As if 13 games on Saturday wasn’t enough, the NHL is keeping the party going today with five more contests to close out the weekend.
The action starts at 5 p.m. when the New York Islanders visit Carolina, followed an hour later by Colorado at Detroit. Ottawa at the New York Rangers (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas and Florida at Anaheim – waiting 60 minutes before finishing the weekend’s activities. All times Eastern.
Two of today’s games have been scheduled on my calendar since the schedule was released this summer…
Colorado at Detroit: Hockey fans from the 90s probably vividly remember the games between these teams, with the most infamous of course being “Fight Night at the Joe” in 1997.
Ottawa at New York: Remember last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals? The Rangers sure do.
…but neither of them strike my fancy like tonight’s activity out in the desert. Brush up on your poker, because we’re headed to Sin City!
In what may be the unlikeliest of scenarios, today’s matchup features the top-two teams in the Pacific Division. You know, the same teams that either have missed the playoffs two out of the past three seasons or didn’t exist this time last year.
Probably the most unexpected is the success of the 11-6-1 Golden Knights in only their first two months of play. No matter what bizarre situations they’ve been thrust into – including not one, not two but three goaltenders landing on IR in the month of October – the Knights have responded with the fighting spirit of a team with decades of history and prestige.
Most notably, Vegas plays some good offense. Like, really good. So good, in fact, that it tops the Western Conference and ranks fourth-best in the NHL overall in scoring, managing 3.56 goals-per-game. For those wondering, that makes the Knights’ offense better than those of Winnipeg, Chicago, St. Louis and a heap of other clubs not named the Lightning, Maple Leafs or Islanders.
The man behind it all? Probably Head Coach Gerard Gallant, but since he wears a suit instead of skates, we’ll bestow the honor upon second-liner W David Perron. The former Blue has scored a team-high 17 points to average .94 per game, due in large part to finding is way onto the scorecard in each of his last six games.
However, with 6-11-17 totals, Perron is largely a facilitator for the rest of his line. Instead, it’s been linemate W James Neal that has taken credit for a team-high 10 goals. Though not as hot as Perron, Neal is certainly feeling his offensive game of late, as he’s scored a goal in two of his last three games and is riding a three-game point streak.
Attempting to slow down this stellar offense tonight (well, this afternoon if you’re in Vegas considering it’s a 5 p.m. puck drop local time) are the division-leading 12-6-2 Kings. Fortunately for Los Angeles, it’s a team that hangs its hat on squelching opposing attacks, as it allows only a second-best 2.3 goals against-per game.
I’m pretty sure I say it every time we focus on the Kings, but the biggest reason for their success this season is the incredible play of 9-6-1 G Jonathan Quick. I’d change the story to keep things fresh, but it’s hard to take away from a netminder that has managed a .93 season save percentage and 2.31 GAA to rank in the top-six of his position.
Unfortunately for Quick, looking at his season stats hides the fact that he’s currently riding a four-game losing skid that goes back to November 9. Over the course of these games, Quick has allowed a dozen goals – all at home, mind you – on a .91 save percentage.
Head Coach John Stevens definitely had this game on his mind this week, because he purposefully rested Quick in yesterday’s game against Florida – another strong offense, though nowhere near as good as Vegas’ – in favor of 3-0-1 G Darcy Kuemper. The first half of that decision paid off when the Kings beat the Panthers 4-0 at the Staples Center yesterday, so it will be interesting to see how Los Angeles travels.
The reason for Kuemper’s strong record is that the Kings’ defense plays differently with him in net compared to their usual starter. Kuemper has faced only 111 shots this season, which is 27.75 per start. Compare that to Quick’s 33.25 shots against-per-start and we see part of the problem. To help Quick get out of his rut, I think Stevens’ defense will play back this evening to alleviate some of the pressure off Quick and allow him to rebuild the confidence he may have lost over the past 10 days.
If that is the case, expect to hear W Dustin Brown and D Alec Martinez‘ names said a lot tonight. Though he’s no blueliner, Brown has managed three hits-per-game all season to lead the team and knows how to slow down opposing scorers. In addition, even if those goalscorers get a shot off, Martinez averages a league-high 3.4 blocks-per-game, so very little gets past him. If their efforts can motivate their club to take their defensive zone a little more seriously than they usually do with Quick in net, this Kings team should be fine tonight.
G Malcolm Subban was just activated Thursday from injured reserve, so it is possible he’s in net tonight. If he is, there’s a possibility he’ll show a little bit of rust – and I’d expect the Kings’ offense to pounce. If G Maxime Lagace holds his starting job for one more day, Los Angeles will need all of its (t)11th-ranked offense to get the job done.
Thanks to an offensive explosion in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 at Bell MTS Place in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Usually it’s a bad thing to score all your goals in one period, but the Jets seemed to do just fine by burying five tallies in the span of 12:27, four of which in only 3:50. Making the onslaught even more fun, all five Winnipeg markers were struck by a different goalscorer.
RWPatrik Laine (W Nikolaj Ehlers and F Bryan Little) reclaimed a one-goal lead for Winnipeg at the 8:06 mark, followed only 35 seconds later by D Jacob Trouba (Connor and Scheifele) burying his first goal of the season for what proved to be the game-winner.
Exactly a minute after the celebration for Trouba’s goal had ended, the Phone Booth erupted again for F Matt Hendricks‘ (F Mathieu Perreault and RW Joel Armia) wrist shot to set the score at 4-1. Perreault (Hendricks and Armia) completed the Jets’ score fest with a deflection 1:42 before the second intermission.
Butcher (C Nico Hischier and F Taylor Hall) registered the first goal of his career in the third period, but even the 12:46 remaining in regulation was not enough for Jersey to pose any more of a threat.
G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Cory Schneider, who saved 17-of-22 (.773). He was lifted in favor of G Keith Kinkaid for the third period, who saved all 12 shots he faced.
Winnipeg’s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That improves the hosts’ record to 25-17-5, which his eight points better than the roadies.
Stealthy good. Not only an apt description of the big Flyers winger’s week (and season), but really of his entire career. Voracek has been one of the best ‘under-the-radar’ players in the league for some time, and this week he was really flying (pun somewhat intended). On a team that finished the week 1-2-0, Voracek was a major bright spot, tallying 2 points in every game. The Kladno, CZE native notched an assist on both Flyers goals in a 6-2 thumping against Anaheim, then tallied 1 & 1 in each of their next two contests (a 5-4 loss to Ottawa and 4-2 victory over Toronto). Oddly, not a single one of his 6 points in those 3 games came on the power play, an area where Voracek usually excels.
Side note: Though Voracek is currently 3rd in points in the entire league (trailing only Tampa’s dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov), those goals in back to back games were just his 1st and 2nd tallies of the year. He’s 2nd in the league in assists with 14.
Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings
One of the league’s resident surprises, LA has surged to the top of the standings with a 9-1-1 record, and though they suffered their first regulation loss this week, it wasn’t enough to prevent them earning this recognition.
With 8 players having recorded at least 5 points so far in the young season, and a goaltending duo both boasting sub-2.00 GAAs and >.930 save percentages, the resurgent Kings are getting contributions from seemingly everyone. Dustin Brown has burst back to life after multiple subpar seasons, seemingly flourishing in the system of new coach John Stevens. Anze Kopitar continues to make an argument for being possibly the most undervalued center in the league, and youngster Adrian Kempe has been sublime.
Only a 3-2 loss to Toronto managed to blemish an otherwise-flawless week, as the Kings toppled Ottawa 3-2, Montreal 4-0, and Boston 2-1. A long summer and a fresh face behind the bench may have been just what the doctor ordered for the battle-weary club, and other clubs may need to start worrying about how to deal with a Cup-hungry LA franchise once again.
Game of the Week: Dallas Stars 4 @ Edmonton Oilers 5, Thursday October 26th
I admittedly have an affinity to games decided in extra frames when it comes to this award, but the Stars and Oilers simply put on a barn-burner too good to ignore.
One of those matchups that just looks like it’s going to be fun on paper (two high-octane offenses backed up by less-than-stellar defenses), this tilt certainly delivered. 9 goals (3 on the power play), 67 shots, 56 hits, and even a fight (okay, more of a facial reconstruction on Antoine Roussel by Eric Gryba), this one had plenty of everything.
The opening period started with a bit of a goaltending duel, with Ben Bishop and Cam Talbot both making a handful of quality stops in the opening half of the frame. But as a penalty to Ryan Strome was expiring just past the 11 minute mark, Leon Draisaitl collected a loose puck and fought through a check along the boards to push the puck ahead to the newly-freed Strome, who flicked a no-look backhand from the boards into the middle of the ice, feeding a streaking Connor McDavid in full stride, who proceeded to shelf the puck over the blocker side of Bishop to give the hometown Oilers the 1-0 lead. A see-saw contest would develop from there, as just over 1 minute later opposing captain Jamie Benn would bury a sweet feed from Alex Radulov to knot things up. Patrick Maroon would see a centering attempt turn into a goal after bouncing off the skate of Dallas defender Marc Methot and into the net with just 25 seconds to play in the opening frame, sending the Oil to the locker room with a 2-1 lead.
Radulov and Benn would both tally power-play goals in the 2nd, with a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goal splitting the two and sending the game into the 3rd period tied at 3. To break the streak of trading goals, Esa Lindell would bury Dallas’ 3rd PP tally after receiving a sweet cross-ice slap-pass from Jason Spezza just over halfway through the 3rd, giving the Stars their first lead of the night. Unfortunately for the Dallas faithful it would last just shy of 2 minutes, as RNH would net his second of the night to draw even at 4. Then with less than 3 to play, defenseman Matt Benning would give Draisaitl his 3rd assist of the night by burying a one-timer from the point (with a bit of help from the skate of Alexander Radulov) and giving the Oilers the final lead of the game.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Seriously, Golden Knights, about this Twitter campaign to be the next winning goaltender for your franchise? Oscar Dansk is 3-0-0 after being handed the starting job when both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban went down with injuries, and boasts a ridiculous 1.34 GAA and .959 save percentage, along with a shutout.
I’m starting to actually believe anyone wearing goalie equipment could win the Vezina with this team.
Speaking of roster vacancies in Vegas, Vadim Shipachyov earned himself a suspension by going all ‘Russian’ on the franchise after being sent down to the AHL. He has supposedly gone AWOL from the Chicago Wolves, and his future with the Golden Knights (and potentially the NHL altogether) is looking pretty well decided.
Alex Ovechkin made headlines off the ice, as the Capitals superstar went out of his way to buy a sweater, coat, and hat for a shirtless homeless man he spotted while walking in Edmonton. Ovie downplayed his actions and attempted to avoid questions about it in interviews, stating that “It was nothing,” following up with “I think if you saw a guy almost naked out there with a cold temperature, I think every human can do something, a coat, a shirt, or whatever.” Autograph hounds throughout the league were seen disrobing and untidying their hair soon after word of Ovie’s actions reached the airwaves*.
*- I assume
Kevin Bieksa successfully utilized a ‘Superman Punch’ in a fight for the 2nd time in his career, with both instances occurring against the Philadelphia Flyers. Radko Gudas was on the receiving end of this most recent entry, while years ago it was Mike Richards. This does beg the question of why you would choose to fight Kevin Bieksa.
The Habs and Rangers had a contest to see who was the least worst, and in fitting fashion, it was an ugly thing. 9 total goals on Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, the former getting the…better?…of the latter, with both teams looking sloppy and discombobulated. I suppose either team can take solace in knowing they are better than Arizona, but I don’t know exactly how much solace can actually be taken from that knowledge.
Can Arizona go an entire season without a victory? I think we should all get behind them in their efforts to set the least enviable record in hockey history. 10 down, 72 to go.
Offseason Analysis: If postseason berths were awarded based on goals allowed, Los Angeles would have been not only the third seed in the Pacific Division in 2017, but also the entire Western Conference. In fact, at 205 goals allowed, Los Angeles was the only non-playoff team in the entire league in the top-15 of the statistic.
Unfortunately for the Kings’ offense, that’s not the way this game works.
Last season, Los Angeles couldn’t score to save its life. Even with F Jeff Carter’s team-leading 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists), the Kings could only manage 201 markers – tying for the fifth-fewest in the league.
If a club is struggling on offense, what better place to find a scorer than the entry draft? That’s exactly where new GM Blake looked, selecting 18-year-old C Gabriel Vilardi (29-32-61 in the OHL) with the 11th-overall pick. Fans shouldn’t grow too attached to the idea of him wearing black and silver this year though, as Los Angeles’ top two center positions are locked up for at least the next five seasons (Carter will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022), barring a big trade. Both Nick Shore (6-11-17) and Nic Dowd (6-16-22) will be free agents following this season (restricted and unrestricted, respectively) and could open up a hole in the lineup for the youngster, but I’d be concerned about playing the potential future of the offense, should the scouting reports prove correct, on these more physical lines during his development. Vilardi will almost certainly be back in Windsor trying to win his second-straight Memorial Cup this season.
And that leads us to a major problem with the Kings: they are returning almost an identical roster as last year. That is just fine for the Pittsburgh Penguins or Nashville Predators, but teams like the Kings that are trying to capitalize on a two-time Cup-winning goaltender still in his early 30s – like Jonathan Quick – should be doing all they can to help him out.
General Managers in all sports face the tough job of building a competitive team, keeping a balanced budget, appeasing the owner and making the fans happy. It’s a touchy situation that often doesn’t have clear right or wrong answers.
Unfortunately, Lombardi didn’t find the right balance between those things last season. Currently, the Kings have eight forwards signed to contracts through at least the 2019-’20 season for $1.6 million AAV, at minimum. Six of those are Lombardi’s responsibility, as his attempts to keep the 2014 Stanley Cup-winning gang together and hope they rediscover that magic ultimately led to him losing his job this offseason.
Then again, it doesn’t seem Blake learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, as he is responsible for signing 25-year-olds LW Tanner Pearson (24-20-44) and F Tyler Toffoli (16-18-34) this summer. My concern with these signings is not that these players aren’t worth their contracts, but that it has only added to the logjam of talent that will make it difficult for youths like Vilardi to make the team and could make it difficult to trade pieces in the future.
Offseason Grade: C+
The Kings added Cammalleri to replace unsigned Jarome Iginla and shored up the backup goaltending position (sorry Mr. Game 1 Jeff Zatkoff, but Kuemper is better and younger), but they’re returning almost an identical lineup as last season. Unless Stevens can find a way for the offense to increase production and Quick can add four more wins than Peter Budaj could manage in his absence last year, the Kings are on their way to another postseason on the couch.
The time has come for my annual prediction of how the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will go. This year’s draft class is overall weaker than years past, but comes with a difficult choice for the New Jersey Devils, as they hold the 1st overall pick. The talk surrounding Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier is reminiscent of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin days leading up to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.
With that in mind, let’s see how many picks I get wrong (it’s an annual tradition!)– this year’s draft is being held in Chicago.
1) New Jersey Devils –> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)
A gifted center, Nolan Patrick’s status as the long-time coming predicted 1st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft should not be affected by his injury shortened season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Patrick is a 6’2″, 199-pound gifted two-way player that can not only contribute in goals and assists, but brings some size down the middle for the Devils.
2) Philadelphia Flyers –> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
If New Jersey doesn’t take Nolan Patrick 1st overall, then the Flyers shouldn’t really have any complaints, because either Nico Hischier or Patrick is quite the impressive steal for the 2.4% longshots at the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Hischier stands tall at 6’2″, 179 pounds, and had 38-48-86 totals with the Halifax Mooseheads in 57 games this season en route to being named the CHL’s Rookie of the Year.
3) Dallas Stars –> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)
Gabriel Vilardi was part of this year’s Memorial Cup champion, the Windsor Spitfires, and amassed 29-32-61 totals in 49 games played this season. He’s a two-way center that remains composed in all situations while utilizing unparalleled hands and finesse in this year’s draft. Vilardi would be quite the addition to Dallas’s prospect pool at 6’3″, 203 pounds and only 17-years-old (until August 16th, that is).
4) Colorado Avalanche –> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Finland)
One can assume that the Avalanche are bound to be trading a bunch of forwards for forwards this offseason (at least), but more important than having an offense is having a defense and an offense (which Colorado has had one in recent years and I’ll give you a hint– it hasn’t been a defense). Miro Heiskanen is a 6’1″, 172-pound two-way defenseman that had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 37 games with HIFK this season and is just part one of many moves towards turning things around at Pepsi Center.
5) Vancouver Canucks –> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)
The Vancouver Canucks can begin to start thinking about their long term approach to the end of the Sedin era by assuring themselves of a strong presence down the middle. Casey Mittelstadt brings that strong presence at center by virtue of his 6’1″, 201-pound frame and tremendous skill. There’s a reason why he was named this year’s Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota. Mittelstadt had 21-43-64 totals in 25 games with Eden Prairie and 13-17-30 totals in 24 games with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) this season.
6) Vegas Golden Knights –> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
For their first draft selection in franchise history, the Vegas Golden Knights are bound to select perhaps the most tactically smart playmaker of the draft in Cody Glass. The 6’2″, 178-pound, right-handed center had 32 goals and 62 assists (94 points– T-7th in the WHL) and is sure to fit right in with the Golden Knights roster and longterm plans. Vegas would be wise to let him play coming out of the draft, since Glass is perhaps the most NHL ready player besides Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.
7) Arizona Coyotes –> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
The Arizona Coyotes have been stockpiling forwards (if you can believe it) in recent drafts, so this year seems to be the right time to snag a puck moving defenseman that’s committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next season. Cale Makar had 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) in 54 games with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season– a 20-point improvement in as many games compared to last season.
8) Buffalo Sabres –> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
At 6’6″, 215 pounds, Michael Rasmussen is exactly what the Sabres need to compliment the already sized up centers of Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Sheer intimidation could be one thing Buffalo banks on in the near future, thanks to their Goliath centers, but don’t let that be the only thing. Rasmussen has silky hands and had 32-23-55 totals with the Tri-City Americans this season in the Western Hockey League.
9) Detroit Red Wings –> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)
Owen Tippett has been drawing comparisons to Phil Kessel (no, not necessarily because he’s a hot dogs and hamburgers guy– though we haven’t asked him– but rather, because Mike Morreale of NHL.com says so). The 6’0″, 200-pound, right winger had 44 goals and 31 assists (75 points) in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads and is a natural sniper.
10) Florida Panthers –> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)
Martin Necas is a versatile center that can create space for the puck and generate offense with his playmaking mindset. The right-handed shot had seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 41 games with Brno this season. Florida shouldn’t be too concerned with his 6’0″, 167-pound frame, considering they’ve got a good mix of forwards to balance things out while Necas works on adding some muscle to his game.
11) Los Angeles Kings –> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)
After missing out on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings fired their now former head coach (Darryl Sutter) and general manager (Dean Lombardi) and immediately replaced them with John Stevens behind the bench and Rob Blake as GM, so trying to predict who they’ll draft is difficult based on recent history. However, Elias Pettersson (19-22-41 totals in 43 games with Timra) might just happen to fall into their hands at 11th overall. He’ll need a year of seasoning before appearing in the Kings lineup.
12) Carolina Hurricanes –> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (Sweden)
After a bout with mononucleosis in November, Timothy Liljegren wasn’t fully able to rebound this season with Rogle BK, however his skating remains unparalleled as one of the better defensemen of the draft. Liljegren can join the rush and pinch in from the point when needed in the offensive zone and scouts have yet to see the full potential impact of his style of play. Given the uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s money-puck strategy and how it will affect their blue line, drafting Liljegren might provide some security.
13) Winnipeg Jets –> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)
Klim Kostin missed a lot of time thanks to a shoulder injury, but that shouldn’t stop the Winnipeg Jets from taking a chance on what might be the best Russian forward in the draft. Puck possession is Kostin’s middle name and his 6’3″, 196-pound frame certainly must have something to do with that. The Jets could use him down the middle or restructure their wingers around the Kostin model, albeit acknowledging Blake Wheeler‘s size and existence already in Winnipeg.
14) Tampa Bay Lightning –> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)
Steve Yzerman may continue to be a master of the salary cap (in terms of carefully maneuvering around large contracts, drafting and developing talent on a consistent basis and the like), but he’s got some critical thinking to do this offseason, what with pending RFAs galore and the Vegas expansion draft. Juuso Valimaki might be just enough to help relieve some of that pressure, having been one of the best defensemen of the WHL this season and amassing 19-42-61 totals in 60 games played.
15) New York Islanders –> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)
Offensively skilled, Nick Suzuki isn’t the biggest player (5’11”, 183 pounds), but he is one of the best power play specialists in this year’s draft– notching 14 power play goals for the Owen Sound Attack this season. Suzuki had 96 points alone (45 goals, 51 assists) in 65 games and would be an upgrade for the Islanders in more ways than one.
16) Calgary Flames –> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)
Kristian Vesalainen is a 6’3″, 207-pound power forward that might be able to muster his way to a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Jokes aside, Vesalainen would be a solid draft pick by Calgary for his physical prowess and goal scoring ability. In the Battle of Alberta, the Flames could select their very own Milan Lucic, but with more of a two-way element to his game.
17) Toronto Maple Leafs –> D Nicolas Hague, Mississauga (OHL)
How could the Toronto Maple Leafs get any better than they already are with a lineup full of kids? Answer: they could draft Nicolas Hague. Toronto’s got a plethora of players waiting to insert themselves into their mix of forwards that it wouldn’t hurt them to give a little more attention to their blue line for a bit. Hague is a monstrous 6’6″, 215-pound, shutdown defenseman that can also contribute on the power play. He had 18-28-46 totals in 65 games with the Mississauga Steelheads this season.
18) Boston Bruins –> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
It seems unusual to say, but the Boston Bruins have a little something on the horizon to start thinking about– what will the team look like after Patrice Bergeron (and David Krejci)? Boston GM Don Sweeney has a recent history of opting for college players and could select center Ryan Poehling with the future in mind. The 6’2″, 183-pound, playmaker has great vision and puck protection and had 7-6-13 totals in 35 games with St. Cloud State this season. Additionally, Poehling’s got intelligence (both on and off the ice) as he graduated a year early from high school and just tuned 18 on January 3rd.
19) San Jose Sharks –> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)
The San Jose Sharks have some big names to re-sign this offseason, including Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Naturally, while one might think the Sharks should use this draft to find their eventual replacements, San Jose is already in a good spot regarding forwards. Their blue line, however, could use someone like the 6’4″, 212-pound, likeness of Callan Foote. He had six goals and 51 assists (57 points) in 71 games this season and is sure to follow in the foot(e)steps of his father, Adam Foote.
20) St. Louis Blues –> LW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
A 30-goal-scorer in 52 games played with Sioux City this season, Eeli Tolvanen brings just about every offensive element the St. Louis Blues are looking for in a forward. He can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice– at any time too. Quick with his feet, Tolvanen can snipe an impressive shot. Don’t let his 5’10”, 170-pound setup fool you, this winger is ready to become even better at Boston College in the fall. After a couple of seasons of losing vital veteran forwards, the Blues get a chance for redemption by bringing in a goalscorer that could soon be skating on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko.
21) New York Rangers –> LW Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)
In 68 games with the Kingston Frontenacs this season, Jason Robertson (6’2″, 192 pounds) had 42 goals and 39 assists for 81 points. He knows what to do with the puck and with the unwavering uncertainty of Rick Nash‘s longevity, along with the legitimacy of Jimmy Vesey and others as impact players when you need them the most (like in the playoffs, for example), Robertson is a risk worth taking. He’s only a risk because his skating game could use some improvement.
22) Edmonton Oilers –> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)
Lias Andersson is a mobile two-way forward that matches grit with nifty hands that generate scoring chances, as evidenced by his 9-10-19 totals in 42 games played with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League this season. At 5’11”, 198 pounds, Andersson is the right fit for the Edmonton Oilers lineup, where he can increase his offensive skill by learning from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while taking a page or two from Milan Lucic in the physical game. Additionally, his father, Niklas Andersson, is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and played in 164 career NHL games.
The Coyotes have two 1st round picks in this year’s draft and they’d be smart to take a forward with their second pick. Luckily, Shane Bowers is just the player for Arizona. The Boston University-bound center scored 22 goals and had 29 assists (51 points) in 60 games for Waterloo this season. The 6’1″, 183-pound forward models his game after Jonathan Toews, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Coyotes to have in their prospect pool with a clear need for a stable, solid, two-way center.
24) Columbus Blue Jackets –> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)
At 5’8″ and 153 pounds, Kailer Yamamoto is not a player to overlook. Why? Because he scored 42 goals and had 57 assists for 99 points (6th in the WHL in scoring) in 65 games with Spokane this season. Yamamoto is relentless on the puck and has hands beyond his years, as well as speed and skill that make him quite the threat on the ice.
25) Montreal Canadiens –> LW Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
After acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens have made great strides at improving their group of forwards. But with the uncertainty of everything panning out as planned, why not add to the plan? Maxime Comtois is versatile and ready to take the next step in his professional career with the right guidance (*ahem* Claude Julien‘s system). Best inserted on the wing, Comtois had 22-29-51 totals in 64 games with Victoriaville this season. The 6’2″, 200-pound forward could play center if the Canadiens see it fit.
26) Chicago Blackhawks –> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)
Chicago is bound to have a tough offseason in a non-Cup year for the first time in a while, it seems, what with the Expansion Draft, as well as the salary cap working against their favor. While the Blackhawks may have to deal a top-4 defenseman or part of their core group of forwards (without getting too crazy, mind you, we’re not talking a trade involving Patrick Kane), Chicago can rest assured that Urho Vaakanainen is their defenseman of the future. The 6’1″, 185-pound blue liner is good at 1) getting the puck out of the zone and 2) playing his game– and a physical one at that.
27) St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals) –> D Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
An offensive-minded defenseman with a right-shot, Conor Timmins fits the bill for the St. Louis Blues. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Timmins can rush the ice as a two-way defenseman who contributed 61 points (seven goals, 54 assists) for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 67 games this season. Think Colton Parayko, but not, because this guy’s name is Conor Timmins and he doesn’t already play for the Blues.
28) Ottawa Senators –> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Josh Norris had 23-28-51 totals in 52 games played this season. The 6’1″, 192-pound center could contribute to the Senators organization in a manner similar to how Colin White has been implemented into the roster. Who knows, he might be worth it, Ottawa.
Tremendous hockey sense and intelligence are part of Kole Lind’s game. A natural playmaker, Lind was also known to produce goals of his own for the Kelowna Rockets this season, amassing 30-57-87 totals in 70 games played. The 6’1″, 178-pound right winger could be a solid fit alongside the likes of Jamie Benn and Seguin in Dallas.
30) Nashville Predators –> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)
Hey look it’s Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty! Again, I’m only kidding. This Robert Thomas of the London Knights had 16-50-66 totals in 66 games this season as a two-way forward. A noted playmaker, Thomas reads and reacts to the play before him beyond his years and will need some time to really come into his own at the NHL level. Yet, the Nashville Predators can afford to take their time carefully crafting the almost 6′, 188-pound, center in their system that’s produced the likes of Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and many more in recent years.
31) Pittsburgh Penguins –> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)
It took Henri Jokiharju a few months to really transition to the North American style of the game, but for this offensively focused defenseman, that wasn’t a big deal. He can get the puck out of his own zone with ease– not just with crisp passes, but also due to his incredible stride and speed in the transition department. Jokiharju (6’0″, 180 pounds) had nine goals and 39 assists (48 points) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.
Other top potential 1st round prospects that should easily be 2nd round picks if they’re not taken in Round 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft:
G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey East)
LW Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)
D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)
LW Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)
C Aleksei Heponiemi, Swift Current (WHL)
G Michael DiPietro, Windsor (OHL)
LW Matthew Strome, Hamilton (OHL)
C Antoine Morand, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
LW Tyler Steenbergen, Swift Current (WHL)
So there you have it. This is how I see the 1st round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft shaking out. Be sure to tune in next Friday night (that’s one week from now) to watch your favorite team pick a teenager and hope for the best. I’ll be at work that night, so no spoilers, please. Let me believe I got more than two picks right for once.