Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at hockey’s future stars. Over the next few days we will be previewing the 2016 NHL Draft by ranking our top 30 prospects and honourable mentions.
With the junior seasons not just in Canada but throughout the world gearing up for the stretch drive and a number of international tournaments (Ivan Hlinka, Four Nations, Subway Super Series, World Juniors, Five Nations) in the books, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the draft are doing this year. This is an up to date look and ranking of these prospects. That said, there is still plenty of work to be done and many important games to be played including junior league playoffs, European playoffs, and of course the Under 18 World Championships. While the rankings still have some fluidity, a pecking order is also starting to define itself. For now, this is what we have, we hope you enjoy the early preview and be sure to be ready in late March as we roll out our full player-by-player draft preview.
2016 NHL Draft Rankings February Edition (6-10)
6.) Alexander Nylander, Right Wing, Mississauga Steelheads, 6’0” 172 lbs (November ranking – 10):
The son of Michael Nylander and brother of Toronto Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander, Alexander is another highly skilled member of the family. He made his way over to the OHL, joining the Steelheads this season and has put up 26 goals and 64 points in 45 games. He added four goals and nine points in seven games at the World Junior Championships playing for Sweden.
Nylander has tremendous speed and great acceleration. Add 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 off the rush. 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 to that shot going forward. The top notch stickhandling, great vision and good hockey sense also make him a dangerous player in the zone, but he must add more bulk to really succeed in playing the cycle going forward. He also has to work on being more conscientious on the back check and not cheat to create offensive chances.
7.) Olli Juolevi, Defence, London Knights, 6’2″ 185 lbs (November – 13):
Juolevi is one of the fastest risers on our draft board. He was incredibly impressive for Team Finland at the World Juniors, moving the puck effectively, playing strong defence and putting up nine assists in seven games. Juolevi was a driving force at the backend for Finland and helped them take home the gold medal on home ice. Part of an excellent group of Finnish-born prospects, and an excellent group of draft eligible players on the London Knights, Juolevi has impressed at the OHL level as well this year.
The offensive numbers aren’t eye popping but they are decent with five goals and 29 points in 42 games. Juolevi helps to quarterback the Knights powerplay with good skating ability, a powerful slap shot, strong wrist shot, and very good passing skills. He has excellent vision and the shows the smarts to make the smart play, whether its in running the point on that powerplay or in starting the rush out of the London end of the rink.
In addition to making good breakout passes, he has the skating and puckhandling skills to avoid the forecheck and start the play that way as well. On top of that, he’s looked great defensively in the OHL with strong positioning and being tough to beat one on one. Juolevi has put himself in the conversation as the top defenceman in this draft, and is making gains on his competitors for the honour.
8.) Pierre-Luc Dubois, Centre/Left Wing, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, 6’3″ 201 lbs (November – 9):
After being the fifth overall pick in the 2014 QMJHL draft, Dubois put up 45 points in 54 games as a rookie. He was also part of Team Canada at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament, picking up three assists on his way to helping Canada win gold. He’s followed that up with 31 goals and 74 points in 52 games this year. He was the brightest star of the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game, dominating against his peer group, and seemed to be dangerous on every shift.
Dubois is a power forward type, who has a powerful skating stride and fights through checks as he takes the puck to the front of the net. He has a very good wrist shot and a quick release as well. He has excellent hockey sense and gets himself open in good areas on the ice. Dubois has a long reach, and combines that with his strong puckhandling skill to protect the puck in the cycle and create time and space to make plays for his teammates.
The son of former AHL journeyman and QMJHL coach Erik Dubois, the younger Dubois’ game is very mature, and he already shows defensive skills and awareness that are very advanced for a 17-year-old.
9.) Julien Gauthier, Right Wing, Val D’Or Foreurs, 6’4″ 212 lbs (November – 7):
Gauthier is a power forward prospect with the size and the strength to dominate the game down low. Gauthier throws big hits on the forecheck, protects the puck on the cycle, takes the puck to the front of the net, and wins battles with opposing defenders. He also has an outstanding wrist shot, with great power and a hair trigger release. Gauthier is a great skater for a big man with very good top end speed as well as the power to fight through checks, or bowl over a defender on the way to the net. His agility and ability to weave through traffic could be improved. Currently he is more willing to just bowl over a defender on his way to the net than to move around him. He also has shown a knack for eluding defences and finding openings in the defence where he can set up to unleash a wicked one timer.
Gauthier put up 38 goals and 73 points last season, and already has 36 goals and 46 points in 46 games this year. One concern is that he has developed a bit of tunnel vision, in that he seems to fire everything at the net, even when sometimes a pass to a teammate might be a better play in the zone. He does show a good defensive game and that helped him to make Team Canada for the World Juniors this year. He put up just two assists in five games in the tournament, but should be a key part of next year’s club.
10.) Michael McLeod, Centre, Mississauga Steelheads, 6’2″ 187 lbs (November – 6):
McLeod shows strong passing skills and excellent vision. He is an absolute speedster, with great top end speed and outstanding acceleration. McLeod might be the fastest skater in this entire draft, he’s that fast. On top of that he has excellent agility, and the ability to change directions quickly. McLeod uses his skating ability to its full advantage to elude defenders and open up passing and shooting lanes. With his non-stop motor, a willingness to get in quickly on the forecheck, and to provide great support on the backcheck, McLeod makes the most of those skills. As a 17-year-old, he’s developing such a strong two-way game that the Steelheads match him against the other teams top lines, and use him to kill penalties.
McLeod has put up 19 goals and 56 points in 50 games this year. He has been improving as the season is going along. McLeod could stand to add some power and a quicker release on his shot in order to become more of a goal scorer going forward. Note: After this was written it was announced that McLeod has suffered a long-term injury as he will have surgery on a torn meniscus.
Main Photo via Getty Images Sport, OHL Collection.