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With the draft lottery over, the dust has settled and it’s time to get into the 2017 draft class. To kick things off, we present our annual post-lottery mock draft! With the Avalanche slipping all the way down to pick four, it’s going to be a tense and interesting time for the organization. Joe Sakic and company certainly has their work cut out for them.
1. New Jersey Devils – Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
This one is easy as it gets. The Devils are in need of more quality forwards and the cupboard is pretty bare. Patrick remains atop the draft class and becomes an easy pick-and-play prospect who should compete for the NHL roster immediately. There’s still time for Hischier to take over Patrick as the top prospect in the run-up to the draft but for this mock draft, we’re keeping it simple.
2. Philadelphia Flyers – Nico Hischier, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
In a class that has developed into a “Nolan versus Nico” top two, that makes the second selection even easier than the first. Whoever doesn’t get taken first, gets taken second. That leaves the big NHL Draft Lottery winners in Philadelphia as the team that lands Nico Hischier.
The Flyers have a decent balance on forwards and defenders in their system and have invested high picks on each of them, allowing them the freedom to just take Hischier and not worry about it. With Scott Laughton’s slow development, it opens the door for another top forward prospect in the system. Hischier likely won’t be NHL-bound immediately but should don a Flyers sweater in the next two years.
3. Dallas Stars – Miro Heiskanen, D, HIFK (SM Liiga)
This is where things get tricky. There’s a strong argument for the Stars going with a forward, especially at center where Jason Spezza will be 34 at the start of next season but the emergence of Radek Faksa last year and the presence of Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin lessens the immediate need there. Still, the system lacks high-end talent down the middle so this could easily be Gabriel Vilardi, Cody Glass, or Casey Mittelstadt.
Instead, Dallas uses their lottery fortune to take the draft’s hottest name in Miro Heiskanen, fresh off his domination of the U18’s. The Finnish defender finished second in the tournament in scoring and it capped off a steady rise throughout the year as he worked his way into being the draft’s top defenseman. Dallas has plenty of young defenders on the roster already but their system doesn’t have much beyond Julius Honka waiting in the wings and Heiskanen has the potential to be better than all of them. This would represent a significant disappointment for the Avalanche.
4. Colorado Avalanche – Cody Glass, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
With the top defender off the board, the conversation for Colorado shifts to their forward of preference or potentially defenseman Cale Makar, whose offense-oriented playstyle may not be what they’re after. This was a tough call between Glass, Vilardi, Mittelstadt, and Tippett (who is the best fit here but maybe not the best prospect) but instead of getting cute, the Avalanche just take the best player on the board.
Glass has been a steady riser throughout and his skating profiles better with what the Avalanche target. Their current NHL roster dictates zero need for another center but things can change in a hurry in the NHL and Glass likely isn’t a serious threat for the NHL for a few years so there’s no rush in taking the top prospect and simply allowing him to develop.
Colorado has been quick to promote their top prospects to fill NHL holes in recent years, leading to their system always being in need of more talent. With Glass, they can allow him to come along slowly without significant pressure to make the NHL roster sooner than later. His strong two-way game, solid skating, and high hockey IQ are what drives his success and he has the look of a very good pro down the road.
5. Vancouver Canucks – Gabriel Vilardi, C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
This is something of a perfect scenario for the Canucks as Vilardi is a great fit for them. They’ve made a few high-profile decisions in recent drafts that have resulted in them having to be more patient with their top prospects than other teams (Hi, Jake Virtanen) but Vilardi is set-and-forget for Vancouver.
His skating has come under question throughout the process but he’s steadily worked to improve it as the season has gone on and it shouldn’t hold back his hockey IQ-driven game. He’s a classic playmaker with great vision and passing skills who can play center or wing. His versatility and overall ability would instantly upgrade Vancouver’s future forward corps as long as they aren’t concerned with his skating.
6. Vegas Golden Knights – Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie, Green Bay Gamblers (USHS/USHL)
This is an interesting spot for Vegas to be in as they select the first player in their team’s history. Tippett might be the best player on the board but it’s hard to see a team passing up on that top center for a wing who might be a little one-dimensional, even if that dimension is goal scoring.
Mittelstadt flashes great skill and possesses a non-stop motor that has allowed him to dominate both high school and USHL this past season as he jumped back and forth between the two levels. His even strength production will be a red flag moving forward as he was a prolific power play producer but he would represent a future top-two center for the Golden Knights in a few short years.
7. Arizona Coyotes – Cale Makar, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
The Coyotes are rich down the middle and are bursting at the seams with forward prospects so here they go with the top defenseman on the board in Makar. The level of competition is certainly a question for Makar but he’s a right-handed scoring dynamo, something that will absolutely appeal to a Coyotes team currently hoping Anthony DeAngelo and Kyle Wood can fill that role in the NHL. Makar would immediately become their top defensive prospect.
8. Buffalo Sabres – Martin Necas, C/W, Brno (Czech)
Things get pretty intriguing with this selection. The Sabres don’t currently have a front office so it’s difficult to project what they may do. With a new group coming in it’s hard to see them taking a chance on a volatile prospect like Liljegren so they go the safe route here with a playmaking forward.
Necas has steadily risen throughout the season but his tepid performance at the U18’s halted his rise and this is probably the highest he is likely to be selected this summer. He’s a highly-skilled forward but is inconsistent and his tendency to simply disappear in games is a concern. He is a prime candidate for immediate AHL deployment.
9. Detroit Red Wings – Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (SHL)
The draft’s ultimate wild card, Timothy Liljegren. Initially one of the top two players in this draft class, a bout with mono and underwhelming performance upon his return have caused him to slip. Detroit seems a perfect team to reap the benefits of his poor draft season and he fits all of their needs.
A swift-skating, right-handed defenseman with high upside on offense and solid defense is something Detroit seems to have been searching for for years. With Mike Green aging out, Liljegren would add a significant boost to their future blue line depth.
10. Florida Panthers – Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Sometimes, the draft comes to you. For the Panthers, this seems like an easy decision. Simply take the best player remaining on the board in Tippett, the goal-scoring machine with great skating. His 44 goals in 60 games this year set him up as this draft’s premium goal-scorer. There are questions about his overall game and hockey IQ but at 10, the Panthers get to find out if all that twine-tickling ability will translate to the pros.
11. Los Angeles Kings – Elias Pettersson, LW, Timra (Allsvenskan)
New regimes typically trend towards the safe side in their first draft classes and Pettersson fills organizational needs for the prospect-needy Kings. He’s a skilled playmaker who has put up historically great numbers in his league at his age and is a classic Swedish center who reads the game at a high level. The Kings need prospects at every position so a defender would also make plenty of sense here if they prefer one.
12. Carolina Hurricanes – Eeli Tolvanen, RW, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
The Hurricanes pulled off one of the more surprising draft decisions last year when they passed up one of several high-quality forwards with their first pick last year and instead opted for defender Jake Bean. While they added Julien Gauthier later in the first round, they still need forward help as they have one of the most loaded blue line groups in the NHL, both in the NHL and at the prospect level.
Tolvanen represents the caliber of goal-scorer the Hurricanes haven’t had in many years and while this may be a touch high for the Finnish forward, it’s a gamble on upside for a Hurricanes team that can afford to take the chance. Rasmussen would make a lot of sense here as well if the Hurricanes were looking for a center.
13. Winnipeg Jets – Juuso Valimaki, D, Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Winnipeg has steadily built up one of the most impressive young forward groups in the entire NHL led by Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers. Now, the focus turns to the defensive side as they need to look to bolster the aging blue line with an infusion of youth.
Valimaki would make a great addition to a prospect group currently headlined by Josh Morrissey and Logan Stanley. His steady two-way play would be a perfect fit for the Jets.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning – Klim Kostin, RW, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
Somebody is going to roll the dice on Kostin and his ridiculous upside. Steve Yzerman is the kind of GM with the kind of rock solid job security to make this gamble worth it. Kostin is a high-skill forward who could have been a top-five selection were it not for a season-ending injury that prevented more eyes from seeing him play. He’s a classic boom-or-bust prospect.
15. New York Islanders – Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Garth Snow is in a tricky position this summer as he tries to find a way to convince John Tavares to stay so this pick may not be made by the Islanders depending on how bold Snow wants to get. For now, the Isles hold the selection and they go with Rasmussen, the gigantic 6’5″ center from the WHL who appears to be the 2017 version of Logan Brown.
Given how little the Islanders have invested in defensive prospects in recent years, it would be no surprise to see them switch gears and go with a defender such as Nicolas Hague or Cal Foote.