The 2016 NHL Entry Draft takes place on June 24-25 at the First Niagara Centre in Buffalo, and its safe to say that the hockey world is budding with anticipation.
Who will go first overall? Who will be selected fourth? Will the Oilers trade their first round pick?
These and many other questions are among those garnering major attention ahead of the annually anticipated event, which provides each and every NHL club the opportunity to upgrade their existing roster and address specific team needs.
However, when the Lottery Draft took place on April 30th, it had a major impact on how each and every franchise viewed their position in the Draft. Heck, the Winnipeg Jets were in Alex Nylander range, now, they have moved up in the Draft and could select border-line first overall selection Patrik Laine.
The hockey world is truly a unique, and sometimes fortuitous place.
With that being said, its now time to take a look ahead at the first round of the NHL Draft.
Thankfully, the Lottery Draft solidified the first 14 overall selections, and because the Stanley Cup Playoffs have yet to come to a conclusion, lets take a moment to project the first half of the first round, and who each team could very likely selelct with their first round pick in the 2016 Entry Draft.
1st Overall – Auston Matthews
No surprise here. Auston Matthews has been the consensus first overall selection since the beginning of his 2015-16 season with Zurich, and a 24 goal, 46 point campaign over just 36 games as a 17 year-old certainly didn’t hurt. In Matthews, the Leafs will have found a legitimate number-one center-man, an aspect which their roster has lacked since Mats Sundin left town in 2008.
2nd Overall – Patrik Laine
Like Matthews, Laine’s top-3 selection has been a long time coming. However, where Laine separated himself from Puljujarvi to secure second place likely came with claiming the Jari Kurri Trophy as the SM-liiga’s Playoff MVP. He scored ten goals and 15 points over 18 games at just 17 years-old. The 6’3″, 200 pound Left Winger has arguably the greatest upside in the Draft.
3rd Overall – Jesse Puljujarvi
Jesse Puljujarvi is by no means a consolation prize. Arguably the second most talented ‘Fin available in the 2016 NHL Draft, Puljujarvi netted nine points over Karpat’s ten playoff games played, and given his size at 6’3″, 200 pounds, is of similar size and skill as Laine. Where Laine edges Puljujarvi is in his level of raw skill, while the latter is widely considered as more NHL ready.
4th Overall – Jakob Chychrun
The Oilers could very well be trading the fourth overall selection prior to or during the Draft, yet if they don’t, or can’t, they need to lock down a defender who could develop into a top-pairing defender. In Chychrun, the Oilers could land an offensively gifted d-man who is also defensively sound, retaining great size at 6’2″, 215 pounds. What remains to be seen is how NHL clubs view the 2016 class of top defensemen.
5th Overall – Matthew Tkachuk
The Canucks are sound at center-ice, however, they are fairly weak on the wings, especially the left-hand side. As such, they would do well to add a speedy, highly skilled forward who can score and set up his teammates. The son of former NHLer Keith, Tkachuk the younger notched 30 goals and 107 points over 57 points in his first season with the powerhouse London Knights. A gifted skater who plays with a gritty edge, Tkachuk would be a fantastic addition to a team whose game relies largely on raw skill.
6th Overall – Pierre Luc Dubois
The Calgary Flames are an up and coming team built on raw talent and size. Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are example of which, yet outside of these three, the Flames lack an elite forward prospect. Dubois, who can play both center and wing, brings great size at 6’3″, 205 pounds and incredible skill, witnessed in his 42 goal 2015-16 season. There’s a reason why Dubois shot up to number-one on the NHL’s Final Central Scouting Ranking, and the Flames appear poised to benefit.
7th Overall – Alexander Nylander
Arizona has a lot of work to do before they can legitimately compete in the NHL Playoffs. The Coyotes are relatively weak both at forward and on defense, but do have a number of skilled youngsters developing at the NHL level, namely Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. So, who better to add then yet another highly skilled forward, in this case, Alexander Nylander. The brother of the Leafs’ William, Alexander brings great skill, patience and composure to a game defined by crisp passing and consistent offensive output.
8th Overall – Mikhail Sergachev
After years of offensive issues, the Sabres are suddenly stacked up front with the likes of Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane – and more are on the way. As such, the Sabres will ideally add to their back-end, which is also becoming quite strong. Mikhail Sergachev would be a tremendous addition to the Sabres’ long-term plans. At 6’2″, 205 pounds, Sergachev brings great size to the ice, and knows how to use it. Further, he brings an offensive edge, as noted in his 57 points over 67 OHL games in 2015-16. In all, Sergachev projects to be a solid, top-4 NHL defender.
9th Overall – Tyson Jost
The Canadiens are in desperate need of scoring. Montreal finished just 15th overall in Goals For in 2015-16, production simply not good enough for a team with playoff expectations. With that being said, the Canadiens can’t go wrong adding a high scoring forward to the mix. Tyson Jost looks to be that player. He scored 104 points, 42 of which were goals, in just 48 games played with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL. Committed to the University of North Dakota in 2016-17, Jost projects to be a dynamic offensive NHL forward.
10th Overall – Charlie McAvoy
Possessing one of the most highly skilled – and young – forward groups in the entire NHL, the Avalanche will surely look to improve their defensive depth in the coming Draft. While Olli Juolevi would be a nice selection, Charlie McAvoy could be a long-term fixture in Colorado’s lineup. At 6′, 205 pounds, McAvoy brings great size to the blue-line, while his playmaking prowess makes him a legitimate offensive threat from the backend. McAvoy netted three goals and 22 assists over 37 games as a freshman with Boston University in 2015-16.
11th Overall – Olli Juolevi
The Devils’ defense core can be best defined as average. New Jersey does not possess a legitimate top-pairing defender, especially since Adam Larsson has failed to develop as expected. Adding London Knights star Olli Juolevi could change that, as the young d-man plays a sound two-game defined by quality defensive work and offensive upside. Juolevi’s nine goals and 42 points as a rookie in 2015-16 ranked third best among rookie defenders and 13th best on the blue-line overall.
12th Overall – Julian Gauthier
The Senators lack depth on the wings. Sure, they have Mike Hoffman, Bobby Ryan and Mark Stone, but otherwise they are relatively thin. Adding Julian Gauthier would help to change that, as at 6’4″, 225 pounds, Gauthier would immediately add size and scoring ability to the Ottawa lineup. Fresh off of a 41 goal, 54 game season in 2015-16, Gauthier is an intimidating force who plays a physically strong game.
13th Overall – Michael McLeod
When Eric Staal left town at the 2016 Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes’ search for a new number-one center-man officially began. Michael McLeod of the Mississauga Steelheads would be a perfect fit. Arguably the best skater available in the Draft, McLeod uses his speed to drive offense, and has the ability to beat players one on one, shoot the puck, or dish it off to nearby teammates. McLeod could quite easily be the steal of the Draft, he is in fact that talented. Selecting McLeod at 13th overall would be a tremendous selection by Carolina.
14th Overall – Max Jones
Max Jones exemplifies the Boston Bruins’ style of play: skilled, gritty and endlessly competitive. As a first year forward with the London Knights, Jones netted 28 goals and 52 points over 63 games, while adding 106 minutes in penalties. While he isn’t the flashiest player available, Jones is a gritty and unrelenting competitor who loves getting under his opponents skin.
Well, there you have it, my projected top-14 picks in the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft. Agree with these selections, disagree, or simply want to discuss? As always feel free to comment your opinion below!
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.