Future Considerations’ Swiss-based scout Dennis Schellenberg gives his thoughts on who from the 2016 NHL Draft class left him impressed, who disappointed and who his sleeper is on draft day.
Although the 2016 NHL Draft class in Switzerland was disappointing, this year was one like no other.
It’s not hard to imagine why, and it was the expectation since the day Auston Matthews signed with the ZSC Lions. I was blessed to scout a special player throughout his Swiss stint and it is no surprise that he impressed me most this year. I thought that I should not mention him here at all and give other prospects some attention as well, but as a Swiss scout covering the local prospects there simply was no way around Matthews.
While there has been a lot of writing about his strengths, playing style and what makes him such a special player, there is another angle of how he impressed. Of course, he has incredible puckhandling skills and he can really shoot the puck, but the thing that really impressed was his confidence and how he dealt with pressure.
For the ones who are not familiar with the Swiss league, teams are allowed to have four import players, which means that those players have to make a difference. Teams invest a fair amount of their entire budget on those import guys. Imports need to deliver for a team to be competitive, and so had Matthews. Even though he was only 18, he took away a valuable import license.
Additionally to that, the hype was huge in Switzerland and all eyes were on him from the very first game.
But he shook the entire pressure off him with ease and scored in his first two games. He made an impact from the very first game and did not slow down. He has been the team’s best player in the regular season as well as in the playoffs. Not an injury slowed him down nor the mounting pressure from Patrik Laine to challenge Matthews’ first overall spot. He was an impact player at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Finland, as well as at the World Championship in Russia, again being the team’s best player on both rosters.
I have not seen a better player perform at his age that good as long as I have been a scout.
While Matthews impressed, one of his countrymen left room for improvmenet.
National Team Development Program defenseman Chad Krys who had once looked like one of the safer bets for the first round, dropped in rankings and when I scouted him this season, I saw why.
He was not nearly as dominant as I expected. Last year at the World Under-18 Championship, he was a one of the better defenders of the tournament as an underager. He led the power play, rushes and showed his strong puck moving skills. This year however, I did not see him carrying the puck so often into the offensive zone and he was not as dominant on the power play as before. Teammates like Adam Fox or Ryan Lindgren impressed more.
No one surprised me more than his teammate, though.
I saw Clayton Keller play for the first time at the Under-18’s in Switzerland last year. He played a strong tournament and had nine points in seven games, but was overshadowed by guys like Matthews, Jeremy Bracco, Colin White, and more.
I saw him again last November at the Five Nations Tournament in Switzerland and was really surprised by his game. He was by far the best player of the tournament and did incredible things with the puck, really raising his game to a new level. Although he has been projected a first rounder, the jump in his game and into a top-10 pick is noteworthy.
He was the type of player that makes you purchase a ticket. His vision combined with his hard, accurate passing abilities make him an elite playmaker. He can distribute the puck so well as he is aware of his linemates all the time and has a perfect timing for setting up scoring chances.
He is one of the best playmakers in this draft class and it is just a treat to watch him play. He is an outstanding puckhandler and can play the kind of passes that makes you wonder how he just did that. What he can do with the puck is incredible and skill-wise he is a top prospect.
What could make him drop is his lack of size. However, he can protect the puck well and I do not see his size as a big issue. I would recommend any organization to not get intimidated by his small stature.
By Dennis Schellenberg