Defense Group Impresses at 2017 NHL Combine

The big names in the defense class for the 2017 NHL Draft dominated the morning at the NHL Combine. Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Henri Jokiharju, Urho Vaakanainen, Robin Salo and Juuso Valimaki were all among the first two groups who were tested. A few months ago it looked like this year could be a weak one in regards to the class of defensemen. Over the last few months, though, a lot of players started to climb up draft boards and now it appears the position is one of the strengths this season.

Starting Strong

Jokiharju started the testing for the day in the first pair. He tested very well and carried some of the best scores in a variety of categories through most of the day. The Finnish defender is projected to probably be selected in the back half of round one with a potential to slip into the early part of round two.

(Dayna Fjord/Portland Winterhawks)

Heiskanen was the first big name to go through the testing as part of the the first group. His measurables came in at 6’2″, 172.16 pounds for the Finn. Nothing really jumped out in his testing as he was about average among his peers for the day. The 18-year old described the experience as “exciting.” He felt as though the physical testing was more difficult than the interview process he had with teams throughout the week. Heiskanen said he spoke to 28 teams, including the Buffalo Sabres.

When asked about his style, Heiskanen described himself as a “good two-way defenseman.” He also went on to say that he likes to model his play after Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith. Heiskanen spent this past season playing with HIFKA of the Finnish Liiga. He got to play against men, which he attributed to his development this season. “Easier to play with men because I think they’re smarter,” said Heiskanen. He went on to say “of course they’re stronger, I think it’s much harder to play there in general.”

Development Process

The other defenseman rated at the top of the draft is Brooks Bandits defender Cale Makar. He was part of the second group that went through testing this morning. Makar showed very well setting a few daily highs at the time in the long jump, vertical jump and agility test. He’s a little on the smaller side at 5’11”, 187 pounds, but has an extremely high upside with his offensive play.

(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Makar spoke with 27 teams throughout the week including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Sabres. The most interesting part of the interview with Makar today was his plans for next season. He said, “I don’t know if I’ll be ready to make the jump to the NHL or AHL, I think need one or two more years of development in the NCAA.” Makar will join UMass next season and said he picked them over other colleges like Denver, Vermont, Quinnipiac and Bemidji State.

Heiskanen echoed a similar thought process as Makar in believing he still may need a year or so of development before making the jump to the pro level. Heiskanen said it was “possible I play one year in Finland and then I come.”

Outside of Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, not many players appear to be ready to jump into the pro game next season. Regardless, both Heiskanen and Makar are on there the way to be top five picks in the upcoming draft this season.