After the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery came to a conclusion with a rare win for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the first 14 teams to select in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft are confirmed so it’s time to start looking at who’s picking who.
- Toronto Maple Leafs – Auston Matthews, C, ZSC Lions (SUI)
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a rebuild and be patient Leafs fans, it’s going to take a long time to get back to winning ways (It’s coming up on the 50th anniversary of your last Cup win, just to rub salt in the wound) but this is a great chance to add not a prospect but an NHL ready talent in American centre Auston Matthews.
Last season the 6’2” centre from Scottsdale, Arizona made an unusual decision, after lighting up the USHL in the 2014-15 season, instead of continuing in North America or teaming up with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL who drafted him in the third round of the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, he moved overseas and turned professional, joining the ZSC Lions in Switzerland where he continued to show his dominance. After a record breaking 116-point season in the USHL the year before, his first professional season saw him put up 10 more points than games with 46 in 36 games. He could’ve had more had it not been for missing a bit of the start of the season and an injury, but still averaging 1.28 points-per-game in his first professional season is phenomenal, and while drafting Matthews won’t speed up the Leafs rebuild, it’s certainly a glimmer of hope for the future if Matthews becomes Toronto’s number one centre in a few years’ time.
Season stats: 36 GP, 24 G, 22 A, 46 P, +16, 6 PIM
- Winnipeg Jets – Patrik Laine, RW, Tappara Tampere (FIN)
Patrik Laine is another huge talent to go in the top three of this years’ draft. He started the year ranked behind fellow countrymen Jesse Puljujarvi but his season, his world juniors and most recently his post season has seen him jump up into the number two spot on most scout’s rankings, and even higher than Auston Matthews on a few draft boards around the league.
With Laine you get a big body at 6’4” and 206 pounds who’ll be able to jump into the Jets’ lineup as early as next season, his shot is possibly the best in the entire draft, it’s lightning fast and hard as well which helped him lead all rookies in the SM-Liiga this season with 17 goals, and his 16 assists also helped him lead all rookies in total points for Tappara who finished third in the league this season. Laine wowed everybody during the post-season though, earning the Jari Kurri award for Best Player in the Playoffs with 15 points in 18 games on-route to the playoff championship in a year that also saw him team up with draft eligible Jesse Puljujarvi and Carolina Hurriances prospect Sebastian Aho on a dominant line that was a big factor in Finland winning the World Juniors this year.
I have no doubt that Laine will crack the NHL this season, and with Winnipeg being a winner in this year’s draft lottery, moving up to the second pick, they just add to their long list of young prospects that should help make the NHLs newest team (until the expansion teams join) an exciting team to watch down the stretch.
Season stats: 46 GP, 17 G, 16 A, 33 P +6, 6 PIM
- Colombus Blue Jackets – Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat Oulu (FIN)
Finland is producing an alarming amount of young talent lately and it’s headlined by Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. Both players have incredible physical statures for teenagers with Puljujarvi looking like a man already at 6’3” and 201 pounds and he plays one of the best two-way games in the entire draft. While Laine is the goalscorer out of Finland, Puljujarvi is the gifted all-around player who’ll also have a very realistic shot at cracking the Blue Jackets lineup next season.
He finished 6th on Karpat’s lineup for points with 28 in 50 games on a team with World Juniors teammate Sebastian Aho who lead the team, and in the post season he was third on the team with 9 points in 10 games, behind Aho and Mika Pyorala who both played four games more than the gifted forward. He’s a proven winner internationally, last year he helped Finland to an Under 18 silver medal, while this year he went one better with a gold at the same level, as well as dominating the World Juniors with 17 points en-route to a Fininsh gold medal on home ice.
Puljujarvi, like any prospect really, won’t come into the NHL next season and dominate but he’s proven he has the size and skill to play against men, and he’ll likely be a Blue Jacket next season and be a strong rookie, but the best will definitely be yet to come from this Finnish teenager.
Season stats: 50 GP, 13 G, 15 A, 28 P, +5, 22 PIM
- Edmonton Oilers – Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Before we analyse this, let me just make one thing clear, I do NOT expect the Edmonton Oilers to pick Chyrchrun because I do NOT expect the Oilers to keep this pick. Look at the Oilers in recent years, the only thing they counted on winning was the NHL Draft Lottery, they have so many high-end talents on their team that it’s about time they started winning but they’re not. So I think the Oilers flip this pick for a roster player (and I expect they also are the most active team come July 1st)
But just to make this blog post make sense, the Oilers keep their pick (and if they do I think this is there guy) they select Sarnia Sting defenceman Jakob Chychrun with this pick. Chychrun started the year as Matthews biggest contender for the top spot, but he had a slightly down year with 49 points in 62 games. He’s a big, strong two-way defenceman who should go on to have a great NHL career in the top 4 for any team that picks up, he improved his plus-minus this year going from a -11 to a +23 for the Sting and while the race to be named best defenceman in this draft close is close, Chychrun still just about edges it. Every player is going to have a year where they don’t meet certain expectations, but what always follows is a comeback, and this kid is only 18-years old. While he won’t make the NHL unless he really impresses at training camp for the Oilers (or whoever picks him when the Oilers flip this pick). He has the size to make it as a pro already, but a season or two more of development is needed to see Chychrun really blossom into a solid defenseman in the NHL that will not just be a solid guy at stopping attacks, but also create a few himself.
Season stats: 62 GP, 11 G, 38 A, 49 P, +23, 51 PIM
- Vancouver Canucks – Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London Knights (OHL)
Can we all just agree we felt bad watching the draft lottery and seeing Trevor Linden’s face when he found out his team had slipped down to the fifth pick? Hearbreaking stuff, almost as heartbreaking as the Canucks recent form. Since they won back-to-back Presidents Trophy’s in 2010-11 and 2011-12, they’ve been in and out of the playoffs, this year they were the third worst team in the league.
Now the Canucks are old, Ryan Miller is 35, the Sedins are 35, Alex Burrows is 35, and they don’t have many young players in their roster at the moment that look destined to take on a big workload on the top line. Yes, Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen will have lengthy careers but they’re second line regulars at the very best, so even though they slipped out of the top three and missed out on Matthews, Laine or Puljujarvi, they can’t be too bummed if they land Matthew Tkachuk the son of Keith Tkachuk who was a veteran of 1201 NHL games over a career that spanned from 1991 to 2010. In Tkachuk the Canucks can add to their young depth, he hasn’t got the nastiness that his dad possessed but he’s not afraid to get dirty and he has a keen eye for putting points up with 107 for the London Knights in his first year in the OHL. He’ll probably stay with the Knights for next season but after that he’ll have a real shot at cracking the NHL with the Canucks (or whomever actually drafts him, I’m usually wrong about my predictions)
Season stats: 57 GP, 30 G, 77 A, 107 P, +45, 80 PIM
- Calgary Flames – Alex Nylander, LW, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
This is a bit of a wildcard compared to other mock drafts I’ve seen, some see Nylander as a top 10 pick, others see him slipping outside the top 10, but I think that the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander has a real shot at challenging for the top 5. His dad was selected in the third round back in 1991, his brother William was selected 8th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014, but I think the youngest Nylander will have all the bragging rights on draft day.
He’s a dynamic offensive threat with a great shot that helped him to 28 goals in the OHL this year but he’s also a gifted playmaker with 47 assists for a total of 75 points that led all rookies in the league this year. Outside of the top three this year there’s a slim chance anyone else makes the NHL this season, but while Nylander won’t be in an NHL jersey next year, adding him to an already deep prospect pool in Calgary will help turn the Flames back into a contender down the stretch when he joins a team that will have the likes of Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett really hitting their prime.
Season stats: 57 GP, 28 G, 47 A, 75 P, +8, 18 PIM
- Arizona Coyotes – Olli Juolevi, D, London Knights (OHL)
Before we start this one can we just take a moment to realise just how stacked the London Knights are? This is the second guy I’m predicted to go in the top 10 from that team and they still have more potential first round talent to come. But let’s look at the player, Olli Juolevi is a beast of a blueliner. After playing in the Finnish under 20 league he transitioned to the OHL and did it with ease, finishing his rookie year with 42 points in 57 games.
Juolevi is just another of Finlands high end prospects and this year he was instrumental on the back end, being named the best defenseman at the 2016 World Juniors as well as helping his country to a gold medal along the way. He’s smart and skilled, he can start a rush just as easily as he can break one up and I think the Coyotes would be wise to pick him up if he’s still available at 7 to add to their pool. Over recent years they’ve drafted some very gifted forwards in the likes of Max Domi, Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini, now it’s time for the Coyotes to solidfy their blueline for the future and Juolevi would be a good fit to join Oliver Ekman-Larsson in their defensive unit.
Season stats: 57 GP, 9 G, 33 A, 42 P, +38, 38 PIM
- Buffalo Sabres – Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
A lot of people think Dubois is a top five pick this year, and depending on what happens with the Oilers pick he just might be, but I don’t think he will be, there’s so much talent in the top end of this year’s draft class that Dubois could go anywhere just like everyone outside the top three could easily fight to go fourth or fourteenth.
Dubois leads the charge of QMJHL prospects coming into this year’s draft class, he’s sort of an all-round player. He’s got the size to make him a dominant power-forward, the hands to make him a sick sniper and the vision to make him a future elite playmaker, not to mention he’s a solid two-way guy as well. In his second season in the Q, Dubois registered 99 points in total, more than doubling his production from his rookie season with the Screaming Eagles. He definitely has the skill to go higher than 8, but so do all of the guys above him which means teams will really need to think about fit when they pick their players in the top end of this draft.
Season stats: 62 GP, 42 G, 57 A, 99 P, +40, 112 PIM
- Montreal Canadiens – Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Another defenseman to go in the top 10, Russian blueliner Mikhail Sergachev is not far off being the best d-man available this year. At 6’2” and 208 lbs, he’s got the size and physicality of somebody who could hold his own against men bit will take some time to develop into a future top four guy.
He more than held his own adapting to life in the OHL this year, he played in Russia’s MHL in 2014-15 and was the sixth overall selection in the 2015 OHL Draft. Coming over to continue pursue an NHL career, he was near a point-per-game with 57 points in 67 outings, showcasing not only his gifted offensive abilities but also being a dominant two-way defenceman that was one of the best in the league this year. He’ll likely fall inside the top 10, not necessarily to the Canadiens but if they do get him, they won’t regret it when he starts producing at a high level later in his career.
Season stats: 67 GP, 17 G, 40 A, 57 P, +15, 56 PIM
- Colorado Avalanche – Jake Bean, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
For the second year in a row the Avalanche hold the 10th pick, last year they used it on Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen, so why not go defense this time around and take the first deep into the WHL with Jake Bean.
Bean is an intelligent puck moving defenceman who had a tremendous year in the WHL this year with 64 points, he’s a future power play quarterback for any team that picks him and his defensive game can’t be overlooked either. While he needs to get bigger and stronger, that’ll come in time, his game needs to keep trending upwards as it is and he’ll be a solid top-four blueliner in the NHL within the next two to three seasons.
Season stats: 68 GP, 24 G, 40 A, 64 P, +8, 28 PIM
- New Jersey Devils – Logan Brown, C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Back to the OHL for pick number 11 and the Devils could get a huge (literally) centre in Windsor forward Logan Brown. At 6’6” and 220-pounds, Brown isn’t a guy you’d want to mess with but instead of using his size solely to punish opponents with his hits, he uses it to his advantage to create opportunities for him and his teammates.
In his second OHL season he was dominant for the Spitfires with 74 points, really showcasing his playmaking abilities with a huge 53 assists. While he’s a huge net-front presence, he’s a solid two-way player as well, more than capable to control the play in his own zone, and with a bit more development he should become a solid second line centre when he eventually gets the call to the NHL.
Season stats: 59 GP, 21 G, 53 A, 75 P, +24, 40 PIM
- Ottawa Senators – Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton Vees (BCHL)
With the lack of NHL ready talent outside the top three, the Senators could get a good solid blueliner for the future with Fabbro who despite being the 8th overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, has never played a game in that league and is a Boston University commit for next year.
If the Senators pick him, they’ll add to their already impressive defensive unit led by captain Erik Karlsson. Fabbro is a very consistent performer who’ll be a great addition to a powerplay unit with his offensive capabilities. He’s composed and able to create plays from the blueline and with 67 points in 45 games, he’s shown just how valuable he is to a team’s offense. But he’s not just an offensive threat from the back end, he’s able to read plays and break up attacks just as well as he can quickly create a play and catch the opposition napping.
Season stats: 45 GP, 14 G, 53 A, 67 P, +/-0, 30 PIM
- Carolina Hurricanes – Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
It’s an odd year for Canadians in the draft with not as many as usual predicted to be high end picks, but Michael McLeod could eventually be seen as the best Canadian taken in this draft class. He’s a speedy centre who could become a great top six forward for the Hurricanes if they take him on July 24th.
He did more than double his point totals from his rookie OHL season, finishing with 61 points in the season, and despite a 9 point showing in the post season, he could help the Steelheads through the first round as they fell in 7 games to the Barrie Colts. He’s one of the best skaters in the entire draft and could become the ‘Canes future centreman in a couple more seasons when he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL level. Watch for him to be a big contributor for the Canadians at the 2017 World Juniors where he’s sure to be included in the roster.
Season stats: 57 GP, 21 G, 40 A, 61 P, +10, 71 PIM.
- Boston Bruins – Clayton Keller, C, USA U-18 (USHL)
The last pick for this post and just one of the talented Americans projected to go in the first round, Clayton Keller is a highly gifted centre who lit up the USHL last season with 107 points. While he’s committed to Boston University next season he’s worth a pick in the first half of the first round just to his upside that a team would have to wait for anyway.
At 5’10 and 170-pounds, Keller is undersized but is more than capable of holding his own and is able to prove he doesn’t need to be a big guy to excel. The Bruins wouldn’t need to travel far to keep an eye on him in Boston University if they do select the gifted playmaker, and with the Bruins star players like Patrice Bergeron starting to age, when Keller turns professional he’ll be a solid top six forward for years to come.
Season stats: 62 GP, 37 G, 70 A, 107 P, 40 PIM
So that’s my first mock draft of the year done, comment below where you agree, disagree or just any general comments, I’ll be releasing a full first round mock draft later this month so keep an eye out for that!