NHL Draft 2017: The Biggest Boom-or-Bust Prospects in This Year's Class
The 2017 NHL draft is going to be stressful for general managers and scouts, but it should be compelling television. Based on what's been written, this year's selection has two or three names at the top and then about 40 players who are different shades of equal. In a case of that kind, teams ordinarily draft for need, which we're likely to see a lot of on Friday and Saturday.
At some point, general managers will begin to weigh risk versus reward and contemplate taking top-end talent that comes with punishing flaws. Taking the safe pick only goes so long, and it will be tempting for some teams to go for a home run.
Here are the 10 biggest boom-or-bust prospects at the top of this year's NHL draft and why they are such a worry.
Michael DiPietro, G, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Michael DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires is a brilliant goalie with an outstanding resume. He was splendid during the OHL regular season, playoffs and at the Memorial Cup. DiPietro was central to Windsor's winning the national championship as the Spitfires rolled over a spectacular team in the Erie Otters in the final.
Despite that fabulous resume and strong numbers, including a .932 save percentage at the Memorial Cup, DePietro does not possess the ideal frame for a modern goalie. At 6'0", 192 pounds, he is about four inches short of what scouts look for in the modern prototype.
A team drafting DiPietro could receive a mammoth return on investment, but the prevailing wisdom is finding goalies who can block out the sun. NHL rule changes may change scouting in time, but for now DiPietro is a risky pick due to something completely out of his control.
Cal Foote, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Cal Foote of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets has excellent bloodlines. His dad is Adam Foote, who had a long and successful career in the NHL.
Cal Foote is more skilled than his dad while still being a solid two-way player. He reads plays well, can make and take a pass, and has good presence of mind in terms of when to jump into the play. His package of skills is fairly complete and Foote may turn into a quality player for a long time.
The concern is his stride and his mobility. Foote has good straightaway speed but can get caught flat-footed, leaving himself out of the play and chasing. Hard work and maturity may aid him in this area, but that's an important part of playing NHL defense. It's a concern for NHL teams because he has so many other attributes that scouts value.
Klim Kostin, RW, Moscow Dynamo (KHL)
Klim Kostin of Moscow Dynamo has a lot going for him. He is a big power winger (6'3", 196 lbs) and has tremendous offensive potential.
The concern about Kostin is lack of playing time. He suffered a shoulder injury that limited him to just eight KHL games and didn't play much at the lower levels either. He did show very well during international tournaments, including an impact performance at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
A team drafting Kostin has very little to go on, beyond his fine play against players his age during international tournaments. That is going to be enough to get him drafted, possibly inside the top 15 overall. There's much to find out about Kostin that will emerge after a team uses a precious draft pick on him. In this way, he could be the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in this year's draft.
Cale Makar, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
Cale Makar of the Brooks Bandits set the AJHL on fire this season. His exceptional speed and offensive flair have scouts raving about his potential. The modern game embraces smaller skilled defenders like Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, and Makar's resume is a perfect fit.
The issue comes from the quality of the AJHL. Makar played in a Tier 2 league and his numbers, while dominant, came against weaker competition. He dominated at the RBC Cup but did not attend the world juniors, where he would have given scouts a better idea about his abilities against tough competition his own age.
Makar is a top-flight defensive prospect and a prototype player for the modern game. There is some risk to him, although he is very likely to be drafted inside the top 10 overall.
Nikita Popugaev, RW, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Nikita Popugaev (also spelled Popugayev) is a very talented Russian winger who entered the season as a highly rated scoring prospect. He lit up the WHL in the early portion of the 2016-17 season, scoring 19 goals in 25 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors. That kind of production gets noticed, and Popugaev was an early riser on draft lists through October and November.
During the middle portion of the year, he scored only three goals in 15 games, and Moose Jaw dealt the winger to the Prince George Cougars. His struggles continued there, as Popugaev scored just seven goals in the final 31 games of the year.
It's clear the scoring winger has talent, but scouts are left to wonder who the real Nikita Popugaev is. Are they drafting the brilliant player from the fall or the fringe scorer on display in Prince George later on? He could fall outside the first round after looking like a lock for a top-20 selection just a few months ago.
Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Michael Rasmussen of the Tri-City Americans is a scout's dream. He is a big center (6'5", 203 lbs) and has real skill, reflected in his 32 goals in 50 WHL games.
The worry over Rasmussen surrounds his even-strength offense. Half of his 16 goals came on special teams, including 15 on the power play. Among his 23 assists, 14 were on the power play and one via penalty kill. Put another way, only 44 percent of his offense came at even strength in 2016-17. Cody Glass, another highly rated WHL center, posted 70 percent of his offensive output at even strength.
Rasmussen is a highly regarded prospect and should be a lock to go inside the top 20 overall. There should be at least some concern about how much offense he'll post at even strength once he hits the NHL.
Jason Robertson, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
If Jason Robertson of the Kingston Frontenacs were blessed with great foot speed, he might be going No. 1 overall in this year's draft. Playing for a mediocre team that delivered the least offense in the entire OHL, Robertson scored 42 goals to finish in the league's top 10. Prospect-Stats.com had Robertson No. 3 in the league with 300 shots on goal.
These are impact numbers and some scouting services—notably Red Line Report—have Robertson as a high selection. Others have him later in the first round or below, but the bottom line on Robertson is that no one doubts his ability in close with the puck on his stick.
The issue comes down to foot speed and what kind of impact his ability to get around will have on his NHL career. Brock Otten from OHL Prospects has this to say about him:
"The puck just seems to find him in the offensive end, especially in the slot and near the crease. His excellent release and hands makes him a great goal scoring prospect, but also his ability to control the cycle makes him a terrific playmaker. While he's far from a pest, his offensive game (the way he contributes offensively) reminds me a lot of Corey Perry."
Five years from now, Robertson might be among the top players from the 2017 draft or struggling to find his way in the pro game. The range of outcomes makes him a risk, but there is a genuine possibility this player emerges as a bona fide NHL scorer.
Matthew Strome, LW, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Matthew Strome of the Hamilton Bulldogs is a big winger with the kind of size NHL scouts notice. At 6'3", 201 pounds, he already has pro size, and his 34 goals in 66 OHL games suggest he has enough offensive potential to project onto a skill line in pro hockey.
The issue for Strome is foot speed, and in his case, it could cost him on draft day. Scouts have to be sure he'll be able to skate at an NHL level before investing an early pick on him. Strome has been slotted inside the first round for much of the year but could slide into the second round on draft weekend.
Strome is a famous name, with Ryan Strome and Dylan Strome both getting drafted early and playing in the NHL in short order. Matthew Strome's progression is sure to be slower than his brothers, and expectations should be adjusted accordingly. Size and 34 goals will get him drafted, and he could blossom in a narrow role as an NHL player.
Eeli Tolvanen, RW, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
Eeli Tolvanen might be the best pure shooter in this year's draft and has excellent stickhandling and passing skills. Offensively, he's among the surest bets available in the 2017 draft.
Two issues impact Tolvanen's possible future. The first issue is his foot speed, which is good, but he is not a burner. Most scoring wingers who are undersized (5'10", 181 lbs) have plus speed. The other worry comes from his one-dimensional game, as he will have to score enough to remain on a scoring line.
Even with the worry, Tolvanen's skills are substantial and he could go inside the top 10 overall. However, if Tolvanen tops out as an average scorer, it might represent a draft miss by the team selecting him. A team with a strong prospect pool might be able to handle the risk, while other teams may be better off pursuing safer options.
Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Kailer Yamamoto of the Spokane Chiefs is one of the most productive offensive players available in this year's draft. His 99 points are a big number for any draft-eligible player and good enough to finish No. 6 in WHL scoring this year.
Yamamoto is a small skilled forward and very small compared to successful NHL forwards. At 5'8", 159 pounds, he is the same size as Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames. It's very rare for a player to be able to play NHL hockey and stay healthy at that size, so there is a risk in drafting a small forward.
The reward is drafting an elite talent who can impact a game offensively. The NHL team who drafts Yamamoto will be getting one of the best offensive players available but may not have him for a typical career length.