NHL Mock Draft 3.0: Movement near the top of the draft board?
The big question is whether or not the Dallas Stars are going to trade the No. 3 overall pick, and throw the rest of the NHL Draft into a little bit of turmoil going forward. Dallas is in the situation of missing out on the consensus top two picks in Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, and perhaps drafting a player that won’t immediately help the NHL club in a draft class that’s been labeled so-so at best.
With that in mind, it sure seems like Jim Nill is willing to talk if there’s another NHL general manager that’s hot to trot for a prospect at that spot, perhaps buying in on a big, strong, productive forward like Gabriel Vilardi after his Memorial Cup run or believing in a sharp-shooting prospect like Owen Tippett that could be a pure goal-scorer for a team in need of offense.
Given that the Stars need defensive help right away to help reverse their fortune at the NHL level and that there will be a number of D-men potentially available in trade this summer, it’s easy to see why this selection might be going to the highest bidder. Look for a lot of frustrated GM’s picking right after the Stars if that does happen in Chicago during draft weekend just a couple of weeks from now.
Here’s the third edition of a mock draft for the 2017 NHL Draft class that will hear their names called this month in Chicago, regardless of the strengths and weakness of this crop of players:
1. New Jersey Devils
Nico Hischier, center/right wing (Halifax Mooseheads): The Swiss forward exploded for Halifax in his first North American season this year with 38 goals and 86 points in 58 games, and showed impressive offensive skills. When you add those numbers to seven goals and 15 points in 11 games at the World Junior level for Team Switzerland last season, there’s clearly an explosive offensive element to his game that might be exactly what the Devils are looking for right now. They didn’t get enough of it with the Taylor Hall deal, so perhaps drafting another guy like Hischier will see them start putting the puck in the back of the net. Not to mention that the injury stuff with Nolan Patrick might just be enough to scare off a Devils team that needs to hit a home run with this first overall pick. Hischier is still going to need to add some bulk to his 6-foot-1, 176-pound frame if he wants to make an impact in the NHL sooner rather than later as a high-end lottery pick.
2. Philadelphia Flyers
Nolan Patrick, center (Brandon Wheat Kings): The 6-foot-2, 198-pounder has drawn favorable comparisons to well-rounded, two-way pivots like Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar and Patrice Bergeron, and certainly looks the part of a franchise center in a draft class that’s not exactly overflowing with explosive, surefire talent. But the injury bug (sports hernia, upper body injury) limited him to just 33 games where he posted 46 points this season, and is a bit of a red flag for such a heavy investment from any team. Then again he was totally healthy the year prior and racked up 102 points, and could be the victim of some really lousy timing in his draft year. With it looking like Claude Giroux is starting to fade a little bit as a dominant force, Patrick would make a lot of sense in Philly as the burgeoning No. 1 center for a team that should be coming on in the next couple of seasons.
3. Dallas Stars
Miro Heiskanen, defenseman (Liga): It’s pretty clear the Stars need help defensively. It’s why they made the change behind the bench to go with the structured leadership of Ken Hitchcock, it’s why they went out and nabbed Ben Bishop and it will be the reason behind the selection of the best overall defenseman in the draft in this Finnish D-man. The 6-foot, 170-pounder was named the best defenseman at the Under-18 World Championships with two goals and 12 points in seven games and more than held his own in the Finnish Elite League last season. A strong, no-frills two-way D-man to be sure, but that’s exactly the kind of player Dallas needs to round out a top-heavy roster with offensive players Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The bottom line is that he projects to be a top-pairing defenseman and that’s what Dallas badly needs right now.
4. Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Vilardi, center (Windsor Spitfires): The Avalanche want to get younger and bigger up front after a train wreck of a season. That will be even more important if Colorado deals Gabriel Landeskog over the summer. Vilardi fits the bill on a lot of levels at 6-3, 201 pounds, with a willingness to make plays around the net. He posted 61 points in 49 games last season. His performance two years ago while helping Windsor win the Memorial Cup will also check off a box when it comes to excellence in the big moments. This feels like a good pick for an organization that needs so much right now and Vilardi can be one of those big building blocks for them moving forward.
5. Vancouver Canucks
Casey Mittelstadt, center (Eden Prairie): The Minnesota high school center dominated at the high school level with 21 goals and 64 points in 25 games, and then continued to light it up with Green Bay in the USHL. He’s got good size at 6-foot, 201-pounds and is the kind of heady, playmaking and high-octane center that the Canucks could use with the Sedins starting to get a little long in the offensive tooth. The one consideration with a kid like Mittelstadt is that he’s expected to play for the University of Minnesota next season, and the Canucks might want somebody that can start contributing immediately with the No. 4 overall pick.
6. Vegas Golden Knights
Owen Tippett, right wing (Mississauga Steelheads): The explosive Tippett scored 44 goals in 60 games in the OHL last season and boasts good skating speed and an NHL-caliber finishing shot that draws favorable comparisons to Phil Kessel. Many scouts say he’s got the best shot in the draft and that’s a truly specialized skill with value. He may not be the franchise player that Vegas really needs in building up their NHL expansion roster from scratch, but he brings explosive scoring in a draft class that doesn’t seem to be overflowing with top-end quality this year. That should count for something in a spot where they’ll get a player who can help them for years to come while looking to sell Vegas on hockey.
7. Arizona Coyotes
Michael Rasmussen, center (Tri-City Americans): The 6-6, 215-pound center brings the kind of size that you can’t teach and had 32 goals and 55 points in 50 WHL games last season. The Coyotes have their explosive undersized playmaker for the next decade in Clayton Keller drafted last June. Rasmussen gives them a totally different look in the middle in a conference where there are plenty of big, strong franchise centers to line up against every night. His willingness to make plays in tight spaces and his power-play proficiency are qualities that the Coyotes could absolutely use in great amounts.
8. Buffalo Sabres
Timothy Liljigren, defenseman (Rogle BK): A solid, two-way defender who's dropped on some draft boards after a tough season marked by injuries and underperformance, this feels like the right spot for Buffalo, which badly needs defensive help. On the other hand, just five points in 19 games last season could be the kind of thing that could cause him to drop just as Jakob Chychrun did a year ago before falling into the laps of the Arizona Coyotes. That ended up working out just fine for the Coyotes. Liljigren is an excellent skater and the fact he’s a mobile D-man always helps.
9. Detroit Red Wings
Cody Glass, center (Portland Winterhawks): Glass finished with 94 points in 69 games for Portland, and the 6-foot-2, 178-pounder has speed and smarts in good amounts to go with the 32 goals scored while showing some impressive finishing ability. The Red Wings could certainly use somebody with that kind of game since Pavel Datsyuk left Motown without any immediate way for the Red Wings to replace him. I wouldn’t rule anything out with a Red Wings team that needs to make some pretty drastic moves after missing the playoffs for the first time in a quarter century, but Glass feels like a good pick for them here.
10. Florida Panthers
Cale Makar, defenseman (Brooks): A 5-10, 180-pound defenseman probably wouldn’t have ever been selected this high five or 10 years ago, but the success of undersized blueline players such as Torey Krug makes this possible. The UMass-bound Makar is mobile and smart and finished with 24 goals and 75 points in 54 games last season as the kind of high-event player that the Panthers covet. He’s also rising up the ranks as teams start looking for the next Erik Karlsson who could revolutionize their back end. Makar has the kind of potential where that might happen for him.
11. Los Angeles Kings
Eeli Tolvanen, left wing (Sioux City Muskateers): He scored 30 goals in 52 USHL games last season with one of the best shots in the draft class and would give Anze Kopitar the kind of finishing winger he richly deserves on a team that has struggled for goal-scoring. The Finnish-born Tolvanen is bound for Boston College next season where he’ll get a chance to feature his high-end scoring ability at the Heights and develop for whatever team takes the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder in the middle of the first round. LA can afford to have some patience with a player like this.
12. Carolina Hurricanes
Elias Pettersson, center (Timra): The 6-foot-1 center is a playmaking pivot and the Hurricanes are a team that’s sorely in need of more offense from all corners of their roster. Pettersson finished with 41 points in 43 games last season, and should be headed to the Swedish Elite League next season. He won’t make an immediate impact in Carolina, but you won’t find many players that will at this point in the first round of the draft. Pettersson is listed at only 156 pounds, so there’s going to need to be some work done in the gym over the next couple of years as well before he’s close to NHL-ready and poised to join Jeff Skinner up front for the Hurricanes.
13. Winnipeg Jets
Nick Suzuki, center/right wing (Owen Sound Attack): Suzuki finished with 45 goals and 96 points in the WHL last season, but he’s ranked this high because he’s a speedy, two-way threat who made his mark as a hustling player at both ends of the ice. He could be a nice fit for Winnipeg, who already got plenty of pieces in place. He'll need to continue his no-fear style of play at 5-11, 183-pounds in a league where undersized players are becoming more of the norm. Suzuki is expected to contribute in all situations when he’s a fully developed NHL player, so he’d fit in nicely with some of the elite talent already in place in the Peg.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning
Martin Necas, center (Brno): The 6-foot, 167-pound center is a scrappy, smart playmaker out of the Czech Republic that will still need some time to develop, but should get that kind of time with a Lightning team that’s pretty stacked up front even if they lose a big time forward this summer. He certainly opened eyes at the World Junior tourney and is clearly the best Czech import in the draft, and would fit in well with the talent that Tampa boasts up front. Necas is the kind of player that might get drafted by the Lightning simply because of the salary cap, and their sheer inability to hold onto everybody they have right now.
15. New York Islanders
Klim Kostin, right wing (Moscow Dynamo): The 6-foot-3 winger suffered a shoulder injury that ended his KHL season, and the threat of any Russian player choosing the KHL over the NHL is always a consideration. But based on talent, he’s a strong, puck-possession winger and with his ranking as the top European skater in his draft class according to NHL.com, Kostin shouldn’t last much beyond the top-10. The fact that a player like Kostin could play with John Tavares could be a strong drawing card for the Russian winger, but he could also drop into the 20’s given the usual questions that surround Russian players.
16. Calgary Flames
Kristian Vesalainen, left wing (Frolunda): The 6-3, 207-pound winger opened eyes at the World Under-18s with six goals and 13 points for a Finland team that wasn’t tremendously strong. He has the kind of size and finishing ability that the Flames continue to need on the wing. He’s committed to play for HPK in the Finnish Elite League next season, but could develop quickly given his size and skill set. Given Brian Burke’s preference for strong players along the boards and Calgary’s strength in numbers on the back end, Vesalainen makes some sense here.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs
Callan Foote, defenseman (Kelowna Rockets): The son of Adam Foote should be a natural fit for the Maple Leafs simply because of his NHL legacy and because the Leafs could use another good player on the back end. Foote is the kind of smart, two-way defender who could have a long career in the NHL and his bloodlines will make him a low-risk pick for whichever team goes after him. Foote finished with five goals and 56 assists in 71 games for Kelowna and has ideal NHL size for a frontline defenseman at 6-3, 213-pounds.
18. Boston Bruins
Nicolas Hague, defenseman (Mississauga Steelheads): At 6-foot-6, 214-pounds with the kind of size that you can’t teach, Hague would be an interesting pick for a Bruins team that’s already pretty stacked on the back end. But they will also be losing a player named Zdeno Chara in the next couple of years, and this is the kind of big-bodied, left-shot defenseman that the Bruins could groom into a next-generation replacement. He’s not the mean, intimidating defensive stopper that Chara is, and could probably stand to play a little more like that given his size. But he can also move the puck adeptly at that size with some good upside in that area, and it offsets the so-so skating that you would expect at somebody so massive. If the Bruins do go D-man in the first round, Hague would make a lot of sense.
19. San Jose Sharks
Shane Bowers, center (Waterloo Hawks): A good, two-way center who scored 22 goals for Waterloo this season and is committed to the Boston University hockey factory next season. This feels like the kind of pick that the Sharks would absolutely make as they’re turning over their roster the next couple of seasons. The 6-1, 178-pounder is smart, strong and hard-working, so it might not be long at all before he’s stepping in and continuing the youth movement in San Jose. You could easily see the Bruins going with Bowers at the No. 18 pick as well if they have a choice between him and Lind.
20. St. Louis Blues
Nikita Popaguev, left wing (Prince George Spruce Kings): The 6-foot-5 winger scored 29 goals last season and brings more size and strength on the wing that the Blues should be looking for as a puck possession team. Popaguev isn’t fast or overly skilled, but you can’t teach the size, strength and willingness to crash the net that this big boy was as an NHL prospect. The Blues are still looking to find some of this after losing Troy Brouwer and David Backes, and Popaguev could bring some of that with him.
21. New York Rangers
Ryan Poehling, center (St. Cloud State): A 6-3, 207-pound center who finished up a solid freshman season at St. Cloud and could be a really strong addition to the Blueshirts a year or two down the line. They need to keep getting younger on all corners of the roster and this would be a good step in that direction now that they finally have a first-round pick again. Poehling is probably more third-line center than elite forward with high-end, top-six ability, but that’s an area where a strong team like New York should be looking to augment.
22. Edmonton Oilers
Kole Lind, center (Kelowna Rockets): Lind had 30 goals and 87 points for the Rockets this season and is another high-scoring, up-tempo kind of player that the Oilers can look at as they continue to push the envelope with speed and skill. He just needs to get a little bigger and stronger at current measurements of 6-foot, 176-pounds before he might be pushing for time in Edmonton, but it’s tantalizing to think about him as a third line center behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Lind also has some versatility to play both center and the wing, which never hurts in the eyes of any NHL scout.
23. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota)
Pierre-Olivier Joseph (Charlottetown Islanders): The 6-foot-2, 161-pound Joseph is a raw, talented defenseman that’s on the upward trend headed into the draft, and brings athletic upside and future promise of offensive production. He may need a few years to harness everything and bring that kind of game to the Coyotes, but they have time to build things up with long-range prospects like this. Then the Coyotes can send a bouquet of flowers to the Minnesota Wild for sending this pick in exchange for Martin Hanzal in a futile deal at the deadline as the Wild made their annual short playoff push.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets
Lias Andersson, center (HV71): Andersson finished as the No. 3 European skater in NHL.com’s draft rankings and packs plenty of punch in a stocky 5-11, 198-pound frame. His skating isn’t where it needs to be at this point, but he plays with a three-zone tenacity and maximum effort style that tells you he’s going to work to be up to snuff for the NHL. He’s very strong on the puck and tenacious and that’s exactly the kind of player that Columbus covets.
25. Montreal Canadiens
Kailer Yamamoto, right wing (Spokane Chiefs): The 5-8 dynamo would fill a need and roster desire that the Habs seemingly always have for undersized skill players. Yamamoto has the offensive numbers to back it up. He put up 42 goals and 99 points in the Dub last season and feels like exactly the kind of player to take a chance on late in the first round in today’s NHL that favors speed and skill over everything else.
26. Chicago Blackhawks
Robert Thomas, center (London Knights): Thomas finished with 16 goals and 66 points in 66 games for the Knights and the 5-11, 185-pounder has the versatility, smarts and resourcefulness to play different roles in a lineup. That’s exactly the kind of player the stacked Blackhawks could use to fill in the bottom-six roles up front with plenty of the top-forward spots already spoken for.
27. St. Louis Blues (from Washington)
Conor Timmins, defenseman (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds): Timmins went from 13 points for the Soo two years ago to 60 points in 67 games last season as a puck-moving defenseman capable of putting a charge in the offense. That is right up the alley of the Blues now that they’ve pieced together some really big, strong players on the back end to fortify things. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has good NHL size and excellent hockey sense as well, and would be a strong pick for the Blues as they search for somebody that can eventually replace what they lost in Kevin Shattenkirk this season.
28. Ottawa Senators
Jake Oettinger, goaltender (Boston University): There’s a hesitancy to draft goalies in the first round, but the 6-4, 207-pound Oettinger looks like a top-flight No. 1 franchise goalie that's exactly the kind of player Ottawa is going to need a couple of years from now. Oettinger posted a .927 save percentage as a freshman for BU and has the size, athleticism and makeup between the pipes that one would look for in a first-rounder. It may not be Ottawa, but somebody should take Oettinger among the top 31 and show that goalies are still worth the risk once in a while.
29. Dallas Stars (from Anaheim)
Juuso Valimaki, defenseman (Tri-City Americans): Valimaki has ideal size at 6-foot-2, 204-pounds and was an offensive demon for Tri-City with 19 goals and 61 points in 60 games this season. I would say there’s an even greater chance of Valimaki being the guy here if the Stars trade their pick at the top of the draft, but Dallas might be desperate enough to shore up their back end that they spend both of their first-round picks on D-men. His two-way game, his size and his ability to transition quickly to the North American game might also make him the closest to actually playing in the NHL.
30. Nashville Predators (still to be officially determined)
Isaac Ratcliffe, left wing (Guelph Storm): Ratcliffe posted 28 goals and 54 points in 67 games in the OHL this season, and fits the profile for the Predators as a team that likes skill, size and tenacity on the front end. The Predators don’t need a lot of help, so anything is possible here outside of a goalie given what they have in their NHL duo. But a big forward with a bit of a mean streak in the 6-foot-5, 203-pound Ratcliffe could be just what this team needs. It wouldn’t shock me at all if the Bruins would be interested in a guy like Ratcliffe as well should they go forward instead of D-man with their first round pick.
31. Pittsburgh Penguins (still to be officially determined)
Erik Brannstrom, defenseman (HV71 Jr.): Brannstrom isn’t the biggest guy in the world (5-10, 173-pounds), but he’s got the puck-moving skills and the pedigree that any NHL team would want to see out of a Swedish prospect. He played well in 35 games in the Elite League last season and has the requisite skating, hockey IQ and competitiveness requirements to go along with the skill set. The Penguins could do a lot worse with the final pick of the first round.