2017 NHL Draft

Mock Draft: Picks 1-31

Injured stars leave door open for challengers
Steve Kournianos  |  1/20/2017 |  New York  |  

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Timra center Elias Pettersson is one of Sweden’s top draft prospects (Photo: Expressen.se)

*1. C Nolan Patrick (Brandon, WHL): A dominant, multi-tool game changer who has all the makings of a franchise center. Blessed with a lethal combination of strength and skill, Patrick looks to have bounced back from injury woes to solidify a top ranking he hasn’t relinquished since popping up on the draft radar a few years ago. He has an NHL frame and is deceptively quick, but it’s his ability to both create and finish plays that makes him difficult to plan for. No draft-eligible center provides his coach with a seemingly limitless tool box than Patrick, will play in next week’s CHL Top Prospects Game..
*2. C Nico Hischier (Halifax, QMJHL)Swiss pivot with electrifying skill and elite vision whose 64 points in 38 game leads all CHL rookies. Hischier is a fast, wiry playmaker who hustles and fiercely competes. Desire is his watchword, and you get the sense that opponents truly hate playing against him. Hischier can beat you in so many ways, and if we learned anything from his wonderful performance at the recent world juniors is that teams continue to struggle tracking his location in the offensive zone.
*3. C/W Casey Mittelstadt (Eden Prairie, HS-MN): Left with nothing to prove, Mittelstadt bolted the USHL as its top scorer for an emotional return to Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where he is the undisputed top high school hockey prospect in America. His squad is vying to return to the state championships after last year’s crushing exit, and he’s becoming a rounded player as each game passes. Mittelstadt is a goal scorer with an excellent shot/release who can set up line mates, kill penalties and control the tempo of a power play. He’s by no means menacing, but his size, skill and compete level present him as an intimidating player who can be impossible to stop.
*4. RHD Tim Liljegren (Rogle, SHL): Smooth-skating blueliner with a world-class shot who is at the top of a talented group of European-trained defensemen. Liljegren loves to shoot the puck and is an excellent power play quarterback. He has excellent acceleration and strong on the pivot, but he can also defer to accurate stretch passes that leave forecheckers well behind the play. His one-on-one play is better than you’d think.
*5. RW Eeli Tolvanen (Sioux City, USHL): Finnish-born sniper with a lethal shot who’ll move on to Boston College after what should be a memorable USHL career. Tolvanen is an expert sharpshooter with a quick release, and his ability to pick corners off the pass is reminiscent of countryman Patrik Laine. Tolvanen doesn’t have Laine’s size, but he’s strong on the puck and escapes from the tough battles right into shooting position. He’s a strong skater who likes to speed down the wing before unloading a labeled shot.
*6. RW Owen Tippett (Mississauga, OHL): Tenacious goal scorer with a strong desire to succeed. Tippett has an excellent shot and bullies his way into any scoring area to get his stick on the puck. He’s an above average skater and he’s certainly benefitted from flanking a high-end playmaker like Mike McLeod, but he takes a never-say-die approach to every shift, and that shot…
*7. C/W Elias Pettersson (Timra, Allsvenskan)Saying Pettersson is out typical Swedish two-way pivot is too easy a way out. There’s a uniqueness about him, and his puck handling abilities are buttery smooth. As lanky as he looks, Peterson is a bonafide assassin who absorbs hits while controlling the puck with his head up. His hands are soft and quick, and you can make the case that no draft-eligible peer can handle a tough pass better than he does. Pettersson isn’t an explosive skater with first-step quickness but can gain separation after a few strides.
*8. C Martin Necas (Brno, Extraliga): Gifted and mature two-way center with an off-the-charts IQ who continues to put up points as a top rookie in the Czech Extraliga. Necas is an excellent skater with superior puck skills and can be used in any situation at any time. Need a late-game face-off win in the defensive zone? Call Necas. Power play on the fritz? Call Necas. It’s no cliche to say he’s a threat to score every time he hits the ice, and his recent slump (two points in last 13 games) shouldn’t be a concern since he’s the youngest player in the circuit who gets a regular shift.
*9. LHD Urho Vaakanainen (Jyvaskyla, Liiga): Vaakanainen is one of a handful of heralded 2017-eligible Finnish defenders who were the only thing right about his country’s abysmal showing at the recent WJC. He’s a heady, non-nonsense puck mover who is held in own in the Finnish Liiga before going to the junior level. Vaakanainen his an very good skater who can attack openings and make plays under pressure. He also has a plus shot and likes to hammer it off the pass. Don’t expect him to step right in and punish opponents with physicality — that’s not his style. But he has the kind of upper-body strength, footwork and active stick to win his one-on-one battles and slip the puck onto the blade of a counterattacking teammate. Easily the safest pick of any of the European-trained defensemen as he will be no worse than a five or six at the NHL level.
*10. LHD Jusso Valimaki (Tri-City, WHL): If there is one defenseman capable of dethroning Liljegren from the perch of top draft-eligible defenseman, it’s this hulking Finnish blue liner with an array of elite skills. Valimaki distinguishes himself as a thinking-man’s defender who uses quick reaction time to pounce on loose puck in his own end and make the immediate transition to offense. He quarterbacks the power play with success via patience on the zone entry and leading teammates with passes behind the wall of defenders.
*11. C Lias Andersson (HV71, SHL): The 2017 WJC differed from previous editions in that it lacked a significant amount of upper-tier draft eligible players, But add Andersson to the short list of prospect who took advantage of the talent void and make due with the spotlight, scoring three times in seven games. You’d be hard pressed to find a forward who protects the puck as well as this Swede, who is an excellent two-way center with a complete skill set. He leads all SHL first-year draft eligibles in scoring with nine points in 25 games for HV71.
*12. RW Klim Kostin (Dynamo Moscow, KHL): Punishing power forward with very good speed whose low point totals in league play are offset by a collection of strong international showings. Kostin is a fierce competitor who plays a heavy game, but he isn’t just a brute on skates. He has an excellent shot and a soft touch, plus a creative side that keeps opponents off balance. He’s dealing with a lengthy shoulder but expect him to erase some doubt in April when he plays for Russia at the under-18 world championship.
*13. C Gabe Vilardi (Windsor, OHL): Big-bodied playmaker with a phenomenal understanding of the game who shook off some early-season injuries and went on a scoring binge, tallying eight goals in the first eight games back. He’s strengths are puck control and vision, but his hands are incredibly soft for someone who doesn’t look all that graceful on the move. If you can live with his average mobility, he’ll be sure to reward you with a blistering shot, eye-popping passes and treat every shift as an opportunity to create.
*14. LHD Miro Heiskanen (HIFK, Liiga): You can make a strong case for Heiskanen being the draft-eligible defenseman with the shortest path to the NHL, especially when you consider the big minutes he’s logging for IFK in the Finnish Liiga. He’s a cerebral puck mover with above-average speed who is rarely caught out of position, and he accumulates shots and chances by aggressively dropping down well below the dots. Heiskanen may not have cornerstone potential, but he would be an excellent top-pairing option or No. 3 to anchor a key minute-eating duo.
*15. LW Kristian Vesalainen (Frolunda J20, Superelit): Tough power forward who is a dual shot/pass threat and uses his size and strength to overpower opponents. Vesalainen began the year in the SHL with Frolunda and was loaned to a Finnish junior team before returning last week to the J20 Superelit in Sweden. It’s never easy to bounce around while struggling to put up points, and a putrid WJC only exacerbated an already tough situation, and in a draft year no less. Still, you can’t write off a kid for a poor first half, and the fact that he’s a 1999 birth year means he can boost his stock at the U18’s in April.
*16. LHD Nicholas Hague (Mississauga, OHL): Hague is a dreamy pro prospect because he has freakish size (6’6) that helps him on the defensive side while possessing a booming shot and sound instincts once the puck crosses the red line. He is a risk taker who has benefitted from being surrounded by immense talent, but remember that it was Hague’s emergence that made Sean Day expendable enough to trade. He’s a good skater in open ice but gets beat far too often when trying to tighten his gap on quicker forwards. As inexcusable as that sounds for a kid with a gargantuan wingspan, Hague has top pairing potential written all over him.
17. C Michael Rasmussen (Tri-City, WHL): Rasmussen is an all-around top center who can do anything that is asked of him. He was one of Canada’s few bright spots during a disappointing finish at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, centering the first line and anchoring an effective penalty kill. Thus far, he leads all WHL first-year eligibles with 30 goals in 48 games while playing an aggressive style bolstered by an NHL-ready frame. Rasmussen covers ground in a hurry thanks to a long, powerful stride.
18. C Maxime Comtois (Victoriaville, QMJHL): Polished power forward with a big-game resume who saw his stock fall after bad puck luck caused a dip in production, thus screeching to a halt his early-season hype train. Comtois is still a very good two-way center who is excellent on faceoffs and should be considered a potential lottery pick, especially now that he stabilized his season with 14 points in his last 13 games. But a disappointing post-draft season by fellow QMJHL strongman Pierre-Luc Dubois may keep Comtois low on more draft boards than expected.
19. RW Kailer Yamamoto (Spokane, WHL): Yamamoto has been a notable 2017 draft prospect for a few years, doing nothing but pile up points in what is his third WHL season. Small in stature but a giant when it comes to creating plays, he has an extremely high IQ with vision already at an elite level. Yamamoto silenced critics before, so don’t be surprised if he continues to do so after he’s drafted in or close to the first round.
20. C Ryan Poehling (St. Cloud State, NCHC): Poehling is a big-bodied center who is the only 1999-born player participating in Division I hockey. Being a freshman on a strong St. Cloud State squad pushes him into a depth role, but his upside is well within a top line position. He can provide superior play in every situation and displays enough flash to make the thought of becoming a star discernible. Poehling was a big reason why Team USA can within a whisker of winning gold at the Ivan Hlinka, playing close to 20 minutes a game and producing highlight-reel plays.
21. LW/C Marcus Davidsson (Djugardens, SHL): Speedy offensive force who can play center or wing, but probably ends up on the flank thanks do a deadly shot that he can release in a hurry. Davidsson has hit a bit of a wall in the SHL after producing with regular minutes earlier in the season, but he’s still regarded as one of Sweden’s top teenage forwards. He is a tenacious forechecker who finishes his checks and can kill penalties.
22. RHD Cale Makar (Brooks, AJHL): Explosive, dynamic offensive defenseman who can beat you with a variety of elite skills. Makar’s understanding of the game and his ability to read plays keeps him two and three steps ahead of opponents, who treat his puck handling as the most dangerous course of action. He is extremely fast — probably the fastest among draft-eligible defensemen — and whips the puck from tape to tape with authority. Makar, who is headed to UMass-Amherst, isn’t very big, but his footwork and quick stick allow him to harass bigger forwards into turning the puck over.
23. RHD Henri Jokiharju (Portland, WHL):Jokiharju is an outstanding puck distributor with quick feet that can quarterback a power play with the best of them. He was buried on Portland’s bottom pairing because of a numbers crunch, but the departure of Oilers prospect Caleb Jones to the WJC saw a huge spike in minutes and level of responsibility. Jokiharju can log a lot of ice time and play extended shifts without skipping a beat, and it didn’t take him long to adjust to the rough-and-tumble WHL style.
24. LHD Erik Brannstrom (HV71, SHL): Heady defender with excellent offensive skills who would have challenged for first overall had been two inches taller. Brannstrom is a high-end puck distributor with a booming shot who uses powerful leg drive and upper-body strength to make up for his lack of length. He was the top scorer among defensemen in goals and assists for HV71’s junior squad before getting a bump to the pros, where he’s had a tough time adjusting.
25. RHD Ian Mitchell (Spruce Grove, AJHL): Versatile two-way defender who has a complete understanding of either where he’s supposed to be and where he’s needed most. Mitchell isn’t flashy but he’s extremely smooth with the puck and makes fantastic reads. His mobility and quick-strike approach makes him more than capable of running a power play, where he can also display a very good shot and calmness under duress. Mitchell will play for the University of Denver in the fall.
26. C Antoine Morand (Acadie-Bathhurst, QMJHL): Feisty agitator with excellent speed and a nice scoring touch who tends to get overlooked because of his size (5’10, 178). Morand is constantly around the puck no matter where it is, and watching him play one shift reveals just how much of a pest he is to play against. He hits, fights through checks and is consistently looting the most protective puck carriers. Morand’s speed and effort all but guarantee he’ll have an NHL job one day. His stats are improving and he’s winning close to 53 percent of his faceoffs.
27. RHD Callan Foote (Kelowna, WHL):Reliable two-way defender with NHL bloodlines whose simple game can cloud just how smart and talented a rearguard he is. That should come as no surprise to those who 20 years ago saw his father Adam serve as a blueline mainstay for multiple Stanley Cup championships in Colorado. Callan plays a similar style — smart positioning, excellent instincts, quick outlet passes and occasional offense in the form of a hard shot from the point or stretch passes that split the zone.
28. LW/C Scott Reedy (US U18, NTDP):Thick and aggressive bulldozer that plays an in-your-face style but fools into into forgetting just how gifted a playmaker he is. Reedy is a natural center, but his place on the NTDP’s top-line flanks reveals a strong net presence and finishing abilities from the hash marks down. Reedy is a good skater who uses both partaken and precision to enter a zone. He’s headed to the University of Minnesota, but his size/smarts combo will put him in the NHL sooner than one would think.
29. LW Nikita Popugaev (Prince George, WHL): If he could find some consistency, it would be extremely difficult to keep Popugaev out of the conversation for the top pick in 2017. But power forwards have a tendency to vanish if they’re not playing the way they want, especially when you’re close to 6’6 and don’t offer much besides scoring. Popugaev checks so many blocks — size, skill, a deadly shot, plus he’s dealt with the rigors of being an import in the WHL. The stats are good (57 points in 48 games), but a recent trade from Moose Jaw to Prince George has slowed down his production. But let’s be fair — this a power forward with 25 primary assists out of 33.
30. LW Ivan Chekhovich (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL): A sniper blessed with incredibly soft hands and exceptional speed who simply knows what to do with the puck. Chekhovich is an opportunist with a strong grasp of play development who at times will toe the line between cherrypicking and taking acceptable risks. Still, he’s a finisher who can beat a goaltender in a variety of ways, specifically in and around the low slot, and there are times when he’ll chip in down low and provide defensive coverage, albeit with less frequency than you’d like. It’s his ability to jump into gaps up ice and create numerical superiority that stands out — he doesn’t leach onto his puck carrier but doesn’t wander into an impossible passing option. Chekhovich, who can kill penalties and play the wall on the power play, can furnish a hard, accurate shot, especially off the pass with the man advantage.
31. C Shane Bowers (Waterloo, USHL): Dynamic two-way player with a high IQ to compliment his many puck skills. Bowers can create or finish plays on the rush, and is very crafty and creative. He makes difficult plays look easy, especially in traffic while acting strong on the puck to handle harassment as he’s controlling in tight spaces. Committed to Boston University, Bowers looks to slip away into an open area with the hammer cocked, as he owns a lethal shot and can fire it with accuracy even if the puck is behind, in front of or in his skates. He’s deceptive on zone entries as he can use a speed burst for a cage rush, or slow it down and dump it off to a cutter or trailer.