NHL Central Scouting released their midterm rankings of prospects who are eligible for the 2016 NHL draft on Tuesday. As always, the rankings come in four separate lists, one each of North American skaters and goaltenders, then international skaters and goaltenders.
An American tops each list, as Auston Matthews (NLA) is unsurprisingly the number one rated skater coming out of Europe. He’s trailed by Finnish 17-year-olds Jesse Puljujarvi (Liiga) and Patrik Laine (Liiga), both of whom made a big splash with historic performances at the 2016 World Junior Championship. (All three were regularly appearing on our standout players lists.)
Puljujarvi in particular ignited some debate as to whether or not Matthews was still the unquestioned number one overall selection. Puljujarvi became the youngest ever MVP of the World Juniors en route to helping Finland to a gold medal performance at home in Helsinki. He also became the second highest scoring U18 player in the tournament to date, second only to Jarmoir Jagr’s 17-year-old performance.
On the North American side, Matthew Tkachuk of the London Knights (OHL) tops the list. He also put in an impressive performance at World Juniors, working on a line with Auston Matthews. In OHL play, he’s currently fifth overall in points and second in assists, despite missing time for World Juniors, with 15 goals and 63 points in 33 games.
He’s followed by Sarnia defenseman Jakob Chychrun (OHL) and Swedish forward Alexander Nylander (OHL).
The top North American goaltender is the Everett Silvertips’ Carter Hart (WHL), followed by Sherbrooke Phoenix netminder Evan Fitzpatrick (QMJHL) and the Moose Jaw Warriors’ Zachary Sawchenko (WHL).
On the international list Lulea netminder Filip Gustavsson (Superelit) sits atop the list. He’s been a bit inconsistent according to scouting reports, but managed to perform well in a couple of SHL appearances this season. Rounding out the top three is Adam Brizgala of Sparta Prague in the junior Czech League and Russia National Team (U18) goaltender Mikhail Berdin.
Among the surprises is finding Alex DeBrincat at 20th among North American skaters. He is currently the leading scorer in the OHL with 35 goals (61 points) in 36 games. He has a big lead on a number of highly regarded prospects who didn’t miss time to go to Finland for World Juniors.
There were many questions about how he would perform with the Erie Otters in the absence of Connor McDavid, but he has been fantastic in OHL play. His stock was thought to be on the rise, but a poor performance at World Juniors may have impacted his ranking some. An ejection and an injury limited the amount of time he was able to play and when he returned coach Ron Wilson had him as the 13th forward on the bench, so as to not mess with line chemistry when things were going well without DeBrincat. Despite some decent play, he didn’t shine and potentially missed another opportunity to silence critics who frequently cite his 5-foot-7 frame as a reason he may not be able to hack in the NHL.
Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi is ranked fifth among North American skaters and may have received a little bump from a very strong performance at World Juniors. It was a weird year at the annual tournament. Many draft eligible players were able to control play and make a big impact for their team in what’s generally thought to be a 19-year-olds tournament.
A slight surprise on the goaltending front is Finnish goaltender Veini Vehvilainen coming in fourth. His rankings have varied, but he played well for most of the World Juniors tournament as Finland’s number one goaltender. Struggles during the knockout stage saw him get pulled in favor of Minnesota Wild prospect Kaapo Kahkonen. Kahkonen stepped in and saved the game. He never gave up the net after that, becoming the goaltender of record in the gold medal game.
Vehvilainen may not have done himself any favors during World Juniors, but he has been very good in Finnish Liiga play, posting a .938 save percentage through 18 games in Finland’s top league.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.