With only Nico Hischier having an impact in the NHL, the 2017 draft hasn’t matched the levels of immediate production of past drafts. As a class, they have combined for 60 games and 28 points in the NHL. By comparison, the 2016 class combined for 344 games and 213 points last season. Despite the lack of immediate impact in the NHL, this year’s draft has been anything but a loss. Most draft analysts reported that the draft was absent of elite talent found in other years but had potential for significant production in lower rounds. That analysis has come to fruition as numerous picks are tearing it up in their respective leagues. Let’s take a look at some of those prospects.
Vegas’ Top Two Picks Leading the Way
The Golden Knights had three first-round picks in this year’s draft – their own sixth overall selection, Winnipeg’s 13th choice, and the Islanders’ pick at 15th overall. Vegas used the first two selections on centers Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki.
Glass, the sixth-overall pick, was returned to the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks following the preseason. After 24 games, Glass has 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points, leading the team in assists and points. His 1.83 points-per-game puts him well above last season’s pace when he had 32 goals and 94 points in 69 games. If he maintains his current pace, he will score 132 points over a full season and will have increased his point total each season in the WHL.
A gifted playmaker, Glass has incredible vision and is a pass-first player. However, he knows where to go on the ice to score and makes his shots count, shooting 16% on 106 shots this season. He is a solid two-way center but should only continue to develop defensively. At 6’2″ and 178 pounds, Glass has a frame built for the NHL and will only get stronger on the puck as he adds muscle.
Vegas’ second pick was spent on Nick Suzuki, currently with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL. Four months younger than Glass, Suzuki is only in his third season in juniors but has 16 goals and 41 points in 23 games. Like Glass, Suzuki is a playmaker but is a better skater than Glass and has a drive that could land him on a future first line with the Golden Knights. He makes the most out of his shots, shooting 17.2% this season and his 1.78 points-per-game is second in the OHL. At this pace, he projects to post 121 points, well above the 96 he had last season.
Suzuki’s point totals only tell part of who he is as a player as he knows what to do with and without the puck. Trusted in all situations and all three zones, he has mirrored his playing style after Patrice Bergeron and it has shown up in his possession stats. Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News called Suzuki “the best possession forward in the entire draft class – better than Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier by a mile” based on the advanced stats he had seen. With his high hockey IQ and drive, Suzuki has a strong chance to be in the NHL next season.
Eeli Tolvanen Excelling Among Men in the KHL
Tolvanen was projected to be taken in the middle of the first round but fell all the way to 30th where Nashville took him. His slide was a major surprise after he had 30 goals and 54 points in 52 games in the USHL last season as a 17-year old. He was expected to play collegiate hockey at Boston College this season but wasn’t admitted and signed with Jokerit of the KHL. Playing in the second-best hockey league in the world, Tolvanen is excelling, leading his team in both goals and points.
His 17 goals and 30 points are significantly lower than those playing in North America but the quality of competition is much higher. He has tied the KHL goal record for an 18-year old and is just two away from the points record while playing in only 33 games. He has reached this goal total while not producing a high shot rate, down to 3.9/game from 4.7/game in the USHL. The result has been a 13.1 shooting percentage in the KHL, nearly a full point higher than he had as a junior player.
Being forced to play against men in the KHL appears to have jump-started Tolvanen’s development more than had he played for BC. He is being more selective with his shots, either by choice or by force, and it is making him a better player. Unlike Glass and Suzuki, Tolvanen is not known for his two-way ability but is a pure goalscorer. When the puck is on his stick, teams know what he is going to do: shoot the puck. In Tolvanen, the Predators have another talented wing with upside only matched by Filip Forsberg. If Tolvanen continues to produce at his current rate, he will get a long look in training camp and could be in Nashville’s top nine next season.
Elias Pettersson Yielding High Returns Early On
Heading into the draft, Pettersson was viewed as a center with high potential but could be a long-term project. Being taken by Vancouver may be the perfect landing spot for him as they will be plenty patient with his development. In his draft year, he played in Sweden’s second tier and posted 41 points in 43 games. He has since made the jump to the SHL, considered to be the third-best league in the world. Like Tolvanan, Pettersson is more productive playing against better competition and has a higher point-per-game average this season than last. In 22 games this season, he has 29 points, leading the league while being one of the youngest players.
Even at 19, Pettersson has proven himself to be a solid two-way center and has a high hockey IQ like most Swedes. He is a gifted passer but has an accurate shot (20.5%) that demands respect, freeing up the ice for passes. He also possesses a better one-timer than expected from someone who weighs just 161 pounds. He does need to get stronger to survive in the NHL but is already an excellent skater and has the tools to thrive.
The Best of the Rest of the 2017 NHL Draft Picks
Henri Jokiharju, Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks took defenseman Henri Jokiharju with the 29th pick and is currently a teammate of Cody Glass in Portland. A strong puck-mover, he is a great example of what NHL teams desire in a modern blueliner. He is a right-handed shot that is strong on the puck and comfortable driving play through the neutral and offensive zones. He is a gifted passer but has a dynamic shot from the point that gets through traffic and generates rebounds. He currently has 7 goals and 34 points in 24 games for the Winterhawks and is on-pace to eclipse his 48 points from last season. His 34 points are second among WHL defensemen and he should continue to pad his point total with the talent on Portland’s roster.
Kole Lind, Vancouver Canucks
Lind is the second Canuck on this list and is having a great season for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Despite not being taken until the second round, he currently leads the Rockets with 32 points in 20 games. He could stand to shoot the puck more to take advantage of his quick release and accurate shot. It is easy to see Lind skating on Elias Pettersson’s wing in the future in Vancouver.