I skipped over last month, what with the NHL trade deadline and all, but we are now just three months away from the NHL Entry Draft, and plenty of services have dropped new rankings on us, so it’s a fine time to take a look at how the first round is shaping up.
Of course this article is going to be of special interest to woeful teams like the Canucks and, for the first time in basically forever, the Red Wings. But that doesn’t mean that playoff teams like the Oilers, Flames and (probably) the Leafs should be neglecting the NHL draft, especially since all three of those teams still have their first round selections. Things may look good now, but shirking your responsibility on the draft floor is exactly how the Canucks ended up where they are now. Heed their lessons!
Anyway, it’s been a busy month for prospect watching, as all but one of the previously included services have released new rankings since our last Consolidated Rankings article was published, while I’ve also added a couple of new ones to the mix. Future Considerations is the lone holdover from January, while Bob McKenzie and The Hockey News have gotten into the fray as well. ESPN’s Corey Pronman finally put out a new list, having not done so since October.
Here’s a look at the lists than were compiled to produce the consolidated rankings:
Without further ado, let’s get right into the top 31 players available.haven’t bothered to include the CSS rankings in these articles because they’re still making the ridiculous choice to split their rankings between North America and Europe, making it unfeasible to use their lists in the averages.
In previous editions of the consolidated rankings, I’ve published the list and noted some of the biggest risers and fallers. I’m switching it up this time, as I’ll instead run through the entire projected first round with a quick blurb on each player.
Above average to great at everything, with no discernible weaknesses. Patrick is dominant at the junior level, as his puck protection and control are unrivaled. His shot is extremely dangerous, but it’s his ability to set up teammates and scoring chances that sets him apart. It’s often remarked that Patrick might have gone in the 5-8 region had he been eligible for the 2016 draft, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s not a remarkable prospect. With a September 19th birthday, consider that if he had gone in 2016, he’d be by far the youngest player in that draft, and yet he still managed to score 40 goals and 100 points and lead the WHL in playoff scoring – not too shabby.
The Swiss import is dominating the Quebec League, sticking in the top ten in scoring despite missing chuncks of time for the World Juniors (where he was also great), and some minor injuries. Not physically dominant, but he bests Patrick in speed and offensive creativity.
More of a playmaker than a shooter, Vilardi is a dynamic offensive catalyst with highly rated hands, deceptive and slippery agility, and extremely good puck protection skills. Voraciously hunts down the puck and strips it from opponents when he doesn’t have it. One of the youngest members of the draft class, Vilardi already looks like he’s in complete control of the game at the OHL level.
Every top ranked offensive defenceman gets compared to Erik Karlsson, though Liljegren may be more deserving than most – and not just because he’s Swedish. Shows end-to-end ability at the SHL level, while defending men is understandably a work in progress. Liljegren is still considered by most to be the best defenceman available, but his hold on that title in getting tenuous with Cale Makar rocketed up the rankings behind up.
A shifty and creative centre, Mittelstadt has tremendous speed and agility and the puckhandling skills to go along with it. Some have referred to him as this draft’s Clayton Keller, and given that Keller is considered by some to be the best prospect outside the NHL, no one wants to risk underrating him. Mittelstadt was leading the USHL in point when he opted mid-season to returning to his high school team, where he averaged 2.56 points per game. With his high school season over, he’s put up six points in three games since returning to the USHL in mid-March.
Physically imposing, a powerful skater, and an NHL ready shot, Owen Tippett is a dangerous package. Unlike some previously high-drafted players with similar skillsets, Tippett has a high level of hockey intelligence, reading plays before they happen, and knowing when to attack and when to support teammates, and when to back off.
Tolvanen has an incredible shot arsenal, able to unleash hard and accurate wrist, snap and slap shots, as well as one-timers. His speed is above average, though not lightning quick, but he uses quick decision making to appear even faster. He has defensive zone positioning and awareness, though he doesn’t always have defensive zone interest.
Necas has emerged as another viable option for teams looking to grab a centre at the upcoming draft, working his way into the second tier of pivots with Vilardi, Mittelstadt and Cody Glass. The fact that Necas has spent the entire season in the top Czech league is impressive, as was his World Junior performance on a relatively lackluster Czech squad. He’s a very quick skater, but also excels at slowing the game down and distributing the puck.
Makar burst on to the draft scene in the latter half of the season. Routinely makes minced meat of AJHL competition, skating through opponents almost at will, and is very gifted creatively. There’s no doubt that he won’t get away with all the risks he takes now at the next level though, so he’ll have to pick his spots better when he gets into the college ranks. That said, his utter offensive dominance from the backend would make any team salivate.
He’s a 6-foot-5 centre and he scores a lot of goals – a prime candidate for scouts and teams to overrate. It’s not that power play scoring is bad; it’s that his 5-on-5 scoring isn’t at the rate of a WHL first liner – in fact, it’s not even at the WHL average. Shoulder surgery has ended his season early, but he still had 50 games to work with, and didn’t make it to 20 points at 5-on-5. With his size, mobility and positional awareness, he should still be a serviceable NHLer, but I’d wait until the late teens to think about grabbing him.
Pettersson and his usual linemate, Canucks prospect Jonathan Dahlen, are making the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s tier pro league, look like a junior league, putting up massive numbers as teenagers. He has some work to do on his skating and he certainly needs to fill out his frame, but he’s improving nearly every game and has been a riser in the rankings this season – four services now have him in the top ten. He’s play both centre and the wing in the Allsvenskan, but projects as a top six winger in the NHL.
One of the most improved players during his draft year, Glass thinks the game extremely well and knows the areas in which he needs to improve – and then he improves in them. His puckhandling skills are bordering on elite, and his playmaking game is very strong. His skating a physicality are good enough to allow him to be dominant at the WHL level, but they are areas that he’ll need to make further strides in before moving to professional hockey. Given his trajectory, he could be a future first line centre.
Heiskanen has had an impressive season. Despite being a July birthday, making him one of the younger members of the draft class, Heiskanen scored 10 points and average 18:39 of ice time on a playoff team in Liiga, the top Finnish league. A little undersized, his high level hockey IQ and mobility are allowing him to dictate the pace of play without needing to be an ominous physical presence.
Slipping out of the top ten, Kostin’s season hasn’t gone as planned. He struggled to find playing time in the KHL (averaging just 4:28 in eight games), and his short stint in the second tier VHL wasn’t much better. His season has ended far too early, as he was shut down for shoulder surgery, but his stock is still buoyed by earlier international play, including a dominant performance at this year’s Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Andersson’s 42 games in the SHL this season is among the most professional games played by any available prospects, while the 22 games he played in the SHL in his draft-minus-one season are an even better sign. He has a sturdy frame that he uses well to protect the puck, and plays a calm, efficient puck-possession game. Andersson displays good offensive instincts, and backchecks hard and intelligently as well.
Poehling is the best available prospect currently playing in the NCAA, where he has put up seven goals and 13 points in 37, playing for St. Cloud State with his 20-year brothers Jack and Nick (both of whom Ryan has outscored this season). Having just turned 18 on January 3rd, Poehling is one of the youngest players in the college ranks this season, and accordingly he has struggled on occasion. A playmaking centre, Poehling makes skillful plays that indicate that there is more offence to come in the future.
Valimaki is a funny case: scouts and analysts tend to praise his defensive game first, while noting that his offensive game is efficient, if not flashy. However, Valimaki has some of the best numbers of any available defencemen (granted, some of the top end competition here, such as Liljegren and Heiskanen, are playing against men, while Makar is playing against inferior competition, so not everyone is on even footing). Valimaki’s lack of “flash” or a booming slapshot likely lead to him being overlooked in the offensive category, but his intelligence, good decision making, and near flawless execution of correct, simple plays contributes to his team consistently tilting the ice against the opposition.
The son of 1000+ game NHLer Adam Foote, Callan is another promising defenceman developing in the defensive factory of the Kelowna Rockets. He plays a “rough-and-tumble” style and eats a ton of minutes. A smooth skater, he moves quite quickly for a 6-foot-6, 200+ pound defender, though he’s better in open than in traffic. His height and wingspan afford him a long reach with his stick, which he is adept at using to break up plays – though he’s partial to big body checks as well. Has some offensive upside, possessing an impressive point shot.
The pint sized offensive dynamo from Spokane, Washington doesn’t get a whole lot of respect as a result of his size. Going off his numbers alone, Yamamoto should be closing in on the top 5. Instead, the 5-foot-9 winger has to continually prove that he can overcome the size bias, and he has been – he’s only 18 but he’s tearing apart the WHL for the third straight year already.
For a kid that has been one of the best players in the OHL this season, Suzuki has had to work awfully hard to get recognized as one of the draft’s best two-way centres. As with many of the other top pivots on this list, Suzuki’s intelligence is one of his most praised attributes. His defensive play and discipline are highly rated, and with five 4-on-5 goals this season, he’s a shorthanded threat as well. When accounting for situational, age, and league adjustments, Suzuki has some of the best offensive numbers of anyone available in the draft – it’s no wonder that he’s beginning to creep into some analysts’ top tens.
Nic Hague is an interesting case, with a lot of discrepancies in opinion around him. He’s been rated as high as ninth (by Future Considerations) and as low as 55th (by Craig Button), while a high cohort projection (86% by pGPS) and an impressive adjusted scoring rate indicate that the numbers favour him. He’s the type of player that you’d think scouts would be falling over themselves for though – he’s 6-foot-5, he can really skate, and he scores goals: his 18 tallies were behind only Juuso Valimaki’s 19 among all available 2017 defencemen.
Playing in either the SHL or the Finnish Liiga as a 17-year old is traditionally a great sign for a prospect. Kristian Vesalainen has played in both leagues this season, but unfortunately has struggled to establish himself in either. A pre-season top ten prospect, the sturdy Swedish winger has been one of this class’s most prominent fallers as his point totals dwindle.
Another big faller, Comtois was supposed to be a top 5 pick this year, but is now headed towards the back end of the first round. Scouts still find his skillset promising: he’s a decisive, physical winger with a lethal shot and separation speed – who wouldn’t be interested? But we’re still waiting for the production to match expectations.
Bowers is one of the top options out of the USHL this year. Bowers has been on the radar for a while, and made headlines a year and a half ago, when he opted to play for the USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks to keep his NCAA options open, despite being drafted fourth overall by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (granted, Bowers’ agent Pat Brisson advised Cape Breton against the selection). Bowers has since comitted to Boston University for next season.
A 6-foot-5 winger with some wheels, Ratcliffe scored a nice goal at the CHL Top Prospects Game to put his name on the map. Ratcliffe plays a power forward type game, incorporating a healthy amount of speed and physicality. He displays hockey sense at both ends of the ice, and loves to battle in front of the net.
Popugayev had one of the more impressive showings at the CHL Top Prospect Game, including what might have been its nicest play: a perfectly placed lofty backhand saucer pass to spring Nico Hischier for a breakaway goal. However, Popugayev’s WHL play has been inconsistent, and after a hot start with his new team after the WHL trade deadline, the Prince George Cougar winger has been in a serious slump, producing just 18 points in 31 games with his new team.
Another young defenceman who has spent his draft year defending against men in the European pro ranks, Vaakanainen contributed six points while averaging 14:57 (third pairing minutes) in 41 games with JYP of Liiga. Vaakanainen is a good skater capable of making hard and accurate breakout passes while under pressure. He possesses a good slapshot that is currently boasting more power than accuracy.
A Swedish rearguard that played games in the SHL more often than not this season, Brannstrom has demonstrated the ability to defend against men despite being just 5-foot-10 – and he won’t even turn 18 until September. He sees the ice very well and is quite capable of making both long and shorts tape-to-tape passes. With good skating and intelligent breakouts, Brannstrom looks to be made for the modern NHL.
Thomas came on to the scene a little late this year, though he did manage to get into the CHL Top Prospects Game. He’s been a little buried on a strong London Knights team, and even with Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk, and Christian Dvorak graduating to the NHL, he still has to contend with Cliff Pu and Mitchell Stephens for ice time. His estimated Points per 60 (2.77 at 5-on-5) makes his pedestrian counting stats (16 goals, 66 points in 66 games) look a bit more impressive. A creative, yet dependable two-way centre, Thomas drew comparisons to the Canucks’ Bo Horvat from the Top Prospects Game broadcast.
Lind has exploded up the rankings, moving up to 30th after averaging 49th in the January series. On a team with a handful of other forwards that have already been drafted into the NHL (Nick Merkley, Dillon Dube, Calvin Thurkauf), Kole Lind is leading his team in points, with 87 in 70 games. Lind is developing as a power forward, and plays his best hockey when he’s physical and aggressive.
A well rounded, all situations player who has split this season between the Russian second tier league (VHL) and junior league (MHL), Lipanov has high level skating ability and puckhandling.
The tiers have changed a little since the last consolidated rankings, with Patrick and Hischier cemented as a pair at the top of the charts. Liljregren has fallen into the second tier, and is now mixed in with Vilardi, Mittelstadt and Tippett.
There wasn’t a whole lot of movements of first round picks at this year’s NHL trade deadline, despite the speculation that might be willing to part with top selections in what is considered to be a bit of a shallow draft (though I do think the “weakness” of it has been a bit overpronounced). There are currently just two teams with multiple picks in the first round (Arizona and St. Louis both have two), though Vancouver would get San Jose’s first round pick if the Sharks win the Stanley Cup, thanks to a stipulation on the Jannik Hansen deal.
It’ll be a while until the first round selections are cemented, even with the regular season ending in a couple of weeks. Non-playoff teams will have to wait until the draft lottery to find out just where they’ll select, while the results of the playoffs will determine the rest of the field.
Of course, that doesn’t prevent the mathematically inclined from projection the likelihood of the league’s bottom feeders getting their hands on the top picks this June.
Top 3 Pick Probabilities : 2017-03-22 pic.twitter.com/xb6WiGlAxK
— DTM About Heart (@DTMAboutHeart) March 22, 2017
This is good news for Vancouver fans, who desperately need some help up the middle, as well as for Detroit fans, who haven’t had a top ten pick in decades and now have a realistic shot at the top five. Winnipeg is looking like a candidate for another top ten pick as well, to add to their already terrifying stable of prospects.
It’s hard to predict when another Consolidated Rankings article will be necessary, as some services start spacing out their published lists as the regular season wraps up. Until next time, happy prospecting!