While the 2016 NHL Draft lacks some of the drama that was provided leading up to last year’s draft, when Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel vied for the right to go first overall, there is nevertheless some very good talent to be had at the top of this year’s event. And even beyond the top 5, NHL clubs drafting in the first round should be able to land some good talent that will almost certainly suit up for NHL action in the not too distant future.
This year’s version of the McDavid-Eichel competition featured U.S.-born forward Auston Matthews, who competed in Switzerland’s top league in 2015-16, and Finnish forward Patrik Laine, who starred both in Liiga and in international play for Finland. Matthews was a known quantity coming into the season and was considered the top prospect for this year’s draft, while Laine was well regarded but had question marks surrounding his game before the 2015-16 season began. As expected, Matthews excelled in Switzerland, while Laine exceeded expectations and firmly planted himself in the conversation for first overall.
The remainder of the draft prospects considered to be a part of the top 5 are all forwards, and in fact the top six players come from the forward ranks. Forwards Jesse Puljujarvi, Matthew Tkachuk, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Alexander Nylander all turned in strong performances in 2015-16, whether it was in league play or international competition (or both), so teams drafting towards the top of this NHL Draft will be able to add some high-end talent at the forward positions. And, while the defensemen are taking a back seat to the forwards this year, talented defenders like Mikhail Sergachev, Jakob Chychrun, and Olli Juolevi should hear their names called among the top 10 or so selections on Day One of the draft in Buffalo, NY.
So, where will these top talents, as well as other top prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft, end up? The staff at Hockey’s Future held their annual mock draft to make their best choice for the 30 selections that will be made in the first round of the draft. The results of this draft can be viewed below, with the name of the selector in parentheses next to the team name.
Here, then, is the 2016 Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs (Matt Stamper) – Auston Matthews, C, ZSC Lions
Auston Matthews is a generational talent, and the big center that the Toronto Maple Leafs have needed for years. Although Patrik Laine has been making a case for being chosen first overall, the Leafs needs are definitely down the middle, so it is easier to take a center over a winger. Matthews is quick, smart and can play at both ends, making him an easy pick at #1.
2. Winnipeg Jets (Devin Slawson) – Patrik Laine, LW, Tappara Tampere
The Winnipeg Jets lack a natural goal scorer with the ability to take over a game single handedly. With Nikolaj Ehlers now graduated into the NHL, Winnipeg finds itself very thin in prospects on the wing. Some scouts have said Laine will be the NHL’s next 50-goal scorer, and he will certainly alter the future for the Jets. Laine excelled at both the World Junior Championship and World Championship this year as an 18-year-old, proving his raw ability to be a difference maker against some of the world’s best. Laine features an excellent one-timer, very similar to that of Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. Laine would instantly make Winnipeg a much better team.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets (Dave Hahn) – Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat Oulu
For the first time in franchise history, the Columbus Blue Jackets moved up to third in the draft thanks to the new lottery format. With the pick, Columbus should be thrilled to add 6’3″, 200-pound power forward Jesse Puljujarvi into the mix. Although there is talk of this pick being available in a trade, with his elite-level blend of skating ability, shot release, and full-ice game, Puljujarvi is a perfect fit for the Jackets’ system. He also helped guide Finland to gold at the 2016 World Junior Championship where he was named the tournament MVP, proving he can handle the big stage.
4. Edmonton Oilers (Kady Hobbins) – Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Amid a big, tough Pacific Division, the Edmonton Oilers would always do well to add a heavy hitter to their lineup, and Pierre-Luc Dubois could be that perfect combination of size and skill. Dubois would fit with General Manager Peter Chiarelli’s typical player type – he is a big body that brings a strong two-way game, good foot speed, and is a physical presence on the ice. Dubois already clocks in at 6’3″ and 205 pounds, and is likely to add some weight to his frame as he progresses in his development. He drives to the net, is hard on the puck, and seems to have a strong work ethic. Factor in his heavy, accurate shot and the Oilers have a valuable talent in Dubois to add to their prospect pool.
5. Vancouver Canucks (Ken McKenna) – Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London Knights
The Vancouver Canucks need, well, everything, so choosing the best player available at this juncture is obvious. Memorial Cup heroics aside, Matthew Tkachuk had no trouble getting acclimated to the highly competitive OHL this season. While not presently a 200-foot player, his offensive game is advanced, and he already has the build of a power forward who should only become more effective in that role as he matures.
6. Calgary Flames (Jason Lewis) – Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia Sting
The Calgary Flames‘ defensive group truly lacks blue chip-quality outside of the boom-or-bust prospect Oliver Kylington. Jakob Chychrun’s two-way ability is a new NHL dream and should fit in very well behind T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano until he is ready to step in and take charge of the defensive corps himself. He has all the tools to be a defenseman you build a defensive group around.
7. Arizona Coyotes (Dave Hahn) – Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor Spitfires
The Arizona Coyotes‘ focus on developing forward prospects over the last few years is notable, and with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair excelling in the NHL, and with Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak on the way, the clear position of need is at defense. And that is exactly where the team goes with the selection of Mikhail Sergachev. Possessing high upside, Sergachev is a big-rig with enough skill and finesse to do just about everything on defense. The Windsor Spitfires product won the OHL’s Max Kaminsky Trophy as the OHL’s Most Outstanding Defenseman following a 17-goal, 40-assist regular season. He is connected to the play often, likes to jump into the rush, and has all the tools to eventually transition to the NHL playing big minutes as a reliable two-way defender.
8. Buffalo Sabres (Ryan Womeldorf) – Olli Juolevi, D, London Knights
The Buffalo Sabres have added top forward talents Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart in the previous two drafts, so it is time to add some top-end skill at the defensive position in the form of Olli Juolevi. The 6’2″, 179-pound Juolevi could stand to add some heft to his frame, but his two-way ability, playmaking and skating are up with the best at this position in this draft. The Sabres did address some depth issues at defense in 2015 draft, but adding Juolevi will provide a potential top-pairing piece for the future.
9. Montreal Canadiens (Tyler Campbell) – Logan Brown, C, Windsor Spitfires
Since taking over as the Montreal Canadiens‘ GM in 2012, Marc Bergevin has made an effort to make this team bigger and tougher to play against. The team is also lacking depth down the middle, so Logan Brown really fills both of those needs perfectly. Of course, Brown is far from just a Coke machine-type that we so often saw drafted in the 90’s. A terrific skater with great vision, Brown has the potential to be a first-line center that every team craves.
10. Colorado Avalanche (Chau Vo) – Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga Steelheads
Alexander Nylander displayed his world-class offensive skills in his rookie OHL season with 75 points in 57 regular season games and 12 points in six playoff games. His one-on-one ability is second to none in his draft class, but he will have to improve on his play away from the puck for a shot at a long-term NHL career. The Colorado Avalanche prospect pool lacks creative playmakers of Nylander’s caliber, so to select him 10th overall is a steal.