By: Bryan Thiel
Last weekend, countless dreams were realized after years of hard work.
The Steelheads’ Owen Tippett will forever be known as a top ten pick, Attack forward Nick Suzuki has the opportunity to be the face of a brand new franchise in Las Vegas, and Morgan Frost will be tied to Brayden Schenn once his time with the Greyhounds is up. The three of them joined Gabriel Vilardi (11th overall to Los Angeles) and Robert Thomas (20th overall to St. Louis) as first round picks and obvious winners in last weekend’s draft. Ultimately every player who heard their name called last weekend is a winner, but the most attention will be paid to those five names going forward.
With that in mind, here are five more names that are winners following the 2017 NHL Draft.
Michael DiPietro, Windsor Spitfires
Vancouver Canucks, 3rd round, 64th overall
It’s not like a Memorial Cup champion needs another reason to be a winner, but it’s hard to see any other non-first round player in a better situation than DiPietro. The owner of a 0.915 save percentage and 2.38 GAA in 80 career regular season games has been dynamic since the early stages of his rookie season and has never looked back. Now he has been parachuted into a system that, outside of Thatcher Demko, is ripe with opportunity. As it stands, Demko will have likely had a handful of NHL opportunities by the time DiPietro turns pro, so the Spitfires’ goalie won’t feel rushed. If DiPietro plays well enough to supplant the one man in his way, he can be a starting goalie for a Canadian team. If Demko is the Canucks’ goalie of the future and DiPietro continues to trend upwards, he’ll be a hot commodity for any of the other 30 teams.
Nate Schnarr, Guelph Storm
Arizona Coyotes, 3rd round, 75th overall
There are always inspirational stories for rookies that don’t make the OHL in their 16-year old season…if you want a drastic one, take a look at Tanner Pearson. But Schnarr only played six games in 2015/16 for Guelph, instead starring for the Waterloo Siskins in the regular season (including earning GOJHL Rookie of the Year honours) before becoming a key cog in their magical playoff run. Fast forward through 16/17 and Schnarr scored 18 goals in 54 games and peppered himself up and down the pre-draft rankings. A shoulder injury interrupted his year, but he was able to show enough potential to snag the Coyotes’ attention and earn a draft-day call. The size factor (6’3”, 180 lbs) certainly didn’t hurt, but Schnarr proves that even the unconventional routes to the draft can be successful.
Matthew Strome, Hamilton Bulldogs
Philadelphia Flyers, 4th round, 106th overall
Matthew Strome was always hard to peg when it came to the NHL Draft. He was top 20 in goals this season, and nearly doubled his production from his rookie year. While there
were questions about his skating and other aspects of his game, his rankings were all over the place: some pegged him as a borderline first rounder, while many had him going in the second. By the time final rankings rolled around, no one had him lower than 80. So while he had to wait to hear his name called, the short term pain of that ‘surprise’ could benefit Strome: The only pressure that will be put on him will come from himself, and he can work on improving his game at his own rate. That, and he doesn’t have to worry about living up to the expectations of his brothers. Every player is different, but if Strome had found a way to sneak into the first round, it’s likely his success would constantly be measured against Dylan (3rd overall in 2015) and Ryan (5th overall in 2011). Just being able to remove that constant comparison makes him a winner.
Markus Phillips, Owen Sound Attack
Los Angeles Kings, 4th round, 118th
Prior to the Western Conference Final, then-Attack head coach Ryan McGill had plenty of good things to say about the second-year defenceman’s progression. Phillips stepped up and took on a bigger role when Jacob Friend was injured and flourished. He played the second-most games among Attack blueliners (66), and while his 43 points didn’t come close to Santino Centorame’s 73, he lead Owen Sound defenders with 13 goals. While Phillips doesn’t need to worry about the NHL picture right now, the Kings will likely be cycling through defencemen soon: starting in 2019, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez will all reach free agency in consecutive years. While he’ll have to compete for ice time with Friend, Kale Clague and the already NHL-bound Kevin Gravel and Derek Forbort, Phillips could have a good chance to break into the NHL with the Kings. It all depends on what free agency (eventually) brings.
Petrus Palmu, Owen Sound Attack
Vancouver Canucks, 6th round, 181st overall
Palmu finished the year two points shy of 100, eclipsing his two-year total of 91, but it wasn’t until now that he heard his name called on draft day. It was a bit surprising too, considering he was set to head back to Finland in May:
All you have to do is look at his profile to know that the biggest knock on Palmu is his size. At 5’7” he’s the small, shifty player that some teams covet, and other teams still think of as ‘too small’. The interesting thing in all of this, is that even with it widely known that he had signed on in Finland, there were a number of team blogs calling for NHL clubs to take a flyer on his services. Obviously if they’re willing to spend the draft capital on him, the Canucks think that they can either woo him to the AHL immediately or are at least interested in seeing how he holds up overseas before sliding him into professional duty. Palmu ultimately finished his OHL career as a point a game player, and while it didn’t come after 42 or 49-point seasons, he finally got the call. The perseverance paid off for the Finn.
Oh…he’ll also get to join Nucks’ second rounder Jonah Gadjovich. Which is ok. I guess.
Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.