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NHL draft 2017: First-round picks, scouting reports USA News Today

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NHL draft 2017: First-round picks, scouting reports USA News Today

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The real star of the expansion draft wasn’t Marc-Andre Fleury or James Neal, it was George McPhee. The general manager’s draft has set Vegas up to be contenders sooner rather than later.
USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Woodlief, the chief scout and publisher of Red Line Report, provides analysis of the 31 players taken in the first round of the NHL draft on Friday in Chicago. (Check out our analys if draft-day trades.)

1. New Jersey Devils — C Nico Hischier. Highly skilled and imaginative center. Traditional playmaker who creates loads of chances for his linemates. Outstanding stickhandler. Sees plays developing early and makes great set-ups. Highly instinctive with great hockey sense in all three zones. Anticipates where the puck will be in two seconds and arrives to the spot — puck seems to follow him around the rink. More about quickness than sheer blazing speed, but is highly elusive and darts through the smallest of openings. Agile skater uses his edges very well to findnd open ice and escape pressure. Deadly running the PP from the half-boards; always looks to attack the box and unleashes lethal wristers. Slightly built, but has a frame that can still add some weight, and has gotten stronger on the puck as the season progressed — not afraid of traffic. Could make a better effort in own end, but is usually in the proper position at least.

2. Philadelphia Flyers — C Nolan Patrick. Extraordinarily well-rounded for his age with zero holes in his game. Takes games into his own hands — consistent difference maker. Elite decision-making processes. Masterful shooter can pick apart goalies, converting even misplaced passes in a fluid motion. Quiet confidence, walks pucks out of corners with good stick-handling and power moves. Extremely hard assignment for defenders due to impressive acceleration, going from 0-to-60 in a single stride. Power forward with top-notch skills. Has the size and strength to dominate down the middle. Superb passer distributes immediately to the right spot when he sees a breakdown. Elite anticipation and sees plays developing before anyone else. Makes a beeline straight for the crease looking for rebounds. Injury history is a major concern, including separate injuries that shelved him this year, and shoulder surgery in a prior season.

3. Dallas Stars — D Miro Heiskanen. Top-notch puck moving defenseman who already performs at a consistently high level playing against men. Exceptionally smart and makes things look easy with his outstanding hockey sense in all three zones. Smooth skater with great all-around mobility and a beautiful stride. Handles the puck with ease in all situations and makes sharp, accurate outlets. Calm under pressure and makes heads-up plays with very good vision. Carries the puck really well on the rush. Shows outstanding puck distribution as PP quarterback. His shot isn’t a howitzer, but he gets the puck through traffic efficiently. Good defensive reads and awareness around the zone. His gap control is impeccable. Has an active stick that he uses effectively to break up plays. The main concern is his slight build — needs to beef up considerably.

4. Colorado Avalanche — D Cale Makar. Undersized defenseman is the most offensively skilled rearguard in the draft. The Tier II level was no challenge for him, but dominated when he stepped up in class at international events. Elite up-tempo style; able to knife through traffic while processing plays at high speed. Reads and reacts well to cross ice passes, jumping up to intercept soft or misplaced ones, then striking quickly in transition. Tremendous skater gets up and down the ice closing sizeable gaps, and is able to get back into position after deep pinches. Tremendous edge work — appears to dance across the ice, always staying in motion. Freewheeling offensive dynamo always skates with head up looking to make one of his many imaginative passes, often surprising his own teammates. Short backswing and lightning quick release on dangerous point shots. Gets great snap on well placed wristers. No risky pinches late in close games, recognizing defensive importance in tough situations.

5. Vancouver Canucks — C Elias Pettersson. Very smooth, fluid skater who darts in and out of traffic with a slashing style. Built pencil-thin, but has a long frame to ll out. Deadly on breakaways and odd-man rushes, and has great hands and touch around the net. Moves the puck quickly and accurately and is always jumping into holes to receive passes back— works the give-’n-go beautifully. World class puck skills and has a quick release on nice variety of shots. His moves are game-breaking and needs little room to operate – smartly finds open spots in the danger areas to work his magic. Only hiccup of his season was at the World Juniors, where he played decent but never caught fire. Can snipe at will but also has marvelous playmaking sense. Sharp cuts and change of direction earn him separation from defenders. Not a defensive force, but makes a legitimate effort.

6. Vegas Golden Knights — C Cody Glass. Great competitor enjoyed a huge growth spurt over the past year, packing on inches and over 20 pounds. Yet he’s still very slight and will need to pack on another 20 pounds of muscle to be NHL-ready. Huge upside and his hockey sense is off the charts. Pressures d-men into turnovers often. Anticipates very well and goes where the puck is going to be rather than where it is. Has a long stride and his speed should improve along with leg strength. Has a knack for finding open space in prime scoring areas and getting the puck to net. Does a good job protecting the puck with defenders draped all over him in the offensive zone. Has fast hands and a deceptive release that surprises goalies. Tough to knock off the puck and finishes plays. Extreme late bloomer with plenty of growth left, both in his body and his overall game.

7. New York Rangers (from Arizona) — C Lias Andersson. Ultra-smart center always makes his linemates better. Terrific natural leader. Well rounded, plays with character, and does a lot of the little things that help win games: wins faceoffs, backchecks hard, and gives his teammates either encouragement or a stern talking to when they need it most. Outstanding balance and leg strength — nearly impossible to knock off the puck. Uses low centre of gravity very well to get leverage in board battles. Uses his wide ass effectively in puck protection. He’s very hard on his stick in puck battles. Lacks first-step quickness and top-end speed. Awkward looking stride, but makes up for it with a nice change of pace off the rush and good lateral quickness. Excellent imagination and hands in tight areas and has knack for threading passes through heavy traffic. Never takes a shift off and rarely puts himself in bad positions. Initiates physical contact and likes to be in dirty zones.

8. Buffalo Sabres — C Casey Mittelstadt.  A very heady and skilled player at both ends. Operates on a different level from the rest of his teammates, both at the high school and USHL levels, but when working with other high hockey IQ guys on his wing during international events, he demonstrates superior skills and thought processes. Able to read off creative linemates and move instinctively to open ice, creating dangerous chances constantly. He’s got an explosive stride with an effortless shot release. We love his competitive fire. Likes to carry the puck and gains the offensive zone easily, backing defenders off the blue line. Has continued to round out his game in a gradual build-up, getting incrementally bigger, stronger and faster each of the past three seasons. Thick build and deceptively strong. Needs to move his feet more — it’s so easy for him to dominate at high school level that he picked up some lazy footwork habits.

9. Detroit Red Wings — C Michael Rasmussen. In terms of raw talent, this humongous specimen is as good as anyone from out of the WHL in years, but he doesn’t always dominate like he should. Has top five overall physical tools, but some nights the effort doesn’t look like top five. Tremendous combination of power and skill. Very mobile skater for his size and does a great job of puck protection using his ultra-long reach. A force to be reckoned with below the circles —  tough to move off the puck and does a great job of making space for himself. Huge and naturally strong; comes away with the puck nearly every time in board battles. Nearly half his goals came from standing in front on the PP, and we’re concerned that we didn’t see as much passing/playmaking ability as we expected. Needs to be better in 5-on-5 play and his work habits away from the puck.

10. Florida Panthers — RW Owen Tippett. Quite often he’s completely one-dimensional, but it’s a great dimension: he is head and shoulders the best pure goal scorer in the draft. Just has that natural sniper’s touch from anywhere inside the blue line. He thinks shoot 1st, shoot second, maybe pass third, and backcheck a distant fourth. But it’s hard to knock him when he’s beating goalies at will. Gets off quick release shots from seemingly impossible angles, and is able to pinpoint shots to the tiniest bit of daylight. Adding 20 pounds since last season has reduced his raw speed, but it has helped him in battling for loose pucks and holding position in front of opposing goalies. His effort away from the puck and defensive commitment level need a huge boost, but in fairness he was hustling all over the ice as he led his club through the playoffs to the OHL Finals.

11. Los Angeles Kings. Forward Gabriel Vilardi. Intense and highly competitive power forward just dominates below the circles in offensive zone. Tremendous in the cycle game and can not be moved off the puck. Always keeps his legs pumping and is impossible to contain. He’s a workhorse in the corners, winning all puck battles. Dominates contested areas, then drives out of corners with power moves into the slot. Opens up ice for teammates by drawing defenders to him, then makes great feeds to linemates. Strong on his stick and the puck with excellent upper body strength to fend off checks. Intimidates with an aggressive, physical forecheck. Great at winning key faceoffs. Soft hands and good touch around net. Lacks the finenesse and pure offensive instincts of the players ranked above him, and his skating is just average. Missed a large portion of the season with multiple injuries. Wiill his style make him injury prone?

12. Carolina — C Martin Necas. His game all starts with great skating — edge work is excellent and he’s able to accelerate out of sharp cuts. Plays at full throttle all the time — great pace and tempo. Creates separation in tight spaces with crisp change of direction while easily controlling the puck. Offensive catalyst is a playmaker with great vision. Reads the play very well and finds quiet, dead spots in the zone. Highly imaginative with fast decisions. Runs the PP from the half-wall and uses soft hands and deft touch to set up great chances with slick little feeds. The puck barely even reaches his blade and he’s already flicking no-look chip passes. Underdeveloped frame, but uses deceptive change of pace to fool defenders, and works great give-’n-goes. Tremendous hockey sense allows him to think two steps ahead. Should shoot more; sometimes he’s too easy to read, as he’s always thinking pass first.

13. Vegas Golden Knights (from Winnipeg) — C Nick Suzuki. Little fireball makes things happen every single shift. Plays loads of minutes in all key situations, and is already the engine who drives a strong, veteran-laden club. Terri c on both special teams — lethal running the PP from the half-wall and is the most dangerous penalty killer in the entire OHL. Makes every linemate they put alongside him 75% better. Extremely clutch player is able to elevate his game at crucial moments. Always looking to force the action and is relentless in puck pursuit. Not big, but always aggressive. He’s a real puck hound with a knack for arriving in scoring areas just as a teammate is looking for an outlet. Lurks on the edges and then pounces like a shark. Great decision-making process in scoring areas. Equally adept as a set-up man or finishing plays off himself, and has fabulously soft hands. Plays a mature, responsible game away from the puck.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning — D Cal Foote. Jumbo-sized defenseman with great bloodlines; unlike his father, Adam, he’s not naturally mean or aggressive, but rather plays a finesse, offensive-minded game and is very good starting the play in transition. Strong and surprisingly nimble skater. Very calm and collected with the puck. Outlets are right on the tape and always distributes to the right spots. While he’s not a big banger, does use his big frame to win puck battles. Also pins and seals well along the walls. Recognizes game situations well. Takes away time and space defensively with excellent stick placement. Determined competitor. Squares his shoulders up to puck carriers and funnels them outside. Has a hard, low point shot that generates lots of rebounds. Excellent passer with very good hockey sense. Closes gaps and separates his man from the puck well.

15. Vegas Golden Knights (from New York Islanders) — D Erik Brannstrom. Same size and style as Makar, and rivals him for top d-man honors. Phenomenal skater and puckhandler is really shifty with head feints and generates great speed through the neutral zone. Accelerates with the puck on his stick. On-ice leader is capable of taking over games at times. Excellent puck distributor on the power play, and aggressively gets pucks to the net. Gains the zone easily on the PP, backing defenders in with his dynamic speed. Makes fast decisions. Snaps off wristers from the top of circles that beat goalies clean. Plays a ton of minutes in all situations. Is a one-man breakout machine, either skating the puck out against forechecking pressure or zipping long, lead outlets. Breaks the trap with great home run stretch passes through neutral zone. Small and can’t remove bigger forwards from the puck in defensive zone, but uses body positioning and angles intelligently.

16. Calgary Flames — D Juuso Valimaki. An all-around defenseman who plays big minutes in all situations. Outstanding hockey sense — anticipates the play well and makes good decisions. Plays a smooth game and is always under control. Very calm and patient with the puck. Sees the whole ice and is a confident puckhandler. Has a big frame and plenty of strength. Not a big banger, but uses his body effectively down low behind the net to rub men out and to box out in front. Highly mobile skater who loves to join the rush and carry the puck in deep. Has good offensive instincts and the skating ability to get back into position with ease. Crisp tape-to-tape outlets and always has his head up. Plays a mistake-free game and is rarely out of position. Communicates well with teammates and is active away from the puck. Good gap control and stick placement. Not an overpowering shot, but accurate and he gets it through traffic.

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17. Toronto Maple Leafs — D Timothy Liljegren. World-class skater is wonderfully athletic and light on his feet — best pure skater in the entire draft. But had a troubling season, with mono setting him back a couple of months. Came into the season as a top-five overall pick, and leaves with lots of question marks. Makes crisp and imaginative passes, rushes the puck aggressively, attacking deep into offensive zone. Not getting any bigger and size is a bit of concern; can be overpowered in own end but is not shy and can throw big hits with great timing. Previously has shown terrific PP skills and puck movement, but his decision making regressed badly this year — loads of turnovers and mind-numbing mistakes at both ends. Has touch to make short saucers off both sides of the blade. At his best when he plays with passion, but doesn’t seem to bring it every day. Stagnated, and lack of progression in his game is a concern.

18. Boston Bruins — D Urho Vaakanainen. A mobile skater with sharp first steps, a fluid stride and good speed. Comes out of his own end with his head up and makes crisp outlets that are generally on the tape. Has good hands and skates well with the puck. He’s comfortable being the initiator and jumps into the play regularly. Could be smarter and more creative in how he advances the play outside his defensive zone. Not a high end offensive blueliner but has the agility and puck skills expected of a modern day d-man. Still some occasional sloppiness under pressure, but overall he’s steady and dependable defensively. Mature and polished compared to an average draft prospect — already has nearly two seasons of pro hockey under his belt. Does a good job angling forwards to the outside. Needs to improve in coverage down low. Good compete level, but physical presence is somewhat limited — lacks ideal build for contact environment.

19. San Jose Sharks — C Josh Norris. Big center is a rugged banger who can do a little of everything. Doesn’t have eye-popping offensive skills or blazing speed, but gets involved in high traffic areas and does a lot of dirty work down low in the offensive zone. Smart, powerful skating two-way center isn’t flashy, but finds ways to contribute every shift. Tough to knock off the puck, but is not shifty or elusive. Doesn’t have the slick moves and puck-handling wiggle to beat defenders off the rush, but is a solid pro- style center who provides strength down the middle. Works well below the circles. Goes hard to the net both with and without the puck. His offensive instincts and hands around net are underrated. Strong physical force who is also good on faceoffs and responsible defensively — strong on the backcheck and kills penalties. High character; you win with guys like him. Gets too emotional and takes some bad penalties.

20. St. Louis Blues — C Robert Thomas. Smooth playmaking center improved dramatically over the course of season and by playoff time was one of London’s best players. Moves the puck with ease, using his slick hands to dance around defenders. Has good speed and skates with his head up looking to make plays — good vision and soft passing touch. Thinks pass-first, but has a sneaky-fast release and should shoot more. Very intelligent with good hockey sense in all three zones. Gained the trust of demanding coach Dale Hunter, and saw duty on both special teams. There was a huge up-tick in his tenacity and battle levels, making a lot of second effort plays to maintain pressure in the offensive end. Versatile and can be effective in any role. Lots of growth left in his lean frame. Plays a solid two-way game, but can still be caught out of position at times.

21. NY Rangers — LW/C Filip Chytil. First-round talent has size, hands, and puck skill. Top-notch skating, passion, desire, and creativity. Fast, fluid center handles the puck well at speed. Terrific long, smooth stride with great acceleration and a top end separation gear. He’s always on the puck. Aggressiveon the forecheck and is dangerous most every shift with his relentless puck pursuit. Forces defenders into mistakes and turnovers. Flicks elevated backhand passes at full speed off the rush and drops them on the tape. Great stickhandler with fast hands who controls the puck in traffic. Has a feisty streak and is willing to engage physically. Plays both center and wing, but we like him better in the middle where he’s more involved and can handle the puck more and back defenders off the blue line with his speed, then use his creativity to make plays. Strong in the faceoff circle and comes back hard on the backcheck.

22. Edmonton Oilers — RW Kailer Yamamoto. One of the best playmakers in the draft. Undersized winger is ultra-skilled and can make plays develop out of nothing — always knows where his linemates are. Team catalyst can change the course of the game by creating a big play or scoring the big goal using his high hockey IQ and creativity. Leaves his mark in all three zones with great work ethic. A real speedster with a low center of gravity that enables him to gain leverage despite lack of size. Shows excellent acceleration with a quick first step. Has tremendous hands and is a great stickhandler, especially around the net and in tight spaces. Quick to pounce on loose pucks. Not afraid to skate into greasy areas and battle for position in scoring zones. Missed time with injury in mid-season, but has otherwise been healthy throughout his three-year WHL career — ducks under checks and is adept at avoiding big hits.

23. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota) — D Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Made the biggest leap forward of any draft-eligible in Québec, going from an afterthought to legitimate first-round candidate. Good frame and excellent mobility coupled with terrific hockey sense makes him very effective. Terrific four-way skater. Thinks the game very well and avoids making plays into bad spots, always seems to be thinking two moves ahead. The big development this season has been on offense. His confidence has grown by leaps and bounds with the puck, especially on the PP where he is a key playmaker. Very thin and lacking in upper body strength — frame is not yet filled out but his hockey sense allows him to break up plays defensively at junior level. Controls gaps and angles his man off. Added strength would help his shot, which needs more velocity. Wore down at playoff time, highlighting his need to add muscle.

24. Winnipeg Jets (from Columbus via Vegas) — LW Kristian Vesalainen. Had a frustrating season, unable to find scoring touch playing against men in both the Swedish and Finnish elite leagues. But showed the size/hands/skills combination to dominate against his own age group at the World U-18s. Combines a huge frame with powerful skating stride and goal-scoring head/hands. Not a big banger, just knows how to leverage his big frame and win battles for pucks. Moves out of corners easily and drives the net with authority. Beats d-men in different ways: off the rush with outside speed, using finesse moves, or can dangle in tight. Strong on the puck and shields it well but sometimes tries to do too much and ends up in the corner. Runs the power play effectively from the half-wall with well placed cross-ice feeds. Makes smart, creative plays with the puck. Can beat goalies clean with heavy wristers from above the circle.

25. Montreal Canadiens — C Ryan Poehling. Accelerated his schooling to arrive at St. Cloud as the youngest player in NCAA hockey this season, and despite a few growing pains along the way, had one of the better freshman campaigns in the country. Big, smart, physical, and is very active at both ends of the ice. Plays a strong, mature two-way game, as illustrated by his tremendous work as a penalty killer, where he is frequently dangerous and creates many turnovers and shorthanded 2-on-1s with his relentless forechecking pressure. Strong on the puck and aggressive in pursuit. He excels at using his frame to protect the puck while using his vision to see the ice and create scoring chances. Has a long, powerful stride and very good first-step explosion — accelerates quickly to top speed. Thougha hard-working, 200-foot player, he doesn’t possess ashy offensive skills — most of his points will come from mucking down low.

26. Dallas Stars (from Chicago) — G Jake Oettinger. Had a strong season as a true freshman and the second youngest player in the NCAA. Upped his stock down the stretch with a 56-save effort against North Dakota in the NCAA regional round, and already has lots of big game experience. Big, athletic and poised. Quiet in his crease and recovers well for second shots. Tracks the puck well and is fluid in his crease movements. Shows good balance in his stance and gets good push off either skate moving laterally. Does have some problems getting from down-to-up. Great ability to read developing plays and anticipate where the next scoring chance is coming from. Uses his quickness and long limbs to make those tough saves look routine. Tremendous raw talent who is only going to get better as he improves his mechanics. Unflappable and capable of stealing games. Checks off a lot of boxes of what NHL teams are looking for.

27. Philadelphia Flyers (from Washington via St. Louis) — C Morgan Frost. He’s not the biggest player, or the fastest skater, or the flashiest offensive stud — but any player who goes onto his line automatically becomes 50% better overnight. His game is subtle, but the closer you watch, the more you appreciate all the little things he does to help his team win on a nightly basis. Soft hands for giving and receiving passes. Handles the puck cleanly at speed. Has a very quick stick and fires hard shots off east-west jump cuts. Nimble on skates with some shake-’n-bake. Had mostly unskilled linemates, yet was still able to produce lots of dangerous chances, mostly creating on his own. Excels on both special teams units with excellent anticipation. Darts in and out of traffic and is a demon in puck pursuit — very hard worker in general. Needs to add lots of muscle to his thin frame in order to be more effective around corners and in front of the net.

28. Ottawa Senators — C Shane Bowers. A mature kid who plays a refined game with NHL habits. Understands where he needs to be in both the offensive and defensive zones, reads the play well and has fine vision and instincts. Skatingis just average though, and he has trouble separating from and beating aggressive man-to-man defenders who deny him time and space to make plays. Does not cut and change direction sharply, and lacks a separation gear. He’s a good playmaker and deft passer who can drift through layers in defenses and spot small openings. Good in the faceoff circle. Doesn’t always elevate his play when the pace picks up. Has the look of a solid third line, two-way NHL center one day, but we just don’t see any one exceptional carrying tool that leads us to believe he’ll be a difference-maker.

29. Chicago Blackhawks (from Anaheim via Dallas) —

30. Nashville Predators —

31. Pittsburgh Penguins —

NHL draft 2017: First-round picks, scouting reports USA News Today

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NHL draft 2017: First-round picks, scouting reports USA News Today

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