As Canadian Thanksgiving passes and American Thanksgiving approaches, it’s probably a good time to take stock of the 2016 NHL Draft class. Every major league has gotten going and played enough games to make some very preliminary assessments of the progress of the 2016 class, and we can make some comparisons to both last season and any summer tournaments – such as the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament – that players may have competed in.
This is the second edition this season of The Hockey Writers’ Alternate Draft rankings. 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.
And now, how I see the first two rounds shaking out as of early November. (Players are listed with their preliminary ranking in parentheses).
THE FIRST ROUND
- 1st (1st): F Auston Matthews – ZSC Lions (National League A)
Matthews is one of the best players in Switzerland’s top pro league. As an 18-year-old. He’s still the undisputed number-one pick in the 2016 Draft, with a sizable gap between him and the next group.
- 2nd (2nd): F Matthew Tkachuk – London Knights (Ontario Hockey League)
- 3rd (8th): F Patrik Laine – Tappara (SM-Liiga)
- 4th (3rd): D Jakob Chychrun – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
- 5th (4th): F Jesse Puljujarvi – Karpat (SM-Liiga)
- 6th (5th): D Dante Fabbro – Penticton Vees (British Columbia Hockey League)
The second tier has five strong players: two puck-moving defensemen, two strong forwards playing in Finland’s top pro league, and Keith Tkachuk’s son, who’s tearing up the OHL right now. Laine moves up from the preliminary rankings after a really strong start to the Finnish pro season which builds him enough of a sample size at that level to warrant a jump up in the rankings. This grouping is a bit of a drop from Matthews, but seems roughly comparable with last season’s second grouping in my eyes (e.g., roughly equivalent to the Strome/Hanifin/Marner cluster).
- 7th (9th): F Tyson Jost – Penticton Vees (BCHL)
- 8th (7th): F Sam Steel – Regina Pats (Western Hockey League)
- 9th (14th): F Alex Nylander – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
- 10th (6th): F Tyler Benson – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
The third grouping has four talented forwards, three of which play in Western Canada. The exception here is Alex Nylander, who made the jump over from Europe and has been superb for the Steelheads – all while getting used to the smaller ice and different playing style of the OHL. Tyler Benson recently returned from an injury and could climb up higher with a strong start to his season. This group is a very slight down-grade from the group of players above them.
- 11th (10th): F Julien Gauthier – Val-d’Or Foreurs (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)
- 12th (11th): F Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
- 13th (15th): F Logan Brown – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
- 14th (12th): F Rasmus Asplund – Farjestads BK (Swedish Hockey League)
- 15th (13th): F Max Jones – London Knights (OHL)
- 16th (16th): F Jonathan Ang – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
The fourth tier is only a slight drop from the third tier of players. This tier includes six talented forwards and a mixture of size and speed. Gauthier attended the World Junior summer camp in Calgary, looking strong with an Under-20 group despite being in the Under-18 age grouping. If he makes the World Junior team, it’ll be hard to keep him this far down the list. Brown and Ang move up from their mini-cluster after strong starts to their seasons, a nice bounce-back from them after disappointing Hlinka camps from both. Dubois maintains his momentum from the Hlinka with a good start to the QMJHL season.
- 17th (32nd): F Kieffer Bellows – Sioux Falls Stampede (United States Hockey League)
- 18th (21st): F Brett Howden – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
- 19th (25th): F Dillon Dube – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
- 20th (17th): D Jake Bean – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
- 21st (26th): F Jonathan Dahlen – Timra IK (Allsvenskan)
- 22nd (19th): D Kale Clague – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
- 23rd (18th): D Chad Krys – Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
- 24th (23rd): F Michael McLeod – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
This grouping is a bit of a drop down from the fourth tier, but remains full of talented players that will probably require a bit more runway to make the jump to the professional ranks. As with Patrik Laine earlier, Bellows makes a big jump based on a strong start to the USHL season giving him enough of a sample size of success at that level to put him with a different group. Jake Bean drops a bit due to some struggles with consistency; he was superb early in the WHL season but has slowed down a bit. Similarly, Boston University has had an up and down start to the season which may hurt Krys’ stock a bit.
- 25th (48th): F Alex Debrincat – Erie Otters (OHL)
- 26th (27th): F William Bitten – Flint Firebirds (OHL)
- 27th (29th): F Pascal Laberge – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
- 28th (28th): D Samuel Girard – Shawinigan Cataractres (QMJHL)
- 29th (30th): D Olli Juolevi – London Knights (OHL)
- 30th (35th): D Victor Mete – London Knights (OHL)
Keep an eye on Alex Debrincat; he put up ungodly numbers in the OHL last season but some prognosticators felt that much of his production was a product of Connor McDavid. His production has continued unabated, which sees him leap into the first round group. These guys are very slightly separated from the grouping above them and those below them in the second round, so there will likely be a lot of movement between these three clusters between now and June in these rankings.
THE SECOND ROUND
- 31st (24th): D Luke Green – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
- 32nd (22nd): F Dmitri Sokolov – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
- 33rd (31st): F Travis Barron – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
- 34th (20th): F Jordan Kyrou – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
- 35th (34th): D Sean Day – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
- 36th (33rd): D Charlie McAvoy – Boston University Terriers (HE)
- 37th (37th): F Carl Grundstrom – Modo (SHL)
- 38th (40th): D Jacob Movarere – HV71 (Sweden Jr.)
Sokolov came over to North America from Russia, but drops a bit due to his offensive production not translating as quickly as some had hoped. As with his teammate Chad Krys, Charlie McAvoy’s stock might take a dip due to Boston University’s struggles early in the season. Sean Day remains a contender to get drafted earlier than expected due to his size and his skating ability; the rest of his game isn’t quite there yet, but he’s got a lot of tools that NHL teams love.
- 39th (47th): F Clayton Keller – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 40th (39th): F Nathan Bastian – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
- 41st (36th): D Ryan Lindgren – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 42nd (38th): D Max Lajoie – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
- 43rd (41st): D Marcus Niemelainen – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
- 44th (43rd): D Tarmo Reunanen – TPS Turku (Finland Jr.)
- 45th (42nd): D Kristians Rubins – VIK Vasteras (Allsvenskan)
- 46th (46th): D Josh Mahura – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Keller climbs up the list a bit based on a good start to his season. Beyond him, there are a lot of strong depth options in this grouping – including a lot of interesting defensemen from different leagues and with different playing styles.
- 47th (49th): D David Quenneville – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
- 48th (51st): D Griffin Luce – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 49th (54th): F Taylor Raddysh – Erie Otters (OHL)
- 50th (53rd): F Simon Stransky – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
- 51st (58th): D Frederic Allard – Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
- 52nd (44th): F Joey Anderson – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 53rd (NR): F Linus Lindstrom – Skelleftea AIK (Sweden Jr.)
- 54th (45th): F Nick Pastujov – U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
- 55th (50th): D Keaton Middleton – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
- 56th (52nd): F Tanner Kaspick – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
- 57th (59th): F Luke Kunin – University of Wisconsin Badgers (Big 10)
- 58th (56th): F Beck Malenstyn – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
- 59th (55th): F Brandon Saigeon – Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
- 60th (60th): F Jeff de Wit – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Finally, the last grouping in the top 60 has a bit of everything. Keep an eye on Lindstrom, who climbs quite a bit based on his progression offensively from last season. As with Sean Day, Keaton Middleton could go earlier based on teams potentially falling in love with his size.
For goalies, the third round grouping includes the top goalies in the draft class: Peterborough’s Dylan Wells and Moose Jaw’s Zach Sawchenko, and there’s a cluster of nine strong prospects that should be scattered between the third and fourth rounds depending on team preferences. Czech Adam Brizgala and Swede Filip Gustavsson could also get snapped up the middle rounds of the draft.
Keep an eye out for Finnish forward Otto Makinen. He’s ranked 85th, but he performed well at the U18s and has been a strong consistent player in Finland’s junior league. Another nice dark-horse pick at this point could be Kenneth Johnson, Jack Johnson’s younger brother, who’s a defenseman playing at Shattuck St. Mary’s.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.