2016 NHL Draft Prospects Tearing It Up in the Playoffs

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2016

2016 NHL Draft Prospects Tearing It Up in the Playoffs

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    NHL scouts have been viewing this year's best prospects all winter, and now there is a chance to view some of them through a different lens. Across North America and Europe, league playoffs are giving prospects a chance to prove themselves on a bigger stage.

    A strong playoff performance can improve draft stock, while a player who performs poorly could hurt his final draft number. Even though teams have several viewings of these players, the playoff performance counts in a big way.

    Here are seven NHL-draft prospects, in alphabetical order, who have posted a strong start to their league playoffs this spring.

Brett Howden, C, Moose Jaw Warriors

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    The Playoff Stats: Brett Howden of the Moose Jaw Warriors leads WHL scorers with nine points in four playoff games.

    How Much Will This Help His Draft Number? Howden ranked No. 31 in the midseason edition of Bob McKenzie's draft rankings for TSN. This kind of offensive spike could see him move inside the top 30 and find his way into the first round of the draft.

    Will He Be NHL-Ready in the Fall? It is unlikely that Howden makes any NHL roster in the fall. In fact, the likely path for him will be two more years in junior and them turning pro at age 20 in the fall of 2018.

Patrik Laine, W, Tappara Tampere (Sm-Liiga)

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    The Playoff Stats: Patrik Laine of Tappara Tampere of the Sm-Liiga has two goals and two assists in five playoff games. 

    How Much Will This Help His Draft Number? Laine had a good regular season, but a spike in offense during the playoffs could cement his status as the top draft option after Auston Matthews.

    Will He Be NHL-Ready in the Fall? He is a bigger player—6'4", 209 pounds—and has NHL speed. He projects as a future NHL power forward, and that should bode well for his ability to compete physically. It is less likely he will have an immediate offensive impact—unless he is given a feature power-play role and soft minutes. It is a good bet he plays in the NHL for much of the 2016-17 season.

Auston Matthews, C, ZSC Lions (NLA)

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    The Playoff Stats: Auston Matthews of ZSC Lions has three assists in four NLA playoff games.

    How Much Will This Help His Draft Number? Matthews is likely to go No. 1 overall, and his strong regular season—No. 2 scorer in a pro league—put away any fears about his ability. Matthews' decision to play in a substantial pro league probably did more to help his draft status than anything else.

    Will He Be NHL-Ready in the Fall? He is NHL-ready and should be a strong candidate for a Calder Trophy. Among teams that are eligible for the draft lottery, none is so deep that it could afford to keep Matthews outside the NHL next year. The young man from Scottsdale, Arizona, is bona fide impact prospect.

Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

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    The Playoff Stats: Alexander Nylander of the Mississauga Steelheads has four goals and two assists in only two playoff games so far this spring. 

    How Much Will This Help His Draft Number? If he posts an outstanding playoff number, it could improve Nylander's standing. In his midseason rankings for 2016, TSN's Bob McKenzie had Nylander No. 6 overall. It is possible he could move up inside the top five.

    Will He Be NHL-Ready in the Fall? A good comparable for Nylander is his brother William, who was drafted in 2014 but did not play in the NHL until late this year. A traditional progression would allow physical maturation and permit the younger Nylander to dominate lower levels.

Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (Sm-Liiga)

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    Heikki Saukkomaa/Associated Press

    The Playoff Stats: Jesse Puljujarvi of Karpat (Sm-Liiga) has two goals in his first two playoff games this spring. 

    How Much Will This Help His Draft Number? The playoff performance for Pulujarvi could be key for his final draft position. An injury late in the regular season—as detailed by Chris Johnston of Sportsnet—may have caused some concern. If he was unable to post offense in the playoffs—or wasunable to play—his injury could have become a worry for NHL teams.

    Will He Be NHL-Ready in the Fall? Puljujarvi has NHL size—6'3", 201 pounds—and a great combination of size and skill. One thing that could help him make the NHL this fall? As Elite Prospects mentions in its scouting report, he already plays a responsible two-way game. Even if the offense is slow in arriving, the ability to be reliable without the puck should mean he makes an NHL team this fall.

Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

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    The Playoff StatsMikhail Sergachev of the Windsor Spitfires has three points in three games so far this playoff season. 

    How Much Will This Help His Draft Number? Sergachev is an impressive prospect and could be climbing. Bob McKenzie of TSN ranked him No. 12 midseason, but the offense later in the regular season and into the playoffs is compelling. In his final 10 regular-season games, he scored three goals and 11 assists.

    Will He Be NHL-Ready in the Fall? It is rare for defensemen to successfully jump from junior to the NHL, with Aaron Ekblad being a recent and spectacular exception. A better comparable for Sergachev might be Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ivan Provorov—who stayed in junior and dominated the WHL this season.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London Knights (OHL)

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    The Playoff Stats: Matthew Tkachuk of the London Knights (OHL) has two goals in his first three playoff games. 

    How Much Will This Help His Draft Number? Tkachuk is a candidate for the top five overall—Bob McKenzie of TSN ranked him No. 4 overall midseason—and his playoff performance should help solidify his status. One area of concern about Tkachuk: Given the high quality of his teammates, it is somewhat difficult to separate his outstanding season from the all-star cast around him.

    Will He Be NHL-Ready in the Fall? His resume—via Elite Prospects—gives the impression that Tkachuk is physically mature, and the numbers confirm he is going to be able to post offense at the highest level. His NHL readiness may come down to the team drafting him—if the club needs offensive help, Tkachuk will probably make the grade.