The National Hockey League
Entry Draft held annually at the end of June serves many a purpose. It serves as
the entry point for hockey’s greatest and youngest future stars, it serves as
grounds for general managers to brainstorm and execute blockbuster trades to
shore up their teams, and it serves as a renewal of hope for many fanbases
crushed by a disappointing season’s past.
The latter is the culmination
of months of hype and banter, with prospect debate steadily intensifying for
months until its eventual climax in June. I call it, The Feeling. A medley of excitement, jubilance and promise, fueled
by your favorite team’s futility, The
Feeling invades the mind of every hockey fan at some point during the year
– the worse the team, the earlier the contraction – and makes permanent
residence in every Oilers fan.
Such feelings were
commonplace for a couple of seasons in Calgary as the team undertook a rebuild,
but was quickly extinguished by a miracle run to the second round of the
playoffs last year.
However, 25 games into the
2015-16 season, The Feeling is back.
There have been multiple
requests in the comments for an introduction to this year’s draft class, and
many more tweets about the possibility for the Flames to snag Auston Matthews
with the first overall pick (and even more tweets misspelling
Matthews’ first name). Being a man of the people, introducing this year’s draft
class is exactly what I intend to do.
So just sit back, relax, and
let The Feeling set in.
(Note: Introduction was
written before Tuesday’s electric comeback win over Dallas. Damn it timing.)
McDavid, Eichel and Matthews?
Most scouts agree – from the celebrity types like Corey Pronman
and Craig Button, to the low profile, but equally knowledgeable types – that if
Auston Matthews were eligible to be
drafted last season (he missed the cut off for the 2015 NHL Draft by two measly
days), he would’ve been in the generational talent discussion alongside Connor
McDavid and Jack Eichel. Heck, some even suggest he could’ve gone ahead of
Instead, Matthews stands
alone as the jewel of the 2016 draft class. He is the best, period. Playing in
Switzerland’s NLA, Matthews was – before a mysterious upper body injury – over
a point per game with 17 points in 14 games, and has just recently returned to
action, currently sitting at 20 points in 17 games. For a 17-year-old kid playing in a serious pro league, those are
Matthews, who broke Patrick
Kane’s NTDP USHL scoring record last season, will play in the National Hockey
League in 2016-17 and will become a franchise cornerstone the moment his name
is called first overall next June.
An interesting/cool tidbit: The 2015 and 2016 NHL Drafts
are eerily mirroring those of 2004 and 2005, with three generational players
produced in two years. It was Ovechkin/Malkin followed by Crosby then, and it
could be McDavid/Eichel followed by Matthews now.
The Lone Blueliner
first thing you notice when looking at anybody’s rankings for the 2016 NHL
Draft is, listed under position, a ‘D’ in an ocean of ‘Fs’. That’s because
Sarnia Sting defenceman Jacob Chychrun is viewed by most as the only
elite defensive talent available next June.
FutureConsiderations, we have Chychrun ranked 2nd overall, with
Dante Fabro of the Penticton Vees the next closest defenceman 10th
overall, and “close” is a relative term. Chychrun reminds a little of Aaron
Ekblad as a prospect, in that he’s an imposing 6’2, 194 pounds, has an edge to
his game, can move the puck extremely well and possesses a booming slapshot. Overall,
he fits the mould of today’s ideal NHL defenseman perfectly.
also has been wearing an ‘A’ on his sweater since his rookie year, so you can check off the “leadership” box, too.
where the Flames come in. The Flames have accumulated some formidable depth
down the middle over the past few years, and seem set for the future with Sam
Bennett, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund anchoring the middle of the ice. The
wings are a much different topic. With Jiri Hudler falling off the face of the
earth, Michael Frolik and Johnny Gaudreau are the only legitimate top six wingers
in Calgary right now. David Jones has provided good scoring depth so far this
season but let’s not kid ourseleves, he’s nothing more than a complimentary, third
line scorer on a good team.
for almost shoe-in top five drafting Flames, the cream of the 2016 NHL Draft is
dense with wingers, and big wingers at that. Finnish-born beast Jesse
Puljujarvi has been on the radar for a couple seasons now, dazzling scouts
with his elite skillset and pro size. He’s been playing in SM-Liiga since he
was 16, and has 11 points in 27 games so far this season. Standing at 6’4, 200
pounds, Puljujarvi is currently my favorite prospect for the 2016 draft; his
potential is just sky-high.
Patrik Laine is of a similar mould to Puljujarvi, standing tall at 6’3, 205
pounds and playing a fast paced, high-energy game. While not as skilled as
Puljujarvi, Laine has a similar knack for scoring goals. Also playing his second
season in SM-Liiga, he’s sitting with eight goals and 13 points in 21 games this
season and has a rising stock heading into the World Juniors later this month.
Finns posses a coveted blend of size and skill that will have teams desperately
trying to trade up into a position to draft them come June.
Tkachuk’s offspring, Matthew, playing for the OHL’s London Knights, has clearly
inherited both his father’s scoring ability – currently tearing that league apart
with 48 points in 24 games – and, at 6’1, 194 pounds, his edge. Keith Tkachuk
was known and feared for not only pounding the puck past your goalie, but also
pounding your team into the ground. Matthew, too, has that bulldog personality
about his game. Sam Bennett wouldn’t be a bad comparable, especially in terms
of giving it 110% every shift.
out the top nine at FutureConsiderations are QMJHL wingers Julien Gauthier and
Pierre-Luc Dubois, two big power forwards both exceeding 6’3 in height; William
Nylander’s brother Alexander, scoring at over a point per game in his first OHL
season; and Tkachuk’s teammate in London, Max Jones, another power forward
standing 6’3 in height.
trend you may have noticed is every single player I listed in this piece is
attached to a height starting with 6. In fact, Matthew Tkachuk and Alexander
Nylander are the smallest players inside our top nine at 6’1, and everyone is at
or near 200 pounds. It’s really quite fortunate for the Flames that the year
they fall off the face of the earth is the year the NHL Draft is oversaturated
with huge, uber skilled, slick skating wingers.
other words, exactly what they’ve been looking for.
conclusion, the 2016 NHL Draft won’t produce stars to the level expected of its
predecessors in 2013 and 2015, but rather it’s looking like the draft
sandwiched in between those two, in 2014. You know, the one that produced the
Flames with Sam Bennett.
has an elite top end with Matthews, Chychrun, Puljujarvi and Tkachuk, and an
overall exciting Top 10, but drops off from there. Not that there aren’t excellent
players like Olli Juolevi and Tyler Benson still available as you make your
way down the rankings, it’s just they’re looking more like solid NHLers rather
than difference makers.
top nine forwards, not top nine scorers.
we approach the midway point of the scouting season, the 2016 NHL Draft picture
is beginning to take shape, and The
Feeling is beginning to knock on doors, looking for a place to stay.
season isn’t over yet in Calgary, but when considering where the Flames will
likely be drafting come June, the silver lining to this so far dark and musty
season will be shining increasingly brighter and brighter.