As is usually the case with Dobber’s prospect defensemen rankings there was a whole lot of movement from January. But there were a couple players that experienced a notable jump.
Ian Mitchell – CHI, up to 45 from 102
This month’s biggest riser is Ian Mitchell of the Chicago Blackhawks. Mitchell is a product of the Spruce Grove Saints program in the AJHL where he had two productive seasons leading up to his draft year. In his first year with the Saints, Mitchell posted 27 points in 54 games from the back end and improved greatly in his draft year to the tune of 37 points in 53 games. He was selected by the Hawks in the second round, 57th overall, the second AJHL defenseman selected in the draft after Cale Makar. A University of Denver commit, he has been lights out for the Pioneers this year and has arguably been the best freshman defenseman in the country.
Stepping into the role vacated by Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, Mitchell has been playing top pairing minutes and is their go to point man on the top power play unit, producing like a number-1 PP quarterback should. He leads all freshman defender in assists with 20, power-play assists and power-play points with 16 and is tied for second in points with 22. He also leads the entire NCAA in power-play assists per game with 0.53. In January he earned NCHC defenseman of the week honours thanks to a two game series against Omaha that saw him post five points including a four point game. In short, he’s been a revelation for the Blackhawks. Standing at 5-11 175 pounds, there room for a bit of filling out so he’ll probably spend another year in college to build some more strength before turning pro. But in a shallow Chicago prospect pool, Mitchell and Henri Jokiharju represent their top two defensive prospect
Cal Foote – TBAY, up to 43 from 58
A first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2017 draft, Cal is the son of former NHLer Adam Foote and while he certainly exhibits some of the same traits that made his father an elite defensive defenseman in his day, Foote the younger appears to have a more offensive game than his old man. He’s currently in his third WHL season with the Kelowna Rockets and has been remarkably durable during his junior career suiting up for 142 out of a possible 144 games in 2015-16 and 2016-17 and is on pace to play in every game this year, save for the 10 games he missed while representing Canada at the WJC.
As a rookie Foote totaled eight goals and 28 helpers for the Rockets, finishing second on his team in d-man scoring behind first rounder Lucas Johansen and was third league-wide among rookie defenders. In his draft year of 2016-17 he increased his production by nearly 60% with a stat line of six goals and 51 assists, this time besting Johansen to lead the Kelowna back end in scoring. His 51 assists were sixth-best in the league among defender and he had the fifth best plus-minus rating coming in at plus-39. The now Kelowna captain has exploded offensively in his third campaign as he has already surpassed last year’s point total with 58 points, has scored more goals (15) this year than in his previous two years combined and sits fifth in the WHL in scoring among d-men. Looking a bit deeper and it’s immediately clear that Foote has been one of the best defenseman in the league this year. His 1.12 ppg is the fourth best mark among defense, 0.72 primary points per game is fifth best, good for fourth in goals per game with 0.3, and his 0.42 primary assists per game are seventh best.
With the NHL trade deadline approaching and Tampa rumoured to be a potential suitor for Erik Karlsson, it will be interesting to see if he’s still a member of the Lightning organization in a few days. It’s conceivable that given his progression we’re looking at a potential full time NHLer by 2019-20.
Juuso Valimaki – CAL, up to 23 from 32
Selected one pick after Cal Foote in the 2017 draft by the Calgary Flames was the Finn Juuso Valimaki, adding to an already impressive pipeline of defensive prospects that includes Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson and Adam Fox. Valimaki’s junior rights were secured by the Tri-City Americans when he was picked with the 14 pick in the 2015 CHL Import Draft and proceeded to make an immediate impact with his new squad. In 56 games he racked up seven goals and 25 assists which placed him fourth among rookie defenders in scoring, but on a point-per-game basis he ranked first with a mark of 0.56. In year number two, his draft year, Valimaki hit the point-per-game plateau, always a good sign, by scoring 19 times and added 42 helpers. He finished second on the Americans in D scoring behind Parker Wotherspoon but on a per game basis Valimaki actually bested him. He finished seventh in scoring league wide but his 19 goals were fourth-best among blue liners and 42 primary points were also the fourth best mark. His stellar play earned him a nod on western division second team all-star honours in 2016-17. He’s once again hovering around the point-per-game mark with 28 points. He’s only suited up for 30 games thanks the injury bug that has reared its ugly head this year as well as missing time to represent Finland at the WJC. He was bestowed the ‘C’ for team Finland and buried a goal along with a trio of assists in the tournament which put him in a logjam for third on the squad in scoring.
Already boasting NHL size at 6-02, 211 pounds, Valimaki is part of a wave of great Finnish defender descending on the NHL. With Calgary’s top-five defensemen locked up with some big money deals until the end of 2019-20, and the competition that is due to play out among the previously mentioned prospects, Valimaki is probably a few years away from true fantasy relevance.
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