The Western Hockey League had a banner year in the 2017 NHL Draft. Not only was Nolan Patrick in the conversation to go number one overall from the beginning of the 2016-17 season until draft day (ultimately being taken second overall by the Flyers), but three of the first ten picks came from the league and the league had seven total first round picks.
For comparison, the Ontario Hockey League, which tends to get a lot more publicity because of its geographic location, only had one player taken in the top ten picks and had just five players taken in the first round. WHL alumnus Kailer Yamamoto, taken with the 22nd pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, has managed to stick with the Edmonton Oilers out of camp though the question remains whether he will stay past the 9-game mark, burning a year off his entry-level contract in the process.
NHL scouts are working day-in and day-out to find the next player that can be a difference-maker for their franchise, seeing 6-7 games a week. More and more they are also looking at advanced stats to supplement their knowledge base and provide them additional data points, though the data at the junior level isn’t always of a consistently high quality. By the time the season is over, these scouts will have spent enough time with the players to better understand their personalities off-ice in addition to recognizing a player from a passing glance at his skating stride.
So, what players should you be paying attention to now that the 2017-2018 WHL season is underway? Who are the players making a name for themselves out West that might have their name called by your favorite team next June? While the WHL isn’t likely to repeat last year’s draft performance, there are still some players to pay attention to as the year progresses. Defensemen Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs is clearly at the top of this WHL draft class, and is a possible top 10 in the NHL Draft. Smith is a bit on the small side, but moves the puck well and is always thinking a step ahead of the play. What sets him apart is his hockey sense. Smith has come out of the gates strong with 12 points in his first 11 games.
Outside of Smith, there are a few other players who might be first round material. They include Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Riley Sutter of the Everett Silvertips, and Alexander Alexeyev of the Red Deer Rebels. Woo is another defenseman who already is close to the playing weight he’ll need to be to compete at the next level and he’s a sound positional player. He’s very competitive and plays a physical game. Like Smith, he’s putting up good numbers to start the season with 9 points including an impressive 4 goals in his first 10 games of the season. He’s also a right-handed shot, which could help his stock.
Sutter is a big right wing at 6’3” and 205 pounds. The last name, no doubt, looks familiar to you and, yes, he is from that Sutter family. Specifically, he is the son of Ron Sutter. What was interesting, in speaking with one scout, was that Riley’s personality and playing style don’t necessarily match the expectations you might have based on his size and family name. He is a quiet, cerebral player who knows where to be on the ice and by the time the game is over you look down and notice that he’s had one of the best games of any of the players on the ice. In the early going, he has 11 points in 12 games including a team-leading seven goals. I’m hoping to get a chance to see Sutter play in person later this month.
Alexeyev is another right-handed defenseman, but he has the size that neither Smith nor Woo have at this point, standing 6’3” tall. He has an incredibly accurate point shot and, like Woo, he’s right handed. The biggest concern with the talented rearguard is how he comes back from a knee injury that required surgery and cost him half of the 2016-17 season. Further complicating things, an upper body injury has cost him several games this season, but when he has been healthy, he’s managed 3 assists in 4 games played. It will be interesting to see if his draft stock slips if injury keeps him off the ice for a substantial period of time.
It is still very early in the junior season and teams and players are still figuring things out. Beyond the four players I mentioned above, there are others who may seemingly come out of nowhere. Last year’s initial Central Scouting rankings didn’t have Cody Glass going in the first round, let alone the top 10. As the season progresses, I will be looking to see other players that emerge as NHL talents and to see how Smith, Woo, Sutter and Alexeyev perform.
Jaromir Jagr signed with the Calgary Flames this week, the regular season started (though the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have been told yet that the games matter now) and former players tend to be GMs in the NHL, the Original Trio confirms. Also, we gave participation trophies without even watching the rest of the season for the second year in a row.
Offseason Analysis: Philadelphia Flyers general manager, Ron Hextall, didn’t play the Powerball, but may have won the lottery after all– considering the fact that the Flyers moved from 14th to 2nd overall at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft via the draft lottery and were then able to select Nolan Patrick from the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Landing Patrick over New Jersey’s 1st overall pick, Nico Hischier, might resemble the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in initial success. Edmonton Oilers 2010 1st overall pick, Taylor Hall didn’t have much of a team around him in Edmonton in his rookie season of 2010-2011, while Boston’s Tyler Seguin had the eventual 2011 Stanley Cup champions as his linemates.
Hischier joins the rebuilding Devils, while Patrick landed on the middle-of-the-road Flyers and if you’re a fan of either of those teams, you’re probably hoping that the first two picks of the 2017 draft aren’t a full repeat of the 2010 draft, where Hall was traded to New Jersey just last year and Seguin was dealt to Dallas in 2013.
The Flyers currently have five defensemen on their NHL roster and shouldn’t be too worried about how the sixth spot and depth spot will fill out– alas, this is the reason why training camp and the preseason exist.
But while Hextall had an easy offseason of minor tweaks to the roster, a couple of key components from last season’s team are no longer members of the franchise.
Brayden Schenn was dealt to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 1st round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 1st round pick. Nick Cousins was sent to Arizona in a trade that involved other, less important, components. More importantly, Steve Mason was not offered a contract and jettisoned for the Winnipeg Jets via free agency as Brian Elliott agreed to terms with Philadelphia on a 2-year, $2.750 million per year contract.
Entering his fourth NHL season, Lehtera is coming off of a career worst seven goals, 15 assists (22 points) performance in 64 games played last season (due to injuries and otherwise). Healthy and in need of a change of scenery, Lehtera appears to be reinvigorated and ready to slide in alongside the likes of Giroux, Voracek, Konecny, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal.
Since the late 1990s, the Flyers have had about 3,000,000 million different starting goaltenders. Okay, the real number is somewhere around 30, but the point is this– Philly may have found a number one starter in Brian Elliott.
After being traded to the Calgary Flames from the St. Louis Blues, Elliott went on to appear in 49 games– the most he’s played since the 2009-2010 season (55 games with the Ottawa Senators). Last season, Elliott’s numbers (a 2.55 goals against average and a .910 save percentage) nearly reflected that of his 2009-2010 season (2.57 GAA with a .909 SV% in 6 more games than his 2016-2017 campaign).
Yes, Elliott was considerably worse in Calgary than in St. Louis. He never had a GAA above 2.28 with the Blues (and his 2.28 GAA came in 24 games during the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season). His final year with St. Louis (2015-2016) amassed a 2.07 GAA and a .930 SV% in 42 games played en route to a Western Conference Finals appearance (and loss to the San Jose Sharks).
Granted, St. Louis had a defense in front of him– and an offense, for that matter– all of his years in a blue note, while Elliott’s short stint with the Flames was largely unprotected. There was no 1A/1B scenario, unlike when Elliott played with Jake Allen in St. Louis and Calgary’s defense was not of the caliber of Colton Parayko and all who came before him on the Blues.
And if Elliott has a bad night or an off-week, then Michal Neuvirth is more than ready to step in and tame the crease, like how the Blues juggled Elliott and Allen for a few seasons.
Coming off a season with a -17 goal differential, the Flyers will need to replace a two-time 50-point scorer (Schenn) with more than what they brought in during the offseason. Hextall is opting for the build from within strategy, having witnessed an impressive rookie campaign from Konecny and since landing Patrick 2nd overall in June.
Inaction can work, as the old saying “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” goes, but will it be enough to put Philadelphia back into Stanley Cup contention for the first time since 2010, let alone back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Offseason Grade: C
Simply put, the Flyers could’ve gotten more up front in the Brayden Schenn deal, it seems, from either the Blues or literally any other team and that hampers their offseason success in finding a suitable replacement for Steve Mason as one of their goalies by signing Brian Elliott.
Friday night marked Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and a record (welcome again Vegas Golden Knights) 31 players were selected in the 1st Round. In case you missed any of the action, here’s how it all broke down.
2017 NHL Entry Draft– Round 1
New Jersey Devils–> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
Philadelphia Flyers–> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (OHL)
Dallas Stars–> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK, (Finland)
Colorado Avalanche–> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
Vancouver Canucks–> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)
Vegas Golden Knights–> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
New York Rangers (from Arizona)–> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)
Buffalo Sabres–> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)
Detroit Red Wings–> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota)–> D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
Winnipeg Jets (from Columbus via Vegas)–> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)
Montreal Canadiens–> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
Dallas Stars (from Chicago)–>G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey-East)
Philadelphia Flyers (from Washington via St. Louis)–> C Morgan Frost, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Ottawa Senators–> C Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)
Chicago Blackhawks (from Dallas via Anaheim)–> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)
Nashville Predators–> RW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
St. Louis Blues (from Pittsburgh)–> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)
Trades Made on Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft
The Arizona Coyotes traded D Connor Murphy and F Laurent Dauhpin to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for D Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired F Artemi Panarin, F Tyler Motte and a 2017 6th round pick(170th overall) from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for F Brandon Saad, G Anton Forsberg and a 2018 5th round pick.
The Arizona Coyotes traded D Anthony DeAngelo and a 2017 1st round pick (7th overall) to the New York Rangers for F Derek Stepan and G Antti Raanta.
The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired F Jordan Schroeder from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for FDante Salituro.
The Chicago Blackhawks traded a 2017 1st round pick(26th overall) to the Dallas Stars for a 2017 1st round pick (29th overall) and a 2017 3rd round pick (70th overall).
The St. Louis Blues acquired F Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for F Jori Lehtera, a 2017 1st round pick (27th overall), and a conditional 2018 1st round pick.
The Pittsburgh Penguins traded F Oskar Sundqvist and a 2017 1st round pick (31st overall) to the St. Louis Blues and acquired F Ryan Reaves and a 2017 2nd round pick (51st overall) in return.
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.
Nick and Connor preview the 2017 Eastern Conference and Western Conference Finals, as well as discuss the failure of the Washington Capitals in detail. More trophy predictions are made and draft lottery’s are awful.
All but two teams are in action today, so the playoff situation could be a whole lot clearer at the end of the night.
Not only are 14 games being played, but they’re spaced throughout the day for our viewing pleasure! The action starts with two 12:30 p.m. matinees (the New York Rangers at Ottawa [NHLN/RDS/SN] and Columbus at Philadelphia), followed by Washington at Boston (NBC) at 3 p.m. The evening’s play starts an hour early, as two contests (Chicago at Los Angeles and the New York Islanders at New Jersey) drop the puck at 6 p.m., trailed an hour after by five more (Nashville at Winnipeg [CITY], Pittsburgh at Toronto [CBC/NHLN], Montréal at Detroit [SN/TVAS], Buffalo at Florida and St. Louis at Carolina). Colorado at Dallas gets underway at 8 p.m., with Minnesota at Arizona waiting an hour for its green light. Finally, our co-nightcaps (Edmonton at Vancouver [CBC] and Calgary at San Jose [NHLN/SN]) drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the day.
New York at Ottawa: Before they were members of the Rangers‘ high-flying offense, Matt Puempel and Mika Zibanejad spent a combined eight seasons in Ottawa.
Washington at Boston: Another player making his return to his former home is Brett Connolly, who played two seasons with the Bruins.
Chicago at Los Angeles: Though the rivalry has died off lately, the Hawks and Kings have played some vicious games in the past.
Pittsburgh at Toronto: All the Leafs need to qualify for the playoffs is a lone victory. This is the more winnable of their last two games.
Montréal at Detroit: Not only is it an Original Six rivalry and the Habs‘ last trip to Joe Louis Arena, but Steve Ott also makes his first return to Motown since being traded at the deadline.
Minnesota at Arizona: After 10 years with the Coyotes, Martin Hanzal will play his first game in Gila River Arena as a visitor.
Calgary at San Jose: The Flames want to avoid Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, and San Jose still has a chance at home ice against the Oilers. Only one of those things can happen, and it’s decided tonight.
It may not be the fun answer, but we have to go to Toronto to see if the Maple Leafs can lock up a spot in the playoffs. Sorry Connolly, Hanzal, Ott, Puempel and Zibanejad!
The 50-19-11 Penguins have already clinched second place in the Metropolitan Division and will host at least the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This game is not about them.
Instead, all eyes are on 39-26-15 Toronto, the club beloved by many that currently occupies the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
As stated before, it’s a simple win-and-you’re-in situation for the Leafs. A victory tonight would give the Maple Leafs an insurmountable 95 points on the season, more than either the Lightning (92 points, one game remaining) or Islanders (90 points, two games remaining) can surpass.
That’s goal number one: qualification.
Of course, there’s plenty more on the table here if the Leafs can sweep their last two games. Third place is certainly an achievable goal, as it is currently occupied by a Boston team with 95 points and only one game remaining – a dreadfully difficult home contest against the Capitals.
Since that game will be done by the time the Leafs drop the puck tonight, they’ll know if they can surpass the Bruins in the standings or not. Toronto already knows it cannot surpass Boston if it wins this afternoon, as the Leafs could only tie the Bruins at 97 points, but lose the regulation+overtime-wins tiebreaker.
Even second place in the division is still on the board should the Bruins lose today and the Senators (96 points) lose both their remaining games and no more than one require overtime.
But that’s probably getting ahead of ourselves. Remember, the first goal is qualification.
Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, April’s schedule is not doing them any favors in achieving that goal. After opening the month in Detroit, Toronto has faced or will face five quality opponents – quality offenses, to be exact – in a row. They beat the Red Wings 5-4 on April Fools’ Day, followed by a strong 4-2 victory against a sneaky-good Sabres team.
Then started the ill-timed losing skid. Though all skids are ill-timed (Unless you’re Colorado, I suppose. Nolan Patrick won’t fall into just anybody’s lap!), one during a playoff push is especially unwanted.
After returning home for the final four games of the regular season, the Leafs fell to the Capitals 4-1 on Tuesday (Eh, they can handle that. Everybody loses to Washington), followed two days later by another 4-1 loss to the Lightning. That’s the one that caused the most damage, as a victory would have clinched the last spot in the postseason and made this game a little less important.
Obviously there have been issues on both sides of the puck. The easy answer is to crucify the defense and goaltending, but I don’t think that’s the right one. 5-6-0 Curtis McElhinney was in net for the Washington game since it was only a night after the Leafs‘ contest in Buffalo, and 33-16-14 Frederik Andersen reclaimed the crease for the Tampa game.
Sure, you want Andersen to beat the Bolts, but he had been on a five-game winning streak (his longest of the year, if my count is correct) and was bound to drop a game eventually, especially when faced with such a potent offense of late.
And though the defense hasn’t played well recently, when has it this year? They’ve allowed an average of 32.8 shots-per-game to reach Andersen’s crease on the season, the third-worst rate in the NHL. The fact that they allowed a combined total of only 68 (34 per game) shots against both the Caps and Bolts is almost impressive!
If anything, the only major setback in the last two games for Toronto has been its penalty kill. Usually successfully killing 82.6% of opponent’s power plays (ninth-best in the NHL), that rate has dropped to only 60% of late, which is tied for fourth-worst in the league in that time.
But for a team that has averaged 3.04 goals-per-game, the fifth-highest scoring rate in the league, to score only a goal in both games is alarming. Even more concerning is that Tyler Bozak, a third-liner, took credit for both the tallies, meaning the remaining 17 Leafs skaters – including the top two lines – have been held goalless.
And the cherry on top? Those that follow the Leafs know that Bozak and Auston Matthews do not share ice time in any circumstance (even-strength or power play), meaning the rookie wonder has not registered even an assist during this skid.
Scoring is usually the kid’s thing! Matthews has done it all year. Starting with his four-goal effort to begin his NHL career and all throughout the season, he’s found a way to generate offense. He leads Toronto in points (67). He leads Toronto in goals (39).
Yet it’s that exact reason that I’m not too worried about Matthews. Barring a horrid seven-game run to start March and the five-game drought as he was getting adjusted to the league, the youngster has faced only a three-game pointless skid this season (albeit twice). He is the energy in this Leafs team and will not be kept off the scorecard for long.
One way to get Toronto back to scoring is to take advantage of the man-advantage opportunities it is presented with. On the season, the Maple Leafs have been the second-best power play in the league by converting 24.1% of their opponents’ infractions into goals.
This is where fellow rookie William Nylander can shoulder the burden of providing offense with Matthews, as the Albertan has notched a team-leading 25 power play points. Nazem Kadri can also be instrumental from the second power play unit with his squad-leading 12 extra-man goals.
Though they’re riding a four-game winning streak, the Leafs have a great opportunity to get back on track against Pittsburgh. The Pens have allowed 10 goals during this streak, including four to the lowly Devils on Thursday.
The Penguins defense is fourth-worst in the league when measured by shots allowed-per-game this season (32.7), and that’s been an even worse 36.25 in the month of April. Regardless of who’s in net, be it 32-10-4 Matthew Murray or 18-9-7 Marc-Andre Fleury, they should see a lot of shots coming their way.
Those defensive struggles are especially apparent on the penalty kill of late, as the Pens‘ penalty kill rate of 66.7% in the past week ties Detroit for the sixth-worst mark in the NHL in that time. Since March 31, Murray has faced 15 power play shots, which ties for eighth-most against the 58 other goaltenders in that time.
Of course, to truly beat the Pens is to stifle slow down their offense. Doing that will require a bit of work, as first liners Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel both have six points to their credit over the past four games. The rookie may actually be more impressive than his captain of late, as four of his points have been goals, a total that leads the club.
Pittsburgh is especially potent on the man-advantage, mostly because each member of both power play units is capable of scoring. Eight players in the past week, almost evenly split between the two special teams, have notched a power play point to lead the Pens to a 36.4% conversion rate (third-best in that time). Lately, the stars of the show have been Nick Bonino and Patric Hornqvist, both of whom have registered a power play goal and assist.
In the previous two times these clubs have met, the Penguins have had an upper-hand, as they lead the season series 1-0-1. That being said, the last time they met on December 17 (at the Air Canada Centre, in fact) was when Toronto bested the Pens 2-1 thanks to Jake Gardiner‘s overtime goal.
Some players to keep an eye on include Pittsburgh‘s Ian Cole (+27 [tied for seventh-best in the league]), Crosby (43 goals [leads the NHL] for 88 points [tied for second-most in the league]), Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the NHL] for 32 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+27 [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (33 wins [eighth-most in the league], including four shutouts [10th-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (39 goals [tied for third-most in the league]).
I like the Leafs to win this game tonight mostly due to my faith in Matthews. He knows he’s too important to his club to not be effective on the offensive end, and he should be able to take advantage of a poor, uninspired Penguins defense.
Thanks to First Star of the Game Yanni Gourde‘s two-goal night, the Lightning not only beat the host Canadiens 4-2, but they also kept their slim postseason hopes alive in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Though every period of play featured two goals, the difference in this game proved to be the first, as both tallies belonged to the Bolts. Gourde (Second Star Nikita Kucherov and Luke Witkowski) fired an ice-breaking wrist shot with 8:18 remaining in the period to give Tampa Bay the lead, and Kucherov (Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point) followed that up with a wrister of his own 10 seconds before intermission.
Only 4:36 into the third frame, Lehkonen took advantage of a Tampa Bay mistake to score a shorthanded backhand shot and pull Montréal back within a tally, but Gourde’s (Conacher and Jake Dotchin) wrister only 21 seconds later put an end to any Habs comeback.
With their second 4-2 victory in a row, road teams are trying their darnedest to win the DtFR Game of the Day series. They trail the 87-61-25 home teams by only three points with two days remaining in the regular season.
The Montreal Canadiens are quietly dominating and that’s concerning for the rest of the league. Of course, dominating is a relative term, considering some of their counterparts in the Eastern Conference (namely the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins who are ahead of Montreal in the East standings by 10 points, three points and three points respectively). The Habs have been in first place in the Atlantic Division for quite some time now, despite only holding an eight point lead over the 2nd place Ottawa Senators.
For all intents and purposes, the Canadiens don’t have to do that much by March 1st. They shouldn’t sit back, especially if the right deal presents itself, but they don’t have to go out and do extremely necessary shopping at the deadline. Their forwards are in their prime and their defense got a little younger with the addition of Nikita Nesterov from a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And obviously goaltending is not something to worry about, because hello, Carey Price exists.
If anything, Montreal could move someone expendable, like Tomas Plekanec, in advance of the looming expansion draft in June and at least try to get something in return now as opposed to nothing later. Maybe they’ll add a rental for depth.
Potential assets to trade: F Tomas Plekanec, F David Desharnais
Potential targets to acquire: F Shane Doan (ARI), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), F Patrick Sharp (DAL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Patrik Berglund (STL)
2. Ottawa Senators– 27-17-6 (60 points, 50 GP)
In a similar sense, the Ottawa Senators are like the Montreal Canadiens in that nobody expected them to be where they are for this long into the season, given how normally injuries occur. Then again, no one really knows how long the Senators can pull off this divisional standing given 1) how tight standings are in the current divisional alignment and parity of the league and 2) they’re a young team.
If anything, the Sens need to add without subtracting. There’s just one problem. Look at their roster. Who would you trade to add something substantial? Putting chemistry aside, who would you choose? Ottawa seems set on their defense that’s built as though every defenseman is really just a rover in disguise (you know, the position that doesn’t exist anymore). By some miracle the Senators could bolster their goaltending, but the reality of any transactions resides in their forwards.
Potential assets to trade: F Curtis Lazar, F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F Zack Smith, G Andrew Hammond, G Mike Condon
Potential targets to acquire: F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Thomas Vanek (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Ben Bishop (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
3. Toronto Maple Leafs– 24-17-10 (58 points, 51 GP)
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a scary good team at times. Sure they’ve experienced growing pains here and there this season, but they’ve been biggest (and best) surprise of the season in terms of an organization that has really emerged as a solidified playoff contender. Head coach, Mike Babcock, provides a tremendous foundation of experience on the bench that he is somehow able to transfer into the playing styles of his players and their performances night after night.
Like every team on the cusp of the playoffs, the Maple Leafs need to add without subtracting. They could avoid making any moves and live with the results and still prosper from the experience gained in the long run, but the Leafs do have a few pieces to offer, should they look to float any trade ideas to other teams. Center, Nazem Kadri is 26, and has six years left on his current contract with a cap hit of $4.500 million.
Toronto has tried to move Kadri before, but remained committed to his on-the-edge playing style. Given the plethora of youths in Toronto, the Leafs could explore their package options including Kadri and more and/or just what it might take to land a solidified top-4 defenseman that won’t have to be exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights come June.
Potential assets to trade: F Nazem Kadri, D Matt Hunwick, D Martin Marincin, D Roman Polak, G Curtis McElhinney
Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Thomas Vanek (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), G Mike Condon (OTT), G Andrew Hammond (OTT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
4. Boston Bruins– 26-23-6 (58 points, 55 GP) – one point behind Philadelphia in the Wild Card hunt
According to some website somewhere on the Internet the Boston Bruins do/don’t have a chance at making the playoffs this season. The answer to the question “will they be buyers or sellers at this year’s trade deadline?” seems obvious. The Bruins will more than likely be buyers, but at what cost and for how much? The organization would be wise to invest in something, but one question remains– how committed are the Bruins to making the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Boston could benefit from a playoff run to give their young players some playoff atmosphere experience, but bouncing out in the first round and obtaining a mid-first round draft pick might be unwise if there’s a chance the Bruins could really benefit from another season of ho-hum hockey and no playoffs. Boston could bolster holes in their roster now (at the deadline) or later (at the draft or through free agency) and still be better off for the 2017-2018 season. The ball, as they say, is in general manager, Don Sweeney’s court.
As for potential trade targets, well, depending on what direction Sweeney intends to bring the team, the Bruins have plenty of options for rental players and/or potential long time stands in Boston.
Potential assets to trade: F Ryan Spooner, F Jimmy Hayes, D Kevan Miller, D Joe Morrow, G Anton Khudobin, G Malcolm Subban, draft picks
Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Matt Duchene (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Thomas Vanek (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL)
5. Florida Panthers– 23-19-10 (56 points, 52 GP)
Despite a dismal start to the season, the Florida Panthers are still technically in the hunt for the playoffs with a few games in hand on the team directly above them in the standings (the Boston Bruins, for those of you that might have skimmed over everything I just wrote a couple of paragraphs ago).
Aside from several key injuries, a coaching change and a rogue GM some changes that were made in the offseason that have, well, yet to pan out, the Panthers don’t appear to be major sellers at the deadline on the grounds that they’re looking to add and further develop their youth. Could they move a defenseman? Certainly. Should they move a forward for anyone? Probably not. Could they acquire something with a draft pick or two? Absolutely.
It’s hit or miss for Florida at this point. They’ve got some resting up to do and if they’re smart this offseason, they’ll be right back in the hunt next year.
Potential assets to trade: D Jakub Kindl, G Reto Berra
Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Matt Duchene (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI)
6. Detroit Red Wings– 22-21-9 (53 points, 52 GP)
It doesn’t appear to be the year for the Detroit Red Wings, but still 25 consecutive years of making the playoffs is something to be proud of, Detroit fans. This is more than a transition year, for sure, for the Red Wings. Why? Take a look at the roster. Gone are the days of Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom and friends– actually those days have been gone for quite some time now. Henrik Zetterberg is leading Detroit’s forwards into the future, while the organization is left playing catch up on the blue line.
Their youngest defenseman is 23 while their oldest defenseman is 36. Additionally, three defensemen are 31 or older. While all of this plays out, there’s the looming question of who will be the Red Wings goaltender next season and beyond? Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek or Jared Coreau could be on the move or staying put, but then again the Vegas Golden Knights could have a say otherwise, regardless of the trade deadline on March 1st at the expansion draft in June.
If things are going to get worse before they get better, then maybe it’s time to think of some big moves too. Like dumping large contracts (in term or salary).
Potential assets to trade: F Darren Helm, F Steve Ott, F Tomas Jurco, F Thomas Vanek, D Mike Green, D Nick Jensen, D Brendan Smith, G Jimmy Howard (if he’s healthy in time), G Petr Mrazek
Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), D Michael Stone (ARI), D Kevan Miller (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Ryan Strome (NYI), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), G Ben Bishop (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
7. Buffalo Sabres– 21-21-10 (52 points, 52 GP)
While their current standing in the Atlantic Division might seem disappointing, the Buffalo Sabres have made tremendous strides with their core group of skaters and could legitimately compete for a playoff spot next season in the highly competitive– though not always high quality– Atlantic Division. If they truly are about a year behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in this whole “rebuild” thing, then there’s a good chance they should seriously consider selling their expendables and buying in on a tank for Nolan Patrick.
Though it’s pretty hard to beat the Colorado Avalanche at this point. Looks like the luck of the lottery may be all yours, Colorado (and/or the Vegas Golden Knights, if you’re into conspiracy theories *ahem Colby*).
Buy low, sell high on the expendables, then work your magic in the offseason, Tim Murray.
Potential assets to trade: F Hudson Fasching, F Brian Gionta, D Taylor Fedun, D Cody Franson, D Dmitry Kulikov, G Jason Kasdorf, G Linus Ullmark, G Anders Nilsson
Potential targets to acquire: F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), G Jimmy Howard (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
8. Tampa Bay Lightning– 23-24-6 (52 points, 53 GP)
Despite their injuries and current standing in the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning are actually in the best place they could be. One way or another, Tampa could lose a valuable young player to the Vegas Golden Knights in June. There is no better opportunity to sell some of the guys you fear you won’t be able to keep this offseason at a premium on March 1st. Are you listening, Steve Yzerman?
The Lightning did not expect to be where they are two years removed from a Stanley Cup Final run and one season after an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion, Pittsburgh Penguins. But here they are. Two key players are still out of their lineup (Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos) and they could not be in a better spot to have a chance at saving their own future. Seriously, if they falter any more, they’ll line themselves up with a decent draft pick and they’ll move interchangeable parts like it’s nothing.
But there’s a catch and that’s the tremendous pressure that will be felt on the young guys left on the roster to perform (or else) next season.
Potential assets to trade: F Brian Boyle, F Erik Condra, F Gabriel Dumont, F Valtteri Filppula, F Tyler Johnson, F Ondrej Palat, D Braydon Coburn, D Jason Garrison, G Ben Bishop
Potential targets to acquire: F Cam Fowler (ANA), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), G Anders Nilsson (BUF), G Kari Lehtonen (DAL), G Antti Niemi (DAL), F Thomas Vanek (DET), G Mike Condon (OTT), G Andrew Hammond (OTT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG), G Ondrej Pavelec (WPG)