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 (16-20)
16.) Charlie McAvoy, Defence, Boston University, 6’0″ 205 lbs (Nov 23): A late birthday, McAvoy was a star on the US NTDP club last year, putting up 40 points in 63 games during the season, and four points in seven games in helping the team to win gold at the IIHF U-18’s. Now at BU, he has 16 points in 28 games as a freshman for the Terriers. He is an excellent skater, and moves the puck with good stickhandling and a strong first pass. McAvoy can lead the offense from the back end, either at the front of the rush or as a trailer. He shows poise at the blue line and has the vision and playmaking skill necessary to be a power play catalyst. His strong skating allows him to defend against the rush and to take away the middle and force forwards to the outside. McAvoy has shown the willingness to play physical. He needs to time his hits better though, as he has a tendency to get caught looking for a big physical hit instead of staying back and making the play. He could use some work reading the play and with his positioning but that will come with time. The strong skating and stickhandling allow him to retrieve pucks quickly and avoid forecheckers quickly moving the puck up the ice and minimizing zone time. He really starts the transition game very quickly. Overall he’s been impressive for a freshman defender in a top college conference. He also played for the American team at the World Juniors but was held pointless at the event.
17.) Max Jones, Left Wing, London Knights, 6’3″ 201 lbs (Nov 8): Jones is yet another one of the fantastic rookies playing with the London Knights this season. He has an elite shot with a tremendously quick release. Another big winger who plays a power forward’s game, Jones gets in quickly and throws hits on the forecheck. He is more than willing to mix things up in battles for pucks in the corners and in front of the net. Jones protects the puck extremely well, working the cycle game to create opportunities for his linemates to get open in scoring areas. He has a very good first step, and a strong stride that gives him good speed and acceleration. His stride is long and powerful allowing him to fight through checks. Jones is willing to use that power to drive the puck to the front of the net, where he has the quick hands and instincts to finish the play. Jones can sometimes be too much of a shoot-first player though, getting tunnel vision and not being enough of a passer. He has a tremendous motor and will continue his intense pursuit of the puck in all three zones, never taking a shift off. Jones has 21 goals and 40 points in 49 games for the Knights so far this year.
18.) Kieffer Bellows, Left Wing, US NTDP, 6’1″, 194 lbs (Nov 12): Bellows has been on a terrific run with the US NTDP with 36 goals and 60 points in 45 games this year. The son of ex-NHLer Brian Bellows, Kieffer is showing the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Like his father, Bellows is a pure sniper. He has a tremendous wrist shot and release, as well as an excellent one-timer. Bellows also has the soft hands, and quick reflexes, to get deflections and to pounce on rebounds and score in tight. He is a good skater, with the speed to get in on the forecheck and the power to win board battles, and to fight through checks and play a power forward style of game. Bellows is more of a physically punishing forward than his father was, as he is more than willing to throw big hits when he gets in on that forecheck. He also shows excellent stickhandling ability, and the good agility to beat defenders one-on-one, either off the rush or in the cycle game. Bellows sometimes gets a bit of tunnel vision, trying to shoot everything, but when he’s scoring as much as he is, its hard to blame him too much for that.
19.) Logan Brown, Centre, Windsor Spitfires, 6’6″ 218 lbs (Nov 21): Another player with good bloodlines, he is the son of former NHLer, and current Ottawa 67s coach, Jeff Brown. Big and strong, Logan Brown can be 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 does not seem to use that shot enough though, preferring to play the role of playmaker. Brown 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. He was very good at the CHL top prospects game showing off very good speed and agility for a player his size. He was particularly effective as a torpedo on the forecheck in that game. Brown must learn to be more consistent game-to-game, as doing that over the final stretch and the OHL playoffs could shoot him even higher on the draft board. Brown has 10 goals and 50 points in 40 games this year.
20.) German Rubtsov, Centre, Russian U18 Development Team, 6’1″, 174 lbs (Nov 29): 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 24 points in 23 games for the team in MHL play, but our main scouting of him has been at the international level. We did get the opportunity to see Rubtsov at the World Junior A Hockey Challenge where he had two goals and six points in four games, as the Russians took home the silver medal. 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, or take a one-timer. He’s strong in the faceoff circle as well, and shows a real commitment to playing defensive hockey. If there is one critique, its that Rubtsov needs to work to improve his first step and his acceleration. Improved quickness would really take his game to the next level.
Main Photo Credit:
Main Photo Caption: BOSTON, MA – FEBRUARY 1: Charlie McAvoy #7 of the Boston University Terriers and Nolan Stevens #21 of the Northeastern Huskies skate for the puck during NCAA hockey in the semifinals of the annual Beanpot Hockey Tournament at TD Garden on February 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Terriers won 3-1. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)