2016 NHL Draft Preview: Tkachuk, Chychrun head OHL crop dominated by three teams

By Jason Menard
Matthew Tkachuk - London Knights

Photo: London Knights forward and 2016 prospect Matthew Tkachuk produced 107 points in 57 games in his OHL rookie season, then counted 40 points in 18 playoff games – including the Memorial Cup-winning goal (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

 

There is a lot of high-end talent from the OHL entering this year’s NHL Draft – and you could have spent most of this season travelling a 400-km stretch of the 401 catching most of it.

The London Knights, Mississauga Steelheads, and Windsor Spitfires dominate this year’s rankings – and arguably, all three teams have other players who could hear their names called early on in this year’s draft.

What’s exciting about the OHL content this year is that it is an intriguing mix of styles, sizes, and skillsets. And, in many ways, the order of draftees is going to be led by the needs of individual teams more than any sense of one player dominating the others.

Listed below are the top 10 OHL prospects available for the 2016 NHL Draft.

1. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London Knights (NHL Central Scouting (CSS) final rank – 2 NA; ISS Hockey June rank – 4)

Matthew Tkachuk joined the Knights this year out of the U.S. NDTP and immediately made an impact on the league. Playing on a line with Mitchell Marner (TOR) and Christian Dvorak (ARI) helps, but Tkachuk claimed his spot on the left wing early in the season and refused to relinquish it thanks to superlative offensive instincts and a pesky grittiness.

The Arizona native finished the year with 107 points in 57 games, including 30 goals. In the playoffs he added 20 goals and 20 assists in 18 games en route to London claiming a Memorial Cup championship.

He is a different player than his father Keith, but he has many of the power-forward instincts that his dad embodied. In many drafts, he would be the first pick taken. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if, 15 years down the road, we look back and say that Tkachuk was the best player of this year’s draft.

2. Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia Sting (CSS final rank – 4 NA; ISS June rank – 8)

This is a perfect example of the “in many ways, the order of draftees is going to be led by the individual team needs more than any sense of one player dominating the others.”

You could argue that London’s Olli Juolevi is the best defender in this draft, and you wouldn’t get much – if any – argument from this writer. But you can’t teach size, and Jakob Chychrun has looked like a man since he turned 16 – and at 6’2” and 215 pounds, he still has room to grow.

Combine that with his offensive instincts (seasons of 33 and 49 points over the past two campaigns including two straight double-digit goal seasons), and Chychrun will be an attractive selection for teams looking for a unique blend of size, speed, and scoring from the blue line.

3. Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga Steelheads (CSS final rank – 3 NA; ISS June rank – 6)

The Nylander family has been through this a couple of times – dad Michael, brother William – and now Alexander is looking to make his mark on the NHL.

Alexander joined the Steelheads this year and quickly showed the elite skill and speed that makes him such an attractive prospect. In 57 games, he scored 28 goals and added 47 assists.

He is slight of build, but has room to grow. And his game is predicated on speed and elusiveness, combined with solid offensive instincts.

4. Olli Juolevi, D, London Knights (CSS final rank – 5 NA; ISS June rank – 11)

The Helsinki native had a bit of a coming out party at the 2016 World Junior Championship (which, incidentally, was held right down the road from his childhood home). But after making a splash at the WJC, Juolevi continued that play – and progression up the draft charts – throughout the 2015-16 season.

In 57 games this year, he scored nine goals and added 33 assists in his first year in the OHL. He followed that with three goals and 14 points in 18 playoff games, playing a key role at defense for the Knights during their Memorial Cup run.

Juolevi is a different type of defenseman than Chychrun – more speedy and cerebral, so it really will come down to personal preference and projection for individual teams.

5. Max Jones, LW, London Knights (CSS final rank – 14 NA; ISS June rank – 14)

Max Jones has a lot of talent and grit, but suffered from circumstance this season with the Knights. Jones entered the OHL and put up solid numbers with 28 goals and 52 points in 63 games. And he put those numbers up while barely getting a whiff of the power play.

Jones also showed his grit, racking up 106 penalty minutes this season, but that grittiness came back to bite him during the playoffs. Jones plays on the edge and, after a questionable hit in the first round of the OHL playoffs, he was hit with a 12-game suspension.

He ended up playing six games and was largely held off the scoresheet, but Jones’ game is so much more than what is in the stats. He is an agitator and a physical presence whose game should translate well to the next level.

6. Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor Spitfires (CSS final rank – 8 NA; ISS June rank – 10)

Could the Russian-born Mikhail Sergachev be the first defender to come off the board this year? Possibly – it is not likely, but the 6’3” Nizhnekamsk native opened a lot of eyes this year with his play.

Obviously, 17 goals and 40 assists are going to be eye-popping numbers for a defenseman in the league – not to mention a rookie. Add in being named the OHL Defenseman of the Year, and the case could certainly be made that Sergachev deserves to be the first defenseman off the board. But it is the poise and positioning he showed commanding the Spitfires’ blueline that has people excited about his long-term potential.

7. Logan Brown, C, Windsor Spitfires (CSS final rank – 7 NA; ISS June rank – 7)

Logan Brown’s most noticeable asset is his size – at 6’6 and 220 pounds, he still has plenty of room on his frame to grow more. And that is both a scary and exciting thought.

But Brown has been a bit of a tease. His potential is there and he has shown flashes of dominance, but he hasn’t been able to add that level of consistency to his game to elevate him to the top of the draft boards.

Now, obviously, with both NHL Central Scouting and ISS ranking him seventh in North America and overall, respectively, scouts see the potential that matches that prodigious size. And with a 21-goal, 74-point season under his belt, he has shown some ability to finish.

But he has yet to dominate consistently and it will be down to the scouts’ belief as to whether he can use that size effectively, and consistently, every game that will determine his eventual destination.

8. Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga Steelheads (CSS final rank – 13 NA; ISS June rank – 13)

Michael McLeod is another OHL forward with intriguing potential. He has the potential for good size – he is 6’2″ and 190 pounds – but needs to add a bit more weight to his frame for long-term success. He is smart and can parlay that intelligence into a solid understanding of the game. And he has shown the ability to play the offensive game with 21 goals and 40 assists in 57 games this season.

But like Brown above him, McLeod hasn’t been able to put that package together consistently. He is a pick with potential and could end up being a solid reward for the risk that the team taking him assumes.

9. Tyler Parsons, G, London Knights (CSS final NA goalie rank – 3; ISS June goalie rank – 8)

All he does is win. Tyler Parsons has forced himself up the draft boards this year based on his play. After a questionable performance last year, Parsons assumed control of the London Knights’ net and refused to relinquish it all season.

He helped backstop the Knights to the Memorial Cup, where he was named the tournament’s top goaltender. He didn’t lose for the last two months of the season and, more importantly, he won the last game he played this year.

He won 37 games in 2015-16, with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. He improved those numbers in the playoffs, posting a 16-1-1 record, a 2.15 goals-against and .927 save percentage along with one shutout.

At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Parsons has average goaltending size, but his heart and determination to win separate him from the pack.

10. Alex DeBrincat, RW, Erie Otters (CSS final rank – 21 NA; ISS June rank – 26)

With the loss of so much offensive talent from last year’s Erie Otters’ squad – including all-world talent Connor McDavid – you could be forgiven for thinking that Alex DeBrincat’s numbers would go down. But, you would also be wrong.

In 60 games this season, DeBrincat completed his second 50-goal, 100-point season. All he does is score, get to the net, and make the ugly plays that help encourage success.

The biggest challenge he faces is that he is only 5’7″ and 160 pounds. Size doesn’t matter as much in today’s NHL, but DeBrincat’s selection may be a referendum on how much that statement holds true.

Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard