NHL Central Scouting released their mid-term draft rankings on Wednesday. During the World Juniors, I dubbed this the ‘Meh’ Draft. And it more than likely still is. But the release of Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings is still always an exciting day, even if this year’s draft looks down compared to most.
Here are a few things that stood out to me in looking at the list:
-Nolan Patrick is still the top overall prospect, though I feel like that is as much because no one else has really pushed him for the top spot as much as anything. Patrick hasn’t been bad this year. In fact, he’s been quite good when he has played, but has only played in eight games this year due to injury.
The only guy really pushing him is Nico Hischier, who most fans are intimately familiar with from the World Juniors. Hischier didn’t have enough juice to pass Patrick in these rankings, but I think he’s moved ahead on some people’s boards and it’s not a foregone conclusion that Patrick will go first overall this year. Regardless of who does, I don’t think the team that wins the lottery this year will be getting a Matthews/Laine/McDavid type prospect out of it.
-The other guy that was maybe supposed to push Patrick for the top overall spot was Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren. The big story in today’s rankings is that he came in at seventh on the European list. Liljegren has really struggled this year. He too had to work through an injury, and when he has been healthy, hasn’t played well. He was loaned out to a lower division team to see more ice and get some confidence back after not doing much in Sweden’s top pro league.
That said, I think bumping him down that far might be a tad harsh, again, because I don’t think there are many guys making the move ahead of him. Klim Kostin is the top ranked European, and while I love his physical skills and potential, he hasn’t been overwhelming this year in his performance. Same goes for Kristian Vesalainen at fifth. I love his potential, but he did not play well at the World Juniors, and reportedly hasn’t done much in Europe this season.
The other guys—Necas, Pettersson, Andersson—are all nice players, and were decent at the World Juniors, but I don’t think they have the high-end potential to be top draft picks.
-Casey Mittelstadt comes in at fifth on the North American list. That’s still easily the top 10 once you factor in Europeans. Mittelstadt’s return to high school hockey has been fine, but Eden Prairie has struggled a bit more than expected this year. Still, his upside is sky-high and with a weak draft, he might be one of the best bets for high-end scoring potential at the NHL level.
-Grant Mismash is the highest-rated player from the NTDP at 30th overall, which won’t be in the first round once you factor in Europeans and goalies. NTDP players almost always outperform expectations on draft day, but if things stay as they are, this would be the first time since 2008 that an NTDP player hasn’t gone in the first round of the Draft. And since NTDP alum Colin Wilson went in the first round this year, you have to travel all the way back to 1998, when the program was in its’ infancy, to find a draft that doesn’t have someone that played at least a full year with the NTDP. At least from a high-end perspective, this is turning out to be a historically bad year for the program.
-Michigan defenseman Luke Martin is all the way down at 67th on the NA skaters list, which equates to late second/early third round once you factor in goalies. Martin hasn’t shown much offensive upside so far at Michigan, but I think he’s actually pretty decent as a defensive defenseman and has NHL potential. I’d maybe have him a bit higher than he is ranked.
-The mid-term rankings are usually heavy on Minnesota high school players, though most will end up dropping out of the rankings by the time we get to the draft. There’s a wide range of guys that maybe could develop into something, and one or two teams will find a guy they really like and are willing to take a chance on.
The point is, once you get past 100, maybe earlier since this is a down year, personal preference starts to play a big role and there’s a lot of wide variations in lists. So I wouldn’t read too much into who is where on the list.
I was a little surprised to see St. Thomas Academy’s Robbie Stucker come in as high as he did. Elk River’s Nick Perbix would probably be the next MN HS player on my list after Mittelstadt and Hermantown’s Dylan Samberg—who came in at a surprisingly high 43. I’m also a little surprised Grand Rapids’ John Stampohar isn’t anywhere on the list, especially given some of the players picked. But again, I can’t disagree too much. I think you’ll only see three or so high school players actually drafted this summer.
-A few college guys on their second or third of draft eligibility snuck onto the list. Those guys usually don’t have as high an upside as younger players, but there is a lot of value to be found in those guys for teams that do their homework.
The most intriguing is Penn State freshman Denis Smirnov, who is tearing up Penn State’s admittedly weak schedule. I’ll be interested to see Smirnov live in two weeks when Penn State comes to Minnesota, but looking at some of the supporting information, he certainly looks like an interesting mid-to-late round pick.
St. Cloud State’s Jack Ahcan also made the list at 124th, after a decent showing at the World Juniors. Ahcan was decent at the World Juniors. Playing against the best in the world allowed him to showcase some of his considerable skills—he was tremendous at moving the puck up the ice, even if his offensive production wasn’t as big as hoped. He also showed some of the severe defensive limitations he’s going to have because of his size. I could see him going in the late rounds of the draft, but I don’t think he’s necessarily a guy somebody has to draft at this point.
One college guy that I really like that is flying a bit under the radar right now is Western Michigan’s Cam Lee, who comes in ranked at 186th. Lee has played a lot of minutes for Western Michigan this year, and is one of the big pieces in their impressive turnaround this season.