The 2017 NHL Entry draft is still a little over six months away, but for some teams’ fanbases (including that of the Vancouver Canucks), the draft can’t come soon enough.
In the interest of being overprepared, I’ve put together a consolidated draft rankings, in the vein of what Tom Hunter and Jon Steitzer did for The Leafs Nation last year (and Tom is continuing to do this year at the Bloggers Tribune). Now we can get a nice early glimpse at who’s projected to go at the top of the draft and throughout the first round, and by continuing to follow the ranks each month, we can get a good idea of whose stock is rising and falling.
This consolidated ranking system is derived from seven different services: HockeyProspect.com, Future Considerations, ISS Hockey, McKeen’s Hockey, DraftBuzz, TSN (Craig Button’s Craig’s List), Sportsnet (Jeff Marek), and ESPN (Corey Pronman). Rankings are determined based on a point system in which the player receives 31 points for a first place ranking, 1 point for a 31st place ranking, and everything in between is relative.
A caveat right off the bat: it is still very early. There’s a lot of hockey to be played, a lot of scouting to be done, a lot of decisions to be made. In getting myself acquainted with this draft class, I spoke to Shane Malloy of Hockey Prospect Radio, and my main takeaway was this: don’t put too much stock into rankings published before Christmas.
“If [some of these services] had their way, they wouldn’t put a list out until like, late-January, after the Top Prospects game,” Malloy pointed out. “Nobody’s seen enough games. You haven’t compiled enough information. I’ve only seen the Five Nations (tournament). We’ve still got World Junior A Challenge, the World Juniors with some draft eligible guys, we’ve got the Five Nations in February, and then the Under-18’s. I mean there’s so much hockey left, not even including what you do in the regular season and the playoffs.”
Still, the services publish rankings, and we read and consolidate them, because we want to know what’s coming in the future – especially when our present is hard to stomach.
“Obviously there’s a thirst for it.”
On the basis, these consolidated rankings, and rankings in general at this time of year, should be viewed under a vastly different lens than those that appear in May or June. Rather than a legitimate ordered list, we should consider the players here as more of a list of who to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
The Top End
It’s no surprise that Nolan Patrick continues to sit in the top spot. Despite the fact that Patrick has been injured since mid-October, has played in just six games this season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, and is ruled out for the World Juniors, no other player has risen high enough to challenge his standing as the best prospect available. While not considered a generational player, Patrick is above average to great at everything, and has no discernible weaknesses.
At second in most rankings is Timothy Liljegren, the Swedish offensive defenceman who has drawn some comparisons to Erik Karlsson early in his SHL career. After missing much of the start of the season due to a bout with mononucleosis, he’s put up three assists in nine games in the SHL, as well as six points in nine games in the junior Superelit league. He was left off of Sweden’s Junior team this year in favour of fellow defenceman and top 2018 prospect, Rasmus Dahlin.
Russia’s Klim Kostin has an “enticing mix of size and skill“, but has struggled to produce this season in Russia’s top leagues. After averaging a little over four minutes in eight KHL games, he was dropped to the second tiered VHL. While his ice time has increased to 12:27 per game, his point totals remain at zero in either league. He did score a goal and an assist while representing Russia in the Junior Super Series against the CHL.
Eeli Tolvanen is also getting a lot of love at the top end of many rankings, including third place votes from TSN’s Craig Button and DraftBuzz. The Sioux City Muskateer is tearing up the USHL, currently sitting second in the league in goals. Goal scoring is undoubtedly his calling card, and he’s capable of doing it in a lot of different ways.
The most notable rising star at this point in the season has got to be Nico Hischier. The Swiss centre arrived in Canada this season to join the Halifax Mooseheads, after splitting last season in the top Swiss League (where Auston Matthews plied his trade) and their top Junior league. He started a little slow, with no goals in his first five games, but has since caught fire and turned into one of the most dominant players in the league. As his point totals continue to shoot up game after game, Hischier has been flying up the rankings, and is now in the top five in five out of the seven rankings used in this system. If anyone is going to challenge Nolan Patrick while he remains on the shelf, Hischier would be a good bet.
Another riser to keep an eye on is Elias Pettersson, a versatile forward playing for Timra IK of Allsvenskan. While he’s played both centre and the wing this year in Sweden’s second tiered league, many scouts, including Malloy, see him as a winger. He’s speedy and agile, and has the ability to deke defenders out of their skates.
One of the most noticeable fallers early in the proceedings is Maxime Comtois. Back in the summer, Comtois was a regular fixture in the top five, but with each passing month he seems to be falling further and further. The three services that have published rankings in December – HockeyProspect, ISS Hockey, and Sportsnet – have him slated at 16th, 16th and 12th respectively.
The driving factor behind Comtois falling at this point: lack of production. The Victoriaville Tigres winger has just nine goals and 24 in 35 games headed into the Christmas break. “He hasn’t started off statistically very well, but that doesn’t mean he’s not playing well,” said Malloy, who watched Comtois play in Saint John a couple of weeks ago. “Stats lie to you, especially in junior hockey.”
Slow starts in a player’s draft year can seriously sink them in early rankings, but the good news is that time will tease out the difference between luck and skill.
Another highly noticeable name is Kailer Yamamoto, who a year ago was thought to be able to challenge for the top spot. This past summer he had a tenuous hold on a spot in the top ten, but he has now fallen all the way to 23rd in the consolidated rankings. He’s ranked no higher than 14th (TSN), and isn’t even ranked in the top 31 by ISS or McKeen’s.
Yamamoto’s biggest detriment is his size. The American winger is just 5-foot-8 and was listed at 159 pounds heading into this season, and while he’s tearing up the WHL, it’s apparent that not all scouts are convinced of how he’ll be able to handle the professional game.
Although these are the first consolidated rankings I’ve published this season, I’ve been keeping track of the rankings for a few months already, so I have a November set to compare to. (As I side note, I’ve had these ready for a little while, and neglected to write up an article until now – something I now regret since the Bloggers Tribune published a similar article last week, and I could have beat them to the punch if I was a little more diligent.)
Given that the rankings were done on a point system, we can also get a nice visual representation of how the industry has tiered the draft’s top prospects.
Nolan Patrick stands alone at number one – for now. One service, McKeen’s, has already bumped him from the top spot in favour of Nico Hischier, and you have to wonder how long it will be until other services follow suit. The belief is still that Patrick is the best player available in the draft, but the question becomes, does the injury pose a risk long term?
Timothy Liljegren sits in the second spot with a healthy separation between him and the next tier. However, part of that separation is manufactured by the volatility at the top end of the draft class. Liljegren is ranked second on just four of the eight services used in this article (still the most of any player), and as low as seventh on one (HockeyProspect.com’s December ranking).
Eeli Tolvanen, Nico Hischier, Klim Kostin, and Casey Mittelstadt make up a tightly packed third tier, and the first three have been ranked second at least once.
The next tier, which covers most of the remaining non-playoff teams, includes Gabirel Vilardi, Kristian Vesalainen, Owen Tippett, Martin Necas, Maxime Comtois, Michael Rasmussen and Callan Foote. Were it June instead of December, this is the tier that the winners of the Sadness rankings would be looking at. There are still plenty of good players here.
This should should give an idea of who to keep an eye on in the coming months, and a very general idea of how the players are viewed relative to one another, but there’s still a long way to go. With the World Juniors coming next week, and more tournaments and prospects games coming early in the New Year, those cream of the crop will begin rising to the top soon enough.