BUFFALO, NY -- The conclusion of the 2016 NHL Draft at First Niagara Center on Saturday signals the start of further evaluation of top prospects eligible for the 2017 draft at United Center in Chicago.
Heading that list is Brandon centre Nolan Patrick (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), who many project at this stage to be the No. 1 pick next year.
The Winnipeg native has 159 points (72 goals, 87 assists) and a plus-79 rating in 130 career games in the Western Hockey League, all with the Wheat Kings. He had 102 points (41 goals, 61 assists) in 72 games in 2015-16, helping Brandon win the WHL championship.
"He reminds me of guys like Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres) or Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers) because he's not flashy, but so good and smart," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said. "He reads the ice as well as any forward I saw in the WHL (in 2015-16).
"He's a scorer and playmaker, because even though he'd rather set you up, he still scored 41 (goals) this year. You want him on the ice in critical situations at the end of a game."
Patrick had 13 goals and a league-leading 30 points in 21 WHL playoff games and was named the league's postseason most valuable player. The son of former NHL forward Steve Patrick and nephew of former NHL defenceman James Patrick isn't focused on the attention he'll receive next season in his draft year.
"I'm just going to have to live through it," Patrick said. "I'll try not to focus on that too much when I'm playing. Right now I'm not thinking about where I'm projected to go in the draft and things like that. I'm just going to try to continue working hard, and hopefully the team's winning [next season] and that's the only thing I'm really going to focus on."
Patrick has the skill set required of a No. 1 center in the NHL.
"He plays every situation, he's big, scores goals and doesn't look like a young player on the ice, so sky's the limit," NHL Central Scouting's John Williams said.
Nolan Patrick of Brandon Wheat Kings.
Another player to watch from the WHL is Spokane right wing Kailer Yamamoto. The 5-7, 147-pound forward led the Chiefs with 71 points (19 goals, 52 assists) in 57 games this season. He also helped the United States win the bronze medal at the 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. He tied for the tournament lead with seven goals in seven games and was tied for third with 13 points.
Matt Ryan, who evaluates prospects in the Ontario Hockey League for NHL Central Scouting, identified three players to watch prior to the 2017 draft: Windsor center Gabriel Vilardi and a pair of players from Mississauga -- right wing Owen Tippett, and Mississauga defenceman Nicolas Hague.
Vilardi (6-2, 193) had 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 62 games as a rookie for the Spitfires.
"He's a highly skilled center with good size and deceptive skating ability," Ryan said. "He maneuvers extremely well in traffic and is able to create time and space for himself effectively."
Mississauga could have two players selected among the top 15 picks in 2017. Tippett (6-1, 181) had 15 goals and five assists in 48 games and is considered a threat to produce when he's below the dots in the offensive zone.
"[Tippett] has high-end goal scoring ability," Ryan said. "He possesses an excellent release, has excellent speed and quickness and is very difficult to defend 1-on-1."
Hague (6-5, 207) might be the top OHL defenceman eligible for the 2017 draft. He had 14 goals, 10 assists and a plus-4 rating in 66 games for Mississauga.
"[Hague] continued to get better and better all season," Ryan said. "He's a big defenceman who is a fluid skater. He moves the puck extremely well, enabling his team to create a ton of offense. He shows an ability to run the power play and has an excellent shot that he gets through with consistency."
Victoriaville right wing Maxime Comtois (6-1, 189) might be the best player available from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had 60 points (26 goals, 34 assists) and 12 power-play goals in 62 games for the Tigres.
"He reminds me a bit of (Cape Breton left wing) Pierre-Luc Dubois as a 16-year-old because he's a pretty complete guy," NHL Central Scouting's Troy Dumville said. "He's a big, strong guy and can play a lot of different roles on the team. He plays penalty kill, is good defensively and goes to the net hard. He'll be a guy I can easily see being in the top 10 next year."
There are two players gaining plenty of traction from the United States Hockey League: Green Bay center Casey Mittelstadt and Sioux City right wing Eeli Tolvanen.
Mittelstadt (5-11, 190) will play for Green Bay before and after his high school season at Eden Prairie in Minnesota in 2016-17. Mittelstadt, who had 80 points (33 goals, 47 assists) in 31 regular-season and playoff games for Eden Prairie last season, is committed to the University of Minnesota in 2017-18.
"He's quick and fast with or without the puck," NHL Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen said. "He's got very good puck skills and a high-end compete level."
Tolvanen (5-10, 174) of Vihti, Finland, had 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 49 games for the Musketeers last season, his first in North America. He's committed to Boston College for 2017-18.
"Tolvanen is a solid skater in all directions, is creative and has good puck skills," Rajanen said.
Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting, pointed out three international skaters high on his 2017 watch list: defencemen Timothy Liljegren (6-0, 190) of Rogle (Sweden) and Urho Vaakanainen (6-1, 187) of JYP (Finland), and left wing Kristian Vesalainen (6-3, 203) of Frolunda (Finland).
Stubb believes Vaakanainen and Vesalainen will represent defending gold medalist Finland at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto.
"Vaakanainen is a smooth skater with vision and a good set of skills including skating, passing, shot, vision," Stubb said. "Vesalainen is originally from HIFK Helsinki but moved to Frolunda in order to improve. He's a big, physical power forward who likes to go straight for the net."
Liljegren is a projected top-five pick because of his understanding of the game and ability with the puck.
"He's a very good talent; an effective two-way player and puck mover," Stubb said.