Arizona product Auston Matthews remains the 2016 NHL draft’s top prospect following the release of NHL Central Scouting Service’s midterm rankings.
Matthews, who plays for the ZSC Lions in Switzerland, topped the scouting service’s International skaters list. It’s believed his impressive showing with Team USA at the 2016 world junior championship solidified his No. 1 ranking.
“I think he did solidify himself as the probable No.1 pick, but it's not a big margin between him and the next best two (Jesse Puljujärvi) or three (Patrik Laine),” Central Scouting’s Thomas Roost told BTN shortly after the tourney ended. “Matthews was very strong on the puck, he did win a lot of battles in the corners and along the walls and he could easily hold off opponent d-men who attacked him. In addition, he did put himself often in good shooting positions and his shots were quite dangerous most of the time.”
Beyond Matthews, in no particular order, here is a look at 10 potential first-round picks to watch from Central Scouting’s recent rankings.
Matthew Tkachuk, wing, London Knights (OHL) – Thanks to his impressive rookie season with the Knights, the St. Louis, MO., native, who has 15 goals and 63 points in 33 games, sits on top of Central Scouting’s North American skaters list. Like his father, former NHL great Keith Tkachuk, he plays with heart and has a nose for the net.
Jake Bean, defence, Calgary Hitmen (WHL) – Despite being passed over in the 2013 WHL bantam draft, the Edge School for Athletes alumni is the top-ranked WHL skater at No. 13. He’s established himself as one of the top puck-moving defenders in the major junior league, tallying 16 goals and 41 points in 44 matches.
Patrik Laine, wing, Tappara (Liiga) – The 6-foot-4, 206-pound Laine sits third among International skaters behind Matthews and Jesse Puljujärvi. He’s expect to don a jersey in the three-five range, but he’s a bit of a wildcard because at least one scout feels he has more upside than Matthews.
“In my eyes, his upside is even a bit higher than Matthews’ upside,” says Roost. “Laine has probably the best potential of these three players. He is a monster, and wow, he really can shoot the puck.”
Alex DeBrincat, wing, Erie Otters (OHL) – With a 5-foot-7, 161-pound frame, DeBrincat, who was ranked 20th, has his fair share of naysayers. No one, however, denies that the Detroit, MI., native’s numbers are impressive. He’s scored 34 markers and 60 points in 35 contests after racking up 104 points as an OHL rookie last year.
Tyler Benson, wing, Vancouver Giants (WHL) – As the highly hyped No. 1 pick of the 2013 WHL bantam draft, Benson was supposed to go on to become a top five NHL pick. Injuries, among other reasons, have knocked the Edmonton, Alta., native out of the conversation of potential top 10 picks, though. He’s ranked 21st overall in his category.
Carter Hart, goaltender, Everett Silvertips (WHL) – For good reason, Central Scouting feels Hart is the top North American netminder in the draft class. He’s established himself as the top goalie in the WHL in just his second year in the league, posting a 1.92 average and .927 save percentage in 40 matches.
Jakob Chychrun, defence, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – At No. 3 among North American skaters, Chychrun is regarded as the consensus top blueliner of the draft class. He’s the type of player who has the offensive skill to quarterback a team’s power play while having the overall abilities and hockey sense to be the best player on the ice at both ends of the rink.
Julien Gauthier, wing, Val-D’Or Foreurs (QMJHL) – The imposing 6-foot-4, 225-pound winger is not only the top-ranked Canadian forward at No. 4, but he is also the only draft-eligible prospect who cracked Team Canada’s U20 world junior team. All signs point to him donning an NHL sweater before the 11th name is called in Buffalo.
Tyson Jost, centre, Penticton Vees (BCHL) – At No. 15, the St. Albert, Alta., native is Central Scouting’s top-ranked Junior A player, albeit he’s only two spots ahead of his teammate, Dante Fabbro. He’s tallied 26 markers and 67 points in 34 matches in the BCHL while showcasing his elite skating abilities, soft hands and superb vision.
Kieffer Bellows, wing, USA U-18 (USHL) – The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Bellows, who was ranked 12th, has thick hockey bloodlines, as he’s the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows. He’s asserted himself as one of the top prospects on the prestigious U.S. National Development program, netting 27 goals and 46 points in 35 games.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen