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What experts are saying about some of the top-ranked draft prospects

Although there aren't any Auston Matthews or Patrik Laines this year, teams will find many excellent players

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

Fans who are hoping to find the next Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine in this year's NHL Entry Draft may be disappointed as there aren't any considered to be quite at that level.

But that doesn't mean there aren't some excellent players who will contribute at the NHL level at some point.

Here are the NHL.com's top five players in each category, according to their final ranking:

NORTH AMERICAN FORWARDS

1. Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL

What they're saying: "He's got the size, the NHL pedigree and the two-way game that will make him a pro right away. When healthy, he's the total package." - Ryan Kennedy, The Hockey News

2. Nico Hischier, C, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL

What they're saying: "His elite skill, skating and hockey sense is combined with a compete level that allows him to be effective in any style of game. Hischier (6-1, 176) was 10th in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 57 games and was named CHL Rookie of the Year." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

3. Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie, Minn. HS

What they're saying: "Has a solid frame and plenty of skill. Sees the ice well. His skating is above-average, but could use some work. Don't know if he's the first-line player many think he will be, but a top-six forward role is certainly within his grasp." - Daniel J. Friedman, SI.com

4. Gabriel Vilardi, C, Windsor Spitfires, OHL

What they're saying: "A center with size (6-3, 201), Vilardi is not the fastest skater but has a knack for making those around him better. His work ethic, determination and touch around the net will be a welcome addition. He had 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists) in 49 games this season." - Guillaume Lepage, NHL.com

5. Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City Americans, WHL

What they're saying: "At 6-6, 215 pounds, Rasmussen has the size and skill set to become a foundational player. He's considered an outstanding skater and had 32 goals in 50 games prior to season-ending surgery for a broken wrist in March. He's expected to be healthy for training camp, and because of his size and skill set, he could start the season in the NHL." - Adam Kimelman, NHL.com

EUROPEAN FORWARDS

1. Klim Kostin, LW/C, Dynamo Moscow, Russia

What they're saying: "The 6-3 winger had a shoulder injury that ended his KHL season and the threat of any Russian player choosing the KHL over the NHL is always a consideration. But based on talent, he's a strong, puck-possession winger and, with his ranking as the top European skater in his draft class according to NHL.com, Kostin shouldn't last beyond the top 10." - Joe Haggerty, CSNNE.com

2. Elias Pettersson, C, Timra, Sweden-2

What they're saying: "Pettersson is a highly skilled, creative forward who can play in the middle or on the wing. He spent the entire season in Allsvenskan, Sweden's second division, and at age 18 had 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) in 43 games. At 6-2, 161 pounds, he needs to get bigger, but he isn't shy when it comes to getting to the net in the offensive zone. He plays smart and is positionally strong defensively." - Adam Kimelman, NHL.com

3. Lias Andersson, C, HV 71, Sweden

What they're saying: "Andersson (5-11, 198) is an excellent skater with speed and good first-step quickness. He's always on the move and can create scoring chances with his mobility, good hands and grit. His father, Niklas Andersson, played 164 NHL games and is a scout for the Los Angeles Kings." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

4. Martin Necas, C, Brno, Czech Republic

What they're saying: "Necas is not the biggest forward available in the draft (6-0, 167), but sets himself apart with his offensive flair and hockey IQ. He battles for loose pucks and has good vision, allowing him to find teammates and create scoring chances. Necas had 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 41 games in the top Czech league." - Guillaume Lepage, NHL.com

5. Kristian Vesalainen, LW/RW, Frolunda, Sweden

What they're saying: "The 6-3, 207-pound winger opened eyes at the World Under-18s with six goals and 13 points for a Finland team that wasn't tremendously strong. He's committed to play for HPK in the Finnish Elite League next season but could develop quickly given his size and skill set." - Joe Haggerty, CSNNE.com

NORTH AMERICAN DEFENSEMEN

1. Cale Makar, Brooks Bandits, AJHL

What they're saying: "A dynamic defenceman who approaches the game in a similar manner to Erik Karlsson." - Craig Button, TSN

2. Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City Americans, WHL

What they're saying: "Valimaki (6-2, 204) had 61 points (19 goals, 42 assists) in 60 games this season. Scouts see him as the prototypical modern-day defenseman, able to use his high hockey IQ to know when to take the puck and go on the attack or find the open player for a quick pass to start a breakout." - Adam Kimelman, NHL.com

3. Callan Foote, Kelowna Rockets, WHL

What they're saying: "The next product off the assembly line at Kelowna's defenseman factory. Like his father, Adam, he's a good two-way rearguard. There's some offense there, too, and he has a cannon of a slap shot." - Daniel J. Friedman, SI.com

4. Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie Soo Greyhounds, OHL

What they're saying: "Has excellent sense and feel for the game, with strong puck play. There's a high efficiency to his game." - Craig Button, TSN

5. Henri Jokiharju, Portland Winterhawks, WHL

What they're saying: "An offensive-minded right-shot defenseman who excels at getting the puck out of the defensive zone to skilled forwards. He's a bit on the small side (6-0, 180), but that didn't prevent him from having a productive first season in North America with 48 points (nine goals, 39 points) in 71 games. He doesn't turn 18 until June 17." - Adam Kimelman, NHL.com

EUROPEAN DEFENSEMEN

1. Miro Heiskanen, HIFK, Liiga

What they're saying: "Hard not to think of Ryan McDonagh while watching him play. Skating is superb and distributes the puck well. Won't always dominate a game offensively, but will almost always have an impact." - Daniel J. Friedman, SI.com

2. Timothy Liljegren, Timra, Allsvenskan

What they're saying: "Liljegren (6-0, 191) didn't reach his high standard upon returning from mononucleosis in November, but his projection is too good to ignore. His skating is off the charts, he has a great feel for the game and can run a power play. He has a knack for joining the rush and is capable of finding the open man. Liljegren had five points (one goal, four assists) in 19 games for Rogle." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

3. Urho Vaakanainen, JYP, Finland

What they're saying: "He's a good skater and puck-mover who can make smart passes out of the defensive zone. He likely won't be a big offensive producer, but he'll be someone the coach wants on the ice in the final minutes of a game to protect a lead." - Adam Kimelman, NHL.com

4. Erik Brannstrom, HV71 U-20, SuperElit

What they're saying: "Brannstrom isn't the biggest guy in the world (5-10, 173 pounds), but he's got the puck-moving skills and the pedigree that any NHL team would want to see out of a Swedish prospect. He played well in 35 games in the Elite League last season and has the requisite skating, hockey IQ and competitiveness requirements to go along with the skill set." - Joe Haggerty, CSNNE.com

5. Filip Westerlund, Frolunda, Sweden

What they're saying: "Westerlund is a defenseman who stands out with his vision and puck control. Plays a calm, cerebral game and can hit forwards with long passes from the backend. Defensively, there is room for improvement given his hockey IQ. Also, his skating could use some work, especially his first few steps. Isn't that agile yet, either. - Erik K. Piri, eliteprospects.com

NORTH AMERICAN GOALTENDERS

1. Jake Oettinger, Boston University, NCAA

What they're saying: "Oettinger (6-4, 212), No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies, plays simple, efficient and is technically sound. He had a 2.11 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and four shutouts in 35 games. He led Hockey East with a 2.09 GAA in 20 regular-season league games and was the second-youngest player in the NCAA; he turned 18 on Dec. 18." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

2. Keith Petruzzelli, Muskegon Lumberjacks, USHL

What they're saying: "Petruzzelli (6-5, 174), No. 2 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies, is good on his angles, square to shots and tough to beat low. He went 22-10-1 with a 2.40 GAA, a .918 save percentage and two shutouts in 35 games. He's committed to Quinnipiac University next season." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

3. Ian Scott, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL

What they're saying: "He plays a butterfly style with excellent rebound control, has a good glove hand and is smart at reading backdoor plays. Scott (6-3, 169), No. 3 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies, had a 3.69 GAA and an .895 save percentage in 50 games with Prince Albert, which finished 20th among 22 teams in the WHL standings." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

4. Michael DiPietro, Windsor Spitfires, OHL

What they're saying: "Best goalie in the draft is a top 10 talent, except for his height." - Kyle Woodlief, Red Line Report

5. Stuart Skinner, Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL

What they're saying: "Skinner (6-3, 199), No. 5 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies, has excellent command of the crease with an aggressive style. He finished 34-18-5 with a 3.26 GAA, two shutouts and a .905 save percentage in 60 games." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

EUROPEAN GOALTENDERS 

1. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, HPK U20, Jr. A SM-liiga

What they're saying: "He missed a month after getting pneumonia in October but returned to help lead HPK in the Finland junior league to the playoffs with a 1.78 GAA and a .917 save percentage in 35 games. Luukkonen (6-4, 197), No. 1 in Central Scouting's final ranking of international goalies, has good rebound control and instincts, and plays calm and relaxed." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

2. Olle Eriksson Ek, Farjestad Jr., Sweden Jr.

What they're saying: "Eriksson Ek (6-2, 178) plays a butterfly style, can recover quickly and has a good glove hand. He had a 2.16 GAA, a .924 save percentage and five shutouts in 30 games for Farjestad in Sweden's under-20 league. He's No. 2 in Central Scouting's final ranking of international goalies." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

3. Adam Ahman, HV71 U-20, SuperElit

What they're saying: "He might be on the smaller side (6-0, 163), but is quick and effective while playing a butterfly style. Ahman, No. 3 on Central Scouting's final ranking of international goalies, had a 2.30 GAA, a .927 save percentage and four shutouts in 34 games for HV 71 in Sweden's under-20 league. He was 4-3 with a 2.93 GAA and a .902 save percentage in seven playoff games." - Mike Morreale, NHL.com

4. Jiri Patera, Ceske Budejovice Jr., Czech Republic Jr.

What they're saying: Patera, 18, is a Czech Republic native who played 38 games for HC Ceske Budejovice U20 team last season, with a 2.61 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in the regular season and a 2.68 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in eight playoff games. In 11 games for the Czech Republic U18 team, Patera had a 3.17 goals-against average and .895 save percentage.

5. Kirill Ustimenko, Dynamo St. Petersburg 2, Russia Jr.

What they're saying: "But don't sleep on Kirill Ustimenko, who played on the Russian team at the U-18 in Slovakia. He seems to be an unknown to many and has been a little hidden all season." - Jeff Marek, sportsnet.ca

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