Prospect Park: My Top North American Prospects

In News, Prospect Park by Jess Rubenstein

Gabriel Vilardi (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

In many ways, I so dislike this time of the year as most who spend almost no time following the prospects all of a sudden become so knowledgeable that mock draft after mock draft gets posted. So this is just my own two cents and here is my own list of those North American prospects who I think should be first round picks. I say North Americans because those are the ones who I saw play this season and while I have nothing against European prospects unless they played in the World Juniors then how can I judge someone I never saw?

What you are also not going to see is the names of teams as this is not a list of who should be drafted and when but rather my personal likes. SO TO MAKE SURE THERE IS NO MISTAKE THIS IS NOT A MOCK DRAFT JUST A LIST OF MY FAVORITE PROSPECTS.

Drafting is subjective and just because a player has great numbers does that mean he should be automatically picked. In the first round, there should be three sets of thinking. The first are for picks one through five as those are your typical franchise quality players, the second group 6 through 25 should be the players who will address team needs and the third picks 25-31 can be seen as your “best player available”.

By the time you reach the bottom of the first round the picks are more like the beauty contest as the selections are in the eye of the beholder. I also think in today’s “do it yesterday” mindset that the teams picking at the top of the first round are looking for players who are closer to being NHL ready and will drop a couple of the more touted Europeans down a few spots.

1- Nolan Patrick- Brandon, I got to watch him in the second half of the 2016-2017 as he missed most of the season due to injury. This is one of those rare players where you say the hype is legit and worth it. Daddy was an NHLer, Uncle James was a Ranger defender, heck his family background has so many athletes in it that he could go back to the stone age and someone would be a top athlete.

He can skate, shoot, score, pass, make everyone on the ice look better and my favorite item is Patrick wants the puck on his stick come crunch time. Patrick is that rare animal that plays his best when he is under the most pressure. No question he will be in the NHL for 2017-18.

2-Gabriel Vilardi- Windsor, if Patrick was not in this draft then Vilardi would be my favorite pick and if you need a reason then start with his performance in the Memorial Cup. Vilardi had seven assists and earned All-Memorial Cup Tournament honors without a goal. I saw him a ton because of Sean Day and in many ways, I would call him a “poor man’s” John Tavares.

Smart, steady, and willing to do whatever is asked of him, another prospect who makes those on the ice play better. Nice 6’3 size and his smarts in the defensive end should make him a higher than expected pick this year. He too will make the direct jump to the NHL for the 2017-2018 season.

3- Cody Glass- Portland, this is not the case of my affection for the Portland Winterhawks as Cody Glass belongs right here. Glass had a monster breakout season for Mike Johnson and pretty much carried his first line all season long. A smart player who skates well and sees all of the ice, Glass does not make many mistakes and when he does then you seldom see him repeat the same mistake.

Not given enough credit for his defensive play but he is a pain to play against as he can be physical or finesse depending on the situation. I see Colorado grabbing him as they move Matt Duchene out of town. Glass is a very good first line center and will be a 30 goal scorer at the NHL level without breaking a sweat.

4- Michael Rasmussen- Tri-City, pretty sure this one has you going “Is he nuts?”. Check CSB and he was fifth in the final rankings and with good reason. Tri-City is a four-hour drive for me and this 6’6 man-child is worth every second of the drive. I always will like a kid with 15 power play goals and this was on a weak Tri-City team (He had 32 goals in 50 games).

Moves very well for a guy with his size but pretty sure his future is at wing not at center. What is really scary is that he is still growing into his body and could top off at 6’7 240. If he is sitting there at four then expect Canuck fans to start another riot if they do not take the kid from down the road in Surrey, BC.

5- Owen Tippett – Mississauga, this was a prospect who grew on me as the season went on. Felt bad at the beginning as people were comparing him to Tampa’s Steven Stamkos only to discover they were right. A right wing with perhaps the softest of hands in the draft. Some will say he slipped as the year went on but this is a kid who put up 44 goals during the regular season then 10 more in the playoffs leading a Mississauga team all the way to the OHL finals.

A smallish 6’0 forward but is an excellent skater who sees the entire ice and already has three to four moves thought of as he works his way up ice.

6- Cale Makar- Brooks, another player you are going to scratch your head and go “Who?” Could be the most underrated defensive prospect in this draft. Many will shy away from him because he is an AJHL player who is headed to UMass-Amherst. Wants to be another Erik Karlsson which is not a bad player to model your game after. With the right defensive partner might be an outstanding offensive weapon.

7- Casey Mittelstadt- Eden Prairie HS/Green Bay USHL, anyone who wins Mr. Hockey in Minnesota is going to get my attention (Ryan McDonagh won it so did Nick Leddy). Mittelstadt is a “go to” player as he is another prospect who loves playing under pressure. He has scored no matter which team he has played on and expect him to be an early favorite for the 2018 USA Under-20 team.

Needs work on defense but that is kind of expected when he has been asked to be a heavy scorer. Heading to play for the Minnesota Golden Gophers

8- Nick Suzuki- Owen Sound, a smallish player but a solid offensive weapon who can play all three forward positions. If he was over 6′ then he would be at the top of the draft but 5’11 will get people to shy away from him. Soft hands, high hockey IQ and not afraid to go into traffic to make plays. Does not get enough credit for his game because of his size.

He had 96 points in the OHL finishing fifth overall in scoring while playing in the very tough Western Conference which makes those points that more impressive.

9- Ryan Poehling- St. Cloud State, this was a prospect who I had hoped would stay under the radar long enough to fall to 21 but not a chance as his stock has risen with each passing day. A high schooler who finished school early to enroll in college, this would have been his senior year in HS if he had not finished early. 6’2 but showed his can play against anyone and is only going to get even better as he grows up.

Love how other players bounce off him as he goes in traffic, will take the hit to make a play. Think his real future is on the wing though.

10- Shane Bowers – Waterloo (USHL), this is the second player who I hope is there at 21 when the Rangers draft. A solid two-way center who makes everyone on the ice better. Bowers Was a huge reason why his team made it to the USHL conference finals This is the center the Rangers need for the future as he does the dirty work to make sure his wingers get scoring chances.

Bowers is a very smart player who plays at times like he is am Army general on the ice. Love how he is not afraid to step up his game when his team needs someone to step up and lead.

11- Conor Timmins – Sault Ste. Marie, if we are looking at those who should be available as “Best Player Available” when the Rangers draft then I would look at this two-way defenseman who is a teammate of Tim Gettinger. From start to finish, Timmins thanks to his above average passing skills is ideal for the Alain Vigneault system.

This is a future power play quarterback who’s defensive game gets overlooked because of his offensive skills. From the start of the season to the end, Timmins was the best defenseman that the Greyhounds had despite others being more experienced and higher rated.

12- Nicolas Hague – Mississauga, a 6’6 defender who helped Mississauga play it’s way to the OHL finals. Would have rated him higher but he is way too skinny for me and I question his physical game. Still is an interesting prospect because he was Mississauga’s power play QB and unlike many defenders available will use his point shot. If he can put on 20 lbs of muscle to his frame then the investment in him would be worth it.

Skates well for a big man but does not have the strong first pass as one would like out of his defensive zone.

13- Henri Jokihariu – Portland, yes a Winterhawk defenseman but this one is an excellent skater who can lead the rush not just join it. Yes, he is a finesse defender but he is far from soft as he will take the hit to make the play.

His skating ability makes him dangerous in the passing zones as he reads the ice very well and can anticipate the play. Needs to shoot the puck more to take advantage of his point shot.

14- Isaac Ratcliffe – Guelph, This is an interesting player as he has size and skill but is he a good player on a very bad team or will he be a great player who improves said bad team. Went head to head with Tim Gettinger in the games I watched of him and he held his own. He would make a solid linemate for Gettinger because of his size as he has a very strong net presence.

Makes me nervous when I see that Rick Nash is his role model but cannot hold it against him.

15- Kole Lind – Kelowna, not sure how a 30 goal scorer flies as under the radar as Lind has but that to me is a mistake as this is a guy who can skate and attack. 30-57-87 helped Kelowna make it to the WHL Western Conference finals. If the Rangers are looking for an offensive weapon at 21 then this is a pick that will pay dividends down the road.

My favorite is that if he has the shot then Lind will take it. Almost an old school player who understands just get the puck on the net and make things happen.

Now can I remind people that these are my favorites, not a ranking or mock draft. Just because I did not list someone does not mean they were bad prospects just that they were not my favorites. And yes I am the first to tell you that of these 15 that there is a good chance that at least five (or more) might be busts.

To quote an old mentor, you forget the ones I get right but you never let me forget the ones I get wrong.

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