NHL Draft War Room: Top 30 Impact Prospects Part 2

by Eldon MacDonald (edited by @ChrisRalphTHW)

THW’s War Room Top 210 NHL Draft Rankings for May have already been released.

Here is a more in-depth look the top 30 prospects along with some thoughts behind the rankings, and grouped in tiers. This part two looks at those players slotted sixteen through thirty.

Number Sixteen

  1. Keller, Clayton
  • 7 points per game (PPG)
  • 56GP 35G 61A 96P
  • 5’10, 168
  • C, L, USA
  • Ranking: 16, up from 19; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 12
  • Highlights: Link here

Let me be clear about size: size does matter. That doesn’t that you can ignore all players 5’10 and under either. You don’t want to miss out on the next Johnny Hockey (Gaudreau). A scout needs to do his job and rate those harder to evaluate areas like the speed of mental processing of the game, and how well a successful smaller player in junior will be able to translate his game to the rigors of NHL hockey. The latter skill is one that I and most scouts find most difficult to accomplish. I have three rules of thumb that I use first when evaluating players 5’10 and under:

  • Speed: A smaller player needs well above average skating ability to succeed. This allows him to play the game in a way where size is not such an issue. Just as importantly, this reduces the likelihood that he will get hit and be susceptible to injury. Johnny Gaudreau (5’9, 157) despite his high-end skills would not be the star that he is without being an exceptional, elusive skater. Even a good skater such as David Desharnais (5’7, 174) has difficulty meeting his junior level of success because he does not possess high-end skating.
  • Results: It is very hard to sell a smaller player to management if he doesn’t produce high-end results. Last year, Jeremy Bracco (5’10, 175 lbs , Toronto, 2015 – 61st overall) had three months of continued poor results and ended up going 61 in spite of an overall fine year (94 points in 65 games). There are always exceptions. Last year Travis Konecny (5’10, 176 lbs, Philadelphia, 2015 – 24th) had an underwhelming year (68 points in 60 games) but was selected in the first round. Judging by the results from this year, Philadelphia made a good call.
  • Body type and willingness to sacrifice it: Short players who are stocky with a low centre of gravity stand a much better chance of success than those who are short and lanky. This is particularly true of positions requiring more physical play and defensive work such as defense and centre. A player with a sturdy build such as Max Domi (5’10, 198 lbs, Arizona, 2013 – 12th) can play the game like a big guy. You are much more likely to be successful as a smaller player if you are willing to get your hands dirty and play in that ugly zone around the blue paint where all the goals are scored these days. Just look to Brendan Gallagher (5’9, 184 lbs, Montreal, 2010 -147th) and his success.

So how does Clayton Keller, who possesses high-end offensive skills, rate:

  • Speed: Got it in spades; not just skating but in the mental processing and execution of the game.
  • Results: Excellent – 1.7 PPG.
  • Body type and willingness to sacrifice the body: This is where it gets much harder to evaluate. Keller is still on the slight side for an under-sized center. He has, however, been working hard with his coaches to play in the difficult to play areas of the ice. The results have been promising but a team looking to draft Keller will have to carefully access the risk that his play will not translate as well as expected to NHL levels. This is why I have Keller a little lower than most.


Numbers Seventeen to Twenty-One

  1. Fabbro, Dante
  • Penticton, BCHL
  • 1.3 PPG
  • 45-14-53-67
  • 6’0, 189
  • D, R, CDN
  • 17, unchanged; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 21
  • Two Goals: Link here


  1. Rubtsov,German
  • Team Russia U18, MHL
  • 0.9 PPG
  • 28-12-14-26 +12
  • C, L
  • 6’2, 178, RUS
  • 18, down from 16; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 25
  • Highlights: Link here


  1. Jones, Max
  • London, OHL
  • 0.8 PPG
  • 63-28-24-52 +30
  • 6’3, 205, LW, L, USA
  • 19, down from 12; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 17
  • All American Prospects Game: Link here


  1. Kunin, Luke
  • University of Wisconsin, Big Ten
  • 0.9 PPG, 34-19-13-32 -9
  • 6’0, 193, C, R, USA
  • 20, up from 22; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 12
  • Highlights: Link here


  1. McAvoy, Charlie
  • Boston University, Hockey East
  • 0.7 PPG, 36-3-21-24 +11
  • 6’0’ 208
  • D, R, USA
  • 21, down from 20; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 9
  • All American Prospects Game: Link here


Dante Fabbro at 17 is a player who is very good at some of the physical things – skating, shot, passing, but excels at some of the mental things. He possesses a sang-froid type calmness even under pressure and a vision for the ice and the game. He reminds me of Mark Barberio of Montreal when he played for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. Both are average-sized, both are mainly non-physical, both like to be involved in pushing the play, and both play the game with a smoothness like a lake on a calm day. For me, Dante was Canada’s best defenseman at the IIHF U18 World’s.


At 18, German Rubtsov plays like a big man centre despite being rather slender. He has been very good in international tournaments such as the World Junior A Challenge and the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. He plays a very North American game which is unusual for a Russian playing at home. His offense comes more from driving to the net and being hard on the puck rather than the usual Russian dangle. He is a complete player in all three zones and should be quite at home if he decides to come over to this side of the pond.


Max Jones at 19 is a player that I have ranked a lot higher previously, but 2016 has not been kind to Max Jones as he finished the season with just 21 points in 32 games. Moreover, it was not just the lack of points but also his disappearance in many of the games. Max Jones is a prospect with all the physical skills you want in a prospect – size, skating, physicality, compete. However, you want to see those skills at least most of the time and not just once in a while. To his credit, Max was playing better at the start of the OHL playoffs and scored London’s first goal of the playoffs, a beauty, a second and third effort, a diving and landing on his back kind of effort (link here). Max received a 12 game suspension for a headshot in game 4 of the playoffs. Further, it was his laughing after the incident and making faces to the crowd that has left many wondering how much hockey smarts he has. In any case, teams are not going to pass up for very long on a player with Max’s size, skill, and potential.

Luke Kunin at 20 is a former member of the US NTDP who put up some very good numbers (0.9 PPG) at the University of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Conference. He has shown an elite finish both this year and with the US NTDP last year. The finish alone suggests he will likely find success at the NHL level. It is a willingness to battle hard for the puck that probably will ensure that success. Toss in above-average hands and skating, plus leadership, and a high-end hockey sense, and you probably have a surefire NHLer.


Charlie McAvoy at 21 is another former US NTDP program member who is doing well at University this year. NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory said this about him at NHL.com: “He has a real pro game to him. He’s a player who, because of his late birthdate (Dec. 21. 1997), has played with players already drafted at a very high level for a long time, but has shown the kind of game that really translates well to the pro game.” Charlie is worthy of note to an NHL team because of his ability to run a power-play, his skating prowess, his ability to push the play as well as the stability he has shown on defense.


Numbers Twenty-two to Thirty

  1. Tufte, Riley
  • Blaine HS, Minnesota HS
  • 1 PPG
  • 25-47-31-78
  • 6’5, 205
  • LW, L, USA
  • 22, up from 23; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 20


  • What’s impressive: Size, reach, skating, shot, hands, winner of 2015-16 Minnesota high school Mr. Hockey award
  • Improvements to make: Results (Just 8 points in 15 games since returning to USHL hockey from high school on February 26, 2016).
  • Commentary: Not everyone gets the handle of Minnesota High School’s Mr. Hockey; Riley Tufte does.
  • 2015-16 Highlights: Link here

  1. Stanley, Logan
  • Windsor, OHL
  • 3 PPG
  • 64-5-12-17
  • 6’7, 220
  • D, L, CDN
  • 23, up from 25; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 22


  • What’s impressive: Size, immense reach, hard shot from the point, ability to defend the crease area, tough to beat one on one,
  • Improvements to make: Stickhandling in tight, transition speed, offense
  • Commentary: Logan Stanley should be on Holmes on Homes with Mike Holmes as he has been Mr. Improvement this season. Next year should be a big year for the Windsor Spitfires, especially if Mr. Improvement continues his same rate of progress.
  • Two-goal game: Link here


  1. Howden, Brett
  • Moose Jaw, WHL
  • 68-24-40-64 -7
  • 6’2, 193
  • C/LW, L, CDN
  • 24, up from 34; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 27


  • What’s impressive: Size, two-way play, ability to play with an edge, ability to play in all situations, leadership (Captain of Team Canada U18 team that won gold at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Tournament), wrist shot, hockey sense, forechecking, compete, NHL bloodlines (brother of Quinton Howden, 2010 Florida 25th)
  • Improvements to make :Acceleration
  • Comment: Brett Howden is a coach’s favourite for a reason; he does all that a coach asks of him and can be used in all situations.
  • Profile: Link here


  1. DeBrincat, Alex
  • Erie, OHL
  • 7 PPG
  • 60-51-50-101 +18
  • 5’7, 163
  • RW, R, USA
  • 25, down from 15; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 26


  • What’s impressive: Elusiveness, agility, quickness, feistiness, work ethic, offensive IQ, playing with speed, hands, shot, finish, willingness to work in the dirty areas, willingness to challenge larger opponents, ability to play with high-end players, five on five play, results
  • Improvements to make: Strength, ability to keep his emotions in check
  • Commentary: He must be a wizard; the things that he can do on the ice with his stick are amazing and produce magical results. 5’7 players are always a risk but this is a player who has the high-end skills and the stocky body type to be able to make it in today’s NHL; I would bet on him in the 20 to 30 range and I suspect quite a few NHL teams would too.
  • Profile: Link here



  1. Benson, Tyler
  • Vancouver, WHL
  • 9 PPG
  • 30-9-19-28
  • 6’0, 201
  • LW, CDN
  • 26, down from 21; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 29


  • What’s impressive: Skating, two-way play, edge in his game, sturdy frame, shot, passing, hockey sense, vision, leadership
  • Improvements to make: Full recovery from injuries, consistency
  • Commentary: Yes, there are injury concerns but I think that the team that drafts Tyler Benson at 26 or anywhere in the 20s may be getting the steal of the draft – leader, skills, a heavy game with an edge, someone to count on – every team needs players like this.
  • 2015-16 Highlights: Link here


  1. Abramov, Vitali
  • Gatineau, QMJHL
  • 5 PPG
  • 63-38-55-93 +36
  • 5’9, 172, RW, L
  • 27, up from 32; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 34


  • What’s impressive: Skating (acceleration and top gear), fire in the belly, creativity, dynamism, quickness, passing, stickhandling, consistency, results
  • Improvements to make: Weight and strength
  • Commentary: It is tough to move to a new country. It is tough to learn a new language. It is tough to move away from home. It is tough to learn to play on a different-sized ice surface. It is tough to eat a different type of food. It is tough unless, you own the unknown, like Mr. I Own The Unknown, Vitali Abramov.
  • Profile – Link here


  1. Johansen, Lucas
  • Kelowna, WHL
  • 7PPG
  • 69-10-39-49 +11
  • 6’1, 174, D, L, CDN
  • 28, up from 48; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 31


  • What’s impressive: Solid two-way player, excellent first pass, smooth skater, hard point shot, nice hands, and mentally processes the game well.
  • Improvements to make: Lower body strength
  • Commentary: Little brother (of Ryan Johansen, Nashville Predators) makes good. “Amen to that!”
  • Profile: Link here



  1. Clague, Kyle
  • Brandon, WHL
  • 7PPG
  • 71-6-43-49+25
  • 6’0, 177, D, L, CDN
  • 29, up from 31; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 32


  • What’s impressive: Skating (acceleration and top-end speed), mobility, shot, passing, stickhandling, transition, vision, dynamism, power play QB
  • Improvements to make: Weight, strength, physicality
  • Commentary: Kyle Clague is a defenseman of high-end offensive skills who will need to add significant strength and physicality to make his game work at the NHL level. If he does, the team that drafts him could end up with an NHL power play QB.


  1. Dahlén, Jonathan
  • Timrå, Allsvenskan
  • 6PPG
  • 51-15-14-29 +0
  • 5’11, 176
  • C/LW, SWE
  • 30, up from 52; NHL Central Scouting Combined – 60


  • What’s impressive: Leader, difference maker, shot, passing, dangle, NHL bloodlines (son of Ulf Dahlen)
  • Improvements to make: Weight and strength
  • Comment: The hottest junior age player in Swedish hockey (Jonathan plays in the Allsvenskan, the second-tier men’s professional league in Sweden), Mr. Hot, just got a whole lot hotter in the playoffs. Watch the highlights in the link below.
  • 2016 Playoff Highlights: Link here
  • Editor’s Note: “Super Savvy Swedish Surefire Second-Rounder, should be a 1st.”
  • The Next Ones profile


Somehow NHL drafts seem to follow the same rhythm year after year. The first 20 to 23 are generally the same players on most rankings, just ranked in a different order. Also, any outliers from the 20 to 23 group are most likely still to be found in the first round. From 23 to 45 to 50, there is still some consensus among rankings but the number of outliers grows substantially. After 45 to 50, all hell breaks loose. There is really very little consensus among rankings after 45 to 50 and I suspect that is true of NHL team rankings as well. The players I have ranked from 23 to 30 still have the possibility of high-end success but the risk of getting there is considerably higher, either due to size considerations or to being a more raw prospect.


Part 1: Prospects Ranked 1 to 15

THW’s War Room Top 210 NHL Draft Rankings (May Edition)


Check out THW’s quintessential draft resource:

2016 NHL Draft Guide: The Next Ones