It’s never too early to look ahead to 2017, even if the 2016 NHL Draft just concluded.
The 2015 draft class was one of the deepest in recent memory, this year’s crop was pretty impressive and, although it’s a long way off, the 2018 draft is shaping up to be stocked with about five or six potential elite talents.
Sandwiched between all of that is a fairly underwhelming group of prospects eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft.
Still, there are a few potential NHL impact players available next year. Here are our top 10:
1) Nolan Patrick, C
Having missed the cutoff for 2016 NHL Draft eligibility by four days (much like Auston Matthews last year), Brandon Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick has already played two full seasons of major junior hockey.
The experience has been excellent for the Winnipeg native, as he was a WHL top-five scorer during the 2015-16 regular season with 102 points and was tied for first overall in playoff scoring with 30 points.
At 6’3″, 194 pounds and with another season of junior hockey to go (in which he is expected to absolutely dominate the WHL), scouts already have Patrick locked for the first overall pick in 2017.
2) Timothy Liljegren, D
Teams in search of the ever-elusive top right-handed defenseman need not look any further than Timothy Liljegren. The Swedish blue liner hasn’t received much attention from North American scouts (probably because he is overseas), but he may be all you hear about pretty soon.
He was a big point-producer for Rogle BK in both the SuperElit league and the SHL this past season, but that obviously doesn’t tell the whole story.
Liljegren’s extremely reliable in his own zone and can be counted on to be his team’s No. 1 defender in all situations. His first full SHL campaign will help him work on becoming a more all-around two-way defenseman this coming year.
3) Owen Tippett, RW
Mississauga Steelheads winger Owen Tippett has had quite the journey to get to where he is today. Just a few years ago, the Peterborough, Ontario native struggled mightily on offense and even had trouble when he gave defense a shot. However, the problem seemed to be his lack of confidence, and he was able to fix that issue before he gave up his dream of becoming a professional hockey player altogether.
Now, Tippett is known for his goal-scoring the ability more than anything else. The natural sniper scored 20 points, 15 of which were goals, in 48 games during his rookie year, and he’s expected to have an offensive break-out in his second year.
4) Gabriel Vilardi, C
One of the youngest in his draft class, Windsor Spitfires center Gabriel Vilardi had a fantastic rookie season nonetheless. He scored 38 points (17G, 21A) in 62 games, adding a goal and three assists in five postseason games. The big playmaker plays a solid offensive game — he’s not too flashy, but he has great skating ability and can get around opponents with ease.
5) Nicolas Hague, D
Another member of the Mississauga Steelheads, 6’6″, 207-pound defender Nicolas Hague is a coach’s dream. He plays a solid two-way game, has excellent skating ability, possesses an NHL shot and has proven he can make a difference when he gets involved in the offense. In fact, he has a keen ability to run a power play.
He scored 24 points (14G, 10A) in 66 games during the 2015-16 season and looks to improve upon that point total next season in a larger, more important role.
6) Maxime Comtois, C/LW
Somehow the name Maxime Comtois was lost in the shuffle this past season. Perhaps it was the lack of talent in the QMJHL compared to that of the other two CHL sub-leagues, or maybe because of the intense focus on the 2016 draft class, but the Victoriaville Tigres forward had an exceptional — and grossly underrated — rookie year in the ‘Q.’
He made the QMJHL All-Rookie Team after scoring 60 points (26G, 34A) in 62 regular-season games before adding six points (1G, 5A) in five postseason games. He was also named to the U17 World Hockey Championship All-Star Team after putting up a tournament-high six assists.
He’s quickly become his team’s franchise player and is set to explode offensively in 2016-17.
7) Vanya Lodnia, RW
The Erie Otters have been known for churning out some top talent in the past two drafts, and it appears as though they’re not finished. Much like Alex DeBrincat (selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2016 draft), Lodnia is a Michigan native, he’s small and he came into the OHL ranks without fanfare.
The right-winger scored 39 points (16G, 23A) in 62 games, but his skill is tremendous and makes scouts drool over his potential. If he can combat the stigma over size and just play his game in his draft year, he will be a top-10 pick.
8) Kailer Yamamoto, C/LW
Speaking of small players without fanfare, the WHL Spokane Chiefs have one of their own in Kailer Yamamoto. At 5’8,” he worries some scouts, but for two years now, he’s been racking up points like it’s an effortless task.
This past season he improved upon his previous point-total (57 points in 2014-15) with a team-leading 71-point (19G, 52A) campaign, adding five points in six playoff contests. He also played a huge role in helping the U.S. win bronze at the U18 World Junior tournament, leading all goal-scorers with seven and adding six assists.
He also scored 14 points (7G, 7A) during a nine-game stint with the U.S. National U18 Team in the USDP this past season. Basically, he’s an offensive machine.
9) Michael Rasmussen, C
Tri-City Americans center Michael Rasmussen is quite the imposing figure at 6’5″ and 203 pounds. He scored 43 points (18G, 25A) in 63 games in his rookie WHL season, and he is regarded as a top prospect mostly for his upside. The power forward has the potential to be a dominant physical force if he adds a little more toughness to his overall game.
10) Brady Gilmour, C
The Saginaw Spirit are waiting for their sixth overall pick in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection Draft to become the top center they expect him to be, but he’s well on his way. With 23 points (7G, 16A) in 61 games and an additional three points in four playoff games, he had a decent rookie season. He’ll look to expand upon that next year.
Honorable Mentions: Matthew Strome and Shane Bowers