Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Future Stars. Over the next few days we will be previewing the 2017 NHL Draft by ranking our top 31 prospects and honourable mentions.
With the Junior seasons not just in Canada but throughout the world gearing up for the stretch drive and a number of international tournaments (Ivan Hlinka, Four Nations, Subway Super Series, World Juniors, Five Nations) in the books, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the draft are doing this year. This is an up to date look and ranking of these prospects. That said, there is still plenty of work to be done and many important games to be played including junior league playoffs, European playoffs, and of course the Under-18 World Championships. While the rankings still have some fluidity, a pecking order is also starting to define itself. For now, this is what we have, we hope you enjoy the early preview and be sure to be ready in late March as we roll out our full player-by-player draft preview.
2017 NHL Draft February Rankings: 16-20
16.) Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State; Centre (6’3″ 185 lbs) (Prev: 17)
Poehling fast-tracked through high school in order to join St. Cloud State, and play NCAA hockey a year early. He wanted to join his brothers, Jack and Nick on the Huskies team. As an underage freshman, Poehling has 7 goals and 13 points in 16 games. He also played for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka, putting up four goals and six points in four games.
Poehling has decent speed, but it could be improved. He has good size and gets in quickly on the forecheck looking to pressure defenders and cause mistakes. Poehling plays a gritty game, battling in the corners and in front of the net. He also has a very good wrist shot and release. Poehling’s stickhandling is decent, but he plays a very straightforward north-south style of game, and isn’t the type to take on defenders in one-on-one situations.
Instead he looks to move the puck to an open teammate and then try to find an open area on the ice. His vision is very good, and he seems to almost always make the smart play with the puck. He runs the give and go very well. Poehling is especially strong in the cycle game.
17.) Callan Foote, Kelowna Rockets, Defence (6’3″ 198 lbs) (Prev: 10)
What do you get when you combine the bloodlines of being the son of Adam Foote, with the junior hockey team with the best reputation for developing young defencemen year after year in the Kelowna Rockets? The answer is Callan Foote. After a strong rookie season last year, Foote has followed it up with 47 points in 61 games this year.
Foote is an excellent skater. He skates well in both directions, and solid pivots and edgework allow him to cover a lot of ice. He isn’t quite as physical as his famous father, but Foote is still willing to play the body. Its more about battling in the corners and clearing the front of the net than throwing big open-ice hits though.
Foote has a good slap shot which he keeps low and puts on net. He could stand to improve the power even more though. Foote also has good poise with the puck on his stick, and the vision to quarterback things from the point on the power play. He reads the play well at both ends of the ice and has extremely good positioning. He also makes an excellent first pass out of the zone, starting the transition game. Foote has the stickhandling skill, and quick feet to skate the puck out of danger and create plays.
18.) Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City Americans; Defence (6’2″ 201 lbs) (Prev: 21)
Valimaki captained the Finnish team at the 2016 Under 18 World Championships that took home the gold medal. He was also part of the Finnish team at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka tournament, and won a Silver as an underager at the 2015 Under 18s. Valmaki played at this year’s World Juniors, picking up two goals in six games. Overall, it was a disappointing performance for the Finnish team, but for an underage defenceman Valimaki acquitted himself well. He is playing on Tri-City in the WHL, and has put up 18 goals and 56 points in 52 games this year.
Valimaki plays a simple but effective game in both ends of the rink. He is a good skater and has good size. Defensively he has solid positioning and an active stick. He is willing to play physical, taking out his man along the boards and clearing the front of the net. However, he does not go chasing big hits, which keeps him disciplined in his positioning. He maintains good gap control, and has the agility to keep opponents in front of him. He is tough to beat one-on-one.
Offensively, Valimaki has become more assertive in his second year in the league. He has started to carry the puck and lead the rush more often. However, he is still more likely to start things with a good first pass and getting involved as a trailer. He has an excellent point shot that can be a real weapon on the power play. He is not the flashiest player, but he does a lot really good things out there and is having a productive campaign. Valimaki is an excellent skater, which allows him to join the rush and get back defensively.
19.) Nicolas Hague, Mississauga Steelheads; Defence (6’6″ 207 lbs) (Prev 12)
Already measuring 6’6″ tall, Hague is a giant on the blue line. His skating is surprisingly quick for a player his size, and his stride long and fluid. He does have some problems with particularly speedy smaller forwards, but for the most part his skating is more than adequate and gets Hague to the areas of the ice he needs to be. He plays a strong two-way game and covers a lot of ground for a big man. The big man ashows good defensive instincts for a player his age. He steers attackers to the outside, battles hard in the corners and clears the front of the net. Hague maintains good gap control. He is not afraid to use his body and push players around and knock them off the puck, but don’t expect big open-ice hits either.
Hague scored 14 goals last season, showing off a powerful slap shot on the power play. This season, he has picked up right where he left off, as he has 16 goals and 40 points in 56 games. Hague is able to move well laterally and walk the line to open up shooting lanes to get his shot through. Hague could stand to improve his passing skills though. He makes a decent breakout pass from his own end, but needs to be a bit more patient with the puck at the oppositions blue. He’s improved in this area as the season has gone on, but there is still some room to go.
20.) Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda / HPK; Left Wing/Right Wing, (6’3″ 203 lbs) (Prev: 11)
Vesalainen is a Finnish player, who signed with Frolunda to ply his trade in Sweden. He played 19 SHL games last year, and 16 this year. However, he was loaned to HPK in his native Finland. Vesalainen starred for Finland’s national team with four goals and eight points in five games at the U17s; as well as two goals and six points in seven games as an underager at the U18s.
A versatile player, Vesalainen has experience playing both wings. He has excellent size, and uses it to protect the puck along the boards and extend plays in the cycle. Gifted with a large wing-span, Vesalainen takes advantage of it to play keep-away with defenders. A budding power forward, Vesalainen wins battles along the boards, and is not afraid to fight through checks to get to the front of the net. Vesalainen also has an excellent shot. He is relentless in chasing down loose pucks and gets involved in the play in all three zones. Vesalainen has a very high motor and is almost always at the centre of the action.
Check out Ranks 21-25.