Ferris State in the house! Way to go Chris Kunitz! I still want Pittsburgh to lose for my own selfish reasons, being that the 1997-98 Red Wings are the last team to go back-to-back, and I want to keep it that way. So Nashville, think about it.
Now to the NHL Entry Draft, where on June 23rd some of the names the fantasy world will need to know in August and early September fantasy drafts will be announced. While this year’s draft will not have the generational talent of a Connor McDavid or last season’s top pick Austin Matthews, there is a long list of players that will be impactful when they reach the NHL level.
Nolan Patrick (C, Brandon Wheat Kings – WHL): Pretty much the consensus number one choice the entire past two seasons, after he scorched the CHL in the 2015-16 season with 41 goals, 61 assists, and 102 points. Patrick missed a good chunk of this past season due to sports hernia surgery and a completely unrelated abdominal injury. He has nothing left to prove, and New Jersey would be wise to add such a talent to a team that really lacked that scoring punch even after the Devils acquired Taylor Hall from Edmonton. New Jersey needs a guy who can jump right on the ice and contribute and Patrick gives them this option with his body already NHL size at 6’3” and a solid 200 pounds. Nolan will be drafted in all fantasy leagues, but don’t go skipping over quality NHL players that have already contributed in favor of Patrick just yet.
Nico Hischier (C, Halifax Mooseheads – QMJHL): Here is one player whose stock has been on the rise all season after coming to Halifax from Switzerland in the CHL Import Draft. Hischier punched his own ticket in the World Juniors where he almost single handedly dismantled the eventual champion United States squad. In 57 games in the Q for Halifax, Nico potted 38 goals and 48 helpers, and many NHL scouts claim that Hischier has the elite hockey IQ needed to mentally succeed in the big league. At an even six feet tall and only 174 pounds, Hischier will need to gain some muscle if Philadelphia does indeed draft him at the number two spot. I read in The Hockey News Draft Preview that Hischier’s best case scenario is Joe Pavelski. Philadelphia should take that to the bank should Nico not get snagged by the division rival Devils at one.
Casey Mittelstadt (C, Eden Prairie HS/ Green Bay, USHL): Another talented center in this year’s draft comes from the high school ranks up in Minnesota. Casey may be finishing up his senior season in high school, but at 6’1” and 201 pounds, he has a man’s body that should be ready for the rigors of an 82-game NHL schedule. Instead of jumping right into the NCAA at the University of Minnesota, Casey wanted one more crack at the coveted Minnesota State championship, then he jumped to the USHL after his high school lost in the quarterfinals, but ended the season with 64 points in 25 games. Once in Green Bay, he put up 13 goals and 30 points in 24 games and didn’t skip a beat. The third pick belongs to Dallas and the fourth to Colorado, and with Dallas in win now mode, they may trade out of the three hole, while Colorado needs all the help they can get. Mittelstadt may spend a season on the Avalanche AHL affiliate, as Colorado GM Joe Sakic wouldn’t rush him and hurt his development.
Cale Makar (D, Brooks – Junior A): At the beginning of the season, Makar wasn’t the top defenseman on the board. That honor belonged to Swedish Elite League defenseman Timothy Liljegren, who has fallen to 15 in the Hockey News pre-draft rankings. International Scouting Services has Liljegren listed at number eight overall still, but this is about Makar now. Should Cale get drafted where he is ranked, (#5, The Hockey News, and ISS at #11), Cale would become the highest drafted player out of the American Junior Hockey League since Joe Colborne in 2008. The team drafting this ultra-competitive defenseman will have to wait since he committed to play at UMass this fall. His smallish frame isn’t textbook NHL, but the current playing style in the NHL is speed, and Makar brings that and a dynamic scoring touch from the point. Makar led his Brooks Bandits defense with 24 goals and 75 points in just 54 games this past season, and he reminds me of former Windsor Spitfire defenseman Ryan Ellis, who is now playing in his first Stanley Cup final.
There are many more players to discuss as we get closer to the draft, and be sure to check in here weekly for more names you will need to know come our fantasy draft days.
You can reach me @PolkaPat anytime to talk pucks and read more of my work at Fighting Chance Sports.