TLN’S Preseason Top 10 for the 2016 NHL Draft

Whether the Leafs are good or bad this year, they currently hold 11 draft picks in the 2016 draft.  Two of those are in the first round.  And we know that the team wants to “rebuild” — whether that’s by bottoming out and recouping a lottery pick or just plain acquiring good young assets, all expectations are the team is going to place paramount emphasis on the draft moving forward as they attempt to bring the team back towards respectability.  Bottom line: this isn’t just a big year for the new players, coaches, and hockey ops personnel.  It’s a big year for the scouts, too.

Because the draft is going to be so important for the team moving forward, because fans are increasingly looking for information related to the draft, and because we here at TLN just plain love to scout, we’re hoping to up our draft coverage this year and bring unprecedented quality draft coverage to the Barilkosphere for the 2015-2016 hockey calendar year.  That starts today, with our first of many posts leading up to the 2016 draft next June.

Follow us past the jump, where we’ll unveil our full top 10 for the 2016 draft, with detailed profiles to accompany each player.

These rankings were put together combining the rankings of myself, Justin Fisher, Jon Steitzer, Cat Silverman, and Ryan Fancey.  In combining our rankings, we were able to come up with a consensus top ten, as well as a small collection of “honorable mentions” — players that were ranked by at least one writer inside their top ten, but not receiving enough attention to actually make it onto the final list.  Without further ado, here’s the full list:

TLNPreSeason2016Top10

1. AUSTON MATTHEWS

C, Zurich (Swiss-A)

Over the last year or so Matthews has built up quite a name for himself and really entrenched himself as the consensus first overall pick in the 2016 draft with no signs of slowing down.  He’s a complete player with a number of very good to elite skills that leaves little doubt up until this point that he can be a franchise-level center in the NHL.  Matthews is a fantastic puckhandler that routinely makes high-end offensive plays rooted in his top-notch vision and goalscoring instincts.  He’s also got great top-end speed and size (he’s 6″2′).  He’s also very good on the defensive side of the puck.  And coaches rave about his intangibles and inner-drive.  And he has the numbers to back it all up:

auston

So yeah, it’s no surprise Matthews was the unanimous #1 in our rankings.  And even though we’re still 9 months away from the draft, you can expect him to sit atop the draft rankings for the rest of the season and go first overall.

2. JESSE PULJUJARVI

RW, Karpat (SM-Liga)

We all ranked Auston Matthews #1, and all but one of us ranked Puljujarvi #2.  Puljujarvi is a dynamic Finnish winger that has the makings of a point-per-game winger in the NHL.  He’s got great top-end speed, great size (he’s 6″3′), handles the puck with creativity and confidence, has a lethal shot that can beat goalies when they least expect it, and he’s got good vision as well.  He’s just got that sort of complete offensive package that allows him to beat you in different ways, and he always seems to make the right decision offensively.

It was eventual 10th overall pick Mikko Rantanen that stole headlines at the 2015 World Juniors for Team Finland when he scored 4 goals in 5 games, but Puljujarvi quietly made a name for himself at the tournament as well, impressing scouts, journalists, and fans with his dynamic offensive play.  He had 0 points in 5 games at the tournament, but he’s been on people’s radars ever since, and it would be a surprise if he fell much farther than the consensus lottery pick that he is right now.

3. JAKOB CHYCHRUN

LD, Sarnia (OHL)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a draft list out there that has Chychrun any lower than we do.  That’s probably your best indicator that he’s a pretty good player that has significant upside, and at this point in time I’d say he could be drafted as highly as second overall (more than a few scouts consider him the second-best player in this draft behind Auston Matthews, and one of our writers ranked him #2 as well).  Chychrun is 6″2′ and there’s not a whole lot to dislike about him — he’s a fluid skater with good top-end speed and acceleration, he’s positionally sound in the defensive end, he can use both his stick and his body when defending, he’s a confident puckhandler, and he can really shoot the puck – he had 16 goals in 42 games last season as a rookie blueliner for Sarnia.  He’s got a high ceiling, and as long as he can build off of the promise that he showed last season, Chychrun projects to be a top five pick next June.

4. MATTHEW TKACHUK

LW, London (OHL)

He’s not unlike fellow London Knights forward and top Leafs prospect Mitch Marner in the sense that he’s just very
dynamic.  Tkachuk has been generating a sizable buzz in the scouting
community, and that buzz is starting to proliferate out to casual hockey
fans.  Son of former NHL forward Keith, Matthew Tkachuk totaled 96
points in 65 games for the U.S. Development Program last year, as well
as 12 points in just 7 games for the U.S. at the World Under-18s.  He
played alongside Auston Matthews most of last year, but don’t let that
fool you: Tkachuk is a very, very good player in his own right.  In
particular, Tkachuk is a dynamic puckhandler and passer and is one of
those players that seems to often create something out of nothing.  He’s
a really fun player to watch, and at this point I’d be surprised if he
doesn’t go top ten in the draft next June.  There’s a strong chance he
even goes top five, and that’s reflected in our very high ranking of
him.

5. CHAD KRYS

LD, Boston University (Hockey East)

I’ve said this for virtually every player so far, and this is a dangerous game to play so far away from the draft, but like the other players listed so far, I really feel like Krys will be a top ten pick this June.  If he’s not, I wouldn’t expect him to drop far outside of the top ten.  If he does, it’ll probably be unwarranted.  Krys is just a really well-rounded player — he has good top-end speed, he handles the puck well, he’s got good vision, and he’s generally versatile and well-rounded when it comes to both making good offensive and defensive decisions.  He put up strong numbers with the USDP U-18 squad last season (20 points in 22 games) and will be spending this year at Boston University.  At the moment I’d project Krys as a strong #2 defenseman, a well-rounded complimentary player for an NHL team’s top pair.

Hanifin
via EliteProspects.com

6. DMITRI SOKOLOV

F, Sudbury (OHL)
Our very own Cat Silverman knows a lot more about Sokolov than I do.  Here’s her take on the Russian forward:

Dmitri Sokolov is that quintessential
power forward that we all claim to covet heading into the draft – and
it’s still a little early to tell, but he’s got potential to be this
year’s Timo Meier or Lawson Crouse.
Still
a little rough around the edges defensively, Sokolov has the potential
to polish some of the problem areas in his game with a move from the MHL
to the Sudbury Wolves for this season. He had a couple multi-point
games last year, which kind of off-set a ‘hot and cold’ reputation he
started to develop; higher shot quantities taken in each game could see a
decent scoring total this year even with a diminished shooting
percentage, but his two-way game and ability to assert himself as a
quality power forward in North America will be important to watch out
for as well.

7. SEAN DAY

LD, Mississauga (OHL)
Mississauga will be getting plenty of visits from scouts this year, with
Sean day (arguably) headlining a cast of 2016 draft-eligibles that
include Day, Alexander Nylander (William’s brother), and Michael
McLeod.  Day is the most recent installment in a string of players
granted exceptional status to play in the OHL as an underager (the list
includes John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and Connor McDavid).  And while
this is reason for significant optimism, many have cooled off on Day,
some going as far as to not include him in their projected first round
for the 2016 draft.  He’s a divisive player, and that’s reflected in our
rankings — two of our writers ranked him 4th on their list, and 3 of
our writers didn’t rank him at all.  Some love Day’s combination of size
(6″2′), poise with the puck, and defensive intelligence.  Others lament
his lack of offensive growth and rumored character concerns.  He’ll be
an interesting name to keep an eye on throughout the season to see how
he does, where he gets ranked, and when and where he ultimately ends up
getting drafted.  For now though, the Day fans of our staff are enough
to tentatively place this tantalizing blueliner 7th overall in our September rankings.

8. TYLER BENSON

LW, Vancouver (WHL)
He’s almost as much of a consensus player in this range as Matthews and Puljujarvi are the 1-2 punch at the top — all but one of our writers ranked Benson between 6th and 10th on their lists.  He’s just a good hockey player: he has good acceleration and speed, he handles the puck well and with confidence, he has a good shot, good vision, and he can just flat-out create offense.  He’s not overly dynamic and at this point I wouldn’t project him to be a star in the NHL, but for now I’d say he just has a real solid shot of being a top-six forward in the NHL.  Benson is a well-rounded winger with a good combination of upside and a likelihood of reaching that upside, and for this reason he’s ranked 8th on our preseason list.

9. DANTE FABBRO

RD, Penticton (BCHL)
Once again, Cat knows more about this guy than I do.  Here’s her take:

Dante Fabbro has the potential to be the
next big thing on the blue line, but this is a player who could go up or
down in the rankings based on what he opts to do with his future.
A
former first round selection of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Fabbro was
CHL ready before he was even age-eligible. He seems to want to go the
NCAA route, so he’s been sticking with the BCHL – and with three points
in four games so far this season to accompany his 33 points in 44 games
last year, there’s still plenty to like about what he’s doing with the
alternative league out west. Still, the Thunderbirds almost certainly
wanted Fabbro on board to serve as a seamless replacement for Shea
Theodore; if he wants to opt out of the college route, there’s still
time for him to change his mind before the 2016 draft (which, depending
on the team that’s looking, could change his draft stock).
A
little on the lanky side, Fabbro’s got great offensive instincts and
he’s looked like a mature player for a while now. It would be nice to
see how he plays against a higher tier of prospects before the draft,
especially with his size and offensive game, but there doesn’t seem to
be much risk in ranking him highly now. He’s a right shot, he’s a smooth
skater, and he’s been pretty smart in his own zone for a guy who loves
to score; watch to see if he and draft-eligible Tyson Jost don’t run
roughshod on the BCHL this year as a very scary forward-defense star
duo.

10. LOGAN BROWN

C, Windsor (OHL)
It’s Yakov Mironov’s turn for the hot takes, this time on our 10th ranked player, Windsor Spitfires forward Logan Brown:

It’s an unfortunate reality that the first
thing that most people will notice about Logan Brown is his size
because the assumption lately is that must be the sole reason for
putting him into consideration for the first round of the draft. The
fact of the matter is that the selling point for Brown is that he put up
solid numbers as a sixteen year old on a not very good Windsor Spitfire
team. Brown packs a heavy shot that will soon be known as his defining
characteristic. The same way that Chara knows how to lean into a puck,
Brown knows to do the same. He’s also aware of how to use his long
stride to his advantage, and while it’s not something that stands out,
it’s also not a flaw. Brown knows how to use his 220+ pounds to his
advantage and is equally solid in his own end. While this may seem like a
picture is being painted of the next Frederik Gauthier, the style of
Brown’s game is much closer to that of Keith Primeau. If his offensive
game continues to progress, it’s likely that talk of Logan Brown in the
top 10 will pick up steam throughout the season.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

These players were ranked inside the top ten by at least one of our writers, but didn’t do enough to crack the final list:

  • Sam Steel (C – Regina, WHL)
  • Max Jones (LW – London, OHL)

  • Clayton Keller (RW/C – U.S. NTDP, USHL)
  • Patrick Laine (RW – Tappara, SM-Liga)

  • Rasmus Asplund (C/LW – Farjestad, SHL)

  • Jake Bean (LD – Calgary, WHL)

  • Kieffer Bellows (C – U.S. NTDP, USHL)
  • Alex DeBrincat (C/RW – Erie, OHL)

Make sure to follow along the rest of the season, as TLN brings
exclusive coverage of the 2016 draft in what should ultimately figure to
be a very important couple of days for the Leafs’ franchise and future moving forward.

  • silentbob

    Good list, but just can’t see Day going in the top ten. He’ll have to be a big leader for a team that will struggle defensively, and it’s no secret that he and the team aren’t on the best terms right now.

    • Day is probably going to be helped by a very good offence on the Steelheads, but from the sounds of things he came into camp very much overweight. It will be interesting to see if he buys in to the team a bit more now that Mississauga has improved their roster, but I didn’t have him ranked in my top ten.

      It’s interesting that you have both Day and Benson as players who were granted exceptional status and neither one is getting any consideration for the top 3.

  • silentbob

    Assuming the Leafs don’t land the #1 or #2 spot, I would bet that Tkachuk is who they are going to target at this years draft, and if they have to trade up to get him they will.

      • silentbob

        Given how they worked at the 2015 draft, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are in a position to take Matthews, if they either take Tkachuk with that pick or trade down to get Tkachuk+

        Looking back, they seemed to zero in on Marner. Hunter knew the player and knew he wanted him. A lot (maybe most) scouting sites had Strome ranked higher, they didn’t seem to care. Babcock wanted the big D-man, but Hunter knew who and what he wanted. Tkachuk seems to tick a lot of the same boxes – good skater, very skilled, creates offense. Plus he is playing in London & he’ll most likely be playing with Marner.

        • silentbob

          But you already have a Mitch market… Why would you zero in on another one? It’s about building a team with different players…. Don’t go the Edmonton route and build a team with nothing but small skilled wingers… It doesn’t work.

          Plus I highly doubt the leafs are gonna gonna get a top 5 pick this year. I put em around 8-11. I believe they’re gonna be a better team than people think

          • silentbob

            You could argue they had Nylander, why go after a similar player like marner. Then they had Nylander and Marner, why trade for Kapanen.

            Clearly those are the kinds of players they want to build around, and their team identity/concept will be what this guys being.

            I think you’re in for a disappointing season,

  • Gary Empey

    Unless the Leafs get lucky in the lottery I think they will be looking for a top defenceman this year.

    As I said in the poll comments I am expecting Mathews to go to the Oilers.

    Also some food for thought: Just released–McKenzie’s early rankings

    6. Alex Nylander

    Right Wing | Mississauga (OHL) | 6’0″ | 172 lbs. | Mar. 2, 1998

    It is certainly looking like a good year to have two first round picks. I wonder if the Leafs can get one more.

    • Gary Empey

      A good point. I am sure you mean the a lot of the commenters here. Maybe not. I suspect most people here look at the 100 points scored in junior and decide that is what they want to pick.

      I agree with you. I think the Leafs could use at least two more top defencemen if we wish to contend for the cup.

      I see silentbob just wants the highest ranked player and doesn’t care what position he plays.

      Having no idea where we will pick this year, makes it difficult to speculate. I for one will be checking our draft position and the ranking of the best defencemen.

      I see Prororov was just sent back to junior. Hanifin was injured and missed the prospect camp. He was expected to make the main camp.