NHL Draft Combine 2017: Dates, Schedule, Format and Top Prospects

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2017

QUEBEC CITY, QC - JANUARY 30:   Nolan Patrick #19 of Team Cherry looks on during the third period of his Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at the Videotron Center on January 30, 2017 in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images)
Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images

The 2017 NHL combine kicks off Monday in Buffalo, New York, and it will continue over the course of the week with interviews, medical testing and fitness testing on the schedule.

While this year's class doesn't appear to be as stacked as recent incarnations, forwards Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier are potential superstars in the making who figure to come off the board with the first two picks, barring an upset.

Ahead of the 2017 combine, here is a rundown of the schedule, as well as further analysis regarding the best prospects who will be in attendance.

     

NHL Combine Schedule

Monday, May 29: One-on-one interviews.

Tuesday, May 30: One-on-one interviews.

Wednesday, May 31: One-on-one interviews.

Thursday, June 1: One-on-one interviews and medical testing.

Friday, June 2: One-on-one interviews.

Saturday, June 3: Fitness testing.

     

Top Prospects to Watch

Nolan Patrick

Patrick entered the 2016-17 season as the clear favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, but injuries derailed his campaign.

He was limited to just 33 games by groin and leg ailments, although he still managed to put up 20 goals and 46 points after registering 41 goals and 102 points the previous season.

While there is some concern regarding Patrick's durability, he is confident he can hold up to the rigors of an NHL season, according to Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post:

"It's part of the game. I'm just hoping I got my injuries out of the way early in my career instead of later. It is what it is, but for me being negative about it wasn't gonna help me heal any quicker. I'm confident I can play a whole season without getting injured. Last season I played [105] games so I'm confident in my abilities and confident that I'm healthy."

Provided injuries are a thing of the past for Patrick, it will be difficult for the New Jersey Devils to pass him up at No. 1 overall.

Patrick has all the tools needed to be an All-Star-caliber No. 1 center in the NHL for many years to come, which is precisely what the Devils need in order to return to contention.

      

Nico Hischier

Hischier wasn't on many draft radars prior to the 2016-17 campaign, but he made his presence felt for the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads after making the move from Switzerland.

The talented, two-way forward scored 38 goals to go along with 48 assists for 86 points during the regular season and added another seven points in six playoff contests.

In addition to displaying more durability than Patrick, with 57 regular-season games played, Hischier was also a far superior even-strength player, per Saskatoon Blades analytics consultant Todd Cordell:

Hischier may be a bit less risky than Patrick from an injury perspective, and he also appears to be a more well-rounded player because of his defensive capabilities.

Patrick is much more of a prototypical No. 1 center because of his size and playmaking ability, but Hischier has performed well enough over the past year to create some debate.

If Hischier is able to clearly outperform Patrick at the combine, then the Devils may be forced to consider going with the Swiss star at No. 1.

       

Gabriel Vilardi

While there is a clear separation between the two aforementioned players and the rest of the draft class, forward Gabriel Vilardi has emerged as an intriguing option beginning with the No. 3 pick.

Vilardi is a big-bodied player, at 6'2" and nearly 200 pounds. He also has plenty of skill, as evidenced by his 29 goals and 61 points in 49 games for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires in 2016-17.

He has plenty of experience at both center and on the wing, and NHL Central Scouting's Matt Ryan believes he is adept at using his size to his advantage, per NHL.com's Dave Hogg: "He's very composed with the puck and uses his vision and playmaking ability to influence the game in all three zones. He excels below the dots in the offensive zone where he uses his size and reach to dictate the play and generate scoring opportunities."

Vilardi could conceivably go anywhere from third to the outer reaches of the top 10, which makes the combine hugely important to him.

He appears to have the athletic makeup needed to impress the scouts in attendance, which could go a long way toward solidifying Vilardi as a top-five selection.