Hurricanes pick 12th in first round of NHL Draft

A look at NSJ’s top 12 prospects in this years draft, plus eight other players worth knowing

In the 2016 NHL Draft, the Hurricanes selected Julien Gauthier, center, with the second of two first-round picks. (Timothy T. Ludwig/—Reuters)

RALEIGH — For the second straight year, the Carolina Hurricanes enter the NHL Draft with a wealth of picks. Ten selections —— including the 12th overall, three second-rounders and two thirds —— could be used to further bolster Carolina’s prospect pool, or swapped in trades to improve the NHL lineup immediately.

The 2017 draft, being held in Chicago, is considered thin: there is no Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine at the top, and opinions vary on everything from who should go first overall (Nolan Patrick? Nico Hischier? Someone else?) to where players slot throughout the first two rounds.

Luckily, Carolina will get plenty of kicks at the draft can in the top 62 picks. They are scheduled to pick 12th on Friday, then hold Nos. 42, 52 and 62 in Round 2 on Saturday, plus six more picks in Rounds 3-7. Here’s a look at North State Journal’s Top 12 NHL Draft Prospects, plus another handful to watch.

1. Nolan Patrick, C
6’2, 199 pounds, Brandon (WHL)

Patrick has been the frontrunner to go first overall in 2017 for years, but an injury-plaqued draft year has led to second thoughts. He’s still the big center every team craves, and there are no weaknesses in his game, even if he lacks a standout attribute.

2. Nico Hischier, C
6’1, 179 pounds, Halifax (QMJHL)

Hischier is poised to be the highest Swiss player ever selected, the only question is if he’ll go No. 1. Hischier’s performance with Switzerland at the World Juniors cemented his top prospect status, and his 200-foot game and puck skills are the elite aspects of his game Patrick lacks.

3. Gabriel Vilardi, C
6’3, 203 pounds, Windsor (OHL)

Vilardi is big and physical, plus he overcame an early season appendectomy to help the host Spitfires win the Memorial Cup. But scouts worry about his subpar skating, with concerns ranging from “should he play wing?” to “can he keep up in the NHL?”

4. Cody Glass, C
6’2, 178 pounds, Portland (WHL)

Like Vilardi, there are some questions about Glass’ skating, plus he needs to get stronger to play the middle at the next level. Still, he has fantastic vision and hockey IQ, and the fact he grew from a 5’9, 138-pound bantam pick into his current size bodes well for his strength.

5. Casey Mittelstadt, C
6’0, 199 pounds, Green Bay (USHL)

Mittelstadt split time between his Minnesota high school team and the USHL, so the big concern is how he will do against better competition. He has the size and skills, but he struggled with strength events at the combine and some question his all-around game.

6. Owen Tippett, RW
6’1, 203 pounds, Mississauga (OHL)

Tippett has no problem filling the net with his pro-level shot, but will he score enough at the next level to justify a top-10 selection? Teams that don’t take Tippett could come to regret it —— or they could be glad they passed over him. He might remind some of former Hurricanes winger Jeff O’Neill.

7. Miro Heiskanen, D
6’2, 172 pounds, HIFK (Liiga)

Heiskanen has already played with men in the top Finnish league, and he is a dominant skater and puck mover who was one of few Finns to look OK at this year’s flop at the World Juniors. He should be the first or second defenseman off the board.

8. Cale Makar, D
5’11, 187 pounds, Brooks (AJHL)

Makar’s name has been heard more frequently as the draft approaches. He’s small and plays in the lesser AJHL, but he might be the best skater and most agile player in the draft class. His offensive talent and skating should propel him on the attack, but can he defend?

9. Michael Rasmussen, C
6’6, 221 pounds, Tri-City (WHL)

If a team truly wants a big center, they’ll look to Rasmussen. He plays in all situations and was on pace for a monster season before breaking his wrist in February. He could be a solid net-front presence tomorrow, and his 79.25″ wingspan makes him seem even bigger than he is.

10. Nick Suzuki, C
5’11, 183 pounds, Owen Sound (OHL)

Suzuki probably isn’t big enough to be a center in the NHL, but his attention to detail at both ends of the ice makes it a possibility. Despite putting up more than 90 points this season, some don’t see him as a big point producer in the NHL, but he can be a handful.

11. Eeli Tolvanen, LW
5’11, 189 pounds, Sioux City (USHL)

Tolvanen’s stock took a hit with a lackluster World Junior showing, but his speed and shot are undeniable weapons. Like with many snipers there are doubts about his commitment to the defensive zone, but if he can score in buckets teams won’t care.

12. Klim Kostin, C
6’3, 207 pounds, Moscow Dynamo (KHL)

Kostin is the complete package: big, strong and able to carry and hold on to the puck. But he also suffers from the “Russian” label, especially after he opted to spend this year in the KHL. That and shoulder surgery in February might scare teams away, but it shouldn’t.

Eight To Watch

13. Elias Pettersson, C
6’2, 164 pounds, Timra (Sweden-2nd)

Pettersson has to gain weight and strength —— and show the willingness to get to the tough areas on the ice. If he does those things, he shows the competitiveness to be an NHL playmaker like another Elias, countryman Elias Lindholm.

16. Martin Necas, RW
6’1, 178 pounds, Brno (Czech)

Necas could sneak into the top 10 thanks to his performance at the World Juniors, but his slight frame and up-and-down showings at other events have left some doubts about his upside. He might be the top skater among forwards in the draft, which helps his cause.

17. Timothy Liljegren, D
6’0, 188 pounds, Rogle (SHL)

This time last year, Liljegren was probably behind only Patrick in many Class of 2017 rankings. He has since had mono, was cut from Sweden’s World Junior squad, and had a poor season on a worse team. That’s a lot to overlook, but someone will take him based on his raw skills.

20. Kailer Yamamoto, RW
5’8, 146 pounds, Spokane (WHL)

Smaller players are being considered more and more, and Yamamoto is the smallest among those who could go in the first round. There’s no denying Yamamoto’s skillset, so someone will roll the dice on him, but can he handle the rigors of the NHL game?

21. Kristian Vesalainen, LW
6’5, 209 pounds, Frolunda (SEL)

Vesalainen can’t be faulted for being bounced around all year. He started in the Swedish Hockey League, then went back home to Finland and played in the World Juniors, then back to Sweden. Vesalainen has the size and skill teams dream of, so a team will grab him in the first.

31. Erik Brannstrom, D
5’9, 179 pounds, HV71 (SHL)

Brannstrom is a microcosm of this draft. Some see him as a lottery pick, while others pencil him in as a mid-second round pick. If he was Liljegren’s size, he would probably go before the countryman he outperformed in international competitions.

65. Michael DiPietro, G
6’0, 202 pounds, Windsor (OHL)

DiPietro —— no relation to former first overall pick Rick —— carried the Spitfires to the Memorial Cup with his play in net. The knock on DiPietro, like Hurricanes prospect and former OHL standout Alex Nedeljkovic, is his size. At 6 feet, many wonder if he can thrive in today’s NHL.

73. Cale Fleury, D
6’2, 199 pounds, Kootenay (WHL)

DiPietro doesn’t have pro bloodlines, but Fleury does. The younger brother of Carolina’s first-round pick in 2014 isn’t the prospect his brother was in his draft year, but he took over as captain in Kootenay in January and is a big, mobile defender.Click here for North State Journal’s Top 100 NHL Draft Prospects list.