NHL draft: 6 fascinating players to watch

Make no mistake, there is plenty of talent available in the 2017 draft. But for all the talk that this year's talent pool isn't deep, there are still plenty of good players available in the first round and beyond.

Young prospects highlight different trends in drafting

The Brandon Wheat Kings' Nolan Patrick may be the first overall pick at the 2017 NHL draft. (Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images)

Make no mistake, the 2017 NHL draft is going to be an exciting one.

For all the talk that this year's talent pool isn't as deep as in previous years, there are still plenty of good players available in the first round and beyond. And with all the talk of trades, things could get very interesting. Every Canadian team still holds its own first-round pick, so each team stands a good chance at coming away with a promising new prospect.

Here are the six players which represent the most interesting storylines at the draft in Chicago, beginning Friday night at 7 p.m. ET: 

Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier 

These two centres have to be discussed on the same level, not because they bear much similarity as players, but rather there just isn't any clear consensus who should go first overall. For the New Jersey Devils and Philadephia Flyers, who draft first and second overall, respectively, they'll get a good player either way.

One of the reasons that the debate is so fierce is that Patrick is coming off a season cut short by injury, which gives scouts less tape to make a decision, but there remains a lot to like about the game of the Brandon Wheat Kings standout. The Winnipeg native is already NHL-sized at six-foot-two and 198 pounds, and doesn't mind dropping the gloves from time to time. Overall, he is a smart, two-way player who sees the ice well, and prides himself on his defensive game. His skating, while strong enough, is not going to blow anyone away. Interestingly, Patrick will be the third person in his family to be drafted, as his father Steve and uncle James also spent some time in the NHL.

Hischier, meanwhile, is a quick skater and deft playmaker, who can be very shifty with the puck. He is slightly smaller than Patrick but standing at six feet and 174 pounds, still has growing room. Furthermore, Hischier has enough skill that a slightly smaller build won't hold him back for long. In fact, battling for pucks along the board while using his body is one of his skills. Because Hischier is Swiss, he was relatively unknown in North America until this past season, when he was a standout for the Halifax Mooseheads.

​Matthew Strome

​Similar to Patrick, the Hamilton Bulldogs' left winger has other NHLers in his family, but for Strome, brothers, Ryan and Dylan, both of whom were top-10 picks in their draft years, remain the obvious links. Ryan is best known for his shot, Dylan for his all-around play, and Matthew for his hockey smarts. While his skating limits his first-round potential, he is six-foot-four and has a slightly stouter build than either of his brothers, which should serve him well against tougher competition.

Kailer Yamamoto

​Yamamoto is a very skilled player who has racked up points while playing for his hometown Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, tallying 99 in 65 games this past last season. He has a quick shot, great all-around skating, and can be very shifty with the puck coming down the right wing. What's not to like? Depending on where you get your information, Yamamoto is listed as either five-foot-seven or five-foot-eight and 153 pounds, which is enough to make any GM think twice. But as the NHL increases its emphasis on speed and skill over size, Yamamoto represents an interesting litmus test: which GMs are forward-thinking enough to take the gamble?

​Callan Foote

​If the name Foote made you do a double-take, then you have good instincts. Foote is the son of former NHL defenceman Adam Foote, and yes, he's also a defender. Callan, who played for the Kelowna Rockets, is perhaps less physical than his bruising father, but they are from such different eras of hockey that the comparison isn't as relevant as you might think. And in any event, he definitely doesn't shy away from contact as he's listed at  six-foot-three and 198 pounds. Foote is also a two-way defender, but he prefers his quick whip of a wrist shot from the point to a big slap shot, and has been known to wander in off the blue-line to engage in action around the net. Defensively, he closes gaps quickly and dispossesses attackers with his long reach.

Miro Heiskanen

Heiskanen is an interesting player in that he represents the best of a surprisingly large group of Finns. This year, as many as five youngsters from Finland are projected to be selected in the first round, and as many as 11 more could go later on in what is being unofficially dubbed the "year of the Finn." Heiskanen, who honed his skills in the Finnish Elite League, himself is quite possibly the best available defenceman in the draft, and is particularly well-regarded for his passing, both coming out of his own zone and on the power play. His skating is also strong, and helps his positional play, particularly while defending the rush.


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