TORONTO -- There may not be a generational player available in the 2017 NHL Draft as was the case the past two years, but evaluators at NHL Central Scouting had plenty of reasons to be excited preparing the final rankings of North American skaters and goaltenders.
"It's always a challenging task to find consensus [among the scouts], but the meetings were quite productive in having lively discussion and exchanging opinions and arguments to reach a comprehensive viewpoint," said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. "The scouting this year was much more of a grind not only for Central Scouting but for all NHL scouting staffs in that the pool of players did not separate themselves as much.
"This made the evaluations and assessments a much more extensive process all season long. At the end of the meetings, I believe strongly that the Central Scouting group presents the NHL clubs with a comprehensive ranking identifying where players should be considered for selection in the draft."
The final rankings of the top 217 skaters and 31 goaltenders in North America, as well as list of the top skaters and goaltenders in Europe, will be released later this month. The 2017 NHL Draft will be held at United Center in Chicago on June 23-24.
Center Nolan Patrick (6-foot-3, 198 pounds) of Brandon of the Western Hockey League and center Nico Hischier (6-1, 176) of Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League were the top two players in Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters in January. Keith Petruzzelli (6-5, 180) of Muskegon of the United States Hockey League was the top-rated North American goaltender.
"The exciting thing about this year's draft is that because of the wide variety of players and how people are viewing them, there's going to be a lot of different ideas of who has value at what level," said David Gregory of NHL Central Scouting. "So by the time draft day comes, and based on what our list is saying, you could see a real variety of opinions."
Here are five questions that were answered during NHL Central Scouting's final meetings:
How would you rate the goaltending class this season compared to previous seasons?
The run on goaltenders in the 2016 draft began when Carter Hart of Everett in the Western Hockey League was chosen No. 48 by the Philadelphia Flyers. He was the first of four goalies selected in an 11-pick span in the second round. This year there could be as many as six goalies picked by the time the second round ends.
"It's a strong and deep class, probably more this year than the last few years," said Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting. "I think there are a lot of goalies who have a chance to be No. 1 goalies in the NHL so I think that will excite the NHL teams a lot more."
Do NHL teams place an emphasis on drafting bigger players in the early rounds?
Spokane right wing Kailer Yamamoto (5-7, 153), No. 17 on Central Scouting's midterm list, might be as skilled and competitive as any forward in the 2017 draft. But could his stature deter teams from selecting him ahead of a bigger, equally talented player?
"Size is only an asset if you use it correctly," said Central Scouting's Matt Ryan. "The bottom line is that you have to win puck battles. There are a number of ways to do that and there are many different elements that come into play outside of just sheer size and strength."
Said Central Scouting's John Williams, "I can speak from my own experience but every team wants to get bigger if they can. It's always a balancing act for general managers wanting to get bigger. So you want skill, you might have to take the smaller guy. You have to find a balance there."
Do you anticipate a defenseman being selected in the top 10?
In a draft that appears to be top-heavy with versatile, skilled forwards, it will be interesting to see where the first defenseman will fall. There are plenty of interesting candidates, among them Miro Heiskanen (6-0, 170) of HIFK in Finland, Timothy Liljegren (6-0, 191) of Rogle in Sweden, Juuso Valimaki (6-1, 204) of Tri-City of the WHL, Cale Makar (5-11, 179) of Brooks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League and Nicolas Hague (6-5, 206) of Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League.
"I'd say the depth of defensemen is not there as compared to a year ago, but I think there's six or seven quality guys that'll end up in the first round that are definitely good prospects," said Troy Dumville of Central Scouting. "A team with two picks in the first round could decide to get that forward with the first pick and then focus on a defenseman with the next."
That lack of depth in the pool of defenseman could see a team take a chance on grabbing one early.
"Defensemen are at a premium this year," Gregory said. "That could cause a defenseman to go sooner. Early in the draft it's usually the best player available, but there's a couple defensemen there that some teams may step up for and say that's the kind of defenseman we want."
Are there players available in the later rounds that feature family pedigrees?
There are a number of players expected to go early with familiar family ties like Patrick, the son of Steve Patrick and nephew of James Patrick, each of whom played in the NHL; Hamilton (OHL) left wing Matthew Strome (6-3, 206), No. 19 in the midterm ranking, who is the younger brother of Ryan Strome of the New York Islanders and Dylan Strome of the Arizona Coyotes; and Regina (WHL) center Jake Leschyshyn (5-11, 184), No. 31, the son of former NHL player Curtis Leschyshyn.
Others who could get picked in later rounds include center Skyler Brind'Amour (6-2, 170), the son of Carolina Hurricanes assistant coach Rod Brind'Amour, who played for South Kent School in Connecticut this season and is No. 202 in the midterm ranking. Defenseman Eero Teravainen (5-11, 173) of Lincoln (USHL) is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen. Goaltender Cayden Primeau (6-3, 179) of Lincoln, No. 4 among North American goaltenders in the midterm ranking, is the son of former NHL player Keith Primeau. Center Tyce Thompson (5-11, 149) of Salisbury Prep in Connecticut and No. 150 in the midterm ranking, is the son of former NHL player Brent Thompson and brother of St. Louis Blues prospect Tage Thompson.
How strong is the 2018 draft class?
At the top are goaltender Alexis Gravel (6-2, 205) and left wing Benoit-Olivier Groulx (6-1, 184) of Halifax; right wing Andrei Svechnikov (6-1, 188) of Muskegon; center Brady Tkachuk (6-2, 194) of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team, who is the younger brother of Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk and the son of former NHL star forward Keith Tkachuk; and center Joseph Veleno (6-1, 190) of Saint John (QMJHL).
"[Svechnikov] is so elite as a young player in a very tough league," Gregory said. "He was dominant in the USHL as a 16 year old. He just does so many things well from his skating skills, puck skills and hockey sense. He's definitely in the discussion to be selected No. 1 next year."
Svechnikov is the younger brother of forward Evgeny Svechnikov, who was chosen by the Detroit Red Wings with the No. 19 pick of the 2015 draft.