It’s never too early to talk about prospects, especially with a young, developing core like the Carolina Hurricanes have. The 2017 NHL Draft may not have the same name recognition as recent drafts where Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were generational selections, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t impact NHL players to be found.
Based on the standings after last night’s games played, Carolina would be drafting tenth in this summer’s draft. If the Hurricanes were to have extremely good luck and ended up winning the draft lottery, the choice would come between Brandon Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick and Halifax Mooseheads center Nico Hischier. Those that follow me know I have been on the Hischier bandwagon for some time now, but either would be a elite-level addition to the prospect group.
However, let’s focus on the prospects that the Canes are more likely to be able to pull the trigger on when they draft on June 23rd in Chicago. We'll focus today on the forwards, and look at the defensemen next week.
You can easily make the case that when a Canes sweater is handed over to their first round pick to put on for the first time, that it will more than likely have a forward’s name on the back. Carolina has been solidifying the back end with Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin, Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury for multiple drafts now and have done a great job of hitting on some of their mid-round picks.
The last time that the Canes drafted a center in the first round was 2013 when Carolina took Elias Lindholm. However, to find the last Canes first rounder who spent the majority of his time at center while in a Carolina jersey, you have to go all the way back to 2007 when Jim Rutherford drafted Brandon Sutter 11th overall.
Here are some forwards to get familiar with over the next few months:
Casey Mittelstadt - C - Eden Prarie (USHS - MN) - 6’1”, 200 pounds
2016-17 Stats: Eden Prarie (USHS-MN): 30 GP - 23 G, 49 A - 72 Points / Green Bay (USHL): 16 GP - 8 G, 13 A - 21 Points
If the Canes struggle down the stretch, Mittelstadt would be a terrific consolation prize. However, they are likely going to fall farther down in the standings to have a shot at the Minnesota-born forward. The offensively dynamic center made waves this season, returning to Minnesota High School hockey in lieu of a full USHL season to try and finish off a Minnesota state championship with his Eden Prarie teammates. The Eagles fell short of their ultimate goal, but Mittelstadt put up video game numbers along the way averaging 2.4 points-per-game.
Mittelstadt is an offensive force, always moving and looking to create for his teammates or find pockets of space to get the puck on net. He is a gifted puck distributor, who will make the players who he plays with better. Starting at the University of Minnesota in the fall, the newly crowned Minnesota Mr. Hockey for 2017 should be one of the top freshmen in college hockey next season. Although his two-way game will continue to develop with the Gophers, it’s unlikely he has a Selke Trophy in the future. The drafting of Mittelstadt would greatly increase the creativity and offensive production for the Canes down the middle.
Michael Rasmussen - C - Tri-City (WHL) - 6’6”, 215 pounds
2016-17 Stats: Tri-City (WHL): 50 GP - 32 G, 23 A - 55 Points
The first thing that sticks out when watching Rasmussen (#15 above) is his obvious NHL-ready size. At 6’6”, he uses his size properly on the offensive side of the ice by going hard to the net and making defenders try and move him from the crease. Most players of his size do not have the hands and touch around the net that Rasmussen does, which allows him to score a good majority of his goals on rebounds and deflections from high-danger areas of the offensive zone.
Rasmussen is one of just five Western Hockey League 17-year-olds who has averaged over a point-per-game this season and has factored into 22% of Tri-City’s goals. He is a prospect that oozes potential and has the combination of size and skill that NHL GMs covet. Unfortunately, a wrist injury will cost him the rest of the season, with a recovery time of around three months.
Cody Glass - C - Portland (WHL) - 6’2”, 180 pounds
2016-17 Stats: Portland (WHL): 68 GP - 32 G, 62 A - 94 Points
Glass (left) has had a meteoric rise up the draft rankings this season, posting 94 points in 68 games for Portland as a 17 year-old. The center is a strong skater, who exhibits solid two-way play and has the offensive arsenal that projects to a top-six NHL player down the road. Of the top 20 scorers in the WHL, Glass is the only one still under the age of 18, and has the highest percentage of his points at even strength, proving his breakout season wasn’t padded by an unsustainable amount of power play points.
The Winnipeg native defers to being a distributor, using his top-end vision to find his teammates both on the rush and in the zone. As a 17 year-old, Glass plays in all situations for Portland and has taken his increased responsibility and tough minutes in stride in his second full WHL season.
Owen Tippett - RW - Mississauga (OHL) - 6’1”, 205 pounds
2016-17 Stats: Mississauga (OHL): 56 GP - 43 G, 30 A - 73 Points
Man, can this kid shoot the puck. Tippett is the most natural sniper on this list, and likely will be one of the top, if not the top, drafted pure winger at the 2017 draft. He has scored 43 goals in just 56 games this season, which ranks him in a tie for third among Ontario Hockey League forwards and 20 (!) goals behind Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat. If there was ever a shoot first, ask questions later type guy, it’s Tippett, who averages nearly five shots on goal per game. In addition to his lethal shot, the Peterborough native has great speed on the wing, and can make defenders look slow in one-on-one situations.
He isn’t likely to make a difference on the defensive side of the puck, and won’t be winning any assist titles anytime soon, but if you are drafting Tippett, you are drafting him to score goals. And he’s quite good at it.
Gabriel Vilardi - C - Windsor (OHL) - 6’3”, 200 pounds
2016-17 Stats: Windsor (OHL): 46 GP - 29 G, 32 A - 61 Points
Vilardi is a complete prospect who is solid in all areas and will likely help an NHL team in a top two center role in the future. At 6’3” he has a good frame, with the ability to add strength as he continues to grow and develop. His size allows him to be physical while protecting the puck in possession and he is proficient at generating offense from below the circles and behind the goal line. Vilardi’s skating ability appears almost effortless at times and is complemented by his work ethic and his elite hockey sense.
Next year, as he moves into his post-draft season for Windsor, Vilardi should be one of the top players in the Ontario Hockey League, and should push for a 100-point season. The fact that he doesn’t turn 18 until nearly two months after his name will be called at the 2017 NHL Draft makes him an even more intriguing prospect. He is viewed as a safe pick, especially if he falls down closer to tenth overall.
Elias Pettersson - C - Timra (SWE) - 6’1”, 160 pounds
2016-17 Stats: Timra (SWE): 43 GP - 19 G, 22 A - 41 Points
In the Swedish second division, Pettersson finished the 2016-17 season as the leagues top scoring under-19 player, where he averaged nearly a point-per-game, posting 41 points in 43 games. Pettersson is routinely the most dangerous offensive player on the ice, utilizing his immense skill and creativity to make even the most difficult plays look easy. The young Swedish forward is terrific in tight spaces and one-on-one situations both on the rush and along the boards.
Obviously at only 160 pounds, Pettersson will need to add weight to be an effective NHL player, but he has the frame to do so. He has one of the highest ceilings among prospects in the 2017 draft, and if he reaches his full potential, Pettersson could be a special player down the road.
The next tier: Martin Necas, Ryan Poehling, Robert Thomas, Eeli Tolvanen
Check back next week for Part Two, which outlines some of the top options for Carolina if they choose to follow the trend of recent drafts and select a defenseman with their first round pick.
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for prospect talk and happenings.