As I’m sure you’re well aware by now, the Nation Network Prospect Profile countdown concluded on Friday with Nico Hischier checking in as second overall in favour of Nolan Patrick in first. That wraps up the consensus part of Canucks Army’s prospect ranking series.
This year, I wanted to make the process as transparent as possible. That means opening up my own list to the public and offering insight into my decisions concerning each player’s ranking.
Before I get into my list, I should make clear a few qualifiers. Let’s get the obvious out of the way — my list is going to stray, sometimes significantly, from the consensus. Contrary to our reputation, there were healthy internal debates about where to rank certain players. So too were adjustments made on the fly. To that end, I must confess that the list I’m going to present to you today isn’t the list I submitted to Jeremy Davis when we were consolidating our player rankings. It’s been over a month since I submitted my list, after all.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive right in. Here are my top 100 prospects for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Simply put, Nico Hischier has the highest offensive ceiling of any of the prospects available in this draft. Hischier’s complete offensive toolkit and overall dynamism make him a threat any time he has the puck in the offensive zone. I see Hischier as a player who can become a franchise centre.
Until very recently, I’d remained steadfast in my conviction of Nolan Patrick as the premier player in this year’s draft class. He plays a complete game, and I tend to think his offensive potential is underrated by most. This is a player who scored 101 points as draft-minus one. Were it not for concerns about injuries, Patrick’s probably still first overall on my board.
The gap between Cody Glass and the players I’ve ranked ahead of him isn’t significant. Glass is a hell of a prospect. I’ve heard scouts make comparisons to Ryan Getzlaf, and I can’t say I disagree with their assessment. A smart offensive player who skates well for his size and can score almost as well as he distributes.
I’d be careful about overlooking Gabriel Vilardi because of his deficiencies as a skater. For one thing, his skating improved leaps and bounds over the course of the season — though it remains a weakness. Below the hash marks, there might not be a better player in this class. Vilardi is fierce in puck pursuit and smart with the puck once he’s retrieved it. Could develop into a first line centre if his skating continues to improve.
This was a challenging season for Timothy Liljegren. As a 17-year-old playing against men in the SHL, he was always fighting an uphill battle. Suffering mononucleosis only made that worse. I’m not dismayed, though. I still see a player who has first pair upside who can control the pace of the game at even strength and quarterback a team’s power play.
The more I research Elias Pettersson, the more I like him as a prospect. When I first submitted my rankings, I had Pettersson 12th. He’s jumped up a whole six spots, which is massive at this time of year. He’s the leading point producer in this year’s draft class when you run Jeremy Davis’ SEAL scoring adjustments. Needs to add strength before he can make the jump to professional hockey, but his ability to process the game and create opportunities for his linemates is almost at an NHL level already.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch Cale Makar a lot this season, and I’ve been blown away by his skating, intelligence and offensive instincts each time. I don’t think there’s a better skater in this draft class than Makar. He’s a touch undersized, but I don’t think that will hold him back. Makar has too much going for him in every other aspect of the game. Makar has top pair potential.
Here at Canucks Army, we value players like Nick Suzuki far more than the rest of the draft analyst community. I’m no exception. Suzuki is an extremely intelligent player who produced at a prolific clip for the Owen Sound Attack this season. His line was where players went to produce. Suzuki could develop into a high-end second line centre.
I’m not as high on Martin Necas as some, but I think that’s a possible byproduct of watching him far less than I’d like to have. I hear scouts make comparisons to Claude Giroux, though, and that’s hard to ignore. A pesky centre with good offensive instincts, Necas might be the best prospect to leave the Czech Extraliiga in a decade.
I’ll be surprised if Owen Tippett makes it out of the top ten. He’s comparable to many of the players I’ve ranked ahead of him, and the deciding factor was often in favour of the player who played at a premium position. Tippett is an electric goal-scoring winger who can put up points a number of different ways. He’s a powerful skater and mean as hell. Needs to mature, but I think he’ll be a premier winger in the NHL when he does.
I see Casey Mittelstadt as more of a project than some of my peers. His raw tools are dynamic and give him the ability to take over a game on any given shift, but I worry about the bad habits that crept into his game while playing high school hockey in Minnesota. His even strength to power play scoring splits in the USHL are concerning, too. Red flags abound with Mittelstadt, though he remains a tantalizing prospect. This ranking could haunt me, but I’m willing to take that risk.
There’s a lot to like about Miro Heiskanen’s game. He’s a smooth skating defenceman who can push the tempo at even strength and put up points in bunches. Was dominant at the U18’s, so much so that he was in most publication’s top three rankings by the end. I like Heiskanen, just not that much.
Teenagers who play professional hockey usually have an excellent chance of making an impact at the NHL level. Lias Andersson, who’s played parts of two seasons for HV71 in the SHL, certainly qualifies. He plays every forward position and produces offence. Andersson has great puck skills, whether it’s with his shot or his hands. Could be a top-six contributor in the NHL.
I’ve watched a lot of Kailer Yamamoto over the last two years and always come away impressed. Yes, he’s a smaller player, but you’d barely notice it on some nights. Yamamoto can really pack a punch for someone with his stature. There’s no arguing with Yamamoto’s production. He tends to make the players around him better, too. If Yamamoto can overcome his size (I wouldn’t bet against him), he can be an impact winger in the NHL.
You just can’t ignore when someone produces offence the way Jason Robertson consistently did on the Kingston Frontenacs. He didn’t have a tonne of offensive support to put up those points either — the next highest scoring Frontenac was 30 points behind Robertson. Robertson’s skating is an issue he’ll need to iron out if he wants to be an impact player in the NHL, but other than that he’s an able offensive contributor.
Henri Jokiharju is a one-man breakout on defence. He’s a smooth-skating transitional defenceman who can evade opposition forecheckers with ease. Jokiharju is solid defensively, and while I don’t see him as having significant upside as a point producer, he’s not a lost cause in the offensive zone either.
In his first year with the Swift Current Broncos, Aleksi Heponiemi was downright dominant offensively. He’s one of the smartest players in this draft. Heponiemi isn’t a terribly explosive skater, but he’s good on his edges and can still create separation. Far too smart a player to fail.
If you can find a franchise goaltender who can bolster the position for the next decade-plus with the 18th overall pick, you’re laughing all the way to the stage. I happen to think Jake Oettinger has the potential to be that netminder for whoever drafts him.
I didn’t get to see Klim Kostin much this season — nobody did, really — but everything I’ve heard from people in the industry who I trust has been overwhelmingly positive. If injuries hadn’t kept Kostin from playing much of this season, he could be in my top ten. I’m just not that familiar with him, unfortunately.
The player some call “The Finnish Tarasenko” has the potential to be a dynamic offensive force at the NHL level. Eeli Tolvanen has a fantastic shot and is a great skater. There’s no denying his physical talent. I see red flags left and right about his commitment, overall game and even strength production. Don’t get me wrong — I like Tolvanen. I just think he’s fairly overrated by some.
Playing on the WHL powerhouse Kelowna Rockets, Kole Lind had a productive draft season which helped raise his stock significantly. Lind is a pretty well-rounded player, who produced significant offence with the Rockets. Lind is very strong on his feet and gets around the ice well enough. Can distribute the puck well and isn’t afraid to take the puck into the most contested parts of the ice.
It was hard for Ryan Poehling to produce as a 17-year-old freshman in the NCAA, but he still had a fine first season with the St. Cloud State Huskies. I like Poehling’s game. He’s a smart, two-way centre who held his own physically against players with significant size and developmental advantages.
Full disclosure: I’m very aware that having Juuso Valimaki this low on my list could come back to bite me, but I’m just not quite as sold on his game as some. He’s almost a full year older than most first-time draft eligible players, so that’s worthwhile context when considering his gaudy production. I have concerns about Valimaki’s ability to defend, too. However, there’s no arguing with his ability to transition play. He’s one of the best in this class in that regard.
Though a little on the slight side of things, Erik Brannstrom held his own playing professional hockey against men with HV71 in the SHL. Brannstrom has significant offensive upside, and he showed as much with a strong U18 tournament. Could be a point producing offensive defenceman at the NHL level.
Big defencemen who can skate at 17-years-old are rare commodities, and that’s why Nicolas Hague is going to be coveted by teams at the NHL draft. He’s a mobile defenceman who can move the puck relatively well and contribute offensively. In the defensive zone, Hague’s a rock. There’s a real maturity to his game.
Mason Shaw reminds me a little of Brendan Gallagher. He’s not the biggest player, but he’s mean and throws the body around regardless. Put up huge numbers for the Tigers this season playing on their first line. Sees the ice well and plays a full 200-foot game.
Filip Chytil is comparable to Necas in several statistical categories in the Czech men’s league. That counts for something. I like Chytil’s vision in the offensive zone. He’s a good distributor of the puck, and always puts his teammates in prime positions to score. Looked great in international competition this year.
Though Kristian Vesalainen struggled at the professional level this season, both in Sweden and Finland, he capped off his draft campaign with a strong U18 that’s shot him back up most publication’s draft boards. I like the power to Vesalainen’s game. He’s a real throwback. Most publications considered him a lock for the top ten at one point. If that potential is still there, he could be a steal.
If Ivan Lodnia played on any team other than the Erie Otters last year, he’d have been on a first line and producing significantly more than he did. I like Lodnia’s offensive ceiling. He sees the ice exceptionally well and is strong as a playmaker and a finisher. Lodnia’s ability to hold and protect the puck make him an excellent possession player. Will see a huge increase in production next season as players from this year’s Otters team graduate.
Jesper Boqvist has a well-rounded offensive toolkit and a willingness to take the puck to the net. That alone makes him a good bet to make the NHL. Boqvist also played against men in the SHL, and acquitted himself fairly well, too. A player with a lot of offensive upside.Boqvist needs to add muscle to his frame before he can get there though.
It took me a while to fully appreciate Robert Thomas’ game, but I’m starting to come around. The fact that Dale Hunter trusted Thomas in the defensive role that he did in London says a lot. It also goes a ways towards explaining the Bo Horvat comparison. Could be a strong two-way centre in the NHL.