Last year, I did a mock draft for the first time (here) and it was well received. So this will be something I do every year now. As I mentioned last year, while I cover the OHL extensively, I'm a hockey prospect nut in general and as such, have a fair amount of knowledge of the other players available.
This year, the draft should be very interesting. Outside of the top 4 or 5, there really doesn't seem to be much of a consensus among draft rankings. In what is being deemed an "average" draft year by NHL executives, I think we'll see two things happen. 1), A lot of deals, as teams try to secure the rights to the couple of players that they truly believe in, in this draft. And 2), A few shockers as teams reach for upside in the opening round. In a draft lacking a lot of potential top end offensive players, I think we'll see a premium put on offensive upside. We could see several guys (especially European guys, as I feel that the European crop is stronger than the NA crop for top end talent this year) who are rated in that 2nd/3rd round range right now, end up being selected in the first. Even then, the rankings for the 20-30 spots in the first round are all over the place anyway.
And well...because I'm admittedly cheering for Nashville to take home the Cup, I've got them picking last (which hopefully doesn't serve as a jinx).
Without further ado, here's my mock draft for 2017.
1. New Jersey Devils - Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)
The first time the New Jersey Devils have had the first overall pick in the NHL Draft. They've done pretty well drafting inside the Top 3 though (Brendan Shanahan, Scott Niedermayer). While NHL scouts seem split on Patrick vs. Hischier, I see the Devils favouring Patrick. Firstly, they would have seen a lot of Patrick (even with his injuries) because they've been scouting their own player, John Quenneville. Secondly, the Devils are a team that haven't drafted much out of the QMJHL historically (even with a GM change and Director of Scouting change). And the picks they have made from the league have not developed well for them (Eric Gelinas, Patrice Cormier, and Stefan Matteau, who went to the QMJHL after being drafted). The Devils' pipeline is already loaded at center with the likes of Michael McLeod, Pavel Zacha, Blake Speers, and others, but if Patrick is the guy you believe will be the best player, you take him. That said, it wouldn't shock me one bit if the Devils traded down a few spots (with say Dallas or Vancouver), to select Miro Heiskanen or another defender, as it's a desperate need for the pro club and the pipeline.
2. Philadelphia Flyers - Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
The Flyers have shown a massive love for the QMJHL in recent years at the draft, so it wouldn't shock me at all if Hischier was their first choice over Patrick. His dynamic offensive ability, hockey sense, and two-way ability has seen him draw comparisons to Henrik Zetterberg. And that's precisely the type of player that would fit well into a Flyers' lineup that could compete again next year if they can upgrade their defense and get better goaltending. Hischier's smarts would probably allow him to slide right into Philadelphia's top 9 next year, as a possible linemate for great playmakers like Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek.
3. Dallas Stars - Casey Mittelstadt, Green Bay (USHL)
As I mentioned earlier, I could really see the Stars making a play for the first overall pick to grab Nolan Patrick. With Jason Spezza's age catching up to him, this is a team that could really use a top flight center for the future. It's something that they haven't really drafted in a few years and with a top 3 pick, it's their best chance to try to grab one (whether it's Patrick, Mittelstadt, Vilardi, Glass, etc). Dallas really needs to hit a home run with this pick as they haven't drafted incredibly well in recent years and they haven't picked inside the Top 5 since 1996 (Richard Jackman). Mittelstadt is the complete package offensively and is likely pretty close to being NHL ready. Having drafted Riley Tufte last year, a player who spent time in the Minnesota high school league, they are no doubt very familiar with Mittelstadt (who's the same age thanks to a late birth date). While Glass and Vilardi would be good picks here too, I think familiarity gives Mittelstadt the edge.
4. Colorado Avalanche - Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Liiga)
The Avs are a team that just can't seem to find consistent success despite having a solid collection of talent, (young talent at that). No question, the biggest need this team has is on defense, both from a pro stand point and from a farm/prospect stand point. Having drafted Rantanen, Jost, Greer, and acquiring JT Compher, this team looks great up front. But the Avs just haven't been able to draft and develop a true first pairing defender in recent years. And while you never want to reach for a player based on positional need, I think it's safe to say Miro Heiskanen isn't a reach. The talented Finnish defender was a marvel at the U18's this year, where his creativity with the puck helped him dominate from the back end. There's no question that as he develops, he could be a top pairing defender.
5. Vancouver Canucks - Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
I don't think there's any question that the Canucks are targeting one of the top centers available with this pick. As I mentioned, I could also see them trading up to #1 to get Patrick. If they stay at #5, on one hand, I'm tempted to say that the Canucks would favor Gabe Vilardi because of how much they've drafted from the OHL in recent years. And he'd be a fine pick (as if you read this blog, you know I'm a big fan). But, I think that their scouting staff will favor a guy like Cody Glass instead because of the speed component he brings to the table. One thing that the Canucks' scouting staff has really focused on the last few years is bringing in players who can really skate so that they can play a higher tempo game as the Sedins are phased out. And Glass is the guy for that, with a high motor to match great hockey sense. I think he's the best fit for the type of team that they're building.
6. Las Vegas Golden Knights - Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)
I don't think anyone really knows what the Golden Knights will do at the draft this year. Scott Luce (director of scouting) was formerly the head honcho in Florida and during his time there, the team really showed no bias when it came to drafting inside the first round. Either way, this team has to select the player they believe will be the best moving forward. A true BPA situation. And I think that player is Gabe Vilardi. His vision, playmaking ability, and strength down low, makes him an ideal top 6 center for today's age because he controls the possession game and increases time of possession with his ability to control the wall. His skating isn't great, but he's close to being pro ready IMO and is the type of kid that the Golden Knights could be comfortable building their team around.
7. Arizona Coyotes - Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
If there is one thing that the Coyotes can afford to do, it's take a chance by drafting the player they feel has the highest upside; that true boom/bust prospect. Arizona has, quite possibly, the top collection of young talent in the league right now. This is especially true at the forward position. So why not swing for the fences with a guy like Makar? His offensive prowess and skating ability is top notch and he might possess the most potential of any player in this draft. Coming out of the AJHL, it's tough to gauge how well his skills will translate, and he's probably a longer term project. But I think this franchise is in a position to shoot for the stars, especially when it comes to adding a blueliner. While I was tempted to have them selecting Owen Tippett, to add another goal scorer to their fold, I think they best represent the team who can afford to take a chance on Makar.
8. Buffalo Sabres - Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
While I think Buffalo would love to add a quality blueline prospect to the pipeline (such as Liljegren, or Valimaki), they opt instead to add a big center to their stable. While there is no doubt that the Sabres have a ton of offensive talent, I think the one thing that they could really use is a net presence who can score. And Rasmussen can also skate with their top end offensive players like Eichel, Nylander, Reinhart, etc. His rankings seem to be pretty polarizing among scouting services, but Rasmussen has consistently been among the higher rated players by Bob McKenzie, which shows how much actual NHL scouts love him and the concept of having a big bodied center who can drive the middle of the ice and play the front of the net.
9. Detroit Red Wings - Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)
The Red Wings have been one of the lowest scoring teams in the league the last two years. So if there's a dynamic goal scorer available, you'd have to imagine the Wings jump at the chance to draft them. Sure there are some concerns over Tippett's overall game and hockey sense, but his size and goal scoring potential have to make him an alluring attraction. And the Wings would have seen a ton of him this year while keeping tabs on Saarijarvi. If the Wings don't take Tippett here, I could really see them opting for a smart two-way center like Lias Andersson or Nick Suzuki, even if they don't have elite size. If you can't draft a goal scorer, you take guys who can make good goal scorers out of other players.
10. Florida Panthers - Elias Pettersson, Timra (Allsvenskan)
Pettersson is a high skilled offensive winger who put up some great numbers in the Swedish second league this year. He's a late '98, so he's probably a lot closer to contributing at the NHL level than some other players at this draft slot. There are some questions about the consistency of his compete level and whether he has what it takes to play through traffic at the NHL level. But he's very slightly built and adding strength could cure what ails him. There's a lot of offensive potential here if you're willing to take that gamble. He seems like he could be a very good fit with the current group of young NHL forwards that the Panthers have.
11. Los Angeles Kings - Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)
To me, Suzuki just screams an LA Kings pick this year. They would have gotten a great look at him this year while watching last year's draft pick Jacob Friend. And his intelligence at both ends of the ice would be a real asset to a Kings' pipeline that is super bare right now. Even though Suzuki isn't the biggest, his tenacity and work ethic make him an ideal Western Conference player. The player he's compared to most (Joe Pavelski) has been a true workhorse in that Conference. And while his skating is only average (certainly not below average), the Kings have never been one to be scared away by poor skating in their draft picks. Again, to me, Suzuki just seems like the perfect Mike Futa player.
12. Carolina Hurricanes - Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (SHL)
Even though the Hurricanes took Julien Gauthier last year, I could see them taking another big bodied winger this year to continue to compliment some of the great young playmakers that they've assembled. Vesalainen came into the year as a potential top 10 pick, then dropped in the rankings due to a relatively mediocre year (playing against men). But a fantastic U18's seems to have really elevated his status back to lottery selection. Bottom line, big, skilled wingers don't last long at the NHL draft and are almost always scooped up early if they can skate like Vesalainen can.
13. Winnipeg Jets - Erik Brannstrom, HV-71 (SHL)
The Jets have one of the deepest prospect groups in the entire NHL. Their collection of young talent is almost unmatched in the league. So in a draft like this one, I think it makes perfect sense for them to go for a home run at the 13th overall pick. Take a guy who has extremely high upside and swing for the fences. If there's one thing that the Jets do lack right now, it's a true powerplay QB who can dominate a game offensively. And Brannstrom is just that, perhaps the defender in the draft with the most offensive upside behind Cale Makar. He's undersized, but his offensive abilities were on full display at the U18's and he's drawn rave reviews from scouts for his vision and poise with the puck. I think this is a selection that could make sense for a lot of different reasons.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning - Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
If there is a team in the league who's had success drafting and developing out of Russia lately, it's the Lightning. Kostin had a tough year with injuries and lack of playing time, but he possesses some of the highest offensive potential of any forward in the draft. Kostin also has great size, something else that the Lightning could use from their forwards. Could also see the Lightning going after Nic Hague here, a defender with great size and we know how much Steve Yzerman loves drafting out of the OHL.
15. New York Islanders - Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCAA)
I see the Islanders going one of two ways with this selection. The first would be targeting a solid defender with size like a Nic Hague. The second, and the way I have them selecting, is a solid two-way center. Lias Andersson would make a lot of sense, but I think Poehling makes more sense. Speed, two-way hustle, and perhaps an underrated ability to produce offensively. The Isles missed the contributions of a guy like Frans Nielson and Poehling projects as that type of player, even if I was slightly underwhelmed by him at the U18's.
16. Calgary Flames - Lias Andersson, HV-71 (SHL)
Andersson is a guy I could see going as high as 9th to Detroit, but he ends up falling a bit to the Flames, who would be happy to add another quality two-way center to their prospect pool. Some question his upside because of how low his offensive numbers were against men as a late '98, but when he's performed against his peers, his offensive production has been stellar. I could also see Calgary going in the opposite direction and taking Nic Hague here, a big defender with a big shot who could (along with Hickey) compliment some of the under-average sized offensive blueliners that the Flames have accumulated for the future.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs - Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)
I really don't know what way the Leafs will go with this pick. They could take Martin Necas, a talented offensive winger from the Czech Republic. They could go with big defender Nic Hague. They could take another talented smaller player in Eeli Tolvanen. But I see them looking to try to add more size to their forward group, which is already relatively small in stature. Ratcliffe is a boom or bust prospect, but if he pans out, he'll be the perfect compliment to guys like Marner and Nylander. A hulking winger who can skate with them, clear room for them, and finish off their passes. Ratcliffe has a booming shot, but he needs to get stronger to use his 6'6 frame more effectively. With how often the Leafs have gone to the OHL of late, this pick makes sense for a lot of reasons.
18. Boston Bruins - Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Extraliga)
Necas falls in the draft a bit due to a poor finish to the year (a very underwhelming Five Nations & U18's), but the Bruins scoop him up just inside the Top 20. His strong skating and playmaking ability gives him a lot of offensive potential if he can iron out some of the consistency issues he's had. The Bruins have a quality prospect pool and Necas gives them another potential high impact forward who can play at a high tempo moving forward. Hopefully he's more the guy we saw at the World Junior's (U20) though.
19. San Jose Sharks - Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
The Sharks opt to go with one of the top goal scoring options in the draft this year, despite his lack of size at 5'10. Big shot and tons of speed to burn, his offensive potential is among the highest of any player in this draft. There are concerns about his toughness and overall play though. But given the fact that the Sharks leadership group is aging fast, and they just dealt Nikolai Goldobin, I think San Jose tries to hit a home run with this pick, taking the player remaining who has the highest upside in their eyes.
20. St. Louis Blues - Nic Hague, Mississauga (OHL)
Admittedly, not really sure what I see the Blues doing with this pick. IMO, they've drafted exceptionally well the last few years. However, last year they didn't draft a single defender. They do have some young defenders contributing at the NHL level (Parayko and Edmundson), and close to contributing (Dunn and Walman), but Hague is the type of guy you need to win in the Western Conference. A hulking defender, who at the very least could develop into a solid top 4 shut down guy, but does possess offensive upside because of a big point shot and good hockey IQ inside the offensive zone. Could be the perfect compliment to a guy like Dunn or Walman in the future. And the Blues have most certainly favoured the OHL in recent years.
21. New York Rangers - Robert Thomas, London (OHL)
Remarkably, the Rangers haven't had a first round pick since 2012 (Brady Skjei), and this pick is the only one they have inside the first three rounds this year. Needless to say, it's critical that they pick up a player who can play for them in the future. Thomas is a guy who I feel is a safe bet to play at the NHL because of his skill level and hockey IQ. As a playmaker, he has to be one of the best available and under the tutelage of the Knights' coaching staff, he's only going to get better. There's a couple quality defenders left on the board at this point, but if the Rangers do have a strength in their weak prospect pool, it's on the blueline.
22. Edmonton Oilers - Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (SHL)
Liljegren finally goes after falling pretty significantly. At the beginning of the season, it was thought that he would be a candidate for the top 5, but a season mired by poor offensive production and a bout with mono, really seemed to cause him to lose favor with scouts. But I thought he looked pretty decent at the U18's this year. And he still possesses the type of two-way, top 4 potential that the Oilers could use on the backend. Really the perfect storm that he falls to them at this spot.
23. Arizona Coyotes - Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)
The Coyotes had good luck with the last Boston University commit that they drafted (Keller), so why not go right back there. After taking one of the biggest boom/bust players with the 7th overall pick (Makar), the Coyotes take one of the safest players in the draft in Bowers. He's a very well rounded player who still put up some very good numbers in the USHL this year and perhaps that means his offensive potential is being underrated for the next level. However, even though it would mean taking back to back smaller players in draft years, I could also see the Yotes being interested in Kailer Yamamoto here. And if they want a player in the same vein as Bowers, they could look at a guy like Grant Mismash from the USNDP.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets - Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)
This isn't the year 1999. Small players can not only play in the NHL in the year 2017, they can succeed as stars. The ultra talented, yet 5'8 forward was among the WHL's leading scorers this year on a relatively weak Spokane team. The Blue Jackets took a similar type of player last year in Vitaly Abramov, but many teams in the NHL have proven that skill wins out more than anything in today's day and age. The Jackets have drafted enough size in recent years to support having a few smaller, skilled players in their lineup.
25. Montreal Canadiens - Grant Mismash, USNDP (USHL)
2008 was the last time the U.S. Under 18 team didn't have a first round pick and while this year looks like it could happen, I believe Mismash will be a first rounder. Was very impressed with him at the Under 18's and he has the size and plays the power game that the Canadiens so desperately need to add to their forward group. He's going to North Dakota next year and will have a few years to continue to develop his offensive game. At worst, the Canadiens could have a solid 3rd line center for the future, but at best, they could have a top 6 power forward who can play the front of the net on the powerplay for them.
26. Chicago Blackhawks - Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Timmins is a smart, skilled, two-way defender who also happens to be a right shot. He's got great vision and rarely makes a mistake with the puck. He also battles hard in the defensive end and shows a fair amount of intensity. I think that the Hawks would love to add another skilled defender to their prospect group and Timmins strikes me as the type of guy that they would look at. They could also go Valimaki or Vaakanainen, but they've loved the OHL in recent years and would have no doubt seen a lot of Timmins this year.
27. St. Louis Blues - Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)
After taking Hague with their first pick, the Blues grab Robertson with their 2nd. Robertson just seems like a Blues' selection to me and I think he fits in really nicely with what they've built moving forward. His skating is rough, but you can't ignore the fact that he was in on nearly 50% of his team's offensive production this year. Big guy with silky mitts who could really find a lot of success playing with a guy like Robby Fabbri. And of course (like I mentioned with Hague), the Blues love them some OHL players.
28. Ottawa Senators - Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
One of the biggest risers in the second half of the season would be Pierre-Olivier Joseph (brother to Tampa prospect Mathieu). He's a smooth skating, two-way defender who brings a lot of potential to the table once he fills out. He's also part of the leadership group in Charlottetown already and is said to be a potential captain for the team next year. The Sens would have gotten a long look at him while scouting Thomas Chabot this year and he fits well within what the organization is trying to do right now.
29. Dallas Stars - Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)
Quite the fall for Valimaki, a player a lot of scouting agencies seem to have as a potential lottery candidate. But I know there are concerns over his skating ability from the blueline, and if there's one thing I've learned about covering the draft all these years, it's that defenders with skating decencies almost always drop. With two first rounders, the Stars can take a chance on Valimaki, whose raw offensive ability makes him one of the top offensive blueliners available this year. He has everything you're looking for in a future powerplay QB.
30. Pittsburgh Penguins - Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Liiga)
The Pens are picking in the first round for only the 2nd time in the last five years. They've got some quality young forwards in the pipeline, but they could definitely add another defender if the fit is right. Well Vaakanainen seems like a perfect fit for the Pens and just happens to be the best player available IMO. I was very impressed with him at the U18's, where he had an impact at both ends of the ice. I think there's more offensive upside than scouts are giving him credit for, but at the very least, he could develop into a dependable second pairing guy, similar to what Olli Maatta should have become already if not for the injuries and illnesses.
31. Nashville Predators - Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Spokane (WHL)
I see the Preds gravitating towards a guy like Anderson-Dolan. A hard working center with some offensive upside. He put up good numbers this year and is one of the youngest players available in the draft this year. I definitely wasn't that impressed with him at the Under 18's, but the Predators love their WHL guys and could really use a player like Anderson-Dolan in their system. I could also see them targeting a guy like Maxime Comtois (for his size and skill package), or a playmaking center like Joni Ikonen. The guy they should target is Jonah Gadjovich, but Preds haven't drafted an OHL player since 2011 so I can't see them using their first on one.