2016 NHL Draft Hopefuls: Early Rankings

Auston Matthews celebrates after he scores.
Photo Courtesy: austonmatthews.com

The 2015 NHL Draft has come and gone. The hype that built up beforehand was well worth it, as we saw strong prospects being drafted as far as the 7th round. There were even some prospects that were projected to be selected but were passed on and will now try and join an NHL organization through development camp invites.

So with “McEichel mania” now past us, we look to next year’s NHL Draft. Headlined by American Auston Matthews, here are the top 30 prospects of the 2016 NHL Draft, including profiles on the top 10.

#1.) Auston Matthews, C, (Switzerland/WHL) 

Auston Matthews has been touted as a top player for the past couple of years. He is a 1997 birth year and was only days away from being eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft. If he was eligible for the 2015 draft, he might have gone in the top 5.

Dan Marr of NHL Central Scouting believes he would be among the best of the 2015 NHL Draft prospects. He told NHL.com, “If he was in this year’s draft he’d be right up there and talked about in the same breathe with [McDavid and Eichel].”

Matthews is a strong and powerful centerman who shows unbelievable playmaking potential. He has quick feet and is agile and can accelerate to top speed in few strides. Once he reaches top speed, Matthews can make great plays alone, or can get the puck to his teammates.

Matthews has spent the past two years with the United States National Team Development Program. With the U17 team, he had a great season scoring a total of 12 goals and 21 assists in 24 games, as a 16-year-old. With the U18 team, Matthews was out of this world good. Through ages 16 and 17, Matthews collected a total of 67 goals and 66 assists in 80 games. That’s a points per game stat of almost 1.7.

Scouts have promise for Matthews and his style of play. Future Considerations praises his complete game.

“Matthews is a strong, powerful player who has the ability to play bigger than he actually is. He is a real good skater with powerful strides and good quickness. He possesses strong vision, excellent possession skills, a strong shot and the ability to make plays happen for himself and his linemates. He is also strong defensively, bringing a good effort and complete game.” –  Future Considerations

Matthews will be leaving the US to play hockey his draft eligible year. Nothing has been confirmed as to where he will play, but he has brought his decision down to playing in Zurich, Switzerland, or for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL.

#2.) Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

Jakob Chychrun is a dynamic defenseman with strong offensive potential. He’s the son of former NHL defenseman Jeff Chychrun, who played with the Flyers, Kings, Penguins and Oilers.

Chychrun was selected 1st overall in the 2014 OHL Draft after a very good season with the Jr. Canadiens of the Greater Toronto Minor Midget Hockey League. He put up 16 goals and 27 assists in 29 games.

Chychrun had a tremendous rookie season with the Sting, and if it were not for Alex DeBrincat he most likely would’ve won OHL Rookie of the Year. He greatly improved his defensive game and has cut down on his frequency of getting overly physical or losing his man causing him to chase his task. He totaled 16 goals and 17 assists in 42 games.

Chychrun is a great passer and does terrific breakout work. His passes are on target and smooth as well. He is a very good all-around defenseman, as Future Considerations explains.

“A highly talented kid who makes an impact in every aspect of the game. He has impressive size and strength, solid overall mobility and the hands and smarts to rush the puck. He also possesses a strong point shot, sees the ice well and has ability to move the puck. Defensively, he plays with strong defensive gaps, and has the ability and nastiness to play it physical.” – Future Considerations

#3.) Jesse Puljujärvi, RW, Kärpät (Liiga)

Jesse Puljujärvi plays a smooth game and exhibits quick hands and a strong two-way game. He has gotten used to playing with an older group after playing a year in Liiga in Finland, which should work in his favor when transitioning to the NHL.

During the World Juniors is where Puljujärvi really turned heads. He showcased his strong shot, slick skating and his improving defensive game.

In Finland’s 13 game span, Puljujärvi potted 3 goals and dished out 5 assists.

Auston Matthews’ situation could affect Puljujärvi. If Matthews decides to go overseas to play, it could bring a larger audience to Puljujärvi as well. Matthews may not be going to Finland, but if he goes to Switzerland people might be intrigued to watch Puljujärvi as well.

Steven Ellis at The Hockey House offers this profile on Puljujärvi:

“Puljujärvi is a big forward with all the skills and traits of an 18-year-old ready to take his game to the next level. One difference: he’s only 16 and isn’t even eligible for the NHL draft until 2016. There is a ton of hype for the youngster, and rightfully so: he’s been well over a point-per-game player in every single Junior league he’s competed in. While playing with the Kärpät U20 squad at the Jr. At SM-liiga last season, Puljujärvi finished with 23 points in 18 contests to go along with 14 points in 8 Jr. B games earlier in the year. Already this season, Puljujärvi has seen action with the big club, scoring a goal and adding an assist in his first pre-season game prior to the Liiga season this month. Puljujärvi will have some difficulty stealing the spotlight on a strong Kärpät team this season, but considering some people believe that the only better Finnish prospect in the world right now is Alexander Barkov, it’s safe to say he’ll have an impact.” – The Hockey House

#4.) Max Jones, LW, London Knights (OHL)

Max Jones brings a high level of skill and compete to the ice. Jones is a scorer and isn’t afraid to bump heads with his opponents either. He will be the player to watch in the OHL this year. Jones needs to develop his defensive game and the role he’ll play with the Knights will teach him that.

Jones spent 2014-2015 with the US development’s U17 and U18 squad. He played the majority of his USDP on the U17 team, playing 38 games and accumulating 18 goals and 10 assists. Jones only played 2 games on the U18 team.

This season Jones will be tested to see if he can play with good players. The London Knights are early favorites to be the top team in the OHL. Players like Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner, and potentially Zach Werenski will be along side Jones to work with the Rochester, Michigan native.

Sean Lafortune of TheScout.ca describes Jones as skilled player full of compete.

“An instinctive player who brings a unique blend of skill, determination, and toughness. Unusually calm in possession, can dangle due to soft hands. Packs a tricky shot that is as much about timing and accuracy as it is about power. Intentions are masked due to excellent body language and overall presence. Stays in constant motion, has a knack for getting to loose pucks, powered by impressive anticipation. Fiery and competitive, extremely difficult to play against, specifically in puck battles. Can go overboard, doesn’t always know when to pull back, can take some undisciplined penalties. Can struggle with tunnel vision when in possession at times, fails to makes the proper assessment, can hold onto the puck for a bit too long. Making more astute reads of the ice in possession will be a key. Must continue to develop a more well-rounded two-way game, keeping his feet moving in the defensive zone and injecting himself into the defensive zone with passion. Projects as a skilled finisher who plays a mean, uncompromising game at the next level.” – TheScout.ca

#5.) Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London Knights (OHL)

Matthew Tkachuk is the son of former NHLer and longtime St. Louis Blue Keith Tkachuk. Matthew decided to go a different route than his father and plays the wing instead of center. Matthew does have one thing in common with his dad, he can score goals.

Last season with the US U18 team, Tkachuk scored 38 goals in 65 games.

Keith Tkachuk had multiple 40+ goal seasons with the Jets/Coyotes. Matthew has the potential to produce the same way his father did early in his career. He has speed and quickness in his hands which allow him to get a quick release on his shot. He will score plenty of goals with the London Knights with players like Max Jones and potentially Mitch Marner and Max Domi playing along side him.

Tkachuk de-committed to Notre Dame early in 2015 then later joined the London Knights, who held his CHL rights. Will this wind up being a good decision for the 17-year-old? It’s quite possible. Playing in the OHL will allow Tkachuk to showcase his strong suit, scoring goal; however, now it is on Tkachuk to work on building a frame and a better two-way game.

#6.) Logan Brown, C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Logan Brown was selected 6th overall by the Niagara IceDogs in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection and later traded to the Spitfires. The Spitfires got a potential NHL star in Brown.He is all there offensively. From speed to

He is all there offensively. From speed to shot, Brown possesses elite potential. Has smooth strides and a very quick release that complements his fast shot. Sean Lafortune of TheScout.ca describes him as a power forward, but has he explains Brown needs to work on his mind set to fully complete the label.

“Tall, rangy pivot with smart hands and a blazing shot. Eats up the ice with huge, silky strides and boasts elite top speed. More meticulous with the puck, especially in traffic, and also developed better patience and focus on scoring areas, exploiting his extended reach and gift for creating shooting lanes. Lethal when driving off the boards and exploiting mesmerising one-on-one moves. An intuitive defender, has made steady gains in his work away from the puck as well as his overall physical play. Possesses a lethal shot, a tricky release point and elite velocity. Still lacks that natural mean streak to fully complete the ‘power forward’ equation. Continues to make gains in his consistency from game to game, showing more intensity and aggression as he matures.” – TheScout.ca

Logan Brown adds to the numerous OHL prospects to watch for regarding the 2016 NHL Draft. Brown is one of the must-watch players. He creates exciting plays and has a way of playing that catches the attention of everyone.

#7) Chad Krys, D, Uncommitted

Chad Krys is the defenseman other than Jakob Chychrun to look out for in the 2016 NHL Draft. Krys is another American that could potentially be taken early in the draft. He is a Ridgefield, Connecticut native.

Krys is a two-way, puck-moving defenseman who has the ability to take the puck up himself to make a play, make a tape to tape breakout pass to a teammate, or backcheck effectively. Krys has high offensive ceiling and positives in his defensive categories, but still needs to improve his defensive decision making.

Krys is another product of the US development system and has played for both the U17 and U18 team. Krys played a total 63 games with the U17 and U18 teams and had 6 goals and 43 assists.

Krys has not yet decided where he will play hockey his draft eligible year. Moncton Wildcats drafted him in the 2014 QMJHL Draft and hold his CHL rights, while the Green Bay Gamblers drafted him in 2013 and have his USHL rights. This case is similar to Shane Bowers who was drafted by Cape Breton, but decided to go to the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks instead.

Future Considerations express the excitement that comes with Krys:

“A two-way defenseman who plays bigger than his size and possesses impressive hockey sense. His skating is both smooth and quick, allowing him to be extremely elusive and slippery. Very creative and always thinking, he makes plays that make those watching say “Wow.” That coupled with his excellent defensive positioning, elite skating and strong offensive tools have many thinking Krys has the ability to become a special player.” – Future Considerations

#8.) Sean Day, D, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

Sean Day #28 of the Mississauga Steelheads and Nick Paul #21 of the North Bay Battalion watch the play during game action on March 7, 2014 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
(March 6, 2014 – Source: Graig Abel/Getty Images North America)

Sean Day was granted exceptional status as a 15-year-old to play in the OHL in 2013, and there is a reason for that. Day has offensive skills as a defenseman that not many prospects carry.

Day does a great job of making breakout passes and other end to end passes. Has a great sense for who to get the puck to in a certain situation, which Future Considerations does a great job of mentioning in his profile.

“The first thing you notice about this kid, who was granted “exceptional status” to enter the OHL a year early, is the impressive, fluid feet and all-encompassing mobility. The second thing is the size and strength he has, which allows him to be physical. He is an offensive-minded D-man who can rush the puck end to end with his quick hands and creativity or make that long-range pass to spring a forward.” – Future Considerations

#9.) Tyler Benson, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL)

Benson has above average skills in his hands and his decision making. He has a strong, and still very young, shot. He can still develop his shot to be something incredible.

Benson makes good decisions when taking shots too. He seems like he is always looking for the slightest flinch from the goalie and takes advantage of it right away.

“A powerful kid who uses both his brains and skill to outplay his opponent. He has some skating issues that will need work, but is hard to contain down low and can really be dangerous deep in the offensive zone. He just owns the boards, protects the puck and wills himself to win most one-on-one battles. His shot is pro caliber, and he needs little space or time to put the puck in the net.” – Future Considerations

With the Giants last year, Benson showcased he is already strong offensive play and improved his two-way play. In 62 games, Benson scored 14 goals and 31 assists.

#10.) Julien Gauthier, RW, Val-D’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

Julien Gauthier had a breakout year with the Foreurs this past season. He scored 38 goals and 35 assists in 68 games.

Gauthier evolved physically as well. He has always been a powerful winger, but last season Gauthier really held his own. In his rookie year Gauthier was often looking like he was lost. This year Gauthier seemed to know what his task was and who his assignment was for the most part.

“He is a big, strong winger with a powerful stride and great top speed. He is tough to contain when he is at the top of his game. Consistency can be an issue. An enormous prospect with many impressive pro traits, such as a rocket of a shot and terrific vision in traffic. Can be creative with the puck and set up his teammates with well-timed passes. Struggles with the pace of play in the Q at times” – Future Considerations

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Carsen Twarynski #24 and Micheal Zipp #4 of the Calgary Hitmen try to check Sam Steel #39 of the Regina Pats during a WHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 19, 2014 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
(Oct. 18, 2014 – Source: Derek Leung/Getty Images North America)

11.) Patrik Laine, RW, Tappara (Liiga)

12.) Dmitri Sokolov, C, Omske Yastreby (MHL)

13.) Sam Steel, C, Regina Pats (WHL)

14.) Kale Clague, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

15.) Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton Vees (BCHL)

16.) Alexander Nylander, W, AIK J20 (SuperElit)

17.) Brett Howden, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

18.) Kieffer Bellows, C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)

19.) Olli Juolevi, D, Jokerit U20 (Jr. A SM Liiga)

20.) Tyson Jost, RW, Penticton Vees (BCHL)

21.) Rasmus Asplund, C, Färjestad (SHL)

22.) Clayton Keller, C, USNTDP

23.) Jake Bean, D, Calgay Hitmen

24.) Charlie McAvoy, D, USNTDP

25.) Max Lajoie, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

26.) Ryan Lindgren, D, USNTDP

27.) Carl Grunstrom, LW, MODO J20 (SuperElit)

28.) Nick Pastujov, LW, USNTDP

29.) Luke Green, D, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

30.) Alex DeBrincat, C/W, Erie Otters (OHL)