By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

When people talk about the 2017 NHL entry draft, they talk about Nolan Patrick – the big center playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings that was too good for the CHL before his draft season even began. He is the consensus first overall pick and whoever wins the lottery (*cough Vegas *cough) is set to draft a player that projects to be a high-end first-line center in the NHL.

While this year’s draft is being looked at by many scouts as a step down from previous years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other blue chip prospects available after Patrick – and Owen Tippett will be a very nice consolation prize for a team that needs to draft a forward in the top-5.

It’s no secret that last year I was very high on a draft-eligible Mississauga Steelheads forward, but as much as I loved the game of Michael McLeod, there were three of his teammates that I thought had the potential to be better prospects – his 2018 draft eligible brother Ryan, the big and skilled defender Nic Hague, and talented right winger Owen Tippett.

After being drafted fourth overall by the Steelheads in 2015, Tippett had a bit of a quiet first season in the OHL. Playing in the shadows of the big three in Mississauga, he was asked to fill a secondary scoring role that he likely wasn’t ready for. Mississauga was not a very deep team and they were asking the youngsters to carry a bigger burden than most OHL teams usually do.

Fighting through injuries and a steep learning curve, Tippett ended his rookie campaign with 15 goals in 48 games but showed a growth through the season that you like to see from a high-end prospect.

With Alex Nylander moving on to the AHL, and Mississauga’s forward group even more shallow than last season, it was obvious Tippett was going to be relied upon to take a huge jump in his draft season – and through the first fifth of the season, he looks to be up to the challenge.

So far this season, Tippett has  13 goals in 14 games. What is most impressive is that he isn’t relying on the powerplay to inflate his production. He is currently tied with Alex DeBrincat as the top scorer in 5 on 5 situations in the OHL. Unlike DeBrincat, Tippett isn’t doing it with a freakishly high shooting percentage. (DeBrincat: 30%, Tippet: 14.77%).

Averaging one 5 on 5 point per game puts Tippett is well ahead of any other draft eligible CHL player – including Nolan Patrick.

Tippett’s best asset is his shot – he has the type of release and accuracy on his wrist shot that you only see from the game’s top goal scorers.

On top of his elite shot, Tippett has the high-end speed and acceleration necessary to be a top offensive prospect. He has a well above average top speed and the ability to get there within two or three strides. Playing on the wing of one of the CHLs fastest skaters – 2016 first rounder Michael McLeod – Tippett is not only able to keep up, but he has shown that he has the ability to use his elite shot at top speeds.

At 6’1 200lbs, size and strength will never be an issue in his game. Tippett played mostly right-wing last season but has spent most of this year as the left winger on Mississauga’s top line. Like Nylander before him, the ability to line up on job sides is an asset to his game, but it’s likely he will settle in at right wing as he develops.

When I watched him play this past Sunday against the Oshawa Generals, Tippett was the most impressive forward on the ice for either team. In blue and white, strong and fast, using his elite wrist shot off of the right wing – I started to have flashbacks. Tippett plays a lot like Phil Kessel in that he has an elite offensive skill set and is a threat to score on every shot he takes.

A friend who follows the Steelheads closely told me of Tippett, “he’s exceeding my very high expectations” this season.

The young winger is currently ranked anywhere from fourth to fifteenth in the early season draft rankings. If he continues to play the way he has through the first part of the season, it’s hard to see him being outside of the top-5 going forward.

While some have Windsor Spitfire forward Gabriel Vilardi ranked ahead of him, Tippett’s elite scoring ability could make him the top OHLer drafted next June. Barring something unforeseen, he’s a lock to be in the top-10 and will be in the top-3 conversation when draft time rolls around.

 

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