Ryan's 2017 NHL Mock Draft – Top 10 Edition
DISCLAIMER: These picks are made with the assumptions that teams will keep their respective picks and do not trade.
1. New Jersey Devils – Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon Wheat Kings
Patrick, a 6’3 200 pound centre, would have been a top-5 pick last year had he been eligible. And for a team whose first line pivot is Travis Zajac, the Devils need help in the middle. As Pavel Zacha settles into a top-6 centre roll for the Devils, he will likely top out as a second-liner. Patrick could serve as a fine addition to the first line next to elite winger Taylor Hall. Despite playing in just 33 games this year due to injury, he was incredibly productive when on the ice. In 126 total games over the last two seasons (regular season and playoffs), Patrick registered a monstrous 178 points. His dynamic offensive ability coupled with a sound two-way game make him nearly impossible to pass on in my opinion. The young forward says he models his game after L.A. centre Anze Kopitar – and if he can provide the sustained value of the Kings' captain, Patrick will be a home run for New Jersey. I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s NHL ready and will bring an immediate offensive boost to the league’s 3rd lowest scoring team.
2. Philadelphia Flyers – Nico Hischier, C/LW, Halifax Mooseheads
Whoever the Devils don’t pick between Patrick and Hischier will be selected by the Flyers. Hischier was a revelation during his first season in North America, totalling 86 points in 57 games for an otherwise mediocre Mooseheads team. His +20 rating was by far the best on the squad. A strong showing at the World Jr’s for Switzerland cemented his place as a top prospect, and his offensive abilities range from fundamentally sound to dazzling. As Connor points out as well, Hischier may not be handed top-line minutes without putting in his due diligence, considering the Flyers have ample forwards they're already comfortable deploying, but he could turn into a star very quickly if he's put in a position to succeed. Dynamic speed and skill define Hischier’s game, and the Flyers should be thankful a player of his caliber has fallen into their laps.
3. Dallas Stars – Miro Heiskanen, D, HIFK Helsinki
As a 17-year-old in the Finish Elite League, Heiskanen played well against grown men, and is one of the most NHL ready prospects available. His 10 points in 37 games don’t jump off the page, but his ability to play well defensively amongst professionals was a very encouraging sign, and he skyrocketed up many draft rankings as a result. The fact that he contributed at all offensively is icing on the cake. Dallas was fortunate enough to move up several spots, and end up getting a 3-zone D-man who can move the puck should they chose Heiskanen. He would make a perfect compliment to John Kilgberg, a right-handed offensive defenseman, thanks to Heiskanen's reliable decision making on both ends. He could develop into a top-pairing defenseman that can play in all situations. I could see the Stars taking one of the next three centres if that’s what management has in mind, but they need more help on the back end.
4. Colorado Avalanche – Gabe Vilardi, C, Windsow Spitfires
Vilardi has good size (6’2 193), a mature two-way game, and can generate offence. He finished with 61 points in 49 games for Windsor this season, and cemented himself as one of the most desirable prospects in Major Junior Hockey. At just 17 years old, he’s one of the youngest draft-eligible players. And after last season’s poor showing, the Avalanche could move Matt Duchene or another forward for a defenseman. While there could be some good d-men on the board here, Vilardi projects nicely as a consistent two-way forward and is a low-risk option in my opinion. Even if his ceiling is not as high as Patrick or Hischier, and he isn’t the most dynamic skater, Vilardi should be a steady top-6 forward once he settles into the Avs' lineup. Not the player the Avalanche were likely eyeing after finishing dead last in 2016-2017, but a solid piece to add - especially if they trade a forward. If Heiskanen is still available here, he would make sense too.
5. Vancouver Canucks – Cody Glass, C, Portland Winterhawks
Glass was very productive in his second WHL season (94 points in 69 games), putting together a series of multi-point contents in the second half to catapult his draft stock into a consensus top-10 pick. I don't mind this pick for Vancouver, who despite losing their 2nd place standing in the lottery and getting 5th overall (again), end up filling a need down the middle with a high-level decision maker and someone who elevates his teammates. Albeit, the Canucks could realistically use help at every position – but to compete in the Western conference, a strong centre-group is one of the most crucial mandates. In Glass, the Canucks would secure a skilled, intelligent player who provides depth and consistency down the middle. Maybe not the flashiest prospect or most prolific goal scorer, but he was a steady 5on5 producer – 66 of his points came at even strength, and perhaps most impressively, 36 of his 62 assists were of the primary variety.
6. Las Vegas Golden Knights – Casey Mittelstadt, C/RW, Green Bay Gamblers
Mittelstadt spent a majority of this season dominating high-school hockey, where he amassed 64 points in just 25 games, and was named Mr. Hockey in his home state of Minnesota. He also spent time in the USHL where he was impressive, registering a league-high 1.25 points per game, recording 30 (13 goals and 17 assists) in only 24 games. While I definitely wish he played a full USHL season against adequate competition, a dominant 24 game sample-size shows that he can produce no matter where he plays. He's just a special player. Mittelstadt is a unique offensive talent and his skill-level is immense, but I believe he’s still a year away from cracking an NHL roster. He’s committed to U of Minnesota for the fall, where he can continue honing his electrifying offensive abilities against top-tier talent. This would be a good building block for the Knights in their first ever draft. If Canucks' management prefers Mitteslstadt over Glass at #5, I could see the Knights taking Glass or Owen Tippet instead.
7. Arizona Coyotes – Timothy Liljegren, D, Rögle BK
After battling mono for a good chunk of the season, Liljegren slipped down draft boards – many to begin the season considered him a top-3 prospect. And with Arizona’s forward-heavy prospect group being one of the league’s best, it makes sense for them to take an offensive-minded defenseman here. He makes some mistakes and gives the puck away too often; although I believe the cerebral aspect of his game will only improve with age and experience. This season, he recored six points in 24 games, splitting time between Rogle BK and Timra IK, and he's just 18 years old. His ability to play in most situations and clear offensive upside would make a great fit in Arizona's young and analytics-driven system. Liljegren is an intriguing player who has competed in the SHL for two years, including getting time on the top power-play unit this season.
8. Buffalo Sabres – Owen Tippet, RW, Mississauga Steelheads
Tippet is one of my favourite prospects in the entire draft. He's fast, aggressive, and supremely talented. This would be a great pick for the Sabres, who should select the best goal scorer available to pair with their franchise centre Jack Eichel. After last season's frustrating finish, adding Tippet would be a fantastic fit for a rising crew in Buffalo. At 6’2 204 lbs, Tippet has the size of a full-formed power forward, and is also an elite skater with a terrific shot and great hockey sense. 44 goals in just 60 games for the Steelheads is a testament to his transcendent goal-scoring ability. It might be temping for the Sabres to take a defenseman, but Tippet is just way too good to pass up in my view. He will be a dynamic offensive player for years to come, and I project him to become a perennial 25-30+ goal scorer on the next level.
9. Detroit Red Wings – Cale Makar, D, Brooks Bandits
Makar has undeniable offensive ability, recording a whopping 75 points in just 54 games in Tier 2 Junior A this year, and can quarterback a power play with elite puck handling and mature awareness. However, a slight 5'10 175-pound frame could make a quick transition to the NHL a bit challenging. Also, the level of competition he faced in the AJHL this season is a red flag for some scouts, but I think his production is too impressive to be overlooked. Makar has committed to play at UMass (Amherst) for at least one season, where he can get stronger and develop the defensive/physical aspects of his game. For a Detroit team that missed the playoffs for the first time since longer than I've been alive (1990), Makar would make a nice addition to a relatively thin defensive prospect pool.
10. Florida Panthers – Lias Andersson, C/LW, HV71
Andersson was quite productive (19 points in 42 games) in the SHL this season as the youngest player on the team by several years. He was also part of the SHL Championship squad with HV71, where he contributed four goals in 16 playoff games. Andersson agreed to a 2-year contract with Frölunda and may not play in North America until at 2019-2020. But prospects often take a year or two of seasoning, and further experience in the SHL will only make him better. At 5"11 190 pounds, he's already strong on the puck for just 18 years old, and makes smart, creative offensive plays on a consistent basis. His +21 rating speaks to defensive awareness beyond his years, which is incredibly valuable when packaged with an offensive skill-set like his. Maybe not an immediate impact player because of his situation, but Andersson has tremendous potential to play multiple offensive positions at a very high level once he comes over.
Honourable mentions (no order): Nick Suzuki, Elias Pettersson, Eeli Tolvanen, Kailer Yamamoto, Michael Rasmussen, Martin Necas, Juuso Valimaki, Kristian Vesalainen, Klim Kostin, Erik Brannstrom, Nicolas Hague