The 2016 NHL Draft is quickly approaching, with the big day finally commencing on June 24th. Throughout the course of the 2015-16 season there have been some big risers and fallers, as well as a few small movements at the head of the class.
An Elite Top 3
At the top of the board, the ‘Big Three’ of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi have remained in tact the entire year. While Matthews still holds the number one position, Laine has consistently closed the gap. Matthews dominated the Swiss league, but his season came to an early close on March 10th. He is a big, all-around center who can dominate the game in all three zones with his ability to skate and use his strength to maintain control of the puck. Matthews is a complete player with the potential to be a franchise center, a player which you can build a team around.
In the mean time, Laine led Tappara to the Liiga championship and was named playoff MVP for scoring 10 goals and 15 points over 18 games. During the 2016 IIHF World Championships, a tournament many used as an opportunity to compare Matthews to Laine, Laine came away as the more impressive of the two. He led the tournament in goals with seven and finished third in points with 11. Laine was able to take over and lead the Finnish squad with his ability to be a true game changer. Many scouts have dubbed his shot they best to come through the draft since Alex Ovechkin’s. He has elite goal scoring potential and will be a difference maker.
In the three spot, Jesse Puljujarvi is the consensus choice, although he has lost attention as a result of his solidified position. He led the World Juniors with 17 points this year, showcasing incredible smarts and vision to establish himself as an elite playmaker. While he is a passer by nature, he also has the skills to be a goal scorer when the time comes. Although he seems to be the forgotten prospect, Puljujarvi certainly has the potential to be a point producing, first-line winger. Overall, his game thrives through elite hockey sense and incredible creativity with the puck to create scoring chances.
The Second Wave of Forwards
Behind the big three, Matthew Tkachuk remains at the head of the second wave after a 107 point season with the London Knights. He stepped up his game during the playoff run, scoring 20 goals and 40 points in 18 games, and continued to dominate in the Memorial Cup despite an ankle injury. Tkachuk is a dynamic winger who can put up huge offensive totals. He projects to be a strong, first-line scoring winger.
The #1 ranked North American Skater by NHL Central Scouting is Pierre-Luc Dubois, who scored 42 goals and 99 points with the Screaming Eagles. Dubois is an explosive and powerful center who plays an elite two-way game with a physical edge. His game is similar to Anze Kopitar’s, but with a larger offensive upside. Some may value Dubois over Tkachuk for his ability to play center.
Clayton Keller slots in as the 6th ranked forward. A point producing centerman, he set the record for the most assists (70) and the second most points (107) in a single USDP U18 season. A smaller player at 5’10, 170 pounds, Keller has elite sense and vision of the ice which he uses to create plenty of scoring chances. He could easily develop into a first-line center with a game similar to Tyler Johnson’s.
Close behind Keller is Tyson Jost, who decided to take the Jr. A route in order to go to the NCAA. Jost excelled with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees this year, establishing an elite skill level with which he can take over a game individually. He is a complete package and dominated the U18 tournament on a loaded Canadian squad. Teams remain a little cautious over the fact he was playing Jr. A instead of major junior hockey.
A Tight Battle Between Defencemen
For most of the season, there was a consensus top three between Jakob Chychrun, Olli Juolevi, and Mikhail Sergachev. However, as the season wore on, opinions altered and other prospects rose to the occasion.
Chychrun had unrealistic expectations placed upon him for the 2015-16 season, especially as he was coming off of major shoulder surgery. He changed his style for this season, making less risky plays and choosing his opportunities to pinch. As a result of decreased offence, Chychrun has been undeservingly dropped in many NHL Draft rankings. In reality, he is still the best defender available with the potential to become a franchise defenceman.
Sergachev was awarded the OHL Defenceman of the Year over fellow prospects, Chychrun and Juolevi. He has tremendous offensive instincts and a booming shot from the point, and can dominate a game in all three zones. He skates well and makes a strong first pass on he breakout, similar to Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
On the other hand, Juolevi, who is ranked first among defencemen by a majority of scouting services, arguably plays a better defensive game than Sergachev. However, he does not excel in any one area, placing his ceiling lower than both Chychrun and Sergachev’s. He is an excellent skater but makes questionable decisions at times.
A few dark horses among the top defencemen are Jake Bean and Dante Fabbro. Bean is an elite skater and decision maker, and has tremendous offensive skills too. He has a great work ethic and has an underrated defensive game. While many see him as a one-dimensional player, Bean is actually excellent in his own end with a good stick.
Fabbro was a teammate of Jost in Penticton and became a game changer each game. Much like Bean, Fabbro has great offensive upside to a lesser extent. He is a very complete defenceman who plays a smart, responsible game in his own end with good stick and body positioning. He has the potential to become a different maker at the NHL level.
Exciting 19 and 20-Year-Old Prospects
This year’s draft features a number of overage prospects who were eligible for the 2014 or 2015 NHL Draft’s, but went undrafted. However, scouts are beginning to keep a close eye on these players, with the theory that a young man who may find his potential a year or two later than the average player does not mean that he cannot be a significant factor in the NHL. Each year there are more and more undrafted players making a difference in the NHL, many of them because they did not fully develop until they were 19, 20, or even 21 years old.
As a result, several overage draft prospects could be drafted within the first four rounds this year. Specific players to watch for would be Adam Brooks and Brayden Burke, ranked 59th and 61st respectively. In the WHL this year, they ranked first and third in points and were tied for the lead in assists, with 82 each. Brooks has gone undrafted in each of the past two drafts, but just found his groove this year as a 20-year-old. Similarly, Burke went undrafted in 2015 after having just 34 points. However, he took off this year and exploded with 109 points, becoming an exciting draft prospect.
There is no reason to say that these two players cannot have a long NHL career simply because they developed a year or two later. And they are not alone. Other promising overage prospects include Rem Pitlick, Dante Salituro, Tyler Soy, Alexis D’Aoust, and now Conner Bleackley.
Bleackley was a former 23rd overall by Colorado in 2014, but went unsigned after being traded to Arizona. As a result, he will re-enter into the 2016 NHL Draft and should be a third or fourth round pick.
2016 NHL Draft Rankings
The 2016 NHL Draft will be an exciting one, with up to six first-round pick reportedly in play to be traded. It is a deep draft, with picks 20 to 40 being almost interchangeable. With less than a month to go until the draft takes place, it is a very exciting time for everyone in the game of hockey.
|1||Auston Matthews||C||ZSC Lions (NLA)||36-24-22-46|
|2||Patrik Laine||LW/RW||Tappara (Liiga)||46-17-16-33|
|3||Jesse Puljujarvi||RW||Kärpät (Liiga)||50-13-15-28|
|4||Matthew Tkachuk||LW||London (OHL)||57-30-77-107|
|5||Pierre-Luc Dubois||C||Cape Breton (QMJHL)||62-42-57-99|
|6||Jakob Chychrun||D||Sarnia (OHL)||62-11-38-49|
|8||Tyson Jost||C/LW||Penticton (BCHL)||48-42-62-104|
|9||Logan Brown||C||Windsor (OHL)||59-21-53-74|
|10||Mikhail Sergachev||D||Windsor (OHL)||67-17-40-57|
|11||Jake Bean||D||Calgary (WHL)||68-24-40-64|
|12||Michael McLeod||C||Mississauga (OHL)||57-21-40-61|
|14||Dante Fabbro||D||Penticton (BCHL)||45-14-53-67|
|15||Alexander Nylander||LW/RW||Mississauga (OHL)||57-28-47-75|
|16||Olli Juolevi||D||London (OHL)||57-9-33-42|
|17||Charles McAvoy||D||Boston U (NCAA)||37-3-22-25|
|18||Luke Kunin||C||U of Wisconsin (NCAA)||34-19-13-32|
|19||Brett Howden||C||Moose Jaw (WHL)||68-24-40-64|
|20||German Rubtsov||C||Team Russia U18 (MHL)||28-12-14-26|
|21||Julien Gauthier||RW||Val-d’Or (QMJHL)||54-41-16-57|
|22||Samuel Girard||D||Shawinigan (QMJHL)||67-10-64-74|
|23||Adam Mascherin||C/LW||Kitchener (OHL)||65-35-46-81|
|24||Sam Steel||C||Regina (WHL)||72-23-47-70|
|25||Alex DeBrincat||C||Erie (OHL)||60-51-50-101|
|26||Vitali Abramov||LW/RW||Gaineau (QMJHL)||63-38-55-93|
|27||Riley Tufte||LW||Blaine High (USHS)||25-47-31-78|
|28||Logan Stanley||D||Windsor (OHL)||64-5-12-17|
|29||Rasmus Asplund||C/LW||Färjestad BK (SHL)||46-4-8-12|
|30||Pascal Laberge||LW/RW||Victoriaville (QMJHL)||56-23-45-68|
|31||Dennis Cholowski||D||Chilliwack (BCHL)||50-12-28-40|
|32||Tage Thompson||C/RW||U of Connectitcut (NCAA)||36-14-18-32|
|33||Tyler Benson||LW||Vancouver (WHL)||30-9-19-28|
|34||David Quenneville||D||Medicine Hat (WHL)||64-14-41-55|
|35||Taylor Raddysh||C||Erie (OHL)||67-24-49-73|
|36||Max Jones||LW||London (OHL)||63-28-24-52|
|37||Carter Hart||G||Everett (WHL)||63-2.14-.918|
|39||Will Bitten||C||Flint (OHL)||67-30-35-65|
|40||Evan Fitzpatrik||G||Sherbrooke (QMJHL)||54-3.42-.896|
|41||Carl Grundstrom||RW||MODO (SHL)||49-7-9-16|
|42||Noah Gregor||C||Moose Jaw (WHL)||72-28-45-73|
|43||Jacob Moverare||D||HV71 J20 (SuperElit)||41-5-16-21|
|45||Libor Hajek||D||Saskatoon (WHL)||69-24-40-64|
|46||Sean Day||D||Mississauga (OHL)||57-6-16-22|
|47||Cameron Morrison||C/LW||Youngstown (USHL)||60-34-32-66|
|48||Jordan Kyrou||C/RW||Sarnia (OHL)||65-17-34-51|
|50||Dillon Dube||C||Kelowna (WHL)||65-26-40-46|
|51||Cliff Pu||C/RW||London (OHL)||63-12-19-31|
|52||Lucas Johansen||D||Kelowna (WHL)||69-10-39-49|
|53||Jonathan Dahlen||C/LW||Timrå IK (Allsvenskan)||51-15-14-29|
|54||Tyler Parsons||G||London (OHL)||49-2.33-.921|
|55||Boris Katchouk||LW||Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)||63-24-27-51|
|56||Nathan Bastian||C/RW||Mississauga (OHL)||64-19-40-59|
|57||Vladimir Kuznetsov||LW/RW||Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)||68-25-33-58|
|58||Cam Dineen||D||North Bay (OHL)||68-13-46-59|
|59||Matthew Phillips||C||Victoria (WHL)||72-37-39-76|
|60||Adam Brooks||C||Regina (WHL)||72-38-82-120|
|61||Kale Clague||D||Brandon (WHL)||71-6-37-43|
|62||Brayden Burke||C/LW||Lethbridge (WHL)||72-27-82-109|
|63||Frederic Allard||D||Chicoutimi (QMJHL)||64-14-45-59|
|64||Rem Pitlick||C||Muskegon (USHL)||56-46-43-89|
|66||Filip Gustavsson||G||Luleå HF J20 (SuperElit)||20-3.22-.893|
|67||Simon Stransky||LW||Prince Albert (WHL)||62-19-43-62|
|68||Jack Kopacka||LW||Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)||67-20-23-43|
|69||Filip Hronek||D||HK Hradec Kralove (Czech)||40-0-4-4|
|70||Max Lajoie||D||Swift Current (WHL)||62-8-29-37|
|71||Zachary Sawchenko||G||Moose Jaw (WHL)||51-3.04-.916|
|72||Dmitri Sokolov||C/LW||Sudbury (OHL)||68-30-22-52|
|73||Dante Salituro||C||Ottawa (OHL)||65-38-45-83|
|74||Tyler Soy||C||Victoria (WHL)||72-46-39-85|
|75||Alexis D’Aoust||RW||Shawinigan (QMJHL)||68-44-54-98|
|76||Conner Bleackley||C||Red Deer (WHL)||55-13-33-46|
|77||Connor Bunnaman||C||Kitchener (OHL)||68-16-22-38|
|78||Luke Green||D||Saint John (QMJHL)||61-10-25-35|
|79||Markus Niemelainen||D||Saginaw (OHL)||65-1-26-27|
|80||Maxime Fortier||C/RW||Halifax (QMJHL)||68-31-46-77|
|81||Connor Ingram||G||Kamloops (WHL)||61-2.61-.922|
|82||Matthew Boucher||LW||Quebec (QMJHL)||59-30-30-60|
|83||Givani Smith||LW||Guelph (OHL)||65-23-19-42|
|84||Riley Stillman||D||Oshawa (OHL)||62-6-15-21|
|85||Jacob Cederholm||D||HV71 J20 (SuperElit)||35-1-4-5|
|86||Kyle Maksimovich||LW||Erie (OHL)||68-27-44-71|
|87||Tim Gettinger||LW/RW||Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)||60-17-22-39|
|88||Mikhail Berdin||G||Team Russia U18 (MHL)||22-2.07-.928|
|89||Tarmo Reunanen||D||TPS U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)||11-2-4-6|
|90||Ty Ronning||RW||Vancouver (WHL)||67-31-28-59|
|91||Victor Mete||D||London (OHL)||68-8-30-38|
|92||Beck Malenstyn||C||Calgary (WHL)||70-8-17-25|
|93||Eetu Tuulola||RW||HPK U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)||29-9-5-14|
|96||Yegor Babenko||RW||Lethbridge (WHL)||67-29-40-69|
|98||Jonathan Ang||C||Peterborough (OHL)||68-21-28-49|
|99||Linus Lindstrom||C||Skellefteå AIK J20 (SuperElit)||40-14-30-44|
|100||Wade Allison||RW||Tri-City (USHL)||56-25-22-47|
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.