Welcome to the latest installment of The Journey! This week I’ll be taking a look at seven players, one from each round, from the 2017 Entry Draft that are currently outplaying their draft position. I do realize that most of these players have only played a fraction of their season so far and a lot can change over the course of the year, but for one reason or another their performances have been noteworthy. This is by no means an exhaustive list as a number of other players are off to great starts as well.
1st – Eeli Tolvanen – Rated by most to go somewhere in the 10-20 range, Tolvanen inexplicably fell all the way to the thirtieth pick in the draft where Nashville snagged him. Originally slated to attend Boston College but couldn’t due to not meeting the academic requirements (they are “student-athletes” after all), he opted to sign with Jokerit of the KHL and has been a man on a mission KHL seemingly out to prove wrong the other 24 teams that passed on him. Through 25 games, Tolvanen has recorded 13 goals and 25 points, both team highs, and has fired a whopping 102 shots, living up to his reputation as a trigger man. The list of accolades he’s earned this season is a lengthy one; named KHL forward of the week once, KHL rookie of the week five times, KHL rookie of the month twice, and youngest player in KHL history to record a hat trick (he’s scored two this season). Tolvanen has already recorded the seventh-best season in KHL history by an under-20 player with over half a season still to go and is on pace to eclipse Kirill Kaprizov’s record of 42 points set just last year. He has slowed down a bit as of late since starting off on such a torrid pace with two points in his last seven games. It goes without saying he’s a lock for team Finland’s entry in the 2018 WJC. Having signed a one-year deal with a player option in year two, you have to think Nashville is champing at the bit to get him signed after what he’s shown so far. All things considered he still may be a couple years away from fantasy relevance.
2nd – Alex Formenton – It’s hard to remember the last time, if ever, a draft pick went from playing on the fourth line of his CHL team to cracking an NHL opening night roster over the course of five months, but that’s exactly what the fleet-footed Formenton did. He impressed coach Boucher and GM Dorion in the preseason with his speed and tenacity so much that they couldn’t justify leaving him off the roster. Formenton saw more time in the press box than in the lineup, only managing to suit up for one NHL game playing just seven shifts totalling under five minutes of ice time. Wisely Ottawa made the decision to send him back to the OHL since it’s tough to hone your game on the sidelines. Formenton wasted no time making an impact back with the London Knights with six points in his first three games back, including a four-point effort in game #3.
3rd – Max Gildon – At one point in time a few years ago, Maxwell Gildon was considered by some to be a top prospect for the 2017 draft, but once the day rolled around he fell to round three where the Florida Panthers selected him 66th overall. Hailing from the burgeoning hockey hotbed of Texas, Gildon is a physically imposing specimen standing at 6-03 and with a cannon of a shot. Currently skating for New Hampshire in his freshman year Gildon has started the season as well as any defender in the NCAA to the tune of six goals and two helpers in seven games. These six goals include a hat trick which is significant because the list of NCAA freshman defenseman with a hat trick over the last five years (which is as far back as I could go with collegehockeyinc.com) is as follows: Max Gildon. Now, he has been the benefit of some good luck as his 25% shooting percentage will attest but he’s still firing 3.43 shots per game so if he keeps this up the points will still be up for grabs. While he’s still a few years away from any sniff of NHL action, the Panthers aren’t terribly deep in defensive prospects so there’s not a lot of competition ahead of Gildon. In deep leagues or those with a big prospect bench he’s worth an add.
4th – Drake Batherson – The second Senators prospect on the list, the wiry fourth rounder had a respectable 2016-17 with 58 points in 61 games and has come absolutely rocketing out of the gate and is already halfway to matching last season’s point total…through 16 games. Batherson has scored a QMJHL leading 17 goals and added 12 assists for a league-best 1.81 points-per-game. To put things in perspective for just how dominant he’s been for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Batherson has had a hand in 44% of the team's goals and had a 15-game point streak to start the campaign including a ridiculous three game stretch where he six goals and six assists. A classic late bloomer, Batherson is still growing into his body since experiencing a pretty significant growth spurt over the past few years. It looks like he’s figured out how to use it though as he’s raised his stock about as much as anyone picked in June’s draft.
5th – Tyler Steenbergen – A player scoring 51 goals in their draft year would be hard pressed to elevate their stock but that’s exactly what Tyler Steenbergen has done. Drafted in his second year of eligibility by the Arizona Coyotes, Steenbergen put up 90 points in 72 games in 2016-17 finishing ninth in WHL scoring. But he’s kicked things up a notch to start 2017-18 producing at a 2.69 point-per-game clip. Forming a lethal line with fellow 2017 draftee Alexei Heponiemi and one-time St. Louis Blues prospect but now free agent Glenn Gawdin, Steenbergen has sniped 21 goals and dished out 14 assists, currently stands as the leader among CHL players in points. He’s scored at least one point in every game this season and has three(!) five-point games. Deservedly so Steenbergen was named WHL player of the month for October. He should be on the radar for Team Canada for the 2018 WJC.
6th – Benton Maass
Benton Maass split his draft year between Elk River High School and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL to great success in both leagues. He eclipsed the PPG mark in Elk River with 29 points in 25 games and posted 16 points in 26 games for Fairbanks. Washington drafted him with their third pick of the draft, all defensemen by the way, and it’s looking like a pretty shrewd one now. Playing with the aforementioned Max Gildon at New Hampshire Maass has been a playmaking machine in the early going racking up nine assists in the team’s first seven games, and has assisted on all seven even strength goals his team has scored for which he’s been on the ice. This places him in a tie for second among NCAA players in assists, tied for the scoring lead among all freshman players and is tied for fourth among defenders in scoring. A well-built defender at 6-02, 194 pounds Maass is a skilled puck mover and is more of a playmaker than goal scorer, as is typically the case with defenders, as he’s only generated 1.29 shots-per-game through the nine New Hampshire games.
7th – Nick Swaney
For all of the publicity Shane Bowers got while playing with the Waterloo Blackhawks in the USHL, his teammate Nick Swaney flew under the radar. Case in point: Bowers was a first round pick whereas the latter was selected by Minnesota in the seventh and final round with the 209th overall pick despite the fact that they had the same amount of points, 47, with Swaney achieving the feat in 13 fewer games. Granted, Swaney is almost a full two years Bowers’ senior. Playing for the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth the Wild prospect has two goals and five assists in eight games and is tied for the team lead with a former first-round pick, Riley Tufte. Swaney’s production has been helped out by strong power play production with four of his seven points coming on the man advantage. At 20 years old he’s an older freshman but all the same it’s a solid start to his college career.
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