The Hockey Prospectus Big Draft Board is a look at how our evaluators would line things up if we were drafting in a vacuum. The new franchise in Las Vegas may be able to take such an approach next season, but the 30 NHL franchises preparing to make their picks starting this Friday do not have that luxury. While a “best player available” approach is generally the best strategy to take, there are exceptions. For example, some franchises, such as Philadelphia, Carolina and the Islanders already have an abundance of netminders in their respective systems and selecting another would plug up an already inflated logjam between the pipes. Further, while we do have our own preference list, the projected value differences between players once we get past the first three selections is slight. Looking at historical trends at drafting and player preferences will give us some hints at how specific NHL teams would approach the draft differently than we at Hockey Prospectus would. Without further ado, here is the final Hockey Prospectus mock draft of the 2016 first round.
- Toronto Maple Leafs – Auston Matthews, C, Zurich (NLA) – 6-1”, 210
In this case, the best player in the draft fills a need for the team drafting him. Of course, in most cases where a team is selecting first overall, pretty much any prospect would fill a need. While the Leafs have an abundance of talented young forwards on the way (William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnson, etc.), they, like the majority of teams, could use a surefire number one center who projects to develop in a vein similar to that of recent multiple Cup winners Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews.
- Winnipeg Jets – Patrik Laine, RW, Tappara (Liiga) – 6-4”, 206.
The Jets also have a rich pipeline of future NHL talent among their forwards, but Laine’s skill set is one that cannot and will not be ignored. He is as pure a sniper as has been available in the draft since Steven Stamkos was taken first overall by Tampa Bay ten years ago. As good as some of the Jets’ forward prospects and young NHL players (Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, etc) are, Laine immediately moves to the head of the class.
- Columbus Blue Jackets – Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (Liiga) – 6-3”, 203
A more well-rounded player than his compatriot Laine, Puljujarvi has a history of stepping up in the big moments. This year alone, he took home the MVP award at the WJC All-Star, despite joining Finland late and only playing in four games. Puljujarvi has extensive experience playing with adults and should be ready to step right into the NHL from day one, filling a variety of roles.
- Edmonton Oilers – Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London (OHL) – 6-1”, 195
The Hockey Prospectus board has Tkachuk at sixth, but among the prospects still on the board, his game and skill set fit best with what the Oilers are building. His addition will make it easier for GM Peter Chiarelli to trade a current NHL roster winger (Eberle is a real possibility) for a now defenseman. While the Oilers’ weakest position at the NHL level is along the blueline, most of their remaining pipeline is defense-oriented. Tkachuck would either provide some balance to their system, or make the NHL team and grow alongside an offensive dynamo like Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
- Vancouver Canucks – Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia (OHL) – 6-2”, 215
The Canucks need a bit of everything. That said, most of their recent first rounders have been used on forwards and the blueline needs a new leader. While there are reasonable arguments to be made for either Olli Juolevi or Mikhail Sergachev as the better prospect, Chychrun has the better set of tools and should be seen as a better calculated gamble that he develops into a true number one along the lines of a Doughty or Hedman.
- Calgary Flames – Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL) – 6-2”, 202
The Flames like to select a mixture of skill and character in the draft and Dubois straddles that line well. A very cerebral skater who took to center around mid-season like a natural, he combines excellent puck skills (stickhandling and passing) with a plus shot and above average skating. His physical game is also very high for a pivot. He will provide the truculence that team President Brian Burke has made into a cliché.
- Arizona Coyotes – Olli Juolevi, D, London (OHL) – 6-2”, 179
Less physically ready than the other two high end blueliners headlining this draft (Chychrun and Sergachev), he is actually the safest bet among the three to be a steady top pairing player down the line. The recent acquisition of Alex Goligoski will make it easier for John Chayka and company to give Juolevi the time he needs to add more weight and muscle to his currently lean frame.
- Buffalo Sabres – Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor (OHL) – 6-2”, 206
After using high picks on forwards in Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel during the past two drafts, the Sabres change course and add a projected first pairing defender in Sergachev. His current weight was measured at considerably higher than that listed above at the recent combine. Sergachev should also be able to contribute quickly on the power play.
- Montreal Canadiens – Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga (OHL) – 6-0”, 179
Nylander does not have much of a physical side to his game, but that is about the only real deficiency he has. His skating, shooting, stick handling and hockey sense are all plus-plus. Furthermore, he isn’t exactly small. He simply prefers to let his skills do the talking instead of playing rough. His presence in the system would make it easier from Montreal to continue to develop Galchenyuk and McCarron as centers.
- Colorado Avalanche – Charles McAvoy, D, Boston University (HE) – 6-0”, 208
In this scenario, the Avalanche would be pretty disappointed that the top three blueliners are all off the board, but there is reason to rejoice as well. According to our board, McAvoy rates as even higher than Sergachov. Although smaller of frame, McAvoy plays a very heavy and physical game. Furthermore, he has the mobility needed to excel in the modern game and track back if he misses on a check. McAvoy projects to a first pairing role with contributions at both ends of the ice.
- New Jersey Devils – Clayton Keller, C, USNTDP (USHL) – 5-9”, 168
As much as Colorado may have been a little downtrodden at the way the board has shaken out in the top ten, the Devils would be absolutely delighted in this scenario. Keller, while small, is a wizard with the puck. He rates tremendously high in skating, puck skills and hockey IQ. He could use a year or two of physical maturity in college (he’ll be joining McAvoy at BU next year), but will be a number one center in the NHL as soon as he arrives.
- Ottawa Senators – Tyson Jost, C/LW, Penticton (BCHL) – 5-11”, 191
A versatile forward, Jost cemented his spot in the first half of the first round with a superb showing at the U18 tournament in North Dakota. The Penticton forward offers a little bit of everything, but his marks for puck skills and hockey IQ are the most noteworthy. Given the growth demonstrated in the NCAA this season by Colin White, selected by the Senators in the first round last year, they will not be averse to letting another high end prospect develop in the collegiate game for a while. He can play either center or wing,
- Carolina Hurricanes – Logan Brown, C, Windsor (OHL) – 6-6”, 222
As big as Brown is (he’s massive!) his game trends more to that of a playmaking center. He is a great table setter and prefers to look for the pass rather than to take the puck to the net himself. With time, he could fit into the roll once ably filled by Eric Staal. Perhaps not quite to those lofty heights of peak Staal, but he will be a similar handful for opposing defenders up the middle.
- Boston Bruins – Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton (BCHL) – 6-0”, 189
GM Don Sweeney surprised early and often at the draft last year and in truth, there is no telling what he will do here. That said, even after drafting Jakub Zboril, Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon with early picks last year, this is an organization with very little in the way of young, cost controlled and NHL-ready defensive help in the system, Fabbro would have time to develop in college, and he is committed to BU, so the Bruins will have an easy time of keeping tabs on him as he matures.
- Minnesota Wild – Alex DeBrincat, RW, Erie (OHL) – 5-7”, 163
The Wild system has a lot of guys who are big and project to be solid NHLers. This includes their last two first rounders, Alex Tuch and Joel Eriksson Ek. By drafting DeBrincat, they are swinging for the fences in a way they have not since GM Chuck Fletcher took over in 2009. The two time 50 goal scorer will add a dimension to the organization that is currently lacking. The Wild will not select again until the fourth round and a unique talent like DeBrincat will definitely not be available by that point.
- Detroit Red Wings – Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL) – 6-2”, 188
Even before Pavel Datsyuk announced that he would not be returning to the Red Wings, this organization has had a need for young centers in the system to join Dylan Larkin. Like Larkin, McLeod has speed to spare. Further, he plays a committed, energetic two-way game that is sure to appeal to Ken Holland and Jeff Blashill. In truth, the Red Wings are lucky in this scenario that McLeod is still on the board.
- Nashville Predators – Jake Bean, D, Calgary (WHL) – 6-0”, 173
In recent years, the Predators have strengthened their forward group, with picks like Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev and Yakov Trenin. The forwards on the NHL roster are also trending towards youth, such as leading scorer Filip Forsberg and trade pickup Ryan Johansen. Although the organization is historically known as a blueline warehouse, the trading away of Seth Jones and the gradual aging of workhorse Shea Weber means there should be room to add another high impact talent to the defense-corp of the future. Bean, a pure offensive blueliner, would fit in nicely.
- Philadelphia Flyers – Luke Kunin, C, Wisconsin (Big 10) – 6-0”, 193
As bad as the University of Wisconsin team was last year, Kunin, a true freshman, managed to rise above the mediocrity. Combining speed, skill and a healthy chip on his shoulder, Kunin looks to be around one year away from being ready to take his two-way game to the pros. He is a fairly good bet to emerge as a second line center in short order.
- New York Islanders – German Rubtsov, Team Russia U18 (MHL) – 6-2”, 178
The highest end prospects in the Islanders system (Dal Colle, Beauvillier, Ho-Sang, Barzal) are all forwards, but the greater depth is actually on the blueline and in net. As such, the Islanders can let the draft come to them and take the best prospect available. Reasonable minds may disagree, but it says here that that prospect is the Russian puck player. The Russian factor should be slight here, as Rubtsov has already made it known that he would like to play in the CHL next season.
- Arizona Coyotes (from New York Rangers) – Jonathan Dahlen, C, Timra (Allsvenskan) – 5-11”, 176
The Coyotes have had good success drafting out of Sweden in recent years and Dahlen could be a good find for them with their second first rounder this year, a pick received from the Rangers last year for the final year and a half of Keith Yandle’s contract. Ulf Dahlen’s son has great vision, puck skills and an accurate wrist shot. His production against men has been very impressive, mitigating the risk factors involved with projecting European production over to North America.
- Carolina Hurricanes (from Los Angeles Kings) – Kieffer Bellows, LW, USNTDP (USHL) – 6-0”, 196
Within a few hours, the Hurricanes will be able to add two critical forward pieces that should both be part of their next window of contention. While Brown is a natural playmaker, Bellows is a shooter. He shoots hard and shoots often, a trait that allowed him to score 50 goals in 62 games for the U18 team this year. He has some kinks in his game to iron out, but he will be given time to do so at BU*.
*Not a typo. BU will be stacked for the next few seasons.
- Winnipeg Jets (from Chicago Blackhawks) – Ryan Lindgren, D, USNTDP (USHL) – 6-0”, 198
The Jets used their second first round pick last year on a player from the USNTDP (Jack Roslovic) and would be wise to do so again this time around. Lindgren is not the most exciting player still on the board, but does a bit of everything and projects as a solid second pairing blueliner at the highest level. While not blessed with great size, he plays hard and can be a big hitter. He also upped his stock with a strong showing at the U18 tournament.
- Florida Panthers – Vitaly Abramov, RW, Gatineau (QMJHL) – 5-9”, 172
The Panthers surprised many people in the industry in recent weeks by shaking up their front office and scouting staff and investing heavily a quantitative approach. That would dovetail very nicely with the selection of Abramov here, an undersized Russian playing in the QMJHL and putting up monstrous numbers while doing so. I do not expect his size to be an issue at the Panthers’ draft table.
- Anaheim Ducks – Max Jones, LW, London (OHL) – 6-3”, 205
With a first round pick acquired in the last week from Toronto in exchange for netminder Fredrik Andersen (30th overall), the Ducks are positioned to have two picks in the last seven selections of the first round. Unless we count Nick Ritchie, who spent half of last season in the NHL, the team is short on impact talent in the system on the wings and Jones, with size, snarl and some puck skills to boot, should fit in with the West Coast style of rugged hockey that the Ducks have liked to play over the past few years.
- Dallas Stars – Riley Tufte, LW, Fargo (USHL)/Blaine HS (Minnesota HS) – 6-5”, 205
The Stars have never shied away from swing-for-the-fences picks and make another one here in Tufte, a towering winger who was hard to scout, splitting his season between the USHL and Minnesota high school hockey. He put up strong numbers at both levels, showing both excellent skating ability for his size and the requisite amount of snarl that makes his size a weapon in and of itself.
- Washington Capitals – Wade Allison, RW, Tri-City (USHL) – 6-2”, 205
A late bloomer, Allison is a shot machine with a strong two-way game. As the season progressed, more and more of his shots ended up in the nets and he turned his game up another notch in leading Tri-Coty to the USHL championship. Allison plays a physical game and is a strong skater to boot. He may be able to play center as well.
- Tampa Bay Lightning – Julien Gauthier, RW, Val d’Or (QMJHL) – 6-4”, 225
Six months ago, very few would have expected Gauthier to be available this late in the first round, but a slow second half to his season and a lackluster postseason by Gauthier and the Foreurs caused his stock to slip a little. The big winger is deceptively fast and has a wicked shot that will allow Tampa to replace some of the goals recently allocated to Steven Stamkos, once he is ready for the professional game. Physically, he is likely the strongest player in the draft and is stronger already than a good many NHLers. His game needs polish, but there is a lot to like here.
- Louis Blues – Adam Fox, D, USNTDP (USHL) – 5-10”, 185
If the Blues have to trade away Kevin Shattenkirk, a move that many see as inevitable, an offensively inclined right handed blueliner like Fox would be a nice fit. A true power play quarterback, Fox has both plus mobility and puck skills. He always wants the puck and if we needed a testament to his IQ, will be attending Harvard next season. His off puck play needs work, but he will be given time to work on it.
- Boston Bruins (from San Jose Sharks) – Tyler Benson, LW, Vancouver, WHL – 6-0”, 201
If there is ever a time to take a risk on a prospect it is at the tail end of the first round when your team has already made one selection. Benson would likely have been selected much earlier in the round if he had not suffered from a debilitating cyst in his tail bone that (along with the associated surgery) limited him to 30 games on the year. Assuming a full recovery, Benson could make this selection look brilliant in a few months.
- Anaheim Ducks (from Pittsburgh Penguins, via Toronto Maple Leafs) – Brett Howden, C, Moose Jaw (WHL) – 6-2”, 193
Howden may have better offensive tools than the Ducks’ previous pick in this scenario, Max Jones, although Howden lacks Jones’ explosiveness. The Moose Jaw pivot is a strong two-way player who plays a power game, but moves well in spite of above average size. He complements the Anaheim system well.