The NHL Entry Draft kicks of on June 23rd, just a few days after the NHL Expansion Draft. There doesn’t appear to be any franchise-saving talent available, rather, a core of similarly (and very highly) talented centers and defensemen that teams will be looking to slot into their rotations as soon as practical. In that way it’s a lot more interesting than previous drafts, where the needs and strategic philosophies of the teams drafting were set aside to acquire top talent and work around it.
There’s a fairly strong consensus around the top two in this draft, although the Nico Hischier/Nolan Patrick debate will probably continue at a low boil until some point in 2020. Once you’re past the top two, it’s anyone’s guess as to who these teams will end up picking.
Actually, it’s my guess. Given the existing team-needs and latest rumor-mongering, here`s how I see the odds for the top five picks, as well as the odds on the number one goaltender because, as Matt Murray just proved once again, it’s the only position that really matters come June.
2017 NHL ENTRY DRAFT ODDS: TOP 5
1: New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils have to make a decision with the first-overall pick between Nolan Patrick (Brandon Wheat Kings) and Swiss sensation Nico Hischier (Halifax Mooseheads). The two have a number of similarities, both playing center in major-junior and posting similar points-per-game numbers. They diverge in style of play: Patrick is the more physical player while Hischier is the more skilled. As a result, Hischier has a slightly higher upside, and certainly carries less injury risk, but Patrick’s size makes him more NHL-ready right now.
Nico Hischier: 11/9
Nolan Patrick: 3/2
2: Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers will almost certainly select the other of the Hischier/Patrick duo, and will also get a “heck of a player.” They’ll spend the rest of the evening debating whether they got the best player in the draft or the second-best, and it largely won’t matter. They’re both very good and probably ready to play in the NHL next year, and their teams will find a way to develop them.
Nolan Patrick: 11/9
Nico Hischier: 3/2
3: Dallas Stars
The name Miro Heiskanen (HIFK, Finland) pops up a lot for Dallas in mock drafts, but I’m not sure why. They’re a bad team, defensively, but their system is overflowing with promising lefty d-men, and it would be surprising to see them take another. More likely, they’ll take their pick of the remaining centers, and there’s a lot of good prospects on this board, even after Hischier and Patrick are gone.
Gabriel Vilardi just led the Windsor Spitfires to the Memorial Cup; Cody Glass (Portland Winterhawks) might be the kind of playmaking center that teams can build lines around; and Casey Mittelstadt’s offensive production and creativity are enviable. With Jason Spezza’s charity golf career fast approaching, this is the hole Dallas should fill and this is the draft to do it in.
There are also rumours that Dallas GM Jim Nill is looking to use this pick as trade bait, in which case it’s likely he’ll take one of the big-name centers, as they’ll carry the most value on the trade market.
Casey Mittelstadt: 3/1
Gabriel Vilardi: 4/1
Cody Glass: 4/1
4: Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche have needs all over; going 22-56 and finishing last in their division is proof enough of that, but finishing dead-last in goals against and not having many blue-liners in the organisation points to their most pressing need. Cale Makar (Brooks Bandits, AJHL) and Miro Heiskanen are the top defensemen in the draft, and the two of them are a fount of speculative debate. Heiskanen is one of those much-beloved Finnish d-men who boasts professional experience and a well rounded game right out of the box. Makar, who’s rising quickly through this draft process, has better offensive skills than Heiskanen and arguably better mobility. Some mock drafts have even put Makar at #1 but that seems a little overeager.
Miro Heiskanen: 3/2
Cale Makar: 7/3
5: Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks want a playmaking center, so they’ve said, and this is certainly the draft to go get one. Word is they’re particularly high on Cody Glass, but there’s so many quality centers in the draft it’s totally a matter of personal preference and who’s still available when no. 5 rolls around. Canucks GM Jim Benning has also professed an admiration for Elias Pettersson’s on-ice vision, but no. 5 might be too early to take a player that still needs time to develop that much physically.
Cody Glass: 3/1
Gabriel Vilardi: 4/1
Casey Mittelstadt: 4/1
Jake Oettinger is the consensus no. 1 here. Playing at Boston University and posting an impressive .927 save percentage, Oettinger impresses scouts with, not just his skill and upside potential, but also his mental fortitude. A sneaky number two pick here is Olle Eriksson Ek, who has done some great things in Sweden.
The first goaltender isn’t likely to go high in the first round, but the no. 1 goaltender has gone in the first round of seven of the last ten drafts, and if anyone fits the description of first-round goalie, it’s Oettinger.
Jake Oettinger: 1/4
Odds a goalie is picked in the first round: 3/7