That Memorial Cup final sure was a great one.
The Windsor Spitfires, who lost in the first round of the OHL playoffs to London in seven games, parlayed all that rest (44 days) into an unlikely championship. They nipped the high-scoring Erie Otters 4-3 in the finale on Sunday to win their third national title in eight years.
The Memorial Cup was also a great showcase for draft eligible players, including Windsor’s Gabe Vilardi and goaltender Michael DiPietro. They both had great tournaments, upping their stock considerably. Other players of draft age who skated in the tourney were Erie’s Ivan Lodnia (C), Seattle’s Jarret Tyszka (D) and Saint John goalie Alex D’Orio.
The NHL draft at the United Center in Chicago kicks off on June 23, with the lottery-winning New Jersey Devils slated to call out the first pick.
We’ve perused the draft prospects’ lists and come up with a full team (two goalies, six defencemen and 12 forwards) who should hear their name called within the first two rounds. We have listed them from the net out.
20. Michael DiPietro, G – Windsor Spitfires
We gave Windsor’s DiPietro the nod over Finnish netminder Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen (they are rated very close by all major prognosticators) based on his overall performance, including the Mem Cup. Still just 17, the Windsor native was fantastic in four games, winning all four and posting a 2.00 goals against average and .932 save percentage in the pressure-cooker of a tournament. He stopped 32 of 35 Erie Otters’ shots in the final as his team was outshot 35-22. DiPietro’s sophomore season was a good one, as he fashioned a 30-12-2 record in 51 games, with six shutouts, a 2.35 GAA and .917 save percentage. In seven playoff games against London, he was 3-4 with a 2.48 GAA and .917 save percentage. According to the NHL’s final ranking, he is the fourth-rated North American goalie.
19. Jake Oettinger, G – Boston University Terriers
There is a fairly rich history of Boston University goaltenders who have gone on to varying degrees of success in the NHL. Jake Oettinger, a freshman superstar with the Terriers, hopes to be one of them. Over the years the NCAA DI program has graduated the likes of Jim Craig (gold medal winner with 1980 US Olympic team), Rick DiPietro (1st overall to the Islanders in 2000) and lately Matt O’Connor of the Ottawa Senators (undrafted free agent who signed in 2015). Oettinger is currently the second ranked goaltender by the International Scouting Service (ISS) and is coming off a superb season with BU. A product of the U.S. National Team Development Program and back-up at the 2017 world juniors for Team USA, Oettinger was 21-11-3 this season, with four shutouts, a 2.11 GAA and .927 save percentage.
18. Miro Heiskanen, D – HIFK Helsinki
Seldom does a 17-year-old play in a top pro league and it’s even more rare when they make an impact. Miro Heiskanen, who won’t be 18 until nearly a month after the draft, skated in the Finnish Liiga with HIFK Helsinki. He scored five goals and five assists in 37 league games and was a respectable -1. In eight playoff games for HIFK he had three assists. He is currently the highest rated defenceman available for the draft and is ranked fifth overall by ISS. The book on him says that he is a smooth-skating, two-way defenceman and even with a slight frame (6’0″, 174 lbs.) he isn’t afraid of the heavy going, either. The Vancouver Canucks own the fifth pick in the draft and would do well to select Heiskanen.
17. Timothy Liljegren, D – Rogle BK
It wasn’t the greatest of seasons, health-wise, for the eighth-rated (ISS) skater in the draft, Swedish defenceman Timothy Liljegren. He contracted mononucleosis early on, missed a month and ended up playing in five games with Timra in the Allsvenskan (second tier) and 19 games with Rogle BK in the SHL (top tier). He had a combined six points (1 G, 5 A) and was a collective -5 playing against men. Liljegren just turned 18 in April and has been a fixture on Swedish U-18 teams, including the Hlinka Memorial and WJC U-18 championships. Despite the struggles attributed to his health this past season, the 6’0″, 191 lb. defender should go top 10, minimum top 20 in the draft.
16. Cale Makar, D – Brooks Bandits
Seemingly out of nowhere, Alberta Junior Hockey League star defenceman Cale Makar is the 10th rated (ISS) prospect headed into this year’s draft. Slated to join the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Minutemen next fall, Makar was a standout for three seasons with the Brooks Bandits, scoring 35 goals and 100 assists in 111 AJHL games. He potted nine goals and 28 assists in 46 total playoff games as well. He’s a bit undersized at 5’10”, 180 lbs., however, he has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson from certain pundits. High praise, indeed. If he goes in his projected spot, he’ll be the highest selected player out of the AJHL since current NHLer Joe Colborne, who went 16th to Boston in 2008.
15. Callan Foote, D – Kelowna Rockets
If he turns out to be anything like his dad, long-time NHLer Adam, Callan Foote will be an outstanding defenceman in the NHL for years to come. He’s got the size — 6’3″, 209 lbs. — to be a NHL defenceman and according to his draft profile is a smart two-way rearguard who has great hockey sense. Callan, who is ranked 12th by the ISS (the Carolina Hurricanes own the no. 12 pick), has played two seasons in the WHL with the Rockets and has improved year over year. He scored 36 points (eight goals) in 71 games his first season and followed it up with nine points in 18 playoff games. Foote was even better in 2016-17, increasing his plus-minus from +16 to +39 and recording 57 points (six goals) in 71 games.
14. Juuso Valimaki, D – Tri-City Americans
The 14th rated player in the draft, according to ISS (11th NHL Central Scouting), is Juuso Valimaki and scuttlebutt has it that the Toronto Maple Leafs may be his destination. The Leafs don’t pick until no. 17 and if Valimaki, a two-way standout with the Tri-City Americans is available, he may well be wearing the blue and white soon. The native of Nokia, Finland has nearly double his production in two seasons with the Americans, logging 61 points (19 goals) in 60 games (+2) this season after registering 32 points (seven goals) in 56 games during his 2015-16 rookie season. The 6’2″, 200 lb. rearguard also scored twice in six games with Team Finland at the 2017 world junior championships.
13. Nicolas Hague, D – Mississauga Steelheads
Depending on the raters, Mississauga Steelheads’ star defenceman Nicolas Hague is pegged as the 18th rated prospect (ISS) to 20th rated (NHL Central Scouting). Whatever the case, the Kitchener native is pretty much a sure-fire first rounder who upped his draft stock with an excellent showing in this year’s OHL playoffs. He chipped in a goal and 11 assists in 18 playoff games (he missed two games for throwing extra punches in a fight), as the Steelheads made it all the way to the OHL finals, losing 4-1 to Memorial Cup finalists Erie. The 6’5″, 216 lb. defender doubled his regular season offensive output from 24 points in 66 games in 2015-16 to 46 points (18 goals) in 65 games this year. Hague was also a +22 and had 107 penalty minutes.
12. Nolan Patrick, C – Brandon Wheat Kings
The no. 1 vs. no. 2 debate this year doesn’t quite have the cachet of Auston Matthews vs. Patrik Laine in 2016, but it is still compelling. Topping most draft eligible lists this year is Brandon Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick, with Halifax Mooseheads pivot Nico Hischier running a close second. It is highly likely, then, that Patrick becomes part of the New Jersey Devils rebuild after they call his name first on the evening of June 23. The son of former NHL right winger Steve Patrick and nephew of former NHLer James Patrick just missed being a likely top 5 in 2016, missing the age cut by four days (he was born Sept. 19, 1998). After a superb 2015-16 season (132 points in 93 regular season and playoff games), Patrick spent considerable time on the injured list in 2016-17. Even still, the 6’3″ elite centerman tallied 20 goals and 26 assists in 33 WHL games.
11. Nico Hischier, C – Halifax Mooseheads
On Saturday night, Swiss speedster Nico Hischier received the Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year award at the CHL banquet. He deserved it, based on making a smooth transition from hockey in Switzerland to the QMJHL, scoring 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 games with the Mooseheads. He is currently the no. 2 rated prospect on most boards and barring any draft day hiccups, will go no. 2 to the Philadelphia Flyers. The only knock on Hischier is his size in relation to the 6’3″ 198 lb. Patrick, as he’s listed at 6’0″ 176 lbs. and will have to fill out to take the pounding in the NHL. However, he has been a scorer at every level including the 2017 world juniors (seven points in five games for Team Switzerland) and is considered the flashier of the two players.
10. Gabe Vilardi, C – Windsor Spitfires
While Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier were honored for their efforts in the CHL this season, they were spectators while third-ranked center Vilardi (3rd overall ISS and 4th overall NHL Central Scouting) was lighting it up for Windsor in the Memorial Cup final. Vilardi was second star as the Windsor Spitfires won the Memorial Cup, logging two assists including a key apple on a game-tying goal late in the second period. The Kingston native (Don Cherry will love that) is a dangerous two-way pivot who greatly improved his draft standing with his play this season. the 6’2″, 192 lb. Vilardi scored 61 points in 49 regular season contests, followed by six points in seven playoff games. He added seven assists (second only in that department to Erie’s Alex DeBrincat, who had eight) in four Mem Cup games to finish second in team scoring. He should develop nicely in Big D with the Stars, who have the third pick.
9. Cody Glass, C – Portland Winterhawks
The Colorado Avalanche, who have many holes to fill in an underachieving line-up, have the fourth pick in the draft. Situated in the four hole is lanky Portland Winterhawks’ centerman Cody Glass, who has drawn comparisons to Mark Scheifele and Ryan Johansen. Not too shabby. The Winnipeg native was a force in the WHL last season, piling up 32 goals and 62 assists in 69 games and being good enough away from the puck to log a +31. Glass scored four times and added five assists in 11 playoff games for Portland as well. It is said that he does a lot of things very well, including being able to out-skate opponents without having superior speed and win puck battles on the boards despite not being overly heavy (6’2″, 179 lbs.). He should be a nice addition down the middle in Colorado in a couple of years.
8. Eeli Tolvanen, LW – Sioux City Musketeers
It’s a safe bet Eeli Tolvanen will be suiting up with the Boston College Eagles in NCAA DI hockey next year, rather than the NHL. However, the highest ranked left winger in the draft (eighth NHL Central Scouting, 17th ISS) is being talked about as a potential steal. If he falls to 17th, that is where the Toronto Maple Leafs are picking, but it may be likely he gets nabbed a bit higher. At 5’10” it is very likely he’ll be taken later, however, he is rated as the best finisher, scoring-wise, in this class. He scored 30 goals and 24 assists in 52 games with the USHL’s Musketeers this past season and then added five goals and five assists in 13 post-season tilts. At the world junior championships with Team Finland, Tolvanen scored twice and picked up four assists in six games.
7. Kristian Vesalainen, LW – Frolunda Indians
The second ranked left winger in the draft lands anywhere between 19th (ISS) and seventh (NHL-CS, Euro skaters), so the jury will be out for a bit on Helsinki native Vesalainen. He’s big enough (6’2″, 200 lbs.), skilled enough and fast enough to be drafted in the first round, but a lot of scouts say very raw. He did dominate at the U-18 championships for Team Finland a couple of weeks ago, scoring 13 points in seven games, so there is that. Otherwise, the big left winger suited up in 26 games for Frolunda of the Swedish league, scoring six points. He was loaned to Finnish side HPK in his home country’s top league and had a goal in nine games for them as well. Not too bad for a 17-year-old kid in a man’s game.
6. Isaac Ratcliffe, LW – Guelph Storm
At 6’5″, London, Ontario born Isaac Ratcliffe is hard to miss on OHL ice. The Guelph Storm’s giant winger is a bottom third first round prospect who increased his value over the OHL season with the last-place Storm. He led the team in goals with 28 and was second in points (54) to exciting first-year defenceman Ryan Merkley, who had 55 points. Ratcliffe finished his 2016-17 campaign with two goals in five games at the world U-18 championships. NHL Central Scouting has him pegged at 15th among North American skaters and the ISS put him 22nd overall among all skaters. With just a -2 on a pretty dismal Storm hockey club, Ratcliffe’s value lies in his ability at both ends of the ice, which will do him well at the next level some day.
5. Jason Robertson, LW – Kingston Frontenacs
Depending on what scouting service teams listen to, Kingston Frontenacs big left winger Jason Robertson is either middle of the pack (14th, NHL Central Scouting) or second round fodder (ISS). Judging by the Michigan native’s production, we tend to agree mid-to-late first round. The 6’2″, 200 lb. product of the Little Caesars program in Michigan scored 42 goals for the Fronts this season, tying him for sixth overall with Erie’s Taylor Raddysh and Sault. Ste. Marie’s Zachary Senyshen in that department. It’s worth noting that Senyshen, who is similarly sized, was drafted 15th overall in 2015 by Boston, and one mock draft has Robertson going 18th to those very same Bruins. Raddysh, on the other hand, was taken 58th overall by Tampa Bay in 2016. Robertson, again, could be taken as high as the mid-first round, or fall to Raddysh territory.
4. Owen Tippet, RW – Mississauga Steelheads
The ISS is certainly high on Mississauga sniper Tippett, ranking him fourth overall for the upcoming draft. NHL Central Scouting had him fourth earlier in the season, but dropped him to seventh. So, the 44-goal scorer could get nabbed fourth by Colorado, or find himself in Arizona at no. 7. The Peterborough born Tippett dramatically increased his draft stock by have a breakout year with the OHL’s East Conference champions, scoring 44 times and adding 31 assists in 60 games. He piled on another 10 goals and nine assists in 20 post-season games as Mississauga went all the way to the OHL final. He definitely has the size (6’2″, 203 lbs.) to succeed at the next level, as well as skating ability and an outstanding shot.
3. Kailer Yamamoto, RW – Spokane Chiefs
Yamamoto missed being selected in the 2016 NHL draft by a couple of weeks (he was born Sept. 29, 1998), but another year of junior hockey season didn’t hurt his profile. One of the smallest players at 5’9″ is ranked in the top 30 (no. 26 by ISS; no. 17 by NHL Central Scouting) but scouts shouldn’t shy away from his total package. Yamamoto has plenty of determination to go along with outstanding skill, which he displayed by scoring 42 goals and adding 57 assists in 65 games with his hometown Chiefs. Those numbers put him sixth overall in the WHL, on a last-place team to boot. His coach in Spokane, Don Nachbaur, compares him to former Chief and small-sized NHL regular Tyler Johnson, who he coached in 2010-11. That kind of praise would make Yamamoto a solid pick in the latter stage of the first round.
2. Martin Necas, RW – HC Kometa Brno
NHL teams looking for a player in the Claude Giroux mold would do well to pick the best Czech player available in the draft, HC Kometa Brno right winger Martin Necas. He is NHL Central Scouting’s fifth ranked European skater and is ranked 13th by ISS, so the work he did playing in the top Czech pro league didn’t go unnoticed. As a 17-year-old (he turned 18 in January), the 6’1″, 168 lb. center/right winger scored seven goals and eight assists in 41 games, then added four goals in 10 playoff games. Necas didn’t look out of place on a team that featured former NHLers Martin Erat and Tomas Vincour, either. The scouting report on him says he has “explosive, darting speed” and is strong on the puck, despite not being overly heavy.
1. Nick Henry, RW – Regina Pats
Henry is still just 17 and won’t turn 18 until after the NHL draft. As a rookie in the WHL with the Regina Pats, Henry rose up the draft ranks like a shot, scoring 35 goals and adding 46 assists in 72 games. The Portage La Prairie native then put his skills on further display in the WHL playoffs, scoring four goals and eight assists in 22 games as the Pats battle all the way to the WHL finals, losing 4-2 to the Seattle Thunderbirds. Not bad production for a first-year player, to say the least. He was not out of place, either, playing on a line with WHL scoring champion Sam Steel (who went 30th overall to Anaheim in 2016). Like his linemate, Henry will likely be a very late first round pick, or early second round.