New blog series alert! With the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft just a little less than two weeks away, it’s time to take a look at the eligible draft prospects. The New Jersey Devils, in particular, definitely need to pick a few right/left wings and defensemen after selecting a center first overall. Let’s take a short look at some of the top-rated right and left wings, and a few names that the Devils might think about taking in the later rounds.
The top-ranked North American right wing (NHL Central Scouting) is Owen Tippett (203 lbs, 6′ 2″), who plays for the Mississauga Steelheads alongside fellow Devils prospects Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian. In his last two seasons, he’s accumulated 95 points (59 goals, 36 assists) in 108 regular season games (averaging 0.88 points per game) and 22 points (11 goals and assists) in 27 playoff games (averaging 0.81 PPG). He was named an OHL All-Star this past season as well. He is a pure goal-scorer and sniper, and has a hard-to-miss presence on the ice because of his size and his offensive capabilities. I would take him Top 5 with no hesitation.
RW Eeli Tolvanen (181 lbs, 5′ 10″) is ranked just below Tippett for North American skaters; this Finnish prospect is slated to play for college hockey powerhouse Boston College (NCAA) in the fall. He’s played 101 regular season games with the Sioux City Musketeers (USHL), picking up 92 points (averaging 0.91 PPG); he has 10 points in 13 playoff games. He’s also represented Finland at World Juniors the past two years. There’s no defending him when he gets hot; he has a lethal shot and would be an offensive threat anywhere he goes (could go Top 15 at least).
The highest-ranked European winger is RW Klim Kostin (196 lbs, 6′ 3″), who is listed as a LW/C by NHL Central Scouting. Kostin has played in the Russian system his entire career, playing for the KHL, MHL, and VHL, as well as playing for Russia on an international level. He’s been compared to Evgeni Malkin (!) and he has the scoring prowess to justify that claim. He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury this past year and he is not a definite to sign with whichever team drafts him because he is slated to play for the Moscow Dynamo (KHL) again this upcoming season, so teams may not want to take a chance on him in the first round (or at all). Still, he’s a dynamic winger and is a real threat on the ice.
Then you have LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen (209 lbs, 6′ 3″), who played for HPK in Finland’s Liiga on a loan and is set to play there this upcoming season. He’s also represented Finland at World Juniors the past two years and on an international level as well. Similar to Kostin, teams may or may not want to take a chance on him in the first round just in case he doesn’t pan out. He has plans to stay in Finland and not play in North America, which means he likely won’t sign an entry-level contract with whichever team drafts him.
The highest-ranked left wings on the North American side are Jason Robertson (194 lbs, 6′ 2″) and Kailer Yamamoto (159 lbs, 5′ 8″). Robertson does come from a hockey family: both of his brothers play as well. He’s played for the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) over the last two seasons and has scored 113 points (60 goals, 53 assists) in 122 regular season games (averaging 0.93 PPG), and 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 15 playoff games (averaging 1.33 PPG). He’s also scored five points in seven OHL Cup games. He’s slated to go somewhere in the second round but he could go in the first; he’s definitely a name to look out for, particularly for Devils fans because the team does have two second-round picks.
Then you have Yamamoto who is an assist-machine and his size is really his only disadvantage. He’s spent the past two seasons in the WHL with the Spokane Chiefs, tallying 84 goals, 143 assists (227 points), and 130 PIM in 190 regular season games (1.19 PPG), and 10 points in 12 playoff games. He’s also played for the U.S. World Juniors team and tallied 13 points in seven games, and he’s had experience with the U.S. Development Program. He’s definitely a name to look out for, and will probably go either late first-round or early second-round.
You have LW Maxime Comtois (201 lbs, 6′ 2″), who’s also a potential second-round pick. He played the past two years with the Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL), picking up 111 points in 126 regular season games (0.88 PPG) and seven in nine playoff games. He was also a QMJHL All-Star this past season, and has played in the World Juniors tournament for Canada the past two years as well. I would keep an eye out for him too; he could be one of the biggest surprises of the draft.
Then you have the third Strome brother, Matthew (201 lbs, 6′ 3″), a left wing, who is also a potential late second-round or even early third-round pick. He’s played two seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) and has 100 points in 127 regular season games, eight in seven playoff games. He won the OHL Cup and Gold Cup with the Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget AAA team in 2014-15, when he was Captain. He has a major physical presence on the ice and obviously knows how to score but he should be picked because of his hockey ability, not his last name.
And you have Stelio Mattheos (194 lbs, 6′ 1″) and Lane Zablocki (185 lbs, 6′ 0″), who have two of the coolest names in the draft. Mattheos turns 18 this week and is a teammate of Nolan Patrick’s on the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). In 120 regular season games, he’s scored 92 points (40 goals and 52 assists) and in 34 playoff games, he’s tallied 13. He was a WHL Champion in 2015-16 and has played in World Juniors.
Zablocki has also played two years in the WHL for the Regina Pats and the Red Deer Rebels; he has 91 points in 136 regular season games (0.67 PPG) and an overwhelming 192 PIM; he has 17 points in 18 playoff games. Both Mattheos and Zablocki will probably be third-rounders, or even fourth-rounders. Keep an eye out of them too.
Later-round picks could include D’Artagnan Joly, Shaw Boomhower, Arnaud Durandeau, and Kyle MacLean, all North American skaters. There are plenty of good North American wingers and the Devils will certainly be taking a closer at them because they need more depth at wing, especially right wing.
On the European side, you have plenty of wingers who may or may not decide to sign with an NHL club or play in North America. RW Ostap Safin (198 lbs, 6′ 4″) is one of the highest-ranked wingers and could also be a difference-maker should he sign an NHL contract. He’s played in the Czech Republic his entire career and has represented the country at World Juniors and on an international level. He’s a pretty good winger and has the ability to immediately make an impact.
You also have RW/C Lukas Elvenes (174 lbs, 6′ 0″) from Sweden, who also comes from a hockey family. He played in the SHL last season and has represented his home country on an international level (and at World Juniors) (this is all starting to get repetitive, sorry).
You have RW Jonas Røndbjerg (176 lbs, 6′ 0″) who played in Denmark’s SHL and SuperElit last season and is expected to play in both this upcoming season. He’s played in the Denmark system his entire career and has also represented the country at World Juniors and at the international level. He’s picked up 43 points in 56 international (junior) games and has 17 points in 25 WJC games. Again, whether or not he signs an NHL contract remains to be seen.
RW Kirill Slepets (154 lbs, 5′ 10″) is on the smaller side and has only played professional (junior) hockey the past three years. He’s not expected to play in Russia this upcoming season and could sign a contract with whichever team selects him. He did play in World Juniors this year and played 45 games in Russia’s MHL (scored 21 points).
Other names to watch out for: 20 year-old RW Alexander Volkov, RW Jaroslav Dvorak, RW Matej Novak, among others. Here’s NHL Central Scouting’s complete list of draft-eligible prospects ranked.
The Devils will take a few wingers in the upcoming draft mainly because they don’t have too many in the system; check out a right wing depth evaluation post here and a left wing depth evaluation post here! The series continues tomorrow!