Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Starting today, and for the next 40 or so days I will be bringing you features on the next wave of NHL players. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical draft profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Prospects”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2016 Draft Articles Click here.
The 2016 NHL Draft has come and gone, and most teams have already held their post-draft development camp, getting an up close and personal look at the players they have selected in their new jerseys. However, scouting new talent never stops and with this in mind we turn our attention towards the talent that will be available in the 2017 NHL Draft. It may be early and there is still a full year of hockey to be played, likely leading to a lot of movement between these rankings and where players end up at the end of next season, but still lets take a look and preview the 2017 NHL Draft. It may not have the hype that accompanies Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but there will be plenty of talent available.
Early Look at the Top 15 for the 2017 NHL Draft
1) Nolan Patrick, Centre, Brandon Wheat Kings (6’3″ 195 lbs)
Teams around the NHL are looking for the big franchise centre. Already 6’3″ tall, Patrick has excellent size and a strong and powerful skating stride. A natural sniper, he has a tremendous wrist shot and quick release, as well as the quick, soft hands to bury chances in close to the net. His game is incredibly mature for his age, he has high end hockey IQ and always seems to make the right play both with and without the puck. Patrick has excellent vision and passing skills.
He can play both the power and the finesse game. Patrick works well down low, using his big body to shield the puck and to make plays in the cycle game. He also plays a strong two-way game, and is even used to kill penalties. His uncle is James Patrick, a defenceman who spent many years in the NHL. Patrick had 41 goals and 102 points in 71 games for the Wheat Kings last season.
2) Timothy Liljegren, Defence, Rogle BK (6’0″ 190 lbs)
Liljegren is an elite skater. He moves well both forwards and backwards, with excellent speed and acceleration. He also has very good edgework and pivots. As such he can cover a ton of ice. He can make offensive plays rushing the puck, or pinching in at the blueline; but still has the speed to get back defensively. Liljegren has the poise and smarts to quarterback a power play. He has excellent vision, and makes good passes to set things up at the line. He can also make the long breakout pass to hit a teammate streaking through the neutral zone. Liljegren’s defensive game is very advanced, and he played a number of games in the top Swedish league last year.
3) Gabriel Vilardi, Centre, Windsor Spitfires (6’2″ 185 lbs)
The second overall pick in the 2015 OHL Draft, Vilardi has decent speed. He uses it to get in on the fore check and cause problems for defenders. He uses his size to shield the puck and maintain possession in the cycle game, and uses his powerful stride to fight through checks and drive the net. Vilardi has a very long reach and excellent puck handling ability. He uses these assets to extend plays and wait for teammates to get open, before hitting them with a pass. Vilardi is constantly moving and getting involved in the play. He is extremely gritty and involved in battles along the boards, and in front of the net. The power forward prospect also has a very good wrist shot.
With Windsor hosting the 2017 Memorial Cup, there will be plenty of opportunities to show off his skills to the scouts. He put up 17 goals and 38 points in 62 games last year.
4) Maxime Comtois, Left Wing/Centre, Victoriaville Tigres (6’1″ 192 lbs)
The 3rd overall pick in the 2015 QMJHL draft, Comtois is a goal scorer for the Tigers. He has an excellent array of shots, with good power and accuracy on his wrist shot, snap shot and slap shot. A sniper, Comtois has a very quick release that can handcuff opposing goaltenders. He also has excellent vision and passing skills. Comtois can extend plays by using his stick handling and puck protection to control the play along the boards. Once teammates get open he can make a pass through the tightest of openings.
Comtois has good size and is not afraid to work along the boards or in front of the net. Comtois is also a very good skater, with great first step quickness and excellent acceleration. As a 16-year-old rookie, he took on heavy responsibility, playing in all situations. He also scored 60 points in 62 games this past season.
5) Owen Tippett, Right Wing, Mississauga Steelheads (6’1″ 181 lbs)
Tippet announced himself to the world at last year’s World Under 17 Hockey Challenge, where he put up five goals and eight points in six games to lead Canada White to the gold medal. Tippett is extremely dangerous off the rush. He has excellent speed and acceleration. His ability to change speeds allows him to take defenders wide and drive to the front of the net, where he has the soft hands to finish in tight. If defenders back off to respect his speed, he can use his excellent wrist shot or snap shot and beat goalies with a quick release. Tippett could stand to work on his play making skills. He can stand to slow things down and hold on to the puck just a little longer before rushing a play. Tippett had 15 goals and 20 points for Mississauga last season.
6) Casey Mittelstadt, Centre, Green Bay Gamblers (5’11” 190 lbs)
Mittlestadt spent most of last season playing high school hockey. However, he impressed enough to get a spot on last summer’s American team for the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. A strong performance, seven points in four games, would lead to him being invited to join the US NTDP late in the season. He scored a point per game. Mittelstadt was also invited to the IIHF U18 World Championships. He had another impressive tournament, with nine points in seven games. Mittelstadt will play for his high school team, as well as for for Green Bay in the USHL next season. He is committed to the University of Minnesota in 2017.
Mittelstadt has excellent puck handling ability. He can beat defencemen one-on-one with a number of moves, and has the soft hands to stick handle in a phone both. He combines this with excellent speed, and the ability to make cuts on a dime. Mittlestadt is an excellent play maker who creates passing lanes with his quick puck movement. He also has a good shot.
7) Eeli Tolvanen, Left Wing, Sioux City Muskateers (5’10” 174 lbs)
Tolvanen is another player who really excelled at last year’s World U-17 tournament. He put up nine goals and 10 points in just five games for Finland. He followed that up with 38 points in 49 games for Sioux City in the USHL. Tolvanen is expected to play another year in the USHL before heading to Boston College for the 2017-18 season.
Tolvanen is a pure sniper who scores goals in a variety of different ways. He reads the play extremely well, and uses a quick first step and excellent accleration to allude defenders and get himself open to fire a shot on goal. Tolvanen has an outstanding one-timer, with great power and accuracy. He also has a lightning quick release on his wrist shot. Tolvanen has the soft hands to make quick moves and beat defenders with his stick handling ability. He can bury rebounds and has the hand-eye coordination to get deflections in front of the net as well.
8) Nico Hischier, Centre, Bern/Halifax Mooseheads (6’0″ 172 lbs)
Drafted 6th overall by the Halifax Mooseheads in the CHL Import Draft, the Swiss sensation is headed to North America. He already has experience playing against men, with 15 games for Bern in the Swiss A League, and seven games for EHC Wisp in the Swiss B League. He also has plenty of experience playing for the National team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, the U18, and the U17 levels.
Hischier is a playmaker, with outstanding vision and passing ability. He has very good hockey sense, and anticipates his teammates movements in the offensive zone. Hischier has a very quick first step, excellent acceleration and agility, as well as great edgework. This, along with quick hands, allow him to avoid defenders and make him very elusive when working the puck in the offensive zone. Hischier also has a very high work ethic, he never seems to stop working during a shift.
9) Callan Foote, Defence, Kelowna Rockets (6’3″ 198 lbs)
What do you get when you combine the bloodlines of being the son of Adam Foote, with the junior hockey team with the best reputation for developing young defencemen year after year in the Kelowna Rockets? The answer is Callan Foote. Foote scored eight goals and 36 points in 71 games as a WHL rookie, showing real offensive prowess.
Foote is an excellent skater. He skates well in both directions, and solid pivots and edgework allow him to cover a lot of ice. He isn’t quite as physical as his famous father, but Foote is still willing to play the body. Its more about battling in the corners and clearing the front of the net than throwing big open-ice hits though. Foote has a hard slap shot which he keeps low and puts on net. He also has good poise with the puck on his stick, and the vision to quarterback things from the point on the power play.
10) Kailer Yamamoto, Left Wing/Centre, Spokane Chiefs (5’9″ 159 lbs)
As a 16-year-old, Yamamoto put up a tremendous rookie year, with 23 goals and 57 points in 68 games. He topped that in his second year, putting up 19 goals and 71 points in just 57 games. The 71 points led the Chiefs in Scoring. Yamamota was invited to play for Team USA at the IIHF U18s. He scored seven goals and 13 points in just seven games in the tournament. A late birthday, he is not eligible until the 2017 draft, when he will have just completed his third year in the WHL.
Yamamoto has tremendous hands, he is a great stickhandler and can bury goals in tight to the goalie. He also is very quick to loose pucks with great acceleration and a really quick first step. More a play maker than a goal scorer, he uses his quickness and stickhandling to open up passing lanes. Yamamoto can feather passes tape-to-tape to his linemates and has outstanding vision. Coming in at just 5’9″ tall, Yamamoto’s draft stock will raise significantly if he can grow an inch or two in the next year.
11) Kristian Vesalainen, Left Wing/Right Wing, Frolunda HC (6’3″ 203 lbs)
Vesalainen is a Finnish player, who is plying his trade in Sweden. He played 19 games in the SHL last year, getting in some minutes in the country’s top men’s league. He also put up 15 goals and 34 points in 37 games playing in the under 20 SuperElite league. Vesalainen starred for Finland’s national team with four goals and eight points in five games at the U17s; as well as two goals and six points in seven games as an underager at the U18s.
A versatile player, Vesalainen has experience playing both wings. He has excellent size, and uses it to protect the puck along the boards and extend plays in the cycle. Gifted with a large wing-span, Vesalainen takes advantage of it to play keep-away with defenders. A budding power forward, Vesalainen wins battles along the boards, and is not afraid to fight through checks to get to the front of the net. Vesalainen also has an excellent shot.
12) Nicolas Hague, Defence, Mississauga Steelheads (6’6″ 207 lbs)
Already measuring 6’6″ tall, Hague is a giant on the blue line. His skating is surprisingly quick, and his stride long and fluid. He plays a strong two-way game and covers a lot of ground for a big man. Hague scored 14 goals last season, showing off a powerful slap shot on the power play. He is able to move laterally and walk the line to open up shooting lanes to get his shot through. Hague could stand to improve his passing skills this season though. He makes a decent breakout pass from his own end, but needs to be a bit more patient with the puck at the oppositions blue. The big man also shows good defensive instincts for a player his age.
13) Urho Vaakanainen, Defence, Blues (6’1″ 187 lbs)
Another member of Finland’s improving hockey program, Vaakanainen played for the national team in both the Under 17s and Under 18s (as an underager) this season. He also spent some time with Blues, putting up a goal and six points in 25 games in Finland’s top men’s league. He was picked by the Windsor Spitfires in the CHL Import Draft, but its unclear if he will stay in Finland or come over to the OHL.
Vaakanainen has excellent hockey IQ. He reads the play very well in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. He chooses to make the smart plays both with and without the puck. Defensively he has great gap control and positioning. He also can skate the puck out of danger in his own zone, and start the transition game with a good first pass. Offensively he has a hard accurate shot, and the vision to be a play maker from the blue line.
14) Antoine Morand, Centre, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (5’9″ 170 lbs)
Morand is extremely elusive in the offensive zone. He has a great first step, excellent agility, and the edge work necessary to make quick cuts on a dime. He combines this with the soft hands to control the puck and make plays in tight spaces and at top speed. Morand is deadly in close to the net. He can make a quick deke on a goaltender, fire the puck to the top of the net, or make a quick pass to a teammate. Morand might be small, but he is not afraid to get involved in battles for the puck in the corner, or in front of the net. He is often found at the middle of post-whistle scrums as well.
15) Marcus Davidson, Centre, Djugardens (6’0″ 183 lbs)
An excellent two-way centre, Davidson does all the little things well. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and pressures defencemen into making turnovers. Once a turnover happens he can hit a teammate with a quick pass, drive the puck to the front of the net, or fire an excellent wrist shot on goal. He is relentless in chasing down pucks in all three zones, and has the skating to be able to get to loose pucks quickly. Defensively, he is already good in the faceoff circle. He shows a highly advanced ability to pressure puck carriers, and to play a smart positional game in his own end.