2017 Draft starting points Review

– November 23rd, 2016 –

Since our last ranking was published about two months ago, many other lists for the 2017 NHL Draft have come out, including Bob McKenzie’s first of the season and NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary assessment of this year class.
Bob’s list came out the day after ours and provides a benchmark for what the supposed scouting consensus was at the start of the CHL season. You can find his preliminary ranking here.

To the left you can see highlighted the players who were eligible for our ranking. When looking at those names the main thing that struck us was two players were missing from Bob’s list: Nico Hischier and Elias Pettersson were right on top of our ranking but nowhere to be found there.

Even more striking when considering Klim Kostin, our #4 in Europe, sat at #3 overall, and Kristian Vesalainen, our #7 in Europe, sat 7th overall behind only Timothy Liljegren and K.Kostin among Euro-based prospects. Only two more players out of Europe made McKenzie’s list, Martin Necas and Lias Andersson, with our #5 Marcus Davidsson missing as well.

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Central Scouting’s lists for Europe will be particularly interesting and easy to compare since they’ll pertain to the same group of prospects, but at this stage CSB still has all the players together and only rated by A/B/C rather than ranked.

Still, their initial ratings released on October 4th (available here) definitely provided some food for thought as they even sharpened some of the differences mentioned above between our assessment and the seeming consensus.

As highlighted in the pictures below, they had Pettersson rated as 2nd/3rd material, together with M. Davidsson, D. Samorukov and H. Jokiharju. Our highest ranked goaltender, D. Tarasov, got a 4th to 6th round assessment, like S. Walfridsson and F. Zetterlund.

Almost two months later, and with the first international break in the books, it’s interesting to focus on the players recipient of the main differences.

Our September top ranked prospect Nico Hischier took some weeks to get comfortable on North American rinks, had no goals in his first 5 QMJHL regular season games, but has scored 19 times in his last 19 games, producing at a 2 points per game pace over that span, with a recent spurt of 19 points in his last 6 games. His current output (41 points in 24 games, 18 more than the next rookie) is good for second in the league; considering Nico is far from a one dimensional player, that is really encouraging and we would be indeed surprised if he is not going to make McKenzie’s top 15 at midterm.

Speaking of prospects who left for the CHL, Dmitri Samorukov has reportedly struggled in the early stages of his N.A. career. Even if it’s normal for a 17 years old D thrown into a different reality and game to need an adaptation period, his defensive struggles come as a bit of a surprise for us and we’re curious to see how that will pan out over the length of the season.

Winterhawks’ import Henri Jokiharju, #10 on our list, also got a B rating. This was however not surprising for an undersized defenseman.

Turning our attention to players still in Europe, we’ve seen Kristian Vesalainen ranked as high as 3rd overall in some lists, but we’ve yet to witness the pure offensive skills we’d like to see in a prospect penciled to become a top 6 forward at the NHL level (it seems obvious that’s what you’d expect from a prospect ranked in your overall top 7, like he is on Bob’s list).
In his career at the SHL level he’s so far produced 7 points in 35 games and he’s been recently loaned to HPK in his homeland to get a chance to play more minutes.
Kristian is a promising prospect already able to hold his own when competing against men, it will be interesting to monitor his offensive impact during his stay in the top Finnish league. He has been seeing top 6 minutes in his first three games there, but has no points so far.

When we made him our #2 ranked prospect in September, skinny forward Elias Pettersson only had 1 point in 3 Allsvenskan games and 1 point in 3 games at the U20 tourney in Hodonin (Czech R.) in late August. Since then he has been producing regularly and now sports a PPG ratio, which is something we don’t remember former first time NHL Draft eligible Swedes do in their draft season. Granted, 20 games are still not a big enough sample and competition in Allsvenskan hockey is a bit weaker now than it was a few years back, but his offensive growth has probably opened some eyes. Even more so after his success (7 points in 3 games) at the recent U20 Four Nations in Gothenburg while playing on Sweden first line with Lias Andersson and red-hot Leafs prospect Carl Grundstrom.

On the other hand, Klim Kostin has yet to score a goal this season in Russia and at the moment is back with his junior team after seeing limited icetime and failing to record a point over the first couple of months at the senior level. He had however a chance to showcase himself with the Russian U20 team in the series vs CHL (2 points in 5 games) and we’ll see if that was enough for him to remain in top3/top5 in others’ upcoming rankings. His international play will probably dictate his draft position, more so than for most of his peers.

Marcus Davidsson has been averaging about 11 minutes of icet-ime this season with Djurgardens in the top Swedish league, recording 4 goals in 18 games while adding 4 goals in 5 games at the J20 level. He has a late birth date, which makes him (like E. Pettersson) not eligible to play for the U18 national team. This means his international exposure in his draft season happens to be with the U20 team where he has been playing a more limited role than he’s capable of. While this doesn’t affect our projection (we think he’s first round material), it could make a bit more difficult for him to rise in the aforementioned lists.

To end the list of prospects that carry the main discrepancies with our early evaluation, Daniil Tarasov is the one with the biggest gap. His case is a bit different, and not only because he is a (Russian) goaltender. In fact, Tarasov has been out injured this season, making it impossible to reassess him so far. However, we really liked his game during his last campaign in Russia and at the U18 World Championships in North Dakota, and we’re hopeful he will be able to get back on the right track once healthy.

We’ll see if with the mid terms update the gap between our ranking and Bob’s /CSB’s rankings of these players will shrink.

Actually, although Central Scouting did not bother to put forward any official release, they recently did change their initial list. In fact the same generic link of their initial release now leads to a modified list where Elias Pettersson gets an A rating.

Other relevant changes on Euro-based prospects were:
talented Finnish D Urho Vaakanainen downgraded from A to B, Swedish goaltender (and Joel’s brother) Olle Eriksson Ek downgraded from A to B, undersized but productive D countryman Erik Brannstrom upgraded from C to B. Size doesn’t help Joni Ikonen’s and Filip Westerlund’s case either, but after spending some time up with Frolunda at the SHL level they received a B rating as well. Westerlund was outright missing from the previous CSB preliminary list.

Taking a wider look at the updated list, some Europeans who committed to CHL teams appear to have benefited from the North American exposure, as formerly hyped Adam Thilander, Belorussian F Maxim Sushko, Russian forwards Pavel Koltygin and Ivan Chekhovich all get a B instead of the C they were originally assigned. Blades’ Russian D Mark Rubinchik goes however in the opposite direction and is now listed as a C prospect.