NHL Mock Draft 2017: Projecting Every 1st-Round Pick

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJune 20, 2017

NHL Mock Draft 2017: Projecting Every 1st-Round Pick

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    The 2017 NHL Entry Draft kicks off with the first round on Friday, and hockey fans are building up to the annual frenzy. This year's draft pool doesn't have an Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid, but that increases the level of interest—a team drafting No. 5 overall may in fact be drafting the best player available, as there are several players who are basically equal. 

    We are already getting indications that teams are willing to trade down, but we haven't heard about many who are in a hurry to trade up, and that reflects the quality at the top.

    The New Jersey Devils have the first overall selection, and general manager Ray Shero may prefer a defenseman. This puts him in a difficult spot, as the highest-ranked players are forwards. Will he go with the team's biggest need and draft a defender? Or will the Devils call out for Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, the two consensus picks at the top of 2017's draft. 

    Here, in reverse order, is a projection of every first-round pick in this year's draft. 

No. 31 Through No. 26: Pittsburgh Penguins Through Chicago Blackhawks

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    31. Pittsburgh Penguins: Jason Robertson of the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) is one of the best scorers in this year's draft. His 42 goals in 68 OHL games is eye-popping, and when you add in the poor quality of his team, his becomes an even bigger story. Robertson has top-10 talent save for his speed, and every year the NHL game becomes more reliant on it. The Penguins are a team that can afford to take the risk on a boom/bust option and could be repaid handsomely if things turn out. 

    30. Nashville Predators: Shane Bowers of the Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL) gets noticed instantly because of his blazing speed. His offense is shy of the other forwards in the first round, and the questions about his potential revolve around the offense. He's a safe pick even if he doesn't take another step, but if he blossoms as a scorer, he would be an absolute steal. 

    29. Dallas Stars (from Anaheim Ducks): Alexei Lipanov is a skilled Russian forward whose draft ranking ranges from first round to third round. He impressed at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament with quality two-way play and speed. He has the potential to be the best center on his team, even at the pro level, and that outer marker potential lands him inside the first round. 

    28. Ottawa Senators: Aleksi Heponiemi of the Swift Current Broncos (WHL) put himself on the radar for scouts with a fine performance at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and then delivered outstanding play all year in the WHL. He is a creative playmaker and can stickhandle in traffic effectively. Vision and creativity are his calling cards and should get him drafted inside the first round. 

    27. St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals): Joshua Norris played for the U.S. National Development Team in 2016-17, emerging as the team's No. 1 center. His biggest asset is skating, and he also has the ability to play an intelligent two-way game. Offensively, he projects as a second-line option, although there may be another gear for him over the next couple of seasons. The Blues are a solid drafting team, and Norris has the range St. Louis often looks for in players. 

    26. Chicago Blackhawks: Kole Lind of the Kelowna Rockets (WHL) brings a lot of offense to the game. His primary attributes are skill and speed, and it's likely he emerges as more of a playmaker than a scorer. The nature of this year's draft is such that Lind could go anywhere from No. 15 to No. 40, and he is excellent value for Chicago at No. 26. 

No. 25 Through No. 21: Montreal Canadiens to New York Rangers

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    25. Montreal Canadiens: Nicolas Hague of the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) is an attractive prospect for NHL teams. He is one of the biggest men in the draft at 6'6", 214 pounds and skates well. Hague can move the puck effectively and has a big shot that he uses well. Montreal would be drafting an effective defender who is good at passing and might be part of the power play at some point in time. That's a nice array of skills for a late first-round pick. 

    24. Columbus Blue Jackets: Isaac Ratcliffe of the Guelph Storm (OHL) is a giant on skates. At 6'5", 203 pounds, he is impossible to ignore and effective as a forechecker. His speed makes him dangerous offensively, although his 28 goals in 67 games suggest Ratcliffe may end up on a checking line at the NHL level. There may be another gear in development, and if that happens, the Blue Jackets will have stolen a top-10 talent late in the first round. 

    23. Arizona Coyotes (via Minnesota Wild): Arizona goes defense with the second of its two first-rounders in 2017, choosing Callan Foote from the Kelowna Rockets (WHL). His father, Adam Foote, was a fierce shutdown defender, but Cal has a range of skills and is best described as a two-way type. He plays a smart game and could go anywhere after No. 10 overall, representing excellent value for Arizona at No. 23. 

    22. Edmonton Oilers: Erik Brannstrom of HV71 (SHL) is an undersized defenseman with game-breaking skill. His intelligent play combined with terrific foot speed make him dangerous at even strength and on the power play. Brannstrom broke late; he was not ranked as a first-round option early in the season. Edmonton's prospect pool sets up for a forward here, but the best player available is Brannstrom by some margin. 

    21. New York Rangers: Lias Andersson is a center already playing pro for HV71 of the SHL in Sweden. He has a 200-foot game, meaning Andersson will be reliable in all areas. Offensively, he is productive and could play a feature role if that area of his game continues to develop. New York hasn't drafted in the first round since 2012, so it needs to make this selection count. Andersson is a safe pick and should emerge as a top-six forward when he arrives in the NHL. 

No. 20 Through No. 16: St. Louis Blues Through Calgary Flames

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    20. St. Louis Blues: Juuso Valimaki of the Tri-City Americans (WHL) is a quality defenseman with a range of skills. His most impressive asset is foot speed, which he uses to close defensive gaps. He is an excellent passer but lacks the kind of offensive potential that suggests he'll be a power-play dynamo once in the NHL. There are flashier defensemen in this draft but Valimaki can defend and move the puck well. 

    19. San Jose Sharks: Kristian Vesalainen's draft stock increased markedly with a fantastic performance at the World Under-18 Championship. His skill set has never been in question, a combination of power and speed. The Sharks are going to need fresh troops up front in the next few years. Vesalainen should be able to fill a feature role if that offensive flash in the spring is representative of his real ability. 

    18. Boston Bruins: Robert Thomas of the London Knights (OHL) is a fine two-way center prospect. He posted 50 assists in 2016-17 despite playing a secondary offensive role. He has plus speed and is skilled enough to be projected into a feature role at even strength, penalty kill and power play. 

    17. Toronto Maple Leafs: Eeli Tolvanen of the Sioux City Musketeers (USHL) is one of the best pure shooters in the draft. His quickness and deft hands get him into scoring zones and his release allows him to score in bunches. His 30 goals in 52 USHL games are impressive and he starts shooting shortly after the anthem. The site Prospect-Stats.com has Tolvanen leading the league in shots-per-game by a wide margin which is indicative of his dominance. 

    16. Calgary Flames: Owen Tippett of the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) might be the best pure scorer in the draft. Blessed with plus speed and a great shot, he's also big enough—6'2", 203 pounds—to be able to compete successfully for loose pucks. The scouting report suggests Tippett is one-dimensional but scoring goals is the most important thing in the game and he could go even earlier. 

No. 15 Through No. 11: New York Islanders Through Los Angeles Kings

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    15. New York Islanders: Klim Kostin didn't play a lot in 2016-17, but when he did scouts couldn't stop talking about him. A fine skater with size—he is 6'3", 196 pounds—he lit up the Ivan Hlinka tournament with his exceptional skill and shot. The lack of viewing may be of concern to some teams, but the Islanders have shown in the past a willingness to take a chance in these situations. 

    14. Tampa Bay Lightning: One of the truly skilled players in this year's draft is Kailer Yamamoto of the Spokane Chiefs (WHL). Even at 5'8" and 159 pounds, he has enormous skill and is not a shy player when venturing into high traffic areas. Although NHL teams value size, there are many examples of small skill players flourishing and Yamamoto is a good bet to do the same. He scored 99 points in 65 games and is an intelligent player who gives opponents fits when the puck is on his stick. If Yamamoto can stay healthy, a re-draft five years from now may have him inside the top five in 2017.

    13. Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are a quality drafting team and big center Ryan Poehling from St. Cloud State (NCAA) is a style fit for them. At 6'3" and 185 pounds, Poehling has the kind of size NHL teams look for and brings enough skill to project as a top or second-line center. He was outstanding at the U18 World Championship for Team USA and arrived in college hockey at 17. That should mean a big offensive spike this year and a clearer view of his offense. Winnipeg is patient with its players, and thus, an ideal landing spot for Poehling. 

    12. Carolina Hurricanes: Timothy Liljegren plays for Rogle BK in Sweden's top league, the SHL. Entering the season, Liljegren was in the conversation for No. 1 overall, but a mediocre campaign has seen his stock fall during the year. That said, the things that got him noticed by scouts—mobility, great passing skills—are still part of his skill set. Liljegren is a somewhat risky pick, and Carolina has the best defensive prospect pool in hockey, but the Hurricanes should step up and grab the best player available at No. 12. 

    11. Los Angeles Kings: Michael Rasmussen of the Tri-City Americans (WHL) is a big man with skill. At 6'5", 203 pounds, he has the kind of size NHL teams love, and enough skill to project into a top-six forward role once he matures. Los Angeles is at an interesting time, where the team's veterans are no longer able to push the club to the top of the Pacific Division. A quick retooling is in order, and a big, skilled center like Rasmussen would be a fantastic addition to the group. 

No. 10 Through No. 6: Florida Panthers to Vegas Golden Knights

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    10. Florida Panthers: Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack (OHL) is a brilliant offensive player who posted the best offensive season among draft eligible players this past campaign. He has great vision, can thread the needle with a brilliant pass and is an outstanding shooter. Foot speed keeps him from being inside the top five overall, but the Panthers would be lucky to get his skill at No. 10 in 2017. 

    9. Detroit Red Wings: The last time Detroit drafted inside the top 10 overall was 1990. The club will want to make it count and may go with Elias Pettersson from Sweden's Timra club. He is a two-way forward and posted impressive numbers in the Swedish Allsvenskan league. Pettersson has a range of skills and could be the kind of complete player the Red Wings deployed successfully during their Stanley Cup runs in the 1990s and 2000s. 

    8. Buffalo Sabres: Buffalo is building a strong team that should emerge as a power in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18 if Jack Eichel stays healthy. Cale Makar of the Brooks Bandits (AJHL) is an elite-level, puck-moving defenseman and would add another element to a strong cluster of young talent. Scouts rave about Makar and call him an impact prospect, due to his skating and puck skills. He is the prototype modern defender because he's not spending much time in his own zone while controlling the play in the opponent's zone. He could be a massive home run pick for Buffalo. 

    7. Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes have had a checkered past at the draft table but had a fantastic 2016 draft, led by Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun. This year the club can build on current progress by drafting center Martin Necas of HC Kometa Brno of the Czech League. He's an amazing player with the puck and his elite speed means he's dangerous every shift. The only downside on Necas might be viewings, but his international performances this past winter gave scouts a great chance to see just how much talent he brings to a game. 

    6. Vegas Golden Knights: Casey Mittelstadt is from Eden Prairie Minnesota and split his playing time between his hometown hockey team and the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL). He is a perfect fit as the first franchise player in the history of the Las Vegas team. He is a complete player with the entire range of skills, and his skating and aggressive approach are top level. The only downside for Mittelstadt comes from his playing high school hockey for most of this season. Scouts would have preferred seeing him more in the USHL. He is off to the University of Minnesota this fall and will probably arrive in the NHL with Vegas in 2019. He'd be an excellent pick for the league's newest team. 

No. 5 Vancouver Canucks: Cody Glass, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

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    Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks (WHL) came from a long way back to arrive inside the top 10 in this year's draft. He wasn't among the players to watch at the beginning of the draft year but quickly drew attention with his impressive scoring numbers. 

    Glass posted 32 goals and 94 points in 69 games, showing incredible vision and passing ability in delivering a strong draft season. He is an excellent skater, and has the ability to elude defenders despite his size—he is 6'2" and 179 pounds.

    The Vancouver Canucks need a franchise player and Glass might be a perfect fit in the role. He needs to add to his lanky frame and continue to work on his play away from the puck. Those things aside, Glass looks like a complete player who should flourish in all elements of the game. 

No. 4: Colorado Avalanche: Miro Heiskanen, D, HIFK (Sm-Liiga)

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    In choosing Miro Heiskanen with the No. 4 overall selection, the Colorado Avalanche would finally devote an early selection to a defenseman. Since 2009, the club has drafted Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Jost inside the top 10 overall, without investing a selection on a defender. 

    Heiskanen is worth the high pick, boasting a wide range of skills and a mature, intelligent game. One of the reasons he ranks as the top defenseman in the draft is that he's a safe pick. Heiskanen may not be a 40-point defenseman in the NHL, but he's going to be an effective, mobile defender who can move the puck via pass or carry. He's willing to engage physically and his brilliant speed gets him out of trouble on the rare occasion where he misreads coverage. 

    Defensemen take longer to develop than forwards, so patience will be needed for the team selecting Heiskanen. Once he arrives, he should be able to play capably in all situations. Once he matures, Heiskanen has the skill set and aptitude to be one of the NHL's best at the position. 

    The Avalanche have an enormous need for defensive help at the NHL level, so drafting a defenseman who is two years away may seem counterproductive. In selecting Heiskanen, the Avalanche will be addressing an area of need with a solution who could be a foundation player for a decade or more. That's how winning teams address long-standing weaknesses. 

3. Dallas Stars: Gabriel Vilardi, C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

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    Gabriel Vilardi put any questions about his abilities to rest with an exceptional performance at the Memorial Cup this spring. His seven assists in four games led the Windsor Spitfires to an exciting national championship, electrifying the hometown fans. 

    Vilardi brings size—he is 6'2" and 192 pounds—and a lot of skill, as his 61 points in 49 OHL games shows. Vilardi on the power play is money, in fact, any time he has the puck in the offensive zone he is dangerous. He can also score goals, posting 29 during the regular season. He's an elite passer, can find the open man in a heartbeat and can win battles. Foot speed keeps him from being considered for the top spot but he's going to be able to get around well enough in the NHL. 

    The team drafting Vilardi might be tempted to keep him in the NHL, especially if he performs well in training camp. However, there are areas that need to be improved, so bet on another season in the OHL. 

    The Dallas Stars will want to add skill to a current prospect pool that needs an impact player. Vilardi looks like a sure thing and might be able to play in the NHL beginning in 2018. His offensive range is impressive and the defensive side should develop as he matures. Vilardi's  power-play ability may end up being the most impressive tool in his arsenal and that alone should ensure scoring success in the NHL. 

2. Philadelphia Flyers: Nico Hischier, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

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    The most dynamic offensive player in this year's draft is Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads. Fans don't spend much time in their seats when Hischier has the puck. He's fast and creative, with the ability to elude defenders and make quick adjustments. Hischier is a delight to watch and a very effective offensive player. 

    One of the best things about Hischier is his determination and willingness to get into good scoring areas. According to the Prospect-Stats.com shot heat map, an overwhelming number of his shots come from high-traffic danger areas. That is reflected in his 38 goals for Halifax this past season. He is anything but a perimeter player. 

    Hischier is easily skilled and mature enough to play in the NHL this coming season, but it will depend on the team drafting him. If he does return to junior hockey for one more season, expect an eye-popping point total and major headlines describing his dominance. 

    The Flyers have been adding tremendous quality at the draft table in recent seasons, focusing on defense and two-way centers. Hischier would be the most impressive offensive talent added by the Flyers since Claude Giroux or Jeff Carter. The fit isn't a perfect one; Hischier is not the prototypical Flyers player. However, if the club is choosing the best player available, and Hischier is on the board at this position, expect general manager Ron Hextall to select this brilliant offensive player. 

1. New Jersey Devils: Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

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    Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings began receiving attention from hockey people at an early age. He just missed being draft eligible in 2016 and began the year as the consensus top prospect available. His journey this past season was difficult, as he suffered injury and posted similar offensive numbers to his previous output. 

    Why does he get picked No. 1? There's just too much talent, too much range, too many ways for him to be a highly productive NHL player. He is 6'3'' and 200 pounds, skates well and boasts a complete offensive skill set. An excellent passer, he's also expert at waiting until plays develop in order to maximize opportunities. Although he's more a playmaker than a scorer, Patrick also possesses a fine shot and quick release. 

    Injury worries will be a factor in the final decision. In early June, the Associated Press released a story in which Patrick said he had been dealing with two sports hernias. His comments demonstrated great maturity and composure, especially in noting he's not yet back to 100 percent. Those factors will all be considered by NHL teams when ranking him. 

    In taking Patrick, the Devils may have a plug-and-play option. A year ago, the club's top wingers were Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall, and they played most often with center Travis Zajac according to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com. The Devils may bring Patrick in slowly, possibly on the wing, but with his size and skill set, it won't be long before the young forward makes an impact. 


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