2016 is shaping up to be a very good draft class for the NCAA. Among the current crop of draft-eligibles are three potential first round picks. Hockey Future takes a closer look at five of the NCAA’s top draft-eligible players (all freshmen), composed of three forwards and two defensemen representing three of the six NCAA conferences.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of Feb. 11th.
Charlie McAvoy, D
Boston University (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 6’1”/211 lbs.
NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking: 9th
Boston University freshman defenseman Charlie McAvoy is the youngest player in the NCAA this season. The Long Beach, NY native is widely considered the top current collegian eligible for this year’s NHL Draft. He solidified his status as a likely Top 10 selection with his stellar performance with Team USA at the recent U20 World Junior Championship.
At Boston University, McAvoy has played most of the season with senior Matt Grzelcyk (BOS). He has played in 26 games to date, posting 14 points (two goal, 12 assists).
One of McAvoy’s greatest assets are his puck skills. He shows no panic with the puck and makes remarkably smart plays with it. McAvoy can make crisp passes as well. He does an outstanding job of finding open seams and getting pucks through to teammates. He possesses a heavy shot and can get pucks to the net.
McAvoy utilizes his strong 6’1”, 211-pound frame quite well at both ends of the ice and isn’t afraid to throw his body around. One notable area where he has continually improved this season has been in his ability to play a physical game without becoming a liability.
McAvoy is a superb skater with smooth, powerful strides. He can often be found jumping into plays or leading the rush. And because McAvoy transitions exceedingly well, he is rarely caught out of position when the play is coming into his zone.
Luke Kunin, C
University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Ht./Wt: 6’0”/193 lbs.
NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking: 16th
When Luke Kunin arrived in Madison this past fall, he made an immediate impact for Wisconsin and continues to be one of the Badgers top players. The Chesterfield, MO native has played nearly the entire season alongside junior Grant Besse (ANA), which has greatly benefited Kunin. He currently leads Wisconsin with 10 goals and ranks second on the team with 19 points in 24 games.
One attribute that separates Kunin from many freshmen forwards is his ability to think the game. He possesses elite-level instincts and makes intelligent plays. Kunin possesses superb vision and knows where plays are going. He also anticipates remarkably well and has the ability to make those around him better.
Although Kunin is a center, he has played most of the season on left wing. He has demonstrated great versatility in that he can play both positions equally effectively.
Another of Kunin’s best assets is his remarkably accurate shot. He can get shots to the net more often than not and has continually improved his ability to pick his spots. His shot is hard, and as he continues to add strength to his 6’0” frame, the added bulk should give his shot more velocity.
Kunin is an excellent skater with outstanding speed. He does a great job of consistently keeping his feet moving. He transitions with ease and can get up to speed fairly quickly.
Tage Thompson, C
University of Connecticut (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 6’4”/185 lbs.
NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking: 24th
University of Connecticut freshman Tage Thompson has made quite a splash in Hockey East this season and at the same time has seen his draft stock continually rise. The Orange, CT native has played nearly the entire season alongside fellow freshman Maxim Letunov (ARI), giving the Huskies an imposing one-two scoring punch. Thompson ranks second on the team with 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) playing in all 28 games to date. Where he has been particularly dangerous this season has been on the power play, as his nine power play tallies currently lead the nation.
Thompson is a power forward blessed with terrific hands. He is equally at home with setting up plays and finishing them. Thompson displays tremendous poise and patience with the puck and can make some of the prettiest passes, as well. He is also smart with the puck and possesses a blistering shot.
At 6’4”, Thompson has a large frame that he uses advantageously, particularly in puck battles and positioning around the net. And what has scouts really excited about him is what he will be able to do with that frame once it fills out. Like his father, former NHL defenseman Brent Thompson, Tage Thompson also brings an element of toughness to his game.
Thompson skates remarkably well for a big man. He skates with powerful yet fluid strides. He is also quite mobile with good speed, and possesses great feet.
Dylan Gambrell, C
University of Denver (NCHC)
Ht./Wt: 6’0”/179 lbs.
NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking: 149th
Since bursting onto the collegiate scene this season, freshman Dylan Gambrell has made quite a name for himself with the Denver Pioneers. While the Bonney Lake, WA native is projected to go in the latter rounds of the 2016 NHL Draft, he is certainly making a strong case to go earlier. Gambrell currently leads Denver with 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) in 26 games to date. He centers the Pioneers electrifying top line that also features sophomore Danton Heinen (BOS) and junior Trevor Moore.
Gambrell is all about speed and quickness, and he uses those assets exceedingly well in creating opportunities and making things happen. His combination of blazing speed, quick feet and elusiveness makes him difficult to contain or slow down. Gambrell possesses a great first step and can get up to speed very quickly.
Part of what has made Gambrell so good with Denver this season is his playmaking ability. He moves the puck efficiently and can do so without breaking stride. He can find open seams and does a remarkable job of getting pucks to teammates in traffic. While Gambrell is noted more for his passing skills, he has shown that he can finish plays, as well.
Gambrell plays with a high level of competitiveness. He possesses a junkyard dog-type of mentality when battling for loose pucks. Although he isn’t overly physical, Gambrell will play the body when necessary.
Casey Fitzgerald, D
Boston College (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 5’11”/185 lbs.
NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking: 108th
Casey Fitzgerald is Boston College’s youngest defenseman who has also become an impact player this season. The North Reading, MA native plays alongside junior Ian McCoshen (FLA), comprising one of the nation’s most dynamic defensive pairings. Fitzgerald has played in 26 games to date, posting 16 points (three goals, 13 assists). His +21 rating currently leads all freshmen rearguards and ranks third among all defensemen nationally.
The biggest knock on Fitzgerald is his smaller stature. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for with his superb combination of hockey sense, hands and mobility. Although Fitzgerald is an offensive-minded defenseman, he shows great defensive zone responsibility that is continually improving. He thinks the game remarkably well and has demonstrated that he can make very intelligent plays.
Fitzgerald is blessed with great hands. He moves the puck efficiently with crisp, tape-to-tape passes. Fitzgerald has shown that he can be quite creative with the puck, as well.
One of Fitzgerald’s greatest assets is his skating ability. He is very mobile with excellent feet. Fitzgerald possesses a good burst of speed and can transition quickly. Furthermore, he does a great job of consistently keeping his feet moving. Part of what separates Fitzgerald from many collegiate defensemen, freshmen or otherwise, is his ability to move the puck without breaking stride.
Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF