2017 NHL Entry Draft: Preliminary Top Ten

Draft Review - 2017

With the summer winding down, we at Canucks Army are looking to fill the dead space between our Top 20 countdown and the start of the World Cup of Hockey. This week, I’ve decided to head back to the draft, and I’m going to be looking at the past, present and future on Canucks drafting and NHL prospects by going over the 2015, 2016, and 2017 NHL Entry Drafts and how they pertain to the Canucks.

After going over the 2015 and 2016 drafts, as well as some left over picks from 2016 that could be mid-to-late round selections next year, we move onto the 2017 Entry Draft. While the future is far from certain, it’s entirely possible that one, if not many, Canadian teams will find themselves in the running for some of these top end prospects. Let’s take a look at who they are.

The following is a preliminary top ten list derived from a few different ranking services, including HockeyProspect.com, Future ConsiderationsDraftBuzz, and ESPN.

Rank Player Pos League Team FC HP DB ESPN Average
1 Nolan Patrick C WHL Brandon Wheat Kings 1 1 1 1 1.0
2 Timothy Liljegren D SuperElit Rogle Jr20 2 2 2 4 2.5
3 Maxime Comtois RW QMJHL Victoriaville Tigres 5 5 9 3 5.5
4 Eeli Tolvanen RW USHL Sioux City Muskateers 7 9 5 2 5.8
5 Casey Mittelstadt C USHS Eden Prairie Eagles 6 6 6 6 6.0
6 Gabriel Vilardi C OHL Windsor Spitfires 3 3 8 15 7.3
7 Owen Tippett RW OHL Mississauga Steelheads 4 4 12 10 7.5
8 Kristian Vesalainen LW SuperElit Frolunda U20 9 11 7 5 8.0
9 Nico Hischier C Swiss Jr. A Bern U20 20 8 4 9 10.3
10 Kailer Yamamoto RW WHL Spokane Chiefs 11 14 13 7 11.3

#1: Nolan Patrick


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
WHL Brandon Wheat Kings 72 41 61 102 12.9% 32.0% 31 100% 64 77.8

With more than nine months to go until the 2017 draft, Patrick has already been perched atop the 2017 draft rankings for years. A dominant centre, Patrick was already the best player on a Brandon Wheat Kings team that went to the Memorial Cup, leading the entire WHL in points during the playoffs, all before his 18th birthday.

Patrick has all the tools that you’d look for in a top prospect: he’s fast, he’s physical, and he possesses an excellent shot and puck skills. Despite his youth, he has the ability to inspire teammates and control hockey games, turning the tide of high intensity games while under pressure. His hockey IQ may be his greatest strength. From Hockey Prospect’s Black Book:

He makes the subtle reads that make players successful at the next level. He understands how and when to pressure the opposing player in order to put him in a bad spot without taking himself out of position in the process, he anticipates turnovers well and gets back into position before others do if his team is the one that committed the turnover, or will take off and take advantage of a break-down when the other team commits a turnover.

Nolan is the type of multi-dimensional centre that every NHL club is dying to get their hands on. He is a high level player in all three zones, dominant in the faceoff dot and highly skilled as both a playmaker and a shooter.

pGPS has taken a shining to Nolan Patrick, with an even 100 percent of his closest WHL comparables achieving NHL success. Though there were only three matches, all of them (Patrick Marleau, Brandon Dubinsky, and Evander Kane) were rated as first line players by the program, averaging 64 era adjusted points per 82 NHL games. Translating his numbers across other junior leagues provides matches Rick Nash, Eric Staal, Corey Perry, Nathan Horton, and Jakub Voracek. One note about Patrick’s matches: due to his September 19th birthday (he, like Auston Matthews this year, missed the eligibility cutoff by just a couple of days), the majority of his matches were in their draft years, rather than draft-minus-one, as Patrick was. This only makes his numbers more impressive.

#2: Timothy Liljegren


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
SHL Rögle BK 19 1 4 5 0.8% 4.0% 13
Superelit Rögle BK J20 29 7 15 22 6.7% 21.0% 12 100% 77 93.2
WJC U18 Sweden 7 1 5 6 5.6% 33.3%

Probably the most difficult to pronounce name to work its way into the top ten in years, Liljegren is a Swedish blue line phenom. He’s everything you want in an offensive defenceman: his skating is top notch, possessing a fluid stride that carries him quickly up the ice and back; his offensive IQ and creativity are right off the charts, his breakout passes are impeccable and his slap shot and wrist shot are of high velocity with quick releases and startling accuracy. He is the high-risk-high-reward type as his rushing with occasional expose his team defensively, but he can always use his speed to get back and help. His defensive play needs some minor refinement, but it is already at least competent.

Viewed through pGPS, Liljegren had no matches for his 19-game stint in the SHL this season. Of course, the fact that he was there at all bodes extremely well for the young man. Players that work there way into European elite leagues (the SHL in particular) at age 16 have a very high likelihood of NHL success. Going on to put up six points at a 16 year old defenceman however, that would be an indication that we’re looking at a truly impactful player. The pGPS results of SuperElit (Swedish U20) season only bolster that assertion. His only SuperElit comparable? Erik Karlsson.

#3: Maxime Comtois


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
QMJHL Victoriaville Tigres 62 26 34 60 10.6% 24.4% 21 33% 50 20.1
WJC U18 Canada 7 1 1 2 5.3% 10.5%

Maxime Comtois is coming off of an excellent rookie season in the QMJHL, scoring nearly a point per game. As a 16 year old, he played all three forward position for Victoriaville, as well as seeing time with both types of special teams, and even during 5-on-3 penalty kills.

He produces offence in a myriad of ways: he is an excellent playmaker, he has a strong, accurate shot that allows him to score from distance, and he plants himself sturdily at the net front to knock in goals from close range. He has good separation speed as well as the agility required to maneuver through traffic while shielded the puck from opponents. He is willing to play a physical game, and at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he is fully capable of doing so. He plays a 200 foot game, he’s defensively responsible, he competes hard, and he leads by example. There are few, if any, holes in his game.

Comtois suffered a concussion midway through the 2015-16 season following a bad hit from behind. He struggled to return to his pre-concussion levels following his return to play, scoring just twice in his final 26 games (compare that to 24 goals in his first 36 games). Scouts will be eyeing him closer than ever this season to make sure that any issues stemming from the injury are behind him. It is anticipated that he will be one of the QMJHL’s top players this year.

One third of Comtois’ statistical matches (n = 24) went on to play at least 200 NHL games. Some of his most successful comparables include Alex Tanguay, Patrice Bergeron, Derick Brassard, and Antoine Vermette.

#4: Eeli Tolvanen


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
USHL Sioux City Musketeers 49 17 21 38 14.2% 31.7% 17 22% 45 11.8
WJC U18 Finland 7 7 2 9 53.8% 69.2%

Tolvanen is a Finnish winger, capable of playing both sides of the ice, equipped with a game that mainly focuses his his high level shot and scoring ability. His wrist shot, snap shot and slap shot are all deadly in terms of accuracy and velocity, and he is highly adept at finding the open ice necessary to get a clean shot. As impressive as his shot is, his offensive game is entirely reliant on it – ideally he’ll be looking to improve other facets of his game as well. He reads the play very well and uses his hockey sense and anticipation to make smart defensive plays, giving him two-way upside. Tolvanen is just 5-foot-10, and still rather slight at this point, but given the type of game he plays, this should be a non-issue.

Tolvanen spent the season in the USHL this year, amassing 17 goals in 49 games, but it was his performance at the under-18’s that really caught peoples’ eyes – he had seven goals in seven games, leading the Finns in goals and tying for the team lead in points, en route to a gold medal. Only teammate Jesse Puljujarvi, limited to four games due to injury, had a higher rate of goals per game at the tournament.

ESPN’s Corey Pronman is especially fond of Tolvanen, ranking him second on his list and even going so far as to claim that he debated putting him above Patrick for the number one spot! Of course, Pronman also had Laine above Matthews in his final 2016 rankings in June, so he does have a history of hot taeking his lists.

Tolvanen had one successful match among four USHL comparables – Sam Gagner’s draft-minus-one season for the very same Sioux City Muskateers back in 2006. Translated to Canada’s junior leagues, Tolvanen has other notable matches that include Jordan Eberle, Matt Duchene, Adam Henrique, and Kyle Wellwood.

#5: Casey Mittelstadt


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
USHS Eden Prairie Eagles 25 22 37 59
USDP U.S. National U18 Team 13 7 6 13 2.8% 5.2% 22 33% 45 18.1
WJC U18 U.S.A. 7 4 5 9 13.3% 30.0%

A natural center who can also line up on the wing, Mittelstadt’s game is predicated on skill, and lots of it. His puck skills, deking ability, puck protection, vision, and agility are all very high end, making him a handful in the offensive zone. He pulls defencemen out of position with ease and makes highly impressive plays seemingly out of nowhere. While his playmaking may be his most noticeable asset, his shot is also strong and accurate, and difficult for goaltenders to judge, as he often disguises his release in his stick handling motions. His defensive game is merely average at this point, although the willingness to backcheck is certainly there.

Mittelstadt demonstrate success at many different levels in 2015-16. Having torn apart the high school circuit, he also impressed scouts in international play, being one of the most productive players on Team U.S.A. as an underager.

Unfortunately, there is no pGPS database for the U.S. high school system, owing to a lack of reliable raw data. Mittelstadt’s comparables for his time the U.S. National Team Development Program include Colin Wilson and Kyle Palmieri, as well as former Canucks Jordan Schroeder and Benn Ferriero.

#6: Gabriel Vilardi


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
OHL Windsor Spitfires 62 17 21 38 6.7% 15.0% 16 33% 35 14.1

Gabe Vilardi is a big, 6-foot-2 centerman who plays a two-way role. He is a constant threat to score with a heavy, accurate wrist shot, but is also very capable of making deft passes and difficult set up plays. He also has high level hand-eye coordination, making use of it deflecting in pucks while parked in front of the net. He skates well in transition and changes speed deceptively on attack. He defensive positioning is sound, and his work ethic is never questioned.

While there seems to be more wingers than centers populating the top of the draft, Vilardi will have an opportunity to move up the ranks if his high level of play continues, as teams are always looking for top end pivots. As likely the second best center in this class so far, he is the Dubois to Nolan Patrick’s Matthews, so to speak, and that could lead to a team desperate for talent down the middle to take a chance on him early – though what constitutes “early” is a matter of some debate, as both Hockey Prospect and Future Considerations have him ranked third on their lists.

Ten out of Vilardi’s 30 statistical OHL matches went on to play at least 200 NHL games, including Bobby Ryan, Jordan Staal, Josh Bailey, Jamie McGinn, and Manny Malhotra. The group averaged about 35 points per season, and included a mix of everything from first liners to replacement level forwards.

#7: Owen Tippett


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
OHL Mississauga Steelheads 48 15 5 20 7.0% 9.3% 11 15% 35 6.4
WJC U18 Canada 7 1 2 3 5.3% 15.8%

The Mississauga Steelheads are both to be an incredibly fascinating team to watch over the next couple of years. Last season, they had the rare privilege of icing three high prospects in their draft seasons as their top line: Alex Nylander (BUF, 8th overall), Michael McLeod (NJD, 12th overall), and Nathan Bastian (NJD, 41st overall). With all these players likely to return, the Steelheads also boast a handful of NHL drafted defencemen, a top prospect from the 2018 draft (Ryan McLeod) and two potential top 15 picks from the 2016 draft: defenceman Nicolas Hague, and forward Owen Tippett.

Tippett is a goal scoring winger with an explosive first step and good top speed. He has a lightning quick release on his wrist shot, and often looks to shoot first when in offensive situations. That said, his ability to distribute the puck is also high end. He has a very strong hockey sense and good offensive positioning, constantly exploiting weak spots in opponents’ defensive zone coverage. He plays with a bit of an edge, and isn’t afraid to get into unsavoury situations to increase his chances at scoring a goal.

15 percent of Tippett’s matches went on to become NHL regulars, including Andrew Brunette, Justin Williams, Nick Foligno, Matt Stajan and Joel Ward. The successful segment of his cohort scored about 35 points per 82 games on average and were most often rated as third line players, with second and fourth liners sprinkled in.

#8: Kristian Vesalainen


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
SHL Frölunda HC 19 1 1 2 0.6% 1.2% 5 63% 68 55.5
Superelit Frölunda HC J20 37 15 19 34 16.1% 36.6% 15 41% 66 34.7
WJC U18 Finland 7 2 4 6 15.4% 46.2%

The second Finn on this list, Vesalainen is a physically imposing winger at 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds as a 16-year old. He’s a beast along the wall, and is extraordinarily difficult to separate from the puck. You wouldn’t necessarily describe him as a power forward, but his game revolves more around physicality and puck protection than stick handling.

Vesalainen’s comparables for the SHL and SuperElit had some overlap, including Magus Paarjarvi and Anton Lander (who hasn’t hit 200 games yet, but should next year, raising Vesalainen’s pGPS percentage in both leagues), as well as former scoring champion and Art Ross winner Henrik Sedin. Daniel Sedin also shows up in Vesalainen’s SuperElit cohort, as does Carl Soderberg, while Nicklas Backstrom makes an appearance on the SHL list.

#9: Nico Hischier


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
Swiss Jr.A Bern U20 18 11 17 28 8.1% 20.6%
NLA SC Bern 15 1 0 1 0.7% 0.7% 2 10% 63 7.4
WJC U18 Switzerland 5 1 3 4 14.3% 57.1%
WJC U20 Switzerland 6 0 2 2 0.0% 11.1% 46% 48 27.3

Hischier is an elite playmaker operating a little under the radar is he Swiss National and junior leagues. He stepped a little more into the limelight when he made the Swiss U20 team for the World Juniors before he even turned 17, which could give him the opportunity to take part in the WJC as many as four times.

Hischier prefers to pass the puck and will wait until he’s in a prime scoring area before shooting, but even so, both his passing and shooting are high-end. He moves quickly and thinks the game extremely well, with decision making that is described as “flawless”. He’s been dominating every level that he’s spent time at in the Swiss ranks, and is merely average physically at this point, meaning both that his production is based laregly on his skill set rather than overmatching smaller players, and that he still has room to grow as he gets older. At this point, he is one of the most promising 17-year olds in Europe, and Hockey Prospect’s Mik Portoni stated that Hischier “looks like the most promising 17 year old forward Switzerland has produced.”

When compared against the Swiss National League (NLA) database, pGPS found that none of Hischier’s matches went on to play in the NHL. This isn’t particularly surprising – over the past 20 years, only two players drafted out of the NLA went on to play 200 NHL games, making it a decidedly rare occurrence. Young Swiss players like Hischier will look to change that rate of success in the future, but for now their projections are bogged down by a lackluster history.

So instead I’ll reach into my pGPS bag of tricks and use NHLe to compare Hischier’s numbers against the European Elite leagues (disclaimer: it seems to me that NHLe overvalues the NLA a bit, so keep that in mind). Hischier had three successful matches in his multi-league cohort, including Nicklas Backstrom (SHL), Michael Frolik (Extraliga) and Artem Chubarov (Russian Superleague).

Hischier will begin his North American career in 2016-17, as he’s on loan to the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL for the coming season.

#10: Kailer Yamamoto


LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe pGPS % pGPS P/82 pGPS R
WHL Spokane Chiefs 57 19 52 71 8.5% 31.8% 28 38% 61 29.6
USDP U.S. National U18 9 7 7 14
WJC U18 U.S.A. 7 7 6 13 23.3% 43.3%

Like Patrick, Yamamoto has spent a lot of time up near the top of the 2017 rankings. He used to be in the conversation for the first overall selection, but that no longer appears to be the case. A large part of this could be due to his size. Last season, Yamamoto was listed at just 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. With excellent and productive WHL seasons under his belt, scouts were no doubt hoping that he would sprouted a little, but that hasn’t happened yet.

In spite of his small stature, Yamamoto plays a much bigger game, not shying away from physicality and confrontation. In the offensive zone, he is primarily a playmaker, and a damn good one. Beyond just distribution, Yamamoto uses speed, agility and a frustratingly effective slipperiness to get into positions to dish the puck. He’s nearly impossible to catch, and he will maneuver and/or force his way into the net front to score goals. While he is usually able to avoid physical punishment, he doesn’t shy away from offensive opportunities even whether physical play looks unavoidable.

Yamamoto’s pGPS cohort includes Ray Whitney, Jordan Eberle, Nigel Dawes, and Gilbert Brule.

Conclusion

There are plenty of names to be excited about for next year’s draft, and while this is roughly a consensus of the top ten, there are many others that could sneak in there over the next nine months. We’ll be tracking their progress all season and keeping you posted on the top prospects – especially if it seems like our Western Canadian teams are going to be heavily involved in their futures. Of course it’s always nice to see your team do well, but if things do go south this season, there are plenty of consolation prizes available.

  • Dirty30

    Only one defenseman in this list.

    It’s interesting that — despite the current demand in the NHL for sound defensemen — they still continue to be fairly rare in top ten draft picks. One would expect one defenseman to picked for every two forwards in the top ten, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Perhaps the reason is because the difference in impact between the first and tenth best forward is thought to be greater than the difference in impact of the first and fifth best defenseman. Thus it is not so critical if you pick a defenseman a little later in the draft.

    • Bob Long

      Thats good – we don’t really have a need for D in the 2017 draft. I think it has to do with investment in development time, D and goalies just take longer to develop and there aren’t a lot of OELs out there. It also makes some of our current D prospects more trade worthy

  • Bob Long

    If you think as I do that Horvat can eventually be a 1C, then this is a good draft for us. If the next top line is __?____ – Horvat – Boeser then JB could be on the hunt for the next #1LW and we should be able to grab that in the 1st round or maybe even a 2nd round steal depending on the international scouting we have.

    If we can land a LW like Matthew Strome (Dylans bro), and theres’ also some 6-5 Russian LW kid out there too, we might have the next 1st line problem solved with this draft.

  • Vanoxy

    Mittelstadt and Vilardi will be 2 guys to watch this year from a Canuck perspective.

    They’re both intriguing guys who fill the #1 need in Van.

    Hopefully one or both can progress to the point of being a legitimate #1 NHL C, and will be around when the Nucks pick. Even if they finish 30th, I have no faith in the lottery balls favouring Vancouver, so Patrick is a very long shot…

  • chinook

    I love Horvat’s game and was a fan as soon as we drafted him, but I don’t think too many people have him pegged as a 1C. If he winds up being that then we have serious issues.

    Keep your fingers crossed for Patrick, if we wind up having a center depth chart of Sedin, Sutter, Horvat, Cassels AND Patrick then we’re in outstanding shape for the future. It’s just a shame what we’re going to have to witness for the next couple seasons to get there.

    Thanks for the draft review/preview this week, been a good read.

    • Bob Long

      But why not 1C for Horvat? What criteria are you going by? He’s got decent size and toughness, looks to have a ceiling between 50-70 pts, good hands, passing, and if he’s spending more time taking draws in the offensive zone thats good too. If he’s got 2 skilled wingers with him like Boeser I don’t see why thats not a good line.

      I’ve heard a lot of people say Horvat can’t be a 1C but I haven’t seen a good explanation as to why.

  • Bob Long

    Not like we really know the order or if it’s even important at this time, but … is it me, or does it seem like ESPN’s numbers seriously skewed the ordering for a few players just because they seem so far out of median?

  • Bob Long

    People focus on the first line, but it might be more important to have three good scoring lines than one outstanding one. As an example, injuries and disappointing play left the Canucks with only two decent scoring lines last year, and they paid the consequences.

    In other words, having a 70-point player is great, but having six or seven 30-point-plus forwards may be better.

    At any rate, that’s a strategy that might be forced on the Canucks in the coming years.

  • chinook

    If we arent getting one of the top 2 picks. Im hoping they draft in this order. Players projected to be a number 1 center, top pairing right dman(to partner with joulevi) or top line LW.

    Im assuming we will be picking in the range of 5-10. With that being said as of now some names that stick out:

    C – Casey Mittelstadt
    C – Gabriel Vilardi
    LW – Kristian Vesalainen
    C – Nico Hischier
    RD – Cal Foote

  • Steampuck

    I like the juxtaposition between Pronman putting Tolvanen number 2 on his list and the write-up concluding with Kyle Wellwood as a comparable. I don’t quite know how to process that information.

    • Riley Miner

      Wellwood probably could have hacked it as a great 2nd/decent 1st line player if he worked as hard as his peers. The fact that he was so out of shape and still played lots of minutes in the NHL is telling in itself.

      • Dirty30

        Kyle was a bit of an enigma wrapped in a mystery meat topped with bacon bits.

        He wasn’t much of a skater, and I don’t think he could have out skated Kessel to the nearest donut, but he had some wicked hands at times and actually played very tough for a while. There were games he was getting black eyes and cuts and still using his pudgy little elbows to fight for pucks and score.

        Once he managed to prove he had what it took he just seemed to disappear out of the league.

        I somehow imagine him now weighing 300 lbs and happily managing an Arby’s.

  • wojohowitz

    Is Horvat a number one center? Look at it this way; If we had three Horvats playing center would we be worried about production? He won`t be winning the Art Ross but Toews won`t be either and Horvat is that kind of solid.

    • Bob Long

      He’s only 21. 40pts last year puts him in some good company for #2 centres and I don’t believe anyone thinks he’s peaked. WD had him in a lot of challenging situations that guys like Draisaitl and Bennett didnt see, and Bo performed as well as these guys in scoring. I’d like to see what Bo can do with Sutter taking more d-zone draws before making the conclusion he isn’t a top scoring centre and what his +/- is on a team with a D core that doesn’t include Bartkowski.

  • The_Blueline

    I love Vesalainen’s game. I think it would really complement Boeser on a line in the future. But, if you get the chance at a number 1 centre I.E Patrick or a potential number 1 D like Lijegren you take it and go.