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: 26-31
26.) Matthew Strome, Hamilton Bulldogs; Left Wing (6’3″ 201 lbs) (Prev: 18)
The youngest of the Strome brothers, Matthew Strome was the Bulldogs first round pick, 8th overall in the 2015 OHL Draft. He shows the size and skill that have become trademarks of the Strome name. After scoring 38 points as an OHL rookie, he’s come into his own this year with 33 goals and 56 points in 57 games. Like his brother Dylan, Matthew Strome has outstanding hockey IQ, but could spend some time working on his skating going forward. He has very good vision and excellent passing skills, including the ability to thread the puck through tight areas. Strome also has a very good wrist shot and release.
One thing that really stands out about Strome in comparison to his brothers, is the fact he plays as much more of a power forward. He gets in on the forecheck and plays the body. He is very physical in the corners as well as battling in front of the net. Stome is also willing to take the puck to the front of the net. Strome is already one of the Bulldogs leaders and most important players at 17-years-old.
27.) Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph Storm; Left Wing (6’5″ 196 lbs) (Prev: NR)
Ratcliffe combines great size, with excellent skating ability. He has very good footwork for his size, with a powerful stride that gives him good speed and acceleration. He can drive to the net and creates havoc when he gets there. Ratcliffe protects the puck well, and has good stickhandling ability. He also has very good balance and is difficult to knock off the puck when playing in the cycle. While he is not a huge playmaker, he does make smart plays with the puck and keeps it moving to open teammates. He could stand to add muscle to his frame and play a more physical game.
Ratcliffe is having a strong season for the rebuilding Storm. The 15th overall pick in the 2015 OHL Priority draft has put up 23 goals and 44 points in 55 games this season. He gets most of his points in close to the net, as he is willing to get to the tough areas in order to put the puck in the net.
28.) Nikita Popugaev, Prince George Cougars; Right Wing (6’6″ 203 lbs) (Prev 22)
Popugaev has outstanding size, already measuring in at 6’6″. He combines this with excellent stickhandling to be very tough to defend one on one. Add in good hockey sense and a strong wrist shot, and we’ve seen some other analysts looking at Popugaev as a top 10 or top 15 pick. We aren’t quite there though. The skating is holding him back as he needs work on being quicker in his acceleration. The top end speed isn’t bad, but it takes some time to build up to it. He also could work on his agility. His stride is awkward and needs some work. He also could work on his intensity. There are times he looks a bit disinterested, especially in the defensive zone.
Popugaev has had a good start to the season with Moose Jaw. The Russian import put up 22 goals and 51 points in 40 games. Dealt at the deadline to Prince George, he has had some trouble adjusting to his new team. Popugaev has just four goals and 12 points in 23 games with his new club. He is particularly adept on the powerplay, where the Warriors seemed to run everything through him, but is not getting the same looks on a stronger Prince George team. Popugaev had proven that he has the vision and passing skills to set up others in these situations. While their are a few question marks here, there is also the combination of size and intriguing skill.
29.) Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds; Defence (6’1″ 181 lbs) (Prev: 32)
Timmins was not on many people’s radar coming into the season, but quickly got himself into the conversation as a potential first round draft pick. He has played like a number one defenceman for the Greyhounds this year, with 54 points in 58 games this year.
He shows good mobility and positioning in the defensive end and putting up points in the offensive end. Timmins has very good vision and passing skills. He moves the puck up the ice quickly, and efficiently starting the rush. He also works as a quarterback on the powerplay. Timmins has strong stickhandling skills and so can skate the puck out of danger avoid forecheckers, or rush the puck up the ice himself beating defenders. He has also played a physical game in his own end, throwing hits against opposing forwards, winning battles on the boards, and clearing the front of the net.
30.) Marcus Davidsson, Centre; Djugardens (6’0″ 183 lbs) (Prev: 29)
An excellent two-way centre, Davidsson does all the little things well. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and pressures defencemen into making turnovers. Once a turnover happens he can hit a teammate with a quick pass, drive the puck to the front of the net, or fire an excellent wrist shot on goal. He is relentless in chasing down pucks in all three zones, and has the skating to be able to get to loose pucks quickly. Defensively, he is already good in the face-off circle. He shows a highly advanced ability to pressure puck carriers, and to play a smart positional game in his own end.
Davidsson has been playing limited minutes in the SHL, Sweden’s top men’s league. He has five goals and four assists in 40 games. He’s also played nine games in the J20 league, putting up six goals and four assists.
31.) Robert Thomas, Centre; London Knights (5’11” 185 lbs) (Prev: NR)
The London Knights just keep finding quality prospects. The 2015 second round pick in the OHL Priority Draft (26th overall) didn’t get many minutes on last year’s stacked club. However now he is getting an opportunity and is taking full advantage to put up points and rise up draft boards. Thomas has scored 16 goals and 55 points in 57 games this year.
Thomas is a decent but not great skater. He has good agility, a quick first step and good acceleration, however his top end speed is merely a slight bit above average. He is an extremely smart player though, making the right plays both with and without the puck. A strong two-way centre, Thomas even plays shorthanded minutes on a strong Knights club. Offensively, he has soft hands and good stickhandling ability. He also has the vision to find teammates with smart passes, and to set up plays.