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Prospect Profiles: 5 North American Skaters to Know

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. - With the 2017 NHL Draft right around the corner, we here at FloridaPanthers.com have decided to help out cats fans by making a quick list of draft-eligible prospects worth getting to know in the days leading up to the draft's first round at the United Center in Chicago on June 23.

1. Gabriel Vilardi

Date of Birth: Aug. 16, 1999

Place of Birth: Kingston, Ontario

Ht: 6'2'' Wt: 192 lbs

Shoots: Right

Position: Center

Team: Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

A versatile forward that excels playing both at center and on the wing, Vilardi is one of the more balanced players expected to be selected in the first round of this year's draft, showing exceptional poise in both the offensive and defensive zones.

After making the OHL's Second All-Rookie Team in 2015-16, Vilardi managed to put together an even better sophomore campaign this past season in Windsor, recording a team-leading 61 points (29-32-61) in just 49 games for the Spitfires.

A smart, well-rounded skater, Vilardi has garnered praise as one of top two-way players in junior hockey. He's a demon in the faceoff dot and can use his 6-foot-2, 192-pound frame to knock opposing players off the puck in order to create scoring chances for his teammates.

A great set-up man, Vilardi tallied seven assists in four games to help the Spitfires capture the 2017 Memorial Cup in May.

Pre-Draft Ranking

Ranked #4 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

2. Michael Rasmussen

Date of Birth: April 17, 1999

Place of Birth: Surrey, British Columbia

Ht: 6'5'' Wt: 203 lbs

Shoots: Left

Position: Center

Team: Tri-City Americans (WHL)

At 6-foot-5 and 203 pounds, it's literally impossible to overlook Rasmussen.

An effective player in all three zones, Rasmussen is at his most dangerous when he's using his imposing size to win battles along the boards or clear out space in the crease. He can screen opposing goaltenders with ease and fight off would-be defenders to cash-in on rebounds.

A hard-working power forward, Rasmussen tallied 55 points (32-23-55) in 50 games for the Tri-City Americans before an unfortunate wrist injury ended his sophomore campaign. Of his 32 goals, 15 of them came on the power play, which was good enough for sixth in the entire WHL.

With exceptional size and vision, Rasmussen can also utilize his long reach to disrupt passing lanes and breakup plays. His skating and puck skills could use some work, but his natural talent and size make him an intriguing prospect for a team looking to add some grit to their lineup.

So, yes, Rasmussen is big, but it's not the only reason he's got a high ceiling.

Pre-Draft Ranking

Ranked #5 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

3. Owen Tippett

Date of Birth: Feb. 16, 1999

Place of Birth: Peterborough, Ontario

Ht: 6'2'' Wt: 203 lbs

Shoots: Right

Position: RW

Team: Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

A powerful winger armed with an NHL-caliber shot, Tippett is considered by many experts and analysts to be one of the purest goal scorers in this year's draft.

After notching just 15 goals and 20 points with Mississauga in 2015-16, the 18-year-old winger broke out in a big way this past season, scoring a team-leading 44 goals and adding 31 assists in 60 games for the Steelheads.

With a shoot first, ask questions later mentality, Tippett is the type of player that gives opposing goalies nightmares. His quick release can make pucks hard to track and, when he's occasionally not shooting, his 6-foot-2, 203-pound frame can be used to clear space and cause chaos in the crease.

In short, if you want someone with a knack for finding the net, Tippett's your guy.

That being said, the Peterborough, Ontario native isn't necessarily a one-dimensional player. He's also an excellent skater with a good first step and top-end speed. He can beat you one-on-one when he has the puck and also use his speed to separate himself from defenders when he's playing away from it.

Pre-Draft Ranking

Ranked #7 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

4. Eeli Tolvanen

Date of Birth: April 4, 1999

Place of Birth: Vihti, Finland

Ht: 5'10" Wt: 181 lbs

Shoots: Left

Position: LW/RW

Team: Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)

A native of Vihti, Finland, Tolvanen is listed as a North American rather than a European skater for this year's draft after having spent the past two seasons competing for Sioux City of the USHL.

In 52 games with the Musketeers this past season, Tolvanen's vast and varied offensive skills were on full display, as the 18-year-old winger scored a career-high 30 goals on a league-leading 246 shots on goal. His performance was so exceptional, in fact, that he was named to the USHL's First All-Star Team.

Like 2013 first-round pick Aleksander Barkov, Tolvanen is already being labeled as a key piece of Finland's bright hockey future. At the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, the left-handed winger finished tied for first on the team with six points (2-4-6) in six games. During the U18 tournament in 2016, he scored a team-leading seven goals to help Finland capture the gold medal.

An undersized skater with an up-tempo play style, Tolvanen has committed to play at Boston College next year, a development path that will not only allow him to compete against top-tier competition, but also leave plenty of time for him to hit the gym and build upon his 5-foot-10, 181-pound frame.

Pre-Draft Ranking

Ranked #8 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

5. Casey Mittelstadt

Date of Birth: Nov. 22, 1998

Place of Birth: Eden Prairie, Minnesota

Ht: 6'1'' Wt: 201 lbs

Shoots: Left

Position: C/LW

Team: Eden Prairie High (USHS) / Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)

If you're looking for a dynamic playmaker, look no further than Mittelstadt.

Mittelstadt, a gifted puck-handler and scorer, split time between high school and the USHL this past season, recording 64 points (21-43-64) in 25 games with Eden Prairie and 30 points (13-17-30) in 24 games with Green Bay.

Following a stellar senior season, he was the recipient of Minnesota's prestigious Mr. Hockey award, which is given annually to the top senior high school player in the state. He was also named the USHS All-USA Hockey Player of the Year and earned a spot on the USHS All-USA Hockey First Team.

Internationally, at the 2015 Hlinka Memorial Tournament, Mittelstadt finished tied for first on Team USA in scoring with seven points (3-4-7) in four games. Later, at the 2016 U18 World Junior Championship, he finished fourth on the team with nine points (4-5-9) in seven games.

With a unique blend of strength, vision and speed, Mittelstadt plans to hone his skills next season at the University of Minnesota, an all-time great collegiate program and the alma mater of current Panthers/Thunderbirds Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau and Adam Wilcox.

Pre-Draft Ranking 

Ranked #3 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

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