Early Look at the Top 10 Prospects for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
The 2016 NHL draft is beginning to take shape at the top, and teams are looking at one generational talent and several impact prospects who play various positions and offer a range of skill sets.
USA hockey continues a strong surge in development, with another exceptional talent on the heels of Jack Eichel last year. This time it is Auston Matthews who leads the crop of 2016 draft-eligible talent, and there is no competition for the top spot this year.
The rest of the top 10 features some talent from the Canadian junior leagues, some Finnish scorers and another skilled Swede for 2016. Here are the top 10 prospects in this year's draft.
10. Tyler Benson, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
What Kind of Player Is He? Tyler Benson owns a pro skill set, boasting speed, grit and offensive ability among his calling cards. He plays with determination that makes him an effective forechecker and penalty killer.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? The New Jersey Devils might be a nice fit for Benson as they replenish their system with a new group of two-way forwards. His offense is still a question mark, but the Devils' style of play is well suited to Benson.
9. Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
What Kind of Player Is He? Mikhail Sergachev has it all: size, skating, defensive acumen and probably the best outlet passing available in this year's draft. Brock Otten of OHL Prospects mentioned his power-play success, and that is another element in his game with high value.
What Is He Doing This Year? Sergachev is a leader for the Spitfires in all areas and is among the top point-getters among OHL defensemen—his nine goals ranks him No. 2 in the league's rearguards.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? The Colorado Avalanche need defensive help immediately, but their long-term fortunes at the position could also use an upgrade. Sergachev could be an outstanding addition to the powerful group of forwards in Colorado.
8. Alex DeBrincat, RW, Erie Otters (OHL)
What Kind of Player Is He? Alex DeBrincat is an impact scorer and an outstanding NHL prospect despite being listed at 5'7", 160 pounds. The keys are his shot—described by The Draft Analyst as devastatingly rapid—and his accuracy.
What Is He Doing This Year? He is exceeding a goal-per-game in the OHL—likely the best junior league in the world.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? The Edmonton Oilers drafted DeBrincat's linemate from last season—Connor McDavid—No. 1 overall in 2015. At the time, it was logical to assume DeBrincat owed much of his success to McDavid, but this season he has established a reputation on his own.
7. Julien Gauthier, RW, Val D'Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
What Kind of Player Is He? Julien Gauthier is a big winger—6'4", 224 pounds—who has great hands, shoots the puck well and can score goals.
What Is He Doing This Year? This season he is scoring at almost a goal-per-game clip, cashing 29 goals in 30 games. Gauthier is also averaging more than three shots on goal each game; his 109 shots rank him inside the league's top 25.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? The Calgary Flames boast ridiculous talents like Johnny Gaudreau but could use size and skill on their top lines. Gauthier may take a while to get to the NHL level, but he would be a solid complementary player.
6. Alexander Nylander, RW, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
What Kind of Player Is He? Alexander Nylander is a brilliant offensive player who can impact the game as a scorer or playmaker. He is a precision passer, has a quick release and can thread the needle and find daylight even when it looks like there is no opportunity.
What Is He Doing This Year? He is the top rookie scorer in the OHL and ranked No. 6 overall at the Christmas break.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? The Winnipeg Jets employ giants on their wings but lack an elite-level offensive option. Nylander is such a player and could help the Jets reach the next level when he arrives in the NHL.
5. Patrik Laine, W, Tappara (Sm-Liiga)
What Kind of Player Is He? Patrik Laine is the modern prototype for a scoring winger. Big (6'4", 209 lbs), strong and fast, his top asset is shooting ability, and he brings a hammer. If he continues to develop, he should score a lot of NHL goals in the future.
What Is He Doing This Year? Laine is scoring well—eight goals in 24 games—in Finland's Sm-Liiga. It is unusual for a 17-year-old player to get so much ice time, but he is delivering.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? The Buffalo Sabres are building a formidable talent base, and a finisher like Laine could push for playing time with Jack Eichel on a future top line. It is likely Laine goes inside the top five overall.
4. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London Knights (OHL)
What Kind of Player Is He? Matthew Tkachuk is an impact offensive player at the junior level and should be a load as a pro. A cerebral player, he is a good skater, strong in puck possession and an excellent passer.
What Is He Doing This Year? He ranks No. 2 in the OHL in points and has a solid lead in the assists category. Tkachuk is a big part of the powerhouse London Knights team that could win the Memorial Cup this coming spring.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? The Carolina Hurricanes may draft inside the top five, and an elite offensive player like Tkachuk would be an ideal fit. He is surging as a prospect, so he may push as high as No. 2 overall by the end of the year.
3. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (Sm-Liiga)
What Kind of Player Is He? Jesse Puljujarvi is a bull in a China shop. At 18, he is 6'3", 196 pounds and is a powerful skater with substantial speed. Add to that excellent offensive instincts, and we are looking at a tremendous talent.
What Is He Doing This Year? Puljujarvi may be close to NHL-ready, since he plays in one of Europe's top pro leagues as a teenager. He is not one of the team's impact players, but he takes a regular shift, and that is a very good sign.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? The Toronto Maple Leafs have chosen smaller forwards in recent drafts, including William Nylander and Mitch Marner. A big winger like Puljujarvi would be a nice addition to all of that smaller skill.
2. Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
What Kind of Player Is He? Jakob Chychrun possesses the complete range of skills at the defense position. He is a quality defender who can also impact the offense because of his terrific skating ability.
What Is He Doing This Year? He is one of the top scoring defensemen in the OHL while also being a rock on the blue line for the Sarnia Sting.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? All 30 teams would love to add a franchise defender, and the added appeal in Chychrun is that his strengths are across the board. Since neither Florida team—he is from Boca Raton—looks like it will be drafting inside the top five overall, the Anaheim Ducks would be an ideal fit for Chychrun.
1. Auston Matthews, C, Zurich Lions (Swiss-A)
What Kind of Player Is He? Auston Matthews is 6'2", 194 pounds and possesses a complete skill set. Mike Morreale of NHL.com quotes Thomas Roost of NHL Central Scouting as saying he has the kind of ability that could see him turn into the same player type as Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar.
What Is He Doing This Year? Matthews is 18 years old and delivering outstanding performances in pro hockey. As a key player for the Zurich Lions of the Swiss League, he leads his team in goals and is second in points.
What NHL Team Would Represent a Perfect Fit for His Skills? The NHL has a new draft lottery process—explained in this 2014 NHL.com article—and finishing last won't guarantee one of the top four selections in 2016. That said, Matthews was born in Scottsdale and could be exactly what the Arizona Coyotes need to bring fans to the desert.