It’s been a long, frustrating season for the Dallas Stars.
After an impressive 50-win, 109-point performance last year, the Stars have recently fallen upon hard times, and are currently well on the outside of this season’s playoff picture. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for an organization that held high Stanley Cup aspirations coming in.
However, as some old wisdom goes, you always have to try to make the best out of a bad situation, and there’s certainly an opportunity coming up for the Stars to salvage something great from this season.
The team is poised to have their biggest draft in recent years. They’ll likely have their highest single selection since 2009 (8th overall, where they chose Scott Glennie), and they might also receive Anaheim’s 1st round pick, as part of the Patrick Eaves trade (the Ducks conditionally need to make it to the Western Conference Finals, and Eaves has to play in at least half of their games).
The timing is beneficial. The Stars have seen many of their top prospects graduate to the NHL over the last two seasons, and the prospect pool behind them is currently lacking in both talent and depth. In other words, Dallas needs to stock up at the draft, and soon.
While the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is lacking in the sort of generational, franchise-changing talent that many would hope for (think Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews), there will nevertheless be a wide variety of skilled players available for the taking.
Who are these players? Here now is a list of the top 31:
(Disclaimer: These rankings are compiled from a combination of sources: live viewings, highlight packages, scouting reports, statistical analysis, reactions from individual scouts, and reflections of other draft rankings. This list is strictly my own, based off of personal scouting and research. - Derek Neumeier)
1) Nolan Patrick - Center - Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Despite the race getting closer, Patrick is still currently the top prize in this year’s draft. A big, skilled, workhorse center that can play any role in his position, something that coaches covet. Can contribute offensively both off the rush, as well as playing in the cycle. Projects similarly to Eric Staal: not always flashy, but a significant contributor.
2) Nico Hischier - Center - Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
The dynamic Hischier has cemented his spot on draft rankings directly behind Patrick, and don’t be surprised if he eventually overtakes the top spot come June 23rd. A finesse player, he is a serious point-producer that gets fans out of their seats in the process thanks to his blazing speed and nifty puck skills. Underrated defensively, too.
3) Casey Mittelstadt - Center - Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
Wherever Mittelstadt goes, he produces. He split this season between Green Bay in the USHL and his Eden Prairie high school team and put up big numbers for both, even if it hurt his draft stock a bit. Was a major standout at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka and IIHF U18 tournaments. An exceptional playmaker that can make his teammates better.
4) Owen Tippett - Right Wing - Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Owen Tippett is a power forward built for the modern-day NHL. He’s not going to drop the gloves, but he’s almost impossible to contain thanks to his large size and forceful skating ability. He can terrorize goalies from distance with a great repertoire of shots, or crash the net and bang home loose pucks. Could realistically become a regular 30-goal man in the NHL.
5) Gabriel Vilardi - Center/Left Wing - Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
A big prospect with soft hands, Vilardi he does his best work the closer he gets to the opposing goalie, either finishing plays himself or dishing the puck to open teammates. Has enough tools to be a dominant force in the pros, but can be a little too passive and laid back at times. Will be watched very closely at this year’s Memorial Cup, which the Spitfires are hosting.
6) Cody Glass - Center - Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
No player has shot up the draft rankings this year as much as Cody Glass, and it’s been entirely deserved. He’s a complete package offensively, equally able to set up plays or finish them. Has a very mature understanding of the game and is reliable and hardworking defensively. A #1 center role at the NHL level is not out of the question in his future.
7) Elias Pettersson - Center - Timra (Allsvenskan)
Pettersson has been one of the top scorers in Sweden’s second-highest pro league this season, with point totals that quickly catch your eye. He’s fast and can make difficult plays at high speeds. Sees the ice well. Has a scrawny frame and had some disappointing international showings, but his potential is high if given proper development.
8) Cale Makar - Defense - Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
One word could be used to accurately describe Cale Makar as a hockey player: electrifying. An explosive skater and effortless puck handler, fans hold their breath when Makar has the puck and a head of steam going up the ice. Can dissect opponents while in transition, either with his sharp passing or by carrying the puck himself.
9) Eeli Tolvanen - Left Wing/Right Wing - Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
You wouldn’t expect a player of Tolvanen’s stature to be able to rip a puck that quick and that hard, but boy, does he have himself a cannon. A standout for Finland at the international level over the last two years, Tolvanen is a crafty skater with sharp edges, and is adept at finding enough space in traffic to unleash killer wrist and slap shots.
10) Miro Heiskanen - Defense - HIFK (Liiga)
Heiskanen isn’t always the most exciting player to watch in games, but he’s incredibly efficient at what he does. He’s a smart, fluid, puck-moving defenseman that’s tailor-made for today’s NHL. Reliable defensively thanks to good positioning, quick feet, crisp passing and accurate reads. Reminds one of Jonas Brodin of the Minnesota Wild.
11) Nicolas Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
It doesn’t take very long to watch Nicolas Hague in a game and understand what the high appeal is for scouts. Hague is absolutely huge at 6’6”, while still possessing a very serviceable skating stride. Contributes a lot offensively, either by jumping into the rush or unleashing a heavy point shot. A bit of a project, but could become a minute-munching, #1 NHL defender.
12) Timothy Liljegren - Defense - Rogle (SHL)
The good parts of Liljegren’s game are crystal clear, and have been well-known for a long time now: the speed, the sublime puck skills, the big point totals. However, many scouts that follow him closely now have serious concerns about his decision-making and play away from the puck. No other player is more of a high-risk, high-reward pick in this draft.
13) Nick Suzuki - Center - Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
If Nick Suzuki was just a few inches taller he’d probably be a lock as a Top 10 pick this year. He plays in all situations for the Attack, including both sides of special teams, and is a notable difference-maker almost every shift. Has had some huge games this year. Is highly skilled in many areas but what truly stands out is his Hockey IQ, which might be the best in the entire draft.
14) Kailer Yamamoto - Left Wing/Right Wing - Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Some NHL teams likely won’t consider Yamamoto as a 1st round pick due to his small size (5’8”), which is a shame because he’s one of the most purely skilled players in this draft. He’s a wizard with the puck and uses his sharp wits to overcome his physical shortcomings. Has consistently risen to the occasion when he’s played on a big stage, such as the U18s and the CHL Top Prospects Game.
15) Michael Rasmussen - Center - Tri-City Americans (WHL)
A wrist injury cut short Rasmussen’s season, leaving one huge question open: just how good is this guy? A potential Top 5 talent, as some scouts have suggested, or something far less dramatic? Nevertheless, as a 6’5” center that still gets around the ice well and has impressive puck skills, there’s no denying that he has a very appealing pro upside.
16) Juuso Valimaki - Defense - Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Valimaki offers an enticing package for interested teams: a defenseman with both a large frame and the ability to effectively move the puck. Absolutely loves to join the rush, as he can often be found almost anywhere in the offensive zone. Knows where the puck is headed. Defensive game needs some work, but has very real upside as a top pairing defender.
17) Klim Kostin - Right Wing - HC Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
One of the most polarizing prospects this year, Kostin will be a notable player to watch on draft day. Possesses a fantastic blend of size and speed, and is capable of making tough plays off the rush. Was once seen as a Top 10 talent, but struggled in Russia’s top two pro leagues and then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. High ceiling, but with a long development.
18) Martin Necas - Center - HC Kometa Brno (Czech Extraliga)
Not only has Necas spent the majority of this season in the highest pro league in the Czech Republic, something that’s fairly uncommon, but he’s also spent time as his team’s #1 center. Nothing about his game really stands above the rest, yet he’s impressive in a lot of important areas. A safe pick at worst, but there’s some major steal potential here.
19) Lias Andersson - Center/Left Wing - HV71 (SHL)
Andersson is a buzzsaw that just goes and goes and goes, and good things usually come from it. A quick forward that is very cerebral and can find holes in opposing defenses, either for himself or his teammates. Controls the puck well on the powerplay, but is also a dangerous penalty killer thanks to his acceleration. Playing in the SHL, he’s already a reliable pro.
20) Cal Foote - Defense - Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Cal Foote doesn’t have his dad’s signature toughness, but that’s OK, because he’s a much better puck-mover than Adam ever was. Foote is known primarily as a shutdown defender, which he still is, but he’s also added an offensive dimension to his game, with 51 assists this year. If his skating can get one level higher then he’ll be a complete package on defense.
21) Erik Brannstrom - Defense - HV71 (SHL)
Brannstrom has been steadily rising on draft boards all year long, and could still keep going higher by the time the draft comes along. The 5’10” puck-mover was at a point-per-game pace in Sweden’s top U20 league before making the full-time jump to the SHL, where he hasn’t looked out of place. A strong showing at the upcoming U18s in April could be a turning point.
22) Ryan Poehling - Center - St. Cloud State (NCAA)
Playing in the NCAA as a 17 year-old isn’t an easy task, but that’s exactly what Ryan Poehling did, accelerating his high school studies to graduate a year early and head to St. Cloud. His stats don’t exactly jump off the page right now, but he’s been a big producer at other levels. A rangy two-way center that plays a very pro game and has no major weaknesses.
23) Urho Vaakanainen - Defense - JYP (Liiga)
Vaakanainen plays a safe, steady, low-maintenance game, and that should lend itself towards a long pro career for him. He’s been a fixture for Finland internationally over the past few seasons and has spent most of his time otherwise among men in the Liiga. A projected Bottom 4 defenseman that is still improving and could one day become more impactful.
24) Isaac Ratcliffe - Left Wing - Guelph Storm (OHL)
A towering winger with a long, smooth skating stride, Ratcliffe has put up some respectable numbers on a terrible Storm team that lacks offensive contributors. Possesses a very good shot, but is at his best when using his size and speed to assertively crash the net. Could be an absolutely lethal “2” in a 1-2 punch next to a skilled playmaking center.
25) Maxime Comtois - Left Wing - Victoriaville Tigers (QMJHL)
Comtois was seen as a surefire Top 10 pick heading into this season after a point-per-game pace in 2015-16, only to see his draft stock fall at the same time that his production did. Can he regain his previous offensive potential? If not, he’s still a large, versatile winger that can be used comfortably in all situations and at both ends of the ice.
26) Kristian Vesalainen - Left Wing/Right Wing - Frolunda (SHL)
Vesalainen logged a lot of frequent flyer miles this season, playing in both the SHL in Sweden and the Liiga in Finland, as well as making a trip to Canada for the World Juniors. It’s been a trying season, however, for a prospect that shone much brighter last year. The Finnish winger has plenty of size and skill, but needs to find more consistency in his game.
27) Jason Robertson - Left Wing - Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
One of the biggest dark horses in the draft, Robertson is a power forward that always makes an impact, despite having little support around him. Has 30 points more than the next closest forward on his team, and has 10 game-winning goals (tied for tops in the OHL) on a club that only has 30 wins. His skating is clunky, but if he can fix it, Robertson will be a blue-chip prospect.
28) Conor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
On a team with three other drafted defensemen, Timmins has emerged as a de facto #1 defender for Sault Ste. Marie. A late 1998 birthday, he has an impressive combination of skating, passing and Hockey IQ, which allows him to log a lot of minutes and get trusted in all situations. He also shoots right, which is always a bonus for rearguards.
29) Robert Thomas - Center - London Knights (OHL)
No other organization in all of junior hockey produces as much NHL talent as the OHL’s London Knights do, and Robert Thomas is the next contender to be a part of that alumni. He’s an exceptional passer and stickhandler with great awareness, and he’s especially dangerous on the powerplay. A skilled prospect whose development is currently in great hands.
30) Jaret Anderson-Dolan - Center - Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
One of the youngest players in the draft, Dolan is rapidly improving as a prospect while flying under the radar on a lackluster Chiefs team. He was an explosive offensive contributor prior to his days in the WHL, and that side of his game has come out again this year as he is now up to 36 goals. He plays with spark and intensity despite his small-ish size.
31) Matthew Strome - Left Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
The youngest of the three Strome brothers, Matt will have a lot of tips and tricks that he can learn from the older Ryan and Dylan. He has a heavy, accurate shot, and an innate ability to find the spaces in traffic where he’s able to get it off. Very hard to knock off the puck. Needs to improve his skating, however, so that he’ll be able to shoot more frequently.