The Fastest Rising Prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2016

The Fastest Rising Prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft

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    The top prospects in the 2016 NHL entry draft have made themselves known, and draft fans can rattle off a dozen names or more among the eligible players. Between now and the end of hockey season, we will see those prospects jockey for position at the top—and a few late-bloomers find their way into the first half of the first round.

    Some of these prospects are earning their way up the draft charts with sustained quality in their league games and international tournaments. Others are showing exceptional growth in the latter half of the year and may be badly underrated on some draft lists.

    Here are the fastest risers for the 2016 NHL draft.

7. Riley Tufte, LW, Fargo Force (USHL)

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    His Performance This Season: Riley Tufte of the Fargo Force has been impressive in the USHL and outstanding with Blaine High in 2015-16.

    Why Is He Trending? Tufte is a big man—International Scouting Services lists him at 6'4 ¾'', 205 pounds—and has some intriguing skills. Joe Yerdon wrote an article for that reflects a young player with multiple raw skills and miles to go before he is the complete product on the ice.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? Tufte is inside the top 30 on most lists, including Craig Button of TSN and International Scouting Services. Due to the fact he has raw skills and may take some time to develop, he probably slides into the second round on draft weekend.

6. German Rubtsov, C, Team Russia (MHL)

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    His Performance This Season: German Rubtsov of Team Russia in the MHL has been on the radar for the entire year. He turned the heads of scouts at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and has been heading in a good direction since then. 

    Why Is He Trending? Rubtsov stands out for his range of skills, along with his lanky frame. At 6'1'', 174 pounds, scouts can project him as a much bigger center when he matures. With his two-way ability, he will be a very attractive prospect when he fills out.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? Elite Prospects quotes four separate scouting sources, who rank him between No. 11 and No. 19 overall for the 2016 draft. Recent draft seasons have punished Russian prospects due to signing concerns and the threat of the KHL, so he may not go inside the top 20 overall. He is very likely a first-round pick and should be selected in the top 30 on draft day.

5. Charles McAvoy, D, Boston University (NCAA)

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    His Performance This Season: Charles McAvoy of Boston University is enjoying a strong season and was part of Team USA at the World Junior Championships. 

    Why Is He Trending? McAvoy is turning heads because, despite being a teenager, he is able to play at pace and succeed in NCAA hockey. He will deliver more offensively as his college career continues, but the fact he is a major player at this early date reflects the quality of his game.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? TSN draft expert Craig Button ranks him No. 22 and International Scouting Services' latest have McAvoy No. 19 on its list. He could go around No. 15 but should be gone by No. 25 overall on draft evening. 

4. Max Jones, LW, London Knights (OHL)

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    His Performance This Season: Max Jones of the London Knights moved from the USHL to the OHL this season and has blossomed offensively. 

    Why Is He Trending? Jones is improving his draft stock with physical play and solid offensive production. He is 6'3'', 200 pounds and a strong winger who can play a rugged style.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? International Scouting Services currently ranks Jones No. 8 overall and Craig Button of TSN slotted him No. 28 on his January list. It is likely Max Jones' name is called inside the top 25 overall at the 2016 draft. 

3. Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

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    His Performance This Season: Michael McLeod of the Mississauga Steelheads is posting impressive numbers this year. He will more than double his point total from last season.

    Why Is He Trending? McLeod performed at the recent Top Prospects Game and displayed his substantial skills. Although his offense may be shy of the elite talent available, there is little doubt his playmaking ability and size—he is 6'2 ¼'', 188 pounds—will earn him an early call to the podium on draft day.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? International Scouting Services has McLeod No. 6 overall in its latest ranking, while Craig Button of TSN put him No. 17 in January. A reasonable estimate of his draft number is just outside the top 10, and he should be off the board before No. 20 overall.

2. Pierre-Luc Dubois, C, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)

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    His Performance This Season: Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles is taking a major step forward offensively in 2015-16.

    Why Is He Trending? Dubois was among the top scorers at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, and his regular season in the QMJHL is another strong bullet on his resume. At the recent Top Prospects Game, he put on a show—as reflected by Steve Kournianos' report at the Draft Analyst.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? Craig Button of TSN has Dubois ranked No. 10 on his January list, and International Scouting Services ranks him No. 13 on their new February list. There is little chance he would go higher based on the current rankings, but he is a good bet to be off the board by No. 15 overall.

1. Clayton Keller, C, U.S. National Development Team (USHL)

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    His Performance This Season: Clayton Keller is enjoying a massive season for the U.S. National Development Team. 

    Why Is He Trending? Keller is posting offense at a breathtaking pace, leading his team in USHL scoring and displaying tremendous offensive skills. Steve Kournianos of the Draft Analyst delivers a strong description of his play and compares Keller to Mitch Marner, who went high in last year's draft.

    Where Will He Be Drafted? He is ranked very high on most lists, and Craig Button of TSN has him just outside the top 10 in his January list. Keller is likely to go inside the top 15 at the draft.