NHL Top-30 prospects – Winter edition

Puljujärvi-Laine


The 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation’s Under-20 World Junior Championship in Finland has come to an end, and the Finns have won the gold medal on home ice over the Russia.

Throughout the tournament, we had a chance to get a look at a number of prospects that are eligible for the 2016 National Hockey League’s Entry-Level Draft in Buffalo, New York from June 24 through June 25. In all, 25 players in the tournament are eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, and 13 of those 25 players could be projected to go in the first round of the Draft.

The other 17 players that did not participate in the World Juniors are all having relatively good seasons with their junior clubs, or current teams.

Who is gaining notoriety for their play and rising their stock for the NHL Draft? Here is the winter edition of the top-30 prospects eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft!

** – played in the IIHF World Junior Championship

† – invited to play in CHL Top Prospects Game

 

1.) Auston Matthews – Center – ZCS Lions (NLA)

ZSC_Lions_logoPrevious Rank: #1

Height: 6′ 2″

Weight: 194 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: United States**

Birthday: 9/17/1997

Auston Matthews remains at the top of the prospect rankings from the Fall edition of the rankings a couple of months back.

Matthews was part of Team USA for the IIHF World Junior Championships for the second consecutive season. Matthews finished the tournament with seven goals, which was tied for the tournament lead with Finland’s Patrik Laine. Matthews also finished the tournament with eleven points, which was tied for the team-high with linemate, Matthew Tkachuk.

Matthews was an offensive force for the United States, and was one of the best players in this year’s tournament. Playing professional hockey in Switzerland has really helped Matthews grow his game, and the way he controlled the puck and protected the puck put him a league above most players competing in the tournament.

In the preliminary round of the tournament, Matthews was selected as the player of the game in a 10-1 demolition of Switzerland. Matthews finished the contest with two goals and two assists in the win, and outplayed many of his teammates with the Lions in the National A-League.

In the quarterfinal round against the Czech Republic, Matthews scored a hat-trick, and added an assist in a 7-0 routing of the Czechs.

Even though Matthews and the Americans were unable to come away with a gold or silver medal, they were able to claim the bronze against Sweden. Matthews also went back to Switzerland as one of the media all-stars of the tournament along with Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi.

Up next for Matthews is to return to Zurich and finish out his season strong there. The Lions are currently on top of the NLA standings, looking to win its ninth championship, and its third championship in five seasons in the NLA. So far, in 28 games this season, Matthews has 21 goals and 15 assists in his rookie campaign. Matthews has dealt with some back issues, however he showed at the World Juniors that he is healthy and ready to go for the rest of the season.

Matthews is number one for now, however he may have some company right behind him to contend for the number one spot in the 2016 NHL Draft rankings.

2.) Jesse Puljujärvi – Right Wing – Kärpät (Liiga)

Oulun-Kärpät-LogoPrevious Rank: #2

Height: 6′ 3″

Weight: 201 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Finland**

Birthday: 5/7/1998

Before the 2015-16 season began, many people had Matthews pegged as the consensus number one prospect in the 2016 NHL Draft. However, those thoughts may have changed after the World Junior tournament that Jesse Puljujärvi put up for Finland.

In the seven games he played in the tournament, Puljujärvi scored five goals, and added 12 assists to help lead Finland to gold. His 17 points in the tournament is more than he has put up this season with Kärpät in the Finnish Liiga. But do not let that take away from his overall performance this season as a 17-year old playing in a professional hockey league.

Puljujärvi is a guy who likes top have the puck on his stick, but compared to last World Junior tournament, he has become more of an all-around forward than a guy who just wants to shoot the puck all the time. Regardless, Puljujärvi has played exceptionally well all year long. Puljujärvi skates well with the puck, he is crafty when the puck is on his stick, and sees the ice very well. With his style of play, Puljujärvi has the ability to take over the pace of a game.

Not only did Puljujärvi finish as the top scorer in the World Juniors, but he also finished as a media all-star, the top forward of the tournament, and the tournament’s most valuable player.

If Puljujärvi can continue to play the way he did for Finland and continue to play at a high level with Kärpät, he could be in contention to be drafted over Matthews at number one. Puljujärvi so far has seven goals and 10 assists in 36 games, and will look to finish the season on a high note.

The attention for this draft has certainly shifted overseas with the play of both Matthews and Puljujärvi, but this next guy has also joined the race in the draft rankings.

3.) Patrik Laine – Right Wing – Tappara (Liiga)

Logo_of_Tappara.svgPrevious Rank: #5

Height: 6′ 4″

Weight: 207 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Finland**

Birthday: 4/19/1998

After sitting out some time with some upper-body issues, he returned for the World Junior Championships with a vengeance.

On a line with Puljujärvi and Carolina Hurricanes’ 2015 second round pick Sebastian Aho, Laine would lead the Finns in goal scoring, and was also tied with Matthews for the goal scoring lead in the tournament. Laine would also add six assists to his stat-line, but was perhaps one of the biggest factors in Finland winning the tournament.

In the quarterfinals, Laine scored the go-ahead goal with less than six-minutes to go in the third period against Canada, and scored the first Finnish goal in the gold medal game that led to Finland’s comeback against Russia. Juolevi finished the tournament as one of the three all-star forwards as voted on by the media.

Laine has shown that he has a pro-level shot, and he is a high-energy player with a lot of passion. In his 29 games with Tappara Tampere in the Finnish Liiga, Laine has eleven goals and 10 assists, but was injured just weeks before the World Juniors.

Laine is a very underrated skater with deceptive speed, and his big size helps him be tough on the puck. Laine also sees the ice very well, and is able to find open space to set himself up for a scoring opportunity. With his size and speed, Laine is also very dangerous when he gets to the net with the puck. Laine also finished the tournament tied for fourth in shots on goal with 27.

Laine may not go at number one overall, however with his high-tempo style of play and his scoring abilities, he will be a hot commodity come June 24 at the NHL Draft.

4.) Matthew Tkachuk – Left Wing – London Knights (OHL)†

Knights logoPrevious Rank: #4

Height: 6′ 1″

Weight: 194 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: United States**

Birthday: 12/11/1997

Matthew Tkachuk was a physical force for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Playing on a line with Matthews, Tkachuk provided some offense while frustrating many teams with his grittiness and his physical presence.

Matthews finished the 2016 World Juniors with four goals, was tied with Sonny Milano for most assists in the tournament with seven, and was tied with Matthews for the team lead in points with eleven. Tkachuk’s job for most of the tournament was to wreak havoc in front of the net and play a physical game while providing an offensive touch.

Tkachuk has had an all-around great season in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights. Tkachuk is averaging over two points a game with 15 goals and 54 assists in 36 games with the Knights. Tkachuk has been a key player on the left side of the ice on a line with Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect, Mitch Marner and fellow United States teammate, Christian Dvorak.

While in London, Tkachuk has really improved on his overall game under head coach, Dale Hunter. He is utilizing his body more, has improved his skating, and has become a better offensive play-maker. He plays a similar game to his father, Keith, but Matthew could be a better offensive player than his dad was in the pros.

Tkachuk was also selected to be the team captain of Team Orr for the upcoming CHL Top Prospects Game that will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia on January 28.

If Tkachuk can come back to London and continue to play the way he has all season, and in the World Junior Championships, Tkachuk could climb the ranks and be a top-three pick in the NHL Draft.

5.) Jakob Chychrun – Defense – Sarnia Sting (OHL)†

Sting logoPrevious Rank: #2

Height: 6′ 2″

Weight: 194 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 3/31/1998

Jakob Chychrun is a guy that has played relatively well for the Sarnia Sting in the OHL, but just failed to crack the lineup for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. However, the 17-year old defenseman is still projected to be the top defenseman in the NHL Draft.

Like Aaron Ekblad was in 2014, Chychrun has the credentials to be a top-defenseman on an NHL team that can be relied to play in all situations.

This season in Sarnia, Chychrun has seven goals and 21 assists in 41 games with the Sting, and has stayed healthy through the course of the season. Last year, he injured his shoulder and was unable to play that later portion of the season. His shoulder has been just fine this season, and is hoping for a good second half to the season, and a deep playoff run with the Sting.

Chychrun has a good shot, is a very good skater, and his reliability on the ice is what makes him so highly sought after. The problem is that the top players of this draft are all highly skilled forwards. Regardless, if Chychrun continues to stay healthy and he has a great second half, he will go very high in the NHL Draft.

Chychrun

6.) Alexander Nylander – Left Wing – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)†

Steelheads logoPrevious Rank: #6

Height: 6′ 0″

Weight: 172 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Sweden**

Birthday: 3/2/1998

Perhaps the smartest player available in the 2016 NHL Draft, Alex Nylander had himself a great tournament for a Sweden team that gave up in the bronze medal game against Team USA.

Regardless of the Swedes’ performance in the last game, Nylander finished the tournament as Sweden’s leading scorer with four goals and five assists in seven games. Nylander was playing alongside his brother, William and Leafs’ prospect Dmytro Timashov until William was knocked out of the tournament with an upper-body injury suffered in the first game against Switzerland. Even without his brother, Alex still was one of the best players for Sweden throughout the tournament.

Nylander is very good at anticipating and reading plays on the ice, his patience with the puck is incredible, and he is a finisher when he has the puck and gets space. In 39 games this season with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, Nylander has 24 goals and 31 assists and leads the OHL in scoring among rookies.

Nylander will look to finish strong in the second half of the OHL season, and will look to help lead the Steelheads to a deep run in the OHL Playoffs. Nylander may not be the leader on the ice, but he will be one of the more heavily relied on guys to make the big plays in the biggest situations.

7.) Olli Juolevi – Defense – London Knights (OHL)†

Knights logoPrevious Rank: #10

Height: 6′ 2″

Weight: 183 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Finland**

Birthday: 5/5/1998

Three Finns to go in the top-10 of the NHL Draft? It could very well happen.

Olli Juolevi has had a very impressive season in his first season with the London Knights in the OHL, and had a superb World Junior Championship on the blue line for Finland.

First, with Finland, Juolevi was their quarterback throughout the tournament, and was heavily relied on to play all situations for the Finns. Juolevi finished the tournament with nine helpers as the team’s top left-handed defenseman. Juolevi was also voted as one of the two media all-stars for the tournament along with Team USA’s Zach Werenski.

With London, Juolevi has five goals and 22 assists in 34 games with the Knights, and has been the second coming of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, Olli Maatta. Maatta has a similar role with the Knights as he did with the Finns at the World Juniors. Juolevi is a quarterback on the point, especially on the powerplay, he skates very well for a defenseman, has good puck control, and is reliable in both ends of the ice.

Juolevi could contend for the top defenseman in the 2016 NHL Draft, and if he continues to play well under Dale Hunter in London, there is a very good chance he could go ahead of Chychrun this year.

8.) Michael McLeod – Center – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)†

Steelheads logoPrevious Rank: #7

Height: 6′ 2″

Weight: 187 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 2/3/1998

Michael McLeod is another kid who will be a huge factor for a possible deep playoff run for the Steelheads in the OHL Playoffs.

Playing on a line with Alex Nylander, McLeod is a guy that will be able to help clear some space for Nylander. The big power forward will gain quite a bit of attention from now until the NHL Draft with his size, his skating, and his offensive skill. McLeod is also a kid that always keeps his feet moving, and his highly competitive in his game.

So far this season in Mississauga, McLeod has 50 points (18 goals and 32 assists) in 44 games and looks to be improving his game ever game.

McLeod will be a top-10 selection in the NHL Draft, but he has a tough list of players to go ahead of in the rankings. McLeod may not be a guy who will be NHL ready next year, but a couple of years from now he will be pretty darn close.

McLeod

9.) Kieffer Bellows – Left Wing – United States National Team’s Developmental Program (USHL)

USAH NTDP LogoPrevious Rank: #9

Height: 6′ 1″

Weight: 194 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: United States

Birthday: 6/10/1998

After an impressive start to his season with the U.S. Development Program, Bellows got snubbed at the Team USA’s training camp for the World Junior Championships.

Even with the snub, Bellows has been one of the best goal-scoring prospects eligible for the NHL Draft. In 37 games with the Under-18 team in the U.S. Development Program, Bellows has 28 goals and 47 points. With the U.S. team playing in the United States Hockey League, Bellows has 10 goals and eleven assists in 15 games.

While Bellows may be more noticeable for his goal scoring, he is a bull on the ice and plays a mean physical game. Bellows is not afraid to throw his body around, and is very physical with the puck on his stick.

Bellows will continue to garner attention, and could go in the later-half of the top-10 of the NHL Draft. Bellows will have to continue to put up the production, or his stock may slip into the middle part of the NHL Draft.

Bellows

10.) Julien Gauthier – Right Wing – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)†

Val-d'Or_Foreurs_logo_1993-2007.svgPrevious Rank: #19

Height: 6′ 4″

Weight: 224 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Canada**

Birthday: 10/15/1997

Julien Gauthier was a bit of a surprise player to crack the roster for Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championships. Gauthier did impress the Hockey Canada brass at training camp, and played in a typical fourth line role with Canada in the tournament. Gauthier also got some time on the powerplay in front of the net as a screen.

After a disappointing tournament for the Canadians, Gauthier will now return to the Val-d’Or Foreurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and continue to provide the goal scoring he has displayed earlier this season. So far in 35 games this season, Gauthier has scored 33 goals while adding 10 assists.

There is a ton to like about Gauthier’s game and the style of hockey he plays. Gauthier is big, physical, and has a knack for finding the back of the net. He utilizes his body to protect the puck, and skates hard to the net to create havoc in the crease.

Gauthier’s performance this season has vaulted him in the ranks, and if he can continue to play at the pace he has been, he could wind up being a top-10 pick in June’s Draft.

11.) Pierre-Luc Dubois – Left Wing – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)†

Cape_Breton_Screaming_Eagles.svgPrevious Rank: #13

Height: 6′ 3″

Weight: 201 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 6/24/1998

There were some people who, at the beginning of training camp for the IIHF World Junior Championships, had Pierre-Luc Dubois making Team Canada’s roster. Instead, Dubois was one of the first players cut from camp, and was sent back to Cape Breton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

But that has not stopped Dubois from being one of the top scoring players in the QMJHL. In 46 games this season with the Screaming Eagles, Dubois has scored 30 goals and has registered 68 points.

Dubois a very physical force on and off the puck, while bringing a very well-rounded offensive game. Dubois has a very good shot, can skate exceptionally well, is crafty with the puck on his stick, and uses his big body to protect the puck and create some space for himself. Dubois is also not afraid to throw the body around and create havoc all over the ice.

Not making Team Canada’s roster will not hurt Dubois stock, but his play since being cut from camp has gotten the attention of many people around the hockey world. His stock is only on the rise from here, and he could find himself going in the top-10 of the NHL Draft in June.

12.) Max Jones – Left Wing – London Knights (OHL)†

Knights logoPrevious Rank: #8

Height: 6′ 2″

Weight: 201 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: United States

Birthday: 2/17/1998

After a slow start to the season, Max Jones has really started to come into his game with the London Knights this season.

Jones is a big kid, who can overpower people with his size, and can bring a gritty style to his offense. In 40 games this season, Jones has 20 goals and 17 assists and has established himself as London’s second line left winger behind Tkachuk on the top line.

London is incredibly deep this season, and will look to make another remarkable run through the OHL Playoffs. Jones will be a key depth player that the Knights will look to rely on if they need some offense, energy, and size on the ice. When Tkachuk, Marner, and Dvorak were all away in Finland, Jones was a guy who certainly stepped up and kept London as one of the hottest teams in the entire Canadian Hockey League.

Max Jones

13.) Tyson Jost – Center – Penticton Vees (BCHL)

Penticton_Vees_logo.svgPrevious Rank: #22

Height: 6′ 0″

Weight: 194 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 3/14/1998

Tyson Jost is another prospect that has vaulted up the draft rankings over the past few months.

Playing with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League, Jost has posted some incredible numbers this season and has become one of the under-the-radar type of players. In 35 games this season, Jost has 28 goals and 44 assists and is the team captain of the league’s best team.

Jost was gaining some support as a guy who could have been invited to Team Canada’s World Juniors training camp, but he did not get any invite. However, he did just win gold at the World Junior A Challenge playing for Canada West. In the tournament, Jost had three goals and six assists in just four games.

Jost is a high-energy, high-paced player who never stops his feet from moving. His abilities to make plays at such a high pace is incredible, and his skill set and the way he sees the ice makes him an exceptional playmaker. Not to mention, Jost is pretty good at putting the puck in the back of the net too.

Following the 2015-16 season in Penticton, Jost is committed to play at the University of North Dakota, where he is expected to be part of an already high-powered lineup with players like Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz.

With the way Jost has played and impressed many, he could be just another player to crack the top-10 of the NHL Draft.

14.) Jake Bean – Defense – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)†

Calgary_Hitmen_logo.svgPrevious Rank: #15

Height: 6′ 0″

Weight: 172 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 9/6/1998

Perhaps the top offensive defenseman available in the Draft, Jake Bean is putting up some impressive numbers in the Western Hockey League with the Calgary Hitmen.

In 46 games this season, Bean has 17 goals and 26 assists playing as one of the top defensemen on the Hitmen, and has been a quarterback on the powerplay.

In addition to his offensive capabilities, Bean is a very good passer, he skates very well in both ends of the ice, and his positional game is on point. Even though Bean is more of an offensive threat, he can be heavily relied on to play a solid defensive game.

After the top two defenders of Chychrun and Juolevi, Bean is arguably the next best defenseman available and will be a nice addition for a team in the 10-15 range of the Draft.

15.) Dante Fabbro – Defense – Penticton Vees (BCHL)

Penticton_Vees_logo.svgPrevious Rank: #23

Height: 6′ 1″

Weight: 185 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 6/20/1998

In a draft deep with quality left-handed defensemen, Dante Fabbro is one of the top right-handed defensemen available in this year’s Draft.

Playing in the BCHL with Penticton, Fabbro is a good two-way defenseman with a booming shot from the point. Fabbro is responsible in both ends of the ice, and is able to make a quick, smart decision on the fly. Fabbro may not be the fastest of a skater, but he has worked on his skating, positioning and footwork to compensate for it. Fabbro can also play a physical style of play, and is tough to play against in the defensive end.

So far this season in 32 games with the Vees, Fabbro has 10 goals and 38 assists.

Fabbro has climbed up the ranks with his impressive play, and is committed to play with Boston University next season. Fabbro is expected to join a deep Terriers defense that could certainly have them ranked high in college hockey for the next three to four years. Fabbro is just another name who can manage to climb into the top-10 of the NHL Draft if he can finish the season on a high note.

Fabbro

16.) Alex DeBrincat – Right Wing – Erie Otters (OHL)†

Erie_Otters logoPrevious Rank: #12

Height: 5′ 7″

Weight: 161 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: United States**

Birthday: 12/18/1997

It was a rough World Junior Championship for Erie Otters forward, Alex DeBrincat. Going into the pre-tournament camps and scrimmages, DeBrincat was on the top line with Matthews and Tkachuk and expected to put up a show in Finland for the Americans.

In the first game, DeBrincat was tossed from the game after a spearing incident with Philadelphia Flyers prospect, Travis Konecny. The next game against Sweden, DeBrincat was taken hard into the boards and took a knee to the head. DeBrincat was cut and he missed the next two games of the tournament.

After returning from his injury, DeBrincat managed to score a goal, but was not utilized the way he would have been if he had stayed healthy. However, DeBrincat and Team USA still managed to come away with the bronze medal.

DeBrincat now comes back to the OHL and will look to finish strong with the CHL’s top team in the Erie Otters. In 38 games with the Otters this season, DeBrincat leads the OHL with 35 goals, and has added on 27 assists to put him sixth in the league for scoring.

DeBrincat has proven this season that size is not a factor as long as you can put the puck in the net. DeBrincat is, arguably, one of the best goal scoring prospects available in the Draft this year. He may be 5′ 7″and 161-pounds, but he is physically strong on the puck and can throw the body around if necessary.

DeBrincat’s draft stock has fallen off a bit, but a team will take a chance on the 18-year old most likely in the mid to late first round of the NHL Draft. Then again, the season is only halfway done. There is still plenty of time to re-establish himself in the ranks and possibly go higher than expected.

Alex DeBrincat

17.) Mikhail Sergachev – Defense – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)†

Windsor_Spitfires_Logo.svgPrevious Rank: #25

Height: 6′ 2 “

Weight: 205 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Russia

Birthday: 6/25/1998

In his first year playing North American hockey with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL, Mikhail Sergachev’s game has grown dramatically.

Sergachev got his season off to a slower start, but has picked up the pace quite dramatically lately. In 45 games this season, Sergachev has 12 goals and 22 assists playing as one of the top defensemen on the Spitfires.

Sergachev has adapted well to the different style of play in Canada and the United States, and is showing to be one of the best skating defensemen in this year’s Draft class. Sergachev is also very deceptive with the puck and has a decent shot. Where Sergachev has been better with lately is his overall responsibilities on the ice, as he can be relied on to play in both ends of the ice and play disciplined hockey on the fly.

With Sergachev continuing to grow his game and adapt, his stock will only rise, and he could inch his way closer to the top-10 of the Draft.

18.) Tyler Benson – Left Wing – Vancouver Giants (WHL)†

Vancouver_Giants_Logo.svgPrevious Rank: #17

Height: 6′ 0″

Weight: 196 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 3/15/1998

The start to the season for Tyler Benson was tough, as he missed the first handful of games after having a cyst removed in his tailbone area. Since returning from his injury, his season has been more rough than he wanted. However, Benson still has the credentials to be a first round pick in this year’s Draft.

In 28 games with the Vancouver Giants this season, Benson has eight goals and 18 assists while serving as the captain of the Giants. Benson has been everything the Giants could have in a captain: accountable, a leader, and a guys who is relied upon to make a big play in the clutch.

Benson will also have the honor of serving as the captain for Team Cherry at the CHL Top Prospects Game at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.

The goal for Benson the rest of the 2015-16 season will be to stay healthy, and try to get the Giants into the playoffs. If Benson can play out the rest of the season and be a key contributor to a postseason run, Benson could climb back up the rankings before the NHL Draft in June.

Benson

19.) Clayton Keller – Center – United States National Team’s Developmental Program (USHL)

USAH NTDP LogoPrevious Rank: Honorable Mentions

Height: 5′ 10″

Weight: 170 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: United States

Birthday: 7/29/1998

Clayton Keller is a player that has shot up the ranks in many people’s rankings due to his play with the U.S. Development Program this season.

While Keller may be a smaller sized center at 5′ 10″ and 170-pounds, Keller is a fantastic playmaking forward who sees the ice at a high level. Keller also has exceptional speed, which allows him to create space for himself to look for the pass of release a quick shot on goal.

With the National Under-18 Team in the development program, Keller has 24 goals and 45 assists in 36 games played. With the U.S. Development Team in the USHL, Keller has nine goals and 18 assists in 14 games.

Keller has had quite the season playing on a line with fellow Boston University committee, Kieffer Bellows. Both have combined for 164 points for both the Under-18 Team and the USHL team.

Keller was another player who made it to the final round of cuts for the United States team at the World Junior Championships, but he was sent home just days before the tournament began.

Keller is still climbing the rankings, and could get into the top-15 of the draft rankings before the NHL Draft arrives in June.

Keller

20.) Sam Steel – Center – Regina Pats (WHL)†

Pats logoPrevious Rank: #11

Height: 5′ 11″

Weight: 176 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 2/3/1998

While Sam Steel may not be the biggest guy, he makes up for his size with his smart play on the ice.

Steel is, arguably, one of the smartest players available in this year’s Draft. Steel’s game may not be flashy on the ice, but where he is so coveted is that he is always looking to make the best play for his team. In 47 games this season in Regina with the Pats, Steel has 17 goals and 28 assists. Again, not the flashiest of players, but the proof is in the pudding.

Steel is a good skater, can put the puck on a dime for his teammates, and also has a good sense for where the puck is and where it is going. Where Steel needs to improve is his size and physical stature. Steel tends to play small, and that leads to him getting pushed around on the ice too often.

Steel will look to have a good second half to his season, and will look to help the Pats stay in the playoff hunt heading down the stretch. If he can continue to play smart hockey, he will remain a first round pick in the Draft.

Steel

21.) Logan Brown – Center – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)†

Windsor_Spitfires_Logo.svgPrevious Rank: #16

Height: 6′ 6″

Weight: 218 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 3/5/1998

Talk about size with a kid, Logan Brown has got size on his side. Standing tall at 6′ 6″ and 218-pounds, Brown has been a highly talked about kid since his emergence in the OHL last season.

This year with the Spitfires, Brown has just seven goals in 37 games, but is piling up the assists with 34. While Brown can score, his sweet spot on the ice is in and around the net to bring havoc in front of the opposing netminder. Also, Brown has become a better two-way threat and a better team player over the course of this season.

Brown is a kid who is an underrated power skater with a strong shot, and has the ability to play the puck well with his big size. The downfall in his game is that he, at times, can be inconsistent and his physicality could be more present.

Brown and the Spitfires are currently having a very good season in the OHL, as they lead the West Division in the Western Conference by five points over the Sting. Brown still has time to climb the rankings if he can put the puck in the net more, and if he can show more of his physical game without being undisciplined.

Logan Brown

22.) Charlie McAvoy – Defense – Boston University (NCAA)

Boston_University_Terriers.svgPrevious Rank: #20

Height: 6′ 0″

Weight: 205 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: United States**

Birthday: 12/21/1997

Charlie McAvoy is right behind Dante Fabbro for the best right-handed defenseman in the NHL Draft.

The advantages that McAvoy has over Fabbro is that he is a better skater and he is already in college hockey playing with Boston University. Fabbro may be more offensively gifted, but he will join McAvoy in Boston next season with the Terriers.

As for McAvoy, he is having a decent freshman year in Boston. In 22 games with the Terriers, he has a goal and eleven assists. McAvoy has played in a lot of different situations with the Terriers this season, he utilizes his size and strong stick work in the defensive zone, and he can also move the puck pretty well.

McAvoy also got the chance to represent the United States at the World Junior Championship in Finland. Although he failed to register a point, McAvoy got some quality ice-time, and showed off his exceptional skating and puck moving abilities.

McAvoy could move up in the rankings with a strong finish to the season, and maybe there is time to out-rank Fabbro for the top right-handed defenseman in the NHL Draft.

McAvoy

23.) Kale Clague – Defense – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)†

Brandon_Wheat_Kings_logo.svgPrevious Rank: #14

Height: 6′ 0″

Weight: 176 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 6/5/1998

Kale Clague is a solid two-way defenseman playing with the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL. Clague’s awareness around the ice and his solid positional play makes him a good pick in the mid to late portion of the first round.

Clague’s physical play could be a bit better and his size certainly does not help him too much, but his puck movement has become a key part of his game.

In 46 games this season with the Wheat Kings, Clague has two goals and 15 assists.

If Clague could get bigger in size and improve his physical play, he may be able to climb the ranks. But a team that wants to have a good puck-moving, responsible defenseman down the road will find him valuable.

Kale Clague

24.) Rasmus Asplund – Center – Färjestad BK (SHL)

Färjestads_BK_Logo.svgPrevious Rank: #28

Height: 5′ 11″

Weight: 176 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Sweden**

Birthday: 12/3/1997

Rasmus Asplund has had a pretty good second season with Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League. Asplund may appear to be a smaller forward, but he is a fast-paced center who can be crafty when the puck is on his stick. Asplund is also pretty good on faceoffs, even with his smaller stature in the circle.

In 31 games this season, Asplund has four goals and three assists. Those totals may not be a lot, but for an 18-year old playing in professional hockey in Sweden it is pretty impressive.

Asplund was another participant of the IIHF World Junior Championship a few weeks back, and while Sweden did not medal for a second consecutive season, Asplund showed that he is worthy of a first round selection in the NHL Draft. Asplund finished the tournament centering a line with Alexander Nylander and Dmytro Timashov, and had three goals and two assists in seven games for Sweden.

Asplund will most likely spend another year or two in the SHL growing his game, but his value is still high and could be an underrated offensive weapon a few years down the road.

Asplund

25.) Luke Kunin – Center – University of Wisconsin (NCAA)

University_of_Wisconsin_Waving_W.svgPrevious Rank: #21

Height: 6′ 0″

Weight: 196 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: United States

Birthday: 12/4/1997

After a slow start to his season with the Wisconsin Badgers in the college ranks, Luke Kunin has rebounded nicely in his freshman year. Kunin was also thinking about leaving the Badgers to join the Sarnia Sting in the OHL, but decided to stick it out and continue to play in Wisconsin.

In 22 games this season, Kunin has nine goals and nine assists, and has begun to find his scoring touch with the Badgers.

In addition to his goal scoring abilities, Kunin is shifty with the puck on his stick, and is an exceptional playmaker while playing at a high-pace. Kunin has a strong strides which allow him to burst free and create room for a scoring chance. When Kunin gets up close to the net, he uses his soft hands to elevate the puck over the goalie.

Kunin’s resurgence has put him in a tie for the scoring lead for the Badgers, and he also leads the team in goal scoring. If he continues to play well, even on a struggling Wisconsin team, Kunin will be one of the better goal scorers available in the NHL Draft. He will likely be a nice addition for a team in the mid to late first round looking to add some goal scoring power.

Kunin

26.) Carl Grundström – Left Wing – MODO Hockey (SHL)

Modo_Hockey_Logo.svgPrevious Rank: #26

Height: 6′ 0″

Weight: 194 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Sweden**

Birthday: 12/1/1997

Carl Grundström is another Swede who played in the World Junior Championship, and is also in the middle of his second professional season in the SHL.

Grundström is a solid two-way forward who is a force to play against in all areas of the ice. Grundström is not afraid to play in the dirty areas and go to the net with the puck. Grundström could play a second or third line role in the future as a big bodied, tough winger that can also put the puck in the net.

In 33 games playing with MODO in the SHL, Grundstroöm has four goals and five assists as an 18-year old. Like Asplund, the numbers Grundström is putting may not be much but it is impressive for a kid of his age.

At the World Junior Championships, Grundström managed to net a goal playing primarily on the fourth line. Did not put up many impressive stats or was not much of a factor, but showed that he can be a tough kid to play against.

Like Asplund, another couple of years playing in the SHL will greatly benefit Grundström for his development. After two to three years in Sweden, he could be a nice addition for a team looking for size and goal scoring.

Grundström

27.) Nathan Bastian – Right Wing – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)†

Steelheads logoPrevious Rank: Unranked

Height: 6′ 4″

Weight: 207 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 12/6/1997

Many could say that Nathan Bastian is just a product of his linemates with the Mississauga Steelheads in Alexander Nylander and Michael McLeod. However, Bastian would probably tell you otherwise.

No doubt that Bastian is big at 6′ 4″ and 207-pounds, but he has also shown to be a good power-forward playing with the crafty Nylander and persistent McLeod.

In 43 games this season with the Steelheads, Bastian has 13 goals and 29 assists playing on the right-wing. Bastian has a powerful stride is his skating, and is definitely not afraid to take the puck hard to the net. Bastian is also the type of player who can park himself in front of the net and create havoc in the crease.

Even without Nylander and McLeod by his side, Bastian will draw attention from many teams around the NHL at the Draft. If not in the late first round, he will certainly go early in the second round.

Bastian

28.) Dillon Dubé – Center – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)†

Kelowna_Rockets_logo.svgPrevious Rank: Honorable Mentions

Height: 5′ 10″

Weight: 181 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 7/20/1998

Dillon Dube may look to be a smaller forward in this year’s draft, but he is certainly a name to pay attention to come the Draft.

Dube stands at 5′ 10″, but a stocky 181-pounds and a strong kid on and off the puck. Even if Dube is knocked down, he will get right back up and get right back into a scrum or go straight to the net. As for his offensive capabilities, Dube is a quick-moving, crafty center who can get the puck to the net. His play is very reminiscent of his teammate, Nick Merkley in Kelowna with the Rockets in the WHL.

So far this season, Dube has 20 goals and 26 assists in 40 games with the Rockets. The left-handed shot center loves to park himself close to the left side of the netminder, especially on the powerplay. Dube also is a patient player with the puck, and will wait for the perfect play to develop.

Dube is projected to go somewhere in the early second round, but he could sneak his way into the first round of the Draft. As of right now, he cracks the top-30 of the Draft rankings for now.

Dube

29.) Chad Krys – Defense – United States National Team’s Developmental Program (USHL)

USAH NTDP LogoPrevious Rank: #27

Height: 5′ 11″

Weight: 183 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: United States**

Birthday: 4/10/1998

Another left-handed shot defenseman, and another very good puck-moving defenseman. Chad Krys is also the last of the top-30 prospects to have played in Finland at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

This season with the U.S. Development Program, Krys has shown that he could be one of the best puck-moving defenders in the NHL Draft this year. While Krys may not be all that big, he sees the ice very well and is fully capable of playing with the puck on the fly and in both ends of the ice. In 28 games with the Under-18 National Team, Krys has two goals and 18 points. In 10 games with the U.S. Team in the USHL, Krys has a goal and seven assists.

At the World Juniors, Krys was held pointless and played primarily as the seventh defenseman, but displayed his good puck moving capabilities and his smooth skating.

Krys will have to build up his size a bit, but will likely land himself in the first round. He could slip to the second round of the Draft, however he would not last long with his skill set.

Oh, and did we mention he is going to Boston University next season? Yup, he will be joining Fabbro and McAvoy with the Terriers for the 2016-17 season.

Chad Krys

30.) Will Bitten – Center – Flint Firebirds (OHL)†

FlintFirebirdsPrevious Rank: #24

Height: 5′ 10″

Weight: 168 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 7/10/1998

Will Bitten continues to be an offensive threat for an abysmal Flint Firebirds squad that is near the bottom of the OHL standings.

What Bitten lacks for size and physical play, he makes up for with his blazing speed and his playmaking abilities. In 44 games this season, Bitten has 20 goals and 26 assists, and leads the Firebirds in every scoring category on the team. Bitten has become a key figure on the offense and is being relied on to play in certain situations under the circumstances that Flint is under right now.

Bitten’s rankings are slipping because of how small he is and plays, but if he does not get drafted in the first round of the draft, he will probably fall to a team somewhere in the early to mid second round of the Draft. For now, he clings on to a top-30 spot.

Bitten

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Riley Tufte – Left Wing – Fargo Force (USHL)
  2. Simon Stransky – Left Wing – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)**†
  3. Taylor Raddysh – Right Wing – Erie Otters (OHL)†
  4. Adam Mascherin – Center – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
  5. Samuel Girard – Defense – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)†
  6. Markus Niemeläinen – Defense – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)†
  7. Max Lajoie – Defense – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
  8. Evan Fitzpatrick – Goalie – Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)†

Keep it locked to Better Live Than Dead for all the latest from around the NHL.

Written by Brayton Wilson

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