With the 2016 NHL draft in the rearview mirror, there’s no time like the present to look ahead at the 2017 NHL draft class. The draft has the makings of a quality group of high-end prospects.
Unlike the 2016 draft, Canada has no shortage of elite talents at the top of the upcoming draft class. The likes of Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nolan Patrick, Windsor Spitfires playmaker Gabriel Vilardi, Mississauga Steelheads sniper Owen Tippett and Victoriaville Tigres star Maxime Comtois are regarded as four of the top five prospects in the draft.
Here is a look at an early take on the top prospects of the 2017 draft. The order of the list and scouting reports are courtesy of Future Considerations.
1. Nolan Patrick, centre, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) – Thick hockey bloodlines run through Patrick’s veins. The 6-foot-3, 194-pound centre, who notched 41 goals and 102 points in 72 games last year as a WHL sophomore, is the son of NHL alumnus Steve Patrick and nephew of NHL alumnus and Dallas Stars assistant coach James Patrick.
Scout’s take: “Patrick hasn’t been much of a secret even in the years leading up to his first full season with Brandon. Our crew feels his blend of size, speed and skill are simply unmatched by anyone in the draft class at this stage. He is equally dangerous as a shooter and passer, and his IQ gives him the ability to control games at times.”
2. Timothy Liljegren, defence, Rögle BK J20 (SuperElit) – The Swedish sensation is regarded as a future cornerstone defenceman. He possesses an appealing combination of a high-end skating ability, elite puck skills and offensive creativity.
Scout’s take: “As of now, Liljegren is a clear choice as the top defenseman in this draft class. He’s as creative offensively as any blueliner in recent years, and is equally comfortable in making a breakout pass or hauling the puck up to create an end-to-end opportunity. Our guys think he can be high-risk, but mitigates the gamble with the way he thinks the game.”
3. Gabriel Vilardi, centre, Windsor Spitfires (OHL) – The Kingston, Ont., native appears to be poised for a breakout season in his second year with the Spitfires. He tallied 17 markers and 38 points in 62 games as a rookie while showcasing his top-notch playmaking abilities and slick moves.
Scout’s take: “Our Ontario guys see Vilardi as a dynamic, and often brilliant, offensive attacker. He looks to set up his linemates with timely passes, but isn’t shy to finish off the play when the opportunity presents itself. He’s a toolsy centre who is just scratching the surface of his potential, and we’re curious to see how much of that he taps into this season.”
4. Owen Tippett, wing, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) – The 6-foot-1, 181-pound Tippett is a pure goal scorer. After scoring 52 goals and 87 points in 50 games with the GTMMHL’s Toronto Minor Midget AAA Red Wings in 2014-15, he lit the lamp 15 times and added five helpers in 48 games with Mississauga this past season.
Scout’s take: “Owen has that soft, scorer’s touch. He gets to the right areas of the ice both with and without the puck and has the shot and release to bury it more often than not. His awareness is strong, too, knowing when to push for the scoring chance and when to support a developing play.”
5. Maxime Comtois, wing, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL) – Comtois hit the ground running as a freshman for the Tigres this past season, tallying 26 goals and 60 points in 62 matches. In addition to his stats, scouts are impressed with his complete game.
Scout’s take: “Comtois is a player that doesn’t compromise at either end of the ice. He plays a 200-foot game that doesn’t cheat towards either side physically, either. Offensively, he plays big, and is quick and skilled, and reads the game well to put himself in places to generate chances.”
6. Casey Mittelstadt, centre, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – The 5-foot-11, 190-pound centre lit up the Minnesota high school hockey scene last season, as he produced 22 markers and 59 points in 25 games with the Eden Prairie High in the USHS. He’s committed to the University of Minnesota for the 2017-18 season.
Scout’s take: “Casey is a bit on the small side, but compensates well with a good motor. His quickness and smarts compensate well, and his skill can take over games. He’s always generating something without being a liability the other way.”
7. Eeli Tolvanen, wing, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL) – Tolvanen, who is committed to Boston College for the 2017-18 season, left Finland to join the USHL as a 16 year old this past season. He managed to muster 17 goals and 38 points in 49 games as a rookie.
Scout’s take: “Tolvanen is a real offensive threat who blends speed, intensity and promising skill. He showed that to those that watched him at both the World Under-17s and U18 events this season. He’s got a great release and executes a one-timer as good as anyone in the draft class. He’s a dual threat offensively, but more often than not he’s the one finishing off the creative plays.”
8. Urho Vaakanainen, defence, JYP (Liiga) – Vaakanainen is set to play in Finland’s top men’s league in the Liiga full-time next season. The 6-foot-1, 187-pounder’s jump up in play is a testament to his smart two-way game and superb composure.
Scout’s take: “Our guys find Urho as a quick-thinking two-way defenseman who shows a lot of poise in his game when he’s working on advancing the puck, and no panic when it comes to defending off the rush. He’s smooth in most facets of the game, and while he isn’t flashy, does possess plenty of upside.”
9. Kristian Vesalainen, wing, Frölunda HC J20 (SuperElit) – The Finnish product possesses the enticing combination of an imposing 6-foot-3, 203-pound frame and silky soft hands. He showed off his high-end abilities at the recent WJC-18, scoring two goals and six points in seven contests.
Scout’s take: “Vesalainen has the size to impact the game in a lot of ways. We’ve seen him play a high-pace style, but he can also grind it out along the boards and in front of the net. He’s tough to move or lean on, and his soft hands make it difficult to strip him of the puck. That’s all offset by a very hard shot with a quick release.”
10. Callan Foote, defence, Kelowna Rockets (WHL) – As the son of former NHL great Adam Foote, the Englewood, CO., native has a lot to live up to on the ice. He’s not quite as rugged as his old man, but he appears to have the edge in offensive abilities.
Scout’s take: “Callan’s defensive game is what you would expect of someone with his bloodlines, but it’s the two-way upside that makes him intriguing. He’s tough to beat one-on-one and controls gaps well, but he also has the ability to get up ice to join a rush, and can finish with a great shot. He’s got decent hands on him, too. He’ll be a curious watch as the season goes on.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen