My favorite time of the year is October when the puck drops on a brand new NHL season. But before we get there, we get to experience the best time of the year: June. In June, the Stanley Cup Playoffs come to a close and the Cup is hoisted by that season’s best squad. Shortly thereafter, the NHL holds its annual Entry Draft where the best prospects are strategically chosen by the 30 NHL teams.
This year is a little different (alright – very different) from years’ past; not only was there a Vegas Expansion Draft where one player each was plucked from the 30 teams, but the 2017 NHL Draft will feature record 31-team rounds on Friday evening and Saturday morning.
Teams will no longer draft per usual; clubs will have to recharge their arsenals based not only on the usual retirements and trades but will now have to compensate for who might have been lost to the Golden Knights.
Furthermore, we have been spoiled in the last two drafts with deep prospect pools and generational talent abound in the likes of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Patrik Laine, and Auston Matthews. This year, the draft is not nearly as deep. That being said, there’s enough talent to go around, but teams will look to address needs more quickly as opposed to taking the “best available” approach for the entire round. Nevertheless, there will be some great hockey players chosen who will go on to have terrific NHL careers. And keep in mind, there will be first-round busts, and there will be later-round gems (think Henrik Lundqvist in the seventh round, and Jamie Benn at no. 129-overall, for example).
Note: As of Thursday morning, Minnesota, Washington, New York (I), and Anaheim do not have first round picks this year, as they had been dealt in prior deals. Vegas will choose three times while Arizona, St. Louis, and Dallas will choose twice each.
Without further ado, here are the 2017 NHL Entry Draft Selections for Round One:
1) New Jersey – Nolan Patrick
2) Philadelphia – Nico Hischier
I will combine my explanation for these two picks only because with the top two choices, does it even matter this year? Patrick was thought of as the sure-fire first-overall since before last year’s draft, but Nico has quickly moved up the later right behind him this season. Given how quickly Hischier has been developing, his ceiling could potentially end up being higher than Patrick’s.
Patrick is a little bigger, and therefore closer to being NHL-ready, something the Devils really need right now. Thus, Nolan Patrick goes to NJ, while Hischier heads to Philadelphia to an already prosperous prospect pool. Regardless, hindsight will be the only tool in determining who the better overall pick was.
3) Dallas – Gabe Vilardi
The verdict is still out as to whether Dallas will keep this pick. Assuming the Stars do, as the top-six forwards for the Stars get older (i.e., Jason Spezza is 34), Dallas will need to draft a top-six center to prepare for the future. Enter Gabe Vilardi. Plus, Vilardi is the consensus third-best prospect in the draft. No brainer here.
4) Colorado – Cale Makar
The Avalanche have plenty of options in prospect forwards including Tyson Jost. But, the Avs severely lack defense. Joe Sakic will be tempted to snag Adam Foote’s son, but instead choose Cale Makar. Makar’s game is modeled after the likes of Erik Karlsson. By the time he’s NHL-ready, Sakic will have him to build around.
Note: Word has it that Matt Duchene might be available for a trade, and the New York Islanders could be his landing spot. If the rumors translate to reality, Sakic will consider instead drafting Casey Mittelstadt, who will fit right in as a top-six center. However, until then, rumors are just that – rumors.
5) Vancouver – Casey Mittelstadt
This is a standard best-available pick. Mittelstadt is another young guy to add to Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, and company as the Canucks will have to move on from the Sedin brothers soon. Mittelstadt is a great puckhandler and has great vision. His skating skating has vastly improved and will continue to do so before he gets the call-up.
6) Vegas – Owen Tippett
Vegas will choose the best forward available at the six-slot. This lands the expansion franchise Owen Tippett. Tippett is probably the best pure goal-scorer left, and no doubt has an incredible shot release. He will have to work harder when he gets to the NHL (Vegas will need him to be ready sooner), but Vegas will surely have an abundance of picks if Tippett doesn’t bear fully fruitfully. Scouts all around raise concerns about his work ethic, but he’s still a teenager.
7) Arizona – Cody Glass
With Mike Smith gone to Calgary and John Chayka informing Shane Doan of the team’s desire to move on without him, Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be tasked with leading the Coyotes into the future on the ice. Off the ice, Chayka chooses Glass, another “best available” pick, to add to the list of several viable upcoming prospect options. But time is ticking for the ‘Yotes. Another rebuild period could cripple the franchise if it takes too long. This makes the Glass choice that much more important.
8) Buffalo – Miro Keiskanen
The Buffalo Sabres’ reboot was delayed again after another season of missing the playoffs. One of the clubs’ biggest concerns is the porous defensive corps. Buffalo will address that problem with Miro Heiskanen, a two-way defender who keeps his cool in tight situations – much needed for a young Buffalo team.
9) Detroit – Callan Foote
While the Avs pass on the opportunity to grab Adam Foote’s prodigal son, Detroit does not. With Nicklas Lidstrom gone several years and Niklas Kronwall one-year older, the Red Wings’ blue line needs some help. While Dylan McIlrath eventually made his way to Detroit from New York with a pit stop in Florida, I just don’t see him panning out. Instead, Foote, a big defenseman, could be perfect for Detroit. Foote has been playing with Kelowna of the WHL. Kelowna is considered to be a blue line factory as it grinds out top defensemen for the NHL. And while most players in the draft will take time to become NHL-ready, Foote should be ready a little quicker than the majority of draftees, as sons of former players usually figure things out fairly sooner rather than later.
10) Florida – Timothy Liljegren
The Panthers would have wanted Cal Foote. Florida should probably take another centerman since Vegas has snatched Jonathan Marchessault, and traded for another forward in Reilly Smith. However, the Cats ranked a dismal 24th league-wide on the man-advantage (17%), and puck-moving defenseman are extremely tough to come by in this league. So, Liljegren is chosen to help boost the powerplay. He certainly has more developing to do, and he played on a bad team in Sweden (Rogle). But, with the right cast of characters supporting him, Liljegren could turn out to be a real power play specialist for the Panthers.
11) Los Angeles – Nick Suzuki
The Kings may have won two Cups in the last six years with solid goaltending and defenseman, but most significantly with size up the middle. But everyone knows big guys are going out of style (sort of – not that they are not needed anymore at all, but that the NHL is shifting its focus to smaller, faster players with an emphasis on skill). Los Angeles sees the writing on the wall as Chicago and Pittsburgh rule the roost. The NHL is trending towards smaller, quicker, and more skillful players. Thus, Nick Suzuki goes to LA. He might be smaller, but don’t let his size fool you. His size played little factor in his work ethic allowing him to notch 45 goals and 51 assists (96 points) in just 65 games with Owen Sound of the OHL. Teams are starting to realize that they do not need big centers if they have smaller ones who are just as, if not more, effective at putting the puck in the net. Suzuki is a terrific two-way pivot, taking after Kings’ captain Anze Kopitar. By the time Suzuki is ready, there could be a changing of the guard in Los Angeles.
12) Carolina – Michael Rasmussen
Everyone thought at this point the Kings would take big man Michael Rasmussen. The ‘Canes are not losing any sleep over it, because that’s exactly who they choose next. Rasmussen is 6’5” and 200 lbs. and he’s only 18. As one would imagine, he has a terrific front of the net presence, but his skating could use a little work. Maybe his future teammate, Jeff Skinner, can help him on that front.
13) Vegas (from WPG) – Eeli Tolvanen
I had a hunch the Jets would trade this pick to acquire a goaltender or deal it to Vegas to “protect” someone not on the official protected list. But, if they still had the pick, I saw Winnipeg choosing Tolvanen.
Tolvanen has the best shot after Tippett in the draft. He also possesses great speed, and plays a similar game to Marian Gaborik. Tolvanen is an absolute nightmare for goaltenders. For these reasons, Vegas takes him with this pick anyway; James Neal will not be around forever (if he even makes it past the 2018 trade deadline).
14) Tampa Bay – Klim Kostin
General Manager Steve Yzerman already addressed the defense with his trade with Montreal where the Bolts acquired Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin. The Lightning then take forward Klim Kostin at number 14. He’s a big body who’s not afraid to get dirty to balance out the smaller, more versatile squad. Fear not, for he also has a good offensive skill-set. It’s all about balance, and Tampa makes the right choice with Kostin.
15) Vegas (from NYI) – Juuso Valimaki
The New York Islanders traded its first-round pick to Vegas along with Mikhail Grabovski, defenseman Jake Bischoff, and a 2019 second-round pick. In return, Vegas agreed to select Jean-Francois Berube in the Vegas Expansion Draft. Grabovski’s return to action is uncertain. But what is certain is that Garth Snow is gearing up to re-sign John Tavares to an extension. It is also rumored that Snow will be pursuing Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, or maybe even Alex Galchenyuk to complement Tavares (but first to entice him to stay after next summer). Fun fact: George McPhee was a Special Advisor to Snow, among several other roles, for the 2015-16 season.
In turn, Vegas selects Juuso Valimaki, a great two-way defenseman with great vision and passing ability. He’s the best blueliner left and has good size – something that’s still necessary in the West.
16) Calgary – Martin Necas
By the time a draftee at this spot is NHL-ready, this player will be called upon to complement guys like Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, etc. Necas is that player. Sure, he’s got some filling out to do at 6’1”, 168 lbs., but he’s only 18. By the time he’s grown and bulked-up a bit, Calgary will need his speed and vision in the top-six.
17) Toronto – Nic Hague
Toronto’s youngsters will keep developing and the Leafs will have little issue scoring, if any. Defense, on the other hand, needs to be addressed. Short-term, I foresee the Maple Leafs pursuing Dan Girardi who was recently bought out by the New York Rangers, or in the very least considering Girardi as a quick-fix option (Girardi also hails from Ontario, so this could be a nice story-book homecoming ending for the defenseman who went undrafted).
For the long-term, Toronto will look to Nic Hague – he’s 6’5”, 215 lbs. He might be a bit of a project in the skating department, but if he pans out, Toronto will have its enforcer patrolling the point ripping howitzers and taking names (or something like that).
18) Boston – Ryan Poehling
The main purpose of any draft in any sport is for teams to prepare for the future, in different sorts of ways. With the 18th pick, the Bruins prepare for the future with Poehling. When he’s ready for the big leagues, Boston’s aging core will be well into its decline, so the need for cheap, young talent offensively will be at a premium. Bruins will be thrilled to snag him so late in the draft.
19) San Jose – Pierre-Oliver Joseph
Many people look at San Jose and see elder statesmen in Patrick Marleau and “Jumbo” Joe Thornton, but often overlooked is the quickly aging D corps. Brent Burns is already 32. Brendan Dillon is the only top-six D-man not 30-years old. Youth at the blue line is key here for the Sharks. “P.O. Joe” also has puck-moving ability which could be crucial as Burnsie will be nearing the end of his career. Joseph will need to bulk up a bit, but most teenagers need to anyway.
20) St. Louis – Kristian Vesalainen
St. Louis got smaller in the absences of David Backes and Troy Brouwer – too small, even in today’s league. Vesalainen is a re-up, if you will, on size at 6’3”, 207 pounds at only 18. He’s got size, speed, and skill to be a potential top-six forward.
21) New York Rangers – Elias Pettersson
Yes, Pettersson is small, but not height-wise at 6’2” – he’s a toothpick at 161 pounds. After being chosen Friday night, you can catch him guzzling cheeseburgers starting at noon on Saturday.
He reminds me of Pavel Buchnevich, who also needed to put on some weight. But after the weight gain, “Buch” suffered from back spasms as a result of not strengthening his core muscles to accommodate the new mass. New York has learned from this (hopefully).
This lesson will be able to turn Pettersson into a top-six guy in a few years while still on his entry-level contract. He’s got great vision, puck skills, and knows how to compete. The speed game employed by the Blueshirts would fit Pettersson well, and would end up being a steal for the Rangers, even at pick 21.
22) Edmonton – Lias Andersson
It’s safe to say that Edmonton is done searching for generational talent because there isn’t any at this time. Lias Andersson at pick 22 is a “safe” pick, but that’s not a bad thing! He’s a terrific two-way forward who put up modest numbers at age 18 in the Swedish Elite League. He will be what every coach looks for in a depth center for the Oilers.
23) Arizona – Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
With Mike Smith gone to Calgary via trade, Chayka is preparing for the future with Arizona’s second pick this round by taking the first goaltender in this year’s draft. Luukkonen is the top European goalie prospect this year. He’s big, calm, and moves well, similar to Ben Bishop, who is now the modern trend for tendies.
24) Winnipeg (from CBJ via VGK) – Maxime Comtois
With the focus on Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and others, it’s easy to forget that role-players are also valuable in the NHL. Maxime Comtois would have fit John Tortarella’s coaching scheme perfectly had Columbus retained this pick; simply put, Comtois plays the right way. He’s a reliable 200-foot player who blocks shots, is smart, and kills penalties where he is at his most dangerous. He’s worked on his skating and now boasts a powerful stride. Any team would be happy to have him. Here, the Jets are no different.
25) Montreal – Kailer Yamamoto
If the 2017 NHL Playoffs series against the Rangers showed us anything, it’s that the Habs need more scoring. Pacioretty had been the only consistent scorer for the Canadiens in the regular season, and the Rangers exploited that fact by making sure to cover the Montreal captain in the postseason.
In a past era, smaller guys were avoided but in today’s league, value can be maximized at all sizes. Yamamoto has great hockey sense, knows how to put the puck in the net, and still isn’t afraid to get down and dirty when needed. He’s like a Mats Zuccarello or, more familiar to the Habs, Brendan Gallagher, and Montreal will welcome him with open arms. 99 points in 65 games for Spokane in the “Dub”? I’m surprised he was passed on for this long, too.
26) Chicago – Isaac Ratcliffe
Does Stan Bowman nab a big winger to buck his trend, or does he address his aging D-corps. at pick 26? Tough to say, but passing on a 6’6” winger with skill who might need a little work on skating will be difficult to do. Isaac Ratcliffe, you’re headed to the Hawks. This way, Bowman can flip his young UFAs and sign Ratcliffe to his entry-level deal when he’s NHL-ready.
27) St. Louis (from WSH) – Erik Brannstrom
Can you believe that St. Louis has only drafted two defensemen since 2014? Me neither. But Doug Armstrong finally does it by searching for Erik Brannstrom. He’s a good skater and skilled, but a little smaller than most at 5’10”, 179 pounds. However, he’s good on the power play as he can move the puck well.
28) Ottawa – Robert Thomas
Robert Thomas (no, not the singer of Matchbox 20): don’t let his surge in point production fool you – he’s a defense-first, two-way center who can slide into any forward position. He’s technically a steal this late for the Senators, and fits the system of defensively-minded-minded structure.
29) Dallas – Kole Lind
If the Stars hang on to this pick, they take Kole Kind if he’s still available. Lind has average size, assuming more weight will be put on as he leaves his teenage years. He put up 87 points in 70 games for Kelowna in the WHL, more than double the previous year’s totals. He’s the best available guy left, and Stars are happy with their two first-round picks.
30) Nashville – Shane Bowers
After a great run to the Finals, the Predators need another dynamic forward, especially since James Neal was chosen by Vegas at the expansion draft. If one cannot be acquired via trade or free agency, Dave Poile (winner of this season’s GM of the year award), will benefit from drafting Shane Bowers. Bowers won’t wow anyone with his points, but he’s a perfect depth guy behind Viktor Arvidsson, Pontus Aberg, Ryan Johansen, etc. He’s another “safe” pick, but he’s a lock as a future NHLer, and there’s no shame in that. He’s committed to Boston University where he’ll make a name for himself in the absence of Clayton Keller and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson.
31) Pittsburgh – Jaret Anderson-Dolan
Sidney Crosby proved once again, and for at least one more year, that he’s the best in the world, and Evgeni Malkin led all players with 28 points in the postseason en route to the Pens’ fifth franchise Cup, the third with the core put together after the 2004-05 lockout. While diamonds (like those found on Championship rings) are forever, Sid and Geno are not. They may still be valuable in a few years, but decline is inevitably on the horizon (especially if Crosby can’t avoid another “C” word). Jim Rutherford won’t come close to drafting another generational player at the top of a draft if the Penguins keep winning and stay competitive.
But Jaret Anderson-Dolan is a terrific choice to close out the first round. J.A.T. is hardworking, good at the dot, a natural leader, and a smart overall player. He notched 76 points in 72 games with Spokane of the WHL (are we seeing a trend here?) pretty much tripling his previous year’s totals. Given Rutherford’s track record and knack for acquiring young, cheap talent, no one needs to advise Rutherford on what to do (not even me). But seriously, letting J A.T. fall to the second round would be a sin.
Obviously, there will probably be trades, so this mock draft of mine is bound to be riddled with inaccuracies. Nevertheless, the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will air on NBCSN starting at 7pm Friday evening, and will continue on NHL Network Saturday morning at 10am with rounds 2-7.