Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Future Stars. Over the next few days we will be previewing the 2017 NHL Draft by ranking our top 31 prospects and honourable mentions.
With the Junior seasons not just in Canada but throughout the world gearing up for the stretch drive and a number of international tournaments (Ivan Hlinka, Four Nations, Subway Super Series, World Juniors, Five Nations) in the books, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the draft are doing this year. This is an up to date look and ranking of these prospects. That said, there is still plenty of work to be done and many important games to be played including junior league playoffs, European playoffs, and of course the Under-18 World Championships. While the rankings still have some fluidity, a pecking order is also starting to define itself. For now, this is what we have, we hope you enjoy the early preview and be sure to be ready in late March as we roll out our full player-by-player draft preview.
2017 NHL Draft February Rankings: 21-25
21.) Shane Bowers, Waterloo Blackhawks; Centre (6’0″ 170 lbs) (Prev: 24)
Despite being drafted twice in the QMJHL Draft (1st round 2015, 2nd round 2016), the Halifax native Bowers has opted to go the USHL route. He has also committed to play for Boston University in 2017-18. Bowers has put up 18 goals and 39 points in 47 games for the Blackhawks. He also played for Canada at the 2015 Under 17 World Hockey Challenge, and at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Bowers is strong down low. He has good balance and a powerful lower body that make him extremely tough to knock off the puck. He can control play below the hash marks, protecting the puck in the cycle game and making good passes to open teammates. Bowers puts his body between the opponent and the puck when working the cycle. He has good vision and finds open teammates. He is also willing to take the puck to the net, and able to take the physical punishment to make plays. Bowers can score in tight to the net with quick hands, and also has a good wrist shot from further out. Defensively, he is responsible in his own end of the ice.
22.) Urho Vaakanainen, JYP; Defence (6’1″ 187 lbs) (Prev: 23)
Vaakanainen played for the national team at the World Juniors. He also played in both the Under 17s and Under 18s (as an underager) last season. He spent some time with SM-Liiga’s Blues, putting up a goal and six points in 25 games in Finland’s top men’s league. He was picked by the Windsor Spitfires in the CHL Import Draft, but has choosen to stay in Finland. This year Vaakaneinen is again playing in the SM-Liiga, but is representing JYP. In 37 games he has a goal and two assists. He also played at the Ivan Hlinka in August.
Vaakanainen has excellent hockey IQ. He reads the play very well in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. He chooses to make the smart plays both with and without the puck. Defensively he has great gap control and positioning. Vaakanainen takes the body in the corners and in front of the net, but is not a big hitter. He also can skate the puck out of danger in his own zone, and start the transition game with a good first pass. Offensively he has a hard accurate shot, and the vision to be a play maker from the blue line. He will likely never be a huge offensive contributor, but may develop a little bit of scoring ability. Overall his game is well rounded.
23.) Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane Chiefs; Left Wing/Centre, (5’9″ 159 lbs) (Prev: 19)
Last season Yamamoto put up 19 goals and 71 points in just 57 games to lead the Chiefs in scoring. He was invited to play for Team USA at the IIHF U18s. Yamamoto scored seven goals and 13 points in just seven games in the tournament. This year, he’s at it again. Yamamoto has scored 35 goals and 76 points in just 53 games.
Yamamoto has tremendous hands, he is a great stickhandler and can bury goals in tight to the goalie. He also is very quick to loose pucks with great acceleration and a really quick first step. He has developed a harder shot this year, but could still use a bit more power before being ready for the pro game. More a playmaker than a goal scorer, he uses his quickness and stickhandling to open up passing lanes. Yamamoto can feather passes tape-to-tape to his linemates and has outstanding vision. Coming in at just 5’9″ tall when measured at the start of the year, Yamamoto’s draft stock will raise significantly if he can grow an inch or two before the draft combine.
24.) Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound Attack; Centre (5’11” 183 lbs) (Prev 28)
An excellent skater, Suzuki gets in very quickly on the forecheck, throwing hits or pressuring defenders into turnovers. Once he gets the puck, he uses his speed and agility to create space and open up passing lanes. He also has good stickhandling skills and can beat defencemen one-on-one with quick cuts, or by taking them wide and going to the net. Suzuki has excellent vision and is a very good playmaker. He can feather tape-to-tape passes through tight openings, and often makes the smart play with the puck.
Also impressive as a goal scorer, Suzuki has quick hands and drives the net, where he can finish plays in tight. He’s also quick to pounce on rebounds. From further out, Suzuki has a good wrist and snap shot. He is effective on the give and go plays, passing to a teammate and then finding open space for a return pass.
Suzuki had his coming out party at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament. He has now taken the next step in the OHL. He’s been great for Owen Sound with 34 goals and 78 points in 55 games this year.
25.) Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville Tigres Left Wing/Centre, (6’1″ 192 lbs) (Prev: 15)
The 3rd overall pick in the 2015 QMJHL draft, Comtois is a goal scorer for the Tigres. He has an excellent array of shots, with good power and accuracy on his wrist shot, snap shot and slap shot. A sniper, Comtois has a very quick release that can handcuff opposing goaltenders. He also has excellent vision and passing skills. Comtois can extend plays by using his stick handling and puck protection to control the play along the boards. Once teammates get open he can make a pass through the tightest of openings.
Comtois has good size and is not afraid to work along the boards or in front of the net. Comtois is also a very good skater, with great first step quickness and excellent acceleration. As a 16-year-old rookie, he took on heavy responsibility, playing in all situations. He also scored 60 points in 62 games last season. Comtois was outstanding at the summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament and looked like a possible top five pick. However, he’s struggled this year, with just 19 goals and 42 points in 55 games. While some of that is due to not having talented linemates, scouts mus ask if the upside here is not as high as once thought.
Check out Prospects 26-31.