In the days leading to the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas at United Center in Chicago on June 23-24, NHL.com will break down the top prospects by position. Today: The top defensemen available.
Top-end defensemen are at a premium in the 2017 NHL Draft so it wouldn't be surprising to see some selected earlier than expected.
"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," David Gregory of NHL Central Scouting said.
[RELATED: Complete NHL Draft coverage]
There were 75 defensemen selected in the 2016 draft, including nine in the first round. Jakob Chychrun, selected No. 16 by the Arizona Coyotes, had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) and averaged 16:40 of ice time in 68 games. He was the only defenseman from the 2016 draft class to play the entire season in the NHL.
Here are NHL.com's top 10 defensemen eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft:
The right-handed Makar (5-11, 187), No. 9 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 75 points (24 goals, 51 assists) in 54 games and was named the Alberta Junior Hockey League MVP and Defenseman of the Year. Committed to the University of Massachusetts for 2017-18, Makar is an offensive force on the transition. He had 135 points (35 goals, 100 assists) in 111 AJHL regular-season games in three seasons.
Video: Cale Makar - Prospect Profile
At 17, Heiskanen earned key minutes on the power play and penalty kill for HIFK in Liiga, Finland's top professional league. Heiskanen (6-1, 172), a left-handed shot who can play the right point, is No. 4 on Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters. He's poised, mobile and can provide offense. He ranked second in scoring at the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship with 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in seven games for silver medal-winning Finland.
Liljegren (5-11, 188), No. 6 on Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, never found his footing after being diagnosed with mononucleosis in September, but remains too good to ignore. He has tremendous speed and balance as well as a great feel for the game. He had five points (one goal, four assists) in 19 games for Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.
Valimaki (6-1, 211), No. 11 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, was seventh among Western Hockey League defensemen with 61 points (19 goals, 42 assists) and eighth with 22 power-play assists in 60 games. The left-handed shot was assertive and able to dictate tempo with great confidence.
The left-handed shot compensates for his lack of size (5-9, 179) with excellent hockey sense, skating, a strong shot, and solid puck-handling and passing skills. Brannstrom, No. 9 in Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, had six points (one goal, five assists) and a plus-10 rating in 35 SHL games. He's often compared to former NHL defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
The 6-4, 215-pound right-shot defenseman, son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote, logs a lot of minutes and uses his smarts, reach and strength to contain his opponent and gain position in the defensive zone. Foote, No. 12 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 57 points (six goals, 51 assists) in 71 games.
Hague (6-5, 207), No. 20 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, is a two-way defenseman who had 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) and six power-play goals in 65 games. The left-handed shot played a shut-down role and was a physical presence in the second half of the season, finishing fifth in the Ontario Hockey League with 107 penalty minutes. He was fourth among defensemen with 204 shots on goal.
Vaakanainen (6-1, 188), No. 8 in Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, was a regular on JYP in Liiga. He's mobile, good at handling the puck and capable of finding the open man in transition. He's reliable in the defensive zone and doesn't shy away from contact. He formed a good pairing with Heiskanen for Finland at the World U-18 Championship.
The right-handed shot has good hockey sense, vision and offensive instincts. Timmins (6-1, 183), No. 18 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, is poised under pressure and can process information quickly to make high-percentage plays. He had 61 points (seven goals, 54 assists) in 67 games.
Jokiharju (6-0, 187), No. 19 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 48 points (nine goals, 39 points) in 71 games in his first season in North America. The Finland-born right-shot defenseman is mobile with good hockey sense and puck-moving abilities, and can anticipate well, allowing him to close on opposing forwards quickly and eliminate their time and space.