The second day of the 2016 NHL Draft will afford teams an opportunity to select character players who will certainly still impact their prospect pool in a positive fashion. In the latest edition of NHL Draft Primer, we highlight a few notable names that have family ties, one or two elements of their games that make them unique, and a couple players who have been overlooked for one reason or another.
Brandon Gignac, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
5’11”, 172 pounds, Repentigny, QC
Afforded with an opportunity to acclimate to life in the QMJHL, we just started to see what Shawinigan forward Brandon Gignac can do. It is no surprise that Gignac’s step forward also propelled Shawinigan up the standings. He is a high character player that can absolutely fly; in fact, some of his best highlights this season have come at full speed. He uses this speed and change of direction to elude defenders, and he specifically has become adept at changing gears to duck inside of high-traffic areas. He finished the regular season with 61 points, and further displayed his offensive prowess in the playoffs by adding another 16 points during the Cataractes deep playoff run.
Kyle Masksimovich, Erie Otters (OHL)
5’9”, 170 pounds, Oakville, ON
The Erie Otters have been blessed over the last few years with the likes of Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome, and most recently Alex DeBrincat posting gaudy numbers. One of their unsung heroes is Kyle Maksimovich, a diminutive forward who isn’t afraid to get to the net and score goals from high-traffic locations. Reigning OHL Coach of the Year Kris Knoblauch provided Maksimovich an opportunity for more ice time, and he responded with a 71-point regular season, and an eight-point playoff run. His omission from the NHL Scouting Combine was a bit surprising, but nevertheless his exposure in Erie and a second deep playoff run should result in a draft selection.
Nick Pastujov, United States National U-18 (NTDP)
6’0”, 196 pounds, Bradenton, FL
Former Honeybaked captain Nick Pastujov has taken a direct “Red, White, and Blue” path towards the NHL. Pastujov, a Florida native who has spent the past five years playing away from home, has played in the United States National Team Development Program over the last two seasons. He tallied 13 goals two years in a row, but is well known for his 200-foot game and keen awareness of the finer points of the game. One year ahead of his little brother Michael, the tandem will head to the University of Michigan to further their hockey careers.
Cliff Pu, London Knights (OHL)
6’1”, 187 pounds, North York, ON
One of the most versatile players in this draft, Cliff Pu enjoyed a strong season with the Memorial Cup champion London Knights. After being acquired from the Oshawa Generals last year, Pu assimilated himself into the Knights lineup this year and did so thanks in part to his skating ability and work ethic. An engaging character in the locker room, Pu quickly became a fan favorite and played on all four Knights’ lines at various points. He finished the regular season with 31 points, but his strong playoff run added another 13, and he garnered attention in the Memorial Cup itself with his forechecking ability. With a number of players expected to graduate, Pu could be in line to be the next breakout star from the OHL.
Ty Ronning, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
5’9”, 165 pounds, Burnaby, BC
One look at Ty Ronning and the typical rhetoric over whether or not a small player can succeed in the NHL is sure to surface. With a shift in tactics, a number of vertically challenged players have succeeded, and Ronning has what it takes to be the next in line. He has had a great support system to lean on; his father, Cliff Ronning, is a 17-year NHL veteran who faced similar questions over his size and athleticism. With a 31-goal, 28-assist regular season, Ronning carried Vancouver to a number of wins during a difficult year for a young Giants squad. After an impressive showing at the NHL Scouting Combine, Ronning’s natural knack for scoring and other elements should certainly be enough to have his name called later this month.
Matthew Cairns, Georgetown Raiders (OJHL)
6’2”, 190 pounds, Mississauga, ON
There are a number of his peers who graduated from the OJHL onto life in the OHL, but for Matthew Cairns, an interest in getting a quality education along with a solid hockey program persuaded him to stick it out. Drafted by the Peterborough Petes, Cairns chose to remain in the OJHL where he blossomed into the league’s premier defender, nearly winning his second consecutive league championship. With a nine-goal, 24-assist regular season, Cairns has little to prove in Junior A, and will head to Muskegon in the USHL before joining Cornell University in 2017.
Jacob Neveu, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
6’2”, 205 pounds, Sherbrooke, QC
As a draft-eligible player, Jacob Neveu got all the exposure he could handle as part of the QMJHL’s best defense corps, and looked steady doing it. Playing big minutes for the QMJHL champions, Neveu’s consistent defensive play earned him a long look from scouts throughout the playoffs and into the Memorial Cup. Taking on the likes of Conor Garland (ARI), Anthony Beauvillier (NYI), and Dmytro Timashov (TOR), Neveu didn’t look out of place and held his own against top competition in the playoffs. He makes crisp, accurate breakout passes and, while he won’t “wow” you with his offense, there is plenty of potential to see improvements in that area, making him an exciting prospect and a potential draft sleeper.
Jordan Sambrook, Erie Otters (OHL)
6’2”, 187 pounds, Markham, ON
One year behind his peers, Jordan Sambrook is a late-bloomer who is just now realizing his potential after spending last year with the Toronto Nationals of the GTHL. Erie’s depth on the blueline prevented Sambrook from making the team right away, but the extra year paid off and Sambrook worked his way into a full-time spot on defense. Despite logging very little time on the power play, Sambrook scored nine times, all at even strength, and added 18 assists to Erie’s attack. He is physically assertive with and without the puck, and took advantage of additional ice time due to injuries and World Junior obligations during the holiday season.
Ondrej Vala, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
6’4”, 216 pounds, Pardubice, CZ
Kamloops Blazers defenseman Ondrej Vala took his first foray away from home and landed with Kamloops as the 11th overall pick in the CHL Import Draft. The physical, defensively strong product of the Czech Republic put together a solid, yet not sensational first year in the WHL. He finished with four goals and 17 assists, and while the numbers appear pedestrian, it is the small things that make Vala a draft-worthy prospect. He gets his stick into passing lanes, is keenly aware of his surroundings, and is among the best positional defenseman in the draft.
Evan Cormier, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
6’3”, 201 pounds, Ajax, ON
Looking back to January 2015, Evan Cormier was handed the reins to the Saginaw goal crease shortly after the team opted to trade away their starter, Jake Paterson (DET). Cormier’s arrival signaled a switch in philosophy, as the Spirit got younger right away and opted to give ample playing time to younger players. That didn’t bother Cormier one bit, who has been a catalyst for the team, earning the win in 21 of the team’s 24 total victories this season. He faced a staggering 1,825 shots this season, the second-highest total in the OHL, but still managed to post a respectable 3.72 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage with one shutout.
Connor Ingram, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
6’1”, 194-pounds, Imperial, SK
Offering many of the same tangibles that the top goaltenders in this draft class possess, Connor Ingram hasn’t received the respect deserved after two successful seasons tending the twine for the Kamloops Blazers. He was entrusted with the starting job last year, and improved his peripherals in staggering fashion this season. He finished the season with a 34-15-5-4 record, a 2.61 goals-against average, and a .922 save percentage. Despite facing 351 more shots than Carter Hart, the goaltender most suggest will be the first off the board, Ingram held firm in Kamloops. He nearly snuck the Blazers past Kelowna as the team dropped game seven of their WHL playoff series in overtime.
Antoine Samuel, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
6’2”, 183-pounds, Lac-Etchemin, QC
Opting to go with overage goaltender Philippe Cadorette, the Shawinigan Cataractes shipped Antoine Samuel off to Baie-Comeau in favor of the older netminder. Losing his chance at the playoffs, Samuel struggled after the trade, but still used his athleticism to stop a number of high-chance opportunities. With a much younger and defensively challenged team in front of him, Samuel saw the most number of shots from the trade deadline forward, getting plenty of chances to showcase his ability. He made a memorable moment in the last game of the regular season by defending a teammate in a scrum, before breaking off to fight Blainville-Boisbriand goaltender Francis Leclerc.
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