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2017 NHL Draft Preview: Forwards

Centre ice the focus of the top six North American skaters

by Mitchell Clinton @MClinton007 / WinnipegJets.com

Out of the Top 50 North American skaters eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft, 36 are forwards. In fact, the top six play centre, including Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, who sit in the list's top two spots.

"They're different players, but as far as the impact they're going to have with NHL teams, it's going to be very similar," said Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr. "It's a very fine line between the two."

Patrick had an injury-plagued season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. In 33 games, he still managed to score 20 goals and accumulate 46 points, one season after registering 102 points in 72 games, helping Brandon to its first WHL title in 20 years.

The 18-year-old Hischier could make history as the highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history since Nino Niederreiter went fifth overall in 2010. His 86 points in 57 games as a rookie with the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads were the second most on the team, and the tenth highest total in the entire league.

"Both (are) high character players, and coaches like that because those guys don't require any maintenance. They're both competitors. Their athletic skills and attributes are in a class of themselves," said Marr.

"They're able to do it with a compete level that you get things done, and they're able to do it at the speed that you have to play with at a National Hockey League level."

The first non-centre on the prospect list is Mississauga Steelheads right-winger Owen Tippett. The 18-year-old Oshawa, ON native led the team in goals (44) and points (75). His offensive numbers took a big step forward in his second year with the team, increasing from 15 goals and 20 points in 2015-16.

"For me, I just wanted to come into the year more confident, feeling stronger and faster, more stable on my feet," he said. "That was something I really focused on in the summer, and I knew I wanted to have a big second year. I feel like I did the best I could.

"I like to use my speed, my shot, and my vision to my advantage."

Nick Suzuki loves going up against players like Tippett in the OHL. A centre with the Owen Sound Attack, Suzuki had a big offensive year of his own, scoring 45 times and netting 96 points in 65 games.

While he likes numbers like those, he said he takes pride in his two-way game.

"I always wanted to play well in both ends. I'm reliable in the defensive zone. I think I can also play really effective in the offensive zone too. That's just kind of who I am, and I've always been that way," said Suzuki. "Usually my line gets put with the top line, and we have to work them in the defensive zone. If you're playing in the offensive zone, they can't really create anything on you. That's what we try to do."

Speaking of centres, the Top 50 European Skaters list has two of them in the top three spots, including the name Lias Andersson.

Andersson, ranked third, has had a connection with the NHL for as long as he can remember.

The-18-year-old's uncle Mikael was the first Swedish player drafted by Buffalo (18th overall in 1984) and played 761 NHL games throughout a career that spanned from 1985 to 2000.

His father Niklas played in 165 NHL games during a career that saw him play with the Quebec Nordiques, New York Islanders, San Jose Sharks, Nashville Predators, and Calgary Flames.

"Just being around them and seeing how they do things has been huge for me," said Andersson, who won a league championship in Sweden with HV71. "Just being around them and seeing how they do every morning and every night, and see how they work hard."

Andersson, who also played for Sweden at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, did interviews with 30 teams at the NHL Combine, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, even though uncle Mikael has worked as a scout for the team since 2003-04.

Video: COMBINE | Lias Andersson

The one team he didn't speak to was the Los Angeles Kings, for good reason. His dad has been a scout in the organization since 2013.

"They know me pretty well," Andersson said with a laugh.

The 2017 NHL Draft takes place in Chicago on June 23-24.

Full North American Skaters Rankings

Full European Skaters Rankings

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