Today’s post will profile my #11-20 ranked prospects, and any of these players could fall to the Maple Leafs at #17. The first part of this ranking can be found here, and the final portion of this series is still to come.
Tier Three (Continued, #6-11)
11) C/LW Elias Pettersson- Timra (Allsvenskan):
Pettersson is one of the best puck carriers in this class, and he amazed at the World Juniors with several highlight reel toe drag moves. He offers plenty of offensive flash, and he consistently fools opposing defenders with his ability to quickly change directions. The major knock on him is his strength, but there is plenty of time to add weight to his 6’2 frame.
He is a bit of a perimeter player at the moment, but his scoring upside places him inside the third tier in this draft class. His quickness, both in terms of skating and stick-handling, gives him a real opportunity to develop into a first line winger or second line centre. It is a bit more difficult to evaluate a player who is playing in a Swedish Junior League, but his talent level makes him a noticeable scoring threat in every game he plays, and he would be a top CHL scorer if he ever came overseas.
Patience will be required here, as he needs to put on strength and fully develop his two way game. It remains to be seen whether he can stick at centre long term, or if he can develop into a stronger force in puck battles. His scoring upside places him just outside the top 10, but it is worth noting that fellow Swedish forward Lias Andersson outscored him while playing in the same league a year ago.
Tier Four (#12- 18)
12) C/LW Lias Andersson- HV71 (SHL):
Andersson absolutely dominated in junior hockey throughout the 2015-2016 season, and he followed this up with an impressive 19 points in 42 SHL games this year. He plays a physical game and wins plenty of puck battles, which makes him one of the most complete players outside of the top 10. He can contribute in all situations, and his work ethic gives him plenty of upside from a possession standpoint.
Andersson is a talented goal scorer, and he quietly possesses one of the better wrist shots in this draft class. He drives to the net with plenty of force, and he will earn an extra handful of goals every year simply from working his way into the high danger scoring areas.
Andersson is not one of the fastest skaters in this draft, and his mediocre speed keeps him just outside of the top 10. He is not as flashy as the players ahead of him, but this remains a safe pick with legitimate top-6 potential, and he is more NHL ready than the majority of players in the first round. For more on Andersson, I wrote a full profile on him here.
13) C/RW Nick Suzuki- Owen Sound Attack (OHL):
Suzuki put up 96 points in just 65 OHL games this season, and this puts him in the conversation to be a Top 10 pick. His intelligence and quick hands provide him with Top 6 upside, and he offers a strong lower half that allows him to be a respectable presence in terms of puck battles. The main concern here is his speed, as he could end up on the wing rather than at centre.
I profiled Suzuki here, where I highlighted just how impressive his 1.17 primary points per game mark was in the OHL this season. His go-to deke to his backhand constantly fools opposing goaltenders in tight, and he offers above average vision and passing ability on the powerplay. He is a highly disciplined forward who rarely takes a penalty, and he can contribute in all situations on both the powerplay and the penalty kill.
Suzuki is almost a full year younger than many of the players in this draft class, and this must be considered when creating a draft ranking. His OHL production is even more impressive when you take his age into account, but I would like to see him take a step forward with his skating and physical game to ensure that he sticks at centre. Given his scoring production and intelligence, this is a clear top 15 pick for me, and he deserves to be in the Top 10 conversation as well.
14) LD Juuso Valimaki- Tri City Americans (WHL):
I profiled Valimaki here, noting that he outscored every draft eligible CHL defenceman over the past two years. Only Ivan Provorov matched his production, and he outscored big prospects such as Mikhail Sergachev, Jakob Chychrun, Olli Juolevi, and Thomas Chabot in the process. He is constantly looking to jump up in the play, and his intelligence allows him to pick and choose his spots effectively.
Valimaki offers plenty of strength and a big 6’2 frame, and his long reach is an asset on the penalty kill. There are few glaring weaknesses in his game, though he is not as impressive as a puck carrier at this stage compared to Erik Brannstrom or the other defenders ahead of him. He is also one of the older players in this draft, but his well-rounded game limits this concern.
Given his steady defensive presence and outstanding offensive numbers, he belong safely inside the top 15. Both Liljegren and Makar were placed in the top 10 because they are exceptional skaters, but Valimaki is mobile enough to become a steal in the mid first round.
15) C Martin Necas- HC Kometa Brno (Czech Extraliga):
Necas is a 6’1 centre with plenty of speed and a non-stop motor. The tempo of the game always picks up when he is on the ice, and he constantly impresses with his lateral quickness. Necas impressed as an underage player in the World Juniors, but he remains one of the bigger unknowns in this draft given the league that he plays in.
The main question mark here is his ability to slow the game down, as it is tough to evaluate his potential as a playmaker. His quickness is a major asset when coming down on the rush, but he is a notch below higher ranked forwards in terms of puck carrying. On the bright side, he can get his shot off in a hurry, and his determination allows him to generate plenty of takeaways.
As the lone top prospect playing in Czech Republic this season, this is one of the tougher players to get a read on. Skilled centres with plenty of speed do not exactly grow on trees, but I simply have not seen enough of him to be overly confident in his goal scoring ability.
16) LD Erik Brannstrom- HV71 (SHL):
I tried to start the Brannstrom hype train here, as I am a massive believer in his offensive upside. Still, there is clearly a great deal of risk involved when placing a 5’9 defender near the top of your draft board, and defensive concerns keep him out of the top 10. His intelligence is bound to help him along the way, but he will be constantly forced to prove himself in his own end.
Brannstrom is a strong skater and puck carrier, and he is more than capable of producing an end-to-end rush. He is a talented distributor on the powerplay, and his elusiveness allows him to spin away from opposing defenders with ease. His skating, puck carrying, intelligence, and shot make him an ideal powerplay quarterback, and he racked up plenty of shots on goal at the U-18 tournament as a result.
He belongs in the conversation with Makar and Liljegren as the most offensively dynamic defenceman in this class, but it is tough to see him becoming a shutdown defender at the NHL level. When you balance out his scoring upside with the amount of defensive risk involved, Brannstrom ends up anywhere in the #12-16 range in these rankings.
17) RW Kailer Yamamoto- Spokane Chiefs (WHL):
Yamamoto measured in at just 5’7.5 at the combine, but his point production continues to impress at every level. He finished in a tie for third in terms of primary points per game in the WHL this season, and his puck carrying and elusiveness are clear selling points.
Yamamoto’s point production is even more impressive when you consider the fact that he played on a rather low scoring team. The Spokane Chiefs scored 235 goals this season, and Yamamoto found the scoresheet on 42% of these occasions. He flat out carried his team offensively, and he was one of the leading scorers at the U-18 tournament in 2016.
Yamamoto is one of the older players in this class, and there will be a lot of pressure on him to score given his lack of strength. As one of the better puck carriers and playmakers in this class, he could be looking at the potential steal of the draft if he falls outside of the top 20.
18) RW Kristian Vesalainen- Frolunda (SHL):
Vesalainen is a fast 6’3 winger who I profiled here, and his stock is quickly rising after winning the MVP award at the U-18 tournament. He is dangerous in terms of gaining the zone, and a noticeable asset on the forecheck due to his speed and strength. However, he did not receive much ice time while playing in Europe this year, and there is a limited sample to evaluate.
Vesalainen was rapidly dropping down draft boards, but dominating the U-18 event quickly reversed this trend. The question becomes: how much stock can you place into one tournament? His two way game remains a bit raw, and while he is similar to Tippett in terms of size and speed, he does not offer the same goal scoring ability.
He is a capable playmaker coming down on the rush, but Lias Andersson simply outplayed him while on the same team in the SHL. Vesalainen remains a strong choice for a team that is drafting in the 15-20 range, but the majority of the players ahead of him are coming off a stronger season.
Tier Five (#19-23)
19) RW Klim Kostin- HC Dynamo Moscow (KHL):
Kostin is coming off a nightmare season due to injuries and ineffectiveness, and this keeps him outside of the Top-10 conversation. While he impressed at the 2016 U-18 tournament, it is tough to rank a player in a top tier largely because of one event that was over a year ago.
Kostin remains a rather intriguing prospect, as his puck carrying and playmaking abilities are a clear positive for such a strong winger. He could become a beast in terms of puck battles down the line, and his size and playmaking combination provides him with considerable offensive upside. He is a fine skater, especially for his size, but his defensive game remains a bit of a question mark at this stage.
His long track record keeps him in the top 20, but there is simply a ton of risk here after such a poor season. Vesalainen gets the edge after his terrific performance at the U-18 tournament, and he is the better skater of the two. Kostin remains a solid choice towards the end of the first round, but I have not seen enough goal scoring ability at this stage to consider him a top 10 prospect.
20) LD Nicolas Hague- Mississauga Steelheads (OHL):
Let’s start with his obvious selling point: Hague is 6’5 defender with the potential to become a physical beast. I would not call him a plus skater, but his lateral mobility is certainly respectable when you consider his size. Thanks to his strength and long reach, he is effective at preventing zone entries and can be an asset on the penalty kill.
Hague offers a big shot on the powerplay, and he constantly puts the puck on net in the offensive zone. His goal scoring numbers in the OHL continue to be impressive, and he is constantly looking to jump up in the rush to make an impact offensively. You will not see many end to end rushes from Hague, but he leads a breakout well enough to avoid relying solely on the dump and chase.
Valimaki’s scoring numbers and puck carrying ability make him the better prospect at this stage, while Brannstrom simply carries a ton of offensive upside given his skating and puck carrying ability. I would like to see Hague improve his playmaking ability in the offensive zone, but he still warrants a spot in the top 20 because of his two-way potential.