The 2017 NHL Entry Draft will be held at the United Center in Chicago this coming Friday and Saturday. As is our annual tradition, here is HabsWorld’s official mock draft. The Habs hold the 25th overall selection in the first round. In our mock, we project the entire first round plus Montreal’s next few picks.
Joining me to pick the draft this past Sunday (the 18th) was HW Editor Norm Szcyrek. Picks were made on an alternating basis as follows:
1, 3, 5, etc – Norm
2, 4, 6, etc – Brian
Each writer offers up their rationale for their selections below.
#1 – New Jersey – Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon (WHL)
Despite the numerous injuries Patrick faced this season that left him participating in only 33 games, people tend to forget his dominance from a year ago. As a 16 year old the previous season, he scored 102 points in a full 72 game season, then added another 30 points in 21 playoff games. Patrick has pro size to go along with elite skating, shooting, playmaking skills, to complement strong effort in the neutral ice and defensive zones. The combination of high skill and size is too irresistible for the Devils to pass over, as Patrick should develop into their #1 centre.
#2 – Philadelphia – Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
In a draft like this, it’s often easier to be the team picking second. The Flyers will take whichever of Patrick or Hischier is still on the board and be quite content with landing a potential number one centre in the process. With the forward depth Philly has, they should be able to ease him into the lineup somewhat gradually which, given the fact that he hasn’t come close to filling out yet, would be particularly beneficial.
#3 – Dallas – Miro Heiskanen, D, HIFX (SM-liiga)
As a 17 year old, Heiskanen was his team’s best defenceman on a pro squad competing against men much older and more experienced than Miro. He has outstanding hockey IQ, with the ability to read the play and make the correct decision to either move the puck out of his end or pass it nearly every time. His skating and puck handling ability are superb, and his shot is very good but could use a little more power. That will come with more physical maturity as he’s not very big at 6’2 and 172 pounds according to the last measurements taken at the NHL Combine in May but should develop into a #1 defenceman for years to come.
#4 – Colorado – Cale Makar, D, Brooks (AJHL)
It’s rare that a player from a lower tiered junior league gets this much attention but with the league trending towards speed and skill on the back end, Makar really starts to stand out. He’s a high end skater with plenty of offensive talent. Makar is more of a boom-or-bust pick compared to some others that will go in the top ten but the Avs badly need young, quality defenders in their system and won’t be worried about any possible risk here.
#5 – Vancouver – Casey Middlestadt, C, Eden Prairie (USHS)
Mittelstadt ranks as one of the most talented offensive forwards in this draft class. He made a somewhat controversial choice to remain with his Minnesota high school team, then split the season with his Green Bay USHL team, instead of moving up to the USHL for the full season. Although the level of competition is higher at the USHL, Casey wanted a chance to lead his high school team to a state championship. As a result, some scouts questioned his development decision and he may have been somewhat less seen by scouts due to this choice. However, that doesn’t deny his skills. His hockey sense is very high, and his skating shooting and puck handling abilities are top notch. He is a little under sized a 5’11” and 199 pounds, and needs to focus on his defensive game a little. But he’s shown a willingness to learn and improve; he’s committed to the University of Minnesota this fall which has an excellent program to help him in these areas. It’s easy to see the Canucks liking and selecting a player like Casey to address a big need for offensive forwards for their team, and if he continues to develop then it’s likely to see him sign a pro contract in 1-2 seasons.
#6 – Vegas – Gabriel Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL)
Every team wants a big, talented centre to build around (look no further than the Habs and their annual search for one). The Golden Knights will feel quite fortunate to be able to add one of those in their inaugural Entry Draft with Vilardi, a potential front liner down the road. With the depth they’ve added down the middle through expansion (and free agency already), they don’t have to put him in the lineup right away. That would be beneficial as his skating needs some work and it would be better for his development if that was worked on in junior and not the NHL.
#7 – Arizona – Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL)
Tippett comes into this draft as one of the most natural goal scorers available. An excellent and quick shot is his best asset while his skating is also very good both at acceleration and speed. He can be a sneaky player, knowing where to go to put him into the best position to be available to score. However, his defensive game is lacking so there’s room for development there. Tippett has put a lot into improving his game so he’s very coachable. There should be no issue with him improving his weaknesses to get him ready for the pro game. Arizona will look to upgrade their forwards at this position and should lean towards Tippett, an excellent goal scorer which is an area they could utilize.
#8 – Buffalo – Elias Pettersson, C, Timra (Allsvenskan)
The Sabres are in good shape down the middle already which should make it a bit easier for them to take a long-term project in Pettersson. He has a three year deal in Sweden (which can be bypassed with the transfer agreement) but he’ll need at least a couple of years to fill out a slender frame. With some strong offensive centres already there, Pettersson’s two-way game would be a strong complement.
#9 – Detroit – Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (SHL)
Although Liljegren was rated as a possible top-5 candidate before the season began, he still remains an excellent prospect. Given that the Red Wings love getting Swedish prospects into their system and developing them, it’s easy to believe a defenceman like Timothy will be the player they select. His skating and puck handling skills are elite level, so much so that he has top pairing potential. The inevitable comparison to Erik Karlsson’s style have come from several scouts, given Liljegren’s skating, puck handling and shooting abilities. Like Karlsson early in his career, his defensive game is incomplete, as his decision making for joining or leading the rush often leaves him unable to get back into position after a turnover. He’s completed his second season in the Swedish pro league, and may be close to ready for a look in the NHL or even the AHL, although the Wings typically do not rush their European prospects.
#10 – Florida – Cody Glass, C, Portland (WHL)
Glass came into the season pretty much off the radar but emerged as a legitimate top centre at the junior level and is now someone who should fill a top six role in the NHL down the road. He doesn’t have the flash in his game that some above him here do but that won’t stop him from being a productive pro. The Panthers have a lot of depth down the middle now but that probably won’t be the case by the time Glass is ready which should make him fit in nicely.
#11 – Los Angeles – Isaac Ratcliffe, RW, Guelph (OHL)
It’s a bit tougher predicting the Kings’ draft tendencies this season due to their management change. However in the past they have liked big forwards with some skill, so it’s not much of a reach to say a huge winger like Ratcliffe is who they’ll select. Ratcliffe is not a typical power forward since he’s not ultra-aggressive with his size. However he has surprisingly good hands for puck handling and accepting passes which lend well to his excellent shot and playmaking skills. He shows a willingness to stand in front of the net to put his 6’6” 200 pound body to good use screening a goalie, and pouncing on rebounds when available. Issac is also mindful of his defensive role and does well to get back into position.
#12 – Carolina – Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City (WHL)
After drafting Julien Gauthier in the first round last year, adding Rasmussen here would give them a pretty good one-two punch down the middle to try to build around. He doesn’t have the most offensive upside but could settle into a second line role down the road. Given the lower ceiling, he could be a candidate to slide but there are always teams who aren’t afraid to take a chance on a big centre and at 6’5, Rasmussen is one of the biggest pivots in the draft.
#13 – Vegas – Robert Thomas, C, London (OHL)
A very good forward available at around this slot would be Robert Thomas, who’s dependable in all three zones. Thomas improved his stock this season by rising up his team’s depth charts. He represents a point a game centre who is also one of the best players in the OHL on defence. Thomas combines great skating, shooting, agility and puck handling skills to go with very good hockey sense. He is slightly undersized but stands a good chance at physically maturing. A team selecting Thomas could easily decide to keep him in the NHL right away since he could easily adapt to a 4th line role while waiting for an opportunity to rise up with more ice time and responsibility.
(Note that this pick was originally made for Winnipeg prior to their trade with Vegas.)
#14 – Tampa Bay – Klim Kostin, RW, Dynamo Moskva (KHL)
GM Steve Yzerman and his staff haven’t been hesitant to take some higher risk-reward picks in the past and Kostin represents one of those. He has plenty of offensive upside but didn’t really display it this season while he dealt with a shoulder (or collarbone) injury as well. Top six power forwards are hard to come by and Kostin could be one of those if everything comes together but the risk of him being more of a bust is certainly there.
#15 – Vegas – Nick Suzuki, C, Owen Sound (OHL)
Suzuki has outstanding puck handling skills and can just as easily choose to shoot the puck as well as pass it. Like some other top prospect forwards in this draft, he is a little undersized at 5’11” and 183 pounds. In Nick’s case he can sometimes be less aggressive than he should be on the forecheck but he does put in a solid effort defensively overall. Even with his high point totals this season of 45 goals and 96 points, there were some games where his play was inconsistent. This isn’t enough to hold him back as a top prospect but it may indicate he will need a few seasons before he’s matured and adapted to the pro game. The wait is worth the risk for a player like Suzuki.
(Note that this pick was originally made for the Islanders prior to their trade with Vegas.)
#16 – Calgary – Juuso Valimaki, D, Tri-City (WHL)
The Flames have a strong top three on the back end and a player like Valimaki who is a strong skater with a good all-around game would be a nice complementary piece down the road. He’s not likely a top pairing guy in a perfect world but a solid top-four at this stage would be a solid addition. If his offensive game can carry over to the pros a few years from now, Valimaki could be a steal as a mid-first rounder.
#17 – Toronto – Conor Timmins, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Everyone knows the Leafs love to pick OHL players due to Mark Hunter’s strong ties to the ‘O’. It’s likely they will lean towards taking a defenceman and Timmins will make a solid choice. He is a right handed hard shooting blueliner with a strong defensive side to his game. His positional play is very good and he’s able to counter attacks well with his stick, showing his superb hockey sense. His skating skills are very good and he’s often willing to lead the rush, sometimes a little too aggressively. Connor is a coachable player so wIth a little time he will learn to better decide when to take those chances. His passing and puck skills are high end, He’s a somewhat below average size defender at 6’1.5” and around 184 pounds, but should he continue to grow then that won’t be an issue.
#18 – Boston – Lias Andersson, C, HV-71 (SHL)
Andersson is a fairly safe pick here for the Bruins. He doesn’t have top line offensive upside but his all-around game should make him a quality second line centre down the road. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are both 31 and by the time they start to decline, Andersson should be about ready to step into one of those spots.
#19 – San Jose – Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud State (NCAA)
The Sharks will look to upgrade their offence, especially with a couple of their veteran forwards likely to leave via free agency. Poehling had a strong freshman college season, and has a good combination of size and skill with room to grow both physically and hockey development. When it comes to offence, Ryan has exceptional vision to make the correct decision to pass or shoot a high percentage of time. His skating is very good, particularly his acceleration. As a freshman he was brought into the lineup slowly but it’s expected he will take on more ice time next season and his offensive stats will then rise.
#20 – St. Louis – Eeli Tolvanen, RW, Sioux City (USHL)
Tolvanen is one of the more pure shooters in this draft, sometimes to his detriment as he can be a little too trigger happy at the expense of a better play. That said, pure scorers aren’t easy to find and the Blues would likely love to add another sniper behind Vladimir Tarasenko. His size will work against him a bit though which is why he’ll likely drop this far.
#21 – New York R. – Callan Foote, D, Kelowna (WHL)
Look for the Rangers to add some depth to their defensive pool, by adding Foote to their roster. Foote seems like a safe pick at this spot, maybe not a player who develops into a star, but just a solid steady defender. Cal was given shutdown responsibilities and performed well in that role, much like his father Adam. Also like his father, Cal can play a physical game when necessary but isn’t needlessly aggressive. At 6’4” and 214 pounds, Foote is already pro sized. His skating is average and needs some work on his acceleration to get to loose pucks. Foote’s passing is very good with the ability to consistently pass the puck out of his zone to his teammates. Due to his overall game, Cal is trusted by his coaches in all situations during any time of the game.
#22 – Edmonton – Erik Brannstrom, D, HV-71 (SHL)
One of these years, Edmonton has to take a defenceman, don’t they? Brannstrom is undersized for his position (just 5’9) but is a strong skater and puck mover, elements that should be of interest for a more up-tempo team like the Oilers. With the right team, his offensive has the potential to blossom and with the firepower Edmonton has, they may be the perfect fit for Brannstrom.
#23 – Arizona – Nicolas Hague, D, Mississauga (OHL)
It’s likely another defenceman will go at this slot to balance the Coyotes’ earlier first round pick. A guy like Hague fits the bill, a big 6’5.5″, 207 pound defender with a good two way game. Hague has a booming yet accurate shot which helped him generate 18 goals and an extra 28 assists this season. While Nic has a somewhat awkward stride which limits his acceleration, his straight forward speed is fine. He makes use of that skill to jump into the rush when it’s warranted but has enough sense to pick his spots appropriately. He’s similar to Cal Foote in many ways, except his ability to defend one on one which is average. He can sometimes be burned by a quicker opponent with better agility than himself.
#24 – Winnipeg – Martin Necas, C, Brno (Extraliga)
Every year there’s someone who falls inexplicably and every year we try to guess it. Necas is our guess at that happening. He hasn’t had much of a chance to showcase his offensive talents having bypassed the junior ranks this year which could work against him a bit. Necas has top six potential and if he is still on the board here, the Jets should be more than pleased.
(Note that this pick was originally made for Columbus prior to their trade with Vegas and subsequent follow-up move with the Jets.)
#25 – Montreal – Maxime Comtois, LW/C, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
In Comtois the Habs have a forward with very good skills, hockey sense and work ethic, combined with good size at just under 6’ 2” and nearly 207 pounds. Although Maxime scored 51 points this season, he did manage nine more points the season before in two fewer games. Many scouts were disappointed with these results, but few noticed the reason. To start the season, he was playing on the wing and his offence suffered. Sometime in December he was shifted to centre where he stayed to the end of the season. As a result his offensive production bounced back to 0.97 points from an earlier 0.55 points per game. As a centre, Comtois showed decent skills at faceoffs and competes hard every shift in every zone. He has very good hockey sense and passing skills along with a conscientious effort to playing in his own zone. His skating is a question mark but nearly everything else about his game is very good.
#26 – Chicago – Morgan Frost, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Because of all of their big contracts, the Blackhawks are a team that has to turn over a lot of second line talent. Frost doesn’t have top line upside but could slide in as a second line centre behind Jonathan Toews for a while to give them some needed stability at that spot. He’s a few years away from being NHL ready though so their roster churning will continue in the meantime.
#27 – St. Louis – Jason Robertson, LW, Kingston (OHL)
A player that some think will become a power forward, the Blues will look at taking 6’2” forward Jason Robertson in the first round. Robertson at first glance may give Blues fans the hope that he will someday fill a role that has been void since Keith Tkachuk left St. Louis. Jason is an outstanding pure shooter, probably rated first or second in that category alone along with Owen Tippett. Robertson’s 42 goals represent 24% of his entire team’s output this season, an outstanding feat! He has a powerful shot that’s accurate; his release is also very quick and he uses deception to fool goaltenders with those tools. As well as his shot, his playmaking is excellent, capable of threading a pass in tight when it represents a better chance for someone else to score. That lack of selfishness for a shooter is unusual but shows good balance to his offensive game. However, unlike Tkachuk, Robertson is not a physical player nor very aggressive at times. Jason’s defensive game is average but he shows some effort with it so it seems to be a coachable area where he can improve. His skating needs work but reports indicate he’s improved it since the start of the season.
#28 – Ottawa – Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Spokane (WHL)
I could see the Sens taking Oettinger here but at this stage of the first round, it’s hard to pass up on the raw talent Yamamoto has. Yes, he’s incredibly small but has the high end skill that should allow him to succeed at the NHL level once he bulks up more. There are a lot of smaller but dynamic talents in the Atlantic Division and Yamamoto would be another one of those if he’s picked here.
#29 – Dallas – Josh Norris, C, US NDTP (USHL)
Josh (don’t call me Chuck!) Norris is a very good two way centre with a good combination of size and skills. Norris has risen up the draft charts since the start of the season, likely since he’s gained more ice time and responsibility during the last half of the year. As a result his scoring numbers rose in the second half, causing some scouts to shuttle their previous predictions for Josh as a #3 centre, lifting him into a potential #2 in the pros. What has helped Norris’ cause is his high hockey IQ which he utilizes with his passing skills to set up teammates in near impossible scoring situations. Josh is not a risk taking forward though, as he will do what’s necessary to hold on to the puck with very good puck handling ability. At 6’0.5” and 189 pounds, he has decent enough size to help him adjust to the pros. He’s committed to the University of Michigan in the fall, which would be wise to allow him more time to physically mature. It’s not unreasonable to think that Norris could develop quickly and decide to leave college after one or two seasons to join the pro ranks.
#30 – Nashville – Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
This falls under the mantra of sticking to your strengths. The Predators have done quite well developing young defencemen over the years so why not try to develop another potential top four option here? By the time Joseph is ready, they won’t be able to afford their current top four so having an in-house option with that type of potential would be beneficial.
#31 – Pittsburgh – Jake Oettinger, G, Boston University (NCAA)
To help their depth charts after losing Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins will take the first goalie in this draft by selecting Oettinger, a college freshman on a strong team at Boston College. Jake is a good athletic netminder, with a 6’4” frame that help him cover a lot of the net. He’s a butterfly style goalie but with his size he can also naturally block a lot of shots without relying on overt quickness. He could work on a few things during his college stay such as puck handling and rebound control, but staying in school will give him that opportunity. The Penguins have the luxury of allowing Jake to take as much time as necessary, even up to the remaining 3 years to develop in college before turning pro.
#56 – Montreal – Josh Brook, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)
The Habs showed a desire to add speed on the back end last draft with the now-traded Mikhail Sergachev as well as later picks Victor Mete and Casey Staum. Brook falls into that category as well and has the potential to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ type of player though he lacks much in the way of offensive weaponry.
#58 – Montreal – Nate Schnarr, C, Guelph (OHL)
The centre position really needs to be addressed at all levels of the organization and if they haven’t picked one by this point, it’s likely they will at this pick. Schnarr isn’t going to be a top six player in the NHL but should be a good defensive forward that would be a solid complementary piece to work with. He’s by no means a flashy pick but he should be an effective one.
#68 – Montreal – Cale Fleury, D, Kootenay (WHL)
After a safer pick in Schnarr, Fleury represents a much bigger swing. He has a strong offensive game but his defensive play needs some work, something that was exacerbated by playing on a weak Kootenay team. Like Brook earlier, he’s also an above average skater and puck mover, something the Habs need to replenish after moving Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu, two of their better skating blueliners.
Who do you think the Habs will pick at #25? Make your prediction by entering our draft pool.