DRAFT, AHOY – A Look Into the Upcoming 2016 NHL Draft, Part 2
by Amy P.
Part 2: Let’s Talk About the Players
Sitting at number one on Bleacher Report columnist Tim Daniels’ mock draft (and on the mental list of nearly every hockey fan) is Auston Matthews. Remember that name. He is a centerman from Scottsdale, Arizona, plays currently in the Swiss National League, was born on the 17th of September, and, because of a birthdate just shy of the cut-off last year, missed the 2015 draft by a mere two days.
Don Granato, a USA U-18 Development Team coach, has high praise for Matthews. “He brings everything you want from the coaching side of things because he’s so internally motivated to work. There’s so much detail in his game in terms of effort, focus and commitment.” Dan Marr, director of NHL Scouting, believes that “[Matthews] only knows one speed and that’s full speed.” Finally, take the words of Jack Eichel, current centerman for the Buffalo Sabres, who was picked second overall in 2015: “He’s…unbelievable… He’s strong on the puck, so skilled… He’s a very special player.”
Matthews has the numbers to demonstrate that, too: 46 points (22 assists and 24 goals) in 36 games, an average of 1.27 points per game. The Swiss League’s leader in points, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who announced his retirement in March 2016, averaged 1.37 points per game. The difference? Bouchard is 31 years old. Does that make 18-year-old Matthews pretty good, even outstanding? I would say so. Granato tells NHL writer Mike Morreale that, for Matthews, “the future is limitless.”
Sitting at number two on Daniels’ mock draft is Patrik Laine, a left winger who is dominating Finland’s top pro league with recent stats of 5 goals and an assist in 5 games. Take into account the fact that at World Juniors he had 13 points in 7 games, and it becomes clear why writer Aly Dhanani believes Laine could perhaps challenge Matthews for number one. The towering 6-foot-4 forward had 0.71 points per game (PPG) in his NHL draft season, comparable and even superior to legendary Teemu the “Finnish Flash” Selänne’s PPG of 0.40. Laine has undeniably made an impression on scouts and fans this season.
The projected third to sixth picks are incredibly talented and, in the eyes of some, can be interchangeable with one another in the draft order depending on what each prospective team is looking for.
Right-winger Jesse Puljujärvi, at nearly 6-foot-3, has size, strength, and speed that mirrors the arsenal of a top prospect, was the youngest player to represent Finland at the 2015 World Juniors, and possesses an appetite for scoring. Via an interpreter, he said: “scoring is the best thing in hockey. Of course, there are also a lot other things I try to do on the ice. But I always try to score.” His coaches reportedly “prefer [he] concentrate on his game and not get caught up in all the hype”, writes Morreale, as Puljujärvi has been compared to former star Selänne.
Matthew Tkachuk, son of former St. Louis Blues left winger Keith Tkachuk, has a mind-blowing 107 points in 57 games. This left-winger is currently with the fruitful London Knights of the OHL. SportsNet author Damien Cox admires Tkachuk’s “net front presence and playmaking ability.”
Next is Alexander Nylander, who definitely has more to be remembered for than simply being the brother of William Nylander, the explosive recent addition to the Toronto Maple Leafs roster. Younger brother Alex, who has played both right and left wing in the past, had three multi-point games in mid-February, and leads the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads in scoring, with 75 points in 57 games.
Jakob Chychrun is the most coveted defenseman this year. He stood at 6-foot-2 already when the Sarnia Sting of the OHL drafted him first overall in 2014, and, as stated by writer Ryan Kennedy, “brings size, speed, toughness, and a cracking shot to the ice.” Chychrun was seen last fall as a possible challenger to Matthews for first overall pick, but hasn’t been as dominant this season, seeing as he was coming off shoulder surgery.
The highest-ranked Vancouver Giants prospect is Tyler Benson. The well-known local boy was a central topic of conversation earlier on in the season; however, due to a lower-body injury that caused him to play only 30 games this season and miss the Top Prospects Game in January, he dropped to first round, 28th pick on SportsNet’s February predictions. With that being said, his talent hasn’t wavered. He’s been compared to Islanders captain John Tavares in terms of skating and ice IQ, with a two-way, versatile game. The question is whether Benson will be drafted in the late first round or early second round; either way, he’ll be a strong addition to any team.
There’s no denying that there’s a multitude of talent in the 2016 draft class — albeit a lesser magnitude of hype this time around than last year, when the first overall pick, McDavid (I like to call him McJesus), had been talked about since a very young age. However, no matter the order and what ensues subsequently, the grand sentiment of every draft will be in the air this year: hope.
Hope will course through the veins of fans who cross their fingers for a generational talent to turn around a franchise, and it will do so even for those who watch the draft only because there’s nothing else on TV. There’s something utterly thrilling and humbling about witnessing people’s dreams come true, and I, for one, am more than excited for this coming June. See you at the draft!