Monday, June 19, 2017

2017 NHL Entry Draft Primer

With the 2017 NHL Entry Draft slated for this weekend, here is everything you need to know about the players available from the Ontario Hockey League.

My Rankings:
Honorable Mentions

Media/Scout Poll

Top Draft Re-Entries (second and third year eligible)

2017 Mock Draft 

Best of luck to all the OHL players eligible this year!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Final Media/Scout Poll for the 2017 NHL Draft

The NHL draft is now only a few weeks away, so it's time to conclude our yearly media/scout poll.

For comparison's sake, here are the preliminary (from November) and the midseason (from February) consensus lists.

Preliminary List
Midseason List

It's always interesting to note some of the major changes/trends from the beginning of the year to the end. Matthew Strome is the guy who has really fallen off, going from 4th in November, to 6th in February, to just outside the top 10 in June. Ottawa's Sasha Chmelevski has had a similar slide due to consistency issues. He received 12 votes for the Top 10 in November. Then 7 votes in February. Then zero votes in June. If we look at some of the "risers," Robert Thomas in London stands out. He received a single vote (from NACS's Mark Seidel) in November. But has firmly entrenched himself in the Top 10 since and looks like a potential top 25 pick come the end of the month. With his play in the OHL playoffs and down the stretch, Jason Robertson has really elevated his status in the eyes of scouts too, despite some skating concerns. He got only two votes for the Top 10 in February, but in June he finds himself on the majority of lists and firmly placed inside the top 6 as a potential first round pick.

Similar to last year, there are a lot of faces on this list, which speaks volumes to the high end depth that the OHL has to offer this year. 19 names received consideration for the Top 10. As I've said before, when all is said and done, it wouldn't shocked me at all if the OHL has one third of the players taken inside the first two or three rounds.

As always, these lists wouldn't be possible without the contributions of the voters. This time around we've got:

Corey Pronman - ESPN scout and writer (@coreypronman)
Dominic Tiano - Writer for The OHL Writers (@dominictiano)
Dan Stewart - Director of Scouting for Future Considerations(@StewartFC)
Brendan Ross - Director of Scouting for
Peter Kneulman - Provides OHL coverage at OHL Writer (@PeterKneulman)
Tony Ambrogio - PA Announcer for the Mississauga Steelheads & TSN editor (@Tony_Ambrogio)
Mike Morreale - Staff writer for (@mikemorrealeNHL)
Anthony Mauro - Director/Founder of Draft Buzz Hockey(@draftbuzzhockey)
Ryan Kennedy - Associate Senior Writer for The Hockey News(@THNRyanKennedy)

Peter Harling - Managing Editor of Dobber Prospects (@pharling) 
Scott Wheeler - OHL scout with Future Considerations and editor for the The AthleticTO (@scottcwheeler)
Mark Seidel - Scouting Director for NACS Hockey (@MarkSeidel
Reed Duthie - Play by Play voice of the Hamilton Bulldogs (@rcduthie)
Scott Crawford - OHL scout for McKeens Hockey (@Crawford1Scott)  
Steve Kournianos - Founder of The Draft Analyst(@TheDraftAnalyst
Mark Scheig - OHL writer for The Hockey Writers (@THWMark)
Grant McCagg - President of Recrutes Hockey (@grantmccagg

and of course...myself (@BrockOtten

The list is as follows:

1. Gabriel Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Total Votes: 18
High/Low Ranking: 1st (14x)/2nd (4x)
"While he may “figure it out”, the question remains whether he will ever improve his skating enough to play as a center in the NHL. Windsor’s coaching staff wasn’t comfortable using Vilardi in the middle this season even after Logan Brown was sidelined with several injuries. If Vilardi already has problems playing a defensive role at center in junior, it’s anybody’s guess whether he will ever improve his speed enough to do so at the pro level." - Grant McCagg

"Big powerful kid that can make subtle plays or run right through you, his feet are an issue but he has taken a big jump from the beginning of the year, great Memorial Cup showed that this kid can step up, may not be the best in 3 years but look back after 8 and he will be." - Mark Seidel

"Windsor coach Rocky Thompson told me that when it comes to charting the success of Vilardi, there was one common denominator and that was Vilardi is the engine on the team because whoever plays with him, their Corsi or puck possession numbers go through the roof. Without him, they dropped significantly. That's the type of player Vilardi has become. Yes, he'll need to improve his skating but he's a three-zone player with good size (6-3, 201) and he works hard down low. Has a relentless motor." - Mike Morreale

"A top offensive catalyst for the Memorial Cup Champs this season, early on in the season he had some issues with injury/illness but put those behind him and looked very effective as a big bodied power forward in the Joe Thornton playmaking mold. The vision and puck creativity he has with his playmaking mesh really well with his smart ability to drive the net and protect the puck in possession utilizing his size advantage, buying time for his teammates to get into position. He has top line potential with just some marginal improvement needed in his skating to reach his upside." - Dan Stewart

2. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Total Votes: 18
High/Low Ranking: 1st (4x)/4th (2x)
"I'm not sure when Tippett will go, because there is a huge variance in how teams view him. But there are true believers out there and they made a pretty good case to me about how his weakness (defense) can be cured with coaching, while his strengths (speed, shot, goal-scoring) cannot be taught." - Ryan Kennedy

"Was first at midseason and did nothing to change my mind now. He was especially impressive in the OHL Finals against Erie taking over stretches of games by himself showing off his top-end speed and skill. Should be gone in the top-5 come draft night." - Mark Scheig

"People seem to be jumping on the nitpick bandwagon with arguably the 2017 draft’s top goal scoring prospect. Tippett is a bulldozer on skates with excellent speed, a heavy, accurate shot that he shoots off the pass and is tough to knock off the puck. He is deadly off the rush but he’s smart enough to get open and wire it with a quick release. Getting top-six minutes at the highest level is in his future, and the team that drafts him should salivate at the thought of Tippett using his quickness and strength to exploit the shrinking NHL defenseman." - Steve Kournianos

"NHL ready shot right now. Continues to work on other aspects of his game. Had some great games in the OHL final against Erie. If he brought it like he did in those games all the time, scouts would feel more certain with this pick." - Tony Ambrogio

3. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Total Votes: 18
High/Low Ranking: 2nd (4x)/4th (3x)
"The kid that most expected to be a solid 200 foot player has shown incredible offensive instincts, wants to be the best player he can be, smart, sneaky in the offensive end, reminds me of Bryan Little in his year." - Mark Seidel

¨Underestimated OHL star terrorized the league with his dazzling array of jukes and creative exploits with the puck…incredible one-on-one attacker who has a sneaky quality about him where he also finds himself on a lot of breakaways…a pure finisher who is a playmaker in the truest sense of the word…he doesn’t even know how powerful of a shooter he is, but hammers the puck because he lives to score...linear speed is generally good with its highs and lows…strides can refine with strength and become tighter...the beauty of his work is that it’s imperfect and sometimes choppy, but explosive, exciting, and effective...not immune to inconsistency and going MIA because he’s also not a physical player...we may be seeing a recalculation on this type of player league wide at the draft, which means he should be off the board by pick 15." - Anthony Mauro

"Suzuki is a player who has really earned my respect as the season has progressed. He's still a few years from becoming a regular in the NHL, in my opinion, but boy do I like what he has to offer. His coach at Owen Sound, Ryan McGill, told me Suzuki reminds him a lot of Mikael Backlund of the Calgary Flames and he could one day be a second-line center in the NHL. What I like about Suzuki is his ability in the clutch. He scored 14 power-play goals, 6 game winners, 5 shorthanded goals, and 23 of his 45 goals this season gave Owen Sound the lead or tied the game." - Mike Morreale

"Spoke to someone who saw Suzuki play in his bantam days. Says that if I would have told him back then that Suzuki would have been the highest scoring player of this age group a year removed from the priority draft, he would have called me crazy. Bottom line is this. He was one of the most improved players from bantam to minor midget. He's been one of the most improved players in the OHL this year. He just keeps getting better every year. His work ethic is outstanding. And with his hockey sense, you have to wonder just how much more he's going to continue to grow as a player when the physical qualities (size, speed, strength) get better." - Brock Otten

4. Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights
Total Votes: 17
High/Low Ranking: 2nd (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (1x)
"There is no junior hockey coach more respected than London’s Dale Hunter, so when he uses a draft-eligible center in all important situations, scouts won’t have to dig too deeply into that player’s character or deeply question his hockey sense. By the playoffs Thomas may well have been London’s top forward - certainly in terms of ice time, surpassing Cliff Pu as Hunter’s go-to center on a line with Janne Kuokkanen and Mitchell Stephens." - Grant McCagg

¨Dating back to his York Simcoe minor midget days, Thomas has always impressed me. A gifted player who has a tremendous feel for the game, he is the type of player who processes the game quick and dissects defences with high intelligence level. He's not the flashiest player yet he always impresses with his ability to create from nothing, maximizing the time and/or space afforded to him. Extremely talented in tight quarters, Thomas displays crafty handling control and can deliver difficult passes with precision. He's a very efficient player who elevates the play of his teammates through smart puck management. As he adopts more responsibility in his draft plus one season, look for Thomas to surge up the OHL scoring charts. He was consistently one of London's best forwards on a nightly basis regardless of his ice time Personally, I am higher on Thomas than most and think he should be considered for selection in the 11-15th range.¨ - Brendan Ross

"It's an easy comparison to say he reminds me of Bo Horvat in that he constantly got better and can play up and down the lineup, very high IQ, has learned a lot from Dale Hunter and will be a key player on a winning team." - Mark Seidel

"Thomas is an interesting prospect that comes from a solid program that develops skilled, but smart players, the London Knights. Thomas’s best attribute is his high IQ based on his understanding of reading plays and knowing when to react at the exact moment he can create a competitive advantage for his team on both ends of the ice. With the puck, Thomas does not rush plays he knows will turn the puck over, as an example he will drop the puck back to his defenseman if he is pushed to the boards. Away from the puck Thomas is a great interceptor of the puck as he closes off passing lanes to the point opponents don’t want to play around him. It doesn’t hurt that he is also a fast skater in all three zones and possesses strong puck handling abilities that he uses to move around the offensive zone. Making light of his offense Thomas was one of the best two-way Centre in the OHL, understanding the 411 on back check while also understanding to shift from back checking to defensive zone coverage around his opponents." - Scott Crawford

5. Nic Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Total Votes: 16
High/Low Ranking: 3rd (3x)/Outside of the Top 10 (2x)
"His strengths include his obvious size and reach but also his powerful shot and willingness to play a physical brand of shutdown defense. Sure he has his deficiencies, but they are all areas that will be addressed and improved upon. I am not sure why people have fallen out of love with this big six-foot-six behemoth who has decent speed and plays a real strong two-way game. He might not have great offensive upside at the NHL level but he has more potential than Windsor's Logan Stanley did and many of the same scouts that have dropped Hague down had Stanley in their top ten rankings." - Dan Stewart

"Great combination of skill and size. Has a better offensive game than some people give him credit for. Once he figures out how to use his size to his advantage, watch out. Still growing into his body." - Tony Ambrogio

"Hague showed himself very well in the OHL Finals against Erie. He played Alex DeBrincat tough at times, while providing a calming influence on the blueline. He should be the first OHL defenseman off the board given what all he brings to the table." - Mark Scheig

"Hague beats all draft-eligible OHL defenseman when it comes to upside and top-pairing potential.  He’s obviously got the size, but his booming shot and an improving defensive game are two more reasons why people need to start taking him seriously as a possible lottery pick. He has a nasty side to his game, and staying within himself is one of only a few areas he could stand to improve upon. Hague is mobile and physical, and his strong one-on-one play in the second half earned him critical late-game responsibilities." - Steve Kournianos

6. Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Total Votes: 17
High/Low Ranking: 4th (3x)/Outside of the Top 10 (1x)
"There is no one player on this list who scored more relative to his teammates than Robertson. The Kingston Frontenacs were a wasteland for offensive talent this year and Robertson carried them with 42 goals (16 more than his next closest teammate), 39 assists (tied for the team lead), and 81 points (30 more than his next closest teammate). Most scouts would probably want a winger of Robertson’s size to be more physical, but it's his finesse that distinguishes him. For a player who doesn’t overwhelm as a skater or shooter, Robertson is damn good." - Scott Wheeler

"Hockey IQ and goal scoring will drive Jason Robertson to the NHL, able to adapt and adjust his game to whoever is put on his line, Robertson is a chameleon on ice, able to effortlessly slip defensive coverage and scoring lanes. A contributor on special teams, both PP and PK makes him another very versatile player coming out of the OHL that NHL teams will covet." - Reed Duthie

"Has a great touch around the net and has good hockey sense. He accounted for 45.3 percent of Kingston's offense, scoring 42 goals. I think he might be the most improved player from start to finish in the OHL. He's 6-2, 182 pounds and knows how to protect the puck and has a shoot-first mentality, as evidenced by the fact he finished third in the OHL with 301 shots on goal." - Mike Morreale

"If his average speed wasn’t so obvious, Robertson might have been a lock for the top five. He had an outstanding season for Kingston, leading the Frontenacs in both regular season and playoff scoring. His soft hands and quick release helped him tally 42 goals in 68 games — 29 at even strength — but he is far from a garbage-goal scorer. Robertson is a smart winger who not only knows where to position himself, but how to remain there regardless of the beating he’s taking." - Steve Kournianos

7. Isaac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm
Total Votes: 15
High/Low Ranking: 3rd (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (3x)
"Big Ratcliffe has been one of my favorite guys to track this season as he has big upside potential but also a ways to climb to reach his ceiling. His size and eventual strength will be an asset making him hard to handle anywhere close to the net or along the walls at the NHL level and his skating and shot have improved dramatically making him an danger to score off the rush." - Dan Stewart

"This guy just screams off the board pick in the first round. I had him going 17th to Toronto in my mock draft and if he went higher than that, I wouldn't be shocked. Massive kid who's already a strong net presence who possesses one of the better shots in the age group. As he fills out, the potential is quite high. The million dollar question for me is, are the inconsistencies (especially physically) due to a lack of strength, or a lack of sense and desire? Could easily be an Eric Daze type of player if everything falls into place." - Brock Otten

"Ratcliffe is an intriguing big man with a lot of upside to his game. Standing at 6’5 Ratcliffe is a physical specimen that plays a controlled physical game that causes opponents to be weary of what he is going to do in their own end. His big frame allows him to have great puck possession numbers when he is controlling the puck in the offensive zone.  Puck moving abilities are his best skill because his big body and long stick can move at a fast pace that opposing forwards find difficult to take away or challenge. One area of improvement Ratcliffe needs to make is his skating as his edge work is decent, but his strides slow the momentum of his team’s offensive rush. Ratcliffe deserves to be in the first round because it’s often rare to find a big player like him that can move the puck around the ice with his stick so quickly." - Scott Crawford

¨Skinny skyscraper has had a rollercoaster of a development track over the last few years that stabilised right at the start of this past winter…announced his arrival with a package of long legs, quick stick, and fairly strong skating…knows what to do with the puck and is looked upon as an offensive leader in Guelph…his shot is a standout characteristic and just like his skating patterns is not easy to read…can snap top shelf moving, blast it from stand still, take it to the net and beat the goalie – point is he’s not a one trick pony…above average pass reception that extends plays and is a safety blanket for teammates a notch below in talent…nice stickhandler who has room to grow...needs to work on becoming less disconnected and loose defensively…somewhere in between Logan Brown and Riley Tufte as a comparison…massively underdeveloped tower found a way to be a scorer on a bad team and based on data is less of a projection pick than you would think.¨ - Anthony Mauro

8. Conor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Total Votes: 15
High/Low Ranking: 5th (4x)/Outside of the Top 10 (3x)
"One of the oldest players of this year's draft class (born Sept. 18, 1998), Timmins has high-end hockey sense and is excellent at transitioning the puck out of his zone. He's very poised and can run a power play, has a good shot and earned his role as a top-pair defenseman for the Greyhounds." - Mike Morreale

"Great puck moving defenceman who does a fantastic job of avoiding the forecheck in the defensive zone which gives him extra time to start the breakout. ES beast as he finished 2nd among OHL defensemen in even strength points." - Peter Kneulman

"He is the best two-way defenseman to be taken in the draft and who will make any coach happy to coach him. He listens and is a great teammate for anyone that plays on his line. His skating is unique for a defenseman and allows him to drive more to the net and make good plays up ice. When he is skating up the ice he usually is not a pass first type of defenseman as he will charge down the ice with the puck entering the zone as the F1 either dumping the puck in or taking a quick shot on net. His skating is what makes him a valuable defenseman due to his ability to recover when offense turns to defense and he is mobile on the back pedal when an opposing offensive rush is penetrating his zone and he will always be ready to close the gap. He is on the right track in his development to become a first round draft pick and thanks to his hard work and commitment to being a better player he has branded his own style of play." - Scott Crawford

"Timmins is on the older side of this draft class, which contributed to his success as a draft-eligible, but he remains a top prospect in his own right. Even if you extend scoring among OHL defenders to all under-19 skaters, Timmins finished second with 61 points and a 0.91 points per game clip, ahead of last year’s top prospects, including Mikhail Sergachyov, Olli Juolevi and Victor Mete. He led a strong Sault Ste. Marie team to the top of the division and he did it while driving play and dictating possession in all situations." - Scott Wheeler

9. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
Total Votes: 10
High/Low Ranking: 4th (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (8x)
"One can only hope this backstop with cat-like quickness ends this seemingly decades-long trend that goalies need to be a certain height to succeed. Listed at 6 feet tall, DiPietro is a tremendous competitor with impeccable positioning and net awareness, and both were on display as he led the host Spitfires to a perfect record at the Memorial Cup, including a pair of stellar wins against Erie’s powerful offense." - Steve Kournianos

"The best goaltending prospect the OHL has seen in several years (better than Malcolm Subban was for sure and he was a first rounder). If he were 6'3, we'd be talking about him as a potential lottery pick (even as a goalie). We know about the athleticism and his ability to make remarkable saves. But what many people don't know is how amazing this kid is as a human being. Lost his mother at a young age and carries himself like a true professional. Someone who has coached him told me that he's one of the best kids he's ever coached and that his work ethic is second to none. As Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman has famously stated, "height doesn't measure heart." - Brock Otten

"The best goalie in the draft despite his size limitations, very good feet, tracks pucks well, reads the play, plays big in big games, mentally strong." - Mark Seidel

"The OHL's prized draft eligible goaltender for 2017 and Memorial Cup champion could be even higher on my list here but for the reason I have been fooled before by an OHL goaltender who I thought was a sure thing NHL starter, thanks for that shot to the confidence Thomas McCollum. Regardless of that Dipietro is a battler, a hard working, athletic, butterfly stopper who has NHL starting potential." - Dan Stewart

10. Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Total Votes: 7
High/Low Ranking: 6th (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (11x)
"Frost confirmed to the scouting world just how fast he was during the Top Prospects skill testing, finishing at the very top in all of the skating drills. However, The main issue with Frost’s game concerns his defensive game, and there are some scouts who wonder if at his size he will be able to handle larger top-two centers in an NHL setting and opine that he may end up being a playmaking winger on an offensive line." - Grant McCagg

"Very underrated 2-way player. Dynamite on the power play. Has shown steady growth at even strength and should see a spike next year as he adds speed and strength in the offseason." - Peter Kneulman

"Frost, like London's Thomas, doesn't get the credit he deserves while being surrounding by a very talented team in Sault Ste. Marie. Coming off his 1st 20 goal OHL season, he is taking a development curve very similar to that of teammate/linemate Zachary Senyshyn. A different player from Senyshyn though, its Frost's passing and vision that will WOW scouts and he should only continue this improve." - Reed Duthie

"Every time I saw him he got better. Really smart player away from the puck. Has an edge to his game you can't teach." - Tony Ambrogio

Honorable Mentions

Matthew Strome - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs (7 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 7th (3x)
"Sniper's hands with a coach's mind. Matt Strome is a hockey savant, when you talk to the Bulldogs forward about game plans, opposition tendencies, and how to break down opposition its as if the game is happening right in front of him on a screen. After debuting with 16 goals in 15-16, Strome took his production to the next level in 16-17 with 34 goals and 28 assists while continuing to be a force both on the power play and shorthanded. With the man advantage Strome can use his incredible hand eye coordination infront of the net or his hockey IQ to play the high boards in the umbrella set up making him a threat in multiple locations. Improving his skating stride and top speed will be paramount challenge but with Strome's work ethic he's more then up to the challenge." - Reed Duthie

"This big and strong playmaking winger who also works his tail off has much upside but also some deficiencies that will scare some teams away. His size, strength and vision combo is impressive but if he can not improve his feet and quickness they might all be for not. The good news is that his brothers also had mobility issues but have since made big strides, pun intended." - Dan Stewart

"Admittedly number 11 on my list, but I don't question anyone who has Strome in their top 10 because of how close players ranked 8 through 10 are. These are all guys who have a shot to be top 45 picks come June. Everyone talks about how bad Strome's skating is. And it seems like he's only generated negative press lately (especially after a poor U18's). But he's a solid prospect and deserves respect for the things he does well. His mention in the OHL Coaches Poll as one of the smartest players in the Conference it a testament to his ability to create offensive scoring chances for his linemates. He has terrific vision and patience for a bigger player. The offensive upside is most certainly there. The U18's proved how his skating limits him right now (playing on the big ice). But IMO, the key to his development might be the increased consistency of his physical game. He's never going to be a top notch skater, but he can still be an NHL top 6 player if he can continue to harness the power forward game that he flashes from time to time." - Brock Otten 

Ivan Lodnia - Forward - Erie Otters (5 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 5th (1x)
"Although his numbers don't show it, Lodnia is a vastly improved two-way player. With the Otters deep on their top-six, Lodnia played on the third and fourth line in a defensive role and did well with it. When given the opportunity, he's dangerous with the puck on his stick. With all of Erie's departures next season, Lodnia jumps straight to the top line and will have more of a chance to show what he can do." - Mark Scheig

"A personal favourite of mine because of the offensive upside he possesses. Puck skills are among the best available and his skating and hustle improved this year." - Anonymous

"Lodnia managed to net 57 points in 66 games despite suffering the misfortune of playing behind the Otters’ top line that combined for 130 goals. He’s got a wicked shot, and his strength on the puck is evident every time he hits the ice. Two undervalued aspects of his game are his poise and hockey sense – this kid under pressure is as cool as a cucumber and can lure opponents well out of position. Lodnia, who missed 2018 eligibility by two weeks, was deadly for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka, and Erie’s expected exodus of graduating superstars makes him primed for a breakout season in 2018." - Steve Kournianos

"The fact he has been able to take on a shutdown role with the veteran Otters is a big checkmark. We know he can produce offense and next year he'll be back in a plum scoring role, so Lodnia's in a really good situation." - Ryan Kennedy

Alex Formenton - Forward - London Knights (4 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 9th (1x)
"Formenton is one of those prospects that impresses scouts a lot more the first time he’s seen live than when they watch him on video or look at the stats sheet, predominantly because it soon becomes apparent just how fast he moves around the rink. His skating skills and size combo alone will likely get him picked in the top 50, and perhaps even in the top 40." - Grant McCagg

¨He made a significant contribution in his first OHL season for the Knights. He's a strong 200-foot player with good size and excellent skating ability. He can execute skilled plays at top speed and generate scoring opportunities off the rush or below the dots.¨ - Mike Morreale

"I've been up and down on Formenton all season. And I wonder if NHL scouts feel the same way. Just like some London Knights from past drafts, his wavering ice time really made it difficult to properly scout him this year. The speed is noticeable every single game, and every time he touches the ice. But the offensive game really is hard to peg. At times, it looks like his feet are moving faster than his brain and he out-skates himself out of scoring chances. And for a player who's so quick, the consistency of his play away from the puck needs to improve IMO. Even with limited ice time, I want to notice him and I didn't the majority of times I saw London in the second half and playoffs. But you also have to trust the London Knights program and the way they develop prospects. If there is a team who can harness his goal scoring potential and ability to utilize his speed as a weapon in all three zones, it's London." - Brock Otten

Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack (4 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 8th (2x)
¨The most improved player in the Ontario Hockey League this past season, Gadjovich picked the perfect time to have his coming out party. A late '98 birthdate allowed the Whitby native to develop his confidence and his astonishing 46 goals blew scouts away - more than tripling his sophomore production. He's a strong sturdy player who has a knack for finding his way to the net and a timely ability to cash in on pucks with his quick shooting ability. While he leaves some room for improvement in terms of his speed and natural puck skills, he does display smarts and strong positioning that allow him to be a factor on many plays, and support his line mates well. His work ethic helps him maximize his power forward style of play because he's shows a willingness to get his hands dirty to earn his chances. Come draft day, Gadjovich should start receiving interest anytime near the end of the first round and likely landing in a second round position at the end of the day.¨ - Brendan Ross

¨Young OHL veteran has nearly 200 games played yet has been under the radar as a power forward shooting maniac…most attribute his production to stud 2017 Nick Suzuki, but make no mistake, he is every part the competent half as the quintessential shotgun winger…a simple forward who doesn’t over-complicate the game…if he had a motto it would be play physical and shoot a lot...often gets his way physically and has detail around the crease that some pro’s can’t dream of…has very good straight line speed and an explosive first few strides despite being filled out like a grown man and 200 plus pounds at 18…agility is average and not the most natural puck handler in flight….overall has decent, working class hands that get the job done…will shoot from everywhere and anywhere and can really put his weight into his shots…we all want highlight reel plays and incessant puck dragging, but everything about this minimal kid screams he will be a better pro than junior and he’s already pretty damn good.¨ - Anthony Mauro

"Love this player. He's a real throwback. Loved him in his rookie year, but he did struggle last year. This year, he got better and better every month. The skating concerns are overblown IMO. I think that area really saw improvement as the year went on. He knows his role on the ice is to be a net presence and he's an absolute beast there; an impossible tie up for many OHL defenders. But he's also a very smart two-way player who is a coaches dream. That combination should definitely make him an NHL player IMO." - Brock Otten

Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs (3 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 8th (1x)
"This big forward is smart and willing to use his strengths to his advantage. He needs to fill out still but you love that he uses what strength he has to play a physical game. He is also an impressive skater, reads the play well, makes smart decisions and contributes in all facets. The one area that keeps him down the list is his lack of offensive upside." - Dan Stewart

"One of my personal favourites, standing 6'3'' MacKenzie Entwistle has ideal NHL size, tremendous speed for his size, excellent hockey IQ, and best of all top notch character. Entwistle is a player who will be trending upwards at a steep angle, playing behind Stephen Harper & Niki Petti/Brandon Saigeon in his rookie season & Petti & Will Bitten/Brandon Saigeon in his sophmore season, it will be the 17-18 where Entwistle will see his biggest opportunity. A staple on the PK since arriving in Hamilton, Entwistle will be moving up the depth chart with the ability to play C or W and will likely be moving into a regular role on the Bulldogs PP. Get ready for a breakout player!" - Reed Duthie

"He will never be an offensive force but he will be on the ice for the final minute of every period, smarter than some coaches in the OHL, phenomenal on the PK, sneaky offense that may come but that will be a bonus." - Mark Seidel

Markus Phillips - Defense - Owen Sound Attack (2 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 7th (1x)
"Has the potential to be an all situations, all around type of defender because of his plus skating. Offensive skills aren't the best of any defender in the draft, but he's crafty." - Anonymous

"Phillips is perhaps the most underrated OHL player in this draft. He had a slow start to the season but vastly improved as the season went on. He reduced his turnovers and became a steady force on Owen Sound's blueline. He projects well to the next level and is expected to make noise on Team Canada in the next couple of seasons." - Mark Scheig

Adam Ruzicka - Forward - Sarnia Sting (2 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 8th (1x)
"A slow start as a CHL rookie import knocked this towering Slovak center out of draft radar detection, but he responded with an excellent second half statistically.  Ruzicka, who finished with 24 points in his last 28 games, tied for the most 5v5 points by an OHL rookie (34 in 61 games), and his 171 shots ranked second among Ontario League newcomers. He’s got a very good shot and continues to find ways to get open despite being one of the bigger players on the ice. Ruzicka can play in all three zones, and is both physically and mentally capable of taking over games." - Steve Kournianos

"Sarnia’s best puck handler he can make good moves around the ice. He can even play a North-South style of game because he can play the top and bottom halves of the neutral zone good enough to create an open ice play near the zone entry for a teammate. His specialty with his puck handling comes from his passing, as he likes to make quick light passes with his stick on offensive rushes to fool his opponents into thinking he is dumping the puck. Another complimentary passing skill is his saucer passes, he can make long range saucer passes to teammates that turn into break away chances or he can make a fast and smooth cross ice sauce pass to a teammate going directly to the net. When he is unable to convert on a play he is good at recovering the puck using a quick C-cut to draw the opponent to the opposite side and using his quick hands to form a backhand forehand motion to keep the defenders guessing. Ruzicka possesses such raw natural talent, it’s going to be exciting to see what he can do in the pros once he is of age." - Scott Crawford

Eemeli Rasanen - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs (1 Vote)
Highest Ranking: 10th (1x)
"Unheralded defender out of Kingston that caught and surpassed the highly touted Paquette, great frame mixed with a healthy dose of nasty, feet are ok, big shot on the PP, Very underrated." - Mark Seidel

"Had to include a bit on the best player no one is talking about. 6'7'' 205lbs, the Finnish rookie was an impact player in every sense of the word for Kingston. The defensive specialist added 39pts in 66gp, thanks to a high level first pass from the defensive zone and a bomb of a shot that would scare some professional goaltenders. Add all that into the fact the 18 year old also knows how use to his massive frame to make life miserable for the opposition's best players and he is a player that NHL scouts should be drooling over! SUPER SLEEPER!" - Reed Duthie

Austen Keating - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Highest Ranking: 9th (1x)
"If there’s one player who hasn’t received the buzz he deserves in the overexposed OHL, it’s Keating. He was a low-scoring Ottawa 67’s team’s best centre from start to finish and while he doesn’t possess elite ability in any one area of his game, he does everything at such an efficient, high level that he nonetheless dictates and controls play and tempo. He’s probably the fourth-best passer out of the OHL in this class behind Suzuki, Vilardi and Thomas and yet he hasn’t been given much attention as a legit prospect." - Scott Wheeler

Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017 NHL Mock Draft

Last year, I did a mock draft for the first time (here) and it was well received. So this will be something I do every year now. As I mentioned last year, while I cover the OHL extensively, I'm a hockey prospect nut in general and as such, have a fair amount of knowledge of the other players available.

This year, the draft should be very interesting. Outside of the top 4 or 5, there really doesn't seem to be much of a consensus among draft rankings. In what is being deemed an "average" draft year by NHL executives, I think we'll see two things happen. 1), A lot of deals, as teams try to secure the rights to the couple of players that they truly believe in, in this draft. And 2), A few shockers as teams reach for upside in the opening round. In a draft lacking a lot of potential top end offensive players, I think we'll see a premium put on offensive upside. We could see several guys (especially European guys, as I feel that the European crop is stronger than the NA crop for top end talent this year) who are rated in that 2nd/3rd round range right now, end up being selected in the first. Even then, the rankings for the 20-30 spots in the first round are all over the place anyway.

And well...because I'm admittedly cheering for Nashville to take home the Cup, I've got them picking last (which hopefully doesn't serve as a jinx).

Without further ado, here's my mock draft for 2017.

1. New Jersey Devils - Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)
The first time the New Jersey Devils have had the first overall pick in the NHL Draft. They've done pretty well drafting inside the Top 3 though (Brendan Shanahan, Scott Niedermayer). While NHL scouts seem split on Patrick vs. Hischier, I see the Devils favouring Patrick. Firstly, they would have seen a lot of Patrick (even with his injuries) because they've been scouting their own player, John Quenneville. Secondly, the Devils are a team that haven't drafted much out of the QMJHL historically (even with a GM change and Director of Scouting change). And the picks they have made from the league have not developed well for them (Eric Gelinas, Patrice Cormier, and Stefan Matteau, who went to the QMJHL after being drafted). The Devils' pipeline is already loaded at center with the likes of Michael McLeod, Pavel Zacha, Blake Speers, and others, but if Patrick is the guy you believe will be the best player, you take him. That said, it wouldn't shock me one bit if the Devils traded down a few spots (with say Dallas or Vancouver), to select Miro Heiskanen or another defender, as it's a desperate need for the pro club and the pipeline.

2. Philadelphia Flyers - Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
The Flyers have shown a massive love for the QMJHL in recent years at the draft, so it wouldn't shock me at all if Hischier was their first choice over Patrick. His dynamic offensive ability, hockey  sense, and two-way ability has seen him draw comparisons to Henrik Zetterberg. And that's precisely the type of player that would fit well into a Flyers' lineup that could compete again next year if they can upgrade their defense and get better goaltending. Hischier's smarts would probably allow him to slide right into Philadelphia's top 9 next year, as a possible linemate for great playmakers like Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek.

3. Dallas Stars - Casey Mittelstadt, Green Bay (USHL)
As I mentioned earlier, I could really see the Stars making a play for the first overall pick to grab Nolan Patrick. With Jason Spezza's age catching up to him, this is a team that could really use a top flight center for the future. It's something that they haven't really drafted in a few years and with a top 3 pick, it's their best chance to try to grab one (whether it's Patrick, Mittelstadt, Vilardi, Glass, etc). Dallas really needs to hit a home run with this pick as they haven't drafted incredibly well in recent years and they haven't picked inside the Top 5 since 1996 (Richard Jackman). Mittelstadt is the complete package offensively and is likely pretty close to being NHL ready. Having drafted Riley Tufte last year, a player who spent time in the Minnesota high school league, they are no doubt very familiar with Mittelstadt (who's the same age thanks to a late birth date). While Glass and Vilardi would be good picks here too, I think familiarity gives Mittelstadt the edge.

4. Colorado Avalanche - Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Liiga)
The Avs are a team that just can't seem to find consistent success despite having a solid collection of talent, (young talent at that). No question, the biggest need this team has is on defense, both from a pro stand point and from a farm/prospect stand point. Having drafted Rantanen, Jost, Greer, and acquiring JT Compher, this team looks great up front. But the Avs just haven't been able to draft and develop a true first pairing defender in recent years. And while you never want to reach for a player based on positional need, I think it's safe to say Miro Heiskanen isn't a reach. The talented Finnish defender was a marvel at the U18's this year, where his creativity with the puck helped him dominate from the back end. There's no question that as he develops, he could be a top pairing defender.

5. Vancouver Canucks - Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
I don't think there's any question that the Canucks are targeting one of the top centers available with this pick. As I mentioned, I could also see them trading up to #1 to get Patrick. If they stay at #5, on one hand, I'm tempted to say that the Canucks would favor Gabe Vilardi because of how much they've drafted from the OHL in recent years. And he'd be a fine pick (as if you read this blog, you know I'm a big fan). But, I think that their scouting staff will favor a guy like Cody Glass instead because of the speed component he brings to the table. One thing that the Canucks' scouting staff has really focused on the last few years is bringing in players who can really skate so that they can play a higher tempo game as the Sedins are phased out. And Glass is the guy for that, with a high motor to match great hockey sense. I think he's the best fit for the type of team that they're building.

6. Las Vegas Golden Knights - Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)
I don't think anyone really knows what the Golden Knights will do at the draft this year. Scott Luce (director of scouting) was formerly the head honcho in Florida and during his time there, the team really showed no bias when it came to drafting inside the first round. Either way, this team has to select the player they believe will be the best moving forward. A true BPA situation. And I think that player is Gabe Vilardi. His vision, playmaking ability, and strength down low, makes him an ideal top 6 center for today's age because he controls the possession game and increases time of possession with his ability to control the wall. His skating isn't great, but he's close to being pro ready IMO and is the type of kid that the Golden Knights could be comfortable building their team around.

7. Arizona Coyotes - Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
If there is one thing that the Coyotes can afford to do, it's take a chance by drafting the player they feel has the highest upside; that true boom/bust prospect. Arizona has, quite possibly, the top collection of young talent in the league right now. This is especially true at the forward position. So why not swing for the fences with a guy like Makar? His offensive prowess and skating ability is top notch and he might possess the most potential of any player in this draft. Coming out of the AJHL, it's tough to gauge how well his skills will translate, and he's probably a longer term project. But I think this franchise is in a position to shoot for the stars, especially when it comes to adding a blueliner. While I was tempted to have them selecting Owen Tippett, to add another goal scorer to their fold, I think they best represent the team who can afford to take a chance on Makar.

8. Buffalo Sabres - Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
While I think Buffalo would love to add a quality blueline prospect to the pipeline (such as Liljegren, or Valimaki), they opt instead to add a big center to their stable. While there is no doubt that the Sabres have a ton of offensive talent, I think the one thing that they could really use is a net presence who can score. And Rasmussen can also skate with their top end offensive players like Eichel, Nylander, Reinhart, etc. His rankings seem to be pretty polarizing among scouting services, but Rasmussen has consistently been among the higher rated players by Bob McKenzie, which shows how much actual NHL scouts love him and the concept of having a big bodied center who can drive the middle of the ice and play the front of the net.

9. Detroit Red Wings - Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)
The Red Wings have been one of the lowest scoring teams in the league the last two years. So if there's a dynamic goal scorer available, you'd have to imagine the Wings jump at the chance to draft them. Sure there are some concerns over Tippett's overall game and hockey sense, but his size and goal scoring potential have to make him an alluring attraction. And the Wings would have seen a ton of him this year while keeping tabs on Saarijarvi. If the Wings don't take Tippett here, I could really see them opting for a smart two-way center like Lias Andersson or Nick Suzuki, even if they don't have elite size. If you can't draft a goal scorer, you take guys who can make good goal scorers out of other players.

10. Florida Panthers - Elias Pettersson, Timra (Allsvenskan)
Pettersson is a high skilled offensive winger who put up some great numbers in the Swedish second league this year. He's a late '98, so he's probably a lot closer to contributing at the NHL level than some other players at this draft slot. There are some questions about the consistency of his compete level and whether he has what it takes to play through traffic at the NHL level. But he's very slightly built and adding strength could cure what ails him. There's a lot of offensive potential here if you're willing to take that gamble. He seems like he could be a very good fit with the current group of young NHL forwards that the Panthers have.

11. Los Angeles Kings - Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)
To me, Suzuki just screams an LA Kings pick this year. They would have gotten a great look at him this year while watching last year's draft pick Jacob Friend. And his intelligence at both ends of the ice would be a real asset to a Kings' pipeline that is super bare right now. Even though Suzuki isn't the biggest, his tenacity and work ethic make him an ideal Western Conference player. The player he's compared to most (Joe Pavelski) has been a true workhorse in that Conference. And while his skating is only average (certainly not below average), the Kings have never been one to be scared away by poor skating in their draft picks. Again, to me, Suzuki just seems like the perfect Mike Futa player.

12. Carolina Hurricanes - Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (SHL)
Even though the Hurricanes took Julien Gauthier last year, I could see them taking another big bodied winger this year to continue to compliment some of the great young playmakers that they've assembled. Vesalainen came into the year as a potential top 10 pick, then dropped in the rankings due to a relatively mediocre year (playing against men). But a fantastic U18's seems to have really elevated his status back to lottery selection. Bottom line, big, skilled wingers don't last long at the NHL draft and are almost always scooped up early if they can skate like Vesalainen can.

13. Winnipeg Jets - Erik Brannstrom, HV-71 (SHL)
The Jets have one of the deepest prospect groups in the entire NHL. Their collection of young talent is almost unmatched in the league. So in a draft like this one, I think it makes perfect sense for them to go for a home run at the 13th overall pick. Take a guy who has extremely high upside and swing for the fences. If there's one thing that the Jets do lack right now, it's a true powerplay QB who can dominate a game offensively. And Brannstrom is just that, perhaps the defender in the draft with the most offensive upside behind Cale Makar. He's undersized, but his offensive abilities were on full display at the U18's and he's drawn rave reviews from scouts for his vision and poise with the puck. I think this is a selection that could make sense for a lot of different reasons.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning - Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
If there is a team in the league who's had success drafting and developing out of Russia lately, it's the Lightning. Kostin had a tough year with injuries and lack of playing time, but he possesses some of the highest offensive potential of any forward in the draft. Kostin also has great size, something else that the Lightning could use from their forwards. Could also see the Lightning going after Nic Hague here, a defender with great size and we know how much Steve Yzerman loves drafting out of the OHL.

15. New York Islanders - Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCAA)
I see the Islanders going one of two ways with this selection. The first would be targeting a solid defender with size like a Nic Hague. The second, and the way I have them selecting, is a solid two-way center. Lias Andersson would make a lot of sense, but I think Poehling makes more sense. Speed, two-way hustle, and perhaps an underrated ability to produce offensively. The Isles missed the contributions of a guy like Frans Nielson and Poehling projects as that type of player, even if I was slightly underwhelmed by him at the U18's.

16. Calgary Flames - Lias Andersson, HV-71 (SHL)
Andersson is a guy I could see going as high as 9th to Detroit, but he ends up falling a bit to the Flames, who would be happy to add another quality two-way center to their prospect pool. Some question his upside because of how low his offensive numbers were against men as a late '98, but when he's performed against his peers, his offensive production has been stellar. I could also see Calgary going in the opposite direction and taking Nic Hague here, a big defender with a big shot who could (along with Hickey) compliment some of the under-average sized offensive blueliners that the Flames have accumulated for the future.

17. Toronto Maple Leafs - Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)
I really don't know what way the Leafs will go with this pick. They could take Martin Necas, a talented offensive winger from the Czech Republic. They could go with big defender Nic Hague. They could take another talented smaller player in Eeli Tolvanen. But I see them looking to try to add more size to their forward group, which is already relatively small in stature. Ratcliffe is a boom or bust prospect, but if he pans out, he'll be the perfect compliment to guys like Marner and Nylander. A hulking winger who can skate with them, clear room for them, and finish off their passes. Ratcliffe has a booming shot, but he needs to get stronger to use his 6'6 frame more effectively. With how often the Leafs have gone to the OHL of late, this pick makes sense for a lot of reasons.

18. Boston Bruins - Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Extraliga)
Necas falls in the draft a bit due to a poor finish to the year (a very underwhelming Five Nations & U18's), but the Bruins scoop him up just inside the Top 20. His strong skating and playmaking ability gives him a lot of offensive potential if he can iron out some of the consistency issues he's had. The Bruins have a quality prospect pool and Necas gives them another potential high impact forward who can play at a high tempo moving forward. Hopefully he's more the guy we saw at the World Junior's (U20) though.

19. San Jose Sharks - Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
The Sharks opt to go with one of the top goal scoring options in the draft this year, despite his lack of size at 5'10. Big shot and tons of speed to burn, his offensive potential is among the highest of any player in this draft. There are concerns about his toughness and overall play though. But given the fact that the Sharks leadership group is aging fast, and they just dealt Nikolai Goldobin, I think San Jose tries to hit a home run with this pick, taking the player remaining who has the highest upside in their eyes.

20. St. Louis Blues - Nic Hague, Mississauga (OHL)
Admittedly, not really sure what I see the Blues doing with this pick. IMO, they've drafted exceptionally well the last few years. However, last year they didn't draft a single defender. They do have some young defenders contributing at the NHL level (Parayko and Edmundson), and close to contributing (Dunn and Walman), but Hague is the type of guy you need to win in the Western Conference. A hulking defender, who at the very least could develop into a solid top 4 shut down guy, but does possess offensive upside because of a big point shot and good hockey IQ inside the offensive zone. Could be the perfect compliment to a guy like Dunn or Walman in the future. And the Blues have most certainly favoured the OHL in recent years.

21. New York Rangers - Robert Thomas, London (OHL)
Remarkably, the Rangers haven't had a first round pick since 2012 (Brady Skjei), and this pick is the only one they have inside the first three rounds this year. Needless to say, it's critical that they pick up a player who can play for them in the future. Thomas is a guy who I feel is a safe bet to play at the NHL because of his skill level and hockey IQ. As a playmaker, he has to be one of the best available and under the tutelage of the Knights' coaching staff, he's only going to get better. There's a couple quality defenders left on the board at this point, but if the Rangers do have a strength in their weak prospect pool, it's on the blueline.

22. Edmonton Oilers - Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (SHL)
Liljegren finally goes after falling pretty significantly. At the beginning of the season, it was thought that he would be a candidate for the top 5, but a season mired by poor offensive production and a bout with mono, really seemed to cause him to lose favor with scouts. But I thought he looked pretty decent at the U18's this year. And he still possesses the type of two-way, top 4 potential that the Oilers could use on the backend. Really the perfect storm that he falls to them at this spot.

23. Arizona Coyotes - Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)
The Coyotes had good luck with the last Boston University commit that they drafted (Keller), so why not go right back there. After taking one of the biggest boom/bust players with the 7th overall pick (Makar), the Coyotes take one of the safest players in the draft in Bowers. He's a very well rounded player who still put up some very good numbers in the USHL this year and perhaps that means his offensive potential is being underrated for the next level. However, even though it would mean taking back to back smaller players in draft years, I could also see the Yotes being interested in Kailer Yamamoto here. And if they want a player in the same vein as Bowers, they could look at a guy like Grant Mismash from the USNDP.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets - Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)
This isn't the year 1999. Small players can not only play in the NHL in the year 2017, they can succeed as stars. The ultra talented, yet 5'8 forward was among the WHL's leading scorers this year on a relatively weak Spokane team. The Blue Jackets took a similar type of player last year in Vitaly Abramov, but many teams in the NHL have proven that skill wins out more than anything in today's day and age. The Jackets have drafted enough size in recent years to support having a few smaller, skilled players in their lineup.

25. Montreal Canadiens - Grant Mismash, USNDP (USHL)
2008 was the last time the U.S. Under 18 team didn't have a first round pick and while this year looks like it could happen, I believe Mismash will be a first rounder. Was very impressed with him at the Under 18's and he has the size and plays the power game that the Canadiens so desperately need to add to their forward group. He's going to North Dakota next year and will have a few years to continue to develop his offensive game. At worst, the Canadiens could have a solid 3rd line center for the future, but at best, they could have a top 6 power forward who can play the front of the net on the powerplay for them.

26. Chicago Blackhawks - Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Timmins is a smart, skilled, two-way defender who also happens to be a right shot. He's got great vision and rarely makes a mistake with the puck. He also battles hard in the defensive end and shows a fair amount of intensity. I think that the Hawks would love to add another skilled defender to their prospect group and Timmins strikes me as the type of guy that they would look at. They could also go Valimaki or Vaakanainen, but they've loved the OHL in recent years and would have no doubt seen a lot of Timmins this year.

27. St. Louis Blues - Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)
After taking Hague with their first pick, the Blues grab Robertson with their 2nd. Robertson just seems like a Blues' selection to me and I think he fits in really nicely with what they've built moving forward. His skating is rough, but you can't ignore the fact that he was in on nearly 50% of his team's offensive production this year. Big guy with silky mitts who could really find a lot of success playing with a guy like Robby Fabbri. And of course (like I mentioned with Hague), the Blues love them some OHL players.

28. Ottawa Senators - Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
One of the biggest risers in the second half of the season would be Pierre-Olivier Joseph (brother to Tampa prospect Mathieu). He's a smooth skating, two-way defender who brings a lot of potential to the table once he fills out. He's also part of the leadership group in Charlottetown already and is said to be a potential captain for the team next year. The Sens would have gotten a long look at him while scouting Thomas Chabot this year and he fits well within what the organization is trying to do right now.

29. Dallas Stars - Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)
Quite the fall for Valimaki, a player a lot of scouting agencies seem to have as a potential lottery candidate. But I know there are concerns over his skating ability from the blueline, and if there's one thing I've learned about covering the draft all these years, it's that defenders with skating decencies almost always drop. With two first rounders, the Stars can take a chance on Valimaki, whose raw offensive ability makes him one of the top offensive blueliners available this year. He has everything you're looking for in a future powerplay QB. 

30. Pittsburgh Penguins - Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Liiga)
The Pens are picking in the first round for only the 2nd time in the last five years. They've got some quality young forwards in the pipeline, but they could definitely add another defender if the fit is right. Well Vaakanainen seems like a perfect fit for the Pens and just happens to be the best player available IMO. I was very impressed with him at the U18's, where he had an impact at both ends of the ice. I think there's more offensive upside than scouts are giving him credit for, but at the very least, he could develop into a dependable second pairing guy, similar to what Olli Maatta should have become already if not for the injuries and illnesses.

31. Nashville Predators - Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Spokane (WHL)
I see the Preds gravitating towards a guy like Anderson-Dolan. A hard working center with some offensive upside. He put up good numbers this year and is one of the youngest players available in the draft this year. I definitely wasn't that impressed with him at the Under 18's, but the Predators love their WHL guys and could really use a player like Anderson-Dolan in their system. I could also see them targeting a guy like Maxime Comtois (for his size and skill package), or a playmaking center like Joni Ikonen. The guy they should target is Jonah Gadjovich, but Preds haven't drafted an OHL player since 2011 so I can't see them using their first on one.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

The conclusion to my Top 50 for this year's NHL Entry Draft.

Here is my top 10.

1. Gabe Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
It certainly hasn't been an easy year for Vilardi. Missed the Hlinka with a knee injury that caused him to miss the start of the OHL regular season too. Then, just as he was finding a groove, he had to have an emergency appendectomy. Through it all, he still finished with 61 points in 49 games, which was good for the third best ppg average of any '99 in the OHL (behind #2 and #3 on this list, Tippett and Suzuki). He's the prototypical center for today's NHL game which lives in the Corsi age and thrives on possession time. Vilardi might be the best player in the entire OHL below the hash marks. He has an unreal ability to extend possession in the offensive end by controlling the wall and tiring out opposing defenses. This not only draws countless penalties, but it opens up the ice for his linemates. And Vilardi's second best attribute would be his hockey sense and vision, so he consistently finds those open teammates from the wall or behind the net. In a lot of ways, Vilardi's ability to slow down the play and control the wall reminds me of Joe Thornton in his prime. In addition to having great puck control, Vilardi is also a solid two-way player who has the potential to develop into an elite two-way forward. The only real flaw in his game is his lack of explosive skating ability. To a certain degree, I think these concerns have been overblown. He's not an awful skater, just not an above average one. I'd compare him to Sean Monahan as a skater when he was drafted and that certainly hasn't limited his effectiveness in the NHL. Vilardi is too smart and too skilled to not be an impact player at the NHL level IMO and I think he deserves to be the 3rd player off the board behind Patrick and Hischier come June. Heck, if he has a dominating performance in the Memorial Cup, can he even enter the conversation with those two?

2. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
In a lot of ways, Tippett is the antithesis of Vilardi, the player he's gone head to head with all year for the top spot in these OHL rankings. He's a pure goal scorer who possesses speed and skill as a North/South player, but lacks the cerebral component that drives Vilardi's effectiveness. Tippett has the best shot of any player in the OHL, no offense meant to Debrincat, Mascherin, or Sokolov. Everything about it is elite. Lightning quick release that consistently catches defenders and goalies off guard, even though they know his reputation for shooting at any time. Great velocity on his wrist shot. Tremendous ability to protect the puck and use defenders as screens coming down the wing. And the utmost confidence to shoot from anywhere and everywhere. Tippett also possesses great speed. Once he gets going down the wing, he's very hard to stop, especially because you're also trying to take away space from him so that he can't get off his shot. I think his first few steps looked a bit slower this year as he added some weight, but I expect that as he continues to become better conditioned, he will develop into a terrific skater at the pro level. So you've got an explosive sniper with size. In a lot of ways, I see Tippett possessing a Peter Bondra esque type of ability and potential at the NHL level. The negatives have been much discussed. His defensive awareness and overall play without the puck needs to improve. But, I do think that it has improved already from his rookie year and from the start of this season. He has even flashed a desire to engage physically this year and throw his weight around. I think his play without the puck will continue to improve. I think the real area of concern is his hockey sense and ability to utilize his teammates. Too often the play dies on his stick and he's not able to extend possession in the offensive zone because he fails to find an open teammate and loses poise/patience with the puck. I think this is especially evident on the powerplay, as I find him to be a more effective 5 on 5 player right now. Is this something that will develop? That remains to be seen. Harnessing this will also make him a better goal scorer. Let's be real, the goals he scores by catching defenders and goalies off guard in the OHL, won't be goals at the next level. He's going to have to work harder to find the dirty areas and work the middle of the ice better to be a consistent goal scorer at the NHL level. But in a draft year that lacks true star potential, Tippett has to remain a top 10 pick because of the goal scoring potential he possesses and ultimately, that's what wins hockey games. You can listen to Tippett's segment on The Pipeline Show, here.

3. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
SO glad to see him finally getting the recognition he deserves late in the season. Reminds me of Robby Fabbri in his draft year, where it wasn't until later in the season that he finally started to be considered a serious candidate for a selection in the lottery (although he did ultimately fall). The key to Suzuki's game is his combination of amazing hockey sense and non stop motor. I saw's Mike Morreale recently say, "Suzuki plays the game like he's got red bull flowing through his veins," and I think that's a very accurate statement. Suzuki isn't the world's quickest skater, but he has great agility and it allows him to really whirl around the offensive zone like a Tasmanian devil. Plus, he's always one step ahead of his competition, which means he's outworking you and out-thinking you. His playmaking ability is top notch and it's no fluke that he was able to be one of the league's leading scorers in the regular season and post season. But his goal scoring ability is something that is underrated. He has a deceptively quick release and he's so adept at getting himself scoring chances. This is a well rounded offensive player. Suzuki also uses his motor to play defensively and on the PK, where he's developed into one of the league's premier penalty killers. One of the comparisons that is thrown around a lot is Joe Pavelski and Suzuki projects as the type of player who can excel in all situations like Pavelski does for the Sharks. Another thing that's not mentioned a lot is Suzuki's late birthday that makes him one of the younger players available. He still has some physical maturity to undergo, so it's scary to think of how good he could be if he gets stronger. To sum it up, with Nick Suzuki, you're getting one of the more complete players in the draft, who if he were a bit bigger and a bit quicker, would probably be competing with Patrick and Hischier for first overall. You can check out Nick's segment on the Pipe-Cast here.

4. Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights
Thomas is an extremely talented playmaker who is coming off a terrific second year with an ultra talented London Knights squad. For much of this year, Thomas was the team's most effective and consistent forward and he deserves major props for that. He's deceptively quick and extremely effective off the rush, where his elusiveness is combined with his vision and creativity. He's far from a perimeter player who thrives in traffic areas despite not possessing elite size or strength. He especially excels on the powerplay, where his vision and passing ability is put on full display. Just makes great decisions with the puck in the offensive end. The only real criticism is that he needs to shoot more. I think Thomas will always be a playmaker, first and foremost, but he needs to keep teams honest by improving his shot and by being more aggressive in using it. Teams overplay him for the pass and he won't take that next step as OHL scoring leader and offensive dynamo until his shot improves and his confidence in using it improves. And while he's a pretty heady two-way player, I'd love to see him play with more consistency away from the puck, similar to the way Nick Suzuki does. As he fills out, Thomas is a guy who possesses a lot of offensive potential and I think he deserves to be considered a candidate for the Top 20 at the draft in June.

5. Nic Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Originally had Timmins as the top defender available from the OHL this year, but it's incredibly close. With Hague's tremendous performance in the postseason, I think he's done enough to vault ahead. If you saw Hague in the playoffs, you've seen him at his absolute best; the best hockey he's played as an OHL'er thus far. And I think that's going to resonate pretty heavily with NHL scouts. There were times during the regular season where watching Hague play was extremely frustrating. He had become prone to defensive zone turnovers and was having a real tough time with the forecheck, as he wasn't keeping his feet moving and his decision making was a tad too slow. But he's really cleaned that up this postseason. I think it's still an area of concern for the future, but his improvement late in the year is encouraging. As an offensive player, Hague is certainly not typical. He's not the type to consistently lead an explosive rush up ice or appear dynamic in nature. But once the Steelheads gain entry into the offensive zone, he's a very, very efficient player. He's got one heck of a point shot, but he's also very good at sliding down into scoring lanes, catching opposing forwards puck watching. Hague is also not afraid to pinch in deep to maintain puck possession, similar to a 4th forward. He uses his size and strength exceptionally well along the wall to extend plays. This is similar to the way Brent Burns has become so effective as an offensive player in the NHL today. Defensively, Hague has really developed quite the mean streak and it's made him very difficult to play against. He uses his reach and mobility very well to defend the rush, but uses his size and strength to defend the corners and the front of the net. Again, this postseason, he's been absolutely hammering anyone who dares try to go to the net when he's on the ice. While I'm not entirely sure how much his offensive game translates to the NHL level, and I do think the turnovers and decision making are a concern, there's enough there to suggest that he could develop into a quality top 4 defender at the NHL level. You can listen to Hague's segment on The Pipe-Cast, here.

6. Connor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The true definition of a jack of all trades defender. Timmins excels at both ends of the ice. Defensively, he plays much bigger than his 6'1 frame. He's ultra aggressive in the corners and in front of the net, and while he's not the type to lower the boom with a huge open ice hit, he's adept at engaging physically to win one on one battles. He also makes very good decisions with the puck in his own end, utilizing a great first pass or good mobility to get the puck out of trouble. Offensively, he has great vision and has really grown as a powerplay QB. While I don't think his point shot will ever be a massive weapon, he shows enough as a puck mover to suggest that his offensive abilities could translate to point production at the NHL level. I think really adding an extra gear to his skating ability could help him with that production as he moves forward. When it comes to Hague versus Timmins, I think Hague gets the advantage because of his size and unorthodox offensive contributions. But don't be surprised if Timmins goes first because he's a right shot defender who just screams pro defender because of his all around abilities. 

7. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
No question, Dipietro is one of the better goaltending prospects to come out of the OHL in recent years. About the only thing he doesn't have going for him is size. At 6'0, Dipietro lacks the height and length NHL scouts desire at the position these days. What he lacks in physical stature, he makes up for with elite athleticism, quickness, and intelligence in the crease. Dipietro is easily one of the quickest goalies post to post that I've seen play in the OHL. He gets excellent push offs and he does such a good job reading and anticipating plays that he makes highlight reel saves on a nightly basis. Dipietro also does a great job of controlling his rebounds, limiting second and third chances. You also have to applaud his mental make-up. Since coming into the league, he hasn't missed a beat. As a rookie last year he was already one of the better netminders in the league and has continued that this year, where he was a stabilizing force for an injury prone and inconsistent Windsor team. It'll be exciting to see how he elevates his game for this year's Memorial Cup. The one thing that I will say is that as a "smaller" goalie, he needs to do a better job challenging shooters more consistently. He can't get caught deep in his net, where he's susceptible to being beaten high. There were times this year where that was happening and it's really the only flaw to his game. But he's more than deserving of being a top 45 pick come June. Just a matter of whether NHL scouts can look past his lack of size.

8. Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
As the year went on, Robertson just kept getting better, and better. The Frontenacs were far from an offensive juggernaut, but Robertson was one of the league's premier performers in the second half of the year and the playoffs. In his final 25 games of the year (including the playoffs), he had 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points or very nearly two points per game. Overall on the year, if you combine the regular season and playoffs, Robertson was in on nearly 48% of his teams goals this year. That's just insane. Even with the top defensive players of the opposition keying in on him, he managed to remain consistently productive. Robertson is extremely difficult to separate from the puck and that's one of the things that makes him so effective. He's aggressive in driving the net and despite lacking elite speed or acceleration, manages to find his way there with, and without the puck. He's also very intelligent. 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. They have similar body types, similar skating strides and found success at the OHL level the same way. Outside of improving his skating, adding that consistent physical element and intensity level (like Perry possesses) is the key to his development. While he's a determined player with the puck, I find that his engagement without the puck lacks consistency. Would love to see him use his size to dominate in puck retrieval and on the backcheck, but he has a tendency to float in the offensive zone, hanging out in the slot. You simply can not ignore his production this year though, even with a few warts.

9. Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
A '98 October birth date who was one of the OHL's most improved players in his 3rd year in the league. Went from 14 goals to 46 this year. Gadjovich is a really big kid who plays a throw back style of game. It's built on power and he's most effective within 5 feet of the net. He's an absolute bull to deal with in front of the net because he's as strong as an ox, but also smart. Does a really good job shielding off defenders and keeping them on his back. He's also got sensational hands in close. Adept at tip ins, but also has a very good shot that exhibits power and accuracy. Gadjovich is also a very good two-way player who is just as effective without the puck as he is with it. He plays the game hard and relishes in the opportunity to throw his body around. His skating has gotten better every year he's been in the league, and I would actually say he skates reasonably well for a big man now. He'll never be a burner, but he definitely exhibits more power than a guy like Jason Robertson. His overall puck skill, creativity, and playmaking ability are still works in progress. His offensive potential at the NHL level will depend on the continued development of his shot, and the development of his play with the puck. His production dipped a bit in the OHL playoffs, and I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you that he could have done more to try and get Owen Sound to the West finals. But he had a pretty damn good year overall. Best case scenario you're looking at a guy like James Neal, and at worst a guy like Joel Ward. I feel like Gadjovich is a pretty safe bet to be an NHL player.

10. Isaac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm 
Ratcliffe is a very interesting prospect that is available this year. I could see him being drafted anywhere from 15 to 50. He has some extremely alluring qualities to NHL scouts. First thing you notice is his size at 6'6. And he skates very well, with good speed and acceleration. But he's also not even 200lbs yet. As he fills out, I don't think we truly know how good he could be. Ratcliffe's other best quality is his shot. He has an absolute rocket of a wrist shot and I think he's got big time scoring potential. Once he's able to add that aforementioned strength, he'll be able to generate more scoring chances for himself as he can protect the puck better and look to be aggressive in driving the middle of the ice. His physical game is inconsistent and that's another area of his game that will need to improve. Ditto for discipline. Anyone who watched the U18's can tell you that he struggled with some lazy stick penalties and it was the same in Guelph too. He has the potential to be an excellent defensive player though with his size and skating ability. Playing for Guelph is a wild card all in itself. Because of how bad Guelph was at times this year, he had a propensity to disappear at times. He went an entire month without scoring a goal later in the year. And when he's not scoring, that's when the physical game and the cycle game really need to activate to make him more noticeable. Bottom line, the key word with Ratcliffe is potential, which I've already used several times to describe him. Huge kid who could develop as a scoring power forward under the right tutelage and with improvements to his conditioning. You can listen to Ratcliffe's segment on The Pipe-Cast, here