With the World Junior Championship wrapped up and the buzz of the incredible performances from numerous draft eligible prospects in the minds of fans, media and personnel from all teams and organizations, things have changed in the landscape of the 2016 NHL Draft.
Coming into the event, American center Auston Matthews was on a pedestal as our undisputed No. 1 prospect available, but only death and taxes are absolutes and views have changed since early December.
A handful of guys have elevated their play and in turn their draft stock substantially at the WJC, one of whom is now engaged in a battle for the top selection.
Matthews has some competition in big Finnish winger Jesse Puljujarvi for that top spot.
Puljujarvi has been a play driver creating and making an impact with Karpat in the Liiga all this season, but turned it up another notch with his impressive play in Helsinki. His size and skating blend already had scouts drooling over what could be and over the last couple weeks his playmaking skills have also been on full display.
Those sweet passing plays, tireless work along the boards as well as his clutch goal scoring at this event have only confirmed opinions that the 2016 draft class is looking at the emergence of a real difference maker.
Patrik Laine, Puljujarvi’s running mate on the Finns top line, has also been highly effective and impressive as a premium goal scorer who is not afraid to do some of the heavy lifting either.
His shot is rivaled by few in this draft class, and one that should be giving NHL puck stoppers nightmares for what they will be facing as early as next season. He really became No. 2 in the minds of many with his strong overall performance in Helsinki last month, but for the majority of our evaluators he sits just behind Puljujarvi in the conversation.
Puljujarvi and Laine weren’t the only Finns to impress during the tournament. The play of teammate Olli Juolevi, was also eye-opening. The defenseman pushed the attack up ice and distributed the puck with poise, using his fluid mobility and strong vision, to create high percentage plays as well as playing a heady defensive game.
Sarnia Sting defenseman Jakob Chychrun, who was cut surprisingly early from Canada’s National Junior Team selection camp, is still in the conversation at the top-end of the draft. But Chychrun has faded into a long shot to overtake Matthews over the past few months, and has been surpassed by both Puljujarvi and Laine in that effort. He remains a blue chip prospect that should make a NHL organization very happy.
American winger Matthew Tkachuk of the London Knights also looked very strong in Helsinki as a consistently hard working and gritty performer on the top line with Matthews. He just outworks his opponent on the walls and around the crease. He did nothing but cement opinions of him as a top prospect with what he delivered on the ice in Finland.
Sweden’s Alexander Nylander was also one of the ‘wow’ performers at the World Juniors, as he was an integral part of the Swedish success and in the middle of their offensive attack. While all have already been excited with his offensive game with the Mississauga Steelheads this season, his timely goal scoring and ability to be a difference-maker was ramped up even more so at the World Juniors.
Suffice it to say, the World Juniors and the performances of draft eligibles have had an impact in shuffling the top end of Future Considerations’ rankings going forward.
|7||Clayton Keller||U.S. National U18||USHL||C||5'10"||170|
|11||Pierre-Luc Dubois||Cape Breton||QMJHL||LW||6'3"||200|
|15||Kieffer Bellows||U.S. National U18||USHL||C||6'0"||195|
|17||Charlie McAvoy||Boston University||NCAA||D||6'0"||210|
|18||Luke Kunin||University of Wisconsin||NCAA||C||6'0"||195|
|19||German Rubtsov||Team Russia U18||MHL||C||6'2"||175|
|26||Chad Krys||U.S. National U18||USHL||D||5'11"||185|
|27||Rasmus Asplund||Färjestad BK||SHL||C||5'11"||175|
Our man in Minnesota reports that, while one of his top prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft is earning glowing reviews, the same can’t be said for another.
Big 6-foot-5 centre Riley Tufte, who started the season with Fargo of the USHL and put up somewhat pedestrian scoring totals of five power play goals in 12 games before deciding to jump back to the high school circuit, has been tearing it up at of Blaine High School. He has been so engaged in the play that our scout is pushing for Tufte to now be ranked in the first round.
The parallels between the developing Tufte and current Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad — both Blaine hockey stars, both No. 27, both giant blonde-haired forwards — are strikingly similar at the same age.
On the flipside, there’s center Mitchell Mattson. After also starting the season in the USHL with the Bloomington Thunder, Mattson also decided to go back to high school and play his senior season with his Grand Rapids teammates.
The problem is that Mattson has not been dominant doubling back a level. “He has been as invisible as any 6-foot-4 skilled forward can be,” was the message relayed, as Mattson hasn’t stepped up against weaker opposition. He does not even try to use his size like he could and instead has been content to become that perimeter player taking the puck wide instead of going to the net.
It was hard to justify having him on a draft list with the way he has been performing in this pivotal year.
After a shoulder injury that kept him off the ice for most of the season, big defender Kristians Rubins of Vasteras has finally earned ice time, and was viewed playing for Latvia at the 2016 IIHF U20 World Championship DIV IA in Vienna, Austria earlier this month.
He has great size and does not make a lot of mistakes on the ice, but also just does not look too really possess much in the way of NHL upside. He was compared to Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman by Modo’s former coach last season, but Rubins has yet to come close to living up to that lofty comparison. He’ll get drafted this summer, but it wouldn’t be by our guy who sent us his report.ough.
Defenseman Dennis Cholowski of the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs might, though.
Recently at the World Junior A Challenge, Cholowski has impressed our guys in the West with his elegant skating, great anticipation and strong defensive instincts. While he is raw in many regards, the skills and senses he does possess aren’t teachable, while the aspects he needs work on, strength, shot and defensive positioning, are.
As Head Western Scout Zenon Herasymiuk put it, “He is a long-term prospect, as he isn’t heading to St. Cloud State until 2017-18, but he has great upside as an all-situations puck-mover with the smarts to create offense and the length to be a hard player to score against.”
Ontario Head Scout Daniel Deschenes has been highly impressed North Bay Battalion blueliner Cam Dineen, too. Since coming over to North Bay from the New Jersey Rockets of the EJHL, Dineen has done nothing but been highly effective for Stan Butler’s club.
As Deschenes noted, “What a player this kid is. By the end of this game, I simply wrote ‘move him up’ in reference to my personal rankings.”
Dineen makes strong plays both with and without the puck, while he might not be a big body or much of a physical threat he has strong offensive instincts, excellent vision, touch with the puck and makes highly skilled passes to jump start the Battalions attack. He also just does so many little things right all over the ice.