(My new blog series continues today as we take a look at the centers in this year’s draft class! We took a look at wingers yesterday and you can find that post here!)
There is no shortage of good centers in this year’s draft; there is a 95% certainty that the top two teams, the New Jersey Devils (yay!) and the Philadelphia Flyers (boooo), will pick centers, likely Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier (though not necessarily in that order). The next four highest-ranked North American prospects are all centers as well and could very likely go in the Top 10, or the Top 15 at the very least. The top three highest-ranked European skaters are also centers (Klim Kostin has been identified as a LW/C by NHL Central Scouting on their list but he was included in my post on wings from yesterday so check that out if you’d like!).
I won’t go too much into both Patrick and Hischier because you’re going to hear enough about them from me over the next two weeks or so leading to the draft but there’s short draft profiles here and here, a comparison here, and a crack comparison here! Both of them are offensive juggernauts and are capable of becoming top line centers in the NHL no matter what organization they end up playing for. They’re both fast, sharp shooters, defensive-minded… pretty much the whole package. You can’t really go wrong with either one of them unless they turn out to be busts (which I highly, highly doubt).
The next four North American centers, ranked according to NHL Central Scouting, are Casey Mittelstadt, Gabriel Vilardi, Michael Rasmussen, and Cody Glass. Mittelstadt and Vilardi will definitely go in the Top 10, Rasmussen and Glass potentially in the Top 15 or Top 20 at the latest.
Mittelstadt (201 lbs, 6′ 1″) is also a complete package; he is signed on to play the 2017-18 season at the University of Minnesota (NCAA) and played for Eden Prairie High (USHS), where he was Captain and Alternate Captain, the past three years. He has 239 career USHS points (93 goals, 146 assists) in 114 regular season games, and 21 in 10 playoff games. He knows how to score goals and dish them out; he averaged 2.10 points per game. So yeah, wow. He also played 24 games for the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) last season and picked up 30 points. Any team could use a goal-scorer like him.
Vilardi (192 lbs, 6′ 2″) has played two seasons with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL), won the Memorial Cup with the team this past season, and was named an OHL All-Star too. He picked seven points in four Memorial Cup games, and has 99 career OHL points (46 goals, 53 assists) in 111 regular season games (10 points in 12 playoff games). He’s also an offensive threat every time he’s on the ice and is a pure goal-scorer. Again, could and should probably go Top 5.
Rasmussen (203 lbs, 6′ 5″) plays for the Tri-City Americans (WHL); he has 98 points in 117 career games. He led the Americans with 15 power play goals this past season. He is one of the bigger and stronger prospects in the draft this year, and he knows how to score and skate. He’s also an all-around player and can play in pretty much every situation, and should go Top 10.
Glass (179 lbs, 6′ 2″) is also a very dangerous two-way center and has played parts of three seasons for the Portland Winterhawks (WHL). He’s tallied 121 points (42 goals, 79 assists) in 137 regular season games (averaged 0.88 PPG), and 12 points in 15 playoff games. He had an impressive 94 points (32 goals and 62 assists) in just 69 regular season games in 2016-17; he led the Winterhawks in assists and points. He should also go at least Top 15, or Top 10 depending on teams’ needs.
The highest-ranked European centers are Elias Pettersson, Lias Andersson, and Martin Necas. Pettersson (165 lbs, 6′ 2″) is also a dynamic, two-way forward and is creative on the ice; he has 27 points (10 goals and 17 assists) in 28 SuperElit games and 50 points (22 goals and 28 assists) in 68 Allsvenkan games. Pettersson has also played for Sweden at World Juniors and at the international level, and is slated to play in the SHL for the Växjö Lakers HC next season. He’s also a special player and should go at least Top 10.
Andersson (198 lbs, 5′ 11″) is another gifted two-way forward and comes from a hockey family. He has 70 points (32 goals and 38 assists) in 65 SuperElit games (averaging 1.09 PPG) and had 109 penalty minutes. He’s also played 64 games in the SHL but has just 19 points, and is also slated to play for Frõlunda HC there this upcoming season. He’s played a ton of international hockey for Sweden and he could easily go Top 15 or 20.
Necas (168 lbs, 6′ 1″) has also been an offensive juggernaut for his junior hockey teams, and has represented his home country, the Czech Republic, often at World Juniors and at the international level. He’s played 61 junior games on an international level and has 70 points (24 goals and 46 points), averaging 1.15 PPG. He is slated to play with HC Kometa Brno next season; he should be a first-rounder and the only reason he might fall to the second is because there are a ton of North American centers who might fit teams’ systems better.
On the North American side, you also have a ton of names to look out for: Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling, Shane Bowers, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, and Robert Thomas. Suzuki (183 lbs, 5′ 11″) is one of the best picks in the draft, regardless of ranking. He’s played the last two years in the OHL with the Owen Sound Attack, tallying 134 points (65 goals and 69 assists) in 129 regular season games, 25 points (10 goals and 15 assists) in 23 playoff games, and six points in as many OHL Cup games. He is a phenomenal skater and passer, and he has really good hockey sense.
Poehling (185 lbs, 6′ 3″) played this past season with St. Cloud State University (NCAA) and notched 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 35 games and represented the U.S. at World Juniors, where he picked up five points in seven games and won a gold medal. He played part of the previous three years with the Lincoln Stars (USHL) and Lakeville North High School (USHS); he averaged 1.26 PPG (regular season) and 2.08 PPG (postseason) in his USHS career (126 total games). He’s also a good pick but is overlooked.
Bowers (170 lbs, 6′ 0″) is signed on to play for college hockey powerhouse Boston University (NCAA) in the fall. He spent the past two seasons with the Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) and has 89 points in 131 career USHL games. Don’t overlook him either.
Anderson-Dolan (185 lbs, 5′ 11″) is going to be one of the surprises of the draft. He’s played parts of three seasons with the Spokane Chiefs (WHL) and has tallied 102 career points (53 goals, 49 assists) 142 regular season games, three points in seven postseason games. In Bantam, he had 170 points in 96 games, an average of about 1.77 points per game.
Thomas (187 lbs, 6′ 0″) is one of the London Knights’ (OHL) brightest stars; in two seasons, he’s played 106 regular season games (81 points) and 29 playoff games (17 points). He was one of their most consistent offensive players this past season, and finished with the second-most assists (50) and third-most points (66) on the team. He won both the OHL Cup and the CHL Memorial Cup the year prior with the Knights. He’ll also become a consistent scorer in the NHL.
There are also some names on the European side who you should keep your eye on: Jesper Boqvist, Filip Chytil, Marcus Davidsson, and Alexei Lipanov.
Centers are easy to come by but good (and NHL-ready) centers are not; there are good centers in this year’s draft and at least a few of them should become NHL mainstays within the next few years.