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Who's better: Cale Makar vs. Miro Heiskanen

Scouts praise Brooks defenseman's skating, HIFK prospect's hockey sense entering 2017 NHL Draft

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

When will the first defenseman be selected at the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas?

It may be one of the most asked questions heading into the draft at United Center in Chicago on Friday and Saturday, but there's little doubt the answer will either be Cale Makar of Brooks in the Alberta Junior Hockey League or Miro Heiskanen of HIFK in Finland.

 

[RELATED: Complete NHL Draft coverage | Heiskanen believes he is best defenseman in Draft]

 

The first round of the draft is Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN). Rounds 2-7 are Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN).

In a poll conducted by NHL.com of 12 NHL scouts, Makar had a 7-5 advantage.

Makar (5-foot-11, 187 pounds), No. 9 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, is expected to be the highest-drafted player ever from the AJHL. Camrose forward Joe Colborne holds the record; he was chosen at No. 16 in 2008 by the Boston Bruins. He was sixth in the AJHL and first among defensemen with 75 points (24 goals, 51 assists) and was named the league's most valuable player and its top defensemen. He also had 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 13 playoff games to help Brooks to a second straight AJHL championship, and then had six points (two goals, four assists) in five games to help Brooks to a second-place finish in the Royal Bank Cup, Canada's National Junior A championship series.

He's committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2017-18.

"I think Makar is the best defenseman of this draft," said Craig Button, TSN director of scouting and a former NHL general manager. "What Makar offers is just so rare. I felt Heiskanen was brilliant at the [2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship] and he'll be a top-pair defenseman, but I'm not sure how much offense he'll produce. Makar is a dynamic contributor offensively."

Heiskanen (6-1, 172), No. 4 in Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, earned top-pair minutes for HIFK in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, as a 17-year-old this season and averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time per game in the playoffs. He had 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in seven games at the World Under-18 Championship to help Finland win the silver medal, and he was regarded as the best draft-eligible defenseman at the tournament.

NHL.com sought the opinions of NHL scouts who have watched Makar and Heiskanen this season. They promised honesty in exchange for anonymity.

 

In favor of Makar

"Generational talents don't often come along but I think there may be a generational talent in Makar. There's something that Makar does that if he continues to do at every level he plays, it's where the game is heading. He'll be the guy that pushes the pace and makes teams game plan for him or what he can do. You look how a very good skating defenseman can impact [things] from the back end; we've seen that through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I think teams are going to have a tough time passing up on Cale Makar. They'll try to figure out how to get him. He might go a little higher than we expect."

"He looks like the real deal; a guy who's confident and understands puck possession and when to get the puck to his forwards and when to make a rush. He doesn't leave his forwards flat-footed at the blue line and doesn't aimlessly dump it. He has that sixth sense, that innate sense, that's going to make him an effective NHL player."

"His upside is huge and I believe he could turn out to be the best player in the draft five years down the line. His skating ability is on a different level, as far as change of speed and direction."

Video: Breaking down defensive prospect Cale Makar

 

In favor of Heiskanen

"At 17 years old he's playing against guys who are 35 and who have been around for 20 years so that gives him an extra advantage. You don't play in Liiga if you're not good enough to do that and he was unbelievable there. He's a very good skater, both forward and backward. His hockey sense is really good. He's not a big, strong guy but always in the right position at the right time. He can shoot and is an excellent playmaker. He loves to join the offensive rush."

"They are both excellent skaters, and can both can create offensively. But defensively, the experience Heiskanen has from playing good minutes against men this past season in Finland's top league has his overall development ahead of Makar for me."

"Heiskanen is No. 1 on my list. He's a Scott Niedermayer, a generational-type guy. The game is easy for him. The way he skates, the way he makes plays."

Video: Miro Heiskanen prospect profile

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