While free agency and trades tend to grab most of the offseason headlines, the annual entry draft is generally far more important to NHL teams. Controllable young talent is the life blood of any successful organization and the best way to secure that talent is through the draft. While this year’s draft crop perhaps lacks the “generational” type of player that we’ve seen in each of the two previous years (Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews), there is no shortage of young players who will be selected this June who will go on to have successful NHL careers.
A common approach when discussing 17 and 18-year-old draft prospects is to compare their potential upsides to those of present day or past NHL stars. Sidney Crosby was often compared to a young Wayne Gretzky, not solely due to possessing similar, elite offensive abilities, but also because he exuded the traits of a player that could be one of the game’s great ambassadors. McDavid, in turn was compared to a young Crosby for many of those same reasons.
In an interesting piece appearing on NHL.com, Mike Morreale takes a stab at comparing a handful of the top 2017 draft prospects to some of the day’s top NHL stars using analysis from NHL Central Scouting. Among them is potential #1 overall pick Nolan Patrick, who the scribe compares to Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, citing the former’s hockey sense and vision as the youngster’s best assets. Like the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Kopitar, Patrick has great size (6-foot-3, 198-pounds) and according to Central Scouting, his “playmaking ability with the size and reach is tremendous.”
If Patrick is not chosen first overall then that honor may well go to Nico Hischier of the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. Morreale cites Washington pivot Nicklas Backstrom as Hischier’s possible NHL comparable, identifying the latter’s hockey sense and skating ability as his top attributes. Central Scouting says “he plays a complete game but is very good offensively.”
Other prospects to make an appearance are Gabriel Vilardi and Owen Tippett, from Windsor and Mississauga of the OHL respectively, as well as USHL stars Casey Mittelstadt and Kevin Petruzzelli.
While it’s natural to project young players into some of the stars of today’s game, it’s important to note that these comparisons essentially represent the bast case scenarios for each of the prospect’s in their long term development. The words prospect and suspect are sometimes used interchangeably, reminding us that no matter how talented the prospect may be, any number of factors can prevent him from reaching his full potential. Every team hopes their top draft pick turns into a Crosby, Backstrom or Kopitar but the possibility remains that instead they end up with the next Patrik Stefan, Rostislav Klesla or Pavel Vorobiev. That same fate could befall any, or all of 2017’s top draft prospects.