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Sep 22

McKenzie's pre-season ranking: The 'Nolan Patrick Draft'

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By Bob McKenzie

There are two notable takeaways from the preseason assessment of the 2017 NHL Draft:

1. Until someone proves otherwise, this will be termed the “Nolan Patrick Draft.”

2. This year's draft appears to have considerably less sizzle and marquee value than each of the last two that featured the Connor McDavid versus Jack Eichel rivalry in 2015 and the Auston Matthews sweepstakes in 2016.

On the first point, Patrick is clearly No. 1 on TSN's Top 15 preseason draft rankings. Ten out of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN had him at No. 1 and no other prospect was close to him in voting.

"It's Patrick's spot to lose at this point," said one NHL head scout, "but this is a much different draft class than the last two."

Patrick certainly has the numbers you would expect from a potential No. 1 overall pick.

The Brandon Wheat King centre, who is entering his third Western League season, is almost 6-foot-3. He scored 41 goals and 102 points in 72 games last season in Brandon to help lead the Wheat Kings to the WHL championship, where he was named playoff MVP.

Patrick focused on season ahead, not going 1st overall

Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nolan Patrick joins James Duthie to discuss the possibility of being drafted first overall in 2017, how he's feeling after his sports hernia surgery, what it would mean to be the first ever Manitoba born player to go first overall and more.

Former Wheat King head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who is now assistant general manager of the NHL expansion team in Las Vegas (which begins play next season and will have the third best odds in the 2017 draft lottery and pick no lower than sixth overall) fervently believes Patrick has what it takes to be a No. 1 centre in the NHL.

While some of the scouts surveyed by TSN do not discount Patrick evolving into that role, the consensus view is Patrick is projected more as a second-line NHL centre and doesn't have the same “wow” factor as McDavid, Eichel and Matthews.

"He's going to be a good, maybe very good, NHL player," one scout said, "but he isn't a dynamic player. His skating isn't bad but he's not dynamic like those others [McDavid, Eichel and Matthews]."

Patrick, like Matthews a year ago, is going to be scrutinized heavily because he's one of the oldest first-time draft eligible players this year's class. Incidentally, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery in late July and missed considerable training time this summer, both on and off the ice. McCrimmon, who is still the Wheat Kings' owner, said Patrick is scheduled to be the opening-night lineup on Friday.

Matthews, with a Sept. 17 birthday, missed being eligible for the McDavid-Eichel 2016 draft year by only two days. Had Matthews been available in 2016, scouts pegged him at that time as no lower than No. 3 behind McDavid and Eichel, but with a chance to push Eichel for the No. 2 spot.

Patrick's birthday is Sept. 19, so he was just four days off being eligible for last season's draft. Had he been available last June, where would he slot amongst the best players of a very strong draft class, like Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi and Pierre-Luc Dubois, among others?

Button: Nolan Patrick a franchise centre

TSN Analyst and Scout Craig Button joins Leafs Lunch to discuss his 2017 edition of Craig's List, ranking the top prospects for the upcoming draft.

The consensus amongst scouts surveyed by TSN is that Patrick wouldn't have displaced any of the top four picks in last year's draft. Depending on the scout, they retroactively rank Patrick anywhere between No. 5 and 10, based on his 2015-16 season.

"That's not a knock on Nolan," a scout added. "Last year's top guys were really exceptional."

And therein lies the real story of the 2017 draft. Relative to last year, it's just not as exciting a group of prospects. Also, beyond Patrick, it's really quite a hodgepodge trying to sort out who are the money-in-the-bank elite prospects in this draft.

Only two players - Patrick and Swedish defenceman Timothy Liljegren - were seen as Top-10 picks by all 10 scouts surveyed. That number is usually between four and quite often as high as seven. It suggests there is a wide variety and divergence of opinion amongst scouts on the players ranked, in particular, numbers two through seven.

"What is going to be very interesting in this draft is to see how they sort themselves out," another scout said. "Who's going to rise to the top? I think you're going to see a lot of fluctuations over the course of the season, a lot of shifting up and down, more than we've seen in the last couple of years. Last year, we were really confident Matthews, Laine, Puljujarvi, Tkachuk; those guys were going be in the top five or six. It's really tough right now to say who's going to be the top five in this draft."

And while Patrick is the definitive No. 1 at this point, some scouts say they will be interested to see if he is pushed or challenged to hold onto that title. Here's a look at prospective challengers:

2. Timothy Liljegren: The Swede is the undisputed top defenceman in this draft and, at this point, it's not even close.

Scouts say his offensive game is far more developed than his defensive game. He is an elite skater, both in terms of speed and agility, and adept at running a power play. He is seen as both a puck mover and an offensive point producer. No one is suggesting he's the next Erik Karlsson, not by any means, but scouts say he has some of the same qualities and, therefore, has the potential to be projected as a possible top pairing defenceman in time.

Button Scouting Report: Patrick at head of the class

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button breaks down the top five prospects in Bob McKenzie's pre-season draft rankings, highlighted by potential franchise centre Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Liljegren is the only prospect other than Patrick who got 10 votes from the 10 scouts as a top-10 pick.

3. Klim Kostin: The Russian is a big, strong, aggressive winger who can score and make plays.

He doesn't have blinding speed but is a strong, powerful skater who can play both the power and skill game, though there tends to be an erratic quality to his play. He is, however, identified as a potential top six winger who has some similar traits to Russian winger Valeri Nichushkin.

Two of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN had Klostin outside the Top 10, but six had him in the Top 5.

4. Maxime Comtois: The Victoriaville left winger is getting some comparisons to last year's top Quebec League prospect, Pierre-Luc Dubois, who went third overall to Columbus. Bearing in mind last year's draft is considered a clear notch above this year's, Comtois has the size, strength, skating ability and heavy shot, which allows him to play both the power and skill game.  He scored four of Team Canada's 12 goals at the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament in August and was one of the team's better players.

Like Kostin, two of 10 scouts had Comtois outside the Top 10 but six put him in the Top 5.

5. Eeli Tolvanen: The Finnish winger is a pure sniper -- with an NHL shot and NHL release -- who has the tools to be the best pure scorer in this draft.

Tolvanen is starting his second season with Sioux City of the USHL and has committed to Boston College for next season. At a shade under six feet, he isn't big but he is strong enough to get to where he needs to in order to score goals.

He was excellent as an underage at the U-18 World Championship last April in Grand Forks and he was a dominant presence at the U-20 World Junior Championship preview showcase in Plymouth in August.

Tolvanen has a dynamic element to his game that could see him apart from many in this draft class. Nine of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN had him in their pre-season Top 10, with seven of them ranking him in the top five.

Button Scouting Report: No. 6-10

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button takes a closer look at prospects six through ten in Bob McKenzie's pre-season draft rankings.

6. Gabe Vilardi: The Windsor Spitfire is a slick and skilled offensive centre with high-end hockey sense who excels at making plays but can also finish them.

Vilardi was reportedly the best player at Canada's Ivan Hlinka tournament selection camp -- apparently by a wide margin -- but suffered a knee injury there and wasn't able to play in the tournament.

Vilardi isn't a high-end or pretty skater, but it's not a weakness either. His strength on the puck, skill and smarts are noteworthy. Seven of 10 scouts ranked him in the Top 10.

7. Kristian Vesalainen: This big winger, along with Tolvanen, is yet another in the recent long line of top Finnish draft prospects.

Some scouts describe Vesalainen as a poor man's Jesse Puljujarvi, which is to suggest Vesalainen is a big, strong winger who can skate and score, though he isn't considered to have the elite skill and power of Edmonton's fourth overall pick last season.

But he still has all the tools to be an NHL-caliber winger. Eight of 10 scouts surveyed pegged him in the Top 10.

8. Owen Tippett: The Mississauga Steelhead winger has NHL speed, an NHL shot and the physical tools to play a strong drive-the-net game.

He is, however, considered by scouts to be a little one dimensional. That is, when he's putting the puck in the net on a regular basis, he's obviously highly effective, as any player would be. But when he's not scoring goals, he's not as likely to be contributing in other ways.

He had only one goal at the Hlinka tourney this summer and some of the scouts came away hoping for more from Tippett.

A cousin of Tampa prospect Mitchell Stephens, Tippett's 15 goals and 5 assists last year in Mississauga reinforces the reputation as a shoot-first winger.

Seven of 10 scouts had Tippett in the Top 10, but none of them ranked him in the Top 5. It would be fair to say there was a considerable drop off in voting points from Vesalainen at No. 7 to Tippett at No. 8 and beyond.

Button Scouting Report: No. 11-15

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button takes a closer look at prospects 11 through 15 in Bob McKenzie's pre-season draft rankings

9. Cal Foote: The son of former NHL hard-rock blueliner Adam Foote is another in the illustrious line of the Kelowna Rocket defencemen.

The 6-foot-3 Foote may not be quite as naturally mean and aggressive as his Dad was, but Cal is a big, rangy blueliner who plays a strong, two-way game and may well have more offensive skill than his defence-first father.

Foote's mobility isn't bad, but he’s going to need to continue to work on his skating. Scouts say the late 1998 birthdate, who still has a raw or unrefined quality to his game, likely projects as a top four NHL defenceman. But they'll be curious to see if there’s greater upside there.

Foote will represent Canada internationally but played his minor hockey in the U.S.

10. Lias Andersson: The Swede is a late 1998 birthdate and while he's a sub six-foot centre, he plays a hard and complete 200-foot game.

Andersson excelled against older competition at the U-20 WJC preview showcase in Plymouth in August.

He’s not without offensive ability, but the question that will be asked is how much offensive upside he has if he's going to merit being a pick in the Top 10.

Andersson is an interesting case. Only four of 10 scouts rated him a Top 10 pick, but all four of those scouts ranked him in their top five to start the season.

The only prospect who came close to unseating Andersson at No. 10 was American forward Casey Mittlestadt, ranked No. 11 on TSN's pre-season list. Mittlestadt was a Top 10 prospect in the eyes of seven of the 10 scouts but more at the bottom end of the 10, giving Andersson a slight edge in voting points.

 

The Top 15

Nolan Patrick
1. Nolan Patrick

Centre | Brandon (WHL) | 6'2 3/4 | 198 lbs. | Sept. 19, 1998

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    72
  • G
    41
  • A
    61
  • PTS
    102

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

All the capabilities to be the No. 1 centre teams can build around. Has an ease to his play, both physically and mentally, that he combines with excellent skill to impact the game in every situation. Franchise centres contribute individually, but what separates them is their ability to make everybody around them and the team better.

Timothy Liljegren
2. Timothy Liljegren

Defence | Rogle (SHL) | 6'0 | 191 lbs. | Apr. 30, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    29
  • G
    7
  • A
    15
  • PTS
    22

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Very gifted skater who uses his feet to his advantage defensively and in transition. Smart, poised, anticipates the play, sees where to exploit opponents and can dictate play in all areas. Excellent in the defensive zone because he beats pressure, fends it off and the puck gets moving ahead quickly. Has a command of the game and he finds a way to be a contributor at critical times.

Klim Kostin
3. Klim Kostin

Right Wing | Moscow (KHL) | 6'3 | 196 lbs. | May 5, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    30
  • G
    8
  • A
    13
  • PTS
    21

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Powerful player who has a determination in his play. Good speed and quickness and he attacks with his skating, but is also very difficult to deter because of his size and willingness to impose himself. Plays all situations and has been a very strong leader for his teams. A top line power winger.
Maxime Comtois
4. Maxime Comtois

Left Wing | Victoriaville (QMJHL) | 6'2 1/4 | 199 lbs. | Jan. 8, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    62
  • G
    26
  • A
    34
  • PTS
    60

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Great blend of sense, skill and competitiveness. He is very prolific offensively and is also well rounded in all areas of the game. He can make plays or finish plays and he plays at a high pace. Comfortable in any type of game - offensive, physical, two-way or a thinking game. Top line winger.

Eeli Tolvanen
5. Eeli Tolvanen

Right Wing | Sioux City (USHL) | 5'10 1/4 | 170 lbs. | Apr. 22, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    49
  • G
    17
  • A
    21
  • PTS
    38

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

He has high-end offensive ability. He can score in multiple ways - off the one-timer, off the deke, off the rush and in the heavy areas around the net. He projects as an elite scoring winger.

Gabe Vilardi
6. Gabe Vilardi

Centre | Windsor (OHL) | 6'2 3/4 | 198 lbs. | Aug. 16, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    62
  • G
    17
  • A
    21
  • PTS
    38

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A smart, playmaking, offensive producing centre who can not only make plays but can finish them as well. He has an ease to his play, both physically and mentally, that he combines with excellent skill to impact the game in every situation. He has all the elements to be a No. 1 offensive centre in the NHL.

Kristian Vesalainen
7. Kristian Vesalainen

Left Wing | Frolunda (SHL) | 6'3 1/4 | 207 lbs. | June 1, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    37
  • G
    15
  • A
    19
  • PTS
    34

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A well-rounded player with size and skill who can play in multiple situations. He has real good quickness and power with excellent hand who can make life miserable for defenders. A well-rounded top line winger.

Owen Tippett
8. Owen Tippett

Right Wing | Mississauga (OHL) | 6'1 1/2 | 202 lbs. | Feb. 16, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    48
  • G
    15
  • A
    5
  • PTS
    20

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A unique blend of power, size and skill. He has as much upside as anyone in this draft. A No. 1 scoring power winger.

Callan Foote
9. Callan Foote

Defence | Kelowna (WHL) | 6'3 | 200 lbs. | Dec. 13, 1998

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    71
  • G
    8
  • A
    28
  • PTS
    36

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Continues to take significant steps ahead in his play. Big time competitor and will assert himself physically along the boards and in open ice and is territorial in his approach to defending. Very good smarts, poise and awareness. A top four defenceman.

Lias Andersson
10. Lias Andersson

LW-RW/C | HV71 (SHL) | 5'11 1/4 | 198 lbs. | Oct. 13, 1998

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    37
  • G
    25
  • A
    34
  • PTS
    59

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

He's quick, fast, determined and skilled and can play all three positions up front. A Swiss (or Swedish) Army knife-type player who's very adaptable and coaches will love.

Casey Mittlestadt
11. Casey Mittlestadt

Centre | Green Bay (USHL) | 6'0 1/4 | 194 lbs. | Nov. 22, 1998

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    31
  • G
    33
  • A
    47
  • PTS
    80

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Has speed, quickness and agility and can use it to a great advantage on the attack or in tight areas to create space for himself and opportunities for his team. He projects as a Top 2 line offensive centre in the NHL.

Martin Necas
12. Martin Necas

Centre | Brno (CZE) | 6'0 1/2 | 167 lbs. | Jan. 15, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    18
  • G
    9
  • A
    21
  • PTS
    30

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

An electrifying player who has great confidence and vision with the puck to make plays and create offence. He has really good skating ability and wants to make a difference where it counts. A Top 2 line offensive centre.

Michael Rasmussen
13. Michael Rasmussen

Centre | Tri-City (WHL) | 6'5 3/4 | 215 lbs. | Apr. 17, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    63
  • G
    18
  • A
    25
  • PTS
    43

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A big man with size and skill. When these factors come together, he has a chance to be a real impact player. Good skater, good hands and can assert himself - maybe not physically, but can make things difficult for opponents. A Top 2 line winger or centre.

Nic Hague
14. Nic Hague

Defence | Mississauga (OHL) | 6'5 1/2 | 208 lbs. | Dec. 5, 1998

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    66
  • G
    14
  • A
    10
  • PTS
    24

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A large defender who is territorial and physical. But he also has skill - he can make a play, shoot the puck and contribute offensively. His skating continues to improve and that type of player with that type of blend projects at a Top 4 defenceman.

Ryan Poehling
15. Ryan Poehling

Centre | St. Cloud (NCAA) | 6'2 1/2 | 202 lbs. | Jan. 3, 1999

2015-16 Statistics

  • GP
    28
  • G
    21
  • A
    41
  • PTS
    62

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A very well-rounded player. Smart with very good skills, can make a play in every situation - offensively and defensively. Projects to be a Top 2 well-rounded centre, but he could eventually be a No. 1 centre.