Scouts preview 2016 NHL draft’s top 10 prospects

Kelly Friesen
The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to draft Auston Matthews first overall in Buffalo. (Reuters)
The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to draft Auston Matthews first overall in Buffalo. (Reuters)

 

Led by Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, the 2016 NHL draft class is full of elite talents from across the globe. The combination of the draft’s high-end skill and depth make it one of the top draft classes in the past decade.

One major theme in this year’s draft is the high number of prolific big-bodied forwards. Look no further than how the top five picks in the draft may all end up being forwards who stand 6-foot-1 or taller. It’s clearly a good year for NHL teams to bulk up their offenses.

Without further ado, here’s a look at the top 10 prospects of the draft. Yahoo! Sports teamed up with Future Considerations to put together BTN’s official draft list.

1. Auston Matthews, centre, ZS Lions (NLA) – The Scottsdale, AZ., native is set to become the NHL’s next big superstar. He’s a prolific goal scorer who possesses an imposing 6-foot-2, 216-pound stature, soft hands and quick feet. Moreover, he’s already proven himself in a prestigious professional league, as he scored 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games in Switzerland’s top league.

Scout's take: “Matthews is an excellent playmaker who possess great hands, puckhandling skills and can distribute the puck using his outstanding vision and hard, accurate pass to create scoring chances,” says Dennis Schellenberg. “His Hockey IQ is off the charts and he understands the game very well, is always where the puck is going to be and is very effective around the net. Matthews developed his two-game a lot this season, backchecks well and starts to get a better feeling for position himself in shooting lanes. Equipped with leadership skills and outstanding tools, Matthews is a player to build a team around.”

2.  Patrik Laine, wing, Tappara (Ligga) – Some scouts feel Laine compares well to Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin. He’s a big-bodied forward (6 foot 4, 201 pounds) who possesses an uncanny shot, a long stride and a hunger for the puck. It seems it’s only a matter of time before he develops into one of the NHL’s top wingers.

Scout's take: “Laine is a physical player that likes to challenge his opponents. He has soft hands and fluid movements,” says Jonathan Luomala. “He has an intimidating shot and great playmaking abilities and is rather quick on his skates for his size.”

3. Jesse Puljujarvi, wing, Karpat (Liiga) – All signs point to the Columbus Blue Jackets selecting the Finnish native third overall in the draft. The 6-foot-3, 201-pounder possesses an elite blend of size (6 foot 3, 201 pounds), skating and skill. He seems poised to make an impact in the NHL next year after spending his past two seasons in the top Finnish men’s league.

Scout's take: “Puljujarvi is a playmaker with great vision. He has a good shot, but his strength is in his passing,” says Luomala. “He has great hands that he's not afraid to use, and he's very creative with the puck. He has a good size and good skating that he takes advantage of against the opponents.”

4. Matthew Tkachuk, wing, London Knights (OHL) – Like his father, former NHL great Keith Tkachuk, the 6-foot-1, 194-pound Knight is an elite two-way forward who has a notable edge to his game. He has a good shot of cracking an NHL team next year and the makings of a future NHL captain.

Scout's take: “Tkachuk is a strong power forward with a blistering shot and a determination that makes you take notice,” says Daniel Deschenes. “He will claw his way through every battle and work until he comes out with the puck. Tkachuk has a chip on his shoulder as he drives to the net with and without the puck looking to create something. He plays the game with intensity, knows where he needs to be, and anticipates both defensive and offensive situations at an extremely high level.”

5. Pierre-Luc Dubois, wing, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL) – The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Dubois is regarded as a phenomenal two-way power-forward. He was just one-point shy of hitting triple digits in the QMJHL this season, as he netted 42 goals and 99 points in 62 games while spending 112 minutes in the sin bin.

Scout's take: “Dubois is undoubtedly the QMJHL’s top prospect in 2016,” says Scott Wheeler. “After narrowly missing the cut to make Team Canada at the World Juniors, Dubois returned to Cape Breton to dominate the QMJHL as one of the league’s top scorers. His ability to play both his natural left wing and recently center, as well as his knack for scoring while playing a power game is a scout’s dream. If he can continue to improve his skating, he’s got a chance to be one of the 2016 class’ special talents and someone NHL fans will enjoy watching for years to come.”

6. Alexander Nylander, centre, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) – Nylander has thick hockey bloodlines, as he’s the bother of Toronto Maple Leafs prized pick William Nylander and son of former NHLer Michael Nylander. He’s an extremely skilled forward who managed to post 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games as a rookie for the Steelheads.

Alexander Nylander is a potential top 10 pick of the 2016 draft. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Alexander Nylander is a potential top 10 pick of the 2016 draft. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Scout's take: “Few players in the 2016 class are as gifted with the puck as Nylander,” says Wheeler.  “His ability to stickhandle and weave in traffic is matched with arguably the most accurate shot in the class. His ability to pick his spots and cleanly beat a goalie should translate well at the NHL level and his fluid skating will help him become a top-six winger who can score and create plays as an adept passer. Alex has the ability to be a high-end offensive threat at the next level.”

7. Olli Juolevi, defence, London Knights (OHL) – The Finnish defender has been compared to fellow countrymen and Pittsburgh Penguins youngster Olli Maata. He has a lanky frame (6 foot 2, 183 pounds), a smooth stride and top-notch offensive skills.

Scout's take: “He’s a steady defenceman that plays well in both ends of the rink, adding more of an offensive element to his game as the season progressed while getting more comfortable with his increased role on London's blueline,” says Deschenes. “He has the ability to drive the play forward with quick feet and instincts or with a strong first pass on the tape to his forwards. He contributes in all situations and has a very good understanding of when he can take a little risk and when it is best to hang back and opt for the safer option.”

8. Jakob Chychrun, defence, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – Chychrun’s ranking has dropped a bit over the season in the eyes of some scouts, but he still remains one of the top contenders as the best defenceman in the draft class. He possesses a strong all-around game and has the potential to develop into a top-pairing blueliner.

Scout's take: “Just as many looked for faults in Noah Hanifin’s game last year, scouts have begun to sour on Chychrun as they search for flaws in his game,” says Wheeler. “But the truth is that Chychrun remains an exceptional athlete and shot-generating machine who will translate smoothly to the NHL level, just as Hanifin did. His ability as a skater and talent as a shooter and physical presence more than offset some kinks in his man-on-man defending. I still believe Chychrun is the top defensemen in the class and that his faults are teachable, whereas his talent level and athletic ability are not.”

9. Tyson Jost, centre, Penticton Vees (BCHL) – The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Jost is set to join the University of North Dakota next season after dominating the BCHL this year. He lit the lamp 42 times and added 62 assists in 48 games as a sophomore with the Vees.

Scout's take: "Jost is that involved center who works his tail off and contributes at both ends of the rink,” says Dan Stewart. “He is well rounded in that he can push hard on the forecheck before playing the role of playmaker or go to the net and finish off a play, and then drive back into his own zone and provide support for his defense. He has solid hockey sense and knows where to be on the ice. He is more than willing to engage in battles for position and loose pucks all over the rink giving a strong effort each shift. Jost has that quiet leadership that guys tend to naturally follow."

10. Mikhail Sergachev, defence, Windsor Spitfires (OHL) – The Russian blueliner has an enticing combination of an imposing 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame, a poised demeanor and elite offensive abilities. He racked up 17 markers and 57 points in 67 games as a rookie in Windsor.

Scout's take: “Sergachev may not have the most offensive upside out of his peer group at the top of the class, but he has the most poise and patience around,” says Deschenes. “After taking a bit of time to get acclimated to the North American game, Sergachev took off and contributed at both ends of the ice, showing off his physical presence in the defensive zone, quick instincts in all three zones, and a blistering shot from the point. He constantly elevated his game with each viewing this year and was a reliable option for the Spitfires as he slowed the game down, rushed or patiently passed the puck up ice, and played with infectious confidence throughout.”  

Honourable mention: Kieffer Bellows, wing, USA U18 (USHL ) – The Edina, MN., native, who is the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows, was a standout on the prestigious U.S. National U18 Development team, scoring 50 times and added 31 helpers in 62 contests. He’s committed to Boston University for the 2016-17 season.

Scout's take: "He’s a hybrid of a third line grinder and top line goal scorer, in that he goes to the greasy areas and works his tail off before gaining possession, moving into position and utilizing his blistering shot,” says Stewart.  He’s not a high-end puck handler, instead bulling his way around the ice. He has the instincts to know when to drive the net or hang back around the circles and open up for a wicked one-timer shot. Bellows is mature and dependable bringing a consistent effort to each game. He likes to play physical, displaying a mean streak and willingness to throw the body."

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