Photo: 2016 NHL Draft selections Patrik Laine (L), Auston Matthews (C), and Pierre-Luc Dubois represented the top three picks of the this year’s draft in Buffalo, NY (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
There was talk prior to the 2016 NHL Draft that hockey power Canada was in for a disappointing showing at the NHL’s annual re-stocking of young talent. And, while it is true that just two players that identified as Canadian were chosen among the top 10 selections in this year’s draft, the “Great White North” can rest comfortably knowing that they had a stronger showing overall in 2016 than was the case at the last couple of drafts.
In all, 89 players showing Canada as their birthplace were chosen in this year’s draft, 10 more than in 2015 and eight more than the 2014 total. And, while it is true that a player such as Alexander Nylander, who was born in Canada but identifies as Swedish, might skew the final total, that is offset by a player such as Jakob Chychrun, who was born in Florida but identifies as Canadian.
Second to Canada, as they have been in recent years, was the USA with 52 players chosen. That number was down three from 2015, but down 15 from two years ago. Sweden, whose 2016 draft crop wasn’t necessarily considered their strongest in recent years, added six more picks over last year’s figure of 19, while Russia equaled their 2015 output. Finland certainly arrived as a hockey power in the 2015-16 season, but that success added just one more draft pick to last year’s total.
Countries represented at the 2016 draft that were not in evidence last year include Denmark, who had three of their countrymen chosen by NHL clubs, and Belgium, who had their first-ever selection at the NHL Draft in the form of goaltender Wouter Peeters (no relation to former NHL goaltender Pete Peeters).
One country surprisingly shutout of this year’s proceedings was Slovakia. Combined with a weak showing by the Czech Republic, who had just four native-born players chosen in Buffalo after having 11 chosen last year (five Slovaks were chosen in 2015), it was a disappointing year for the two countries that made up the former Czechoslovakia.
Other countries counted among last year’s selections that missed the cut in 2016 were China, the Netherlands, and the Ukraine, who each had one player chosen in 2015.
Below is how the birthplace numbers looked for the 2016 NHL Draft:
Country # of Selections
OHL ties 2012 mark, leads the way in CHL
The WHL scored a rare victory over the OHL at the 2015 draft in terms of the number of players chosen, but the OHL got their revenge in 2016, producing a bumper crop of talent during the proceedings at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY. In all, 48 OHL players were chosen by NHL clubs, with the WHL producing 34, the same number as last year. The QMJHL had 14 players chosen this year after a strong showing at the 2015 draft, where they had 30 players selected.
Not only did the OHL dominate the overall numbers in 2016, but they also produced the most first round prospects of any league with nine. The WHL produced four first round picks while the QMJHL had just two, although that league claims the highest CHL selection in this year’s draft, third overall selection Pierre-Luc Dubois who went to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Olli Juolevi was the top OHL player selected, going to the Vancouver Canucks at #5, while defenseman Jake Bean was the top WHL pick after his selection at No. 13 by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Perhaps most significant for the OHL is that their draft total of 2016 matches the 2012 figure of 48, which is the highest figure for a seven-round draft and is just four off the total of 52 from 1999, which was a nine-round draft.
BCHL leads the way in solid year for CJHL
Leading the way was the BCHL, who saw three of their players chosen, all in the first round of the draft. Two Penticton Vees led the way, with Tyson Jost going to the Colorado Avalanche, and Dante Fabbro landing in Nashville with the Predators. Draft riser Dennis Cholowski of the Chilliwack Chiefs was the third BCHL selection of the first round, going to the Detroit Red Wings at #20.
One other CJHL club produced two selections, that being the Carleton Place Canadians of the CCHL. Left wing Brett Murray went to the Buffalo Sabres in the fourth round of the draft, while goaltender Colton Point was chosen by the Dallas Stars in the fifth round.
NCAA’s present and future on display
Based strictly on the number of players chosen directly from member schools, the NCAA turned in a good showing at this year’s draft. After producing nine picks in 2015, NCAA schools had 13 players make the trek to NHL draft tables over the course of the two-day event.
NCAA schools matched last year’s first round showing of three selections, although the three picks at the 2015 draft all fell in the top 10. Leading the way in 2016 was defenseman Charlie McAvoy of Boston University, who was chosen 14th overall by the Boston Bruins. One pick later, University of Wisconsin forward Luke Kunin was selected by the Minnesota Wild, while forward Tage Thompson of the University of Connecticut was chosen by the St. Louis Blues with the 26th pick.
When taking into account the various leagues that produce talent for the NCAA schools, a total of 61 present or future U.S. college players were chosen by NHL clubs in 2016.
As always, leading the way as both a feeder league for the NCAA along with being well represented at the NHL Draft is the USHL, which produced 30 draft picks from the 2015-16 season and another 15 players that count themselves as USHL alumni.
The U.S. NTDP counted 12 of the current USHL players to have their names called by NHL teams, with Clayton Keller (ARI) at seventh overall being the highest selection from that program. Aside from the NTDP, 11 other USHL teams produced draft picks this year, with no team having more than two players chosen.
The NAHL maintained their total of five selection from last year’s draft, with goaltender Jack LaFontaine of the Janesville Jets leading the way as a third round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes. U.S. high school or prep schools produced six selections this year, six less than in 2015.
Hockey Factories for 2016
As has been the case in recent years, the program that produced the most NHL Draft picks in 2016 was the U.S. NTDP with 12, a figure that is three less than what they produced in 2015.
Unsurprisingly, the club team that produced the most NHL picks this year was the Memorial Cup champion London Knights, who had seven players don NHL jerseys this past weekend. The Knights had a mostly dominating performance in the postseason, winning the OHL title along with the CHL championship. London has had at least one player chosen in every NHL Draft since 1969.
Aside from the Knights, other CHL teams that showed well at this draft include the Calgary Hitmen and Mississauga Steelheads with five selections apiece, and the Victoria Royals and Kelowna Rockets with four picks each. No USHL club or NCAA program had more than two selections.
Over in Europe, the most well represented organization at the 2016 draft is a new one, Russia’s Under-18 program modeled along the lines of the U.S. NTDP. Four players were chosen from this program, including the Philadelphia Flyers‘ top pick, forward German Rubtsov.
Three more Euro organizations – all of them in Sweden – produced three selections, including Djurgarden, Farjestad, and Skelleftea. The highest selection from these three clubs was Farjestad center Rasmus Asplund, who went to the Buffalo Sabres early in the second round of the draft.
Photo: Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois was all smiles after the team made him the third pick overall at the 2016 NHL Draft (courtesy of Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
While Dubois was a virtual lock to be chosen among the first five players off the board, it was expected that the Blue Jackets would instead choose winger Jesse Puljujarvi with their pick. Instead, Puljujarvi ended up being selected one pick later by the Edmonton Oilers. While slightly surprised by his selection by Columbus, Dubois feels that in time he’ll fulfill the lofty expectations that come with being a top-3 selection.
“I was a little surprised but mainly because everybody has been talking about the big three,” Dubois said. “I think I’m a guy who developed later than others. I gained 50 pounds, 45 pounds the past two years, three inches. I think my ceiling is still really high. I still have a lot to go, a lot to learn. I can still get bigger and stronger.
“They draft you for what you’re going to be in your prime, and I think in my prime — that’s what I tell every team in the combine, in my prime I think I’m going to be in the top three, and not just the top three but maybe top four, top five.”
The 6’3″, 202-pound Dubois made gains in the draft rankings due largely to a strong second half of the 2015-16 season in which he finished with 42 goals and 99 points in 62 games. He added seven goals and 12 points in 12 QMJHL playoff games, and was named the QMJHL’s Best Professional Prospect ahead of the draft.
But it may have been his performance on a bigger stage – the 2016 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game – that catapulted Dubois up the rankings.
“Yeah, it’s one game to play your best in front of everybody,” Dubois said of his one-goal, two-assist performance at the premier draft prospect showcase. “I think that was one of my best games of the year, and I mean, that was pretty important to play well there.”
Dubois has been described as a versatile, two-way forward, a description that the Blue Jackets’ top pick seems to think is an accurate one.
“I think, like I said earlier, I want to be the guy you can count on, whether it’s power play, PK, whether you’re winning 1-0 or you’re losing 1-0, I want to be the guy you can count on, and I think in a couple of years I can be that guy,” said Dubois. “I still have a lot to learn, obviously. I’m still a young guy. But I’m sure with the staff and the players in Columbus I’ll learn a lot from them, and I think in a couple of years I can be that.”
Some of Dubois’s comments (including in French) following his selection by Columbus can be viewed below in this Hockey’s Future video.
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Photo: Winnipeg Jets prospect Patrik Laine had a decorated 2015-16 season in which he won two gold medals, and was named MVP of the Liiga playoffs and the World Championship (courtesy of Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
With Auston Matthews off the board as expected, the Winnipeg Jets used the second pick overall in the 2016 NHL Draft to add some offensive punch to their already solid prospect pool with the selection of winger Patrik Laine of Tappara Tampere.
The big forward was the first of three Finland natives to be chosen in the top 5 of this draft, as he joined winger Jesse Puljujarvi (EDM) and defenseman Olli Juolevi (VAN) up on stage in the early portion of the draft. This is the first time that three Finns have been chosen among the top 5 picks, a fact not lost on Laine.
“I think that’s quite awesome,” said Laine. “We’ve never done that before, so it’ll be a huge thing for our country and ourselves as players and as persons. It’s kind of quite huge.”
The Jets are hoping that Laine becomes a latter day version of another Finnish player that featured prominently for that club in the 90’s, Teemu Selanne. Laine is well aware of the shadow that Selanne casts, but doesn’t appear to be daunted at the idea of being the heir apparent.
“Yeah, I’ve heard about that, and I think it’s easier to go there if the city and the organization know something about the Finnish people and Finnish players,” stated Laine. “I hope that I can maybe do the same some day.”
Before Laine takes part in his first NHL training camp, he will be competing for Finland at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey that will take place in the Fall. Strong performances on the international stage at both the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship and 2016 IIHF World Championship virtually ensured his selection to that country’s roster, an opportunity that Laine obviously takes seriously.
“That was a huge thing to be selected to the World Cup team with the best players in Finland and all around the world,” said Laine, who turned 18 back in April. “It’s an honor to be part of that team and part of that tournament, and I just want to show everybody that I’m a good player and I can play there.”
Some of Laine’s comments to the media following his selection by Winnipeg can be viewed in the Hockey’s Future video posted below.
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Photo: Newly-minted Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Auston Matthews will get his first action in the new Maple Leafs sweater at the team’s summer development camp in early July (courtesy of Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
To the surprise of few, the Toronto Maple Leafs used the first overall selection at the 2016 NHL Draft on center Auston Matthews, the player widely regarded as the draft’s top prospect. The talented center competed in Switzerland last season, but he should be a strong candidate to make the Maple Leafs roster for the start of the 2016-17 season.
Despite the lack of drama surrounding the pick, Matthews still went through some of the wave of emotions experienced by most players chosen in the draft. The fact that the draft was taking place in front of the vocal fans of the draft’s hosts and one of Toronto’s top rivals, the Buffalo Sabres, may have added to emotional impact.
“My heart was beating as I was walking up there, but very nerve-racking,” admitted Matthews. “Once they called my name, it was definitely a sigh of relief. A lot of excitement. My family, they’re with me, so it was a pretty unbelievable feeling.”
Matthews will be competing in a market that is arguably one of the most passionate hockey towns in the NHL. His coach with the ZSC Lions this past season, recently hired Ottawa Senators associate coach Marc Crawford, gave him some advice about playing under the microscope in Toronto.
“They’re very passionate, very under the microscope, obviously with the media and everything,” related Matthews. “But [Crawford] said if eventually I go there, it would be a blast. Now that I’m a part of the organization, I couldn’t be happier.”
The Scottsdale, AZ native will be joining a pool of prospects that is one of the more talented groups among the 30 NHL clubs. Matthews has at least some awareness of the talent he will be joining in that organization.
“Yeah, absolutely [it’s exciting],” enthused Matthews. “I mean, those young guys, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, obviously two pretty special players, so I think it’s definitely exciting kind of looking forward.”
Some of Matthews’ comments following his selection by the Maple Leafs are captured in this Hockey’s Future video, which can be viewed below (apologies for Pointing Guy on the right).
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Photo: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward and 2016 prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois parlayed a strong showing at the 2016 BMO CHL Top Prospects Game into a top ranking for this year’s draft (courtesy of Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
All the questions have been asked by the media, while the eyes of scouts are now focused on draft lists. The only thing left now for the prospects heading into the 2016 NHL Draft is to find out which NHL club will call their names at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY.
One group of prospects has received an extra amount of attention this week, namely the players viewed to be the top 10 prospects for this year’s draft. The league and host team, the Buffalo Sabres, have tried to give the players a taste of what Western New York has to offer in the days leading up to the draft. Outings have included batting practice with the local AAA team, plus a ride on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls.
One player in particular seemed to enjoy the whole process. Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward Pierre-Luc Dubois took part in all the activities offered up, and seemed enthusiastic about taking part.
“Yesterday was really fun going to the batting practice with the (Buffalo) Bisons,” said Dubois. “We got to meet the players, so that was really fun. Then today, going on the ice with the kids in the morning was really fun because, I remember when I was a kid I looked up to guys like this. I really like giving back to people like that. And then we went to Niagara Falls, that was my first time there so that was really fun. Now we’re doing interviews for a while, so I’m enjoying the process right now.”
With the stress of being labeled a top prospect for the NHL Draft, Dubois appreciated the opportunity to take part in activities away from the ice.
“We haven’t talked about the draft in about 2 days, and I can’t remember the last time that happened,” chuckled Dubois, who turns 18 today. “I’m really enjoying my time right now and not thinking about the draft too much. Tomorrow, there’s not a lot on the menu so I’m going to get pretty excited, for sure.”
Dubois’s draft stock rose steadily through the season’s second half, beginning with a stellar performance at the BMO CHL Top Prospects Game. He continued that strong play through the end of the season, finishing third in QMJHL scoring with 99 points in 62 games.
For the most part, Dubois seemed to take that success in stride, much as he has enjoyed his time in Buffalo this week.
“Every season has its up and downs, you just can’t go too high or too low, and I think I did a good job with that this year,” said Dubois. “It was a long season that started in the Czech Republic at the Under-18’s, and we finished in the playoffs with Cape Breton and Saint John. I had a really fun time, we had a really good group of guys in Cape Breton, so I really enjoyed my time this year.”
One top prospect whose season consisted mostly of highs is defenseman Olli Juolevi of the London Knights. The smooth defender won gold with Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, then won an OHL championship and the Memorial Cup with the Knights. Choosing between one’s favorite moments in a successful season might be difficult, but Juolevi seemed to value one above all else.
“Of course, the Under-20s is pretty great, but I almost have to say the Memorial Cup,” admitted Juolevi. “It’s a big thing, and we played like 60-something games in the regular season, then the playoffs and a 17-0 run at the end of the year. Then win the Memorial Cup in the final and overtime. It’s pretty awesome, especially after almost like 90-something games and a whole year with those guys. It’s pretty special.”
Several players from that Knights team will have their names called over the two days of this NHL Draft. Juolevi has had the opportunity to reunite with those draft-eligible teammates in Buffalo this week, including fellow top prospect Matthew Tkachuk, making this an extra-special event for the talented Finn.
“It’s great, especially now since we haven’t seen each other in a couple of weeks, so it’s nice to see (Tkachuk) again,” sad Juolevi of the Memorial Cup hero. “Of course, there’s also Max Jones, (Victor) Mete, (Tyler) Parsons, (Cliff) Pu and many great guys this year in the draft. It’s going to be exciting to see where those guys are going, and I hope everything’s the best for those guys.”
Speaking on the eve of his draft selection, Dubois summed up very well what all draft prospects are feeling heading into their big day.
“I still haven’t digested it 100%,” stated Dubois. “It’s still pretty crazy to me – I can’t even imagine what it’s like to play a game, and now, just getting drafted is going to be amazing. There’s a lot going through my head right now, but I’m just really excited for tomorrow.”
Tomorrow has arrived.
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Photo: Forwards Auston Matthews of the ZSC Lions and Patrik Laine of Tappara Tampere are the top two prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft according to ISS Hockey (courtesy of John Crouch/Icon Sportswire and Melanie Duchene/EQ Images/Icon Sportswire)
The first round of the 2016 NHL Draft is now just a couple of days away, with the remainder of the draft taking place on Saturday at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY.
Earlier this month, ISS Hockey released their final top 30 for this year’s draft, along with their 2016 draft guide. The order in June barely changed from the list presented in May, but there was some minor shuffling within the top 10.
There was no change at the top, however, as Auston Matthews went wire-to-wire as the top prospect for 2016 in the ISS rankings. The Scottsdale, AZ native did not look out of place playing against men in Switzerland’s National League A over the course of the 2015-16 campaign, nor did he shrink away from the higher level of competition at the IIHF World Championship in May. Matthews passed all the tests in eyes of the ISS scouts.
Matthews closest rival for first overall through the season’s second half, Finnish winger Patrik Laine, actually had to move up one spot to secure his only second placement in the ISS rankings for the season. Fellow countryman Jesse Puljujarvi held the second slot in 2016 until the June rankings where he and Laine flipped places to rank second and third.
Being an overtime hero in a championship game paid off in the rankings for London Knights winger Matthew Tkachuk. Another Scottsdale, AZ native, Tkachuk netted the Memorial Cup-winning goal in overtime on the final weekend of May, capping a strong postseason showing in which he produced 40 points in 18 games. That performance was enough to move Tkachuk from the sixth slot up to #4 in the final rankings.
Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles remained in fifth place, a position he has held since the April rankings. Dropping to the sixth slot is Mississauga Steelheads winger Alexander Nylander, who was displaced by Tkachuk in the final list.
From that point on, the rankings remain unchanged from the May list, not surprising since virtually none of the final 24 prospects competed in the month of May. Rounding out the top 10 are center Logan Brown (#7) of the Windsor Spitfires; defenseman Jakob Chychrun (#8) of the Sarnia Sting; winger Tyson Jost (#9) of the Penticton Vees; and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (#10) of the Windsor Spitfires.
There was no change for the top goaltender in this draft according to ISS Hockey, with Sherbrooke Phoenix goalie Evan Fitzpatrick holding the top spot in June, as he did in May. Supplanting May’s second-ranked goaltender, the U.S. NTDP’s Joseph Woll, is Lulea netminder Filip Gustavsson.
Below is ISS Hockey’s final top-30 ranking for the 2016 NHL Draft.
NTDP USA Under-18
Russia MHL 98
NTDP USA Under-18
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Photo: Five top prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft were the guests of the NHL during the Stanley Cup Final, with forwards (L-R) Pierre-Luc Dubois, Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk, Patrik Laine, and Alexander Nylander taking Game Four in San Jose (courtesy of Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
While the 2016 NHL Draft lacks some of the drama that was provided leading up to last year’s draft, when Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel vied for the right to go first overall, there is nevertheless some very good talent to be had at the top of this year’s event. And even beyond the top 5, NHL clubs drafting in the first round should be able to land some good talent that will almost certainly suit up for NHL action in the not too distant future.
This year’s version of the McDavid-Eichel competition featured U.S.-born forward Auston Matthews, who competed in Switzerland’s top league in 2015-16, and Finnish forward Patrik Laine, who starred both in Liiga and in international play for Finland. Matthews was a known quantity coming into the season and was considered the top prospect for this year’s draft, while Laine was well regarded but had question marks surrounding his game before the 2015-16 season began. As expected, Matthews excelled in Switzerland, while Laine exceeded expectations and firmly planted himself in the conversation for first overall.
The remainder of the draft prospects considered to be a part of the top 5 are all forwards, and in fact the top six players come from the forward ranks. Forwards Jesse Puljujarvi, Matthew Tkachuk, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Alexander Nylander all turned in strong performances in 2015-16, whether it was in league play or international competition (or both), so teams drafting towards the top of this NHL Draft will be able to add some high-end talent at the forward positions. And, while the defensemen are taking a back seat to the forwards this year, talented defenders like Mikhail Sergachev, Jakob Chychrun, and Olli Juolevi should hear their names called among the top 10 or so selections on Day One of the draft in Buffalo, NY.
So, where will these top talents, as well as other top prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft, end up? The staff at Hockey’s Future held their annual mock draft to make their best choice for the 30 selections that will be made in the first round of the draft. The results of this draft can be viewed below, with the name of the selector in parentheses next to the team name.
Here, then, is the 2016 Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs (Matt Stamper) – Auston Matthews, C, ZSC Lions
Auston Matthews is a generational talent, and the big center that the Toronto Maple Leafs have needed for years. Although Patrik Laine has been making a case for being chosen first overall, the Leafs needs are definitely down the middle, so it is easier to take a center over a winger. Matthews is quick, smart and can play at both ends, making him an easy pick at #1.
2. Winnipeg Jets (Devin Slawson) – Patrik Laine, LW, Tappara Tampere
The Winnipeg Jets lack a natural goal scorer with the ability to take over a game single handedly. With Nikolaj Ehlers now graduated into the NHL, Winnipeg finds itself very thin in prospects on the wing. Some scouts have said Laine will be the NHL’s next 50-goal scorer, and he will certainly alter the future for the Jets. Laine excelled at both the World Junior Championship and World Championship this year as an 18-year-old, proving his raw ability to be a difference maker against some of the world’s best. Laine features an excellent one-timer, very similar to that of Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. Laine would instantly make Winnipeg a much better team.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets (Dave Hahn) – Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat Oulu
For the first time in franchise history, the Columbus Blue Jackets moved up to third in the draft thanks to the new lottery format. With the pick, Columbus should be thrilled to add 6’3″, 200-pound power forward Jesse Puljujarvi into the mix. Although there is talk of this pick being available in a trade, with his elite-level blend of skating ability, shot release, and full-ice game, Puljujarvi is a perfect fit for the Jackets’ system. He also helped guide Finland to gold at the 2016 World Junior Championship where he was named the tournament MVP, proving he can handle the big stage.
4. Edmonton Oilers (Kady Hobbins) – Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Amid a big, tough Pacific Division, the Edmonton Oilers would always do well to add a heavy hitter to their lineup, and Pierre-Luc Dubois could be that perfect combination of size and skill. Dubois would fit with General Manager Peter Chiarelli’s typical player type – he is a big body that brings a strong two-way game, good foot speed, and is a physical presence on the ice. Dubois already clocks in at 6’3″ and 205 pounds, and is likely to add some weight to his frame as he progresses in his development. He drives to the net, is hard on the puck, and seems to have a strong work ethic. Factor in his heavy, accurate shot and the Oilers have a valuable talent in Dubois to add to their prospect pool.
5. Vancouver Canucks (Ken McKenna) – Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London Knights
The Vancouver Canucks need, well, everything, so choosing the best player available at this juncture is obvious. Memorial Cup heroics aside, Matthew Tkachuk had no trouble getting acclimated to the highly competitive OHL this season. While not presently a 200-foot player, his offensive game is advanced, and he already has the build of a power forward who should only become more effective in that role as he matures.
6. Calgary Flames (Jason Lewis) – Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia Sting
The Calgary Flames‘ defensive group truly lacks blue chip-quality outside of the boom-or-bust prospect Oliver Kylington. Jakob Chychrun’s two-way ability is a new NHL dream and should fit in very well behind T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano until he is ready to step in and take charge of the defensive corps himself. He has all the tools to be a defenseman you build a defensive group around.
7. Arizona Coyotes (Dave Hahn) – Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor Spitfires
The Arizona Coyotes‘ focus on developing forward prospects over the last few years is notable, and with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair excelling in the NHL, and with Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak on the way, the clear position of need is at defense. And that is exactly where the team goes with the selection of Mikhail Sergachev. Possessing high upside, Sergachev is a big-rig with enough skill and finesse to do just about everything on defense. The Windsor Spitfires product won the OHL’s Max Kaminsky Trophy as the OHL’s Most Outstanding Defenseman following a 17-goal, 40-assist regular season. He is connected to the play often, likes to jump into the rush, and has all the tools to eventually transition to the NHL playing big minutes as a reliable two-way defender.
8. Buffalo Sabres (Ryan Womeldorf) – Olli Juolevi, D, London Knights
The Buffalo Sabres have added top forward talents Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart in the previous two drafts, so it is time to add some top-end skill at the defensive position in the form of Olli Juolevi. The 6’2″, 179-pound Juolevi could stand to add some heft to his frame, but his two-way ability, playmaking and skating are up with the best at this position in this draft. The Sabres did address some depth issues at defense in 2015 draft, but adding Juolevi will provide a potential top-pairing piece for the future.
9. Montreal Canadiens (Tyler Campbell) – Logan Brown, C, Windsor Spitfires
Since taking over as the Montreal Canadiens‘ GM in 2012, Marc Bergevin has made an effort to make this team bigger and tougher to play against. The team is also lacking depth down the middle, so Logan Brown really fills both of those needs perfectly. Of course, Brown is far from just a Coke machine-type that we so often saw drafted in the 90’s. A terrific skater with great vision, Brown has the potential to be a first-line center that every team craves.
10. Colorado Avalanche (Chau Vo) – Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga Steelheads
Alexander Nylander displayed his world-class offensive skills in his rookie OHL season with 75 points in 57 regular season games and 12 points in six playoff games. His one-on-one ability is second to none in his draft class, but he will have to improve on his play away from the puck for a shot at a long-term NHL career. The Colorado Avalanche prospect pool lacks creative playmakers of Nylander’s caliber, so to select him 10th overall is a steal.
Photo: Dukla Jihlava forward and 2016 prospect Ondrej Najman competed for the Czech Republic in international play in 2015-16, performing well at both the World Junior A Challenge and the U18 World Championship (courtesy of Tim Bates/OJHL Images)
As has been the case for a number of years, very few of the top NHL Draft prospects from the Czech Republic and Slovakia play at home nowadays. The top Czechs for this year’s draft play in North America, but there will be at least one homegrown talent who is sure to be drafted, along with a handful of probable late-rounders.
The situation in Slovakia is more dire as it is unlikely there will be any players from that country picked in the 2016 NHL Draft. There are a few Slovak possibilities, but these play either in Sweden or the Czech Republic. Despite the efforts of their national youth development program, stay-at-home Slovak talent is even less likely to be selected on June 24th or 25th in Buffalo.
Regardless of where they come from, the top Czech 1998-born prospects seem to be defensemen. Four of the top five Czechs in North America are rearguards, starting with Libor Hajek – 31st among North American skaters – who played 24 Czech Extraliga games with Kometa Brno in 2014-15 before heading to the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. The Prince Albert Raiders have a couple of draft-eligible Czechs – left-winger Simon Stransky is ranked 48th and defenseman Vojtech Budik is 90th. As well, defender Ondrej Kachyna of the Hamilton Bulldogs and Ondrej Vala of the Kamloops Blazers are ranked 101st and 102nd, respectively.
The top-ranked Czech at home is also a defenseman, and is projected to be a mid-round pick.
Below are the top prospects from the Czech Republic for the 2016 NHL Draft.
1. Filip Hronek – D – Shoots: Right – 6’0”, 163 lbs.
CSS European Rank #8
November 2, 1997, Hradec Kralove, CZE
Filip Hronek wasn’t drafted in 2015, his first season of eligibility, but his 2015-16 campaign has virtually assured that won’t happen again as he is pegged to be a third-rounder by most projections. The slender-but-speedy defenseman played 40 games for Hradec Kralove in the Czech Extraliga, where he recorded four assists and was a +3. He was also +3 at the World Junior Championship in Finland, where he recorded two assists in five games, and was by some accounts the team’s best defenseman. The lack of bulk on his frame means he is still some time away from the NHL, so what he does in the coming seasons is crucial. He doesn’t currently have a contract for 2016-17, but he will most likely return to Hradec Kralove for a full season. Other options include North American junior, where he still has a season of eligibility, or the KHL, where he was recently drafted by Salavat Yulayev Ufa.
While Hronek is probably the only Czech- or Slovak-based player that can be considered a sure thing to be drafted, there are a handful of players that are probable mid-to-late-rounders:
2. Daniel Kurovsky – RW – Shoots: Right – 6’3”, 198 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #29
March 4, 1998, Karvina, CZE
Daniel Kurovsky has shown himself to be a defenseman with decent size for his age and a big shot from the point. Over the past two seasons in the Czech U18 and U20 levels he has scored 60 goals in 101 games, many of them on the power play. Depending on the outcome of the CHL Import Draft, he is another player that could find himself in North America for the 2016-17 season.
3. Ondrej Najman – LW – Shoots: Right – 6’1”, 187 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #30
January 30, 1998, Jihlava, CZE
A skilled center, Ondrej Najman recorded 46 points in 41 games his first season in the Czech U20 Extraliga with his hometown Jihlava team. He was also the top scorer for the Czech team coached by Robert Reichel at the 2016 U18 World Championship with six points in five games. He has signed on with BK Mlada Boleslav in 2016-17, where he is expected to make his pro debut in the Extraliga and might get a chance to perform on the European stage in the Champions Hockey League.
4. Josef Korenar – G – Catches: Left – 6’1”, 172 lbs.
CSS European Goalies Rank #4
January 31, 1998, Jihlava, CZE
A long-time teammate of Najman, Josef Korenar is one of two Czech goalies likely to be picked, although it is a bit of a toss-up which one will go first. Korenar is the higher-ranked of the two based on his play last season which earned him the starting job on the U18 national team. He is slated to make his professional debut in 2016-17 with Dukla Jihlava of the WSM Liga, which is the second-highest league in the country.
5. Adam Brizgala – G – Catches: Left – 6’0”, 209 lbs.
CSS European Goalies Rank #7
June 19th, 1998, Prague, CZE
At the start of the season, Adam Brizgala was ranked second among European goalies and was considered the top potential Czech draft prospect, but dropped to seventh due to the fact that his season was severely hampered by injuries. If he is able to make a full recovery and regain his form, he could be a steal in the fifth round or later. He has been drafted by the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL.
6. Jiri Karafiat – RW/C – Shoots: Left – 6’2”, 170 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #38
July 7, 1998, Zlin, CZE
Another player who impressed with his offensive flare at the U18 World Championship, Jiri Karafiat produced nearly a point per game in his first U20 Extraliga season. This coming season, the slender forward will try to crack the lineup of PSG Zlin’s A-team, but he may want to add some bulk to his frame if he is to survive at the pro game or alleviate the concerns of NHL scouts.
The further you get down the line, the harder it is to pinpoint if and where a player could be taken, but there are definitely a few more Czechs that could be drafted.
7. Dominik Lakatos – C – Shoots: Left – 5’11”, 179 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #89
April 8th, 1997, Liberec, CZE
A 19-year-old, Dominik Lakatos wasn’t on the radar at all for the 2015 NHL Draft, but moved himself into the conversation for this year with a fine season as a rookie pro, playing a role as a third-line center in Bili Tygri Liberec’s championship season. If he can follow that up with a solid sophomore campaign, he could eventually find himself lured overseas.
8. Milan Davidek – LW – Shoots: Left – 6’2”, 187 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #98
May 16, 1998, Prague, CZE
Milan Davidek has shown promise with Karlovy Vary’s U18 and U20 teams, and he even made his international debut at the U18 level this past season, scoring three goals in 17 total games. However, his overall sample size against elite opponents is too small to be sure of just yet. The fact that he consistently scores more goals than assists indicates he’s a shoot-first winger.
As for the Slovaks, nobody is ranked higher than 1997-born Filip Lestan, who plays in Sweden for HV71 Jonkoping and, ranked 74th among European skaters, is far from a sure thing. The next pair on the list both play junior in the Czech U20 Extraliga – forward Samuel Solensky in Liberec, who was the captain of Slovakia’s U18 national team, and defenseman Vojtech Zelenak of Sparta Prague, one of the alternates. Ranked 116th and 124th, they are even less likely to be chosen.
Between 129th and 148th are seven players who all play domestically in Slovakia, led by three players who all spent at least part of last season with one or both of Slovakia’s U18 and U20 national development teams – center Peter Bjalonicek and defenseman Martin Krempasky, both from the Poprad club, and 20-year-old forward Juraj Siska, who played for Slovan Bratislava in the KHL at the tail end of last season, and is signed with the club for 2016-17 season. If Siska is able to produce there, it could raise his stock for next season.
All told, the top 150-ranked European skaters includes 22 players based in the Czech Republic and seven based in Slovakia. Korenar and Brizgala are the only goalies ranked among the top 15.
Follow Derek O’Brien on Twitter via @Derek_J_OBrien
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Photo: Karpat Oulu forward and 2016 prospect Jesse Puljujarvi earned MVP honors at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship while playing alongside Sebastian Aho and Patrik Laine for Finland’s gold medal squad (courtesy of MARKKU ULANDER/AFP/Getty Images)
If Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi were the only players coming out of Finland this year, the 2016 NHL Draft would still be a big one for Suomi fans. Much like the Tyler vs. Taylor theme of the 2010 NHL Draft — when media sources tried to determine whether current Dallas Star Tyler Seguin or Edmonton’s Taylor Hall would be the top overall selection — Puljujarvi and Laine have been in the media spotlight all season and are surefire first-round picks. But those two are just part of what is expected to be a large class of Finnish players taken in the 2016 NHL Draft.
London Knights’ defenseman Olli Juolevi — though technically a North American prospect — is another likely first round pick and the three first round selections would be the most from Finland since 2004 when forwards Lauri Tukonen (Los Angeles), Petteri Nokelainen (New York Islanders) and Lauri Korpikoski (New York Rangers) were taken midway through the first round.
Even without considering Saginaw Spirit defenseman Markus Niemelainen and Halifax Mooseheads center Otto Somppi (also listed as North American skaters), many mock drafts show a dozen or more players from Finland being selected. The bulk of those players are talented forwards, with 10 Finnish forwards in NHL Central Scouting’s (CSS) top 30 international skaters.
Goalie Veini Vehvalainen, in his second year of draft eligibility, is ranked third amongst international netminders.
Finland’s junior teams won gold medals at both the U20 and U18 World Championships and featured several talented defensemen. But with Juolevi — the youngest defenseman on the U20 team — and Niemelainen – part of the U18 squad in Grand Forks – not in the mix, there are no defensemen in our top-10 group.
The 2017 NHL Draft should be another story as six of the seven defensemen for Finland’s U18 team — including captain Juuso Valimaki — are not eligible until next year. TPS Turku U20 defenseman Tarmo Reunanen is the highest ranked Finnish defenseman (53rd) in the CSS European skater rankings.
Here is the Hockey’s Future ranking of the top 10 prospects from Finland for the 2016 NHL Draft.
1. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat Oulu
6’3”, 205 lbs., 5/7/97
Jesse Puljujarvi first caught the attention of international scouts at the 2015 World Juniors, playing for Finland’s U20 team as a 16-year-old. With a rare combination of size, skill and seemingly boundless determination, Puljujarvi was constantly a threat and looking to make plays.
Patrik Laine’s scoring exploits and big shot have many targeting him as the likely second overall pick behind American Auston Matthews, but this writer feels that Puljujarvi’s all-around game separates him (slightly) and gives him the edge.
Playing on Finland’s top line with Laine at the 2016 World Junior Championship along with his Karpat teammate Sebastian Aho (CAR), Puljujarvi led all scorers with five goals and 12 assists for 17 points and was named the tournament MVP.
In Liiga he played for a veteran Karpat Oulu team and, as a 17-year-old, scored 13 goals with 15 assists and was +5 in 50 regular season games for the two-time defending champs. Puljujarvi had four goals with five assists in five playoff games as Karpat reached the semifinals, falling to eventual champion and Laine’s club, Tappara Tampere.
2. Patrik Laine, LW/RW, Tappara Tampere
6’4″, 210 lbs., 2/3/98
Patrik Laine had a dream season in his draft year — winning a gold medal with the Finland U20 team, a championship in Liiga (where he was named the playoff MVP), and capping the year winning a silver medal playing for Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Championship.
Like Puljujarvi, he has a rare combination of size, agility, stickhandling and passing skills. Laine’s calling card is a lethal and accurate slap shot. Much like current Washington Capitals‘ star Alexander Ovechkin, the right-shooting Laine is dangerous playing on the left side, particularly on the power play; allowing him to get off a one-timer quickly.
Concerns about his positional play and defensive game entering the season appear overstated, and his all-around play in 2015-16 quieted many of his skeptics.
Like Puljujarvi, Laine is expected to go off the board with one of the top three picks in Buffalo.
3. Henrik Borgstrom, C, HIFK U20
6’3″, 175 lbs., 8/6/1997
Injured for a good portion of the 2014-15 season, Henrik Borgstrom was not selected in his first year of draft eligibility last year. He returned to the HIFK U20 team rather than playing in Liiga to maintain his NCAA eligibility and is one of the key recruits for the University of Denver.
Borgstrom was a dominant scorer for HIFK in A Juniors, finishing third in the league in scoring, and is expected to make an immediate impact for coach Jim Montgomery’s Pioneers as a freshman this fall.
The prototypical “late bloomer”, there is some concern about Borgstrom due to the back issues during his draft year and the fact that he was dominant at the A juniors level against smaller, less skilled players. But he has an impressive combination of size, speed and a full toolkit of offensive tricks. His college career should allow him time to mature physically while refining the tactical and technical aspects of his game.
Borgstrom, not ranked prior to the 2015 NHL Draft, is ranked ninth amongst international skaters by CSS this year.
4. Janne Kuokkanen, LW/C, Karpat Oulu U20
6’1″, 175 lbs., 05/25/98
Overshadowed by Laine and Puljujarvi much of the year, there are several forwards who have flown under the radar. Janne Kuokkanen, Otto Makinen, Aapeli Rasanen, and Eetu Tuulola all enjoyed success playing for Finland’s gold medal-winning U18 team in April.
Not as physically imposing as the top three forwards on our list, Kuokkanen is the type of player who grows on scouts for his consistency. A strong, smooth skater, he is capable of playing a variety of roles and is still developing.
One of the top scorers in Finland’s U20 league as a 17-year-old, he also made his Liiga debut, scoring two goals in his only game with Karpat.
Perceived as a fringe draft player early in the 2015-16 season, he is ranked 20th amongst European skaters in the final CSS rankings and should be selected in the second or third round.
5. Otto Makinen, C/RW, Tappara Tampere U20
6’1″, 180 lbs., 5/21/98
Otto Makinen, like Rasanen, spent much of his junior career in the shadows of Laine with Tappara. A technically-skilled forward who can play either center or wing, he is dangerous around the net and has a quick release to his shot.
Makinen is difficult for scouts to evaluate because at times he appears dominant but at other times is less effective. His offensive production has yet to match the visual impression he makes when he is on his game.
That was the case in Grand Forks, when he finished with one goal and one assist in seven games while 2017 draft-eligible forward Eeli Tolvanen led the team in scoring. Makinen did score four goals in five games for Finland’s U18 team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, then led a group of second-tier prospects playing the top center role for Finland at the Five Nations Tournament in November.
Makinen is ranked 13th amongst international skaters and could be picked somewhere in the second or third rounds.
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Photo: Calgary Hitmen defenseman and 2016 prospect Jake Bean scored the most goals of any WHL defender in the 2015-16 season, netting 24 goals in the regular season (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
For the second straight year, the concept of generational talent will emerge as the key talking point at the NHL Draft.
By the time the festivities get underway in Buffalo next weekend, the Auston Matthews watch will have been percolating since the day after Connor McDavid was selected first overall a year ago. Expect a large contingent of Toronto Maple Leafs fans to attend the First Niagara Center (soon to be KeyBank Center) to welcome Matthews to the NHL.
The first half of the first round will be deep with players from around the globe who are capable of making almost an immediate impact. Also note that the seven Canadian teams will pick among the top 12, as none qualified for the most recent postseason. Beyond the midway point, the proceedings will get much more interesting, and part of that drama will be associated with WHL.
It is unlikely the WHL will see a player taken in the top 10; perhaps not even the top 15. In fact, it is conceivable that this time around, the first round could include selection of only a couple of WHL prospects. A total of four players were chosen in the first round in 2006, the league’s lowest first round total during the past decade.
This year, our WHL ranking sees the forwards outnumber the rearguards, which bucks the recent WHL trend. We’ve also included a goaltender, somewhat of a rarity of late for the WHL. There are seven players from the Eastern Conference among our top 10. There a total of nine Canadian-born players, along with one import.
Of the players in our ranking appeared in the BMO/CHL Top Prospects Game in Vancouver on January 28th. It is said to be an honor that can enable a player to enhance their profile.
It is widely suggested that Jake Bean of the Calgary Hitmen will be the top WHL player chosen in Buffalo, but a year ago the Boston Bruins surprised many WHL followers when they chose Jake DeBrusk ahead of all other WHL eligibles. For 2016, one has to wonder if perhaps Brett Howden of the Moose Jaw Warriors made enough of an impact during the second half to get the nod ahead of Bean.
Below are the top 10 prospects from the WHL for the 2016 NHL Draft as chosen by this Hockey’s Future writer.
1. Jake Bean, D, Calgary Hitmen
At 6’1” and 170 pounds, Jake Bean remains slight of build, but handles the rigors well with the help of quick feet, great vision and an advanced hockey IQ. But, like each of the top four in our ranking, Bean has also been bitten by the injury bug during his short WHL career. He suffered a broken wrist in late February of his rookie season during a game in Kelowna, then missed the U18 World Championship this past spring with a broken foot.
Beyond the injury bug, Bean progressed quickly last season. Of note this season is the quality of Bean’s play while veteran Travis Sanheim (PHI) was briefly out of the lineup with an injury and then at the 2016 World Junior Championship (WJC). Bean basically took over as the offensive catalyst on the back end and assumed the role of a power play quarterback with the Hitmen. In 68 games, Bean scored 24 goals and added 40 assists
2. Brett Howden, C, Moose Jaw Warriors
Brett Howden is physically the biggest player in this ranking, checking in at 6’3” and 190 pounds. He skates very well for a big forward and brings physical play to the mix for the Warriors. He is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Quinton Howden of the Florida Panthers, who also played his junior hockey in Moose Jaw.
It his ability to play alongside elite players and also perform like that elite player when inserted throughout the lineup that has him this high up in the rankings. In an era of top-nine compilations in the NHL, offensive skill from a third line is of paramount importance. This is where Howden currently provides intriguing possibilities. From Oakbank, Manitoba, Howden scored 24 goals and added 40 assists in 68 games. He was also prominent for Team Canada at the U18 World Championship as a late addition when the Warriors were bounced from the WHL playoffs.
3. Tyler Benson, LW, Vancouver Giants
We’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that it will be hard for an NHL team to ignore Tyler Benson’s upside, although the team that chooses the Vancouver Giants captain will have to be comfortable exercising patience. Benson has endured some definite frustrations during his two-year junior career.
While the Giants have remained somewhat tight-lipped about the injuries, Benson’s inability to remain active on a consistent basis this season was certainly a concern. Despite the myriad of challenges, along with the responsibility that came with being named the Giants team captain this year, the 6’, 196-pounder from Edmonton was offensively productive when in the lineup. While Howden might have an edge in skating ability, a healthy Benson can be an absolute beast at both ends of the rink. With nine goals and 19 assists in 30 games, his presence on an improving Giants roster is crucial moving forward.
4. Libor Hajek, D, Saskatoon Blades
Libor Hajek quietly emerged as a reliable WHL defenseman after a season with HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Extraliga, where he played 17 games as a 16-year-old. He was one of 33 players selected at the 2015 CHL Import Draft who are eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft. At the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial, Hajek served notice that he is fully capable against elite competition in his age group.
At 6’1” and 198 pounds, he is strong on the puck and doesn’t shy away from physical play. In Saskatoon this season, on a Blades team that missed the playoffs, Hajek played in 69 games, scored three times and added 26 assists. Not a glamour pick by any stretch, but Hajek is a competent, serviceable defenseman with high-end skating ability. The question is, have scouts seen enough of him? We think they have.
5. Kale Clague, D, Brandon Wheat Kings
Another in the long line of elite defenseman that have honed their skills in Brandon of late, Kale Clague has all the tools, particularly with the puck on his stick. At 6’ and 178 pounds, Clague will likely need to add weight and muscle in the coming years to handle defensive zone battles in pro hockey.
From Lloydminster, Alberta, Clague was a durable member of the WHL champions this season, appearing in 71 games for the Wheat Kings. He scored six times and added 37 assists for the high octane Wheaties. Viewing during the long WHL playoff run and Memorial Cup this season could nudge Clague ahead of Hajek come Draft Day.
6. Carter Hart, G, Everett Silvertips
Carter Hart took over as the number one goalie for the Everett Silvertips as a 16-year-old. This past season, he appeared in 63 games, posting six shutouts, a 2.14 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and a 35-23-1-3 record. Hart was named the CHL Goaltender of the Year during Memorial Cup week in Red Deer.
Hart, from Sherwood Park, Alberta, was in and out of the lineup during the postseason, but following the Silvertips playoff exit, he was able to focus on conditioning and he turned some heads with his athleticism, quickness and dexterity at the NHL Scouting Combine. At 6’1” and 170 pounds, he has room to grow and to add strength.
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