NHL Top-50 prospects – Spring Edition

Matthews


The 2015-16 National Hockey League has come to a close on Saturday, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway throughout the league.

Many junior leagues, and leagues overseas are already deep into the playoffs and competing for a championship. On these teams, many prospects coming up for the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo, New York are looking to improve their draft stock with one final push this season.

The NHL Draft Lottery will take place on April 30, where the league will draw for the top-three picks in the draft.

Some prospects will go on to play in some international competitions when their seasons are over, including the IIHF U-18 World Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota and the IIHF World Championships in Russia.

Once the tournaments have completed, the focus will shift to the NHL Combine, which will also be held in Buffalo. The prospects will get a chance to show scouts and general managers that they have the physical and mental capabilities to compete in the NHL.

From there, it is on to the Draft, and the waiting process to find out what team will take a chance on a prospect.

In the past two rankings done on BLTD Sports, we looked at the top-30 prospects entering the 2016 NHL Draft. With just a couple of months until June’s Draft, we take a look at the top-50 prospects available this summer.

In case you missed the previous two draft rankings, you can find each down below:

Winter Rankings: http://bltdsports.com/2016/01/24/top-30-prospects-winter-edition/

Fall Rankings: http://bltdsports.com/2015/11/06/top-30-prospects-fall-edition/

Here are your top-50 NHL Draft prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft beginning June 24 in Buffalo!

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

Nothing has changed in the rankings for Auston Matthews, as he still sits atop the rankings for the NHL Draft.

Although Matthews’ season was cut short when Zurich was surprisingly swept in the first round of the National A-League Playoffs in Switzerland, Matthews will now have time to gear up for the IIHF World Championships for Team U.S.A. The World Championships will take place from May 6 to May 22.

In his season with the NLA’s top team in the league, Matthews finished with 24 goals and 46 points in 34 games with the Lions. In the four playoff games played, Matthews registered three assists. Matthews finished the regular season as the second leading scorer on the Lions, and finished 10th in the league in scoring as an 18-year old.

What is more impressive is that Matthews finished second in the league’s race for the Most Valuable Player award. He received six first-place votes, but lost the honors to former NHL forward, Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Matthews, however, did win the league’s “Rising Star” award.

Matthews made a good argument for making Team U.S.A. last season for the World Championships as a 17-year old. This year, at 18, he could be one of the stars of the tournament, and will be heavily watched by scouts and fans across the NHL.

Some would say that if Matthews had been in last year’s draft with Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, he would have been taken second overall before Jack Eichel. If he had been just two days before he was born, Matthews would have been part of that draft class.

Either way, whoever wins the NHL Draft Lottery in late April will be getting a franchise player for years to come.

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

Logo_of_Tappara.svgPrevious Rank: #3

Height: 6′ 4″

Weight: 207 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Finland

Birthday: 4/19/1998

It seems like that Patrik Laine’s season really took off after he had won the gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championships this past January with Finland.

The 17-year old winger finished his regular season with Tappara in the Finnish Liiga with 17 goals and 33 points, but his play in the playoffs has carried his team to the league finals. So far in 15 games, Laine has eight goals and eleven points, but has come up with some clutch goals in the playoffs to help Tappara advance to the league finals.

Laine is an electrifying playmaker on the wing who has a knack for finding the back of the net. Laine has a strong, quick, accurate shot that can be utilized from anywhere in the offensive zone. Laine may not be a fast skater, but his long, powerful strides make him tough to contain and take off the puck. Laine also has the size to be a physical force with and without the puck in both ends of the ice.

Right now, Laine has his sights set on the Kanada-malja Trophy and winning a championship with Tappara in the Liiga finals against HIFK.

With a strong finish in the Liiga Finals, a good performance at the U-18’s, and a strong performance at the NHL Combine, Laine may be the only prospect who could catch Matthews as the top pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

3.) 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

Jesse Puljujärvi’s chance at winning his second straight Liiga Championship has come to an end this year at the hands of fellow countryman Laine and Tappara. However, Kärpät still has a chance to win the bronze medal for the league against JYP Jyväskylä on Friday night.

As for Puljujärvi, his season had a couple of bumps and bruises along the way, but he will still likely be a top-three pick in this year’s draft. Puljujärvi has dropped a spot from the Winter Rankings, but has shown that he will be likely ready for the NHL when October comes around.

In 50 games this regular season, Puljujärvi scored 13 goals and registered 28 points. This postseason saw him missing the first few games with a lower-body injury, but came back to score four goals and register nine points in 10 games played.

Puljujärvi’s season will get the chance to not only win the bronze in the Liiga, but he will compete for Team Finland at the IIHF U-18 World Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Last season at this exact same tournament, Puljujärvi scored twice and registered seven points in seven games played. Finland came up just short in the gold medal game to Matthews and the United States.

Earlier this season, Puljujärvi was outstanding at the IIHF U-20 World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland. Puljujärvi finished the tournament with a tournament-high 17 points in seven games played, and helped lead the Finns to a gold medal victory over Russia on home-ice.

Puljujärvi can be just as electrifying as Laine, however Puljujärvi is more of a quiet game-changing player. When the puck gets on his stick, Puljujärvi is looking to make the right play, whether its shooting the puck or making the perfect pass for a scoring opportunity.  Puljujärvi is also a very responsible player in both ends of the ice, and is always looking to make the best play for his team.

Puljujärvi also provides some good speed coming in and out of the zone with his good strides. When he has some open space, he has the ability to blow by the opposition and create some space for a scoring chance. Puljujärvi is also a hard-work forward who is always giving his all every shift he steps on to the ice.

With a strong performance for Finland at the U-18 World Championships, Puljujärvi will gain some attention before the Draft in June. Whoever wins the third pick in the Draft Lottery will be fortunate to select Puljujärvi for the future of their franchise.

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

While Matthew Tkachuk struggled a bit after the BMO Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects Game in January, he has bounced back nicely as the London Knights move along in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

In 10 games played in the playoffs with the Knights, Tkachuk has scored 10 goals and has registered 22 points. Tkachuk has been dynamite on a line with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitchell Marner and Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Dvorak. The top line has been a huge contributor to the team’s success as the Knights are on the Western Conference Finals against the Erie Otters.

Tkachuk plays a big, offensive game very similar to the way his dad, Keith, had played in his 18 year career. Matthew has a nice shot, is an exceptional playmaker, and has good vision on the ice. Tkachuk is also not afraid to play scrappy, as he can throw his body around and play a very tough game, especially in front of the net.

Where Tkachuk needs to continue to improve is his footwork and skating. If Tkachuk can work on his stride and become a powerful skater, he could become a very well-rounded player.

Tkachuk will be a nice addition for a team sitting in the fourth position in the draft, but it may be another year before Tkachuk will be NHL ready. Unless he can come out in training camp and stand out among the other players, another year in the OHL would do him no harm.

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

Cape_Breton_Screaming_Eagles.svgPrevious Rank: #11

Height: 6′ 3″

Weight: 201 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 6/24/1998

It has been quite the second half of the season for Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward, Pierre-Luc Dubois.

After getting cut from Team Canada’s preliminary roster for the IIHF u-20 World Junior Championships, Dubois has had a fire lit under him and has climbed the ranks in the NHL Draft rankings.

In 62 regular season games this year, Dubois netted 42 goals and registered 99 points and finished the season as the third leading scorer in the entire Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Since he was cut from Canada’s roster on December 13, Dubois has scored 22 of his 42 goals, and has posted 52 of his 99 points in 29 games played.

At the BMO CHL Top Prospects Game, Dubois was arguably the best prospect on the ice in that game, as he scored once and added two assists.

Dubois plays a prototypical power forward game. He skates hard with powerful strides, and his is physically tough to take out of the play, especially when he has the puck. Dubois has a lethal shot, but also loves to take the puck to the net. Dubois is relentless with the puck, and plays a strong game along the boards.

An area of concern for his game is when he may take his physical play over the edge. Dubois was suspended at the end of the season for a late hit where he pushed a defender from behind into the boards.

He missed one game of the QMJHL playoffs due to the suspension, but has since scored seven goals and registered five assists in eleven games. Dubois and the Screaming Eagles are just one game away from advancing to the QMJHL Semi-Finals as they prepare to play game seven of its series with the Saint John Sea Dogs.

Dubois’ recent play has also vaulted him up the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings as he is now the top-ranked North American Skater ahead of Tkachuk.

While Tkachuk still sits ahead of Dubois in the spring rankings, things could change once the final rankings are released right before the draft on June 24. The debate of who’s better will certainly extend into the final stretch of the playoffs and into the NHL Combine.

6.) Jakob Chychrun – Defense – Sarnia Sting (OHL)

Sting logoPrevious Rank: #5

Height: 6′ 2″

Weight: 194 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 3/31/1998

Jakob Chychrun remains the best defenseman in the NHL Draft at this point, but his disappointing play down the stretch of the OHL season has dropped him down many people’s draft rankings.

Chychrun did not have a good outing at the CHL Top Prospects games, and struggled down the stretch for the Sarnia Sting. Chychrun finished the season with eleven goals and 38 assists in 62 games, which is underwhelming for what some people had projected him to finish the season with.

In the playoffs, Chychrun rebounded with some very good performances in the Sting’s series with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Chychrun registered two goals and six assists in seven games, but the Greyhounds upset the Sting in seven games.

Right now, Chychrun is playing with Team Canada at the IIHF U-18 World Championships in North Dakota. Chychrun can try to get in one more on-ice chance to flourish and prove his worth before the NHL Combine in early June. In three games with Canada thus far, Chychrun has yet to register a point but has nine shots on goal.

There is no doubt that Chychrun has all the tools to be a top defender in the NHL. He is a phenomenal skater with or without the puck, and his good footwork allows for an easy transition from offense to defense and vise versa. Chychrun also uses his speed to join an offensive rush and contribute more to the offensive game. Chychrun has a booming shot from the point, and can be a good scoring defenseman. Chychrun is also good at finding some open space for a scoring opportunity, which you do not want to give Chychrun with his shot. Chychrun is also physically big with his 6′ 2″ and 194-pound frame, and can be a challenge to match up against in both ends of the ice.

However, injuries and his inconsistent play have plagued his season in Sarnia. While he stayed healthy in 2015-16, Chychrun missed the last part of the 2014-15 season with a shoulder injury. Maybe he had some lingering effects from the injury coming into this season, but he certainly was not the same player that he was before the injury.

Chychrun may have some company joining him in the defensive ranks, but he is arguably still the best defensive prospect in this draft. If Chychrun’s stock does fall and he falls in the draft, a team in the six to 10 range will be lucky to land him.

7.) 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

Along with Matthews at the top of the draft, Alexander Nylander could be one of the smartest players to be eligible for the NHL Draft.

Alex is the brother of Maple Leafs prospect William, and the son of former NHL forward, Michael.  While both Alex and William are exceptionally skilled forwards, William is more of the goal scoring forward while brother Alex is a highly skilled, play-making forward.

Nylander has great vision on the ice, and is always looking to make the best play on the ice for his linemates. Nylander also has a deadly accurate shot, and is so deceptive with the puck. Nylander often times leaves many defenders and goalies second guessing themselves after he makes a play on you.

In his rookie season with the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL, Nylander put up 28 goals and 75 points to lead all rookies in scoring. In the playoffs, Nylander scored six times and registered 12 points, but was eliminated at the hands of the Barrie Colts.

Right now, Nylander is among the prospects competing in the IIHF U-18 World Championships with Team Sweden. Nylander is lighting up the tournament with Sweden as he has scored three goals and registered eight points in three games played. Most of his scoring came in an 8-1 romping of Switzerland where he took part in six of Sweden’s eight goals.

Nylander will be another hot commodity once the NHL Draft comes around in June, and he still has time to climb the rankings. With an impressive outing at the U-18 World Championships, and if he performs at the NHL Combine, Nylander will go off the board fast.

8.) Olli Juolevi – Defense – London Knights (OHL)

Knights logoPrevious Rank: #7

Height: 6′ 2″

Weight: 183 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: Finland

Birthday: 5/5/1998

In his rookie season with the Knights, Olli Juolevi has proven just how good of a puck-moving and skating defenseman he can be.

What Juolevi may lack in size and physical play, he sure makes up with his responsible play in both ends. Julovei is a smooth-skating defenseman, who often times begins the transition from defense to offense. At the same time, Juolevi’s vision down-ice is exceptional as he can make the outlet pass, or he can bring the puck in the zone himself. Juolevi also has a nice shot from the point, but is the type of defender who is looking to create more scoring opportunities by setting up his teammates.

In his rookie year, Juolevi posted 33 assists and 42 points in 57 games, and has put up five points in 10 games played in the OHL playoffs.

Juolevi did not make any new impressions at the CHL Top Prospects Game, but did play well with Team Finland at the IIHF World Junior Championships this past winter.

If Juolevi can build up some strength and play a more physical game, he could be a top-two defender in the NHL when he fully develops his game. The upside is certainly there, but give him a few years to grow his game and get bigger.

9.) Michael McLeod – Center – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

Steelheads logoPrevious Rank: #8

Height: 6′ 2″

Weight: 187 pounds

Shoots: Right

Nationality: Canada

Birthday: 2/3/1998

Michael McLeod is, arguably, the best skater in the entire NHL Draft. The 18-year old center could be one of the most under-rated forwards in this year’s draft.

McLeod never stops his feet from moving when he is on the ice. McLeod is so good with the puck on the fly, and is not afraid to take the puck to the net. When McLeod gets the puck on his stick, he is shifty as the opposition has no idea what he is going to do with the puck because he plays at such a high pace.

In Mississauga this year, McLeod scored 21 times and registered 61 points in 57 games. Towards the end of the season, McLeod suffered a knee injury, which was thought to be season ending for the kid who has been highly regarded by many. However, he right before the playoffs and put up three goals and nine points in the seven-game series against the Colts.

McLeod is just another top prospect playing with Team Canada at the IIHF U-18 World Championships, but has been held pointless in three games played.

McLeod can do it all on offense. McLeod can score with his nice shot, he protects the puck well with his good frame, and he sees the ice well in the offensive zone to make some nifty passes to his linemates. McLeod can play on the powerplay, he can play on the penalty kill, and is looked upon to play in important situations on the ice.

If McLeod can bulk up a bit more and continues to play at the level he has played at all season, this kid could become a star player in the NHL down the road.

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

USAH NTDP LogoPrevious Rank: #19

Height: 5′ 10″

Weight: 170 pounds

Shoots: Left

Nationality: United States

Birthday: 7/29/1998

Clayton Keller has climbed up the rankings this season as he has become one of the most electrifying play-maker available this season.

The Boston University committee had a stellar season playing with the United States Development Program, notching 36 goals and 100 points in 58 games. Playing with the U.S. National Team in the United States Hockey League, Keller scored 13 goals and added 24 assists in 23 games played.

Keller is currently playing with Team U.S.A. at the IIHF U-18 World Championships in North Dakota. So far in three games in the tournament, Keller has three goals and four assists. In the tournament, he set the single-season assists record and the all-time points mark for the U.S. Development Program.

Keller just barely missed out on the United States’ roster for the IIHF U-20 World Junior Championships this past winter, but he was the final cut made right before the tournament. However, that roster cut has not stopped him from having quite the season.

Keller is a very good skater who plays with a lot of energy in his game. While he is smaller and is not quite physically mature yet, Keller is always a threat when the puck is on his stick. Keller can pass the puck with pin-point precision, and he is very patient with the puck as he can control the pace of play and wait for the perfect time to make a play. Keller can also put the puck in the back of the net, as he has a decent shot.

Keller could bulk up some more to get stronger, especially as he heads to the NCAA ranks. College hockey could do wonders for Keller, especially if he has his linemate with the U.S. Program, Kieffer Bellows join him with the Terriers. Down the road, Keller could develop into a top-end playmaker in the NHL.

Here is the entire list of the top-50 prospects listed below:

Rank:Player:Position:Team:Height:Weight:Shoots:Nationality:Birthday:
1Auston MatthewsCenterZurich Lions (NLA)6' 2"194LeftUnited States9/17/97
2Patrik LaineLeft WingTappara (Liiga)6' 4"201RightFinland4/19/98
3Jesse PuljujarviRight WingKarpat (Liiga)6' 2"196RightFinland5/7/98
4Matthew TkachukLeft WingLondon Knights (OHL)6' 1"195LeftUnited States12/11/97
5Pierre-Luc DuboisLeft WingCape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)6' 3"202LeftCanada6/24/98
6Jakob ChychrunDefenseSarnia Sting (OHL)6' 2"214LeftCanada3/31/98
7Alexander NylanderLeft WingMississauga Steelheads (OHL)6' 0"172RightSweden3/2/98
8Olli JuoleviDefenseLondon Knights6' 2"180LeftFinland5/5/98
9Michael McLeodCenterMississauga Steelheads (OHL)6' 2"187RightCanada2/3/98
10Clayton KellerCenterUnited States National Team’s Developmental Program (USHL)5' 10"170LeftUnited States7/29/98
11Mikhail SergachevDefenseWindsor Spitfires (OHL)6' 3"206LeftRussia6/25/98
12Tyson JostCenterPenticton Vees (BCHL)5' 11"192LeftCanada3/14/98
13Julien GauthierRight WingVal-d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL)6' 4"224RightCanada10/15/97
14Jake BeanDefenseCalgary Hitmen (WHL)6' 1"170LeftCanada6/9/98
15Kieffer BellowsLeft WingUnited States National Team’s Developmental Program (USHL)6' 1"194LeftUnited States6/10/98
16Logan BrownCenterWindsor Spitfires (OHL)6' 6"218LeftUnited States3/5/98
17Max JonesLeft WingLondon Knights (OHL)6' 3"200LeftUnited States2/17/98
18Dante FabbroDefensePenticton Vees (BCHL)6' 0"190RightCanada6/20/98
19Charlie McAvoyDefenseBoston University (NCAA)6' 1"211RightUnited States12/21/97
20Luke KuninCenterUniversity of Wisconsin (NCAA)6' 0"193RightUnited States12/4/97
21Riley TufteLeft WingBlaine High School (USHS)6' 5"190LeftUnited States4/10/98
22Alex DeBrincatRight WingErie Otters5' 7"160RightUnited States12/18/97
23German RubtsovCenterTeam Russia U-18 (MHL)6' 1"174LeftRussia6/27/98
24Rasmus AsplundCenterFarjestad BK (SHL)5' 9"176RightSweden12/3/97
25Pascal LabergeCenterVictoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)6' 1"173RightCanada4/9/98
26Tyler BensonLeft WingVancouver Giants (WHL)6' 0"196LeftCanada3/15/98
27Vitaly AbramovRight WingGatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)5' 9"170LeftRussia5/8/98
28Logan StanleyDefenseWindsor Spitfires (OHL)6' 7"220LeftCanada5/26/98
29Carl GrundstromLeft WingMODO Hockey (SHL)6' 0"194LeftSweden12/1/97
30Tage ThompsonCenterUniversity of Connecticut (NCAA)6' 5"185RightUnited States10/30/97
31Chad KrysDefenseUnited States National Team’s Developmental Program (USHL)5' 11"183LeftUnited States4/10/98
32Sam SteelCenterRegina Pats (WHL)5' 11"175LeftCanada2/3/98
33Simon StranskyLeft WingPrince Albert Raiders (WHL)6' 0"169LeftCzech Republic12/21/97
34Brett HowdenCenterMoose Jaw Warriors (WHL)6' 3"190LeftCanada3/29/98
35Nathan BastianRight WingMississauga Steelheads (OHL)6' 4"208RightCanada12/6/97
36Jordan KyrouRight WingSarnia Sting (OHL)6' 0"175RightCanada5/5/98
37Libor HajekDefenseSaskatoon Blades (WHL)6' 1"198LeftCzech Republic2/4/98
38Taylor RaddyshRight WingErie Otters (OHL)6' 2"202RightCanada2/18/98
39Dillon DubeCenterKelowna Rockets (WHL)5' 10"180LeftCanada7/20/98
40Lucas JohansenDefenseKelowna Rockets (WHL)6' 1"176LeftCanada11/16/97
41Max LajoieDefenseSwift Current Broncos (WHL)6' 1"172LeftCanada11/5/97
42Will BittenRight WingFlint Firebirds (OHL)5' 10"167RightCanada7/10/98
43Adam MascherinLeft WingKitchener Rangers (OHL)5' 9"199LeftCanada6/6/98
44Kale ClagueDefenseBrandon Wheat Kings (WHL)6' 0"179LeftCanada6/5/98
45Samuel GirardDefenseShawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)5' 9"165LeftCanada5/12/98
46Jack KopackaLeft WingSault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)6' 2"190LeftUnited States3/5/98
47Boris KatchoukLeft WingSault Ste. Marie Greyhounds6' 1"179LeftCanada6/18/98
48Dennis CholowskiDefenseChilliwack Chiefs (BCHL)6' 1"165LeftCanada2/15/98
49Tim GettingerLeft WingSault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)6' 6"202LeftUnited States4/14/98
50Markus NiemelainenDefenseSaginaw Spirit (OHL)6' 6"205LeftFinland6/8/98

Written by Brayton Wilson

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