2017 NHL Draft: 5 Picks to Watch

The annual NHL Entry Draft is an event defined by sheer excitement and unpredictability.

Each year, a new crop of young talent stands poised to enter the league, with the only question left to be answered being the team and city which each prospect will soon call home. In 2017, the case is no different, as Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier highlight a highly skilled list of developing young stars eager to leave an impression at hockey’s highest level.

Cale Makar
The vastly skilled Cale Makar of the Brooks Bandits sky-rocketed up numerous draft rankings. (Emily Duncan / Em Rose Photography)

However, outside of the order in which this year’s prospects will be selected, there are a number of highly intriguing storylines which have yet to unfold. Yes, who the New Jersey Devils will select first overall will certainly incredibly interesting, yet so too is the status of the Dallas Stars’ third overall choice and the first ever selection soon to be made by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Further, fresh off of successful seasons, who will two of Canada’s most popular teams – the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens – select with their first overall selection? Can either team take significant strides through the addition of one player and, in doing so, further legitimize their Stanley Cup hopes?

Well, it’s time to find out. Let’s delve into five of the most interesting selections yet to be made in the 2017 NHL Draft and assess exactly how each situation could unfold.

1st Overall: Patrick or Hischier?

It’s a question which is asked numerous times throughout the course of a year and will surely continue to be as the 2017 NHL Draft approaches: who will be chosen first overall?

Unlike in years passed when Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews were decisively selected with the first overall choice, the player who will be chosen with the initial pick in 2017 is anything but certain. In this case, Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier will go head to head for the distinction. Although in the long-term, the order in which these two players are chosen will likely be insignificant, it goes without saying that both youngsters want to be the best.

On one hand, there is Patrick.

Nolan Patrick, Brandon Wheat Kings, NHL Entry Draft, WHL
Nolan Patrick is projected to be the first overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. (Photo: Brandon Wheat Kings)

Dubbed as the consensus first overall pick and the best player available in the Draft, Patrick consistently retained the number one ranking over the course of the 2016-17 hockey season and, as such, is the favourite to be nabbed first. With all of the makings of a franchise centre, Patrick’s combination of size and skill are astounding and simply can not be overlooked. However, injuries have plagued Patrick’s development and would be the reason behind a potential fall in the Draft.

On the other hand, there is Hischier.

Nico Hischier
Nico Hischier could shock the hockey world as the 2017 NHL Draft’s first overall selection. (Vincent Ethier/CHL Images)

Although the 2016-17 season marked just his first campaign in North America, Hischier made it count, as his electrifying skill and speed saw him rocket up respective rankings to resoundingly place in the number two position. Quite possibly the most skilled player in the Draft, Hischier, like Patrick, is also a centre who can drive the play with ease and is persistently lethal. While he doesn’t have the size of Patrick, he more than makes up for it with his competitive drive and work-ethic.

So, despite the situation surrounding the first overall selection remaining as cloudy as ever, the 2017 NHL Draft could be in for a major surprise right off of the bat come June 23, 2017.

3rd Overall: Dallas Dealing?

On Apr. 29, 2017, the NHL carried out its annual Lottery Draft.

Although there were 14 teams looking to defy the odds and move up in the draft order, just three were lucky enough to do so. While the Devils and Philadelphia Flyers shockingly sky-rocketed up the order to claim the first and second overall selections, the Stars quietly moved up five spots into third overall as well. An incredibly strong team with a few glaring weaknesses, Dallas has suddenly been provided with the opportunity to drastically improve their stagnant franchise.

Dallas underperformed in 2016-17, however, the third overall choice in the 2017 NHL Draft could allow them to rebound next season. (Annie Devine/The Hockey Writers)

However, while moving up in the draft order was undoubtedly a positive, exactly how the Stars will approach the 2017 NHL Draft remains vague.

In terms of the talent which will be available at third overall, no particular player stands out as a fit for Dallas. Gabriel Vilardi is the projected third overall choice, however, with substantial depth at forward, selecting a solid top-six winger would make little sense and especially so given the Stars’ deficiencies on defence. Unfortunately, the first defender likely to be chosen, Miro Heiskanen, isn’t protected to fall until later in the top-ten, unless Dallas nabs him earlier of course.

Louis DeLuca
Will the Stars’ general manager trade the third overall selection, or elect to keep it in order to draft a defenceman? (Louis DeLuca/Dallas News)

So, the most likely outcome when it comes to the third overall pick could be for the Stars to trade it. A selection of massive value, the third overall pick would be highly coveted by a rival organization looking to add elite scoring talent to its depleted roster. One team in particular which comes to mind is the Carolina Hurricanes. Boasting incredible skill on their blue line and with even more on the way, the ‘Canes could be willing to move on from one defender in order to bolster their perennially poor offence.

Whichever the case may be, the third overall selection and how it is dealt with will be extremely interesting to watch. Further, it’s important to note that Dallas isn’t far away from seriously competing, as the addition of a strong blue liner via trade could propel them into a legitimate Stanley Cup hunt.

6th Overall: The Golden Knight

The Golden Knights will make their first draft selection as an NHL franchise during the 2017 NHL Draft, however, just what type of player the team will target at sixth overall is vague at best.

On June 3, Vegas’ general manager George McPhee made it clear that he wanted to build a strong all-around team. Further, he stressed the need for both young players and experienced veterans on his roster who could develop as well as lead alongside one another.

George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights, NHL
George McPhee wants to build a solid all-around team. As such, the style of player he will need to pursue in the 2017 NHL Draft remains quite unclear.

So, heading into the NHL Draft, whether or not Vegas will focus on a player of a specific position or simply choose the best prospect available remains largely unknown. Given that the Expansion Draft has provided the Golden Knights with a functional, all-around team, Vegas will likely opt for the latter approach.

Yet, which prospect is most likely to become the first draft choice in Golden Knights history?

Well, at forward, there are a number of legitimate options for Vegas to consider. Of course, exactly who will be available to the Golden Knights will depend on the selections of teams prior, however, there will certainly be ample skill available. If undrafted, the Golden Knights should heavily consider the services of either Casey Mittelstadt or Owen Tippett. As two electrifying talents, Mittelstadt and Tippett would generate considerable excitement and draw numerous fans to T-Mobile Arena.

Owen Tippett, Mississauga Steelheads, OHL, NHL Entry Draft
Owen Tippett has an unbelievable shot and break-neck speed – traits which could fit well into the Vegas Golden Knights’ style. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

On the other hand, if Vegas elects to target a defenceman, the team may be much harder off. Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen project to be the only two defenders chosen in the top-ten of the first round, yet they could fall before the Golden Knights take the stage. Unless Vegas is willing to draft a different defender much earlier than anticipated, it would appear as though they will, in fact, draft a top forward.

One of the most important moments in the Golden Knights’ short history to date, aside from the Expansion Draft of course, exactly which player Vegas selects will be a major indicator of the roster which the team aims to assemble.

17th Overall: Leafs Landing

Although none could have possibly predicted the success the Leafs would enjoy during the 2016-17 season, it is undoubtedly just the beginning for a young Leafs squad.

In the 2016 NHL Draft, Toronto quite obviously nabbed Auston Matthews with the first overall selection. His addition to the lineup, alongside the contributions of William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, and others, allowed the Leafs to become a lethal offensive team with the ability to dismantle a some of the NHL’s best – albeit on an inconsistent basis.

Auston Matthews and company led the Leafs to a shocking playoff berth, yet how close is the team to a championship? (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

So, with Toronto arguably now closer to competing for the Stanley Cup than, well, during any time throughout the past four decades, the Leafs could be one stellar draft pick away from seriously battling for a league championship. Yet, who will Toronto target and what position will they aim to address?

Well, the Leafs’ defence was porous this past season, as a lack of depth and experience led to defensive breakdowns and lost points in the standings. Further, with only a few legitimate defence prospects developing within the organization, Toronto could risk the future of their rebuild if their backend continues to be insufficient. As such, the Leafs must target a defender in the 2017 NHL Draft and one in particular.

Cal Foote, Kelowna Rockets, WHL
Cal Foote would not only solidify the Leafs’ back end but provide much-needed size and reliability in doing so. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)

Callan Foote, the son of former NHL star Adam Foote, would be the ideal choice for Toronto, as his immense size and offensive prowess would be a welcome addition to the team’s back end. Not only would Foote’s physicality immediately address a glaring area of weakness for the Leafs, but his strength within the defensive zone and general reliability would ensure he logged major minutes for the team long into the future.

Although Toronto could opt to add size to their forward group – a player such as Klim Kostin being a prime example – the Leafs would be much better off to ensure that their roster possesses depth at every position on the ice.

25th Overall: Montreal Calling

The 2016-17 campaign was tumultuous for Montreal. Not only did the club fail to surpass the first round despite a sensational regular season, but long-time head coach Michel Therrien was fired and replaced by Claude Julien.

The Canadiens welcomed back Claude Julien in mid-February, 2017, for his second stint with the team. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the Canadiens’ biggest issues and, arguably the reason behind their early playoff exit, was a lack of depth and consistency down the middle of their lineup. With the team’s projected first line centre seeing spontaneous time on the wing as well as on the fourth line, Montreal iced an underwhelming and largely inexperienced ensemble of centre-ice men. Although the contributions of Paul Byron and Phillip Danault were a pleasant surprise, it became abundantly clear that additional help would be needed, and soon.

As such, by the time the Canadiens’ first pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, 25th overall, rolls around, the team will no doubt have their eyes trained intently on a number of centres. With Lias Andersson, Robert Thomas, and Shane Bowers potentially available, Montreal will have a variety of highly skilled skaters to chose from. In either Andersson and Thomas, the Canadiens would secure a sound and intelligent two-way centre, both of whom still require additional seasoning. Bowers, on the other hand, is essentially NHL-ready and could step right into Montreal’s lineup.

Montreal Canadiens, Fantasy Hockey, NHL
Despite Alex Galchenyuk’s enormous skill, the Canadiens must add considerable depth at centre. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

In desperate need of a quality centre, the Canadiens will, quite clearly, have a difficult decision to make on draft day. Will the team choose a player of higher potential despite the need for greater development, or, instead, select a skater close to NHL ready who is of somewhat lesser skill? Ultimately, if Montreal feels it can legitimately compete in the near future, look for Marc Bergevin to do his best to nab Bowers.