Vancouver Canucks: 2017 NHL Draft Preview

Jun 24, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Logan Stanley is greeted by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after being selected as the number eighteen overall draft pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagra Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 24, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Logan Stanley is greeted by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after being selected as the number eighteen overall draft pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagra Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

After the Vancouver Canucks missed out on drafting a Henrik Sedin successor in 2016, it is time to take a sneak peek at the options in 2017.

You might still be recovering from our 2016 NHL draft coverage and learning the names of the Vancouver Canucks’ picks. But as a fan of prospects and junior hockey, I am afraid I have to tell you it’s never too early to take a look at the next draft.

The Canucks are hoping to make a playoff appearance in 2017 and improved their roster in an attempt to achieve that, which makes any draft projections even harder. Depending on how well certain players actually work out, the Canucks could indeed reach a wild-card playoff spot, but they could also end up finishing at the bottom of the standings once more. And, of course, they could finish anywhere in between.

For that reason, we have no way of knowing whether the players below will actually be interesting for the Canucks come draft day, but they are certainly the ones to follow throughout the season!

C Nolan Patrick – Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL

Brandon Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick is the consensus No. 1 prospect to start the season. He is no Connor McDavid, no Jack Eichel and no Auston Matthews, but he could certainly become the first-line center the Canucks are looking for.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Patrick possesses the perfect combination of size and skill. He has one of the best all-around skill sets in the entire CHL, making him an extremely dangerous and unpredictable player in the offensive zone. Patrick protects the puck well using his size and reach and constantly makes something happen when he has it. His great hockey sense, passing skill and shot make him both a dangerous playmaker and scorer.

D Timothy Liljegren – Rögle BK, SHL

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The Canucks just went with a defenseman in 2016, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t consider Timothy Liljegren if they get a chance to pick him. The Swede is a right-handed D-man with No. 1 potential who has some professional experience already.

We don’t want to put too much pressure on a young man, but Liljegren has drawn comparisons to elite NHL defenseman Erik Karlsson. Liljegren is an extremely intelligent and creative player who loves to have the puck on his stick. He can play perfect breakout passes or take the puck from end to end and set up plays in the offensive zone. Liljegren does take occasional risks and his decision making could eventually push him down draft rankings, but at this point, he can be labelled elite talent.

C Gabriel Vilardi – Windsor Spitfires, OHL

The OHL Windsor Spitfires had two of their players picked in the first round of the 2016 draft, and Gabriel Vilardi is the next one in line. Like Patrick, Vilardi is particularly interesting for the Canucks, who are searching for a future top-line center.

Vilardi is a not the fastest skater but he plays a high-intensity game and is constantly on the move. He won’t rest until he gets the puck and he does his best to strip it off opponents’ sticks. Once he has it, opponents struggle to get the puck back, as Vilardi has outstanding puck control and stick-handling abilities, especially in tight spaces. Vilardi often looks to set up his teammates in the offensive zone, but he also knows how to finish plays himself.

C Maxime Comtois – Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL

Similar to Pierre-Luc Dubois in 2016, Maxime Comtois can play at center or on either wing and will therefore be in the conversation for the Canucks’ pursuit of a top-line center. Like Dubois, Comtois might project as a top-line winger rather than a center, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is an intriguing player to watch.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Comtois isn’t the largest player. However, his style is all about using his frame to separate himself from his opponents and protecting the puck. Comtois plays a 200-foot game, competes hard, plays physically and drives to the net. He is a quick, strong skater with a lethal shot, and his 26 goals and 60 points as a QMJHL rookie are just the beginning.

C Casey Mittelstadt – Green Bay Gamblers, USHL

A high school standout in the 2015-16 season, Casey Mittelstadt is the top U.S. prospect for the 2017 draft. He will spend the 2016-17 campaign with the USHL Green Bay Gamblers and/or  USHS Eden Prairie High and is committed to the University of Minnesota for the season after.

Mittelstadt is a highly skilled and very smart center with great two-way ability. The 5-foot-11 forward has an outstanding offensive skill set with the ability to play dangerous passes to set up scoring chances and a powerful shot with a quick release to finish them himself. Mittelstadt is not the biggest player out there, but that doesn’t hurt his puck-protection skills in the slightest. At the NHL level, Mittelstadt could become an outstanding top-line, two-way center.

Next: Canucks Top 10 Prospect Ranking

A lot can change between now and the draft, but there is one thing we do know: if the Vancouver Canucks want a center, they have enough options in the top 10. But if they simply want to go for the best player available, which is usually the best way to go, they have plenty of options on other positions as well. Notable non-center players include wingers Owen Tippett and Eeli Tolvanen as well as defensemen Callan Foote and Urho Vaakanainen.

Let the 2017 draft season begin!