NHL Draft Scout Series: OHL Part 1: 6th Overall

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It’s back! 

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!

  • RickT

    I did not realize that Chychrun started off as a forward, and then moved to defense.

    That makes him all the more intriguing (not necessarily the guy I would pick at six, but intriguing nonetheless).

    We have seen a couple of players who were able to make that transition play incredible games at the pro-level. Burns and Byfuglien are game-changers, even just through the way that they think the game and are so unpredictable on the ice.

    There’s a number of studies that say diversifying people who play sports lead to better players. They are able to analyze different facets of the game(s) that they are playing and succeed in a different way.

    i.e. in Calgary, there are a number of different opportunities, in particular for hockey players, to play different sports and are encouraged to do so by some pretty big names.

    • KiLLKiND

      I also think one of our defensive prospects who is known for his offensive game and speed might make an excellent winger. Many players also get locked into a position at a very young age by a parent who is coaching and that position may not be the best position for that player. If we could convert our defensive prospect into a forward I’m sure the change could be very beneficial as he already understands the defensive side of things and already uses his speed to blow past the opposition.

      Also take Samuel Girard for instance who many think could be among the fastest players available in the draft. If he could use his speed on the wing, it would lessen how his height is looked at while only being 5’9 and his offensive game is already over a point per game having 74 points through 67 games.

      I also fully agree with playing different sports to train for hockey. Soccer is a great sport for hockey players to play as it is the possesion game. Many of the plays are very intelligent plays that could translate to hockey such as the setting up a triangle, or the timing of a through ball for the timing of a breakaway pass. It will just help many players see the game differently and will help them see opportunities for plays that they may have missed before.

  • KiLLKiND

    Nylander sounds like what we already knew. Smart playmaker, not the same style of play as Willie and not as shy of contact as many are assuming because of his “small” frame. However he isn’t really that small still. I agree all three defencemen are all great options, it sounds like Sergachev might have the highest potential, than Chyhchrun, followed by Juolevi. I love the idea of drafting the player who has the potential to be an all star and prefer Sergachev the most. I would be very satisfied with Chychrun, but would be kinda disspointed if we drafted Juolevi as it wouldn’t address an area of need and he has the least potential to be the game changing defenceman of the 3.

    Juolevi could turn out to be like Brodie though which isn’t bad at all and he is who I keep thinking of when I try to compare Juolevi to a current top pairing NHL defenceman. Both play highly intelligent games and are very good passers while neither has the high point totals many would like to see. WW might call him another Backlund, AKA a possession driving player, without the point totals to prove it. I would really like to see how Juolevi does next year when the big line is gone and it is just him and Tkachuk if Tkachuk doesn’t make the NHL out of camp.

    I wish you had discussed more about other potential OHL draft eligible players or is there more to the OHL part? If I remember correctly from last year every league only had one part, but if each gets more than 1 I am really excited to hear more.

  • THe more I read about Nylander the more I get excited in the same way I did about Monahan in ’13. He’s not the big name in this draft, he’s not the all flash winger. He is just simply and quietly a good propsect who goes about his business and produces points. It would not be a bad thing at all if Nylander like Monahan and Bennett falls into our laps. It’s kinda funny the team that has had horrible drafting strategy for 25+ years blows everything up and then has 3 top 10 picks in the last few years just sort of drop into their lap and they’re all pretty damn good players.

    I for one will be fine drafting Nylander.
    And maybe with those extra second round picks and an abundance of C prospects with potential in the system maybe the Flames can get back into the first round and pick up a Logan Brown or one of the D as well.

    • KiLLKiND

      Did you read the article about Brown? I would be more than fine drafting him, but in the 2nd or 3rd round. He has all the tools yet doesn’t always put them together… Colborne, Jankowski these big toolbox guys have been pretty disappointing Also he lacks in consistency which once again sounds like Colborne, “disappearing completely at times” I thought it was a draft day article about Colborne… Once again I would be fine with picking him, but I don’t want to draft a 3rd line toolbox in the 1st round. So many are hoping he turns into the next Getzlaf, but Getlaf has a mean edge Brown doesn’t.

      I also don’t think even with all three 2nd round picks bundled together it would be enough to get back into the top 12 which where we would most likely need to be in to get one of the D, or Brown for that matter if he goes where he is ranked. It could potentially get us into the 20 range, though many would disagree if that’s worth it. The value of all three picks is enough, but GM’s do not seem to like trading back without receiving an over payment. (I still would trade all three 2nd’s even through in a 3rd if it means we draft Debrincat!) Two of our 2nds should get us in the range of Abramov though.

        • KiLLKiND

          I know when he might go and I also know when I would take him in the draft, the two are nowhere near each other. He will go in the 1st round most likely top 20, though I wouldn’t take him until midway through the 2nd. Joe Colborne cost a 4th to aquire oh had already made the NHL, why waste a 1st now when we can spend a 4th in a few years? That’s if he pans out, nothing about him screams elite except his size. Why would you draft him in the 1st when every player near his ranking as at least some skill or asset considered to be elite? Tell you what we’ll trade you Colborne for Yak and then you can tell me that you want to draft Colborne 2.0 in the 1st round.

  • Thunder1

    Has anyone ever heard anything about whether or not the brothers Nylander have a desire to play together?
    I lived with a pair of Swedish twins in my last year at the U of A and let me tell you, the fun never stopped!

  • freethe flames

    The more I hear about Nylander the more I think he might be the pick, he will be bigger than he is now and he has elite skill something we need. Unfortunately he is likely 2-3 season away and we need help upfront now. While I don’t like reading much into what BB has to say this is basically what he said today: if players are very close you go with the goalie, if it’s between a defender or a forward, then take the defender, if between a center and a winger then the center. He also hinted that they might try and move the pick; either direction. I have said it for a while now I expect BT to make a trade to deal with our needs in goal and upfront. That means that the first rounder might be in play. Again I think this decision will be finalized on the floor.

  • freethe flames

    Completely of topic but I was thinking of where might be a fit for Wides. The Rangers do not have a pick until the third round and are likely losing two veteran defenders; Yandle and Boyles so I wonder if a deal might be struck with them that we give up a late 2nd rounder and Wides(retain some salary) for Hayes.The rumor’s I have heard are that the Rangers want to shuffle the deck and there are some pieces in both places that might work.

    • The GREAT Walter White

      No to Iginla trade.

      Yes to Colborne trade.

      No to trading our 6th overall.

      Best trade: Wideman for MAF. (Wideman would likely wave his no-trade clause for this trade).

      Why Calgary does it: dump Wideman. Get a starting goalie.

      Why Penguins do it: get rid of 2 years of MAF contract sitting on the bench, replace him with one year of a serviceable D.

      WW

      • piscera.infada

        I took that Andersen trade as a 6th round pick, not sixth overall. And barring the sixth overall, I don’t think that deal gets done–I see no reason Anaheim trades Andersen to Calgary without hamstringing Calgary pretty significantly (Bob Murray is not dumb man).

        Still, I agree. If you can do a Wideman for MAF in some form or another, it’s the most sensical option. Two years buys you some time, the cost is relatively controlled (you don’t have to sign him for 4, 5, 6 years), he’s solid enough to keep you in the hunt (And maybe more) over the next two years, and he’s experienced enough to mentor some of the younger goalies.

        Absolutely no to the Iginla trade though–get out of here with that. Absolutely yes to the Colborne trade–although I don’t see why Minnesota gives up 15 overall for Colborne and #53.

        • Kevin R

          Was looking at that as well. Hell, I would give Colborne the #53 & #58 for the #15. Agree, that deal to Anaheim looked amazing, where do i sign. Problem is Anaheim would never do it. Leafs could easily match that offer & it sends Andersen East.

          I would do MAF for Wideman straight up, again, I would add the #53 to it & our 3rd rounder. Don’t think Pitt does that either.

  • freethe flames

    As we get closer to the draft I believe there are key issues that the Flames face: in picking 6th we are drafting for 2 years at the earliest to see results; that is probably true for everyone 4-@15 and most of them will be good NHlers and some will be very good Nhlers and few will take even longer. We also need to get better now; we have holes to fill: 2-3 goalies(Gilles and MacD are the only one’s under contact). Upfront we need help in the top 6, some help may come from within but we could use some other options and the only way to do so is via UFA an our cap issues will make it difficult or via trade shaking up the roster.

    • MarbledBlueCheese

      The Flames can’t really get that much better now. They could get luckier again maybe.
      The amount of $$ tied up in Wideman, Smid, Raymond, Engelland and Stajan next year preclude the flames from improving much. Want a first-line RW and another top-6 forward? An established #1 goalie? Forget it. In two years, maybe.

      As such the Flames should be willing to be patient with the #6 pick. Help next year should not be expected from that pick.

      • freethe flames

        So your suggestion is to do nothing but be patient. Somehow I doubt that is the approach BT will take(he did not fire BH to remain status quo nor do I think BB is the most patient of bosses). The changes I see happening will likely be small but I do expect changes and I expect trying to move/package some of the tradeable contracts will happen. I do not see Smid or Raymond being issues as I expect both will be bought out. (Smid of course is dependent on his health).

  • RickT

    I would never do the Andersen trade, unless it is a 6th round. Poirer is still a good prospect, and there will be teams dumping goalies (as well as some free-agents around to sign). Even then, I am sure there are other teams that would give a pick that is higher than 6th for him.

    I would actually do the Iginla deal, but it would never happen. It gets rid of our Wideman issue, solidifies the right side a bit (we still do not have a 1st line right wing). It allows room for one of our prospects to fill a hole, and more playing time for Nakdaddy.

    The Colborne trade I would sign immediately. However, there is really very little incentive for Minnesota. Colborne is really not worth that (and if they are willing to pay such a price, we need to trade with them more often…)