Beyond Tomorrow: The Class of 2016

By Chau Vo

Auston Matthews - U.S. NTDP

Photo: Team USA forward Auston Matthews is considered to be a top prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

 

With the 2016 NHL Draft just a little under two years away, there is still a lot to be learned about these late-1997 and 1998-born players. There is no overwhelming consensus as to who will be picked first overall like there is for the 2015 draft, but Dmitry Sokolov is one of a few favorites as well as Sean Day, the fourth player to be granted “exceptional player status” by the Ontario Hockey Federation.

 

Beyond Tomorrow will track and feature some of these players eligible for the draft throughout the next year and present several in-depth profiles of hockey’s elite 16-year-old players.

 

Players on the Radar

 

Summer is only halfway through for most of these prospects and many are enjoying their offseason, but here is a preliminary list of players who have the potential to become first-round draft picks. Some may fade throughout the season and others will make themselves increasingly deserving of more attention, but for now, here are the top 10 players on Beyond Tomorrow’s radar.

 

Dmitry Sokolov, C/LW, Avangard Omsk (Russia)

 

Even though he is only 16 years old, Dmitry Sokolov is a smooth skating forward who is capable of playing both the wing and center positions. He has very good hands and a quick shot that he uses to terrorize goalies while playing for Avangard’s youth program. Sokolov has also appeared in games for Avtomobilist and Traktor’s teams as well.

 

The only knock on Sokolov right now is his lack of size and lack of willingness to play in the dirty areas. Both deficiencies can be remedied with time and coaching, however.

 

Tyler Benson, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL)

 

Tyler Benson was the first overall selection in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. The Vancouver Giants hope he will mature into their next franchise star winger.

 

After enjoying a seven-game stint with the Giants this year, Benson is expected to be a full-time member of the team next year. In those seven games, he had no points while playing very few shifts.

 

Benson broke Ty Rattie’s AMBHL scoring record in 2013 with 146 points in 33 games while playing for the SSAC Lions. This last season, he played on the Pursuit of Excellence prep school team and also played for Team Canada Pacific in the U17 tournament.

 

Chad Krys, D, New Jersey Rockets U19 (Midget)

 

Chad Krys could have been the first overall pick in the 2014 QMJHL Entry Draft but instead slid to the 114th spot where he was picked up by the Moncton Wildcats. His slip down the draft ladder had a lot to do with his hesitance about playing major juniors due to his family ties with college hockey.

 

Krys’ father, Mark Krys, was a draft pick of the Boston Bruins in 1988 and spent four years playing for the powerhouse Boston University team of that era. The elder Krys has coached his son through bantam and Chad has credited his father with being a positive influence on his hockey career.

 

Krys is expected to play for the U.S. NTDP next year.

 

Jakob Chychrun, D, Toronto Jr. Canadiens (GTMMHL)

 

The only minor midget player to ever be named to Team Ontario’s U17 team also happens to be the first overall pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection draft by the Sarnia Sting. Jakob Chychrun, son of long time NHL defender Jeff Chychrun, wanted to play for the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL but his application to play as an underager was denied.

 

After his rejection, Chychrun moved north of the border to play for the highly esteemed Toronto Jr. Canadiens youth program. He had previously spent his minor hockey career playing for Little Caesars in Detroit.

 

Chychrun excels at all aspects of the game but has a tendency to try to do too much on his own. He will most likely be making the jump to junior hockey next year and play for the Sting.

 

Clayton Keller, C, Shattuck St. Mary’s (USHS)

 

Clayton Keller was a coveted prospect in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection but fell to the end of the second round where the Windsor Spitfires made him the 40th overall pick. Just as it is with many other American-born prospects, there is always the risk of the player deciding to go the college route instead of major junior, otherwise Keller would have been a favorite to go in the top-five.

 

Keller spent the last two years playing for the legendary Shattuck St. Mary’s hockey program. The skilled center tallied 129 points in 60 games for the bantam team and followed that up with 77 points in 51 games for the midget team.

 

He has decided to join the U.S. NTDP U17 team next year citing his long time dream of donning a Team USA jersey. After that, it remains to be seen if he will keep his verbal commitment to Boston University or play major junior in Canada.

 

Ryan Lindgren, D, Shattuck St. Mary’s (USHS)

 

Ryan Lindgren is one of the top 98’s in the country and on April 29th, 2013, he made his verbal commitment to the University of Minnesota for the Fall of 2016. Lindgren is a 6’1”, 190-pound defenseman who spent the last three years playing for Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school. He saw his scoring go down drastically while making the transition from bantam to midget but is still one of the top defensive prospects in his age group.

 

Lindgren will join Keller in Ann Arbor next year and most likely another year after that before playing for the Gophers in 2016. The Brandon Wheat Kings hold Lindgren’s rights.

 

Sam Steel, C, Regina Pats (WHL)

 

If you watch Sam Steel play, the first thing you might notice is his small size, while the second thing you will surely notice is how gracefully he moves on the ice. Steel plays a dynamic game with highlight reel-worthy goals to get fans excited. It was this aspect of his game that got him selected second overall in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.

 

Steel played his minor hockey for the Sherwood Park, AB organization where, in his last year of bantam, he scored 104 points in 31 games, second to only Tyler Benson. He was sidelined with an injury during his midget year that limited him to only 14 games but in those 14 games he scored 23 points. The Regina Pats brought him on for their last five games of the season including two playoff games where he was held without a point.

 

Luke Kirwan, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

 

Luke Kirwan is a late 1997-born player so he was able to play junior hockey earlier than his draft class counterparts. Kirwan first started playing lower level junior hockey in the EMJHL and EJHL but this past season appeared in 34 USHL games along with 54 games for the U.S. NTDP U17 team. Kirwan had 24 points in the USHL and was third in team scoring for the U17 team with 57 points.

 

His first international experience was a big success as he led Team USA to gold at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge with 13 points in six games.

 

In June of 2014, it was announced that Kirwan would not return to the U.S. NTDP next season. Kirwan will instead play for the Windsor Spitfires in 2014-15 after the Spitfires gained his rights from the Guelph Storm.

 

Auston Matthews, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

 

Auston Matthews grew up playing hockey in the scorching desert sun of Arizona. He stayed in Arizona throughout his minor hockey career and in his last season played for the Arizona Bobcats’ midget team where he had 100 points in 48 games.

 

The next year, he traveled to Ann Arbor to play for the U.S. NTDP where he had 20 points in 20 USHL games and 33 points for the U17 team as well as 17 points for the U18 team. Matthews participated in both the U17 and U18 international tournaments where he played a key role in helping Team USA win gold.

 

Matthews is uncommitted to any colleges but the Everett Silvertips hold his rights after selecting him 57th overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft.

 

Sean Day, D, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

 

On March 21st, 2013, Hockey Canada and the Ontario Hockey Federation made the announcement that Sean Day would be granted Exceptional Player Status, the fourth person to be awarded the special status, thus making him eligible for the 2013 OHL Priority Selection. Unlike the three others to be granted exceptional status before him, Day was not the first overall pick in the junior draft but actually slid to fourth.

 

Day was born to Canadian parents but lived in Belgium and Singapore before traveling to the United States where he played all of his minor hockey. He played for Little Caesars, Honeybaked, and Compuware, all great minor hockey programs in Michigan.

 

After being selected fourth overall by the Mississauga Steelheads, Day appeared in 60 games for the team where he tallied 16 points. He was also selected to represent Team Ontario in the U17 tournament where he had three points in five games.

 

Follow Chau Vo on Twitter via @chowdersoop

 

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