2017 NHL Draft: Skill Beyond The First Round

The flashy Ivan Lodnia is likely available outside the top-31, and has skill to become an NHL top-six forward one day. | Photo: Aaron Bell, OHL Images

The NHL Draft begins tomorrow. While it is relatively easy to find information on most first-round candidates, it is not necessarily that way for picks beyond the top-31.

This article focuses on 24 high-skill picks from the second round to candidates who may go undrafted. That is not to suggest that I believe all these prospects will become NHLers.

Of course, this is far from an all-encompassing list. Instead, it focuses on the players that I’ve watched the most of, and therefore feel the most comfortable writing about.

Without further ado…

 

Round 2

Josh Brook
RD | June 17 1999 | 6’2” 185
Moose Jaw Warriors | WHL
Stats: 69GP 8G 32P 40P | Playoffs: 7GP 2G 5A 7P

A big time draft riser thanks to evolving game at both ends of the rink. While Brook’s rise cooled following an underwhelming U18s, he remains a promising rearguard.

Brook’s a steady defender with solid gap control and above-average mobility. He spent the first half of the season running around a bit too much, but really became a more cerebral, patient defender as the year progressed. He’ll throw the odd crushing hit, but for the most could stand to improve his ability in battles.

Brook is an aggressive pincher who loves to activate off the point. He keeps his feet constantly moving in the offensive, making him an option to unload his powerful point shot. He will mix in the odd dangle, and excels at controlled exits and entries with his skating and vision combination.

All-in-all, a really solid candidate for the Canadiens in the late second. He has plenty of skill, plays a solid defensive game, and has room to grow. The decision-making needs improvement, but it’s hard to ignore his package of raw tools.

 

Morgan Frost
C/W | May 14 1999 | 6’ 170
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds | OHL
Stats: 67GP 20G 42A 62P | Playoffs: 11GP 3G 6A 8P

I’ll admit it, this is cheating a little bit, as I think Frost is worth a first rounder. Frost is a highly-skilled centre with top-six upside. He led all 17 year olds in ES primary assists per game with 0.33, and posted them at a similar clip to Gabriel Vilardi in all-situations.

Frost is quick and slippery, using tremendous in-tight stickhandling ability and quick edge work to fool defenders. He’s elusive in transition, and a lethal passer off the rush. Strong on the PP, thanks to his ability to slow the play down and create lanes. He’s a capable backhand playmaker, but does overpass, which is reflected in his mere 2.12 SOG/GP.

Frost is also a dedicated and skillful defensive player, who has a knack for getting his stick on loose pucks and disrupting the carrier. There are times he needs to be better with his body. Offensively, he seems hesitant to attack the middle, although he also can do considerable damage in the slot. While he’s speedy without the puck, he constantly looks to slow the play down, sometimes killing the play.

Despite this, Frost is a clearly a high-skilled player and has tons of potential, who could make a team very happy with his progression.

 

Aleksi Heponiemi
C | January 9 1999 | 5’10” 149
Swift Current Broncos | WHL
Stats: 72GP 28G 58A 86P | Playoffs: 14GP 0G 8A 8P

Heponiemi was great at the Ivan Hlinka, destroyed the WHL preseason, and carried the monument all the way to the end of the regular season. His point totals took a tumble in the playoffs, but overall he was still decent.

Simply put, Heponiemi is incredibly skilled. He can dangle, but his one-on-one ability comes from incredible shiftiness and constant change of directions. He’s a quick skater with relentless forechecking ability, and wins plenty of battles despite his weight. He’s a top-notch playmaker with the ability to connect with high-difficulty passes from any zone in any direction.

Heponiemi shows no hesitation cutting into the slot, and scores most of his goals from there. His shot is lacking in power, and he does overpass. Defensively, he isn’t great, but given the rest of his skill set it’s easily forgiven.

Heponiemi has top-six upside, but teams might be scared off because of his slender build. While he will undoubtedly have to get stronger, he’s rarely hit thanks to his shiftiness and wins plenty of battles.

 

Ivan Lodnia
RW | August 31 1999 | 5’10” 181
Erie Otters | OHL
Stats: 66GP 24G 33A 57P | Playoffs: 22GP 2G 0A 2P

There are concerns around Lodnia—he’s below 6’ and not a great skater—but I can’t help but see high potential in him. He was bounced between the second and third lines of the Otters, and typically played on the second PP unit. The fact that he racked up 57 points given these conditions is really impressive.

Lodnia is another one of those highly-skilled forwards who may slip because of skating. He’s a choppy skater lacking in separation speed, but is extremely shifty thanks to his edge work and elite hands. Stickhandling alone seems to garner a few “wow” moments per game, and he’s also a deft playmaker. He loves to go east-west while simultaneously driving the play forward, leaving defenders confused behind him.

Perhaps he’s not truly a high-end playmaker or goalscorer, but has enough skills in other ways to really make his presence felt on the scoresheet. Expect Lodnia to among the OHL’s top scorers next season.

 

Nikita Popugaev
RW | November 20 1998 | 6’6” 205
Moose Jaw Warriors/Prince George Cougars | WHL
MJ: 40GP 22G 29A 51P | PG: 31GP 7G 11A 18P

An early rise after a blazing start soon turned into a dramatic fall following a trade, and perhaps he slips even further come draft day due to concerns of his skating, consistency, defensive game, and his birthplace (Russia).

Popugaev can absolutely wire the puck, complemented with an arsenal of shots (snap, wrist, one-timer). Unfortunately, he’s a bit static without the puck. A technically gifted passer who can send bullets through traffic, but he often plays with his head down which limits his playmaking ability. The type who can pull off a slick toedrag but then trip over his own stick in the corner, increased coordination will go a long way.

Given space, Popugaev is dangerous. He generates decent speed, but deficiencies in acceleration and footwork really hinder his NHL projection. There have been improvements defensively, particular with how he attacks the points, but his positioning remains an issue.

Despite his flaws, how far does a highly-skilled 6’6” winger drop? Surely, his upside is worth a gamble.

 

Dmitri Samorukov
LD | June 16 1999 | 6’2” 185
Guelph Storm | OHL
Stats: 67GP 4G 16A 20P

The second overall pick in the 2016 CHL Import Draft entered the season with a lot of hype—understandably so—but failed to live up to it. There was steady progression through the season, culminating with his second straight excellent performance at the U18s.

Despite grabbing just 20 points, Samorukov is an instinctual puck carrier with a high skill level. He pulls off flashy dekes, makes nice passes after leading the rush, and has one of the hardest shots in the draft class. He loves to engage forwards trying to escape the offensive zone, but has to time his pinches much better.

Defensively, Samorukov needs improvement, but has already come a long way. He collapses to the net too easily, and remains stationary. He’s aggressive with his gap control, but often focuses in on one player and misses the play developing. Pivoting is a bit sloppy, and he can get beat out wide. Has a natural mean streak that the Guelph coaching staff will have to learn to harness.

Overall, Samorukov is a fascinating prospect. He’s clearly very skilled, but he’s behind the curve when it comes to decision-making.

 

Round 3 and Beyond

Noah Cates
LW/C | February 5 1999 | 6’1” 170
Stillwater High (USHS) | Omaha Lancers (USHL)
USHS: 28GP 23G 47P 70P | USHL: 11GP 2G 5A 7P

A sleeper who spent the majority of the year torching the Minnesota High School circuit. He first landed on my radar with an impressive two-game stint in the USHL last season, and then tallied up seven points in 11 games this time around.

Cates is a flashy, energetic scorer with NHL upside. He’s at best while using his explosive to charge down the wing (can also play centre), and then sending a bullet pass to a wide-open teammate. He’s an effective distributor in-tight, and utilizes his elusiveness and flashy hands to create space for his teammates. He darts in and out of space, and is a hassle to defend. Cates is a battler, who succeeds with his intensity and smart body positioning, despite his thin frame

There are always concerns for USHS players making the transition to the USHL or NCAA. He’s already been a scorer with Omaha, but it’s remains to be seen how he will perform at a high-level for the whole season.

 

Ivan Chekhovich
LW | January 4 1999 | 5’10” 177
Baie-Comeau Drakkar | QMJHL
Stats: 60GP 26G 33A 59P | Playoffs: 4GP 1G 2A 3P

Chekhovich was among the best rookies in the CHL, recording a team-leading 59 points and 43 primary points. He was dominant on the international stage, but his combined 23 points in 16 games were undoubtedly boosted by playing with phenom Andrei Svechnikov.

A quiet force, Chekhovich is patient and slick while waiting his opportunity to pounce. He’s a quality stickhandler by virtue of putting defenders in precarious situations, and has a deceptive wrister with a sneaky ability to change the angle in-tight. He makes plenty of space for himself along the boards, and will connect with high-difficulty passes. A smart player overall, and also brings quality defensive awareness.

The lack of size and elite skating are often cited as his two biggest issues, rather it’s the fact that he’s a complementary piece that concerns me. He’s not truly dynamic, but I think the days of sub-6’ players having to be dynamic forces to play in the NHL are nearing the end.

 

Lucas Elvenes
RW/C | August 18 1999 | 6’ 174
Rögle BK J20 | SuperElit
Stats: 41GP 15G 30A 45P | Playoffs: 3GP 1G 1A 2P

Elvenes led all 17 year olds in SuperElit scoring 45 points. He also played a handful of games in the SHL, but went pointless. He represented Sweden plenty of times and played fairly well.

Elvenes is a fleet-footed, quick-thinking forward with above-average playmaking skills. He routinely makes deft passes, particularly after drawing defenders to himself. Elvenes is slippery and agile with an explosive first step that allows him to step into high-scoring areas. He lacks a bit in finish, but also creates a high number of chances.

Also a solid defensive player, who disrupts the puck carrier on the backcheck. The type of player who doesn’t necessarily create space for himself or his teammates, but rather exploits the space given to him through miscues or off the rush. A skillful player, no doubt, but doesn’t have the dynamic scoring ability of other similarly talented players.

 

David Farrance
LD | June 23 1999 | 5’10” 195
USNTDP U18 | USHL/USDP
USHL: 25GP 1G 16A 17P | USDP: 64GP 7A 30A 37P

Farrance is exciting defender in otherwise underwhelming group of 2017 eligibles in the USNTDP. He production was good, but adjusting his USHL stats for primary and ES falls behind fellow USNTDP blue liners.

Farrance is an explosive skater and aggressive puck-rushing defender. He accelerates quickly, and has an underrated wrister. He loves to lead the rush, but can be a bit too individualistic. Also a capable playmaker, particularly on the PP. He creates lanes for himself well in the offensive zone. His breakout pass is inconsistent, as he’ll drop his head and rush up without evaluating his options.

On the shorter end for defenders, but stocky, Farrance does well in puck battles. However, his gap control and positioning are both inconsistent, and he’s not nearly aggressive enough with his stick. But when you have the skating ability that Farrance has, it’s not unreasonable to think that his gap control will come with time.

 

Mario Ferraro
LD | September 17 1998 | 5’11” 185
Des Moines Buccaneers | USHL
Stats: 60GP 8G 33A 41P | Playoffs: 3GP 0G 0A 0P

Following a stellar season in the OJHL, Ferraro took his game to another level in his rookie year in the USHL. He led all USHL defender in ES points (22) and finished second in ES primary points (12). Overall, he finished second in USHL blue line scoring with 41 points.

A capable defender at both ends, Ferraro is just as likely to lead as rush as he is to thwart one. He’s a dynamic lane creator with his shifty edge work and slick hands, and moves the puck with such poise and speed. He has a bomb of one-timer that was underutilized, but he’s also a very capable playmaker from the back-end.

Without the puck, Ferraro is steady and solid. He plays an up-tempo physical game with aggressive gap control. Powerful and assertive, Ferraro excels protecting the slot and quickly transitions the puck.

Ferraro doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, save for his size. But I’m particularly concerned about his stature given his style, and think he could make an instant impact in the NCAA next season.

 

Rickard Hugg
C/LW | January 18 1999 | 5’10” 180
Leksands IF J20 | SuperElit
Stats: 32GP 13G 25A 38P | Playoffs: 5GP 0G 4A 4P

The SuperElit’s Forward of the Year and one of best point producers in the ’99 group of Swedes. He wore the “C” at both the Ivan Hlinka and U18 tournaments, and grabbed 11 games in the SHL.

Hugg is on the smaller end, but utilizes his quick hands, body positioning, and relentlessness to win battles and create space. He actively seeks physical contract to attention to himself, only to throw a wicked pass across to an open teammate. Hugg constantly moves while in the offensive zone, looking to sneak behind defenders and open. He lacks a bit of goalscoring instincts, and will miss easy opportunities.

Skating is another concern with Hugg—it’s below-average—which is particularly problematic for a sub-6′ player. He’s not particularly flashy either, and lacks dynamic skill. All-in-all, the type of player who could be a decent scorer in the Allsvenskan next season thanks to his fundamentals, but NHL upside is questionable.

 

Kirill Maksimov
LW | May 1 1999 | 6’2” 190
Saginaw Spirit/Niagara IceDogs | OHL
Stats: 56GP 21G 17A 38P | Playoffs: 4GP 4G 0A 4P

A trade to Niagara from Saginaw got the ball rolling for Maksimov, as he went from six goals in 37 games to 15 in 29. However, it was a late-season surge that saw him rack up 13 goals in 11 games at a shade under 5 SOG/GP that really pushed him back into the draft conversation.

Maksimov’s best asset is his shot. Simply put, it’s high-end. He can overwhelm goaltenders with his velocity and deceptive release point. Maksimov can quickly change the angle, and even create some space with soft hands and a decent arsenal on one-on-one moves. Also a quality passer, but could utilize his teammates with better consistency. When engaged, he’s a capable defensive player who aggressively pushes the play forward.

Maksimov’s footspeed is problematic, as he doesn’t achieve a full extension and has a wide base. Inconsistent in decision-making and often invisible, Maksimov has serious work to do before getting a sniff at the NHL, but late in the draft, a high-end tool such as his shot is a worthwhile gamble.

 

Ian Mitchell
RD | January 18 1999 | 5’11” 173
Spruce Grove Saints | AJHL
Stats: 53GP 8G 29A 37P | Playoffs: 10GP 1G 3A 4P

While Cale Makar stole all the spotlights for Jr. A in Canada (and rightfully so), Ian Mitchell quietly posted an excellent season. Mitchell racked up 37 points in 53 games. He was also stellar on the international circuit, suiting up for Team Canada on three different occasions.

A smooth, coordinated skater with plenty of agility and speed. Mitchell utilizes his skating to maintain a consistently strong gap and also quickly turn the play up the other way. He’s highly effective at defending off the rush, and has made significant strides in his defensive zone coverage. He may not be flashy offensively, but has slick puck skills and owns quality vision. There’s also a powerful, albeit under-utilized shot in his toolkit, as well.

Although there’s not much that jumps out, Mitchell is super steady and certainly has offensive upside. Perhaps not a pick point scorer at the professional level, but rather an all-around defender with excellent transitional ability. A long-term project, Mitchell is headed to the University of Denver next season.

 

Markus Phillips
LD | March 31 1999 | 6’ 207
Owen Sound Attack | OHL
Stats: 66GP 13G 30A 43P | Playoffs: 17GP 0G 5A 5P

Although Phillips improved his point total by 31, I don’t think he had the season I was expecting. With that said, he was great defensively and continues to be an intriguing prospect for this year’s draft.

Phillips is a powerful skater with excellent four-way mobility. He’s a smart and patient defender, who takes tight gap control. He does a solid job at closing down the slot, but can chase in his own zone.

Offensively, Phillips is inconsistent. He loves to jump into the rush, but usually as a trailer, not the leader. He makes crisp passes, and owns a powerful shot. He does a good job creating lanes, but isn’t particularly dynamic from the point.

Like Mitchell, there’s nothing too flashy about Phillips’s. Rather, he’s a capable defender on both sides of the puck, and has the skating ability that is so important in today’s NHL.

 

Scott Reedy
C/RW | April 4 1999 | 6’1” 203
USNTDP | USHL/USDP
USHL: 21GP 10G 4A 14P | USDP: 60GP 22G 20A 42P

A year ago, Reedy looked like a potential top-31 pick. He led the USNTDP U17s in scoring with 52 points in 49 games, and paced at nearly a PPG as a rookie in USHL action—incredibly hard to do. However, Reedy struggled for extended stretches this year, as he made the jump to the USNTDP U18s, and finished with a mediocre U18s.

Reedy’s package of physical tools is quite impressive. An excellent stickhandler and a skillful finisher around goal. When on, Reedy is diversified in his attacks, and can make some dazzling passes, too. And, this is packed into a 6’1.5” 203-lb frame with a willingness to play physical.

The problem is when he’s not on, which was a huge chunk of this season. Reedy will endlessly look to dangle instead of pass, which kills the play far too often. He’s not a particularly aware defensive player, which is made worse by his mediocre top-end speed.

 

Fabian Zetterlund
RW/C | August 25 1999 | 5’11” 196
Färjestad BK J20 | SuperElit
Stats: 40GP 16G 20A 36P | Playoffs: 2GP 0G 1A 1P

Zetterlund was a second-half riser, after putting up 24 points in 18 games to close out the SuperElit season. He’s a high-volume shooter, averaging nearly 3.6 SOG/GP in the SuperElit and 4 SOG/GP at the U18s. He also saw 14 games of SHL action.

Zetterlund is a gifted shooter with an explosive release and pinpoint accuracy. He doesn’t simply shooter for goals, but also smartly looks for rebounds. He’s a decent playmaker, but will look off his teammates for a lower-quality shot. Zetterlund isn’t flashy, instead utilize quick bursts of speed and strong puck protection to get to the net.

While Zetterlund is a capable forechecker with a dash of physicality, he’s a bit too passive with his body in the defensive zone. He loves to fly the zone to create opportunities, and isn’t shy about attacking the points.

Zetterlund may not be the sexiest pick around, but has enough skill and production to become a solid third-line contributor one day.

 

Sleepers

MacAuley Carson
C/LW | March 12 1999 | 6’1” 205
Sudbury Wolves | OHL
Stats: 68GP 30G 20G 50P | Playoffs: 6GP 2G 0A 2P

A surprise omission from Central Scouting’s rankings, Carson was one just five ’99-born OHLers to hit 30 goals. Third in Sudbury scoring, and he worked his way up from the fourth line to receiving top-six minutes and first unit PP.

A powerforward-type, Carson excels at two things: Scoring goals and hitting bodies. His accurate and quick wrister makes him a decent medium-range threat, but is best around the net, where he demonstrates great hand-eye coordination and a quick stick. He’s not particularly gifted as a playmaker, but will make the odd nice pass after winning a battle along the boards.

Carson started his OHL career as a winger, but has since has the transition to centre full-time. Given his below average skating and grinding style, he projects nicely as a winger to the NHL.

 

Cole Guttman
RW/C | April 6 1999 | 5’11” 163
Dubuque Fighting Saints | USHL
Stats: 53GP 27G 27A 54P | Playoffs: 6GP 1G 3A 4P

Guttman finished second in USHL rookie scoring behind ’00-born force, Andrei Svechnikov. Guttman was the third highest scorer on his team, behind another intriguing draft eligible and USHL Forward of the Year, Zach Solow. Despite a 15-point difference between the two, Guttman and Solow posted nearly identical primary points-per-game at even-strength this season.

The 5’11” centre is a well-rounded skilled forward. He’s not particularly flashy, but can score in a variety of ways with a quick release, accurate shot, and willingness to battle for loose pucks. With deft playmaking ability, Guttman finds open teammates off the rush with ease, and shines on the powerplay. He’s a diligent defensive player, but has some work to do his positioning.

A lack of separation speed and a high shooting percentage (23.5%) are the two biggest concerns I have for Guttman.

 

Igor Shvyryov
C | July 10 1998 | 6’ 205
Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk (MHL) | Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
MHL: 40GP 21G 49A 70P | KHL: 10GP 0G 0A 0P

Overlooked by most independent scouting services save for Future Considerations, Shvyryov is yet another sleeper in article. But I’m not convinced he should be, despite being a draft re-entry. He posted the second highest PPG rate by a U19 forward in the MHL ever, only behind Nikita Kucherov.

He’s a stocky centre with high-end vision and passing skills. A playmaker with the rare ability to dish off the backhand. Shvyryov is equally deadly off the rush or pressure situations, and is a controlled exit and entry machine. Lacks a bit in explosiveness, but has quick edge work and excellent hands, which allows him to separate and create space. There are concerns about his defensive play, but he was so dominant this season that I’m not comfortable analyzing that aspect..

Overall, he’s a highly intriguing package. He isn’t lacking in size, skating, or skill, and has the upside to become a scoring forward in the NHL. There’s plenty to work with here, but first I’m curious to see if he even gets drafted.

 

Gera Poddubnyi
C | June 9 1999 | 6’2” 181
Erie Otters | OHL
Stats: 65GP 9G 11A 20P | Playoffs: 15GP 2G 1A 3P

Poddubnyi was buried on the fourth line of Erie Otters—the best team in the OHL. Although his playoff points weren’t impressive, I thought he improved substantially throughout the season.

Poddubnyi is an excellent stickhandler with quality edge work. He slips through defenders and has a large variety of one-on-one moves. His acceleration isn’t great, but his top-end speed is good enough to enable him to string controlled exits and entries together. He can dazzle with the odd flashy pass, and has an accurate wrist shot.

Overall, he’s a tough player to get read on because of his highly limited ice time. But it’s clear that he brings some serious skill, and can be a high scorer in the OHL as soon as next season.

 

Maksim Sushko
LW/RW | February 10 1999 | 6’0” 179
Owen Sound Attack | OHL
Stats: 54GP 17G 15A 32P | Playoffs: 17GP 3G 8A 11P

A depth player on the explosive Owen Sound Attack squad that sported four of the league’s highest scorers, Sushko quietly managed a solid season. The Belorussian made his impact on the penalty kill, but also contributed with an underrated offensive toolkit. His production was heavily tilted towards primary, with just two of his 15 assists being secondary.

Sushko is an above-average skater, who constantly keeps his feet moving. He picks off passes and attacks the point with high effectiveness, making him a great penalty killer. He owns a powerful shot with a quick release, complemented with sneaky changes of angles. His vision is above-average, but not great. There’s plenty of flash in his skillset, with powerful rushes complemented with soft hands.

Sushko is a heavy forechecker and solid on pucks. Despite showing no fear of physical contact, he prefers to play along the outside, and will pass up opportunities to make a play by cutting to the boards.

 

Filip Sveningsson
LW | July 3 1999 | 6’ 181
HV71 J20 | SuperElit
Stats: 37GP 15G 14A 29P | Playoffs: 7GP 4G 4A 8P

Unranked by Hockey Prospect and placed 65th on Central Scouting’s European Skaters list, Filip Sveningsson is a true sleeper. Despite this lack of talk, Sveningsson is a legitimately-skilled prospect with upside and consistent scoring record. He finished the season by playing his best hockey, and was arguably HV71 J20’s top forward on their silver medal winning squad.

Sveningsson is a speedy, shoot-first winger with a nasty edge. Making his quick release and powerful shot even deadlier is his ability to shoot in-stride. A fast skater with a separation gear, he can create space for himself and is threatening in transition. He can make the odd nice pass, but playmaking is not a staple in his game by any means.

 

Linus Weissbach
LW/RW | April 19 1998 | 5’9” 154
Tri-City Storm | USHL
Stats: 49GP 19G 28A 47P

Undrafted last year (although I was a fan), Weissbach posted one hell of a season in the USHL. In this, his rookie season, he led a goal-starved team in goals, assists, points, and shots on goal, and became a top USHL player almost immediately.

Weissbach is an explosive skater with breakaway speed and top-notch edge work. He can blow past defenders with his explosiveness and soft hands, and is truly menacing in transition. He remains rail thin, but shows no hesitation going into the tough areas of the ice, and does shocking well along the boards.

A playmaker first-and-foremost, Weissbach makes high-skill passes into high-danger areas with regularity. Not a defensive stalwart by any means, but is assertive and speedy on the backcheck, and creates plenty of turnovers.

Weissbach will head to the University of Wisconsin next season.

 

The NHL Draft kicks off at 7pm ET on Friday with the top-31 selections, and continues the following morning at 9am ET. 

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