Here we are, a mere three games away from crowning a Stanley Cup champion and the completion of another terrific NHL season. The disappointment of 29 NHL teams will quickly be replaced by the hope that comes with beginning anew. The NHL Entry Draft is the first and often largest step in that growing hopefulness.
For some time now, this year’s class of prospects has been labelled ‘weak’. I don’t believe this to be true. Yes, we do not have a Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine waiting to waltz off the draft floor and onto the first page of NHL point leaders, but that’s the case with most drafts.
Let’s face it, we’ve been spoiled.
This year’s crop is a little light at the very top but is chalked full of potential NHLers. Sure, a vast majority of them may end falling into middle/bottom six forward core or bottom half defensemen, but coming away with an NHL player outside of the top half of the first round should be considered a win.
For my money, the best part of this draft is the lack of consensus. There are upwards of eight players who could realistically go third overall and the blender only gets cranked up a notch after that. More so than any year in recent memory has the 20-50 slots been so up in the air.
Through countless hours of live and film viewings, pouring over scouting reports and speaking with scouts I trust, I’ve come up with what I feel is a fair ranking of the top 75 prospects. There will surely be some discrepancies from some established services and that’s the beauty of it. My opinion, like yours, is individualized.
For clarity sake, I’ll preface the list by telling you I value speed and smarts quite highly, especially at the top of the draft and settle in for more realistic NHL-upside players the further down we go.
I’ve provided a quick scouting report on the top 31 players along with positions, heights, weights and dates of birth that are accurate as of the last week’s combine results. Some players may have improved their stock with a terrific showing at said combine, while a poor showing really didn’t affect my outlook.
So, without further ado, I present to you Crazy Joe Davola’s Top 75 Draft-Eligible Prospects!
Nico Hischier Centre / 6’1.5 178lbs / 1999-01-04
Top end speed, vision and processing skills. He’s incredibly gifted at changing speeds and exposing defenders whose gap control is even just marginally off. His soft hands and deft puck protection allow him to work his magic down low while his quick release is deadly from the circles down. The best offensive player in this crop is also a stingy defensive player, constantly working to improve his all-around game. With some added strength, there’s little reason to believe he won’t be in the NHL this fall.
Miro Heiskanen LHD / 6’0.75 172lbs / 1999-04-17
The cerebral and smooth-skating defender offers the complete package of tools. He’s calm under pressure as he man’s the power play, finds lanes for shots and is rarely out of position. Heiskanen owns a great stick, tight gap control and defends the blue line like a veteran. His mind and skating are his biggest assets. A future minute-muncher with legitimate top pairing potential.
Nolan Patrick Centre / 6’2 199lbs / 1998-09-19
Size, skill and a high hockey IQ. His skating isn’t a supreme plus but should allow him to transition to the NHL immediately. Patrick is a hard worker who prides himself on a complete defensive game. His pure offensive ceiling may be a touch lower than more recent top picks, but he has a high floor.
Casey Mittelstadt Centre / 5’11.5 199lbs / 1998-11-22
The powerful centre somehow increases his speed with the puck on his stick than without. Owns dynamic acceleration, quick hands and a lethal release. Sometimes guilty of trying to do too much, which may lead to a bit longer of wait time, but he owns top end stuff. Will refine his skills at the University of Minnesota for a couple of years and then likely step right into an NHL lineup.
Cody Glass Centre / 6’1.75 178lbs / 1999-04-01
The best pure playmaker in the draft, owns a sizable frame and an underrated shot. He’s a terrific puck protector with a smooth stride and soft touch. A powerful and skilled right-hand centre with top line potential will be highly sought-after on draft day. Is a dark horse to become the most productive player from this class.
Cale Makar RHD / 5’11 187lbs / 1998-10-30
Big time draft riser may offer the most offensive skill set from any position this year. Playing in a tier II Canadian junior circuit, the right-handed defender displays dynamic speed and edgework, incredible offensive instincts, smarts and creativity to burn. His ability to run a power play with his head, hands and big shot make him a complete threat. There is some risk, but the payoff is certainly worth it.
Elias Pettersson Centre / 6’2 165lbs / 1998-11-12
The lanky centre thinks the game a step ahead of most players his age. His top-end speed leaves something to be desired but his creativity and strong positional play make him a coach’s dream. He needs at least 20 lbs of muscle packed on before handling an NHL schedule, but his puck skills are unquestionable. With additional strength will likely accompany another gear. A highly-productive player.
Gabe Vilardi Centre / 6’2.75 203lbs / 1999-08-16
A strong player who can play all three forward positions. Vilardi boasts strength and skill in a package that should help him transition to the NHL sooner than some prospects. He owns underrated playmaking ability and is quite young for this crop so there is plenty of developmental time remaining. He’s very difficult to handle down low with his puck-protection and soft hands. He needs another step, but there is plenty to like about his game.
Nicholas Suzuki Centre / 5’11 183lbs / 1999-08-10
Built for today’s version of the NHL – loads of skill and smarts with a willingness to create offense out of nothing. A young player from this crop, Suzuki is a very underrated shooter with a quick and heavy release. Not an overly creative player, but one who manages to generate scoring chances with regularity. He will need more strength but has the potential to be an impact player.
Owen Tippett RW / 6’0.5 203lbs / 1999-02-16
The volume shooter has power and precision while projecting as a complimentary top six scoring winger. He has moments of indifference with his effort-level and will need to shore up the defensive side of his game, but with goal-scoring at a premium, he will become a valuable NHL player. Put him next to a great distributor and the goals should come in bunches.
Eeli Tolvanen RW / 5’10.25 189lbs / 1999-04-22
Some feel he is the most electric USHL player in the past decade and is the purest shooter in the draft. Despite a smaller stature, he isn’t afraid to fight his way into scoring areas and unleash a wicked shot. He changes the angle on his release and draws opposition defenders near, thus opening passing lanes for teammates. Tolvanen owns blazing speed and makes sharp cuts resulting in open space to create chances. He will need to clean up the defensive side before locking down an NHL job and should get that structure at Boston College.
Martin Necas Centre / 6’1 178lbs / 1999-01-15
The quick and often-times dynamic centre, has shown very well against men in the Czech top league. Needs to bring the same energy every night, but has a ton of skill. Great acceleration, soft hands and a quick release. Suffers from some inconsistency but that’s not uncommon for young player. A potential steal.
Kailer Yamamoto RW / 5’7.5 146lbs / 1998-09-29
Small, fast and bursting with creativity. Yamamoto will slip due to sizing up at just 5’7 and under 150lbs but his talent is apparent and his skills appear transferable in the professional ranks. He will need to go to the right organization and be developed properly, but owns game-breaking ability. We may look back and shake our head at how late he ended up going.
Timothy Liljegren RHD / 5’11.5 188lbs / 1999-04-30
Smooth skating, offensive defender has plenty of raw skills, however a down season has seen his stock drop. His skating is fluid and a true weapon, but decision-making at high speeds both offensively and defensively is a concern. How much leeway does suffering from mono a year ago get him? High-risk, high-reward player.
Lias Andersson Centre / 5’11 200lbs / 1998-10-13
Played in the top Swedish league for the majority of the last two campaigns and has looked strong. Doesn’t excel in any particular skill, but has a well-stocked tool belt. Some see vanilla, but smart players with good skills become quality NHL’ers. A very safe pick with a high floor.
Erik Brannstrom LHD / 5’9 197lbs / 1999-09-02
Small but dynamic defender owns all the tools to run a future NHL power play. Right-hand shot with quick feet, great instincts and the ability to get his shots through to the net. Despite his height, he’s solidly built and maintains strong defensive positioning but will need to continue those traits on the smaller ice.
Kristian Vesalainen RW/LW / 6’5 209lbs / 1999-06-01
Blessed with great size and skating ability, a poor WJC tournament for himself and most of the Fins has dropped his stock, but a monster U18 tourney had scouts salivating once again. He possesses the potential to be a top-end power forward at the next level but will come with a wait time.
Robert Thomas Centre / 5’11.5 193lbs / 1999-07-02
Great speed, puck skills and two-way acumen. Will be a player that a coach can send out in every situation. Owns very strong distribution skills but could stand to shoot the puck more often.
Michael Rasmussen Centre / 6’5.5 221lbs / 1999-07-18
Big, strong 6’5 centres with soft hands are rare. His skating stride is long and powerful and his release is pro-plus already. A contentious pick this year as some see a front line guy while others view him as a player who may lack the skill and creativity to play in a top six role down the line. Count me as leaning towards the latter.
Ryan Poehling Centre / 6’1.75 177lbs / 1999-01-03
True Freshman played as a 17-year-old at St. Cloud State and didn’t look out of place. His top end offensive ceiling may not be too high, but he’s a very safe and competent player. Great hand eye coordination makes him a threat as the net front presence on a power play.
Juuso Valimaki LHD / 6’1.5 211lbs / 1998-10-06
One of the older players in the draft, the 18-year-old defender combines ideal size with the offensive upside to be a top 15 pick this June. He owns a heavy shot and quick outlet passes. His skating needs some work as does his overall compete level. He’ll need to add a consistency to his game before moving forward. A potential top four defender with some offensive upside.
Jake Oettinger G / 6’4.25 218lbs / 1998-12-18
Big, athletic and poised net minder was a true freshman at Boston University and led the Terriers all season. He owns terrific positioning and quick-twitch muscles to make the first save and be ready for the next. A true first-round talent. If goalies weren’t voodoo, he’d likely be even higher on this list.
Urho Vaakanainen LHD / 6’0.5 188lbs / 1999-01-01
Smooth and steady left-shot defender, won’t wow you with any one skill but plays a sound and reliable game. Has shown flashes of offensive capabilities but will likely become a complimentary player in the regard. Has slipped a bit in the rankings but is a safe pick in this area.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan Centre / 5’11 191lbs / 1999-09-12
A dedicated two-way centre with strong character and a non-stop motor. JAD has underrated offensive skills and refuses to stay on the perimeter, often driving play right into the heart of the opposition’s high-danger zones. One of the youngest players in the draft, he has loads of developmental time ahead of him. Expect a monster draft-plus one campaign as him and Yamamoto are prepped to run roughshod over the WHL.
Pierre-Oliver Joseph RHD / 6’2.25 163lbs / 1999-07-01
An accomplished defender, Joseph plays a hard and physical game despite being a little on the light side. Tons of raw skill and plays a safe and smart game. Joseph keeps his head up and sends quick and accurate passes up ice to transition the play. Perhaps a limited offensively but a player you want in your top six defender group.
Robin Salo LHD / 6’1.5 189lbs / 1998-10-13
One of the more underrated players in the draft for his somewhat vanilla game. Played solid minutes in the Finish Liiga and performed very well. Smooth, smart and solid at both ends of the rink. He’s your proto-typical new-age hybrid defender.