Three Big Questions: Who are the top five players from the 2017 NHL Draft?

HC analyst Colby Armstrong compares shots from two of the best snipers in the league, in Auston Matthews and Elias Pettersson, both picking the top corner like it’s going out of style.

Every Sunday, Sportsnet NHL contributors will answer three questions around developing news and storylines, or other generalities around the game.

This week, we re-order the top of the 2017 NHL draft, discuss a player we’ve been disappointed in so far, and give a stick tap to the summer transaction that has been working out the best so far.

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HOW WOULD YOU RE-RANK THE TOP 5 PLAYERS FROM THE 2017 NHL DRAFT?

Emily Sadler, Staff writer:
1. Elias Pettersson: It’s not just about how many points he’s tallied — he already hit No. 100 earlier this week — it’s how he’s doing it. The 2018-19 Calder winner and highlight machine is a total game-changer and the biggest reason behind the Canucks’ accelerated rebuild.

2. Cale Makar: Just 29 games into his first NHL season, Makar’s already got all the makings of a franchise cornerstone for Colorado.

3. Miro Heiskanen: Though he doesn’t get as much attention as his draft mates, Heiskanen is the complete package and has quietly been a superstar on Dallas’ blue line.

4. Nico Hischier: He was a safe pick at first overall and has lived up to the billing, though Pettersson gets the edge in a re-draft when comparing forwards.

5. Cody Glass: He’s fast, creative with the puck, and his veteran teammates love him already. Continued progress through his rookie season will make Glass a Vegas fan favourite in no time.

Sonny Sachdeva, Staff writer:
1. Elias Pettersson: Simply put, he’s emerged as the most dynamic offensive talent in the draft, and in his sophomore season already ranks among the most dynamic talents in the entire league. Between the vision, the hands, the absurd shot, he’s also the quintessential franchise player of today’s NHL, with a skill-set built to thrive in the type of game the league’s been pushed towards in recent years.

2. Cale Makar: His brief debut during Colorado’s 2019 playoff run prompted teammate Nathan MacKinnon to compare Makar to a young Erik Karlsson. The first third of his rookie campaign has suggested he could get somewhere near there, with Makar clipping along at nearly a point-per-game pace. His offensive instincts and composure with the puck have already been a game changer for the Avalanche.

3. Miro Heiskanen: The value of a blue-liner who can carry the puck like Heiskanen, leading breakouts and zone entries, running the power play, and with enough poise to calm things down in his own end, is franchise-altering in today’s game. He logged 23 minutes a night as a 19-year-old on a playoff team, and is leading the club in ice-time this time around with 24 per night. Just a monster.

4. Nico Hischier: In hindsight, the No. 1 billing might’ve been a bit high given what we know now of the three names above. But Hischier remains a two-way force with plenty of creativity in his game, and played no small part in enabling Taylor Hall’s MVP season in 2017-18. He might not become that Art Ross-chasing top-line pivot, but an elite two-way centreman is still a key piece on any contending team.

5. Nolan Patrick: Patrick hasn’t gotten a fair shake in the league yet given the injury issues he’s had to endure. But if he’s given the chance to return to the game and be the player he was projected to be, there’s plenty of top-end talent there to uncover. He won’t be the best of his draft class in any particular area, but the blend of offensive skill, physicality, his ability to play in any situation and the fact that he’s a right shot still make him a supremely valuable piece.

Rory Boylen, NHL Editor:
1. Elias Pettersson: There’s no denying who’s No. 1 at this point. A centre, still adding some strength to his frame, who is already a near point-per-game player in his first 104 games? And that included a late-season swoon in 2018-19. The best version of Pettersson is yet to come and he’s tied for 13th in NHL scoring right now.

2. Miro Heiskanen: Makar’s point totals are creating headlines this season, but I’m partial to Heiskanen for his all-around play. He’s no slouch on offence (54 points in 114 career NHL games), but in his second season he’s already being entrusted with big PK minutes, PP minutes and, all together, he’s averaging the 13th-most minutes among all NHL defencemen. In my opinion, Heiskanen was one of the league’s three best blueliners in the first quarter of the season.

3. Cale Makar: I can’t fault anyone for picking Makar over Heiskanen — he’s killing it in his rookie season and putting up point totals we’re more used to seeing from a forward. But the difference to me is that Heiskanen is more complete. Maybe Makar gets there (I’m not knocking him at all) but he’s much more protected than Heiskanen is. Where around 50 per cent of Heiskanen’s 5-on-5 faceoff starts come in the offensive end, Makar leads the Avs at 62.88 per cent. Makar is also not used on the penalty kill. He’s a terrific player and there’s nothing wrong with being ranked No. 3 in your draft year.

4. Nico Hischier: Him falling from his No. 1 draft slot to No. 4 on all three of our rankings has less to do with Hischier disappointing and more to do with how well the three other players have taken to NHL life. Hischier’s also been on a team that’s been stuck in the mud so it’s harder for him to stand out. Still, he’s strong at both ends and has posted respectable offensive totals as well — even when the Devils missed the post-season in his sophomore year, Hischier’s points per game mark went up.

5. Martin Necas: At this point, picking the fifth player off the board is a difficult one to do, but I like what Necas has shown so far in his rookie season. Although hurt right now, Necas’ 16 points in 28 games as a third-liner is definitely notable. Prior to being hurt, he was on a five-game pointless streak, but in the two months before that he didn’t experience a scoreless stretch longer than two games. Twelve of those 16 points came at 5-on-5, which means his per-game rate in those situations ranks third among Carolina forwards, behind only Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.

WHICH PLAYER HAS DISAPPOINTED YOU THE MOST SO FAR IN 2019-20?

ES: Tyler Seguin. The Dallas Stars have struggled in the goal-scoring department, and it’s difficult to explain why when you look at all of their offensive weapons. Seguin is currently on pace for his worst statistical season since joining the Stars, and he’s not the only one — Jamie Benn has just 15 points and newcomer Joe Pavelski, widely believed to bring an offensive boost, has just 14.

SS: I’ll have to go with Tyson Barrie. It’s almost hard to comprehend how this experiment hasn’t worked out. The smooth-skating defender came to the Maple Leafs fresh off a pair of seasons that saw him nearly touch 60 points. He’s been near or above the 50-point mark on four occasions, and just under 40 points on two others. And, of course, there’s the oft-mentioned success on the power play, where he amassed the third-most points in the league among all NHL defenders over the past two years.

While there’s plenty to be said for Barrie being misused under the Maple Leafs’ former regime, he hasn’t exactly dominated since Sheldon Keefe took over. The first few games suggested he might, with Barrie posting five points over that span, but even with time on the top pairing and on the first power-play unit — with a wild wealth of offensive talent — Barrie has just one assist and a minus-3 rating over his past eight games, a stretch that’s seen Toronto go 4-4. There’s a fair chance the Leafs round back into form and Barrie finds his game, but so far, he’s somehow mired in the worst season of his career.

RB: I had high expectations for Ondrej Kase this season. Actually, I had high expectations for him last season. In 2017-18 Kase scored 20 goals and 18 assists in 66 games in a lower-lineup role, so his per-minute rates indicated more minutes could mean more production. And it seemed to be happening last season. A concussion delayed his 2018-19 season start until November, but in a top-six spot he posted 11 goals in 30 games before another injury ended his season in mid-January. He started 2019-20 on time, but has been made a healthy scratch and is back down on the third line again. He has just three goals in 27 games now…and I’m bummed about it.

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

WHICH OFF-SEASON TRANSACTION HAS WORKED OUT BEST?

ES: J.T. Miller. Surely I was not the only one questioning Jim Benning’s decision to send a first-round draft pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for Miller. Well, I was wrong — turns out, Miller has been the perfect linemate for Pettersson and Brock Boeser, bringing good physicality and strong playmaking to what has been an incredibly productive trio. Miller has already matched last year’s goals total (13) and is showing no signs of stopping. Wagering a first-rounder (either 2020 or 2021) also puts a firm timeline on the Canucks’ rebuild, which so far looks like a smart gamble for Vancouver’s GM.

SS: It might seem the most obvious of choices, but Artemi Panarin has been ridiculously good for the Rangers. It’s not that he’s just been good though, it’s how good. We knew Panarin was going to be a home run for whichever team he chose this summer, his success in Columbus already proving he can be an offensive force regardless of what’s around him. But in New York he hasn’t just been successful — he’s playing the best hockey of his career so far, tracking towards a 50-goal, 100-point season.

The Rangers have been craving star power for a long time. They got a decent amount of it in their acquisitions of Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik, but they’ve seen only one player top the 100-point plateau in the past 25 years, that one coming during Jaromir Jagr’s brief spin through Madison Square Garden. That was arguably the last time we saw a genuine superstar in Rangers colours. A career year from Panarin could reset that clock.

RB: Nazem Kadri has been a perfect fit in Colorado. In fact, he’s exactly what the team that traded him there needs right now. Kadri has moved from a third-line spot in Toronto to a second-line role in Colorado and is on the best points per game pace of his career. He’s got that edge to him, of course, which is necessary, but it doesn’t take away from his offensive game. And you know what? At 5-on-5 this season, Kadri has taken five minor penalties and drawn 12 of them, so his edginess isn’t costing the Avalanche. Given Tyson Barrie has been up and down in Toronto and still finding his fit in the lineup, and Kerfoot is a straight downgrade from Kadri, the Avs are shaping up to be big winners in the deal — and that will become even more obvious if Barrie walks as a free agent this summer.

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