It’s nice to have a NHL entry draft with no clear “best prospect.”
The 2017 NHL draft doesn’t have a Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, or Aaron Ekblad. It doesn’t even have a consensus best 30 players. The top of the draft is as arguable as the late first-round picks following it.
So no wonder our second mock NHL draft looks different from the first. This time, we didn’t use lottery simulators. We just went down the list, but kept the trade deadline movements in mind. Needs have changed!
1. Colorado Avalanche - Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (Sweden)
I’m starting to come around to Mile High Hockey’s argument that the Avalanche can’t afford to pass up the best defenseman in the draft. The consensus Best Three™ in the 2017 draft are Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, and Liljegren. Two centers and a defenseman. When Tyson Jost joins Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado next season, they’ll be set down the middle for years.
Might as well stock the defense with a prime puck-mover like Liljegren.
2. Arizona Coyotes - Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Coyotes fans would hate being left with Patrick or Hischier. Not that they’re not good, but the Coyotes need young defensemen as much as the Avalanche.
In this scenario, though, I tend to think GM John Chayka takes Nolan Patrick. Arizona is blessed with forward talent, but few of them have the skill and size Patrick brings.
3. Vegas Golden Knights - Nico Hischier, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Best player available. Hischier is skilled, flashy and as good at setting up teammates as he is putting the biscuit in the basket. Vegas would be thrilled to take him.
4. New Jersey Devils - Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie High School (Minnesota)
It sure seems like the Devils might stick with Pavel Zacha on the wing. In that case, expect them to go for a center here if Liljegren isn’t available (he won’t be).
Scouts rave about Mittelstadt’s compete level all over the ice, something that the Devils will no doubt covet. He’s also supremely gifted offensively, making him a talent the Devils can’t pass up. He’ll play for the University of Minnesota next season.
5. Vancouver Canucks - Gabriel Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL)
Vilardi has all the tools to become a No. 1 center someday: size (6’3), skill (scouts love his effortlessness while making plays), and finishing ability (about to eclipse 30 goals with Windsor this year). By drafting Olli Juolevi and trading for Jonathan Dahlen, the Canucks have added high-end talent on the wings and blue line in the last year.
Taking Vilardi fifth overall would help round out their system.
6. Dallas Stars - Eeli Tolvanen, LW/RW, Sioux City (USHL)
If there’s one thing the Stars are guilty of in recent drafts, it’s not taking forwards with high-end skills. Size and hockey I.Q. are great, but you also need players with game-breaking abilities.
Tolvanen fits that mold. A pure scorer, the USHL star can score at will in so many ways: off the rush with his heavy shot, off a deke, with a slap-shot ... you name it. He’ll play with Boston College next season and could reach the NHL sooner than a lot of the players in this draft.
7. Detroit Red Wings - Cale Makar, D, Brooks (AJHL)
We still like the idea of Makar joining the Red Wings. The crafty right-handed defenseman is rising quickly up draft boards after a 24-goal, 75-point season with the Bandits. Detroit can start its rebuild with the draft’s best power play quarterback.
Makar will head to UMass-Amherst next season.
8. Buffalo Sabres - Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL)
With Liljegren and Makar off the board and no defensemen worth reaching for at this spot, Buffalo is left in “best player available” mode.
That’s Tippett, the best scoring winger in the draft not named Eeli Tolvanen. A pure sniper, Tippett is fifth in the OHL with 44 goals this year. With Sam Reinhart, Alexander Nylander, Cliff Pu, and Tippett in the system, the Sabres’ wings will be the envy of the Eastern Conference.
9. Winnipeg Jets - Nick Suzuki, C, Owen Sound (OHL)
Suzuki is a rare gem: an uber-talented penalty killer who can score in bunches. His defensive prowess was well-known before this season, but he erupted into one of the OHL’s best scoring threats with 45 goals and 96 points in 65 games. Winnipeg’s leaky penalty kill would love to have Suzuki join them.
10. Florida Panthers - Klim Kostin, W, Balashikha (KHL)
Two things are going against Kostin right now. First, a shoulder injury ended his season early. Second, he reminds people of Stars winger Valeri Nichushkin: a big, Russian winger with obvious skill but a tendency to pass instead of shoot. And since Nichushkin bolted for Russia last offseason, you’d imagine that might affect his draft status.
But Florida might go against the grain here and take him anyway. With Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen on the decline, the Panthers could use a bullishly skilled winger in their prospect pool, even if Kostin stays in the KHL to develop for a few years.
11. Philadelphia Flyers - Cody Glass, C/RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Another late-bloomer like Makar who rocketed up draft rankings this year. Glass is a talented, all-around forward: capable of dishing the puck, finishing plays and be responsible up and down the ice. Philadelphia could use him in a number of ways.
12. Carolina Hurricanes - Elias Pettersson, C, Timra IK (Sweden)
At this point of the draft, it’s hard to nail down which player teams would covet more. But Carolina’s so stacked defensively that we know the Hurricanes will aim for a forward in the first round.
Pettersson might be the pick. He’s a pure playmaker, with arguably the best vision in the draft. You could see him becoming a true power play threat for the Hurricanes down the road, making him worth a pick here even though he’ll have a longer development than most.
13. Los Angeles Kings - Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City (WHL)
Size and skill are a rare combo for centers these days, but Rasmussen fits that mold. His 6’5 frame makes him seem Kings-worthy already, and his poise around the net makes him a valuable offensive presence on the power play.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning - Juuso Valimaki, D, Tri-City (WHL)
Valimaki is a well-rounded two-way defenseman with leadership qualities already apparent at such a young age. Valimaki’s 55 points lead all teenage WHL defensemen this year, indicating he could make a rapid ascent to the NHL.
15. New York Islanders - Callan Foote, D, Kelowna (WHL)
The Isles drafted five forwards in the first round over the last three drafts. All of them (Josh Ho-Sang, Anthony Beauvillier, Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, and Kieffer Bellows) are already close to NHL-ready.
So New York should spring for a defenseman this year. Foote, son of Adam Foote, will round out their defensive core nicely. At 6’3, Foote is imposing in his own end with a safe, but smart, game.
16. Toronto Maple Leafs - Nicolas Hague, D, Mississauga (OHL)
And so the run on defensemen begins!
With Nikita Zaitsev and Morgan Rielly in the fold, the Maple Leafs aren’t short of puck-movers on the blue line. They are missing a big body, though. Hague is huge, but mobile: a 6’6 defenseman who captains Mississauga’s power play and isn’t afraid to mix things up in his own end. He could be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Or he could be a master of everything. Toronto will gladly take that risk.
17. St. Louis Blues - Ryan Poehling, C/LW, St. Cloud State (NCAA)
With a year of college hockey under his belt, Poehling could reach the NHL quicker than most of his draft peers. That makes him appealing to a lot of teams, particularly contenders.
So will his two-way ability. Poehling is blessed with the skills of a top center and the smarts of a third-line, shut-down winger. Sounds like a Blue, doesn’t he?
18. Nashville Predators - Martin Necas, C, HC Kometa Brno (Czech Republic)
David Poile will do cartwheels if Necas falls this far.
The only knock on the 5’11 center is that he holds onto the puck too long. But that pass-first mentality is born out of strong vision and speed to burn. The Predators lack a true, high-skill center behind Ryan Johansen. Necas can slot into that role.
19. Boston Bruins - Lias Andersson, C, HV71 (Sweden)
Andersson’s draft stock fell after a quiet World Juniors. The 5’11 center drew attention with a 24-goal season as a 16-year old, but his offensive upside is now in question after a nine-goal season in the Swedish pro league.
His competitiveness isn’t, though. Players with energy, work ethic, and hockey I.Q. are valuable, and the Bruins would make a good fit while Andersson develops his game. And if he re-finds that scoring touch, all the better.
20. Edmonton Oilers - Miro Heiskanen, D, Helsinki HIFK (Finland)
The only knock on Heiskanen? He’s small. That didn’t stop Torey Krug from thriving. It didn’t stop the Stars from drafting Julius Honka. It won’t stop teams from drafting Makar. And it won’t keep the Oilers from jumping at Heiskanen if he falls this far.
Heiskanen disappointed at the World Juniors, but what Finland player didn’t? The Finnish defenseman makes up for his size with an active stick in his own end and can make plays offensively.
21. Calgary Flames - Kristian Vesalainen, LW, Frolunda (SHL)
Calgary should be pleased if Vesalainen is available here. It’s hard to figure why he’s falling in scouts’ eyes. He was such an important player in Finland’s gold medal run in the 2016 World Juniors. Vesalainen has struggled immensely this season, bouncing around Finnish junior and pro hockey with just six goals.
But the talent (skill and a good shot) is there.
22. Anaheim Ducks - Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Spokane (WHL)
The Ducks play a heavy style of hockey, so maybe this is just wishful thinking on our part. Yamamoto is 5’7 but oozes skill. Teams passed on Johnny Gaudreau and Alex DeBrincat because of their size. They all regret it. Anaheim would do well to take Yamamoto here.
23. Ottawa Senators - Maxime Comtois, LW, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Comtois isn’t the most skilled winger in the draft. He doesn’t have the best shot. But he does have elite speed and a high-energy style that puts opponents back on their heels. He could end up as a top-line winger. He could end up as a bottom-six penalty killer. Whatever role he slides into, Comtois will play it well and make a noticeable impression.
24. Montreal Canadiens - Nikita Popugaev, W, Prince George (WHL)
Just look at the kinds of players Montreal targeted at the trade deadline. Big. Strong. Hard to play against.
Popugaev, a 6’5 winger, is all of those things with skill mixed in. He’s struggled since a trade to the Cougars, a more well-rounded team that spreads the offensive love around.
25. New York Rangers - Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
Joseph is garnering first-round consideration because he’s developed confidence with the puck all over the ice. Once he trusted himself to become more involved offensively, his skill and smarts have impressed scouts. The defense-starved Rangers could take a flier on him here.
26. San Jose Sharks - Conor Timmins, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Another defenseman playing his way into first-round status. Timmins boasts one of the hardest shots in the draft and leads the OHL in even-strength points. San Jose’s younger forwards are coming along nicely this season, so the Sharks could shore up their blue line with a prospect like Timmins.
27. Arizona Coyotes (from Wild) - Urho Vaakanainen, D, JYP (Finland)
Vaakanainen has the tools to become a strong puck-moving defenseman. Right now, he feels like a “safe” player destined to at least become a quality top-six talent. Arizona might bet on the former.
28. Chicago Blackhawks - Shane Bowers, C, Waterloo (USHL)
Bowers seems like a Jonathan Toews clone: great two-way play with a great shot and great hockey senses. The only question is how high his ceiling is. That question didn’t exist with Toews, and it doesn’t exist with the other centers taken ahead of Bowers.
29. Columbus Blue Jackets - Lukas Elvenes, RW, Rogle (Sweden)
A smart, crafty winger, but one-dimensional right now. Columbus’ Stanley Cup window is just opening, so they have time to let a player like Elvenes work on developing his all-around game. The tools are there, though.
30. Pittsburgh Penguins - Matthew Strome, LW, Hamilton (OHL)
Here’s a risk: a player with the Strome family pedigree and a physical brand of play, but poor foot-speed keeping his ceiling low.
31. St. Louis Blues (from Capitals) - Kole Lind, RW, Kelowna (WHL)
If St. Louis goes all-around with their first pick, they can afford to go all-skill with Lind at 31. Lind might be one of the better goal-scorers in the first round as far as instinct goes. It’s just a matter of whether he can get stronger.