Pros and Cons of the Top Prospects Before the 2016 NHL DraftMay 31, 2016
Pros and Cons of the Top Prospects Before the 2016 NHL Draft
The Toronto Maple Leafs have reason to be all smiles, having won the first overall pick in this year's NHL draft lottery. The talent in the 2016 draft goes well beyond the first overall pick, though, and in this slideshow, we'll take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of some of the top players available in this summer's event.
As always, TSN's Bob McKenzie provides the gold standard in terms of ranking prospect in the lead-up to the draft, and his rankings were crucial to determining the order of selection here. In preparing this list, we drew upon a wide range of sources; all of those are linked, save for quotes taken from the 2016 Draft Preview edition of The Hockey News magazine.
10. Logan Brown
Logan Brown is 6'6" and 222 pounds. He can skate, he scored 74 points for the Windsor Spitfires this season and he has NHL bloodlines. Small wonder that he's one of the biggest wild cards in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft.
"In this draft especially, there are a lot of big guys who can skate and stick-handle," Brown told NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale. "But I like to think I have those qualities along with good hockey sense."
Big, smart centres who can skate and score are awfully hard to find.
Brown had 74 points, but most of those were assists; he only scored 21 goals and is generally regarded as being a little too willing to take a pass over a shot.
One unnamed scout suggested to The Hockey News that Brown was more of a project than other top players available at this year's draft:
He's a little bit of an enigma, to tell you the truth. In terms of tools, his tools are as good as anyone's in the draft. He's got size, but he might be the weakest guy in all of the draft. Even without strength, though, guys have trouble getting the puck off him. I don't think he's bought in yet.
Some scouts have Brown well outside their top 10, with TSN's Craig Button going so far as to place him 27th on his list.
9. Mikhail Sergachev
Mikhail Sergachev is a teammate of Logan Brown's in Windsor, but his status as a top-10 pick would seem to be considerably safer. He's one of a trio of defenceman (along with Jakob Chychrun and Olli Juolevi) that are tightly grouped in the 2016 draft, with different scouts having different preferences among the group.
"Sergachev," wrote TSN's Bob McKenzie, "is a big, strong, elite-level skater with great productivity and a cannon shot from the point."
Listed at over 200 pounds already, Sergachev may be closer to NHL readiness than his draft peers.
Sergachev came over to the OHL in 2015-16, which may help to mitigate fears regarding the "Russian factor," but he'll undoubtedly have a job waiting for him in the KHL if things don't work out, and historically, that has been a concern for NHL teams.
Like most young defencemen, he's also a long way from being a finished product.
"I guess I would call it Dennis Wideman syndrome," OHL play-by-play man Reed Duthie told Kirk Luedeke of Scouting Post. "[A]t times, he’s as likely to pass it to his teammates as he is to pass it to the opponents."
8. Jakob Chychrun
Back in 2014, when International Scouting Services looked ahead to the 2016 draft, the player it ranked as the best available prospect was defenceman Jakob Chychrun. He's been watched diligently for a long time and has managed to retain his value as one of the most highly regarded players in his draft class.
Often compared to fellow defenders Mikhail Sergachev and Olli Juolevi, according to Brock Otten of the OHL Prospects blog, Chychrun provides the most value without the puck of the trio:
Chychrun is also the best defensively of the three, but also possesses the highest defensive ceiling of the three too. In essence, I see Chychrun as having the potential to develop into a dominant two-way defender who could challenge for multiple Norris trophies.
Big, mobile and smart, Chychrun also scored at close to a point-per-game pace during the season and topped that in the playoffs.
Chychrun's offensive game has not developed as expected, and that can be a red flag. He scored 16 goals in 42 games last season at the OHL level but fell to 11 this year. His points-per-game number was virtually unchanged.
"Chychrun has all the tools, great skating, great shot, size, but you keep waiting for him to make plays and you’re left wanting more," one NHL scouting director told Sportsnet's Gare Joyce.
One caveat to all this is that Chychrun is coming off a shoulder injury (which Sportsnet's Damien Cox reported needed surgery). That could be a con if shoulder problems are going to be the norm for Chychrun, but it could also go some way to explaining why he had a slow start to 2015-16.
7. Olli Juolevi
Olli Juolevi was already climbing draft boards before the World Juniors, but a performance in which he recorded nine points in seven games and won both a gold medal and a spot on the tournament All-Star team didn't hurt his stock at all.
Juolevi arguably lacks the same level of offence as Mikhail Sergachev and the stalwart defensive game of Jakob Chychrun, but he may be better than both when it comes to processing the game.
"NHL scouts say Juolevi’s greatest asset is his hockey sense—his ability to see the ice and make first passes," wrote Sportsnet's Gare Joyce.
"He makes the essential and key plays at every turn," concurred TSN's Craig Button. "He shows mastery of his position under the most challenging of circumstances, and his poise, calm and assuredness are the stuff of pillar-type defencemen."
That processing power, combined with skating honed on the big rinks of Europe, makes Juolevi a formidable prospect.
OHL prospects writer Brock Otten agreed that Juolevi is intelligent and efficient, but he argued that the player lacks the same upside as Sergachev or Chychrun:
I see Chychrun/Sergachev possessing first pairing upside, and both possess better physical tools. ... His shot is OK and I don't think he's naturally aggressive as a puck rusher. Thus, I don't see him being a massive point producer at the next level. ... He's definitely not mean, and he'll likely forever be a stick/positional defender.
Juolevi played on the most dominant team in the OHL and recorded only 42 points, fewer than either Sergachev or Chychrun (albeit in fewer games played). His 16 penalty minutes were also the lowest number of any regular on the London Knights' blue line.
6. Alexander Nylander
As with brother William Nylander, Alexander is undeniably blessed with skill. He scored better than a point per game for Sweden at both the U-18 and U-20 junior tournaments and has earned rave reviews for what he can do with the puck.
"Maybe as pure a talent as anyone in this draft," one scout told The Hockey News. "He makes plays. It's so impressive. He has the vision, the hands and the instincts."
OHL prospects writer Brock Otten agreed, describing his hands, shot and skating as "elite."
Nylander led the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads in scoring in the regular season and then bettered his numbers in the playoffs, scoring six goals and six assists in six postseason games.
If Nylander's strengths reflect those of his older brother, so too do his weaknesses. His attention to defensive detail has been criticized at points, though McKeen's Brendan Ross noted some positives in that regard.
"His compete level and attention to defensive detail appear to trump his brother in those categories as he shows impressive hustle and a willingness to battle for loose pucks," wrote Ross.
Listed at just 6'0" and 176 pounds, it's reasonable to wonder how well Nylander will stand up to the rigours of the professional game.
5. Pierre-Luc Dubois
Like most of the remaining players on this list, Pierre-Luc Dubois is a multifaceted forward who can help his team in multiple ways.
Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette spoke to Dan Marr of NHL Central Scouting, and Marr made it clear that Dubois' versatility was a strong point in the player's favour:
[T]he more our staff watched him, what they like about him is that he’s such a multi-dimensional player. He’s effective in all zones, he’s effective in all situations. Whether you need to rely on smarts, skills, or rely on the size/strength game, he’s effective in all the situations. And then you combine that with the intangibles of a high character, a strong work ethic, a team-first player. This gives you a good, solid player.
Dubois easily led his team in scoring with 42 goals and 99 points, with the latter number 20 points better than his next closest teammate, 2015 first-rounder Evgeny Svechnikov. He also finished first on the club with 112 penalty minutes.
As one might expect from a player with 112 penalty minutes, discipline can at times be a problem. The Cape Breton Post reported that Dubois even had to miss the first game of the QMJHL playoffs after being suspended by the league.
4. Matthew Tkachuk
Keith Tkachuk scored more than 500 goals and 1,000 points at the NHL level, and his son Matthew shares many of his strengths. Like his father, the younger Tkachuk combines scoring talent with an aggressive physical game.
"Tkachuk plays heavy, heavy hockey," wrote the Edmonton Journal's David Staples. "Indeed, what sets him apart from most other top scoring junior aces is his first instinct isn’t to dangle, it’s to engage physically."
As one would expect from the son of a former pro, Tkachuk is well-schooled, playing a remarkably mature two-way game for a player of his age. That responsibility didn't come at the expense of offence, either; between the regular season and the playoffs, Tkachuk recorded 147 points in 75 OHL games this season.
Critics of Tkachuk consistently raise two points.
The first is the caliber of his teammates. Tkachuk's 107 regular-season points certainly look impressive, but it becomes less so once one realizes that total ranks him third on his OHL team, behind linemates Christian Dvorak (121 points) and Mitch Marner (116 points). It's reasonable to assume that playing with those highly skilled forwards has served to inflate Tkachuk's numbers to some degree.
The other issue is skating.
"He's not the fastest guy out there," New Jersey Devils head scout Paul Castron told NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale, "[B]ut he knows where to go and is willing to go to the net where a lot of guys don't go."
3. Jesse Puljujarvi
Jesse Puljujarvi is a player with a varied set of skills.
"He's a powerful skater with good speed and balance," NHL Central Scouting's Goran Stubb told Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com. "He has outstanding hockey sense and reads the play well. He's a good playmaker with strong puck-handling skills. He can take advantage of 1-on-1 situations with his long reach."
Speed, smarts and size (6'3", 201 pounds) all rank as strengths for Puljujarvi, and all were on display at the 2016 World Juniors, where officials named the scoring winger the tournament MVP after putting up 17 points in seven games for the gold medal-winning Finns.
Puljujarvi's enhanced stats are solid, too; he led his team in Corsi percentage this season, according to Liiga.fi.
Puljujarvi's offence, World Juniors aside, was a little shy of fellow Finn Patrik Laine this season. He's both less of a shooter and may have a lower ceiling offensively. He also took less of a step forward, climbing from 0.52 points per game in Finland's top league a year ago to 0.56 points per game this season. Ideally, a player his age would show more rapid advancement at that level.
2. Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine is probably the best pure goal scorer in the draft.
"His shot is not from this world," Finnish reporter Juha Hiitela told Sportsnet's Luke Fox. "He can shoot anywhere, any kind of shot."
The right-shooting right wing scored 17 goals in 46 games in Finland's top league during the regular season. That went up to 10 goals in 18 playoff games, and then he was named World Championship MVP after scoring seven times in just 10 contests at that level for the silver medal-winning Finns.
Marry that goal scoring to a 6'4", 209-pound frame (and a willingness to use said frame), and it's easy to understand why Laine is so highly regarded.
Skating isn't exactly an issue, but it is an area where Laine isn't as well-developed as some other top talent in the 2016 draft.
“Personally, I think Laine has the biggest upside in the draft because he is already so effective," said Thomas Roost of NHL Central Scouting in a conversation with Yahoo's Kelly Friesen. "[A]lthough he still has some rough edges in his play and I think he still can improve his skating a bit more than Matthews."
The Hockey News 2016 Draft Preview took care to frame another historical weakness with the player in a positive light.
"[H]e's also matures from the player who was sent home from the 2014 Ivan Hlinka tournament for flipping the bird to his coach, then giving him a death threat," reported the magazine.
1. Auston Matthews
The consensus No. 1 choice for more than a year now, Matthews brings a well-rounded skill set to the draft as well as experience producing offence against men.
Matthews' decision to play in Switzerland's top league rather take a more traditional development route was controversial, but it's hard to argue with the results. He led a team loaded with ex-NHLers in goals with 24 and got a full season of coaching from longtime major league bench boss Marc Crawford. He followed that up by posting nine points in 10 games for Team USA at the World Championships.
Scoring obviously isn't a problem. The 6'2", 194-pound centre has the size NHL teams like, and Crawford is enamoured with the other areas of his game, too, as he told Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Sun.
"[H]e’s not quite as physical as [Jamie] Benn or as responsible as [Anze] Kopitar," Crawford said, "But he’s got the power and all the intangibles that you want—character and humility and is just a hard-working kid.”
As one would expect from the draft's top-rated player, Matthews has no glaring weaknesses. To the degree that there is a con, it's simply that his offensive ceiling may be a little lower than the two players who went at the top of the draft a year ago.
"You can say that he won't put up the points of a [Connor] McDavid or [a Jack] Eichel, and that's perhaps true," one scout told The Hockey News. "But I think he's a Jonathan Toews-type player."
As far as critiques go, that one is pretty mild.