Ratcliffe, Heponiemi impress director Stewart

Dan Stewart2017 Draft Center, Scouts Series

Photo by Terry Wilson | CHL Images

Future Considerations scouting director Dan Stewart gives his thoughts on who from the 2017 NHL Draft class left him impressed, who disappointed and who his sleeper is on draft day.

Who Impressed

One of the guys who impressed me with each viewing was the rebuilding Guelph Storm’s big, gangly winger Isaac Ratcliffe. His size is the first thing that jumps out at you but not far behind is his desire and ability to make a difference. His skating, while still clumsy, has really improved this year with each view, and his shot can be a real dangerous weapon off the rush.

He is nearly impossible to battle with when holds off defenders using his strength and reach along the wall or when he plants himself around the net. He uses his gargantuan reach to sweep rebound pucks into the open net or to maintain possession for his team in the offensive zone.

Add to the size/skill recipe that he plays hard and battles physically and I really believe there is something special brewing with this kid. While his offensive upside might not be as sky high as a Nico Hischier in this class, he will add 20 pounds of muscle and undoubtedly become one tough customer to play against at the NHL level.

Who Disappointed

A super-skilled skater who can rush the puck with dazzle and makes a difference at both ends was the early return summary of Timothy Liljegren’s talents last year, and this year you can say the gist of most reports sounds the same but in a bit different way.

He still has the great skating and puck skills, but his decision-making with the puck has led to the difference making in both ends being just as negative with giving pucks away or telegraphing passes as it has been positive with his ability to use his skating to attack or get back on coverage. He bounced around various teams and Swedish leagues this season, and never got his game on track after an early season bout with mononucleosis.

He looked like a guy who has some pretty impressive tools to succeed but just leaves too many questions on if he will ever figure out how to use those tools correctly and fulfil his upside. I would not take him in the first round as I feel the decision-making will hold him back at the NHL level.

Who Surprised

Aleksi Heponiemi showed as a super intelligent two-way playmaker who came over to Swift Current from Finland as an import selection this past season. The diminutive Finn was brought to my attention with his strong showing at the summer Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and then again noted by Future Considerations’ head Western Canada scout as he tore up the WHL pre-season.

After watching him myself, early in the season, I quickly saw the potential this kid possesses. His smarts and hockey sense are his best assets but he also has a hard to contain quickness shifty to his game, impressive vision, ability to put pucks where he wants when he wants as well as showing a really mature understanding of the defensive game coupled with an admirable work ethic.

His size could hold him back as he is tiny and weak right now but if he can add some muscle and work to get past that roadblock he could end up a real strong two-way difference maker at the NHL level one day.