Center Nolan Patrick of Brandon of the Western Hockey League, a top candidate to be the first pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, was one of 14 players from the Canadian Hockey League to earn an "A" rating on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list, which was released Tuesday.
The players to watch list is Central Scouting's compilation of top prospects from all the major development leagues throughout North America and Europe. The list is updated throughout the season as scouts travel to see the players live.
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The 29 players on the list with "A" ratings are considered potential first-round picks. Players with "B" ratings are considered possible second- or third-round choices, and those with "C" ratings are potential fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round selections.
"It's expected that there will be a higher trend of player grades advancing upwards in the first part of the 2016-17 season due to the volume of draft-eligible prospects available," said Dan Marr, NHL director of Central Scouting.
Patrick (6-foot-3, 198 pounds), 18, had 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 21 games to tie for the WHL playoff scoring lead last season and was named postseason MVP after helping Brandon win the league championship. His 102 points in 72 regular-season games were fifth, and his 41 goals were tied for eighth.
He sustained a lower-body injury in Game 4 of the WHL Eastern Conference Final against Red Deer but did not miss a game. He had surgery in mid-July to repair a sports hernia and returned in time for the season opener against Moose Jaw on Sept. 23, when he had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 overtime loss.
Patrick has two goals, six points and a plus-3 rating in four games this season. Marr believes Patrick eventually could have a similar impact on his NHL team as Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
"Patrick is as complete an NHL package as you are going to find," Marr said. "From his pedigree, his skills and assets, to his performance impact to date, he has everything any NHL team is looking for in a top prospect."
Patrick is one of six WHL players to receive an "A" rating. There also are six from the Ontario Hockey League, three from the United States Hockey League, two from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, nine from Europe, two from the NCAA and one from a U.S. high school.
Among the A-rated skaters considered likely to be selected high in the first round are center Gabrial Vilardi (6-3, 201) of Windsor (OHL), defenseman Nicolas Hague (6-5, 206) of Mississauga (OHL), left wing Matthew Strome (6-3, 206) of Hamilton (OHL), center Maxime Comtois (6-2, 199) of Victoriaville (QMJHL), center Casey Mittelstadt (6-1, 201) of Eden Prairie (Minn) High School and right wing Eeli Tolvanen (5-10, 170) of Sioux City (USHL).
The A-rated players from Europe include defenseman Timothy Liljegren (6-0, 191) of Rogle Jr. (SWE), center/left wing Lias Andersson (5-11, 198) of HV 71 Jr. (SWE) and center/left wing Klim Kostin (6-3, 196) of Dynamo Moscow (RUS).
Vilardi is recovering from a lower-body injury but is expected to return to the lineup in 2-3 weeks.
Comtois, who had 26 goals and 60 points in 62 games for Victoriaville as a 16-year-old last season, has one goal and 15 shots on goal in four games to begin his second QMJHL season. His skill set has been compared to center Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was selected No. 3 in the 2016 draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets after playing for Cape Breton in the QMJHL.
"Comtois is the top prospect in the QMJHL and one of the more skilled prospects for the draft," Marr said. "In addition to him being an offensive threat in every situation, what makes him intriguing is his compete level, which is always hard and smart."
Strome, the younger brother of New York Islanders forward Ryan Strome and Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome, has three goals and five points in five games for Hamilton this season. He had 16 goals and 38 points in 61 games as an OHL rookie last season.
Liljegren had two goals in his first two games for Rogle but is out indefinitely because of an illness. The right-handed shot enters the season as a projected top-five draft pick.
Andersson has played for HV 71 in the Swedish junior league and the Swedish Hockey League this season. and has two assists in four SHL games. Andersson's father, Niklas Andersson, played six seasons in the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques, Islanders, San Jose Sharks, Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames.
"He is an excellent skater with speed and good first-step quickness," said Goran Stubb, NHL director of European Scouting. "He never stops skating, is always on the move and creates scoring chances with his mobility. At present he's a raw talent but a very good prospect."
The two A-rated players from the NCAA are freshman defenseman Luke Martin (6-4, 216) of the University of Michigan (Big 10) and freshman center Ryan Poehling (6-2, 183) of St. Cloud State University (NCHC). Each participated in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Sept. 22. Mittelstadt scored two goals and was named MVP.
The top goaltenders among the A-rated players are Maxim Zhukov (6-2, 188) of Green Bay (USHL) and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (6-4, 196) of HPK Hameenlinna in Liiga, Finland's top professional league.
"At this stage there is a good mix of forwards and defensemen ranked highly," Marr said. "But unlike the past few draft classes, the 2017 draft is looking to be a strong year for goaltenders to be considered early."
Zhukov, born in Kaliningrad, Russia, is playing his first season in North America after he had a 1.50 goals-against average in 28 games for Yaroslavl's under-17 team last season. He is 1-1-0 with a 2.02 GAA and .918 save percentage in two games for Green Bay.
"[Zhukov] reads and reacts to situations so well and is very strong physically in all areas of the game," said Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting. "He has excellent net coverage and post-to-post coverage, is strong protecting the wraparound attempt and short side, and has smart rebound control.
"There's a lot to like about his game moving forward."