Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at hockey’s stars. Over the next few days we will be previewing the 2017 NHL Draft by ranking our top 30 prospects. We will also do some honourable mentions. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
With the CHL season a good eight weeks old; a month or so of NCAA hockey; plenty of games for the US National Team Development Program; the Ivan Hlinka Tournament; an international break in Europe; and the CIBC CHL/Russia Series all being played since we last updated our draft rankings, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the 2017 draft are doing this year.
That said, as a staff we haven’t seen every player yet—it’s quite simply not possible this early in the season. If there is an obvious name left out, we’ll do our best to get a look before the February rankings; as well as before our final rankings that go from April through June.
The group we haven’t seen a lot of are European prospects who, for whatever reason, haven’t had much exposure on the international stage. With the World Juniors, Five Nations, and the Under-18 all to come later in the year, we should get a better look at most of those players.
2017 NHL Draft November Rankings 11-15
11.) Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda / HPK; Left Wing/Right Wing, (6’3″ 203 lbs)
Vesalainen is a Finnish player, who signed with Frolunda to ply his trade in Sweden. He played 19 SHL games last year, and 16 this year. However, he was loaned to HPK in his native Finland. 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, Mississauga Steelheads; Defence (6’6″ 207 lbs)
Already measuring 6’6″ tall, Hague is a giant on the blue line. His skating is surprisingly quick for a player his size, and his stride long and fluid. He does have some problems with particularly speedy smaller forwards, but for the most part his skating is more than adequate and gets Hague to the areas of the ice he needs to be. 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. This season, he has picked up right where he left off, as he has eight goals and 17 points in 21 games. Hague is able to move well laterally and walk the line to open up shooting lanes to get his shot through. Hague could stand to improve his passing skills 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.) Elias Pettersson, Timra IK; Centre (6’2″ 161 lbs)
Pettersson is playing in the Allvenskan, and has gotten off to a tremendous start with 10 goals and 23 points in 22 games. He was also very good at the Under 18s with eight points in seven games, and looked good at this summer’s World Junior tryout camps.
Pettersson has a very good frame, but really needs to bulk up. He has very good offensive instincts and makes smart plays with the puck. His stickhandling and puck possession are extremely good, and he can create plays off the rush or in the offensive zone. He can make plays with the puck while moving at top speed. Pettersson is extremely hard to beat one-on-one. He also has excellent vision and passing skills. To top it off, he has a strong shot and release.
14.) Lias Andersson, HV 71; Centre (5’11” 198 lbs)
The son of former NHLer, and longtime SHL star, Niklas Andersson, Lias Andersson has been a star for Sweden on the international stage. He scored five goals and nine points in just seven games as last year’s Under-18 World Championships. His efforts were a major reason Sweden took home the silver. He also played in a number of U18 tournaments, and in the 2015 Under 17s. Andersson was really good, playing for Sweden in the summer prep camp for the World Junior.
The first thing you notice about Andersson is his tenacity. He plays the game with a non-stop motor, digging for loose pucks and trying to make plays in all three zones. He gets to the front of the net and plays in the dirty areas of the ice. Andersson has the soft hands to finish plays in close to the net, to get tip-ins and deflections and to pounce on rebounds. When he gains control of the puck in the corner, he moves the puck quickly to open teammates. Andersson is a strong skater. He has an excellent first step along with very good acceleration and agility.
15.) Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville Tigres Left Wing/Centre, (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 last season. Comtois was outstanding at the summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament and looked like a possible top five pick. However, he’s struggled this year, with just eight goals and 16 points in 26 games.