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There has been a great back-and-forth as to who the best defenseman is in the upcoming NHL Draft. What started as a group being led by the possible first overall selection in Timothy Liljegren, has turned into a debate with no number one contender completely ahead of all the rest involving Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Liljegren and Juuso Valimaki.
Evaluating the Top Defensemen in the 2017 NHL Draft
There are some quality defensemen available at top of the 2017 NHL Draft. Through the first 15 selections, there could be as many as four defensemen taken. Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Timothy Liljegren, and Juuso Valimaki are touted as the best defenseman available in the draft. After those four have been taken, the defensive crop takes a hit in terms of the quality available.
While the order of these four defensemen has been argued and still is, the general consensus forming. It seems that there is two defensemen that clearly stand out and the other two lack some defensive capabilities, holding them behind.
One thing is certain: Timothy Liljegren is not the best defenseman in this draft. That title now appears to belong to Miro Heiskanen. His season with HIFK proved that he is a top-tier two-way defenseman that should go very high in this upcoming draft. His performance at the 2017 U18 World Championship, which was amongst the best of any defenseman to play in the tournament, only certified his skill.
Heiskanen finished the tournament with two goals and ten assists in his seven games with Team Finland. Those 12 points were tied for the second most all-time amongst defensemen in one tournament. He is now tied with Matt Dumba and one point shy of Ryan Murphy. 10 assists also ranks second all-time in assists in one tournament.
The stats may cause pupils to dilate and hairs to stand, but Heiskanen’s offensive talent is not his only skill set that can turn heads. His transition game and first pass are always on point. Not to mention his reliability in the defensive zone.
The next defenseman to challenge Heiskanen, in my eyes, is Cale Makar. His offensive skills and output in the AJHL make him a top prospect as is. His transition game buffaloed the opposition all season long with the Brooks Bandits and he held up his own end in the defensive zone.
His skating is arguably the best out of any defenseman and is even the whole draft. His head is up and his vision allows him to make the best decisions when entering the offensive zone. That has led to fantastic offensive production and great success to the Brooks Bandits.
Makar has the Western Canada Cup to still play in this year. Timothy Liljegren, unfortunately, has been ill for the majority of the year and is leaving scouts with a bad sight at the 2017 U18W World Championship.
Timothy Liljegren built a great deal of his draft stock a year ago while playing with Rogle BK and playing in the World Juniors. His play was much better last year and playing on a large stage like the U18 World Championship had a great deal of impact on his draft stock.
Playing in Sweden as a 16-year-old gathered a lot of attention from scouts and media. In 2015, TSN’s Craig Button labeled Timothy Liljegren an “elite defenseman” who has “smarts and vision that is reserved for the very few” while playing “a game reminiscent of Drew Doughty with a splash of Erik Karlsson.”
He is a very good defenseman, but I do not think I would put Liljegren into the elite category. The decisions he makes can be head-scratchers at times, but he does have a superior grasp for puck-moving in the offensive zone.
After a tremendous and offensively strong season with the Tri-City Americans, Juuso Valimaki has flown up draft boards everywhere. His skating, strong puck possession and playmaking have turned him into a standout defenseman available in what is looking to be the top 15 selections in the upcoming NHL Draft.
Valimaki’s passing and distribution skills have made him the gifted defenseman that he is. Not only is he able to find teammates with ease on the man advantage, but he can keep the puck moving at 5-on-5.
While Valimaki may not have the skills that top Heiskanen or Makar, Valimaki could find himself sneaking up on Liljegren due to the Swede’s poor performance at the 2017 U18 World Championship.
The first half of the 2017 NHL Draft will contain some decent prospects and we could possibly see these four defensemen gone by then. Whichever team selects them will be adding a terrific two-way defenceman to their pipeline.