We’re a little more than three months away from the NHL Draft and the rankings continue to move around.
Top prospect Nolan Patrick maintains his position atop our rankings, but it’s a crowded field behind him, with nine of the next 10 players moving position from our last rankings in January.
Here are Sportsnet’s Top 31 NHL Draft Rankings for the month of March, with the player’s last ranking in parentheses.
1. (1) Nolan Patrick, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): Since returning from injury has shown that he deserved to stay atop draft lists. Does everything so well, not flashy but has a pro style about him already. Think Jonathan Toews-lite.
2. (3) Nico Hischier, C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Popped big at the WJC and CHL Top Prospects game, but has tailed off slightly. Was injured and since returning has played a slightly different game. Some scouts worry about some of the fatigue he’s shown, but his skills more than compensate.
3. (2) Timothy Liljegren, D – Rogle U20 (SuperElit): A strong Five Nations Tournament alleviated all fears that his game was slipping. For most teams he is the best defenceman in this year’s draft.
4. (6) Owen Tippett, RW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): Injured at Top Prospects game and played hurt until docs shut him down. Consistently finds scoring chances and goals every game. Pure sniper.
5. (5) Gabe Vilardi, C/RW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): Probably Windsor’s most consistent player this season. Plays wing, but is a natural centre and has played a few games at that position. Almost a full year younger than Nolan Patrick.
6. (8) Casey Mittelstadt, C – Eden Prairie (Minnesota High School): Was over a point per game player in the USHL and since going back to play high school hockey at Eden Prairie he’s more than doubled that rate of production.
7. (4) Eeli Tolvanen, LW – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL): Heating back up again in the USHL. One of the top pure snipers in the draft this season.
8. (10) Martin Necas, C – HC Kometo Brno (Extraliga): Plays a very confident two-way game. Defensively responsible, has a great engine and doesn’t tire.
9. (11) Michael Rasmussen, C – Tri-City Americans (WHL): A wrist injury will cost him three months, but scouts still rave. Rasmussen can score goals and for a 6-foot-5 player, scouts are impressed at how well he gets around the ice. Has been great on the PP.
10. (12) Cale Makar, D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL): Elusive and agile, can skate the puck out of trouble. Processes the game quickly and can run a power play.
11. (9) Nicholas Hague, D – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): Plays in all situations, can anchor a PP. Some scouts think skating still an issue, others not that concerned about his feet. Very poised, well controlled now.
12. (14) Lias Andersson, C – HV71 (SHL): Had a production dip after the WJC, but has been on fire of late putting up big points in the SHL.
13. (18) Miro Heiskanen, D – HIFK (Liiga): Has had just about all the teams picking in the top 10 following him lately. Could be a big riser come draft day.
14. (13) Juuso Valimaki, D – Tri-City Americans (WHL): A good all-around blueliner who’s enjoyed great experience at the junior and international level. Not huge, but possesses great awareness. Has drawn comparisons to Olli Juolevi (VAN).
15. (19) Cal Foote, D – Kelowna Rockets (WHL): Will be a 12-year NHLer. A really solid, safe pick.
16. (16) Cody Glass, C – Portland Winterhawks (WHL): Has enjoyed a meteoric rise up the draft rankings since the start of the season. Great skater, skilled playmaker and joins the impressive list of high-end players coming out of Portland.
17. (20) Erik Brannstrom, D – HV71 U-20 (SuperElite): NHL teams who favour a smart possession game will love Brannstrom. Undersized by traditional standards (5-foot-10, 179 pounds), but moves the puck great. At the Five Nations Tournament he played like every shift was his last and tried to make something happen every time he was out there. Scouts noticed.
18. (7) Klim Kostin, RW – Balashikha (MHL): Shoulder surgery has ended what’s been a challenging draft season for the Russian forward.
19. (15) Maxime Comtois, LW – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL): His play has picked up since Pascal Laberge returned, but his scoring is still off. Still, scouts see a lot of potential here.
20. (22) Kailer Yamamoto, RW – Spokane Chiefs (WHL): A shifty, dynamic scorer who has a great shot at winning the WHL scoring title next season. Lacks size (5-foot-9), but such a skilled player.
21. (17) Kristian Vesalainen, RW, Frolunda (SHL): Scouts like the size and potential, but the lack of production concerns many.
22. (21) Urho Vaakanainen, D – JYP (Liiga): Shines on the defensive side of the puck at even strength and PK. Has an uncanny ability to get his stick in shooting and passing lanes. Just don’t expect offence. He won’t be out there late in a game to tie it up, but you’ll love him out there protecting a lead.
23. (25) Nick Suzuki, C – Owen Sound Attack (OHL): A high hockey IQ and very little panic in his game. Versatile player: They use him on both the first unit PP and PK in Owen Sound.
24. (23) Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud State (NCAA): Playing as a true freshman is challenging, but this hard-working, two-way centre is working through it. Got off to a slow start, but has improved steadily all season. Competes hard and has offensive skill.
25. (26) Robert Thomas, C – London Knights (OHL): Best comparison is to former Knight Bo Horvat and it’s not off.
26. (24) Shane Bowers, C, Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL): Doesn’t have one thing that stands out about his game, but is good at a number of things. Plays the full rink and brings a strong work ethic to every game.
27. (30) Elias Pettersson, C – Timra (SuperElite): Playing in Sweden he’s been lights out, but internationally it’s a different story where he’s struggled, most recently at the world juniors. The team that drafts him will have to be patient, but he has the tools to make their patience pay off.
28. (27) Matthew Strome, LW – Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL): Such a smart player whose main calling card is his high-end hockey sense. He’s never been the best skater, but always produces. Loaded with potential.
29. (NR) Kole Lind, C – Kelowna Rockets (WHL): Joins the list of top forwards coming out of the Rockets organization like Nick Merkley (ARI) and Dillon Dube (CGY). He’s a playmaker who can also find the back of the net and isn’t shy about playing physical either.
30. (29) Nikita Popugaev, LW – Prince George Cougars: Second generation player (dad played for Moscow Dynamo) who turned some heads at the Top Prospects game. His production has tailed off since his torrid start, but plays with some high-end talent with the Cougars and should enjoy a long playoff run.
31. (NR) MacKenzie Entwistle, C – Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL): Played at the CHL Top Prospects game with mono and impressed scouts with skill and work ethic. Has a real pro presentation both on and off the ice. Plays in all situations and seems comfortable in all of them. Perhaps the most low maintenance player in the entire CHL. A coach’s dream.