The Fastest-Rising Prospects for the 2017 NHL Draft

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2017

The Fastest-Rising Prospects for the 2017 NHL Draft

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    The 2017 NHL draft is coming into view for scouts and fans who follow prospect progression. Several quality prospects increased their profile at the World Junior Championships over Christmas and then further helped their cause with outstanding performances at the recent Top Prospects Game in Quebec City.

    At this point in the draft season, we have an established list of notables and a group of players who are rising quickly inside the top 50 prospects. These men are mostly playing junior or college hockey and in some cases performing in European pro leagues. All are on the scouting radar for something unique: They have done one or more things to impress NHL teams who are projecting them into the future.

    Here are the fastest risers for the 2017 NHL draft.

6. Jake Oettinger, G, Boston University Terriers (NCAA)

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    His Performance This Season: Jake Oettinger is posting terrific numbers for the NCAA's Boston University. His .935 save percentage is a brilliant total.

    Why Is He Trending? Oettinger is one of several top-flight goalie prospects in this year's draft, with his big advantage being level of competition. Where other top prospects are playing Canadian junior or USHL hockey, Oettinger is flourishing in college hockey against much older competition.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? Oettinger is ranked No. 3 among North American goalies, but there is every chance he is the first goalie taken at the 2017 draft based on performance. No matter who drafts the big man—he is 6'4'', 205 pounds—he is a blue-chip NHL prospect whenever he turns pro.

5. Robert Thomas, C, London Knights (OHL)

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    His Performance This Season: Robert Thomas of the London Knights is delivering a strong season, approaching a point per game. He helped his cause with a strong showing at the Top Prospects Game and in the Memorial Cup last spring.

    Why Is He Trending? Thomas plays on a strong London Knights team and doesn't get as much opportunity to play in a feature role because of it. Playing in the prospects game, against players his own age, allowed him to display his skills on a level playing field. He had an impressive showing.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? Central Scouting had Thomas No. 28 among all North American skaters. Factoring in all four lists, that puts Thomas just inside the top 40. However, his strong offensive play this season should make him a surefire first-round selection. Expect him to go somewhere inside the top 30 overall at the 2017 draft.

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

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    His Performance This Season: Kailer Yamamoto of the Spokane Chiefs is ripping up the WHL, scoring 30 goals in 43 games.

    Why Is He Trending? Yamamoto's offense is so great, scouts may overlook his lack of size. Yamamoto—5'8'', 159 pounds—is going to have to overcome questions about size and durability, and his skills and performance will have to be on display in the second half in order for him to be chosen in a prominent spot.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? His Central Scouting ranking for midseason was No. 17, but he is among the top offensive talents in the draft. It is probably a stretch to suggest he will go inside the top 10, but look for his name early—possibly just outside the first one dozen names chosen for 2017.

3. Cale Makar, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)

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    His Performance This Season: Cale Makar of the Brooks Bandits is having a fantastic season in tier two hockey.

    Why Is He Trending? Makar's exceptional skills—he is fast and skilled—have been on display during the AJHL season and in major tournaments. He is ideally suited to the modern game and may be an impact NHL player in due time.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? Central Scouting has him No. 10 among North American skaters, but he could go higher based on his unique skills. Makar is still trending and could find his way inside the top five by the time we reach draft day. The AJHL has seen great players over the years who went on to NHL stardom—including all-time great Mark Messier—but in modern times having an impact draft pick from the league is highly unusual. That is a reflection of the talent level Makar brings to the game.

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

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    His Performance This Season: Owen Tippett of the Mississauga Steelheads is enjoying a breakout season including 38 goals in 46 OHL games.

    Why Is He Trending? Tippett is the top sniper in the draft based on his performance this season. The OHL is the best junior league in the world, and he is not far from a goal a game pace. His numbers this season have moved him past a host of potential lottery selections.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? He ranks No. 4 in midseason Central Scouting rankings and is likely to be chosen inside the top five overall. Central Scouting has four lists—two for skaters, two for goalies—but Tippett's scoring ability makes him unique.

1. Nico Hischier, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

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    His Performance This SeasonNico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads has been outstanding at all levels this season. He impressed at the World Juniors and Top Prospects game and is having an impact campaign in junior hockey this year.

    Why Is He Trending? Hischier is a talented offensive player and may be the most creative forward in the draft. His slick passing skills and elusive skating make him a top-flight prospect.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? Central Scouting has Hischier as the No. 2 player among North American Skaters, and he probably goes around that number. His exceptional offensive skills may mean he starts his NHL career in the fall, but it is too soon to know. The new team, Vegas Golden Knights, could win the second overall selection. If that happens, expect Hischier to come right to the NHL with the new expansion team.