The NHL Draft Scout Series continues today, shifting our focus to the land soon to be ruled by Donald Drumpf.
The Americans not only boast the top prize in this year’s draft – Auston Matthews – but have plenty of other homegrown talent to be proud of.
USHL Central Scouting and TheScout.ca’s Matt Grainda joins us to discuss the Red, White and Blue prospects eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.
CR: How would you summarize this crop of American draft eligible players this year? Is it more of a “blue collar” group likely to produce depth and complimentary players as opposed to the superstars – such as Jack Eichel – of years past?
MG: I think it’s a little tough to determine “exactly” what role draft eligible players are going to fill in their potential NHL organizations this early in the process, but I do think the 2016 American class has some very promising prospects that will make an impact at the NHL level someday. Starting at the top, Auston Matthews is the top American prospect this season and will likely be an NHL superstar down the road. His path to this point has been amazing to follow and really speaks to the development of USA Hockey, the USHL and its progress within the National Hockey League.
It is very unique that several of the top prospects this season are coming from NHL cities established over the last few decades. Just look at the birthplaces of Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk, Jakob Chychrun, Logan Brown and Clayton Keller. These kids are coming from Florida, Missouri, Arizona, North Carolina and I think it is very, very cool that the USA is seeing this kid of growth in unique hockey markets!
CR: Clayton Keller has made a surge in the standings through the second half of the year through strong and consistent offensive showings. How do you rate Keller, and is he a potential dark horse top five candidate in your eyes?
MG: Clayton Keller has been on the radar for some time now, dating back to his days at Shattuck St. Mary’s with the Bantam AAA team and the U18 Tier 1 National Championship winning Prep team. He’s the leading scorer on the USA NTDP team each of the past two seasons, which is quite an accomplishment going up against the best USHL and NCAA teams. Last season, he led the U17 NTDP team in goals, assists and points. This season, he led the USA U18 team in assists and points, breaking the single-season NTDP assist record along with the career NTDP point record.
His production this season has absolutely exposed his play to the general hockey audience, and I think he will be an impact NHL player down the line. Elite vision, great on-ice space creation, excellent skating, and strong puck control are hallmarks of Clayton Keller’s game. He should be able to overcome his smaller stature at the NHL level through his outstanding hockey intelligence, making teams very jealous who may pass him up in the NHL Draft.
MG: Boston University sure does have a strong blue-liner on their hands! Charlie McAvoy stepped right into the NCAA ranks this season after two strong years at the USA NTDP and certainly made an impact right away. McAvoy is a defenseman with high upside on both the offensive and defensive sides. He’s more of an offensive guy vs. a defensive guy, but does have good traits in both areas. He analyzes the game very well, is patient under pressure and strong on the puck, has slick puck skills for a back-end player and does a good job managing the game. Skating is absolutely one of his strong points along with excellent puck movement and the ability to join the rush at any moment. This kid was highly sought after at the NHL Combine with lots of interviews, so don’t be surprised if he goes a little earlier than expected.
CR: Another NCAA freshman who fared well is big right winger Tage Thompson. The Flames have a noted need on the right side and are obsessed with size, so Thompson would appear to be a perfect fit. What are your thoughts on Thompson? Was his 32 point freshman season as impressive as the box scores indicate?
MG: Monster NCAA season this year from Tage Thompson at the University of Connecticut, one that I personally did not expect right off the bat for this freshman. Tage was more of a role player last season on a loaded USA NTDP U18 team, but he used his size and power to successfully help the team score and generate offense on the lower lines. This season at UCONN, Thompson really started using his offensive tools to impact the game. Strong puck protection, nifty hands along with a quick release shot, powerful skating stride and very good defensive traits make him an effective player at the NCAA level. I think his smarts, his toughness, his awesome physical package and strong defensive characteristics make him very appealing to NHL teams. He should be a first round NHL pick this season.
CR: The Flames hold three second round picks this year and a third. What are some names to look out for in that range that could prove to be value selections?
MG: The real question that seems to be asked just about every draft year is how much does the NHL brass truly value size? Three smaller sized players that might find themselves available in the second round are Alexander DeBrincat from the Erie Otters, Cam Dineen from the North Bay Battalion and Adam Fox from the USA NTDP U18 team.
DeBrincat has first round offensive tools, can flat-out score in every situation, has a very tenacious attitude and is really only missing the prototypical size NHL scouts look for. Dineen is a very versatile defenseman who had a breakout season this year after making the move to the OHL. His hockey vision is through the roof, along with his puck control, breakout capabilities, crisp passing and offensive awareness. Adam Fox also had a big season playing against the top USHL and NCAA competition in the USA. He’s got great offensive instincts, a slick skating stride with great mobility, and a knack for creating scoring chances from nothing on the blue-line.
Other USA names to watch this year: Timothy Gettinger from the OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Trent Frederic, Ryan Lindgren and Chad Krys from USA NTDP U18 and Andrew Peeke (Green Bay Gamblers) from the USHL.
CR: It seems USA Hockey has been a goalie factory of late, spitting out blue-chippers like John Gibson, Jon Gillies, Connor Hellebuyck and Alex Nedelijkovic in recent years. Are there any American puck stoppers to keep an eye out for this draft?
MG: The top three American goaltenders this season eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft are Tyler Parsons from the OHL London Knights, Joseph Woll from the USA NTDP U18 team, and Evan Sarthou from the WHL Tri-City Americans.
Parsons played with Detroit Little Caesars before joining the London Knights. He’s really developed well and also added some size up there in London. He’s very quick, has good reflexes and nice athletic movements around the crease.
Woll was a product of the St. Louis Jr Blues program before joining the USA NTDP team for two seasons. Woll is currently committed to Boston College and is also a draft pick of the OHL Oshawa Generals. He’s a very poised goaltender with great size, a calm demeanor, nice post movements and solid fundamentals.
Sarthou is from Black Diamond, WA, but grew up playing his hockey with the Los Angeles Selects & Jr Kings. He’s spent the last three seasons with the Tri-City Americans after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2014 WHL Draft. Sarthou has a great maturity to his game that has allowed him to have a fair amount of international success with Team USA.
CR: Who has been your biggest surprise this season?
MG: Personally I wasn’t very surprised, but I know some people out there who were amazed at how well Kieffer Bellows performed with the USA NTDP U18 team this season. He had instant chemistry with Clayton Keller who just happens to be a fellow Boston University commit. Those two are going to be scary to watch for a long time as long as they both hold true to their commitments.
Kieffer had a very successful rookie campaign with the USHL Sioux Falls Stampede before making the move over to Team USA for this season. He put up 50 goals playing alongside Keller against a split USHL/NCAA schedule. He’s an elite goal scorer with a rocket shot from anywhere, who can grind in the corners, lay a tough body check, play with intensity and power his way through opponents.
CR: Who has been your biggest disappointment?
MG: We’re talking about some of the best hockey prospects on the planet so I wouldn’t call this player a disappointment, but I think scouts out there expected to see Chad Krys from the USA NTDP U18 team up towards the top 10 of the first round if you asked them early enough in the season for projections.
Krys is one of the best skaters in the entire draft, can really drive the play with his hockey IQ, and knows when and where to make a hard, crisp pass or a smart offensive play. What is starting to hold him back is some of his defensive tendencies along with how his size and strength will develop on into the NHL level. He’s not necessarily undersized, but his defensive toughness could probably improve. Krys is more of an offensive player to begin with, so a smart team will probably allow his best aspects to shine while continuing to work on his weaknesses to perhaps make him one of the steals of the 2016 NHL Draft.
CR: If you had to choose a most overrated and most underrated prospect for this year’s draft from the American draft class, who would they be?
MG: Two players I think are slightly overrated due to some struggles they both had in the USHL this season are Mitchell Mattson from Grand Rapids HS and the USHL Bloomington Thunder along with Riley Tufte from Blaine HS and the USHL Fargo Force. Both players were projected to play the season with their USHL teams, but both ended up playing a significant portion of the season back in their home state of Minnesota. They were highly successful when moving back to the high school ranks, but there might be more development that is needed based on their current NHL draft projections. Mattson is scheduled to attend North Dakota down the line and Tufte is heading to Minnesota-Duluth.
Two skaters I believe are slightly underrated going into the draft are Joey Anderson from the USA NTDP U18 team and maybe even Dylan Gambrell from the University of Denver. Anderson is another Minnesota HS product who played with Hill-Murray HS before making the move to the USA NTDP team for two seasons. My favorite trait for Joey Anderson is his ability to produce with just about anyone. It takes a unique skill set to play with the best, and Joey seems to bring the best out of everyone he skates with. Anderson is currently committed to Minnesota-Duluth along with Riley Tufte. Dylan Gambrell is coming off a very, very successful freshman season with Denver. He spent three seasons with the USHL Dubuque Fighting Saints, won a Clark Cup and continues to put up some impressive numbers at every level he plays at.
This is where I usually ask who our scout’s favourite player is, but I confused myself as to which league these questions were pertaining to… So I asked our USA scout about the WHL because… Well I don’t really know why. But I did.
CR: Lastly, who’s your favorite WHL draft eligible and
MG: Probably have to go with Jake Bean from the WHL
Calgary Hitmen. Having watched him from afar, I think he has really developed
his game well especially after being passed over in the WHL Draft. It’s very
difficult to project how 14-year-olds will develop into 18-year-olds and then
on into 24-year-olds from that young of an age, but Jake Bean is out to prove
everyone wrong. Bean is a highly intelligent offensive defenseman who plays a
very poised game, can shoot very well from up-top, enjoys joining the rush and
has good playmaking skills to complement an attack. His skating and overall
mobility are very strong and allow him to make plays defensively, but he does
need to work on advanced level positioning and minor defensive details to
become a high-end NHL defenseman down the road.
At least it was about a Calgary Hitmen, right?
I’d like to thank Matt again for the tremendous insight on the American crop of draft eligibles, and his impressive knowledge of the WHL, too. You can follow his excellent Twitter feed here.