Way-Too-Early 2017 NHL Draft Top 10 Prospect Rankings

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJuly 6, 2016

Way-Too-Early 2017 NHL Draft Top 10 Prospect Rankings

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    The ink is barely dry on the 2016 NHL entry draft, and teams and their scouts have already gathered lots of information on the 2017 edition.

    The draft last week featured three top forwards—Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi—followed by a dozen or more skaters of about equal value. That kind of knowledge comes only after a full season of observation, beginning at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August. 

    Some players currently in discussion for the top of the 2017 draft will fall away and stall in their developments. Still others—unknown now—will emerge during the season and become top picks by next June's draft.

    Here is a way-too-early ranking of 2017's 10 best prospects.

10. Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

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    The numbers: Owen Tippett of the Mississauga Steelheads scored 15 goals in 48 games in his OHL debut. 

    Scout’s take: Mike Morreale wrote an article for NHL.com recently, quoting various scouts about top-end players for 2017. NHL Central Scouting's Matt Ryan had this to say about the 17-year-old prospect: "[Tippett] has high-end goalscoring ability. He possesses an excellent release, has excellent speed and quickness and is very difficult to defend one-on-one."

    One thing to watch for in regard to Tippett: quality of playing time. Mississauga has several impact prospects—including Alex Nylander, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian—so a push in playing time may not be forthcoming in his draft year. If he forces his way up the depth chart and blossoms offensively, that could mean he climbs well inside the top 10 overall.

9. Eeli Tolvanen, LW, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)

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    The numbers: Eeli Tolvanen is a Finnish skill forward doing fine work with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. He scored 17 goals and 38 points in 49 games in his North American debut. He also starred in international competitions. 

    Scout’s take: In an article for the USHL site, Aaron Westendorf quoted Sioux City head coach Jay Varady on Tolvanen: “I think Eeli is similar to other top-level NHL-drafted players I have worked with in the past in the sense that he is ultra-competitive and wants to be the best. He has a strong desire to do the little things that will make him and his teammates be successful.”

    Tolvanen is not a big player—5'11'', 174 pounds—but he is an April 1999 and scored well in a great junior league. That kind of resume puts him in a position to get plenty of exposure from NHL scouts this coming winter. If he can spike offensively, expect him to be a high pick despite the lack of size.

8. Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie High (USHS)

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    The numbers: Casey Mittelstadt is a star high school player for Eden Prairie in Minnesota. In 25 games this past season, he scored 22 goals and 59 points—and he impressed at the U18 World Juniors. 

    Scout’s take: Morreale discussed Mittelstadt in a June article for NHL.com and quoted NHL Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen: "He's quick and fast with or without the puck. He's got very good puck skills and a high-end compete level."

    It is difficult to project high school players in regard to offense, so for Mittelstadt, the coming season is going to be important to his final draft number. He is slated to play for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, and the numbers he posts there will inform scouts about his true potential. Based on the early returns, he looks to be a solid prospect.

7. Callan Foote, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

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    The numbers: Callan Foote of the Kelowna Rockets posted a solid offensive season in his WHL debut. His 36 points in 71 games—including eight goals—suggest a promising two-way defender. 

    Scout’s take: Foote is the son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote. In an interview with Kelly Friesen of Buzzing The Net, Callan talked about how his father's guidance was helping his progress.

    “We talk a lot, and he gives me good advice," Callan said. "He went through the same process as me except he played in the OHL. He knows how it works, and we can talk strategy on how to handle certain things on the ice.”

    The 17-year-old Foote is 6'3'', 198 pounds, so he may end up being as physically intimidating as his father once he arrives in the NHL. The offensive potential is what has him inside the top 10 overall. If he can bring Adam's physicality with some offensive punch, NHL teams will be lining up to draft him.

6. Gabriel Vilardi, C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

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    The numbers: Gabriel Vilardi of the Windsor Spitfires enters his draft season as a bona fide prospect—courtesy of 17 goals and 38 points in his OHL debut. 

    Scout’s take: Vilardi is a big forward—he is 6'2'', 185 pounds—with excellent hands. Robert Nasso of Today's Slapshot had some notes on Vilardi and mentioned his speed as another positive on his resume. The 16-year-old will need to improve his numbers this coming year, as there are others in his age group who were as successful offensively in 2015-16.

5. Kristian Vesalainen, W, Frolunda HC (SuperElit)

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    The numbers: Kristian Vesalainen plays for Frolunda in Sweden in the SuperElit league. He scored 15 goals and 34 points in 37 games this year, and he played 19 games in the SHL—Sweden's top pro league. 

    Scout’s take: Craig Button of TSN has a lot of praise for Vesalainen: "Big, assertive, imposes himself physically on opponents and is taking space with the idea to break down opponents. Powerful skater with good agility and combined with size, can beat you multiple ways."

    His size is impressive. He is a June 1999-born prospect, yet he's already 6'3'', 203 pounds. Add to that the fact he has already played in the SHL—a man's league—and Vesalainen could very well move closer to No. 1 overall by draft day.

4. Maxime Comtois, C, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)

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    The numbers: Maxime Comtois had a strong season in the QMJHL for the Victoriaville Tigres. His 60 points in 62 games included 26 goals. 

    Scout’s take: Ryan Kennedy of the Hockey News discussed Comtois as a player in an April article: "At 6'1", 192 pounds, Comtois already has pro size, and he’ll only get stronger in the future. With his combination of skills, the under-18s likely won’t be his last tournament in a Team Canada jersey."

    The size mentioned by Kennedy—6'1'', 192 pounds—is only part of his skill set. He has good speed and plays a fairly complete game for a player of his age. Entering his draft year, Comtois appears to be one of the more complete forwards in the 2017 draft.

3. Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)

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    The numbers: Kailer Yamamoto of the Spokane Chiefs delivered an outstanding season with 71 points in 57 games—including 19 goals—in 2015-16.

    Scout’s take: Yamamoto's head coach in Spokane is Don Nachbaur. Friesen quoted Nachbaur about the Chiefs' young star: "What has made him successful is how he has continued to work and improve. He started the year on the fourth line and worked his way up. He’s worked hard on the forecheck and done the little things to earn that ice time."

    Yamamoto was born in September 1998, so he will be one of the older players drafted in 2017. It should be expected that he will post terrific numbers as an older player, and the fact he has been so successful in two full WHL seasons means we should expect exceptional offense in 2016-17.

2. Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle BK (SHL)

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    The numbers: Timothy Liljegren flourished at two levels of Swedish hockey in 2015-16. In the top pro league—the SHL—he scored a goal and had five points in 19 games. In the SuperElit league for U20 players, Liljegren posted 22 points in 29 games, including seven goals. 

    Scout’s take: TSN's Craig Button had an early look at Liljegren in November 2015. 

    "Elite defenceman who can impact the game everywhere on the ice," Button wrote. "Smarts and vision that is reserved for the very few. Outstanding skater in every regard and uses it to gain advantages defensively and offensively. Puck play is excellent and can thread the needle with a pass or a shot."

    He starred for Sweden at both the U17 and U18 World Juniors this past season, and the fact he played in the SHL at 16 is exceptional. His ability to post five points in 19 games suggests we may be dealing with a special player.

1. Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

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    The numbers: Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings posted an outstanding season. He scored 41 goals and 102 points in 72 games.

    Scout’s take: Button is convinced of Patrick's skills and has been for some time. He told Gary Lawless about him in a recent article for TSN.

    “Nolan is a franchise centre with the attributes that speaks to," Button said. "He’s an offensive catalyst who can score and create and grind. He’s a leader, and he’s the backbone of a franchise.”

    Patrick is already a famous prospect—he played in the 2016 Memorial Cup for Brandon after an outstanding playoff run—and is a strong early candidate for No. 1 overall in 2017. His size (6'3'', 195 lbs) makes him a formidable player at this level. He is easily the most dominant offensive player in his age group in the WHL at this time.

    Note: All advanced statistics via Hockey Relativity.