Well, here we are. It is early fall and the search for the next crop of NHL draft talent is already in full swing for our evaluators.
With summer camps, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial, the All-American Prospects Game, multiple fall league showcases and development camps already in the books, and all the junior leagues already in full swing, our evaluators have been busy in rinks gathering views on the next wave of the top draft eligible prospects that we will follow over the next eight months.
After spending months evaluating generational talents Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and some of the other top-end talent, you would have thought the guys would have had a bit harder time getting excited for the 2016 NHL Draft — but actually the opposite has happened. The next crop hitting the ice holds plenty for our evaluators to be excited about.
The 2016 draft holds its own bounty of skilled and talented forwards along with other big powerful bodies and some smaller but offensively creative lads. The forward group is led by American-born center Auston Matthews, who chose the Zurich Lions in the Swiss National League A as his team to showcase his talents.
Keep an eye on the tandem of American wingers with the London Knights, Matthew Tkachuk and Max Jones will help make their team a legit Memorial Cup contender. Russian import winger Dmitri Sokolov, who tore apart the World Under-17 Challenge in Sarnia last year, looks to make an impact with the Sudbury Wolves, where he can utilize his power/finesse game and rocket of a shot.
In Val-d’Or, big power winger Julien Gauthier will command attention from the scouts as will Russian import winger Vitali Abramov of Gatineau. Out West in Vancouver power forward left winger Tyler Benson and Regina center Sam Steel will do likewise.
Small but highly skilled National Team Development Program middle-man Clayton Keller is one of our favorites, as is teammate and trigger-man Kieffer Bellows. Add in Fargo’s hulking winger Riley Tufte, Dubuque winger William Knierim and Cedar Rapids winger Matt Filipe and the USHL has some intriguing forwards to keep our eyes on this season.
Finland has two premier wingers that could go very high in the draft as well with Jesse Puljujarvi of Karpat and Patrik Laine of Tappera both in the Liiga, Finland’s top pro league. Over in Sweden, wingers Carl Grundstrom and Rasmus Asplund have solid top round potential as well. German Rubtsov of Russia is one of our favorite forward prospects for 2016 as well.
There are also some potential top-level NHL defensive prospects up for grabs as well as a handful of strong goaltending prospects.
Sarnia defenseman Jakob Chychrun is by far the top defender of this class and could challenge Matthews’s billing as top draft eligible. He is a big, strong two-way guy that makes an impact in all areas of the game. London’s Finnish import Olli Juolevi, Windsor’s Russian import Mikhail Sergachyov and Mississauga’s Sean Day are also names to keep an eye towards from Ontario.
Shawinigan rearguard Samuel Girard is smaller but has a very quick processor and the high end skill to match. Out west in the BCHL, Penticton defenseman Dante Fabbro is another first round candidate with a smooth two-way game.
Kale Clague of Brandon adds a strong two-way element to the Wheat Kings powerful squad, while Calgary’s Jake Bean is a solid puck mover as well. Czech imports, Vojtech Budik of Prince Albert and Libor Hajek of Saskatoon also have some first round upside.
South of the boarder, Chad Krys and Ryan Lindgren of the NTDP are two top candidates from the backend. Krys is a top guy who has some top ten upside to his game. Boston University freshman Charles McAvoy is a guy who we like in the first round as well.
Swedish blueliner Jacob Cederholm in the HV71 system plays a strong defensive first game but can also contribute on the offensive side form time to time.
In net there are plenty of solid guys but none ready to challenge as a high pick at this stage. Filip Gustavsson of Lulea in Sweden is the top guy followed closely by Sherbrooke’s Evan Fitzpatrick, Everett’s Carter Hart and the new Russia U18 National teams Vladislav Sukhachyov among others.
The depth of this draft class, while really still too early to hammer it down, looks very good through the second round and into the third, and that is telling this early in the season as depth typically grows and rarely contracts as a season progresses. Both Matthews and Chychrun look to be in the potential NHL franchise player category, while the rest of the field noted above have the potential to also make an impact in the NHL one day.
Join me again next month as ‘Directors Cut’ continues to take a look at more NHL draft prospects and news.
Until then, see you at the rink.
Director of Scouting