As January comes to a close we are about to enter the time when conversations start shifting more and more towards the draft. This week we have the CHL Top Prospects game. Next week we’ll have probably have two of the most highly regarded draft lists released from Corey Pronman and from Bob McKenzie, both which carry significant influence in how the most people will regard the draft.
For now, we’re looking at the Consolidated Rankings of the scouting services that put out their lists on a near monthly basis. Draftbuzz, HockeyProspect, Future Considerations, McKeens, Craig Button, ISS, and Sportsnet have been used to build these rankings, with Pronman and McKenzie’s included next month.
This month I’ll spare you the controversial graph, but it basically shows the same thing as last time. There is an established first overall in Auston Matthews (though he’s no longer the unanimous pick), there’s a defined second tier in Laine, Puljujarvi, and Chychrun, and there is a strong wave of third tier options rounding out the top ten in Gauthier, Nylander, Tkachuk, Juolevi, Sergachyov, and McLeod, amongst others.
At a glance, this draft looks promising well into the second round before it takes a much steeper dive talent wise.
The Consolidated Ranking
There they are in all their unified glory, looking less shocking than any singular ranking, but still not completely without their surprises.
Beyond the shock that McKeen’s is so infatuated with Patrik Laine, the rise of Tyson Jost is something that particularly stands out to me. It’s rare to see a Junior-A player that high in the draft, and between him and Fabbro, there are two teammates present this year. The fact that they basically flipped in the rankings from December is strange, as my own biases would rather have me developing a Junior-A defenseman, than a forward.
Clayton Keller, Charles McAvoy, and Rasmus Asplund all received nice bumps from their World Juniors appearance, though Keller was already trending upward significantly. Asplund fell out of most top 30 lists, but Team Sweden brought him back.
Finally the interesting case of Kale Clague. You’ll notice he’s nowhere to be found on this list. He was ranked 19th in December, but fell right out in January with only Sportsnet still having him in their top 30. I find this interesting because Clague is still a solid defenseman, and along with Chad Krys, Sean Day, and Libor Hajek, there is potentially a great opportunity to add premium defensemen in the second round.
I’ve enlisted the help of our resident junior hockey guru to help me look in greater detail at some of the players that had significant gains or losses this month. There are few people who watch more prospects than Tom Hunter, and I look forward to seeing more of his stuff on the draft popping up on TLN from now until June.
Patrik Laine- F
It’s hard to significantly rise when you’re already pretty much a consensus top five pick, but with the help of McKeen’s, Laine nudged his way in front of countryman Jesse Puljujarvi for the number two spot in the draft.
Laine is one of many coveted power forwards available in this draft. What may set Laine apart for Puljujarvi, Tkachuk, Gauthier, etc. is that he’s arguably the smartest, and the most disciplined. The fact that he’s putting up solid numbers in the Finnish League against men is encouraging and it’s likely he wouldn’t need to do much to adjust his game to come play in the NHL in a relatively short period of time. -Jon
Olli Juolevi- D
Last week the two of us were discussing the phenomenon that is Olli Juolevi as the Finn’s rise as a prospect is among the most interesting in a long time. Juolevi has gone from likely the most underrated prospect in the 2016 draft to possibly the most overrated in only four months. Starting the season rated mostly as a late first rounder, the London Knights blueliner is now being ranked by some as the top defensive prospect in the draft. By saying he is the most overrated takes nothing away from Juolevi, it simply shows how influential the World Juniors can be on both scouts and fans.
In early October when London paid their only visit to Oshawa to play the defending OHL champions, I thought it would be a good chance to get a better perspective on Mitch Marner but I left the building blown away by Juolevi. He was in only his third game in North America and played with a poise not often seen at the junior level. Since then I’ve had Juolevi in the 9-11 range and what looked like over-optimism in October now seems like I might be underestimating him.
Ranked 12th on the consensus list before the World Juniors, Juolevi has made the jump to seven after being one of the best players in the tournament and a major reason that Finland was able to win gold on him ice. Juolevi is a strong skater, a smart puck mover, and is able to play a puck possession game that is necessary for team success. He is the definition of an all-around defender. That being said, it’s important not to overrate his value in the draft. Will he be a great pick for some team? Absolutely. But he probably shouldn’t be selected ahead of some of the high-end forwards like Gauthier, McLeod, Keller or Dubois. –Tom
German Rubtsov- F
Another player that is flying up the consensus rankings is Russian forward German Rubstov. Ranked outside of the top-30 by many to start the season, he is starting to get a sniff of the top-10 on some lists. The huge discrepancy probably has a lot to do with lack of visibility and the allure of the unknown. Playing in the Russian junior league and not being a part of the World Juniors, it is hard to get a true grasp on how impressive Rubstov could be when against top competition.
By all accounts, Rubstov is a smart player that uses his head as much as he does his physical tools. He plays a complete three-zone game and while may not excel at any one thing, he has very few weaknesses. Strong on his skates and smart with the puck, he’s the kind of center teams like to be able to count on.
It’s really hard to gauge where Rubstov’s true worth is in this year’s draft because so little is known about him. Odds are that scouts in Europe are falling in love with him and calling home about a guy who should be valued higher than originally thought. When it all shakes out, he’ll probably be selected in the first round by a playoff team or someone with multiple picks that can afford a little more risk in the top-30. –Tom
Tyler Benson – F
On the flip side of the ranking movement is Tyler Benson. The left winger from the Vancouver Giants is slipping down the consensus rankings and is even being rated outside of the first round by some. The fall probably has a lot to do with the fact that Benson has missed a lot of time this season with an injury. He has been out since December 30th with the infamous ‘lower body injury’ and while the team is not giving specifics it is thought to be a byproduct of Benson changing his skating stride to compensate for surgery he had earlier in the year to remove a cyst from his tailbone. Benson was just ruled out for this week’s Top Prospects game in his home arena and if he misses much more time he could be in danger of slipping even further as the draft gets closer.
While slipping to the bottom of the first round (or completely out of it) is likely disappointing to the player, there is going to be a team that gets an absolute steal whenever Benson is eventually drafted. Drafted 1st overall in the WHL Bantam Draft two years ago, Benson is a player that was viewed as a possible top-10 pick this past summer. He is the kind of player teams like to build around. Named captain of the Giants at 17 (something unheard of in the CHL) Benson is the kind of forward that plays the game coaches dream of. He’s responsible with and without the puck and is able to adapt his game as necessary. He’s got an accurate shot with a quick release and is able to create offense for both himself and his linemates while excelling on the cycle down low. He’s a very good skater but will have to show scouts that everything is fine once he gets over the lower body injury that has plagued him this year.
As with Mathew Barzal a year ago, Benson may be a top-10 talent that scouts are devaluing because of nothing more than time missed due to injury. Something that while frustrating will likely end up being a blessing for a team that gets to draft him much later than they would have expected.- Tom
Julien Gauthier- F
Gauthier is player that most Canadians are now familiar with thanks to his visibility on Team Canada during the World Juniors. Unfortunately for Gauthier, the visibility probably didn’t have the desired impact, and playing a bottom six role on a disorganized Canadian team might have worked against him. There is the fact that Gauthier was the only draft eligible player to make the team and that shouldn’t get lost to the tournament stat sheet. It’s also worth noting that while Gauthier is down from 7th to 13th in the rankings, he’s still very close score wise to be the 9th and 10th spot on the consolidated ranking.
The divide on Gauthier seems to be that he’s too much of a one-trick pony. He’s going to be a finisher, not a playmaker. He’s going to be crashing the net, not looking to make a pretty pass. He’s sitting just two goals under a goal per game pace in the QMJHL right now, though his assist total keeps him off league leaders board for points.
Arguably, Gauthier could be the most physically ready players in the draft, and he has the strength and conditioning to make a difference in the pro ranks in a short period of time. He plays as good as any junior forward does of a defensive game, but the worry is that like what happened on Team Canada, a coach may see the low hanging fruit of a solid checking line forward and develop Gauthier in that way. –Jon
Sam Steel- F
The first round isn’t shaping up to be a pleasant one for the WHL. Clague’s fallen right out, Benson (who had exceptional status) is falling quickly, and Sam Steel who many saw as a top ten pick at the beginning of the year is now clinging to the bottom of the first round in most rankings. As someone who lives in the West, watches a lot of the WHL and generally carries a bias towards their players, Sam Steel falling this far may be the most shocking of the three.
It’s not that on an individual basis you can’t argue most of the players who are ahead of Steel, should be there. For the most part, it checks out. It’s just that Steel is still nearly a point per game player in a league that doesn’t have the access point totals of the other two Canadian leagues. He’s a solid all-around center, and those are usually in short supply, and he has a cool name.
Steel has good speed, good hands, and the playmaking smarts to be a good asset in any organizations system. At 5’11, he’s a little shorter than most team’s ideal centreman, so that could be working against him, but teams that learned from watching Barzal slide last year will likely move in quick on Sam. If he falls to the second round, he’ll be the Steel of the draft. –Jon
What Does This Mean For Toronto?
Since this is a Leafs blog, it’s probably worth wrapping up with some thoughts on them. As it sits this morning, Pittsburgh isn’t in a playoff spot, so that leaves Toronto with one first, and two second round picks this year. That could very well change, and the Leafs could have two firsts and one second (not to mention whatever happens at the trade deadline.)
The pick the Leafs absolutely have would be fourth overall (but could go up to 1,2,3 or fall as far as 7th depending on how the lottery plays out). So basically, the Leafs need to look at who’s the top seven.
The rankings as they are listed are the best players available, but there is a certain lack of centers there, a potential Toronto need. When considering this list, it’s worth considering players like Keller, McLeod, and Jost who the Leafs might value slightly higher than scouts do.