Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-23-2017
Jeff Crisp, Buffalo's top amateur scout who was thrust into running the draft (along with Kevin Devine) when the Sabres did some house cleaning in April, called the 2017 NHL Entry Draft as "normal." Crisp went on to say that, although the draft is lacking in "star power" at the top, "it's deep and there will be some pretty good players that come out of it in the end."
Perhaps we've been a bit spoiled watching the draft over the past couple of years. Sabres fans were directly involved in the 2015 "McEichel" Draft with the generational/franchise talents of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel right there at the top and last year the one-two punch of Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine ended up wowing in their 2016-17 rookie seasons. So a bit of normalcy might have been expected.
Regardless of the lack of star power, through it's worldwide appeal and top-notch international leagues, the NHL has been able to constantly bring in upper-eschelon talent year-in/year-out through the draft. Although no one can say with certainty that the triple-draft downers of 1999, 2000 and 2001 will never appear again, there's bound to be a clunker here and there but probably never reaching the depths of that '99 draft class (one which made Brian Burke a star) where we had the Sedin twins, a couple of All-Stars in Nick Boynton and Martin Havlat, but nothing else to speak of.
As we barrel towards tonight, I like what Kris Baker said this morning on WGR about the big club not dictating who the scouts should draft. It's not the NFL where the player drafted is expected to at least have a shot to make the team that same year. NHL teams draft 18 yr. olds and in the more or less, two to three years it takes them to develop, a lot can change. That's why were hear the "best player available" mantra at the end of nearly every first round pick below the top tier.
And I'm always leery of a "perfect fit." The 2009 Sabres pick of rugged Zack Kassian, who was selected as the perfect pick to balance the soft but skilled roster then skating for Buffalo. Kassian was great in Edmonton last season, showing off the exact traits the Sabres drafted him for at No. 13. Only eight years later.
The NHL Draft is a crapshoot. It's been said time and time again and this year it'll probably be truer than any time since 2011. There will be some good players picked, there will be some surprises and many will disappoint as well. All a scouting department can do is take their research, watch the board and make their selection.
Which is where I'm at now.
New Jersey Devils--C, Nolan Patrick. The 2006 NHL Draft might still in the head of Devils GM Ray Shero. Sure his new team, the New Jersey Devils, made an envious jump from fifth to first-overall via the lottery but with it comes pressure. And he knows it, telling NJ.com, "Wasn't Michael Jordan drafted No. 3?" Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier are the consensus top-two players in the draft and No. 3, but perhaps he's got his eye on a player whom he thinks might be the Jordan of the draft--defenseman Cale Makar. Dallas has been rumored to want out of the No. 3 overall pick but they're looking to trade down, not up, and there probably isn't a team out there that has the assets to move up to 3rd then take another jump to the first overall. Which may leave Shero in a 1998 NFL-type Ryan Leaf/Peyton Manning draft instead. When Shero was in Pittsburgh the Pens selected Jordan Staal second overall. The third overall pick was Jonathan Toews.
Philadelphia Flyers--C, Nico Hischier. The ghost of Ed Snyder waited a year before invoking his powers from beyond the grave to help catapult Philadelphia from the 13th slot to second-overall. Perhaps Snyder had seen enough after watching his beloved Flyers become the only team in NHL history to go on a 10-game winning streak and eventually miss the playoffs. However, he's got to be snickering while watching a division rival squirm knowing full well that his beloved Flyers will get a preeminent player in Hischier. For some reason I get the feeling Philly fans are riding the airy sway of I'll Be In Your Mirror, by the Velvet Underground and Nico. Snyder might hate on that album, but here's a banana for ya, Ed. It's a small price to pay for this much fun.
Dallas Stars--D, Miro Heiskenen. GM Jim Nill is unaccustomed to drafting this high. After spending 18 years in the Detroit Red Wings organization where they never drafted higher than 19th, and didn't have a first rounder in 11 of those drafts, this upper part of the draft stuff may not compute. Word on the street is that the Nill is entertaining offers for the third-overall pick, which might be a clear indication, Mr. Shero, that Nill feels there's no Michael Jordan sitting there. And Dallas hasn't really had any success with top-10 picks either since their move from Minnesota (see: Todd Harvey, Richard Jackman, Scott Glennie.) Miro, Miro on the wall, what will the Stars do? Side note: Jason Botterill is a former 20th-overall selection by Dallas (1994.) Connection? Maybe.
Colorado Avalanche--D, Cale Makar. Boy did the 'Lanche get the shaft in this draft. Not only did they have, by far, the worst record in the NHL, most feel they weren't even tanking. And to add salt to the wound, the 5th, 13th, and 8th slotted teams in the draft all jumped over them via the lottery. The Avs have some serious issues moving and although drafting Cale Makar may ending up being the steal of the draft at No. 4, he won't help them dismiss the Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog trade rumors, nor will he help the Avs goaltending or make their defense immediately better. Right now Colorado is bouncing along the lows of the original Colorado Rockies NHL teams which was dubbed "Rocky Hockey." It should be noted that "Rocky Hockey," was not in reference to a Sly Stallone mythological boxing character. It's derived from a punching bag sense. "Rocky Hockey" is back in Denver. Until Makar starts making his presence known.
Vancouver Canucks--C, Casey Mittelstadt. From 1998- 2006 'Nucks GM Jim Benning was in Buffalo as the Sabres director of amateur scouting. First round picks were never his forte' in Buffalo but he seems to have gotten things right in Vancouver. Benning has a team is on the decline and in a period of transition but in the three drafts since he's been there, the Canucks have made real solid first-round picks in RW Jake Virtanen (2014,) RW Brock Boeser (2015,) and D Olli Joulevi. The Sedins won't last forever and they'll need another top-six center which brings Benning back to drafting a forward in Mittelstadt. Vancouver had the second-worst record in the league and dropping to No. 5 hurts, but Mittelstadt may take a bit of the sting out of it.
Las Vegas Golden Knights--C, Gabe Vilardi. The expansion Golden Knights enter their first-ever draft at No. 6, which is a bummer for them. The NHL worked the expansion draft in their favor but could do nothing about the lottery. Knights GM George McPhee's moment came as he played King of the Awards Show while announcing his roster and a pretty good trade-haul he received from teams looking to add more protection to their roster. Some say he didn't do well, other said he did. Too bad the 2017 draft isn't like the last three where there was plenty of talent stretching deep into the second and early third rounds as the Knights have six picks in the first two rounds. That said, Gabe Vilardi is a bit of a coup as he drops to the Knights. The Kingston, Ontario native and Memorial Cup champ with the Windsor Spitfires has an NHL-ready frame, a strong hockey IQ, offensive acumen and the size to handle a rugged Western Conference. Some have compared him to Ryan Getzlaf which would not a be a bad start for the Knights.
Arizona Coyotes--C, Cody Glass. Arizona's core is in their early 20's and with them jettisoning 40 yr. old Shane Doan, this team just got younger. They're still a few years away but if GM John Chayka's plan works out, they could be a force for years to come. They have enough depth in the system where they could just take just about anybody, which could lead them to snapping up fast-rising center, Cody Glass. The Winnipeg native exploded this year with 94 points while making having a huge effect on his linemates. 'Yotes did well plucking defenseman Jakob Chychrun last year at No. 16 and their defense is getting stronger, center is their next area of need and it just happens to coincide with a player who might be the best available at No. 7.
Buffalo Sabres--RW, Owen Tippett. Luckily this is Jason Botterill's first year as GM. Add that to his background with Pittsburgh, which includes three Stanley Cup rings, and you have a situation where he could tab a d-man lauded as the "perfect fit" for Buffalo and their needs in Timothy Liljegren. The Sabres d-pipeline is pretty thin, and Liljegren would be placed right near the top of the prospect rankings, but it might also be hard to pass on right wing Owen Tippett. The 6-1, 200 lb. Peterborough, Ontario native has been labeled a pure goal-scorer with size, speed and a helluva shot. It could easily be argued as a best player available move by Botterill, which is something that former GM Tim Murray probably couldn't get away with if he were still running the team. A Tippett choice would be probably be universally panned in Sabreland even though it could very well end up being the correct pick.
Detroit Red Wings--D, Timothy Liljegren. The Red Wings are still feeling the sting of losing key drivers over the past few years. They also lost their owner Mike Illitch this past year and for the first time since 1989 the Red Wings failed to make the playoffs. The changeover goes further as they'll leave legendary Joe Louis Arena and head to the new Little Ceasars Arena. However, they still have one of the best GM's in the business and they always seem to draft the right player. When all's said and done a few years down the road analysts might be saying the Wings still have it as a boom or bust pick in Timothy Liljegren may be working magic from the back-end for Detroit. Liljegren has all the necessary ingredients to do so but his hiccup this past season was cause for differing levels of concern. Those concerns dropped him from atop the draft to various spots here and below.
Florida Panthers--C, Elias Pettersson. The Cats have a new coach in Bob Boughner and a core that's pretty strong after years of high draft picks. The Las Vegas Golden Knights took Reilly Smith and his bloated $25 million contract off of Florida's hands for a fourth round pick but it cost the Panthers 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchesault. No doubt a big loss for Florida but they gained cap-flexibility in the process. They lost a center in Marchesault but GM Dale Tallon willl have the opportunity to land Pettersson, who worked wonders for Timra IK of Sweden's second-tier Allsvenskan league.
Los Angeles Kings--C, Martin Necas. If the old tandem of GM Dean Lombardi and coach Daryl Sutter was still in place, big center/left wing Michael Rasmussen would most definitely be in play for the Kings. But Hall of Fame defenseman Rob Blake, who was no stranger to skill, is the new GM and he'll be moving the LA Kings into the 21st century. Necas played in his native Czech Republic last season and did well. Kris Baker, in his piece for Sabres.com, calls Necas, "A nimble, slippery forward with explosive acceleration and impressive four-way mobility" as well as "one of the most compelling offensive prospects when he hits open ice. " Sounds like a good way for Blake to kick off his tenure.
Carolina Hurricanes--D, Jusso Valimaki. The 'Canes went relatively unscathed in the expansion draft and are said to be looking to trade from their deep stable of d-prospects for a top-six center. They'll also have an opportunity to keep that talent pool stocked with the choice of Valimaki. The 6'2" 201 lb Nokia, Finland native can skate well and can get the puck up ice, although he still needs work on the finer points of his game.
Las Vegas Golden Knights (From Winnipeg)--D, Callan Foote. GM McPhee snared this pick in the draft in a swap of firsts from a Jets team that didn't want them to pick defenseman Toby Enstrom. Foote might be exactly what the Golden Knights need going forward on the back-end as he's a solid, steady defenseman whom many believe will have a long career in a top-four role. The game may have changed to the point where more mobile and active defenseman are coveted, but the word 'defense' is still in the title and teams need defense and a 6'4" 215 lb. Foote is considered a very safe pick who will could help anchor the expansion Knights defense for a decade.
Tampa Bay Lightning--C, Nick Suzuki. Tampa Bay took a step back as the 2016 Eastern Conference champ just missed the playoffs last year. They have a great stable of forwards who are quick and skilled albeit on the smaller side and the 5'11" 185 lb. would fit right in. The London, Ontario native is a gifted playmaker with little fear which seems to be what GM Steve Yzerman likes in his forwards. The Lightning just traded away a shifty goal-scorer in Jonathan Drouin (for d-prospect Mikhail Sergachev) and in a couple of years, Suzuki will be in line to add to the deep stable of forwards at Tampa's disposal.
Las Vegas Golden Knights (From NY Islanders)--LW, Kristian Vesalainen. Yet another first rounder for McPhee and his Knights. After grabbing a Getzlaf-type in Vilardi at center, and a possible anchor on the blueline in Foote, the Knights add a power-winger in Vesalainen. At 6'3" 205 lbs. he already has an NHL frame and he was tested early on while playing for Frolunda of the top Swedish league. Vesalainen won the Most Valuable Player Award at the 2017 IIHF U-18's on the power of 13 points (6+7) in seven games. They could go for a goalie here, but it's a little high in the draft and they could get one, or even two, in the second and third rounds. Then again, you never know what McPhee is capable of (see Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat trade.)
Calgary Flames--D, Eric Brannstrom. If it were up to Flames president Brian Burke, Calgary might be inclined to take hulking center Rasmussen here, but GM Brad Treliving once again makes the call and goes for Brannstrom. The Flames haven't picked a defenseman with their first overall pick since 2009, and although that doesn't mean they're required to do so here, Brannstrom has got the skill, edge and brains that make him a great choice for Calgary.
Toronto Maple Leafs--C, Michael Rasmussen. Leafs saw what a plus Dan Boyle was last season and having a bigger and possibly more talented version of him in the system might be very appealing which means Rasmussen finally comes off the board at No. 17. Rasmussen is 6'6" 215 lbs., is tough to get off the puck and nearly impossible to move in front of the net. He's got that Dave Andreychuk-type net-front/powerplay skill, although whether that package is still viable in today's NHL remains to be seen. But for a team like Toronto who has a fast, highly-skilled top-six, Rasmussen may balance that out nicely.
Boston Bruins--LW, Ryan Poehling. The Bruins lost defenseman at the expansion draft, but it wasn't a huge loss as GM Don Sweeney didn't make a deal to protect him. Boston still has a nice pool of d-men in the ranks, but could use some upper-end skill. There might not be the d-man Sweeney's looking for here so he taps goes to St. Cloud State for budding two-way forward Ryan Poehling who is a good skater and responsible in all three zones. Poehling, who's been compared to Ryan Johansen and Patrick Berglund, struggled early on for the Huskies as a freshman playing D-1 hockey but came to life against his peers in the U-18's.
San Jose' Sharks--D, Urho Vaakanainen. Vaakanainen has been described as smooth and polished and bonus points are out there for anyone who can spell his name correctly without making a mistake. The bonus points for the Sharks lie in Vaakanainen's solid stay-at-home style of play where he rarely gets beat. He's mobile enough to get the play going and has the passing ability to hit a man on a stretch pass. Baker writes that "he knows his role as a defenseman," and doesn't try to do to much.
St. Louis Blues--C, Klim Kostin. At one time Kostin was ranked near the top of the draft, but a shoulder injury knocked him down to the mid-lower level of this year's prospects. The speedy forward who skated for Dynamo Moscow has mad stick skills to score or set up and could be added to a group of talented fellow Ruskies that includes names like Tarasenko, Jaskin, Barbashev and, yes, former first-overall Edmonton selection, Nail Yakupov.
NY Rangers--C, Lias Andersson. The Rangers pounce on the 5'11" 200 lb. Andersson at No. 21 and will watch him grow overseas for the next two seasons. Andersson projects as a bottom-six NHL'er with great hands and a dogged style of play.
Edmonton Oilers--D, Connor Timmins. With Connor McDavid ready to lead the offense for years to come, defense continues to be an area of focus for Edmonton. Timmins can do a lot of things but many feel his passing is what stands out. The Oilers mantra is, if you get the puck in McDavid's hands when he's on the ice, preferably in stride, very good things usually happen.
Arizona Coyotes (From Minnesota)--C, Robert Thomas. 'Yotes continue to try and strengthen the middle, first with the selection of Vilardi and now with Thomas who plays a two-way, 200' game. The Aurora, Ontario native chimes in at 6' 190 lbs. and is a winner. He won the gold at the WHC Under-17 level, plus an OHL Championship and a Memorial Cup with the London Knights in 2016. And he's got speed whether he's heading north/south or east/west.
Winnipeg Jets (From Columbus via Las Vegas)--RW, Kailer Yamamoto. Las Vegas received this pick from Columbus who paid a hefty price to keep their roster intact but still lost F, William Karlsson to the expansion draft. Vegas switched picks with the Jets as a part of the "hands-off-Enstrom" deal. The Jets still get a great player in Yamamoto although at 5'8" 160 lbs. he is on the smallish side. To put it succinctly, add a couple of inches and a few pounds to a fearless puck-wizard with sniping skills and it would be the formula for an easy top-10 pick in this draft.
Montreal Canadians--D, Nicolas Hague. The Habs traded defense for scoring in the Sergachev/Drouin trade and they also traded away a puck-moving defenseman in Nathan Beaulieu to avoid losing him for nothing in the expansion draft and they lost yet another defenseman in Alexei Emelin to the draft. The prospect pool is getting thin. Hague is a big defender at 6'6" 215 lbs. and size seems to be where the Canadiens are headed on the back end as evidenced by the PK Subban for Shea Weber deal. Hague is a big defensive d-man, who much like Weber, has a great shot from the point.
Chicago Blackhawks--C, Josh Norris. Hawks jump into the Day-1 draft festivities with a first round pick for the first time since 2014. They avoided giving it away at the expansion draft when they exposed defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, whom the Knights selected with the Hawks also giving away Marcus Kruger and his rather large contract in the process. The Knights just traded van Riemsdyk and a seventh round pick to Carolina for a second round pick. Norris is a 6'1" 195 lb. two-way center who's considered well rounded and looks to be a solid selection.
St. Louis Blues (From Washington)--G, Jake Oettinger. The Kevin Shattenkirk trade to Washington yields the best goaltender prospect in the draft for St. Louis. After grabbing a quick and speedy forward in Klim Kostin, who dropped to them at No. 20 the Blues add to their goalie stable and take Oettinger who might be considered the best player available at No. 27. Only one goalie has been taken in the first round the last four drafts (Ilya Samsonov, WSH) and the Blues get themselves a 6'4" 205 lb., bona fide No. 1 goalie in Oettinger.
Ottawa Senators--C, Filip Chytil. The versatile Czech forward who can adeptly play center or wing is one of the youngest players in the draft with a September 5 birthday. Chytil played in the top Czech men's league as a 17 yr. old scoring eight points (4+4) in 38 games last season. He has foot speed and quickness, a good hockey IQ, a nice set of hands and at 6'0" 178 lbs. he has a smaller yet projectable frame.
Dallas Stars (from Anaheim)--LW, Jason Robertson. How does a 6'2" 195 lb. player that scores 81 points (42+39) in 65 junior games fall this low in the draft? Playing for the OHL's lowest scoring team, the Kingston Frontenacs, might yield part of the answer. Of Robertson's 42 goals, 25 of them were 5v5 with many of the power forward's goals coming between the dots in close quarters. The Northville, MI native needs work on his skating, which undoubtedly contributed to his low ranking, but he's said to have the work-ethic to pick it up a notch.
Nashville Predators--D, Henri Jokiharju. The Preds lost Housley to the Sabres, but the formula remains and they continue to add to their stable of mobile, puck-moving defensemen. Jokiharju finished his first season in North America with 48 points (9+39) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks with 38 of them coming in the last 48 games of the season. “I don't think his skill is top-end level," wrote ESPN's Corey Pronman, "but he's going to be able to rack up a lot of points thanks to his vision, feet and decision-making.” Sounds like a good fit for Nashville.
Pittsburgh Penguins--C, Shane Bowers. The Pens try to keep the pipeline flowing behind centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Considered smart and physical, Bowers is a nice two-way player that looks to be a mid-line center with some offensive punch to his game. He's a jack-of-all-trades type player who never stood out in one area but does have some scoring upside. Just the type of player Pittsburgh likes to plug in with Crosby, Malkin and Co.