The ever popular NHL Draft Scout Series returns for another year, examining this year’s top NHL Draft prospects from each feeder league/region, with the insight of actual scouts dedicated to those specific areas.
We kick things off with Brendan Ross, Director of Scouting at TheScout.ca, who shares an absolute treasure trove of knowledge on the OHL’s crop of draft eligibles. Because there was so much discussed, here’s Part 1: options for who to pick at sixth overall.
CR: The OHL has been accustomed to pumping out top three talent on a yearly basis it feels like, but it looks like they’ll have to take a backseat to a couple of Finns and an American this year. Nonetheless, this looks like another excellent crop of draft eligibles from the OHL. How would you describe this draft class a whole? Is it as packed full of elite talent as it looks to be on the surface?
BR: While the OHL may be lacking a bonafide elite prospect this year, I think it’s a testament to how special the consensus top three players are – that being Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi. Matt Tkachuk, Alex Nylander and the trio of defenders – Chychrun, Juolevi and Sergachev – as well as high potential pivot Logan Brown do offer up a lot whole lot without being considered a true #1 pick contender. I’d say that the OHL crop offers up a lot of impact potential and that resonates at both the forward and defence positions.
When we look back on the 2016 OHL class, I have a feeling that we’ll see a lot of players who have brought value to their future NHL clubs – even if they’re not necessarily tearing up the scoring charts. Don’t get me wrong, Tkachuk, Nylander and company all have the skill to make cameo appearances in scoring races but I just think that they’ll also be more valuable as NHLers than their points may eventually suggest. That’s a comforting feeling if you’re drafting these kids because at the end of the day, it’s about maximizing their value. It’s a very smart, hard-working OHL draft class and that’s why I consider it strong – even without a true “superstar”.
Additionally, I’ve seen a lot of growth in the OHL top prospects and while that’s good for all young prospects, I wonder if some of the Tkachuks and Nylanders have big sophomore years ahead of them in 2016-17.
CR: Matthew Tkachuk has been all the rage since his Memorial Cup clinching goal, seemingly erasing any concerns about his ability to produce on his own or his skating. Is he the clearcut top prospect from the OHL in your eyes and do you think he has a shot at supplanting Jesse Puljujarvi for third overall?
BR: The Tkachuk banter has been fun to follow over the past month. I’ve been a big fan of him since he arrived here in London and my location allows a lot of viewings of the Knights so I’m comfortable with his game. With his combination of natural hockey skill, yes, he’s certainly introduced himself well to the national audience over the past few weeks. Good for him. He’s a great young prospect who will bring a coveted style to one lucky NHL team.
But no, he’s not on the same level of the top three and I fully expect Puljujarvi to end up in the third slot. Tkachuk has played well enough down the stretch to make teams pause and revisit the debate but there’s still a gap between three and four, in my opinion.
With that said, Tkachuk’s combination of grit and skill is a very rare package and that’s exciting because there aren’t many prospects in this class that are as dangerous from below the hashmarks. Whoever drafts Tkachuk will be getting the best OHLer and an extremely competitive top-line winger.
CR: The Calgary Flames draft at sixth overall, and are in desperate need of a right winger. It just so happens one Alexander Nylander is ranked in and around that spot by just about everyone. What are your thoughts on Nylander? Does he project as a top line RW?
BR: If the draft unfolds in the same way that I have the top six ranked then Alex Nylander will be donning a Flames jersey come draft day. Alex is a player who immediately jumped off the page when I first watched him internationally and he had an outstanding rookie season in Mississauga. Everyone wants to compare him to his older brother but outside of the hockey sense and good skill level, I don’t see much similarities. Nylander isn’t an all-world skater nor is he as flashy as his older brother but he plays a more North American style and that’s attractive option for a winger. I’m a big fan of his deceptiveness when he’s in possession and he displays sharp vision as a playmaker. He’s the type of player that will elevate his linemates’ play simply because of his innate ability to process the player quickly – dishing off timely passes without pause.
While he’s not a banger, Nylander shows no hesitation taking pucks into the tough areas and displays a strong ability to attack off the wall. There’s times when he could hold onto the puck longer and allow plays to develop further but I think we will see him develop more confidence in his second OHL season. I truly think he could be a sleeper (for a lack of better term) of the group at the top because he does have room to grow some of his areas. Given his smarts and skill with the puck, rounding out any of his other areas will only see a positive progression moving forward and he certainly has top line potential as a right winger.
CR: Logan Brown has made a big push up the rankings in the second half of the season, to the point where he’s garnering top five consideration. How does he get around for a big man at 6’5 and does he really project as that coveted big, number one scoring centre in your eyes?
BR: Logan Brown has been one of the most interesting OHL prospects this season, showing top end talent at times but completely disappearing in other games. Over the course of the season, Logan has improved his consistency tremendously and that’ll go a long ways in scouts’ eyes.
Dating back to his U17 tournament with Canada Red, Logan immediately jumped off the page for me as a player I loved – particularly his upside. We all know that his massive size – 6’7 – is an attractive attribute and even though he doesn’t play a “big man’s game”, he has some outstanding hockey sense.
Brown moves around the ice flawlessly for a tall player and eats up ice well. While he doesn’t engage physically a lot, he does recognize how to use his length and strength to his advantage in board battles. He could certainly stand to shoot the puck more often but it’s playmaking abilities and deft passing skills that rank very high in my books. As a set-up man, he operates as if he were a smaller skilled player, drawing in defenders and then exploiting the opened up space.
Heading into the draft later this month, Logan Brown could be considered a true wildcard because he has the talent and coveted physical attributes to challenge a top five spot. I have him ranked higher than most on my personal list because of his excellent upside but I don’t think he’s going to slip too far outside of the top 10. He’s got the tools and smarts to develop into a top line pivot.
CR: An embarrassment of riches on the blueline, the OHL boasts three legit top 10 threats on D in Olli Juolevi, Jakob Chychrun and Mikael Sergachev. How do you rank the three and what are your thoughts on each? In particular, what has caused Jakob Chychrun’s fall from being a potential number one overall to not even the highest ranked defender in the draft, potentially.
BR: The good ole’ Juolevi vs. Sergachev vs. Chychrun debate… I knew this question was coming and I wish I could provide you with a more definitive answer. I plan on releasing my personal rankings next week and I find myself constantly flip flopping between these three. It’s safe to say that all three rank high in my books but each defender has its pros and cons.
As it stands currently, I still have Jakob Cychrun atop my rankings based simply on pure physical tools and long-term upside. Olli Juolevi comes in second and edges out Sergachev by a hair. In reality, it’s almost a coin flip for these three and depending whose draft table I was sitting at, my selection would change.
Olli Juolevi offers up the most efficient game and is the easiest defender to project. He owns extremely high-end hockey intelligence and his knack for kick starting the breakout under pressure is as good as anyone in the past few years. His feel for the game is the best among any defender in this draft class and while his pure offensive upside remains a mystery, any team would be satisfied with his number two defenseman projection, who should be able to kick in 45-50 points in his prime.
Of course, there’s a chance that he could surge past those numbers and that’s what teams are banking on if you choose him first. Juolevi is the safest pick and if I’m a betting man, he’s likely the first one selected.
Mikhail Sergachev, my third ranked defender (currently), intrigues me a lot. He stepped into North American hockey and didn’t miss a beat elevating his game each time he took the ice and eventually walked away with OHL Defenceman of the Year honours. I love his offensive instincts, especially from inside the offensive blueline. He makes calculated pinches along the boards to keep pucks active and his ability to walk laterally along the offensive blueline is the best of the bunch. Sergachev has proven time and time again that his point shot has a great knack for finding seams and its created a lot of scoring opportunities for his teammates.
There’s some room to grow defensively but I suspect that will come as he continues to familiarize himself with the North American game. It’ll be a big year for the Russian defender in 2016-17 as his Windsor Spitfires play host to the Memorial Cup. I fully expect him to have a massive offensive season.
Jakob Chychrun is a player I’ve been lucky enough to speak to on several occasions and watch over 30+ times since his minor midget days with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. He remains my top ranked defender for several reasons and it starts with his presence on and off the ice. Few players in the entire draft show the maturity that Jakob does and he personifies everything that you want to see in an aspiring professional hockey player.
Chychrun has had his share of critics – and rightfully so, because he’ll admit that he didn’t have his ideal draft season – but the young man has handled the pressure extremely well. A lot of people forget that Chychrun is coming off a serious off-season shoulder surgery and played his draft season under new coaching as well. I’ve witnessed him mature into a responsible defensive defenseman changing his game almost entirely from his minor midget days.
Let’s remember that Jakob previously played as a forward and is now considered one of the best defensive defencemen in major junior hockey. That’s a big progression. I think it was a let down for a lot of us scouts to see his numbers stay idle (only increasing his points-per-game totals slightly from his rookie season). But, remember he remained finished top four in OHL defensive scoring after major surgery and still established himself as a better defensive presence than his draft eligible counterparts – in my opinion. Top that accomplishment with the fact that he had just an “average” year and owns better physical gifts, and I am comfortable leaving him as the top defenceman of this draft class. I think we’ll see Chychrun take a big step forward offensively after learning to improve his defensive game last season.
To summarize, my rankings would go: Chychrun, Juolevi then Sergachev and it’s safe to say that there is virtually little separation and a case can be made depending on what that specific team needs.
A big thank you to Brendan for all of his work and insight! Be sure to follow him on Twitter, and look out for Part 2: The Rest at this time tomorrow!