2017 top-15 NHL Mock Draft – Brandon Murphy

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BY BRANDON MURPHY

The New-Jersey Devils will have the first overall selection in the 55th NHL draft. After a wild draft lottery saw Colorado, Vancouver and Las Vegas slide out of the top-3 in favour of New-Jersey, Philadelphia and Dallas, here is a preview of each of the non-playoff teams’ selection in the first round.

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1- New-Jersey Devils

  • Pick: Nolan Patrick – C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
  • Shoots: Right
  • Size: 6’3″ – 198 lbs

The Devils certainly won’t complain about winning the draft lottery. They could really use some help all around as they have trouble scoring goals and keeping them out of their own net. Luckily, they have Cory Schneider between the pipes to help out. Over the years they have acquired some talent with Pavel Zacha, Michael McLeod and John Quenneville, but they are still missing a big, solid, two-way center with potential to be a first-liner.

Despite his injuries, Patrick is ranked first among North-American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. His skating is a concern, but Patrick makes up for it with great vision, playmaking and defense. He ended the 15-16 season with 102 points in 72 games and followed it up with 30 points in 20 playoff games that awarded him WHL playoff MVP honours. This past season, Patrick only managed to suit up for 33 games, scoring 46 points in that span. He missed out on the world juniors, which would have been a prime stage to cement himself as the clear-cut No. 1 pick, but his overall game is something New-Jersey would be foolish to pass on.

 

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2- Philadelphia Flyers

  • Pick: Nico Hischier – C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
  • Shoots: Left
  • Size: 6’0″ – 179 lbs

The Flyers, who were slated to select 13th overall, landed the second overall pick thanks to the draft lottery. A player like Nico Hischier could really benefit the Flyers, who are looking to increase their speed and scoring. He adds both while maintaining a solid defensive game. The Swiss-born center put up 86 points in 57 games in his first season in North-America, while also carrying Switzerland at the world juniors with seven points in five games – boosting his draft stock enormously.

Hischier would also be the highest drafted Swiss-born player in NHL history. The current holder of that title is Nino Niederreiter, who went fifth overall to the New-York Islanders in 2010.

 

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3- Dallas Stars

  • Pick: Gabriel Vilardi – C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
  • Shoots: Right
  • Size: 6’2″ – 192 lbs

The Dallas stars already have a loaded crop of talented defenseman like John Klingberg, Julius Honka, Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell. The addition of Vilardi would add a good prospect to their system that desperately needs a center. Spezza is getting old while Eakin and Faksa are probably better suited for third line duties, though Faksa has potential.

Vilardi is not the best skater, but he has great vision and playmaking ability. He is also a noted puck-possession monster. His frame allows him to keep control of the puck and find the open man. He can shoot the puck, but his puck skills are what separate him from the bunch. Vilardi can play the wing but he is a natural center.

 

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4- Colorado Avalanche

  • Pick: Miro Heiskanen – D – HIFK (Liiga)
  • Shoots: Left
  • Size: 6’0″ – 174 lbs

They were shafted of the first overall pick this year, but acquiring a talented defenseman like Heiskanen is not bad at all. He is a solid two-way defenseman. Heiskanen benefited from playing against men in the Liiga and was dominant at the U18 World Championship, posting 12 points in seven games and being named best defenseman of the tournament. In 2015-2016, he was also named Jr. A SM-liiga Rookie of the Year.

Bringing in Heiskanen could help the Avalanche greatly on defense, as they have some promising youngters like Nikita Zadorov, Andrei Mironov, Chris Bigras and others coming up. This could also be an opportunity to trade Tyson Barrie for a sweet return. Even though they lost the draft lottery, the Avs are better off picking a defenseman fourth overall then be forced to pick between Patrick or Hischier.

 

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5- Vancouver Canucks

  • Pick: Casey Mittelstadt – C – Eden Prairie High/Green Bay Gamblers (USHS/USHL)
  • Shoots: Left
  • Size: 6’1″ – 201 lbs

What exactly are the Canucks doing? The Sedins are on the decline and have one year left on their deals and the direction of this team didn’t seem clear when they signed Loui Eriksson to a six year contract.  Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and Olli Juolevi are good building blocks, but they will need more. Casey Mittelstadt would be a good addition up the middle for them. Brandon Sutter is not the ideal candidate to fill your second line center spot once the Sedin’s are gone.

Mittelstadt split his time between the USHS and the USHL this season. Despite only playing 24 games, Mittelstadt ranked fourth among rookies in USHL scoring with 30 points. His 1.25 points-per-game were good enough for first in the league. Next season, he will continue to develop at the University of Minnesota. Mittelstadt is a great playmaker with high hockey sense, he is also fast and agile. Perfect for today’s NHL.

 

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6- Vegas Golden Knights

  • Pick: Cody Glass – C – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
  • Shoots: Right
  • Size: 6’2″ – 179 lbs

Reid Duke and Vadim Shipachyov are the only players on the roster right now and the expansion draft is a month away, so nobody really knows what Vegas is going to need. That being said, we do know they will have a mediocre team with good goaltenders and would benefit from going with the “best player available” mentality in this draft.

A smart and crafty center like Cody Glass would be a great pick, he finished seventh in WHL scoring with 94 points in 69 games and had better numbers in almost every offensive category than Ryan Johansen did in his draft year. Drafting someone with the potential skill set of Ryan Johansen is hard to pass up, right?

 

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7- Arizona Coyotes

  • Pick: Cale Makar – D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
  • Shoots: Right
  • Size: 5’11” – 179 lbs

The Coyotes have drafted high-end talent on offense in the last four years (Domi, Strome, Keller, Dvorak, Perlini), but only have Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jakob Chychrun to turn to on their blueline. Anthony DeAngelo also carved out a spot on the roster last November and his offensive skills are a good reason why. The NHL is becoming a speed and skill league as opposed to size and strength, which is why Cale Makar’s 5-foot-11 frame isn’t a concern.

Makar isn’t the biggest, but has great speed, agility and offensive instincts. He uses those skills to move the play up the ice and knows when to jump into the play offensively. Being a right-hand shot will also help his case, as more and more teams are looking to add them on the blueline. During his final AJHL season that saw the Brooks Bandits win the championship, Makar put up 75 points in 54 games in the regular season and tallied another 16 in 13 playoff games.

 

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8- Buffalo Sabres

  • Pick: Owen Tippett – RW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
  • Shoots: Right
  • Size: 6’2″ – 203 lbs

The Sabres could really benefit from drafting a defenseman in this draft, but it would be a mistake to pass on Owen Tippett. Buffalo is loaded with offensive talent like Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly. They also signed Kyle Okposo to a monster deal to help strengthen their top-6, but he missed 17 games and the Sabres failed to make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

Tippett scored 44 goals for the Mississauga Steelheads this season, placing him second in goals among 2017 draft eligible players. Some scouts say he already has an NHL-level shot and has great skating ability. He has good hands and can weave through defenders using his size and speed.

 

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9- Detroit Red Wings

  • Pick: Michael Rasmussen – C- Tri-City Americans (WHL)
  • Shoots: Left
  • Size: 6’5″ – 203 lbs

The Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1989-1990 season and are going to need a lot more talent if they want to make it back. The Wings have some young guys to play with; Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Evegny Svechnikov and Joe Hicketts to name a few. They have a lot of talent on the wing, but are going to be have an old crop of centers featuring Henrik Zetterberg and Frans Nielsen.

Michael Rasmussen is an attractive option, he has a massive 6-foot-5 frame and can drive the puck to the net. He has good puck skills and a lot of upside. He had 55 points in 50 games for the Tri-City Americans and could probably use another year there to develop. That being said, building around a big center like Rasmussen would be a good idea. The Red Wings need a bit of everything, their team is old.

 

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10- Florida Panthers

  • Pick: Timothy Liljegren – D – Rogle BK (SHL)
  • Shoots: Right
  • Size: 6’0″ – 192 lbs

If he manages to slide down to this spot, the Panthers should draft Liljegren without hesitation. They already have a loaded team up front highlighted by Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr (UFA). They could use a talented defenseman to join Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle.

Liljegren’s draft stock dropped monumentally when he missed two months due to mononucleosis, but he is a great puck-moving defenseman with high hockey IQ and fantastic skating ability. He is also a right-hand shot, which is a huge demand across the NHL. It’s important to remember he was among the top-3 picks in this draft class for a long time. This could be the steal of the first round.

 

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11- Los Angeles Kings

  • Pick: Martin Necas – C – HC Kometa Brno (Czech)
  • Shoots: Right
  • Size: 6’0″ – 168 lbs

It’s time for the Kings to move away from their big and physical mentality and start drafting some fast, talented players. The Kings haven’t had a pick in the top-15 since the 2010 draft that saw them select Derek Forbort. It’s time to capitalize on their picks, because their window for Stanley Cups is closing rapidly.

Necas’ size may work against him, but he has a very high hockey IQ and is a high-energy player. He plays a good two-way game, is a great skater and can win puck battles despite being smaller. Necas played in the Czech league where his Kometa Brno team won the championship, he had four goals in ten playoff games. He statistics aren’t outstanding, but he is only going to improve and playing against older and stronger opponents is good for his development.

 

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12- Carolina Hurricanes

  • Pick: Elias Pettersson – C – Timra IK (SWE)
  • Shoots: Left
  • Size: 6’2″ – 161 lbs

The Hurricanes are quickly building a stellar prospect pool and Pettersson will be a huge addition. They have good depth on the wing with Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen, but lack depth up the middle. Jordan Staal is best suited as a third line center and Victor Rask is slowly coming into his own.

Pettersson is a very good two-way forward. He is responsible in every zone, is aggressive on the forecheck and has good playmaking skills. His awareness is what separates him from the others. He struggled at the world juniors but still has plenty of upside. Pettersson can play either center or left wing, making him a versatile commodity. There are rumours that the Hurricanes are looking to make a trade that would involve some of their young defensive prospects. If they pull the trigger and bring in a top center, maybe Pettersson will be better suited on the wing.

 

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13- Winnipeg Jets

  • Pick: Juuso Valimaki – D – Tri-City Americans (WHL)
  • Shoots: Left
  • Size: 6’2″ – 201 lbs

Winnipeg already has so much talent in their system and this just seems like overkill. Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mathieu Perreault, Kyle Connor, Joel Armia and Nic Petan are already stacking the wing for the ‘Peg and they have Mark Scheifele and Bryan little filling their No. 1 and No. 2 center spots. They also have a talented group of defenseman with Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Toby Enstrom and Josh Morrissey.

With the addition of Valimaki, the Jets would be adding another talented prospect in their deep system. Valimaki was over a point per game for the Americans with 61 points in 60 games. He’s good at jumping into the play offensively and transitions well from defense to offense. The Jets have a log-jam of right-handed shooting defenseman, making Valimaki a great fit.

 

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14- Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Pick: Nicholas Suzuki – C – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
  • Shoots: Left
  • Size: 5’11” – 183 lbs

The Lightning had an unfortunate season, losing their captain 17 games into the season. They still managed to battle for a playoff spot, eventually losing it to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tampa will have a lot of decisions to make this off-season; will Drouin be traded? Who will they lose in the expansion draft? They don’t really have a void to fill, considering they have great primary scoring and good depth offensively and defensively.

Tampa Bay like their snipers. Stamkos, Kucherov and potentially Suzuki? The talented center tallied 45 goals and 96 points in 65 games as a 17-year-old and will continue to dominate next season. Despite his smaller stature, Suzuki has great work ethic and possesses good puck skills. He is smart with the puck and is also a very good skater. He fits the Tampa Bay Lightning profile.

 

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15- New-York Islanders

  • Pick: Eeli Tolvanen – LW – Sioux City Muskateers (USHL)
  • Shoots: Left
  • Size: 5’10” – 179 lbs

The New-York Islanders are looking to fill the void left by Kyle Okposo. Will Josh Ho-Sang be the guy to play alongside John Tavares? Or has Anders Lee successfully taken over? The Andrew Ladd signing backfired completely, as he only managed to tally 31 points. The Islanders were tenth in the league in goals-for, but could still use some depth on the sides as John Tavares, Matthew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier are the perfect trifecta up the middle for the coming years.

Tolvanen is a pure sniper, no doubt about it. He shot the lights out in Sioux City, notching 30 goals in 52 games, good enough for third in the USHL. He was also one of the few bright spots for Finland at the world juniors, picking up 6 points in 6 games. He already has an elite level shot in terms of accuracy and release and loves hanging around the right side of the offensive zone for the one-timer. He will attend Boston College next year.

All statistics and sizes are taken from Eliteprospects.com

All photo credit goes to NHL.com and Wikipedia

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