Scouts preview top 10 CHL talents in 2016 NHL draft class

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  • Keith Tkachuk
    American ice hockey player
  • Jakob Chychrun
    Jakob Chychrun
    American ice hockey player
  • Matthew Tkachuk
    Matthew Tkachuk
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Sarnia's Jakob Chychrun is pegged as the top defenceman of the 2016 draft class. (Aaron Bell, OHL Images)
Sarnia's Jakob Chychrun is pegged as the top defenceman of the 2016 draft class. (Aaron Bell, OHL Images)

From Florida to Russia, the 2016 NHL draft’s crop of tier-1 talent in the CHL has no shortage of various birthplaces. It is a testament to how the esteemed major junior league recruits elite talent all across the world.

Unlike most years, the expected No.1 draft choice isn’t playing in the CHL, as Arizona product Auston Matthews chose to play pro in Switzerland. The CHL has a handful of prospects in the running to have their names called with top 10 picks, though.

With the help of some insight from scouts, here is a look at BTN’s take on the top 10 CHL prospects in the 2016 draft class.

1. Jakob Chychrun, defence, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – The Boca Raton, FL., native, who moved to Canada and received dual citizenship when he was 14, is touted as the top blueliner of the draft. In addition, most scouting services feel he’s the favoruite to go up to the draft podium behind Matthews.

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,” says Mckeen’s Hockey scout Brendan Ross. “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.”

2. Matthew Tkachuk, wing, London Knights (OHL) – Similar to his father, former NHL great Keith Tkachuk, the St. Louis, MO., native has a nose for the net and plays a tenacious style. He’s hit the ground running since joining the Knights this year, scoring four goals and 17 points in nine contests.

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,” says Ross. “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.”

3. Max Jones, wing, London Knights (OHL) – The 6-foot-2, 201-pound Jones has the makings of a hard-hitting power-forward. There is, however, uncertainty surrounding how high his production ceiling will be at the NHL level.

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,” says Ross. “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.”

4. Kale Clague, defence, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) – Even though he only suited up in 20 games last year because of various injuries, Clague is in the running to have his name called with a top 10 pick in Buffalo. The 6-foot, 176-pound defender seems poised for a big season on one of the top contenders in the WHL.

Scout’s take: “He is someone we are keeping close tabs on as he looks to be the top offensive rearguard out of the Dub this season,” says Future Considerations scout Dan Stewart. “He possesses a quick mind and slick puck handling; able to beat the forecheck with a quick move before starting the attack with a crisp breakout pass. He can get himself into trouble trying to get too fancy at times but when he keeps it simple enough he is a real weapon in transition. Defensively, he relies on his stick a little too much, causing some bad penalties against, and needs to start to use his body to separate pucks more often. He can be a bit of a high-risk player when he gets too fancy or tries to force passes instead of taking the safe play.”

5. Tyler Benson, wing, Vancouver Giants (WHL) – The Edmonton, Alta., native has been on the 2016

Vancouver's Tyler Benson is still waiting to play his first regular-season game this season because of injuries. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
Vancouver's Tyler Benson is still waiting to play his first regular-season game this season because of injuries. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

draft radar since he broke Alberta’s AAA bantam record in 2012-13 with 146 paoints in 33 games. His status is the first round is harder to determine than some of his peers because  injuries have sidelined him this season.

Scout’s take: “Benson has a high IQ with the puck and displays a well-balanced offensive arsenal,” says Stewart. “He is equally adept on the cycle or on the rush and knows when to attack the net and when to defer to a teammate. What stands out most with Benson is how well he understands the game and what it takes to be successful. Benson is not the fastest, biggest, or most skilled player out there; however, he always has a noticeable impact on the game. The reason for this is his attention to detail and his consistent execution of the little things that can impact a game. Overall, Benson is a very complete pro-style forward. While is ceiling is arguably lower than other draft eligible prospects, we think he has a high likelihood of being an NHL contributor likely as an effective top six forward.”

6. Alexander Nylander, wing, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) – Nylander, the younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs pick William Nylander, has been a highlight machine in the OHL this season since coming over from Sweden. He’s dazzled onlookers with his soft hands and offensive creativity, tallying six goals and 13 points in nine games along the way.

Scout’s take: “Nylander is a long, lanky skater who plays an attacking game with these big loops regrouping with the puck before heading into the slot for another shot,” says Stewart. “He has a fantastic feel for the offensive game recognizing how to create chances for himself. Nylander possesses a quick first step in his acceleration, making his separation speed incredible and something that cannot be matched on the ice. He uses his edges well to accelerate up ice with the puck and has a quick first couple of steps to gain separation. He has received some flak for some bad body language in the past with regards to his teammates and has lots to learn about playing a complete team based game because right now he is that pure offensive wild stallion. Nylander is a treat to watch though, especially when he is given time and space with the puck in the offensive zone.”

7.  Dmitri Sokolov, centre/wing, Sudbury Wolves (OHL) – Sokolov is regarded as the top Russian prospect of the draft class largely because of the combination of his elite playmaking abilities, lethal shot and mature 6-foot-1, 205-pound stature. He joined the OHL’s Wolves this year after they chose him third overall in the 2015 CHL import draft.

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,” says Ross. “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.”

8. Pierre-Luc Dubois, wing, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL) – The 6-foot-3, 201-pound Dubois is up against Val-d’Or Foreurs forward Julien Gauthier, who would have ranked No. 11 on this list, as the top draft prospect out of the QMJHL. He seems poised for a breakout season after potting 45 points in 54 matches last year.

Scout’s take: “Dubois is a rangy forward that seems to be always on the attack,” says Stewart. “He shows flashes of high-end offensive ability and pro potential. He has very strong vision, which he uses to hit streaking teammates on the rush. He skates well, making quick deliberate strides get going with the ability to step it up and go to another gear when he needs to create some space between himself and hungry backcheckers. He possesses solid hockey awareness and no matter where he is on the ice he makes good decisions with the puck and shows good positioning without it. Dubois is noticeable every time he's on the ice as he's always involved in the play. He has no glaring weakness for defenders to key on and he is comfortable whether he's playing a grinding cycle game or in a run and gun offence.”

9. Michael McLeod, centre, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) – The Mississauga, Ont., native has the skill set, size (6-foot-2, 187 pounds) and mentality to blossom into an elite first-line centre. He still has to prove he can translate his potential into production, though, as he only netted 29 points in 63 games last year.

Scout’s take: “McLeod is thoroughbred with a powerful stride and a large frame that makes him incredibly difficult to contain off the rush,” says Stewart. “He also showcases an unstoppable motor that makes him relentless on the forecheck and punishing in the corners. He is a guy that first and foremost looks for opportunities to score, but also has the vision and creativity to play the role of playmaker. He needs to show that offensive skill more consistently though to move up in the rankings. A beast in the faceoff circle, he is responsible defensively, showing he will do his job to chip in down low and cover for missed assignments. McLeod plays a strong, up-tempo, no quit game and reaps the rewards of it. Not a real high end offensive kid, he looks like someone who will play a very effective two-way role at the next level if he reaches his potential.”

10. Jake Bean, defence, Calgary Hitmen (WHL) – Despite going undrafted in the 2013 WHL bantam draft, Bean has blossomed into one of the top blueliners in the 2016 draft class. Following posting 39 points as a rookie last year, he already has five goals and 11 points in seven contests this season.

Scout’s take: “Bean is a kid that has been talked about internally at FC quite a bit recently as someone who has some dynamic offensive ability, specifically his playmaking, and also struggles with overall consistency and a lack of physicality in his defensive play,” says Stewart. “Bean has the vision, fluid skating ability and creative mind to add considerably to a team’s offensive attack. He can quarterback the powerplay, dishing passes with great timing or throwing accurate wrist shots towards the net. Defensively, he is all about position and a quick stick to breakup plays. His hockey IQ is impressive and he moves the puck at a high level, giving him the potential to become a top four NHL two-way defenceman one day.”

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

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