The 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship is complete and the annual Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects Game is just about here, so it’s time for the latest edition of the Alternate Draft Rankings.
This is the third update of The Hockey Writers’ Alternate Draft rankings for the 2015-16 hockey season. Developed as a complementary device to Chris Ralph’s long-standing The Next One Rankings and Eldon MacDonald’s War Room rankings, my approach is fairly straight-forward and simple: if I were drafting a team from scratch, which players would I choose (and in what order).
Some disclaimers: I’m based in Western Canada and see most Western Hockey League teams and occasionally see Canadian prospects at Hockey Canada events. Most likely I’m a bit biased both towards and against WHL players because I see them often and have more information about their play than I do about other players. I’ve also found that compared to other consensus rankings, I’m a bit tougher on defensemen and goalies.
Here’s how I see the first two rounds shaking out as of mid-January. (Players are listed with their November ranking in parentheses).
THE FIRST ROUND
- 1st (1st): F Auston Matthews – ZSC Lions (National League A)
- 2nd (5th): F Jesse Puljujarvi – Karpat (SM-Liiga)
Matthews has been very strong in pro hockey as a teenager and impressed at the World Juniors, though he’s several months older than most of the players in his draft class. Puljujarvi has been strong this season, also as a teenager in a men’s league, but his standout performance among older players at the World Juniors has vaulted him into the upper tier. He’s still a ways back from Matthews, but not too far back.
- 3rd (2nd): F Matthew Tkachuk – London Knights (Ontario Hockey League)
- 4th (3rd): F Patrik Laine – Tappara (SM-Liiga)
- 5th (4th): D Jakob Chychrun – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
- 6th (9th): F Alex Nylander – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
The second tier has four strong players, three of which played at the World Juniors (all but Chychrun). By sheer coincidence, three of these four players (all but Laine) have NHL bloodlines. Tkachuk’s offensive dominance in the OHL gives him a slight lead over the other three players, but all of them have been exceptional in their leagues, let alone compared to their peer groups.
- 7th (6th): D Dante Fabbro – Penticton Vees (British Columbia Hockey League)
- 8th (7th): F Tyson Jost – Penticton Vees (BCHL)
- 9th (11th): F Julien Gauthier – Val-d’Or Foreurs (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)
- 10th (12th): F Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
There may be some minor quibbles about the quality of competition for Fabbro and Jost, but they are tearing up the BCHL and continue to impress. Meanwhile, Gauthier and Dubois are very attractive combinations of size, physicality and skill in a wide-open QMJHL.
- 11th (13th): F Logan Brown – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
- 12th (14th): F Rasmus Asplund – Farjestads BK (Swedish Hockey League)
- 13th (15th): F Max Jones – London Knights (OHL)
- 14th (10th): F Tyler Benson – Vancouver Giants (Western Hockey League)
Brown’s been strong for Windsor all season and Jones has been a huge part of London’s OHL dominance. Asplund has played pro hockey and looked good at the World Juniors. Benson’s struggled with injuries and that’s hurt his stock a little, as scouts have more looks at other players, but he’s been superb when he’s been in the line-up.
- 15th (20th): D Jake Bean – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
- 16th (17th): F Kieffer Bellows – Sioux Falls Stampede (United States Hockey League)
- 17th (25th): F Alex Debrincat – Erie Otters (OHL)
- 18th (24th): F Michael McLeod – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Bean’s carried the Hitmen at times as they’ve been missed most of their veterans this season. Bellows (Brian’s son) has NHL bloodlines and has been excellent at the USHL level. Debrincat has been an offensive machine for Erie, silencing most questions about his size. And McLeod has been wonderfully consistent for the Steelheads, playing well in all areas of the ice.
- 19th (29th): D Olli Juolevi – London Knights (OHL)
- 20th (16th): F Jonathan Ang – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
- 21th (8th): F Sam Steel – Regina Pats (WHL)
- 22nd (NR): F Vitali Abramov – Gatineau Olympique (QMJHL)
- 23rd (19th): F Dillon Dube – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
- 24th (18th): F Brett Howden – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Juolevi was superb at the World Juniors for Finland. Ang has been rock-solid for the Petes this season. Abramov has been soaring up draft rankings in his first season in North America. Howden has great physical attributes and is benefiting from learning from Brayden Point in Moose Jaw.
- 25th (49th): F Taylor Raddysh – Erie Otters (OHL)
- 26th (28th): D Samuel Girard – Shawinigan Cataractres (QMJHL)
- 27th (39th): F Clayton Keller – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 28th (21st): F Jonathan Dahlen – Timra IK (Allsvenskan)
- 29th (23rd): D Chad Krys – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 30th (22nd): D Kale Clague – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
There’s a lot to like in the last first round grouping: Raddysh has been a fixture near the top of the OHL scoring race this year, though some of that can probably be attributed to teammates Dylan Strome and Debrincat. Girard impressed at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and is a great skater. Krys is headed to Boston University next season and has been strong for the U.S. National Development squad. Clague has been a steady presence on an at-times shaky Wheat Kings club.
THE SECOND ROUND
- 31st (26th): F William Bitten – Flint Firebirds (OHL)
- 32nd (27th): F Pascal Laberge – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
- 33rd (NR): D Mikhail Sergachyov – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
- 34th (30th): D Victor Mete – London Knights (OHL)
- 35th (40th): F Nathan Bastian – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Just a smidge outside of the first round group, arguably any of these five players could easily sneak into the later part of the first round if a team fell in love with them. Sergachyov arguably has the most upward potential; he’s a big-bodied Russian import that’s adapted really well to the OHL game in his first season in North America.
- 36th (31st): D Luke Green – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
- 37th (34th): F Jordan Kyrou – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
- 38th (32nd): F Dmitri Sokolov – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
- 39th (33rd): F Travis Barron – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
- 40th (35th): D Sean Day – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
- 41st (36th): D Charlie McAvoy – Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
- 42nd (37th): F Carl Grundstrom – Modo (SHL)
- 43rd (51st): D Frederic Allard – Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
- 44th (43rd): D Marcus Niemelainen – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
- 45th (50th): F Simon Stransky – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
- 46th (38th): D Jacob Movarere – HV71 (Sweden Jr.)
There’s a little of everything in this grouping, including a few really impressive big-bodied blueliners in Green, Day, McAvoy and Movarere. Grundstrom has also turned heads with his play in the SHL, so keep an eye on him as we get closer to June.
- 47th (44th): D Tarmo Reunanen – TPS Turku (Finland Jr.)
- 48th (41st): D Ryan Lindgren – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 49th (52nd): F Joey Anderson – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 50th (57th): F Luke Kunin – University of Wisconsin Badgers (Big 10)
- 51st (NR): F German Rubtsov – Team Russia Under-18 (MHL)
- 52nd (53rd): F Linus Lindstrom – Skelleftea AIK (Sweden Jr.)
- 53rd (48th): D Griffin Luce – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 54th (45th): D Kristians Rubins – VIK Vasteras (Allsvenskan)
Of this group, keep an eye on Rubtsov, who’s been strong for Team Russia but is ranked down here because I’m not quite sure about the level of competition he’s been facing in the MHL. Kunin’s also turned heads with some strong play for Wisconsin.
- 55th (54th): F Nick Pastujov – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 56th (NR): F Liam Murphy – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
- 57th (NR): F Mathieu Sevigny – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
- 58th (NR): F Zachary Poirier – North Bay Battalion (OHL)
- 59th (59th): F Brandon Saigeon – Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
- 60th (55th): D Keaton Middleton – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
There’s a lot of potential in this group; Poirier, Saigeon and Pastujov in particular have reps as being well-rounded players that are poised to break out. If Middleton can better utilize his considerable 6’5″, 210 pound frame, he could be a dominant defender at the major-junior level (and perhaps beyond).