NHL Mock Draft 4.0: Prepare for the pre-draft frenzy of trades
It’s the calm before the storm right now with the protected lists for the 30 NHL teams set to be released on Sunday morning, and all NHL teams locked in a trading freeze other than deals to be worked out specifically with the Vegas Golden Knights. Jonathan Drouin was sent to Montreal a couple of days ago and goalie Mike Smith is going to Calgary in a big move for the Flames to fortify their situation between the pipes, but other than it wasn’t quite as active as many expected going into a huge week of roster-bending stuff that’s about to happen.
After that there will be a frenzy of pre-draft trades and the usual flurry of activity just ahead of the July 1 opening of free agency, and many of the names we’ve heard floated over the last couple of weeks in trade rumors will likely be moved.
But for now it’s all about mock drafts, the looming expansion draft and the NHL Awards Show that absolutely nobody is talking about with the Vegas expansion extravaganza set to overshadow the whole thing. Stay tuned on that one, but in the meantime here’s the fourth and final edition of a mock draft for the 2017 NHL Draft class that will hear their names called next weekend in Chicago.
1. New Jersey Devils – 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 the Devils. 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. This would be the by-the-book pick for a New Jersey team that needs plenty of high-end forwards for their NHL roster, and just needs more of an infusion of talent in general.
2. Philadelphia Flyers – 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 offense element to his game that should fit right into the Flyers’ style along with their stacked back end. But 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.
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 class in the 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 as well. 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 like 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 – 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 playmaking center that Colorado could use if they’re truly going to move on from the Matt Duchene era at the NHL level. Truth be told, however, the Avalanche could go in any number of different directions with their pick given how dreadful the NHL roster was last season, and the bevy of house-cleaning trades that may be coming this summer.
5. Vancouver Canucks – Gabriel Vilardi, center (Windsor Spitfires):
If we know anything about where Vancouver is headed here, it’s that Canucks GM Jim Benning likes size and strength up front at his forward positions. Vilardi fits the bill at 6-foot-3, 201-pounds with a willingness to make plays around the net and posted 61 points in 49 games last season. Vancouver missed out on their guy in Pierre-Luc Dubois last season, so history won’t repeat itself this season when they step to the podium with the No. 5 overall pick. His dominant performance (seven points in four games) while helping Windsor capture the Memorial Cup will also check off a box when it comes to excellence in the big moments. It also makes it a cinch that he’ll be picked in the first four selections as he was probably the highest riser over this past season. This feels like a good pick for a hockey organization that needs so much right now, and Vilardi can be one of those big building blocks for them moving forward.
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 a player like 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 that can help them for years to come while looking to sell Vegas people on hockey.
7. Arizona Coyotes – Michael Rasmussen, center (Tri-City Americans):
The 6-foot-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, and 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 that’s dropped on some draft boards after a tough season marked by injuries and underperformance, this feels like the right spot with a Buffalo team that 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 dropping directly into the laps of the Arizona Coyotes. That ended up working out just fine for the Coyotes last season, and the Sabres would hope the same is true for them if they make this selection. Liljigren is an excellent skater and the fact he’s a mobile D-man always helps on the draft lists.
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 (Brooks):
A 5-foot-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 like Torey Krug makes this possible. The UMass-bound 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 in their player assessment exercises. He’s also rising up the ranks as teams start looking for the next Erik Karlsson that could revolutionize their back end, and Makar has the kind of high end potential where that might happen for him.
11. Los Angeles Kings – 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 that can make drafting them a tricky proposition. But based on talent he’s a strong, puck-possession winger and since he does boast ranking as the top European skater in his draft class according to NHL.com, Kostin shouldn’t last much beyond the top-10. A puck-possession team like the Kings makes all kinds of sense for him, but it remains to be seen how new management is going to approach potential Russian prospects.
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 that’s made his mark as a hustling player at both ends of the ice. He could be a nice fit for a Winnipeg team that’s already got plenty of pieces in place, and will need to continue his no fear style of play at 5-foot-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 that’s 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. They need a dynamic playmaker with Jonathan Drouin traded away, and Necas could be that exact kind of guy.
15. New York Islanders – 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 John Tavares 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. The Isles can afford to have some patience with a player like this.
16. Calgary Flames – 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 now that they’ve addressed their goaltending situation with Mike Smith. 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, and that’s something the Flames will like to hear given their situation as a young, exciting playoff team.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs – Callan Foote, defenseman (Kelowna Rockets):
The son of Adam Foote should be a natural fit for the Maple Leafs simple 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 that 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 this season and has ideal NHL size for a frontline defenseman at 6-foot-3, 213-pounds.
18. Boston Bruins – Kristian Vesalainen, left wing (Frolunda):
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound winger opened eyes during the World Under-18’s with six goals and 13 points for a Finland team that wasn’t tremendously strong, and has the kind of size and finishing ability that the Bruins continue to need more of on the wing. He’s committed to play for HPK in the Finnish Elite League next season, but could develop quickly given his size, strength and skill set. Given Boston’s preference for strong players along the boards and Boston’s strength in prospects on the back end, Vesalainen makes a lot of sense here.
19. San Jose Sharks – Shane Bowers, center (Waterloo Hawks):
A good, two-way center that scored 22 goals for Waterloo this season, and is committed to the Boston University hockey factor beginning next season. This feels like the kind of pick that the Sharks would absolutely make as they’re turning over their roster a bit over the next couple of seasons. The 6-foot-1, 178-pounder is smart, strong and hard-working, so it might not be long at all before he’s stepping in for the Sharks and continuing the youth movement out 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 Lind and Bowers.
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-foot-3, 207-pound center that 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 the right 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-6 ability, but that’s an area where a strong team like New York should be looking to augment with a young player a couple of years down the line.
22. Edmonton Oilers – 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 an Oilers team still building on the back end. There’s little doubt that Peter Chiarelli puts a lot of value in big-bodied, strong D-men, and Hague checks off all those boxes. 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 from somebody so massive. If the Oilers do go D-man in the first round, Hague would make a lot of sense.
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-foot-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 NHL levels. He’s very strong on the puck and tenacious, and that’s exactly the kind of player that Columbus covets and John Tortorella demands as long as he’s the guy behind the bench.
25. Montreal Canadiens – Kailer Yamamoto, right wing (Spokane Chiefs):
The 5-foot-8 dynamo would fill a need and roster desire that the Habs seemingly always have for undersized skill players, and Yamamoto has the massive offensive numbers to back it up. He put up 42 goals and 99 points in the Dub last season, and feels like exactly the right 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 – 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 Chicago hopes can hang with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Artemi Panarin. 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 Chicago, but it’s tantalizing to think about adding him to the arsenal they already have on the Chicago roster. Lind also has some versatility to play both center and the wing, which never hurts in the eyes of any NHL scout.
27. St. Louis Blues (from the Capitals) – 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-foot-4, 207-pound Oettinger looks like a top-flight No. 1 franchise goalie that is 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 the BU Terriers, and has the size, athleticism and makeup that one would look for in a first round pick between the pipes. It may not be Ottawa, but somebody should take Oettinger among the top-31 picks and show that goalies are still worth the risk once in a while.
29. Dallas Stars (from the Anaheim Ducks) – 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 Stars as a team that needs more skill, size and tenacity on the front end. Dallas needs 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 in another direction with their pick at No. 18.
30. Nashville Predators – Robert Thomas, center (London Knights):
Thomas finished with 16 goals and 66 points in 66 games for the Knights last season, and the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder has the versatility, smarts and resourcefulness to play different roles within a lineup. That’s exactly the kind of player that a strong Predators team could use to fill in the bottom-six roles up front with plenty of the top forward spots already spoken for with a strong returning group.
31. Pittsburgh Penguins – Erik Brannstrom, defenseman (HV71 Jr.):
Brannstrom isn’t the biggest guy in the world and 5-foot-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 for the elite league big club 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.