Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Starting on August 1st, and for the next 40 or so days I will be bringing you features on the next wave of NHL players. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical draft profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Prospects”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2015 Draft Articles Click here.
The 2015 NHL Draft has come and gone, and most teams have already held their post-draft development camp, getting an up close and personal look at the players they have selected in their new jerseys. However, scouting new talent never stops and with this in mind we turn our attention towards the talent that will be available in the 2016 NHL Draft. It may be early and there is still a full year of hockey to be played, likely leading to a lot of movement between these rankings and where players end up at the end of next season, but still lets take a look and preview the 2016 NHL Draft. It may not have the hype that accompanies Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, but there will be plenty of talent available.
Early Look at the 2016 NHL Draft
1.) Auston Matthews, Centre, Zurich Lions, 6’2″ 200 lbs: Auston Matthews spent last season with the US NTDP U-18. A late 1997 birthday, he was born just two days too late to be eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft. If he was those couple of days older he would have challenged Jack Eichel for the second overall spot, he’s that talented. Matthews broke many of the records set by Patrick Kane during his time with the US NTDP. The Arizona native has made the unprecedented decision to go play pro hockey in Switzerland during his draft year, rather than heading for the NCAA or CHL.
Matthews has very good size. He is an exceptional skater, who has the stickhandling ability to make plays at top speed and the vision and passing ability to be a dynamic playmaker. Add in good hockey sense and a decent shot, with a quick release and its easy to see that he has all the attributes to be a top line offensive centre in time. His defensive game could use a little bit of work, but this is a minor quibble for a player with the high end offensive potential of Matthews. A good coach can teach him defense, but the offensive instincts, vision and playmaking ability he has can not be learned.
2.) Jakob Chychrun, Defence, Sarnia Sting, 6’2″ 200 lbs: A superb skater, Chychrun’s stride looks effortless, his pivots crisp, and his agility is outstanding. Already at 6’2″, and still growing, he also has the size teams will be looking for. Add in good vision, strong passing skills and a bomb for a slap shot and he has all the tools to be an offensive force. He has high end hockey sense and seems to make the right play most times. Chychrun is already developping a strong defensive game, playing shutdown defensive hockey and getting big minutes against top lines even as a 16-year-old last year. He has excellent positioning, good gap control, an active stick, and can play physical without getting himself out of position. His game is very comparable to Aaron Ekblad at the same age.
3.) Jesse Puljujarvi, Right Wing, Karpat, 6’3″ 200 lbs: Puljujarvi is big for his age, and plays a game based on excellent strength. He uses his body to protect the puck and has the balance and power in his skating stride to fight through checks and get to the net. He also is extremely skilled with soft hands, good stickhandling, and an excellent wrist shot and release. He has all the skills to be a top power forward prospect but Puljujarvi can do it all, also playing the role of playmaker off the wing. He has good vision and the ability to thread passes through the tightest of openings.
4.) Max Jones, Left Wing, London Knights, 6’2″ 200 lbs: Max Jones recently committed to play the 2015-16 season with the London Knights. He has an elite shot with a tremendously quick release. Another big winger who plays a power game, getting in quickly and throwing hits on the forecheck and battling for pucks in the corners and in front of the net. Jones protects the puck extremely well, working the cycle game. He has a good first step, and a strong stride that gives him good speed and acceleration. He can sometimes be too much of a shoot first player though, getting tunnel vision and not being enough of a passer.
5.) Matthew Tkachuk, Left Wing, London Knights, 6’1″ 190 lbs: The son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk played with Jones on the US NTDP this year, and will also be heading to the Knights for the 2015-16 season. Tkachuk has very good positioning and high end hockey sense, and the puck seems to follow him around the ice. He understands how to find open spots in the defence. He has an excellent shot and release, as well as a soft touch in close to the net, making him a real goal scoring threat. Good vision and playmaking skill from the wing as well. He backchecks hard and already plays as strong-two way game. His skating was weak at the start of last year, but improved as the year went on. While he’s not a speedster, he is above average and improving.
6.) Logan Brown, Centre, Windsor Spitfires, 6’5″ 215 lbs: Another player with good bloodlines, he is the son of former NHLer, and current Ottawa 67s coach, Jeff Brown. Big and strong, Logan Brown is a dominant player below the hashmarks. He has a powerful stride, protects the puck and takes it to the front of the net. Brown has the soft hands to finish plays in close to the net, and also has a powerful shot from further out. He uses his size and strength to protect the puck in the cycle game, extending plays and waiting for teammates to get open. He has the ability to put the puck on the tape, and make saucer passes to get it through traffic in order to set up teammates. Brown must learn to be more consistent game to game in his draft year, doing that could shoot him even higher on the draft board.
7.) Chad Krys, Defence, US NTDP, 5’11” 185 lbs: Krys had a fantastic season last year with the US NTDP. He played so well with the Under 17 program that he was called up to the Under 18 team for the second half of the season, and represented the U.S. at the Under 18 World Championships, winning gold. Krys is a quick skater, with good puckhandling ability. This ability allows him to avoid forecheckers, and skate the puck out of danger. He can also lead the rush, creating offesnsive chances with a good vision, passing skills, and an accurate wrist shot. Krys has very good agility, allowing him to walk the line and create passing and shooting lanes on the powerplay. Defensively he has good instincts, and solid positional play, but must get stronger and play more physical in his own end.
8.) Tyler Benson, Left Wing, Vancouver Giants, 6’0″ 200 lbs: The first overall pick of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, Benson has shown to be a strong skater who plays a very gritty and physical game. His speed helps him to get in quickly on the forecheck and force defenders to make plays quickly or be plastered into the boards. When the puck does get turned over, he gets himself into good position to let go a strong wrist shot or a blistering one-timer. He has a great first step, which helps him to get to loose pucks, or to transition quickly when a teammate creates a turnover in his own zone, creating breakaways and odd-man rushes. Benson’s defensive game is also ahead of the curve for a 16-year-old.
9.) Dmitri Sokolov, Centre, Sudbury Wolves, 6’2″ 215 lbs: Sokolov showed off his skill at the Under 17s where he scored six goals in six games and led the Russian team to the gold medal. As an underager he also played for Russia at the Under 18s. He is a big power forward type, who uses his size to protect the puck well and drive the net. His wrist shot has an extremely quick release, and his powerful arms and forearms put it on net quickly. He is very good in front of the net, with the quick hands and good hand-eye co-ordination to get tip-ins and rebounds in front of the net. Sokolov also has good lateral agility and can make slick moves to open up passing lanes, and create space. He needs to work on his overall skating though, his stride is choppy which takes away from his overall top end speed and acceleration.
10.) Kale Clague, Defence, Brandon Wheat Kings, 6’0″ 190 lbs: Clague is an outstanding skater. He has great top end speed and acceleration in both directions, and pairs this with good agility, pivots, and balance. This allows him to play a strong two-way game covering a huge amount of ice. He skates the puck up the ice well or can start the transition game with a strong first pass. A natural powerplay quarterback, Clague can walk the line, throws strong, crisp passes, and has an excellent slapshot. He already understands how to keep it low and on net, and how to get it through traffic. Needs to work on his defensive gap control and on being more physical in his own end, but that can come with increased strength.
11.) Sean Day, Defence, Mississauga Steelheads, 6’2″ 225 lbs: Day has excellent size as he is already 6’2″. He also has great skating. His strides both forwards and backwards are long and smooth. His mobility is already top notch. He has great offensive instincts, the ability to rush the puck and to run the power play from the point, a hard shot, and great passing skill and vision. Day has some things to work on in his own end, but the talent and work ethic are there. He is not intimidated and willing to play a physical game against opponents who are older and who have more muscle on their frame at this point in their development. Quite simply, Day has all the tools a scout looks for in a defenceman, and has the potential to be elite. So why does he fall outside the top 10? Though all the tools are there, Day doesn’t put them together on a game in, game out basis. He really needs to work on being consistent and avoid some of the mental mistakes that have plagued him over his first two years in the OHL. He might be the player on this list with the biggest range of both upside or downside. I could see him at the top of the draft if he puts his skills together, and I could see him falling outside of the first round if that doesn’t happen. It’s a huge year for the player who came into the OHL as an “exceptional player” to years ago.
12.) Sam Steel, Centre, Regina Pats, 5’11” 170 lbs: Steel is an outstanding skater with strong speed, great acceleration, and outstanding agility. Once he gets a step on a defender, he’s gone. He has outstanding stick handling ability and very soft hands. Steel also has a good wrist shot, a quick release, and the vision and passing skills to be an offensive dynamo. He has outstanding hockey IQ, and thinks the game a step ahead of others. He seems to always make the smart play with the puck on his stick. Steel is also a very hard worker, who constantly keeps his feet moving and is involved in every aspect of the play. Has a bit of peskiness to go along with that high end skill.
13.) Alexander Nylander, Right Wing, AIK, 5’11” 165 lbs: The son of Michael Nylander and brother of Toronto Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander, Alexander is another highly skilled member of the family. He has tremendous speed and great acceleration. Add into that excellent agility and the ability to change directions extremely quickly, as well as top notch stickhandling ability and he can be a nightmare for defencemen. He has the ability to handle the puck as well as make precise passes while moving at top speed. His wrist shot features a quick release, but he must add some upper body strength in order to add more power. He also has to work on being more conscientious on the back check and not cheat to create offensive chances.
14.) Clayton Keller, Center, US NTDP, 5’10” 165 lbs: Led the US NTDP U17 team in scoring and was part of the U18 team for the U18 World Championships as an underager. He is a quick skater with an outstanding first step and an ability to quickly turn on the acceleration. He can dart into openings in the offensive zone creating space to get a pass and get off a quick shot. His snapshot and wrist shot are lightning quick and deadly accurate. Keller can be a pure sniper. He also uses his skating skills to make plays with the puck on his stick, creating passing lanes where he can set up a teammate with a tape to tape pass. His stickhandling is smooth and he can beat defenders one-on-one. Keller will need to add muscle to his frame going forward though, as he can get knocked around by bigger defenders at this point.
15) Brett Howden, Centre, Moose Jaw Warriors, 6’2″ 185 lbs: Skilled in all three zones. He works hard in the dirty areas of the ice, creating offence by winning battles along the boards, and getting tips and rebounds in front of the net. He also has a strong shot and good release. Howden protects the puck well extending plays, and keeping the puck down low in the offensive zone to create for teammates. He has excellent balance and is tough to knock off the puck. Extremely hardworking, Howden backchecks hard and does the little things that will make him a coaches favorite in his own end of the ice.
Main Photo Credit:
LAKE PLACID, NY – AUGUST 04: Auston Matthews #19 of USA White moves the puck around Saku Kinnunen #18 of Team Finland during the 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Campat Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 4, 2014 in Lake Placid, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)