with him will be his 61 points in 60 games played.  But Valimaki will get his nose dirty with the physical stuff, has a great stick in his own zone, and he already has the thick frame to hold up to the punishment.  His point totals suggest he’s flashy, but he really isn’t.  This kid is just very solid at both ends of the ice and doesn’t really have a flaw in his game although again something I’ll harp on to keep in mind throughout this list….late 98 birthdate.

 

Tier Four

tippett11. 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 never become more than a one dimensional player, but he has the tools to be more of a complete player than he shows right now.

 

necas12. 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.  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.  He’s been extremely inconsistent all season so expect to read a lot of varying opinions on him.

 

13. Elias Pettersson  Timra  SWE-Als

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 156  Shot: L

Comparison: Teuvo Teravainen

Right now he’s rail thin obviously, but a lot of scouts are in love with this kids upside because of that.  His numbers this season were off the charts good for a draft eligible kid in Sweden (though keep in mind he’s a late 98 birthdate).  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.

 

tolvanen14. Eeli Tolvanen  Sioux City  USHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: L

Comparison: Mike Cammalleri

Originally had him lower than most, but much like with Glass and Makar, more people are seeing it the same way.  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.  No doubt that one dimension is vital to an NHL teams success.  A pure sniper with a tremendous shot.  But something that gets overlooked by most when it comes to drafts is a players draft stock.  You can find this type of player for cheap in free agency, and they’re always available at the trade deadline.

 

Tier Five

foote15. Callan Foote  Kelowna  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 200  Shot: R

Comparison: Jake Muzzin

I can’t remember if I read it or heard it recently, but someone came out and said “he’s NOTHING like his dad was…”  That’s all I’ve ever seen on Cal Foote is that he plays mostly like his old man.  Even though I can’t remember who said that (I believe it was Craig Button), the main reason they were saying that is because Cal Foote put up points.  57 points in 71 games this season for Cal.  Out of curiosity I thought I’d look up what Adam had in his second year of major junior.  55 points in 61 games.  So by THAT logic, Adam was a better offensive defenceman at this point.  Point is that you can’t get too wrapped up in what their numbers are in junior, you have to ask yourself how will his game translate.  I don’t see Cal as a guy who’ll put up great offensive numbers (doesn’t have those kind of wheels or that kind of shot).  I do see Cal as a guy who can be a shutdown defender, much like his old man was.  If he can put up points as well, great!  But if you want different comparisons (which I did switch), I see him as a Jake Muzzin, Adam Larsson, Marc Methot, Marc-Edouard Vlasic type of guy.  All these guys CAN put up numbers, the latter two have had a few good offensive seasons, but first and foremost they’re shutdown guys.  Late 98 birthdate, I’m sorry you’re sick of that already.

 

hague16. 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 in 2016 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.

 

Tier Six

lias-andersson17. 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.

 

18. Nick Suzuki  Owen Sound  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 187  Shot: R

Comparison: T.J. Oshie

He’s been trending up all season, and I totally get it.  Craig Button now has him 10th on his latest list.  I couldn’t go that high, but I totally get it.  Put up awesome numbers (96 points in 65 games, 21 points in 14 playoff games), 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.  I personally wouldn’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), size is fine, and a good shot.  So to me Suzuki is a very safe pick.  Some like him as a winger, but the more I dig on him, the more I find people believing he’ll be a centre in the show.

 

poehling19. Ryan Poehling  St.Cloud State  NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 202  Shot: L

Comparison: Steve Rucchin

I’m going back a ways and a little obscure with the comparison here!  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, good hands, good vision, high end speed is good, the foot speed is really the only concern but foot speed can be fixed.  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.  Out of all the centres in this tier, he definitely has the biggest upside.

 

20. 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.  Going to Boston University in the fall.

 

21. Robert Thomas  London  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 185  Shot: R

Comparison: Daymond Langkow

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.  PPG player this season, and stayed pretty close to that clip in the playoffs with 12 points in 14 games.  Obviously not near the numbers that Nick Suzuki had being just three spots higher and the same tier, but Thomas didn’t see that kind of ice time and has a higher ceiling offensively in my opinion.

 

22. 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 first round pick on.  99 points in 65 games, 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.   You have to keep in mind with him though that he’s only a few weeks younger in a few cases than last year’s picks (9/29/98).  His numbers, while great, weren’t really eye popping for an 18 year old season.  I really like the kid thus far in the process, and I believe he’s a very safe pick.  But I’m seeing now some guys ranking him in the top 15.  To me that’s going overboard because even though it’s a down year for the draft, there are still kids who play more vital positions who bring more to the table.

 

kristian_vesalainen123. Kristian Vesalainen  Frolunda  SHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 207  Shot: L

Comparison: James Van Riemsdyk

He’s been inconsistent this season, but tore up the U18’s last month.  Still for me, the big concern is the skating.  If he can clean that up, I like him a lot, but that’s a big ask.  He has that great size, and he’s great around the net (where the JVR comparison comes from).  But I just have trouble getting past his wheels and his motor, which obviously isn’t an original story for a big/skilled winger.

 

Tier Seven

24. 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.

 

25. Erik Brannstrom  HV71  SWE J20

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 173  Shot: L

Comparison: Sami Vatanen

Something Redline Report said about Brannstrom was a great point.  Why is it that Cale Makar is being touted as this amazing prospect, yet for some people Brannstrom gets looked at as a 2nd round guy?  There isn’t a big difference between the two players.  I’m still a little leery to shoot him up my rankings at this point because so many guys I respect are down on him.  But if there is any candidate to make a big jump in my rankings before the draft it is this kid.

 

26. 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 a bit behind Jokiharju and Brannstrom for me, but he could be the safest pick of the three.

 

27. 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.

 

28. Mason Shaw  Medicine Hat  WHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’8.5  Wt: 180  Shot: L

Comparison: Viktor Arvidsson

Tough to see him being this small and playing the middle in the pro’s so I’ve got him on the wing, but you’ll likely see him listed as a centre.  I’m always going to have a little bit of bias towards a kid who is local and played a lot of high end hockey in Lloyd.  But I’m even more bias towards a guy who plays this style.  Shaw plays in your face all night long, and is completely fearless on the ice.  Arvidsson was who I finally settled on for the comparison, but another I gave thought to was Brad Marchand.  I wouldn’t ever expect a career year like Marchand just had, but his second and third year major junior numbers are pretty similar to what Marchand’s were.

 

29. 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 which is that Kelowna simply pumps out more quality prospects than anyone else in the WHL.

 

Tier Eight

oettinger_horizontal30. Jake Oettinger  Boston U  NCAA

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 203  Glove: L

Comparison: Braden Holtby

As weak 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 50-75.  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, which is why I dropped him to borderline 1st round status (for me anyway).  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.

 

31. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen  HPK  SM Jr. Liiga

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4.5  Wt: 196  Glove: L

Comparison: Pekka Rinne

Size, athleticism, a Fin, I really honestly try to stay away from the stereotypical comparisons.  I can’t in this case.  He just reminds me exactly of Rinne.  Unlike Rinne however, he’s not a raw talent.  He already has shown that he’s pretty technically sound for his age and plays a composed style with great rebound control.  Sometimes you see guys with this skill set like Jonas Gustavsson or Anders Lindback who just can never get away from depending solely on their size and athleticism.

 

32. Jaret Anderson-Dolan  Spokane  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 180  Shot: L

Comparison: Nick Bonino

One of my favourite comparisons.  Anderson-Dolan’s best trait is that he has one of the best motors in this draft.  He’s also one of the youngest players in this draft (9/12/99) and was over a PPG player this season for the Chiefs.  Great skater with a great 200 foot game who plays in your face all night.  Was very tempted to have him up in the group with Bowers and Thomas, but until I find out more an early 30’s ranking will do.

 

33. Marcus Davidsson  Djurgardens  SHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 191  Shot: L

Comparison: Mikael Backlund

It is so rare that you find a Swedish kid who doesn’t play a 200 foot game, it’s unreal the job they do developing their kids.  Like the Luukkonen/Rinne comparison, I just couldn’t not think of Backlund when talking about Davidsson, and I’m guessing this is the comparison most will have.  Needs to keep developing his lower body strength which will help his skating out a lot (not a bad stride, just a little weak) and isn’t very physical.  But he plays a very complete game.

 

34. Josh Norris  USA NTDP  USHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 192  Shot: L

Comparison: Shawn Horcoff

Norris can’t be left out of the group with Anderson-Dolan, and Davidsson.  And I’d say it’s pretty damn difficult to separate these three players.  All of them around the same size, similar skill sets, lefty shots, playing in three completely different leagues, it’s just tough to rank one ahead of the other in my opinion.  Same thing though, plays a good 200 foot game, will be able to score a bit thanks to the speed and energy he plays with, maybe has the lowest ceiling of these three centres, but tough to think he won’t play in the league at least as a bottom six guy.

 

35. Filip Chytil  Zlin  CZE-Jr

Pos: C Ht: 6’0.5  Wt: 178  Shot: L

Comparison: Rickard Rakell

I don’t consider Chytil to be in that group of centres, even though he is listed as one, simply because he’s different style of centre who is a little more of a risky pick.  Has become a big time riser as this season has wore on.  Looked great at the U18’s.  Great speed, vision, good shot, willing to go to any area on the ice, has some grit, plays a 200 foot game, really the only knock on him is going to be that he needs more time.  Watch for this kid to go late first round on draft day, as he really doesn’t have much of a flaw.

 

36. 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.  Was the leading goal scorer and second in points on a weak Storm team this season.

 

Tier Nine

37. Stelio Mattheos  Brandon  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 190  Shot: R

Comparison: Mike Fisher

He’s dropped a bit this season, but I really like the kid in this early-mid 2nd round range.  Good size, natural centre, right handed shot, good wheels, everyone raves about the way he forechecks, I think he’s got a great shot at being a pretty valuable top nine forward in the league whether it be at centre or on the wing.  The ability is there and I believe a season back in Brandon with it being his team could do big things for his development.

 

38. 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 was exceptional, and he was a kid who the Preds debated drafting in the 4th round because of his size.  DiPietro had ridiculous numbers when I did my last list with a 2.15 G.A.A. and a .925 Sv%.  He slipped a bit afterwards, finishing with a 2.48 G.A.A. and a .917 Sv%, but still real solid and he’ll have the Memorial Cup to build on that.  He won’t go in the 1st round, might not go in the 2nd round, but this is my list and I like him in the 30-40 range.

 

39. Aleksi Heponiemi  Swift Current  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 147  Shot: L

Comparison: Sebastian Aho

Obviously has some filling out to do, and didn’t have a great playoffs for the Broncos (0 goals, 8 assists in 14 GP).  In fairness to that though, he is a pure playmaker.  Look at guys like Joe Thornton, Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Getzlaf, etc.  The one thing you’ll always hear about their game is the question “why don’t they shoot more?”  Heponiemi is the same way and will hang onto the puck sometimes too long looking for that seam.  Despite the size, I find myself really intrigued at how good this kid could be in a few years.  The weight is shocking, and worrisome that he won’t be able to get up to 175-185 that he needs to get to.  If he does, he should play in the league.

 

40. Alexei Lipanov  Balashikha  MHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 165  Shot: L

Comparison: Mike Riberio

There is another Russian who you’re probably wondering how I could have Lipanov ahead of him.  Well Lipanov still has a lot of filling out to do, and is a centre which goes a long way in my books.  He’s pure offence.  The 200 foot game needs a lot of work, but this is a kid who has a boat load of skill.  Really similar to Heponiemi (hence them back to back and in the same tier).  The Fin gets the nod because of less risk, Lipanov is likely the more talented of the two.

 

41. Scott Reedy  USA NTDP  USHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1.5  Wt: 204  Shot: R

Comparison: Boone Jenner

Ignore that Jenner had 30 goals in 2016 with this comparison.  He’s a threat to move up on my list.  Right now I’m reading mixed reviews on his skating and hockey IQ, but this kids upside is tremendous.  His stick skills are his big claim to fame, but I also like what I’m hearing on his grit and playmaking abilities.  And we’ll see what comes out of the combine, but for now I got Reedy as a mid 2nd rounder.

 

Tier Ten

comtois42. Maxime Comtois  Victoriaville  QMJHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 199  Shot: L

Comparison: Milan Michalek

One of the drafts big time fallers from the start of the season.  I tried to resist back in February, but he’s just had a brutal season production wise and I can’t help but drop him into this range.  Still though, I can’t help but think back to 2015 and Nicolas Roy who had a very similar fall to where he was an afterthought heading into the draft.  Another kid like this was Anthony Duclair.  I’m not intending to just pick kids out of the Q, but that’s the two that stand out to me.  So for me personally, I would take a chance on Comtois in this range simply because it could have simply been a case of a kid putting far too much pressure on himself in his draft year.  When you just look at the skill set of size, grit, speed, and a great shot, you have to think he’ll still find his way into the league.

 

43. Grant Mismash  USA NTDP  USHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 186  Shot: L

Comparison: Jason Zucker

Fast and skilled kid who is a bit inconsistent, but when on he is active all over the ice.  Willing to get his nose dirty, of course this becomes a question mark once he gets to the AHL and NHL.  Is he going to start to shy away from it when facing bigger and tougher guys, or is he going to embrace it?  Tough to say how that mental part of the game will ever go for a player, but Mismash definitely has the skill set to be a very effective top nine winger in the league.

 

44. Sasha Chmelevski  Ottawa  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 186  Shot: R

Comparison: Marcus Kruger

Congratulations to the 2017 OHL scholastic player of the year, Sasha Chmelevski.  I’m a sucker for kids who show a high IQ.  Of course that doesn’t mean it will translate to hockey sense, but I do believe it shows work ethic and maturity on top of intelligence.  Great wheels, good skill, his 200 foot game has shown a lot of improvement as the seasons progressed, and he’s a right handed shot.

 

45. Ostap Safin  Sparta  CZE-Jr

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’4.5  Wt: 191  Shot: L

Comparison: Brad Isbister

First, an explanation on the comparison.  If I said Todd Bertuzzi, it would be ridiculous expectations.  Isbister had that same talent, just didn’t have the drive.  These types of players are few and far between and the ones who pan out end up dominating, so it’s tough to find a middle of the road guy to compare Safin to.  If he were a Canadian kid I really wonder how much higher he would be in most rankings.  He loves to throw his weight around.  Would that change once over in North America, or would he then become more comfortable playing that style the rougher the game gets?  Foot speed needs work, but his high end speed is real good and has some good skill with a great shot.  The ceiling is really high with Safin.

 

46. Alex Formenton  London  OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 162  Shot: L

Comparison: Drew Stafford

The biggest draw with Formenton is that he is going to be one of the youngest (possibly the youngest) player in this draft.  9/13/99.  Even age aside though, he’s very raw so the belief here is that in another two seasons playing for Dale Hunter, Formenton will develop into a very effective top nine winger.  He has great wheels and a great work ethic, so if you’re going to gamble on a bit of a project, he’d be a good one to bet on.

 

kostin47. Klim Kostin  Moscow  KHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 196  Shot: L

Comparison: Thomas Vanek

I’m going for “lowest you’ll see him ranked”, and I’m tempted to not have him on my top 50.  The big, and/or skilled, “unstoppable” Russian winger seems to bust more than any other type of player, and they’ve burnt their bridge with me.  Filatov, Burmistrov, Yakupov, Grigorenko, Nichushkin, I’m just done with these guys.  You will likely point out Tarasenko and Kuznetsov, of course there are always exceptions to the rule.  Added to the bust factor, and the flight risk, this kid missed half the season.  So I’m not touching him anywhere in the top 20 where most have him.  Mid 2nd round though, for me, he would be worth a shot.

 

48. Matthew Strome  Hamilton  OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 206  Shot: L

Comparison: Greg Adams

Both his brothers have been disappointments to this point, he is the least talented of the three, and the book is that he has really heavy feet.  So while I would take a chance on him, I wouldn’t be taking that chance anytime early.  Big and skilled, so I understand a bit of the intrigue.  But again I’ll say it, the speed in the league has gone to another level.

 

Tier Eleven

49. Josh Brook  Moose Jaw  WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 185  Shot: R

Comparison: Jason Demers

I cannot find a consensus on his skating!  Redline Report say “his fluid skating with light edging allows him to play effectively in all three zones”.  Future Considerations say his “overall speed game isn’t flattering”.  And I found some more and again, opinions were split.  I don’t get how that happens, but even with some of the negative things I read I still like the overall package.  Big frame, righty shot, high IQ, plays gritty in his own zone, even without great wheels I’m intrigued at this point in the draft.  If Redline is right and his wheels are as good as they claim, this kid has a chance to be a massive steal.

 

50. Eemeli Rasanen  Kingston  OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 216  Shot: R

Comparison: Tyler Myers

I understand that these types of European defencemen have a high bust rate, but at the same time how can you ignore a kid who plays nasty like Rasanen does and will become a better skater simply with time as he grows more into his body?  Most have Pierre-Olivier Joseph as a better prospect, yet Joseph and Rasanen had virtually the same numbers this season.  He has some upside offensively, and isn’t just a banger in his own zone but really does a great job controlling his gaps and angles.  At this point in the draft, you can definitely look at taking a home run swing like this.

 

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Fool me Once, Shame on You. Fool me Eight Times…

I didn’t know how I was going to start this blog today.  I didn’t want to jump right into the Caps and how flawed they are, and THEN the Oilers/Ducks game happened!  Wow!

 

On one hand, thank you NHL because you made this opening rant easy as F***!  On the other hand, it’s getting exhausting ranting about how disgusting NHL officiating has become.  I don’t recall a game where a team literally scored three illegal/blown call type goals.  Don’t get me wrong, the Oilers aren’t without blame here.  They got themselves into this mess by letting their collective foot off the gas to start that second period last night, but you can’t deny that the awful officiating crew cost them that game.  The NHL wants to talk about Perry’s foot on the first goal but that wasn’t the issue.  Talbot’s blocker was caught on Perry’s ass and that’s exactly where Talbot got beat.  Having no ability to review then cost the second goal, and of course the OT goal was a total cluster f*** by the linesmen which also caused the one ref to get in Larsson’s way, it’s unbelievable.  The Ducks, who I picked to win the Cup and in total fairness have been the better team in the series, now have by my count five goals now in the playoffs that the officiating crew have completely butchered.  This cannot keep up.  The NHL needs to wake the f*** up (lot of F bombs today, I apologize) and take an actual serious look at how their game is officiated top to bottom.  The old boys who want to tell you that “the refs don’t cost you the games” and just try to brush it off as an excuse are starting to get drowned out by fans and new aged media who are taking notice that refs are absolutely costing teams games.  I’ve harped on it for years now, and it is not in anyway an Oilers thing.  It’s a league wide issue and I along with many others have had enough of it.

 

Case in point…the first humiliating call made last night was late in the Pittsburgh/Washington game on T.J. Oshie…

 

So why don’t we all notice that the Washington Capitals are not a good hockey team?  Why do we miss all the flaws the Caps have?  Why do we constantly blame Alex Ovechkin for a problem that his GM’s have failed to recognize throughout his tenure with the Caps?

 

I’ve hammered on this for years now.  The Caps do not have a 1st line centre.  Nicklas Backstrom is fine.  He’s ok in his own zone, but he’s nothing great.  He isn’t locking down anyone’s 1st line centre.  He’s a real good playmaker, but let’s not kid anyone.  Playing with the games top sniper his entire career has made a major impact on his numbers.  I laugh at how Backstrom gets a total pass on his playoff performance.  His career playoff PPG number is the exact same as “playoff choker” Joe Thornton (0.77 PPG).  Numbers are far from everything, but when you aren’t putting up big numbers as a 1st line centre then you better be a great two way player, and he is not.

 

Then as their 2nd line centre the Caps run out Evgeny Kuznetsov who can’t play away from the puck.  Evgeni Malkin was kind of that guy for the Penguins too in 2009, but Malkin was so offensively gifted that he would (and from the 2nd round on, did) torch you if you were sloppy with your matchups as an opposing coach.  Kuznetsov is real good, but I don’t think he worries opposing coaching staffs.

 

So just to start, your 1st line centre should be your 2nd line centre, and your 2nd line centre should be playing the wing.  You can make up for that though if you have a great blueline…

 

Do they have an elite number one defenceman?  I’ll make this easy for you…nope.  John Carlson, very good, but he’s never moved past being a very good top four guy.  Combined with Karl Alzner, it’s a top pair, but if you don’t have an elite 1st line centre then you damn well better have that elite number one defenceman and they simply don’t.  Kevin Shattenkirk was a nice add, but Shattenkirk was sheltered in Ken Hitchcock’s system for years and he’s simply not good in his own zone…which is what they really needed.

 

Then you look at the overall makeup of the team, and it’s just as flawed.

 

They’re a big team.  Nothing wrong with that.  If I were a GM I’d make sure the team has a lot of size.  But while they’re big, they aren’t fast.  And while they’re big, they aren’t bruising, so they aren’t a team that is going to wear anyone down, which is the main reason you want to form a big team!  Big teams historically win in the playoffs because they wear down the teams they play.  So in a league in which the speed seems to have really increased over the last two seasons in particular, they’ve gotten slower, and they utilize their size advantage near enough.

 

And when have they ever made an effort to get some leaders in this room?  George McPhee did it once with Sergei Fedorov, and the Caps seemed to play a lot better in big moments when they had a guy like Fedorov in their room.  2009 they came back from 3-1 down against the Rangers, won game six in Pittsburgh facing elimination, they were good.  Fedorov left after that season, and I can’t recall when the Caps ever went out and got a guy who’d be considered a leader again.

 

But it’s all Ovechkin.  All you’ll hear about is how Ovechkin can’t win.  I am going to rip out all of my hair over this, even the body hair and I’ve got a lot of body hair if I let it get away from me! (TMI?)  The media just loves the easy narrative and the easy narrative is to blame Ovechkin and that is such a crock of shit.  And don’t get me wrong, last night he was terrible.  He said as much after the game.  But name the big name Caps player who was good.  This is far from all Ovechkin.  Look at the Oilers in these playoffs.  McDavid has been shutdown a lot of the time and they continually have guys stepping up.  It’s not like I believe Ovechkin is blameless in all this.  He has not done enough to improve his 200 foot game over the years.  But the lazy narrative is to point the finger at Ovechkin gets so old and to me makes it look like you don’t know hockey.

 

I’ve always said the Crosby v Ovechkin comparison is absurd.  If you can’t figure out that Ovechkin is the best SNIPER and not the best PLAYER all these years, then you’re an idiot.  I don’t know what else to tell you.  People covering MLB don’t claim that Mark Trumbo is better than Mike Trout.  NFL guys aren’t telling you that Julio Jones is better than Aaron Rodgers.  Yet the majority of people who cover the NHL have tried telling you for years that Ovechkin is better than Crosby.  If Ovechkin ever at any point had Crosby’s overall game, he’d play centre.  The reason just about all of these one dimensional players play the wing is because they don’t have a well rounded game.  For some reason, this is completely lost on the media, and even some people in the league (look at some of the mistakes in the draft over the years).

 

Then they make Ovechkin out to be the Alex Rodriguez of the NHL.  A-Rod literally couldn’t hit during the MLB postseason.  Ovechkin has 89 points in 94 playoff games, a breakout game away from being a PPG guy.  Five points off.  Patrick Kane for example, is three points off that pace during his career in the playoffs.  Does Ovechkin have Toews or Keith to play with?  No, he has a media perceived 1st line centre, and a media perceived number one D-man.

 

Ovechkin is up there with Mike Bossy and Brett Hull as three of the greatest snipers of all time.  Bossy has four Cups.  He also had Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith.  Hull was in the exact same situation in St. Louis as Ovechkin is.  Hull goes to Dallas where he has Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov and Ed Belfour…shocker.  He wins a Cup.

 

I liked the Leafs to give the Caps fits in the first round, and while I knew the Leafs had a speed advantage, I wasn’t sure it would matter much or that it was as big of a gap as I’d thought.  But it became clear to me early on in that series.

 

So the autopsy finds that we have a second line centre pretending to be a first line centre, a top six winger pretending to be a second line centre, a number two defenceman trying to be a number one, a number three defenceman trying to be a number two, no leadership in the room and no speed in a league that’s become noticeably quicker in the last three seasons.

 

Last night, they got royally screwed on that completely bogus high stick call and it’s disgusting that the league doesn’t ACTUALLY look to crack down on dives (give them a game suspension and save your “that’s far too harsh” BS because if they’re getting an automatic suspension for a dive then guess what players are going to quit doing)  but you had no Sidney Crosby and you’re facing a 3-1 deficit and you give that piss poor of an effort?  I knew this was coming again this season, knew the Pens would knock them off, and yet I’m still just so sick of it all.

 

I’m sick of the media beating the piss out of Ovechkin when he’s doing his part, I’m sick of them not noticing all the flaws the Caps have as a team, and I’m sick of them continually believing that this Caps team should be better than they are just because they dominate in the regular season.  They’re like Nail Yakupov.  Had enough speed and talent to dominate junior, but can’t do shit in the pros.  The Caps have enough speed and talent to dominate the regular season, but can’t do shit in the playoffs.

 

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