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The top North American and international blueliners in this year's draft

by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson /

Ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago, will highlight the top players available by position, as ranked by NHL Central Scouting.

Here is a breakdown of the top defencemen in this year's draft class:


1. Cale Makar - Brooks Bandits (AJHL)

The Calgary product rocketed up the draft rankings this year thanks to his high offensive upside that has been dubbed as elite by some scouts. The defenceman put up 24 goals and 75 points in 54 games, leading all Brooks' defencemen and ranking him third in team scoring. The only knock on Makar is his size - he's listed at 5-foot-11 and 187-lb. - but his elusiveness has allowed him to flourish against much larger competition.

2. Juuso Valimaki - Tri-City Americans (WHL)

Since coming over to the Western Hockey League in 2015-16, Valimaki has evolved into a strong two-way rearguard for the Americans. He plays a responsible, poised game in his own zone and can chip in offensively. He's great in transition and has grown comfortable with jumping up into the rush. In 60 regular-season games last year, he managed 19 goals and 61 points.

3. Callan Foote - Kelowna Rocket (WHL)

The son of Adam Foote, the 6-foot-4 defenceman has the NHL pedigree and polish that most of his peers lack. He can play a shutdown role if needed but also has the ability to generate offence thanks to his vision and hockey IQ. He has a hard slap shot, making him a candidate to man the point on the powerplay. In 71 games last year, Foote put up six goals and 57 points.

4. Conor Timmins - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

The 17-year-old can generate plenty of offence, leading all Greyhounds defencemen in scoring last season with 61 points through 67 games. Timmins has plenty of speed, allowing him to leap up and join the rush. He also has no issue playing with a bit of an edge, finishing off checks and battling hard along the boards.

5. Henri Jokiharju - Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

One of Jokiharju's best assets is his skating. Not only does he have the quickness needed to thrive as an offensive blueliner, he's also extremely agile and has the ability to weave through opponents in the neutral and offensive zones. In his first season with the Winterhawks, he scored nine goals and 48 points in 71 games. He also won gold with Finland at the 2016 U18 World Championship.


1. Miro Heiskanen - HIFK (Liiga)

One of the top two-way defenceman in this year's draft class, Heiskanen spent the 2016-17 season playing against men in Finland with HIFK. In 37 games, he scored five goals and 10 points and dressed for eight playoff games, picking up three assists. The Espoo, Finland product has all the tools to develop into a top defencemen at the next level with his skating ability, puck skills and calm demeanor.

2. Timothy Liljegren - Rogle (SHL)

After dealing with a bout of mono at the start of the 2016-17 season, the 18-year-old spent the bulk of his year with Rogle BK in the Swedish Hockey League, posting one goal and five points in 19 games. He also spent 12 games with Rogle's junior club, scoring five goals and seven points in 12 games, and was loaned to Timra in Sweden's Allsvenskan league. With Timra, he had one assist in five games. He's one of the draft class' best skaters and possesses plenty of offensive upside.

3. Urho Vaakanainen - JYP (Liiga)

The Finn plays an exceptionally sound game in his own zone, boxing opponents out and getting the puck out quickly with an efficient first pass. His positioning while defending is admirable and ahead of the curve when it comes to his age group. He spent the 2016-17 season playing against men with JYP in Finland.

4. Erik Brannstrom - HV71 (SHL)

Similar to Makar, the only real detriment to Brannstrom's game is his size. At 5-foot-9 and 179-lb., one-on-one puck battles can be an issue for the Swede but other than that, he has an impressive skillset. His skating is top notch, he has strong offensive instincts and he's positionally sound in his own zone. He played 35 games against men in Sweden last year with HV71, scoring one goal and six points.

5. Filip Westerlund - Frolunda (SHL)

Speed is this Swede's calling card, enabling him to excel offensively and when in transition. His edgework and agility are admirable, making him tough to track down when he jumps up into the play. Westerlund played well in his own zone in his first season in the SHL and was only hindered by his smaller frame when faced with one-on-one battles against larger opponents.

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