Tkachuk at forefront of Knights Memorial Cup bid

Aaron Vickers2016 Draft Center, OHL

The London Knights have plenty of NHL Draft eligible power to help push them towards a Memorial Cup bid.

And none will be more important than Matthew Tkachuk.

Tkachuk, ranked fifth by Future Considerations for the 2016 NHL Draft, amassed a league-best 20 goals and 40 points in just 18 playoff games to help the Knights to a sweep against the Niagara IceDogs in the Ontario Hockey League final.

“Stylistically, he plays with both power and finesse despite not being an elite skater,” Future Considerations scout Scott Wheeler said. “He handles the puck well in tight and in stride and can score as well as he passes. His strength as one of the best defensive wingers in the OHL as well as his physicality make him an even more dynamic option at left wing.

“Defensively, he’s relentless on loose pucks and does an excellent job lifting them off defenders to create turnovers. His maturity, and strength in both ends as a powerful offensive threat both lend well to transferring into an NHL-ready game sooner rather than later.”

Tkachuk was named the OHL’s Western Conference second smartest player in the annual Coaches Poll, behind only Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome, and helped Team USA to bronze at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

He’s not the only high-end player eligible from London.

Olli Juolevi ranks 11th, behind only Jakob Chychrun of the Sarnia Sting and Mikael Sergachyov of the Windsor Spitfires in terms of draft eligible defensemen.

He also won gold at the World Juniors.

“Juolevi is a safe and steady defender who has an offensive flair to his game,” Future Considerations scout Daniel Deschenes said. “He can drive the play forward, is a smooth skater and comes up big in high intensity situations. He is offensively gifted with good defensive instincts, he shows he can make a strong first pass and drive the offense from the back end. He plays in all situations and knows when he needs to hold back and when he can take off and create something offensively.

“He will challenge for a Top 10 pick this June and the Memorial Cup should help propel him into that range for those that don’t see it yet.”

A third Knight is also in consideration to be a first round pick.

Max Jones, at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, brings a physical flair with some scoring. He finished sixth in team scoring with 28 goals and 52 points in 63 games.

He is ranked 23rd.

“Jones plays an admirable power game,” Wheeler said. “While I don’t think Jones has the high-end skillset to be considered a top 15-20 pick, I appreciate what he brings as a competitor with size and skating ability who can play up and down the lineup. He likes to go to the slot and carries the puck with a certain force that intimidates defenders.

“He’s got work to do on his offensive game but he’s responsible in his own zone with a heavy, low kick to his release and a strong, confident presence.”

The likes of Victor Mete and Cliff Pu will also play important roles as the Knights make their fourth Memorial Cup appearance in five years.

Mete, a defenseman, finished four points behind Juolevi for the team league amongst blueliners. He had eight goals and 30 assists in 68 games.

“He’s a smooth, mobile skater that loves to drive the play from the back end,” Deschenes said. “He is a smart, offensive minded, puck-moving defenseman that contributes significantly to the Knights offense. His defensive coverage and his ability down low aren’t the greatest, but he has been making improvements over the course of his two OHL seasons. His hockey sense and vision coming up ice is noticeable practically every shift and while he makes some risky plays, they more often than not lead to something tangible for the Knights.”

Pu recorded 12 goals and 31 points in a depth role with the Knights.

“Used as more of a depth scoring option due to London’s high-end talent up front, Pu has done an admirable job creating offence nonetheless while also limiting chances against and playing on the second PK unit,” Wheeler said. “He’s good in the faceoff circle, a real strength, and wins battles along the wall.

“Because he skates well and has size, he may become a viable mid-to-late round option for a team who hopes he can take his game to the next level when the likes of (Mitch) Marner, (Christian) Dvorak, and Tkachuk graduate and the perennial contenders need a power forward in the top six.

“He has the talent to blossom into a scoring threat in the OHL but may need some time. Will help the Knights in what should be a deep playoff stretch. His versatility as someone who has played centre and the wing is a real asset.”