Tomorrow night, June 23, the first round of the 2017 Draft goes down in Chicago, Illinois. Not only is it the time where teams build their futures but it’s also a time where teams make big trades.
As I did last year, I will do a mock draft and once again I will only do so for the first 15 selections. Of course, I’m not taking into account whether a team is rumored to trade their pick or not. For example, Dallas is rumored to be trying to trade their 3rd overall pick for an established forward/defenseman. Since that is only a rumor at this point and they haven’t traded the pick as of right now, I will draft the best possible player for Dallas at the 3rd overall spot.
Without further ado.
1st overall: The New Jersey Devils select F Nico Hischier
Unlike the past two drafts, there is no clear cut generational player at the top of the draft. With this draft, you could make an argument for three or four players going #1. The Devils have drafted forwards in the 1st round the last three drafts and although they’re reportedly looking to upgrade their blueline, I think the Devils will go with centerman Nico Hischier. They drafted centerman Mike McLeod 12th overall last year, so going forward having a 1-2 punch down the middle with Hischier–McLeod seems like a pretty good place to start considering they’re a rebuilding team. Hischier, will be the highest drafted Swiss player in NHL history. Dynamic offensive player with great hands and good wheels.
2nd overall: The Philadelphia Flyers select F Nolan Patrick
This one is interesting as I can see the Flyers going with a forward or a defenseman. The Flyers have had three 1st round picks in the previous two drafts, selecting a defenseman and two forwards. The Flyers typically love drafting defensemen and they do have a group of stud defensive prospects. Combine that with a need for a centerman (Giroux turns 30 in January and he can’t play forever) and the Flyers‘ GM Rox Hextall‘s connection with the Brandon Wheat Kings, I don’t see them passing on Nolan Patrick. Nolan Patrick was the consensus #1 pick of this draft all year until he was surpassed by Hischier at the end. Potentially a #1 center, Patrick can impact the game at both sides of the ice with his size, speed and skill.
3rd overall: The Dallas Stars select F Gabriel Vilardi
You can make the argument that the Stars would select one of the top two defensemen because defense has been their Achilles heel in recent years. However, this team needs a centerman. They have Jamie Benn, yes. But after that? They have Jason Spezza but he’s 34 years old and the Stars are dangerously close to having to replace him. The Stars also lost Cody Eakin in the Expansion Draft. When you take that into consideration it makes all the sense in the world they go with a center. But after Hischier and Patrick, there’s a slew of centers that are ranked in the same area and in different order on prospect rankings. It’s really about a team’s preference at this point. Maybe it’s Cody Glass or Elias Pettersson but I think they will go with Gabe Vilardi. The only knock on Vilardi is his skating. Other than that, outside of Hischier and Patrick, Vilardi is the safest forward pick in the draft. A puck possession monster, Vilardi is a responsible two-way centerman that can play in all situations and is a force on the forecheck.
4th overall: The Colorado Avalanche select D Cale Makar
It would be only the 3rd time since 2007 that the Colorado Avalanche would draft a defenseman in the 1st round (following Kevin Shattenkirk in 2007 and Duncan Siemens in 2011) if they were to select one. The jury is split on who is the best d-man in this year’s draft – Cale Makar or Miro Heiskanen. If the draft board played out like this and the Avs had the choice between Makar and Heiskanen, it sounds like the Avs would take Makar according to BSNDenver and TSN’s Bob McKenzie. That’s a bit surprising as Heiskanen is the safer of the two and Avs have always gone the safe route. If it is Cale Makar, the Avs are going for a home run swing. Scouts and analysts say Cale Makar has the biggest ceiling than any player in the draft. A dynamic, offensive minded d-man that can take over games, Makar has drawn comparisons to multiple time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. The knock on Makar is his competition. He played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, a tier two league that is below the OHL/WHL/QMJHL. Question marks exist but if he realizes his potential, the Avs might get the best player in the draft.
5th overall: The Vancouver Canucks select F Cody Glass
A team in a rebuild, they have needs in all areas. They drafted d-man Olli Juolevi last year and although it’s never a bad idea drafting defensemen, I think they will go with a forward. And that’s bolstered by the fact that Jake Virtanen hasn’t quite turned out as they hoped so far. They’ll draft center Cody Glass, a player who’s drawn comparisons to Winnipeg Jets star Mark Scheifele. A potential 1st line center, Glass is a player that thinks and plays fast and at a high level. Really good transition game, attacks the opposition using his speed and skill. High hockey IQ and compete level. A great fit for Vancouver.
6th overall: The Vegas Golden Knights select F Elias Pettersson
With their 1st pick in their franchise history, the Golden Knights have the choice between taking a forward or a defenseman. With two other picks in the top 15 and with some quality d-men potentially available in that range, the Golden Knights will select highly skilled centerman Elias Pettersson. Golden Knights GM George McPhee has been known for drafting European players so Pettersson fits right in. Pettersson has great hands, quick feet, and his skills are off the charts great. The knock on him is his size. His height isn’t the problem as he’s over 6 feet tall but it’s his frame. He weighs in under 170 pounds. He’ll need to add some muscle to his frame before he’s ready for the NHL. Good thing is he’s still young and has plenty of time to do so.
7th overall: The Arizona Coyotes select D Miro Heiskanen
This is a no-brainer. A team that has a plethora of young talent up front that needs to build their blueline and arguably the draft’s top defenseman is up for grabs… the Coyotes will draft Miro Heiskanen. Heiskanen is seen as a safe, slam dunk pick. A two-way defenseman that plays a sound, pitch perfect game. Rarely makes mistakes. High hockey IQ, sees the game well, and makes a good first pass. Has offensive upside as well.
8th overall: The Buffalo Sabres select F Casey Mittelstadt
A team that could use some help on the defensive side of things and is rich with centers, and although on the surface Casey Mittelstadt might not be the best pick, it certainly is a good fit. Although Mittelstadt is a center, he can play on the left side which is a need from the Sabres perspective. Take away his decision to leave the USHL to play high school hockey, take away his mediocre performance at the NHL Combine, take away the concerns of his ability to produce at 5v5, there is a reason why he was ranked as a top 5 prospect for most of the year. He can play, Boy, can he ever play. Dynamic offensive player that brings a package of speed, skill and hockey sense.
9th overall: The Detroit Red Wings select F Michael Rasmussen
The Wings could use just about everything but since they have a couple of really good defensive prospects, I think they will go with a forward. Their pick? None other than 6’6 220 pound centerman Michael Rasmussen. Physically, he can play in the NHL tomorrow. His net front presence is a constant. He’s not afraid of engaging in the gritty areas. Also has an excellent shot.
10th overall: The Florida Panthers select F Kristian Vesalainen
It’s around this spot where it gets dicey. Prospect rankings are all over the place. Some scouts have players a lot higher/lower than others. It really comes down to beauty in the eye of the beholder. My pick for them is Kristian Vesalainen. In 2015, the Panthers drafted Lawson Crouse, a two-way winger with size. It didn’t work out with him in Florida as he was eventually traded to the Arizona Coyotes. In picking Vesalainen, it’s essentially Florida doing that pick over again and hopefully this time getting it right. Vesalainen is a big, strong hard working winger who has the ability to impact the game on both sides of the puck. He’s versatile as he can play on both wings and even down the middle. There are concerns regarding his offense but he has good hands and a good shot. If they don’t want a repeat of the Crouse situation, Florida shouldn’t rush Vesalainen. Let him develop and in a few years they may have a very important player in their lineup.
11th overall: The Los Angeles Kings select F Owen Tippett
One of the most interesting prospects in this draft is Owen Tippett. Some scouts/analysts have Tippett rated in the top 10 while others have him in the 20 range. The Los Angeles Kings have been a team built around two-way forwards and it has shown in recent years with a lack of offense. This team struggles to score goals. Owen Tippett is a goal scoring machine. He generates a ton of shots and drives offense. In terms of goal scoring, he might be the best goal scorer in the draft. He also has a great shot and is a great skater. Unfortunately, many see him as one-dimensional and his play away from the puck leaves you wanting more. With a new general manager and a front office shake up in Los Angeles, does the team switch directions and go with skill? Or do they stick with what the old regime did and prioritize two-way players over pure skill?
12th overall: The Carolina Hurricanes select F Martin Necas
The Carolina Hurricanes are drowning in good young defensive prospects. If there’s a team who doesn’t need to draft d-men it’s the Carolina Hurricanes. Their pick – centerman Martin Necas. It seems like a perfect fit (and I’m not the only one whose mock draft has Necas going to Carolina) as Carolina‘s biggest need is in the center position. They also haven’t been afraid of drafting European players. Necas is a right show centerman who is good in all areas. Although he sometimes tends to disappear in games, Necas can beat his opponents with speed and smarts. A lightning quick skater who can go-go-go, Necas is a gifted offensive player with a ton of creativity. Necas playing on a line with Sebastian Aho sounds pretty damn good, doesn’t it Canes fans?
13th overall: The Vegas Golden Knights (From Winnipeg) select D Juuso Valimaki
Their second of three picks in the 1st round. I had them picking forward Elias Pettersson 6th overall so this time around I have them picking a defenseman. They will select Juuso Valimaki, a 6’2 200 pound Finnish defenseman who played for the Tri-City Americans the last two years. A two-way d-man who has an underrated offensive game, Valimaki is a minute munching dependable d-man who can play in all situations. Good first past, good not a great shot, and reads the play really well.
14th overall: The Tampa Bay Lightning select F Nick Suzuki
Tampa Bay is in a position where they can draft the best player available, especially since they just acquired Mikhail Sergachev from Montreal last week. Nick Suzuki is considered to be the steal of the draft by whoever drafts him. Although he’s only 5’11 180 pounds, Suzuki is a smart, gifted offensive centerman who thinks and plays at high speed. Though his size may deter some, Suzuki plays a sturdy game and he’s hard to knock off the puck. He’s skilled with the puck and has a high hockey IQ, Suzuki is also a great skater. The talent is there, the work ethic is there, the only thing that isn’t there is size. If he was above 6 feet tall and around 200 pounds, Suzuki would easily go in the top 10… he still might. After trading away Jonathan Drouin, the Lightning may want to add another high talented offensive player to replace him.
15th overall: The Vegas Golden Knights (From NY Islanders) select D Timothy Liljegren
I had them drafting a forward with their 1st pick, a defenseman with their 2nd pick, and I have them picking another d-man with their 3rd pick. Timothy Liljegren is a fascinating prospect. At the start of the hockey year, the 2017 Draft was suppose to be the Nolan Patrick/Timothy Liljegren draft. Patrick remains in consideration for the top pick where Liljegren has fallen quite a bit. The reason why? He had a case of mono that took him out of the game for a couple of months. And when he returned he wasn’t all that impressive which started to worry a lot of scouts. But nonetheless, Liljegren is a highly skilled d-man. His creativity, skill, and skating are off the charts and has the potential to quarterback a #1 powerplay in the NHL. His decision making gets called into question as he’s prone to putting himself into danger (on the ice). Valimaki is a left shot two-way d-man and Liljegren is a right shot offensive d-man. Potential future pairing in Vegas?