Scouting defensemen in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft for the Lightning
We take a look at some potential defensive draft prospects the Lightning could target.
As it stands right now, the Lightning are slated to pick in the middle of the first round. Their exact position will depend on how they and the teams around them finish out the year. If they make it into the playoffs, their draft position will continue to drop, especially if they go deep into the playoffs. For now though, it appears the Lightning will be selecting somewhere in the 12-15 range unless a miracle happens and they win the draft lottery for the first overall pick.
This year’s draft is generally considered to be weaker than normal and doesn’t have the same kind of high-end, franchise-changing talent available at the top that we’ve seen in the past few years. We’ve seen Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and Patrick Laine headline the draft in recent years. This year, it’s Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, and neither of them stack up very well to the aforementioned players.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t talent available in the first round, though. Even in the mid-first, the Lightning should still be looking at future NHLers being available to them when they make their pick.
The first question to ask is, “Is there a position Yzerman should target?” Defense continues to be a bit of a weakness for the Lightning on the farm. They’re stacked with third-pair and fringe depth defensemen. Can they find a player that will be a top four guy? Can they find a player that fits their philosophy?
The Lightning have not done a great job of drafting and developing defensemen since Yzerman took over. There’s been a definite shift in philosophy towards solid defensemen that play defense-first and are able to make the pass out of the zone, but don’t necessarily provide much on the other end of the rink.
The Lightning also have a bevy of lower-line forwards coming up through the system over the next couple of years with a pinch of skill mixed in. The Lightning could look at a higher impact forward here as well if they are not in love with any of the defensive prospects.
Let’s take a look at some of the defense prospects that are expected to go in that 12-15 range of the first round and get a head start on scouting for the draft.
Cale Makar - Defenseman - Brooks Bandits - AJHL
An offensive defenseman, Makar is listed at 5’11” and 179 pounds. He did not play major junior hockey in Canada, playing instead in the AJHL to preserve his NCAA eligibility. He has committed to University of Massachusetts-Amherst for next season. He has scored at over a point-per-game in the AJHL. He also added four goals and four assists for eight points in four games in the World Junior A Championship for Team Canada where he also served as the Captain.
Makar would present Yzerman with another right handed, offensive defenseman that could potentially be ready for the NHL in 3 or 4 years after he’s done more developing in NCAA. He may be a little too offensive and not defensive enough for what Yzerman has been seeking recently.
Miro Heiskanen - Defenseman - HIFK - Liiga
A left-handed defenseman, Heiskanen has a little more size at 6’0”, but only 179 pounds, giving him room to add some muscle to his frame. He has 10 points in 37 Liiga games, which ranks as the 3rd best performance by a U18 defenseman in that league’s history. The Finnish Liiga is one of the weaker European leagues, but it’s still impressive to see him having success in a men’s league at only 17 years old. He won’t turn 18 until July 18th, making him one of the younger players in the draft.
Heiskanen also doesn’t take many penalties, with only four PIMs on the year for HIFK. Last season for HIFK U20, he had 14 points in 30 games and only six PIMs. He seems like a defenseman that more fits into Yzerman’s mold. He’s under contract with HIFK through 2018-19 which would allow him to spend two more years in Liiga before potentially coming to North America to play in the AHL. Optionally, he could buy out his contract and either come straight to the AHL or play in the CHL. He has not yet been drafted in the CHL Import Draft.
Juuso Valimaki - Defenseman - Tri-City - WHL
Another Finnish defenseman, Valimaki has already come over to North America to play in the WHL. He is in his second season with the Tri-City Americans. A left-hander, he already has NHL size at 6’2” and 201 pounds. After putting up 32 points in 56 games in his rookie season, Valimaki settled in and put up 61 points in 60 games including 19 goals.
Valimaki has an October birthdate that would mean he’d only need to spend one more season in the WHL before he’d be eligible to play in the AHL. He was the 7th highest scoring defenseman in the WHL this year and first among U18 defensemen.
Nicolas Hague - Defenseman - Mississauga - OHL
A big left-handed defenseman, Hague comes in at 6’6” and 214 pounds. He has put up 44 points in 65 games, including 18 goals for the Steelheads. According to HockeyFights.com, Hague has only had three fights this year in the OHL, but has put up 107 penalty minutes which might be concerning as far as his discipline on the ice goes. That could be a deterrent for Yzerman unless the scouting staff thinks that he can clean it up and be smarter on the ice. To me, he seems like a less likely target for the Lightning. He does have a 1998 birthdate meaning he’ll only need one more year in the OHL before going to the AHL.
Callan Foote - Defenseman - Kelowna Rockets - WHL
I hate to sound like a broken record, but Foote is another defenseman that has good size already at 18 years old. Foote is listed at 6’3” and 209 pounds. He is not as much of a goal scorer as some of the other defensemen listed above, but he has put up 51 assists this season in 71 games, to go with six goals for 57 points. Foote is a bit lower on most of the prospect rankings and the Lightning likely will end up picking too high in the first round to reach for Foote. That does mean that there’s an opportunity to trade down and pick up another 2nd or 3rd round pick though if Yzerman and the scouting staff are in love with him.
He is also a 1998 birthdate player and could play one more year in the WHL before playing in the AHL. One advantage that he has over some of the other options listed here is that he is a right-hander as well. He also has a hockey pedigree, he’s the son of two-time Stanley Cup Champion defenseman Adam Foote.
Who would you want?
Ignoring anything else like exact draft position verses where on the board these players might be, who would you most want to see the Lightning get in the draft?
Which of these five defensemen would you most like to see the Lightning get in the 2017 NHL entry draft?