Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at hockey’s stars. Over the next few days we will be previewing the 2016 NHL Draft by ranking our top 30 prospects and honourable mentions. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
With the CHL season a good eight weeks old, a month or so of NCAA hockey, plenty of games for the USNTDP, the Ivan Hlinka tournament, an international break in Europe, and the Subway Series all being played since we last updated our draft rankings, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the 2016 draft are doing this year.
That said, as a staff we haven’t seen every player yet—it’s quite simply not possible this early in the season. If there is someone you feel is an obvious name that has been left out, we’ll do our best to get a look before our final rankings come out in April, May, and our final NHL Draft rankings in June. The group we haven’t seen a lot of are European prospects who, for whatever reason, haven’t had much exposure on the international stage. With the World Juniors, Five Nations, and the Under-18 all to come later in the year, we should get a better look at most.
2016 NHL DRAFT November Rankings 26-30
26) Alex DeBrincat, Right Wing, Erie Otters, 5’7″ 161 lbs: Undrafted in the OHL, DeBrincat impressed the Otters brass in training camp and went on to score 51 goals as a 16-year-old. Did he benefit from playing a lot of minutes with Connor McDavid and/or Dylan Strome? Yes, of course he did. That said, it wasn’t all on those two players, as he has some talent in his own right too. He has great skating and the speed and acceleration to overcome his lack of size. DeBrincat is a pure sniper with an excellent wrist shot and release as well as a decent playmaker with good vision and passing skills. He is also a pest out on the ice, not afraid to throw hits, go to the net, fight in the corners, or get in the middle of scrums despite his lack of size. With McDavid gone, DeBrincat is continuing to shine. He has 28 goals and 45 points in 22 games, and seems like he could challenge the OHL single season goal scoring record this year. The only question here is size; at 5’7″ many are going to question how he will transition to the pro game.
27.) Libor Hajek, Defence, Saskatoon Blades, 6’2″, 196 lbs: Drafted in the first round of the 2015 CHL Import Draft, the Czech defenceman has made an excellent transition to the WHL. He’s a smooth skater, with good speed and acceleration in both directions, excellent pivots and agility, and a powerful stride. With 13 points in 19 games so far this year, he’s shown the ability to move the puck, transitioning quickly out of his own end and making a strong first pass. He’s also shown good poise and the ability to set plays up from the blue line. Hajeck is a two-way defender. He is difficult to beat off the rush, and forces attackers to the outside. He has good gap control, and can land a big hit if an opponent tries to beat him to the outside. His positioning in his own end is also already a strong point.
28.) 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. Howden has had a strong start to the year with 9 goals and 20 points in his first 20 games.
29.) German Rubtsov, Centre, Russian U18 Development Team, 6’1″, 174 lbs: Following good showings at the U17 and the U18 (as an underager) in 2015, and the Ivan Hlinka this summer, Rubtsov has established himself as the centrepiece in Russia’s new U18 Development team program. He has put up good numbers domestically with 19 points in 15 games for the team in MHL play, but our main scouting of him has been at the international level. Rubtsov plays a strong two-way game, highlighted by his strong hockey sense. Offensively he makes smart plays with the puck, showing off good vision, and excellent anticipation of where his teammates will be. This makes him a very good playmaker. He also has the ability to find soft areas in the defence and get open to make a play. He’s strong in the faceoff circle as well, and shows a real commitment to playing defensive hockey as well. If there is one critique, its that Rubtsov needs to work to improve his first step and his acceleration.
30.) Samuel Girard, Defence, Shawinigan Cataractes, 5’9″, 170 lbs: At just 5’9″ tall, Girard is an undersized defenceman and will need to have a growth spurt to really attract the attention of NHL scouts this spring. If he can add a couple of inches he could really move up the charts as as he is a tremendous skater, and great puck moving defenceman. He has outstanding speed and acceleration, as well as the hands to make plays with the puck at top speed. Girard can also quarterback the Shawinigan powerplay and does so very effectively. He is an excellent passer both from the point, or in moving the puck out of his own end. He’s dangerous nearly every shift, and a tremendous offensive catalyst with 32 points in 25 games this season. His size can be an issue on defence, but a quick pokecheck and good active stick help Girard avoid too many issues.