Corey Abbott

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Draft Grades - West

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The 2017 NHL Entry Draft is over and the free agent frenzy is just around the corner. Before that happens we will examine how teams in the Western Conference did at the draft table in Chicago, including some of the big trades that happened along the way.


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Anaheim Ducks


Grade: C-


First Round Selection(s): None (Top pick was Maxime Comtois at 50th overall)


Anaheim didn’t have a first-round pick for the first time in 18 years because the conditional second-round selection that was sent to Dallas in the Patrick Eaves turned into a first rounder when the Ducks reached the Western Conference Final.


The team’s first selection came in the second half of Round 2 when they took Comtois with the 50th overall pick. He amassed 60 points in 62 games during his rookie season with Victoriaville of the QMJHL in 2015-16 and had 51 points in 64 contests this past campaign. Comtois has two-way ability and models his style after Boston center Patrice Bergeron. He also plays with an edge and has the size to back it up at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds. The Ducks took another two-way, scoring threat in the second round with the choice of Antoine Morand at 60th overall. He has also spent the past two seasons in the QMJHL and had 74 points in 67 matches with Acadie-Bathurst in 2016-17.


Anaheim also snagged a promising goaltending prospect in the fifth round with the 153rd overall pick in Olle Eriksson Ek, who is the younger brother of Minnesota’s Joel Eriksson Ek. He was ranked second among European goalies by NHL Central Scouting and posted strong numbers for Farjestad Jr. last year.


Arizona Coyotes


Grade: B


First Round Selection(s): Pierre-Olivier Joseph (23rd)


The Coyotes were busy on the trade front during the NHL Draft weekend. Arizona acquired Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. GM John Chayka also obtained Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers in exchange for Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick, which became Lias Andersson. Hjalmarsson is projected to play on the Coyotes’ top pairing, Stepan will become the team’s number one center and Raanta is expected to be the number one netminder. The Coyotes still have plenty of work to do to turn the team around, but this was a good start to the off-season for the franchise as they look to turn the corner.


Arizona used the 23rd overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft on defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph. The pick was acquired in the Martin Hanzal trade from Minnesota. Joseph still has to fill out his towering 6-foot-2 frame, but he projects to be a smooth-skating, puck-moving defender who can quarterback a power play. The Coyotes added four more rearguards in Rounds 2-7, including another two-way mobile defender in Filip Westerlund with the 44th overall pick. The 18-year-old Swede grew up idolizing Coyotes blueliners Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Hjalmarsson.


Arizona also drafted four forwards, including two in the third round from the OHL who ranked in the top 50 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. Hamilton’s MacKenzie Entwistle has the makings of an energy forward and Guelph’s Nate Schnarr drives puck possession.


Calgary Flames


Grade: B-


First Round Selection(s): Juuso Valimaki (16th)


Calgary made a splash on the second day of the NHL Entry Draft when they obtained Travis Hamonic from the Islanders in exchange for draft picks. New York sent a conditional fourth-round pick to the Flames in the deal and received a first rounder in 2018, a second-round choice in 2018 and a conditional second-round choice in 2019 or 2020. It was a hefty price to pay, but it solidifies a talent group of defenders alongside Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie.


The Flames also used their first-round pick on defense when they drafted Juuso Valimaki 16th overall. He exploded for 19 goals and 61 points in 60 games with Tri-City of the WHL in 2016-17. Valimaki’s speed, playmaking ability and on-ice vision make him a superb prospect from the back end.


Calgary also landed a big Slovakian center in Adam Ruzicka, who possesses great hands and deceptive speed, in the fourth round (109th overall). He finished fourth among OHL rookies in scoring with 46 points (25 goals, 21 assists) in 61 games this past campaign. Zach Fischer, who went 140th overall, had a career year with Medicine Hat of the WHL in 2016-17 with 34 markers and 63 points in 62 matches.


Chicago Blackhawks


Grade: C


First Round Selection(s): Henri Jokiharju (29th)


The Blackhawks’ roster got another off-season facelift prior to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. They traded Artemi Panarin,Tyler Motte and a sixth-round pick to Columbus for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth rounder. As mentioned previously, veteran blueliner Hjamarlsson was also shipped to Arizona. Saad has spent the last two years with the Blue Jackets after he started his NHL career with Chicago. He should have a spot alongside Jonathan Toews in 2017-18, while Forsberg will occupy the team’s backup goalie role. Still, dealing away Panarin could be a decision that the Blackhawks come to regret.


Chicago moved down from the 26th overall pick, which Dallas used on goaltender Jake Oettinger, and selected defenseman Henri Jokiharju with the 29th choice in the first round. The 19-year-old rearguard has great skating ability and hockey smarts. He also registered 48 points in 71 games during his first campaign with Portland of the WHL. Chicago GM Stan Bowman likes that Jokiharju shoots right-handed and he has the potential to develop into a valuable puck-moving defender.


The Blackhawks chose another defenseman with mobility and scoring skill with the selection of Ian Mitchell at 57th overall. He has spent the last two seasons with the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL and had 37 points in 53 games in 2016-17. The 18-year-old is committed to the University of Denver for next year.


Chicago got Russian forward Andrei Altybarmakyan with the third-round pick they obtained from the Stars in the first round. He was ranked 28th by NHL Central Scouting among European skaters after he produced 20 goals and 45 points in 31 contests for Lvy St. Petersburg of the MHL.


Colorado Avalanche


Grade: B-


First Round Selection(s): Cale Makar (4th)


Colorado had the worst record in the NHL in 2016-17 by a wide margin, but slipped to the fourth pick after the balls didn’t bounce their way in the Draft Lottery. However, they still ended up with a fairly good consolation prize with smooth-skating defender Cale Makar. He has the potential to be an elite offensive defenseman and his progress will be monitored closely in his first season with the University of UMass-Amherst in 2017-18.


The Avalanche selected another highly rated puck-moving blueliner with the first pick of the second round when they snatched up Conor Timmins. He amassed 54 assists and 61 points in 67 games for Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL last season.


Colorado also made great use of picks in the fourth round and the sixth round when they chose Nick Henry and Denis Smirnov, respectively. Henry ranked second among WHL rookies in scoring with 81 points (35 goals, 46 assists) in 72 contests. Smirnov tied for 15th in the nation in scoring with 47 points in 39 games for Penn State.


Dallas Stars


Grade: A-


First Round Selection(s): Miro Heiskanen (3rd) and Jake Oettinger (26th)


Dallas got arguably the best defenseman in the draft when they picked Miro Heiskanen at third overall. He has the skill set to be a complete player at the NHL level after making incredible strides forward in 2016-17. Heiskanen was dominant at the 2017 IIHF U18 World Championship and he is already competing against men in Finland’s Liiga. He will probably return to HIFK next season, but if he continues to make progress then it won’t be long before he is playing with the Stars.


Dallas also grabbed Boston University puck stopper Jake Oettinger with 26th overall pick in the 2017 draft class. He was the top ranked goaltender among North America’s NHL Central Scouting rankings after he posted 21 wins with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 35 appearances.


The Stars went with a talented forward in the second round with the selection of Jason Robertson. The Kingston Frontenacs sniper tallied 42 goals and 81 points in 68 games last season. He could have been a late first rounder, so getting him with the 39th pick was fortunate for Dallas.


Edmonton Oilers


Grade: C+


First Round Selection(s): Kailer Yamamoto (22nd)


Edmonton hoped that Kailer Yamamoto would be available when they selected after they were unsuccessful in their attempt to trade up in the draft to choose him. The Oilers scooped up the pint-sized point producer with the 22nd overall pick. The speed and skill of Yamamoto should help him overcome his undersized frame of 5-foot-8 and 146 pounds. The NHL has plenty of recent success stories when it comes to smaller players and Yamamoto has the talent to become another. He scored 42 goals and 99 points in 65 games for Spokane of the WHL in 2016-17.


The Oilers drafted six players who were at least 6-foot-2 after the first round, including Lethbridge goaltender Stuart Skinner, who was ranked fifth by NHL Central Scouting among North American netminders, and center Skyler Brind'Amour, who is the son of former NHLer Rod Brind'Amour.


Los Angeles Kings


Grade: B+


First Round Selection(s): Gabriel Vilardi (11th)


Los Angeles had a gift fall into their lap when Gabriel Vilardi was available when they stepped up to make the 11th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He was a popular top-five pick in the majority of mock drafts, so it was surprising to see him slip as far as he did. Vilardi generated 29 goals and 61 points in 49 games for Windsor during the 2016-17 campaign. He plays well at both ends of the ice and makes good decisions with the puck, while maintaining a dangerous presence on the ice in the attacking zone. The 17-year-old center should be able to make an impact for a Kings team in desperate need of more offense.


Los Angeles got another good value pick in Round 2 when they chose Jaret Anderson-Dolan with the 41st overall selection. He is another offensively-gifted center, who notched 39 goals and 76 points in 72 contests for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs last year. Anderson-Dolan can play in all situations and he was dangerous on the power play in 2016-17.


The Kings also drafted a pair of mobile defenders with scoring touch in the fourth round in Michael Anderson, who is slated to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth next year, and Owen Sound’s Markus Phillips.


Minnesota Wild


Grade: C


First Round Selection(s): None (Top pick was Ivan Lodnia at 85th overall)


Minnesota had to wait a while to make their first pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, but they still managed to get some decent value with their first two selections. Ivan Lodnia was the 85th overall pick and he possesses plenty of potential as a playmaker. He compiled 24 goals and 57 points in 66 games with Erie of the OHL in 2016-17. The 17-year-old winger was placed 36th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and he ended up 79th on TSN’s final draft rankings.


The Wild also took Medicine Hat center Mason Shaw in the fourth round (97th overall). He was among the top scorers in the WHL in 2016-17 with 94 points (27 goals, 67 assists) in 71 matches.


Nashville Predators


Grade: B


First Round Selection(s): Eeli Tolvanen (30th)


Nashville has done a great job building their roster through the draft and they got a steal in the opening round when Eeli Tolvanen fell to them. He racked up 30 goals and 54 points in 52 games for Sioux City of the USHL last season. Tolvanen is expected to attend Boston College in 2017-18. The talented Finn is known as a superb goal scorer and shot generator. He also has a great work ethic and should fit well with the Predators when he is ready to make the jump to the NHL.


The Predators got another value pick in the second round with talented and gritty winger Grant Mismash. He was placed 24th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and 42nd on TSN’s final draft rankings. Mismash, who is expected to play for the University of North Dakota next year, was taken with the 61st overall pick in the 2017 draft.


Defensemen David Farrance (92nd overall) and Jacob Paquette (216th overall) could also have potential. Nashville has had tremendous success drafting blueliners, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on players they take at the position.


San Jose Sharks


Grade: C+


First Round Selection(s): Josh Norris (19th)


San Jose was thoroughly impressed with Josh Norris at the scouting combine, where he led all 104 draft-eligible attendees in five of 14 fitness tests. Norris paced the pack in pro agility left and right, peak power, vertical jump (26.19 inches) and standing long jump (118 inches). The Sharks also liked his ability to perform in big games and he did that internationally for Team USA when he had seven points in seven games en route to a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF U18 World Championship. Norris is slated to play for the University of Michigan in 2017-18 and his offensive contributions should continue.


The Sharks stayed in the USHL/NTDP for their next two selections in the 2017 NHL Draft with puck-moving defenseman Mario Ferraro (49th overall) and center Scott Reedy (102nd overall), who will head to the University of Minnesota next season.


St. Louis Blues


Grade: B


First Round Selection(s): Robert Thomas (20th) and Klim Kostin (31st)


St. Louis had two picks in the first round and they snatched up a pair of promising forwards. The Blues acquired the 31st overall selection from Pittsburgh in the trade that sent tough guy Ryan Reaves and the 51st overall draft choice to the Penguins. St. Louis also got Oskar Sundqvist in the deal. Robert Thomas, who was picked 20th overall, displayed his playmaking skills in 2016-17 with 50 helpers and 66 points in 66 games for the London Knights of the OHL. He has been praised for having a high hockey IQ and being creative with the puck, which could make him a great set-up man for Vladimir Tarasenko down the road.


The Blues chose Russian power forward Klim Kostin with the final selection in the first round. He could be a steal after he was rated to go much higher. He was the top European skater for NHL Central Scouting and he was 18th on TSN’s final rankings.


Vancouver Canucks


Grade: B


First Round Selection(s): Elias Pettersson (5th)


Vancouver took Elias Pettersson with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. It was believed that Cale Makar, who went fourth to Colorado, was high on their radar, but so was a skilled center and Pettersson fills that need nicely. Still, it will be interesting to see how he develops compared to Cody Glass and Casey Mittelstadt, who were also available for the Canucks.


Pettersson was a dynamic scoring threat in Sweden’s second-division Hockey Allsvenkan last season. He notched 19 goals and 41 points in 43 games for Timra and he is slated to play for the Vaxjo Lakers of the SHL in 2017-18.


The Canucks got another talented scorer in Round 2 with the selection of Kole Lind at 33rd overall. He owns a great shot and can be lethal on the power play. Lind scored 30 goals and 87 points in 70 matches for Kelowna of the WHL last campaign. Vancouver also landed Jonah Gadjovich later in the second round with the 55th overall pick. He has a great work ethic, doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff and can produce points. Gadjovich notched 46 goals and 74 points over 60 matches for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack in 2016-17.


Vancouver took goaltender Michael DiPietro with the 64th overall pick. He captured the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires and posted great numbers during the regular season. He had a 31-12-2 record with six shutouts, a 2.35 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. DiPietro was ranked fourth among North American goalies by NHL Central Scouting.


Vegas Golden Knights


Grade: A


First Round Selection(s): Cody Glass (6th), Nick Suzuki (13th) and Erik Brannstrom (15th)


The Golden Knights did a great job stocking their prospect cupboard in their first NHL Entry Draft. Vegas made 12 selections, including three in the first round.


Cody Glass was the first pick in the franchise’s history. The gifted playmaker and point producer piled up 32 goals and 94 points in 69 matches for Portland of the WHL in 2016-17. He has excellent speed and should be impact player on the Golden Knights when he debuts in the NHL.


Vegas took Nick Suzuki with the 13th overall selection. He is another talented offensive player who can occupy any forward position and drive possession with his creativity and hockey sense. Suzuki registered 45 goals and 96 points in his second OHL season last year with the Owen Sound Attack.


The NHL’s newest club chose offensive defender Erik Brannstrom at 15th overall. He will probably need to bulk up before he is ready for the big league, but he has a great deal of upside. Vegas picked Nicolas Hague, who was another player with first-round potential, at 34th overall. The Mississauga Steelheads defender has great size and offensive ability. He accounted for 18 goals, 46 points and 107 penalty minutes in 65 games last season. Hague moves the puck well and can play in all situations. It was an impressive haul for the Golden Knights, which included eight forwards, two defensemen and two goaltenders.


Winnipeg Jets


Grade: B-


First Round Selection(s): Kristian Vesalainen (24th)


Winnipeg moved down to the 24th overall pick following an expansion draft trade with Vegas, but they still ended up with a very good prospect. Kristian Vesalainen slipped a bit further than most anticipated. He was rated seventh among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting and 15th on TSN’s final draft rankings. Vesalainen, who is regarded as a Finnish power forward, turned heads at the 2017 IIHF U18 World Championship, where he produced six goals and 13 points in seven games, while capturing the MVP honor and a silver medal. He is projected to play in Finland’s Liiga with HPK in 2017-18.


The Jets mainly drafted players who aren’t expected to be ready for the NHL any time soon. Second-round pick Dylan Samberg, who is projected to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth next year, and Merrimack College’s Jonathan Kovacevic, who was taken in the third round, could be worth keeping an eye on due to their potential on the back end.

Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
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