Scouts give early take on 2016 NHL draft’s top 10 prospects

Auston Matthews is regarded as the top 2016 NHL draft prospect. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Auston Matthews is regarded as the top 2016 NHL draft prospect. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The 2016 NHL draft class is an ideal draft for an organization to beef up its offense. From Arizona product Auston Matthews to Sudbury Wolves import Dmitri Sokolov, it is full of high-end forwards who have size to go along their skill.

All in all, BTN’s top 10 list includes six forwards who are at least 6-foot-2. Only two of the prospects, the United States National Team Development Program's Clayton Keller and Chad Krys, are below 6-feet.

Without further ado, here’s a look at an early take on the 2016 draft’s top 10 prospects. Hockey scout Brendan Ross put the ranking together with the help of his Mckeen’s Hockey colleagues.

1. Auston Matthews, centre, ZSC Lions (National League A) – Matthews heads into the 2015-16 season regarded as the draft’s clear-cut top prospect. He dominated the USNTDP last year, scoring 55 goals and 116 points in 60 games.

The 6-foot-2, 194-pound forward made an unprecedented move this offseason by choosing to head to Europe for his draft year. He signed with Switzerland’s ZSC Lions because he felt it was a better development option than the WHL’s Everett Silvertips and numerous NCAA programs. His $400K salary likely played a role in the decision, too.

Scout’s take: “Matthews is a rare hockey breed due to his strong power game and exceptional possession skills, but it’s his dogged worth ethic and suffocating hunger for loose pucks that makes him absolutely exhausting to defend,” says Ross. “He’s got the size, wingspan and strength to fight off checkers and the skill, puck touch and finishing abilities to excel in tight spaces. Not very often do you see a high-end skill player compete with rare unpredictable offensive attacks also play the game with such a blue-collared mentality. He’ll be loved wherever he ends up.”

2. Jakob Chychrun, defence, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – The 6-foot-2, 194-pounder, who notched 16 goals and 33 points in 42 games on the Sting last year, is touted as the top rearguard of the draft. He has the makings of a future No. 1 defenseman who can anchor the play at both ends of the ice.

Chychrun is a Canadian citizen and represents the Great White North in international tournaments, but grew up playing minor hockey in Florida. He played for the Junior Everblades of the Florida Junior Panthers organization when he was in elementary school. He moved to Canada when he was 14 and was later drafted first overall by the Sting in the 2014 OHL priority draft.

Scout’s take: “Off the ice, given Jakob’s father, Jeff Chychrun, had a 10-year NHL career, it’s not surprising that he’s one of the most mature young prospects to come around the game in quite some time. On the ice, Chychrun is a fiery competitor who oozes confidence in possession. As an advanced skater, gifted puck handler and physically blessed defender, Chychrun displays elite abilities to activate into the rush while also maintaining sound defensive awareness. He’s an intelligent attacker, punishing checker and executes difficult plays at high speeds with ease.”

3. Jesse Puljujärvi, wing, Karpat (Liiga) – As it stands, the Finland product is a half-a-step ahead of the rest of the forwards in the draft besides Matthews. He’s well beyond his years on the ice, as he made the jump to the pro ranks in his 16-year-old season last year, netting four goals and 11 points in 21 matches with Karpat.

Ultimately, Puljujärvi is cut from the same cloth as fellow countryman Aleksander Barkov, whom the Florida Panthers chose second overall in 2013. He’s a big (6-foot-2, 181 pounds) sniper who plays an aggressive style.

Scout’s take: “He’s a hungry attacker who blends size, quick in-tight mobility and a seeing-eye shot to be dubbed one of the most feared attackers of his age group. Puljujärvi is a high volume shooter who attacks seams with quick powerful strides that separate him from opposing checkers. Inside the offensive zone, Puljujarvi evades defenders using elusive inside-outside cuts on the fly as he slashes off the half wall striking quickly. The promising Finn utilizes his lengthy reach to shield off pressure extremely well.”

4. Matthew Tkachuk, wing, London Knights (OHL) – It seems the St. Louis, MO., native has the thickest hockey bloodlines in the draft. He’s not only the son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, but he’s also the cousin of ex-NHLer Tom Fitzgerald, Panthers winger Jimmy Hayes and New York Rangers scorer Kevin Hayes.

Tkachuk is poised to play for London this season after thriving on the USNTDP last year. He racked up 38 markers and 96 points in 65 games while spending 119 minutes in the sin bin.

Scout’s take: “Coming off a standout season with USA’s NTDP Under-18 team, Tkachuk will impress scouts with his high-pace attacks and overall physically strong game. With his size (6-foot-1, 187 pounds) and strength advantage, clever playmaker’s touch and skilled reads, Tkachuk has the chance to step right into the OHL and produce as one of the league’s top scorers. He plays a pro-style of game that combines strength, skill and smarts. Tkachuk plays a pro-style game and he should remain a top five candidate throughout his draft season.”

5. Max Jones, wing, London Knights (OHL) – The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Jones has the potential to be one of the best talents to ever hail from Michigan. He has the enticing blend of size, toughness, a pugnacious attitude, soft hands and a lethal shot.

Like Tkachuk, Jones, who scored five goals and 10 points in 24 games on the USNTDP last year, is entering his rookie season with the Knights. He’s poised to suit up against his brother, Flint Firebirds overage Mitch Jones.

Scout’s take: “A “throwback” player in every sense of the word, Max Jones is a highly competitive sharp shooting winger with the physical gifts to dominate as a trigger man. His pro-level shot features blazing quickness, combining rare timing and pin-point accuracy, that snaps twine before goaltenders can even begin to react. He utilizes a wide powerful skating stride to burst out wide before cutting inside to unleash one of his lethal shots from a well-equipped arsenal. Jones displays solid skill in possession with precise passing abilities and an ability to dangle when needed, but he definitely projects as a shoot-first type of player. He’s extremely hungry for loose pucks and uses his size and strength advantages to gather up possession quickly.”

6. Clayton Keller, centre, United States National Team Development Program (USHL) – Unlike most forwards in this draft class, Keller is undersized at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds. His impeccable skill, speed and razor-sharp instincts make up for his lack of size, though. It’s evident in how the Boston University commit tallied 14 markers and 37 points in 32 games on the USNTDP as a freshman.

Scout’s take: “An offensive catalyst with USA’s national program, Keller is a world-class puck handler who blends his puck-on-a-string dangles with elite vision to confidently dissect opposing defences. His passing abilities are in a class of their own and he needs very little time and space to execute creative, highly difficult pass attempts. He mixes in deceptive fakes, stick misdirection and paralyzing agility to keep opposing teams guessing. In a similar mold as a Patrick Kane or Mitch Marner, Keller’s the type of player that teams run their offenses through due to their creativity and confidence under pressure. He’s not a one-trick pony either because his shooting abilities have dynamic elements as well.”

7. Logan Brown, centre, Windsor Spitfires (OHL) – At 6-foot-6, 223 pounds, Brown,  who is the son of former NHLer and Ottawa 67’s coach Jeff Brown, certainly doesn’t lack size. He used his large stature, long stride and elite snap shot to make a seamlessly smooth transition to the OHL this past year, scoring 17 goals and 43 points in 56 matches.

Windsor forward Logan Brown with his father Jeff Brown. (Mike Carroccetto, Yahoo! Canada Sports)
Windsor forward Logan Brown with his father Jeff Brown. (Mike Carroccetto, Yahoo! Canada Sports)

Scout’s take: “Staying true to the traditional ‘big forward’ mold, Brown doesn’t lean on creative dangles, but rather uses intelligent positioning, subtle puck touches and a powerful net drive game to earn his edge over his opponents. Blessed with a rangy wingspan and a long swooping skating stride, Brown covers ice quickly earning him extra value as a two-way player. He’s not necessarily a natural puck handler and his decisions can be rushed at times, but he’s improved substantially in those areas. Brown is at his best below the hashmarks attacking off the half-boards while shielding out opponents with his long legs and advantageous reach. His most lethal offensive weapon remains a pro-level snap shot.”

8. Patrik Laine, wing, Tappara (Liiga) – Laine, who netted eight goals and 11 points in seven games for Finland at the WJC-18, has the lethal combination of an imposing build (6-foot-4, 209 pounds), soft hands and an incredible shot. The odds are in his favour to be the second Finnish product chosen on the 2016 draft floor following the selection of Puljujärvi.

Scout’s take: “The 2016 draft class is trending towards players combining above-average size, power, strength, as well as skill and Patrik Laine meets all of that criteria. The burly winger displays a shoot-first approach yet remains a viable playmaker with slick puckhandling ability. His skating remains a work in progress and while there appears to be plenty of questions regarding his character, work ethic and defensive commitments, Laine’s package of brute strength, hockey sense and feared shooting abilities earn him top 10 consideration.”

9. Chad Krys, defence, United States National Team Development Program (USHL) – Committed to Boston University for the 216-17 season, the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Krys is a slick puck-moving blueliner who has the ability to quarterback a power play. He racked up four markers and 26 points in 35 contests on the USNTDP in his 16-year-old season last year.

Scout’s take: “Gifted in many aspects of the game, it’s Krys’ quick hockey processor and smooth skating ability that stand out. His ability to set the pace of the game is a rare skill set. Krys is capable of speeding up the tempo and slowing it down when needed as a means of cleverly opening up lanes and creating more time/space for his linemates. He operates with such comfort and efficiency in his game - controlling the puck, surveying his options and executing highly difficult passes while making it all look so easy. He’s proven to be an offensive catalyst with his ability to disguise his intentions, curling off pressure then zipping off a back door pass to a wide open teammate for a high quality scoring chance.”

10. Dmitri Sokolov, centre/wing, Sudbury Wolves (OHL) – Sokolov, whom the Wolves chose third overall in the 2015 CHL import draft, is coming over to North America with a thick 6-foot-2, 212-pound frame and an incredible shot. He’s regarded as the top Russian in the draft following netting 13 goals and 16 points for Omskie Yastreby, a Russian junior team, last season.

Scout’s take: “Physically, Sokolov is a stocky forward who flashes creative, highly skilled no-look passes that are generally unexpected given his bullish stature. He’s not a high-end skater as his stride can be sluggish and heavy, particularly in lateral movements.  Because he owns such crafty puck skills and thrives in tight quarters, he hasn’t had trouble creating chances with just average skating ability. Sokolov is armed with a downright wicked shot that’s extremely effective due to its high end velocity and a tricky release point. Sokolov’s quick mitts, unpredictable attacking routes and natural finishing abilities has him starting the year as a top 10 talent. If he can become a more dynamic skater, he stands to move way up the rankings.”

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen