Hello folks! It’s draft day, 2016 for the National Hockey League and it’s member teams with the first round of the first year player draft to begin at 7 PM from the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. Unfortunately, Ontario Sports Radio will NOT be at the draft this year thanks to the draft being in close proximity to Toronto where the Maple Leafs, after years of, are we tanking or not, finally have the first pick for the first time in 31 years.
The parallels are hard to ignore. In 1984, the Maple Leafs were not bad enough to get the first pick which saw generational talent, Mario Lemieux go first overall to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The following year, the Leafs selected Wendel Clark who would go on to carve a fine NHL career, and would bring Mats Sundin to Toronto.
Fast forward to last year, where generational talent, Connor McDavid went first overall to the Edmonton Oilers, and here sit the Maple Leafs a year later, having missed out on a generational talent, looking to take a player first, who will, whether Lou Lamoriello likes it or not, be the face of the youth movement that Toronto has. This time however, the Leafs will not have to trade their first overall pick years down the road to obtain a number one centre, because they are getting it with this pick.
Without further adieu, here is the first year player draft mock, for Ontario Sports Radio.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs – Auston Matthews
The product of hockey hotbed, Arizona. Matthews fell in love with the game after attending Phoenix Coyotes games with his family. Matthews applied his trade with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss A League and was one of the top scorers in a tough scoring league, as an 18 year old.
Had Matthews been born two days earlier, he would have been playing for his hometown Coyotes, who had the third pick behind Edmonton and Buffalo.
Matthews is a big bodied centre, capable of controlling the play and making his linemates better. After a late push by Patrik Laine, people questioned whether Matthews would go number one or not, but that’s just outlets trying to create a story. It was always going to be Matthews.
Comparable: Anze Kopitar
2. Winnipeg Jets – Patrik Laine
Lethal and confident. Playing for Tappara in the Finnish League, Laine cemented himself as one of the best goal scorers of his draft class. Laine is a big 6’4 and has a shot and frame that is both NHL ready next season. There was some chatter from TSN’s Bob McKenzie that the Jets may take Jesse Puljujaarvi with this pick, but I feel that’s white noise by the Jets and that they will take Laine to go with the rest of their amazing prospect pool.
Speed, skill, and goal scoring ability, the Jets system has it all, and they look to be a team on the rise. Laine will only make them better.
Comparable: Alex Ovechkin
3. Columbus Blue Jackets – Matthew Tkachuk
There is talk that the Jackets could trade out of this spot, and if they do, then expect Jesse Puljujaarvi to go third overall. If not, expect the Jackets to take Tkachuk.
Tkachuk cemented his status as one of the top draft prospects in the league this year by having a wonderful year playing with Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. Scoring the Memorial Cup Winning goal in overtime certainly helps as well.
Tkachuk is a power forward in the classic mold and plays the game a lot like his father Keith did, for the St. Louis Blues. Many people will be surprised that the Jackets passed over Puljujaarvi for Tkachuk, but I won’t be.
Comparable: Keith Tkachuk
4. Edmonton Oilers – Jesse Puljujaarvi
When is the last time the Oilers drafted in the top five? It has to be a long time, right? All joking aside, a lot of people thought, this is the year the Oilers actually draft a defenseman in the first round and get their ducks in a row on the blue line, where the Oilers have been laughably bad since Chris Pronger made his way over to the Anaheim Ducks.
But, the right move for the Oilers is to pick up a guy who will be exempt from the upcoming NHL expansion draft, will cost significantly less than one of their more well paid disappointments, and has the ability to fill into the NHL right now.
Puljujaarvi is fast, he’s big, he’s got a great shot, and is somehow the forgotten man between Laine and Matthews. But make no mistake, Puljujaarvi was one of the best players in the 2015 World Junior Tournament, he was one of the best players on the 2016 World Junior Gold medalists, and he’s one of the finest players in this draft.
Comparable: Blake Wheeler
5. Vancouver Canucks – Pierre Luc-Dubois
Like Michael Dal Colle going to the Islanders fifth in 2014, Dubois going to the Canucks in 2016 is pretty much a no brainer. After the top four, many expect the top ranked North American skater Dubois to go fifth to Vancouver and no where else.
I have to agree with that. Dubois is a big forward who lacks top end speed but makes up for it with a smart sense of the game, the ability to protect the puck with his rather large body, and the defensive acumen to fill the centre ice void in the Canucks organization. Dubois played a lot of Left Wing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but learned to play centre as the year went on. This is a smart play for the Canucks who need help everywhere on the ice at the moment.
Comparable: Jamie Benn
6. Calgary Flames – Alexander Nylander
Here is where the draft gets interesting. Nylander, a part of the fabled Nylander clan of Sweden, came over to Mississauga Ontario to play OHL hockey where his father was an assistant coach, and live close to his brother William, who was playing at the nearby Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto for the Marlies.
The Flames are set on the blue line with TJ Brodie, Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton holding the fort, so it’s hard to envision a scenario where they go defense this early.
Nylander was named rookie of the year in the OHL and handled his first season like a pro. Some scouts like his game a lot better than his older brother’s who just came off a fantastic season with the Marlies.
The younger Nylander would look great lining up with either Sam Bennett or Sean Monahan in the future in Cow Town.
Comparable: Markus Naslund
7. Arizona Coyotes – Olli Juolevi
The Coyotes look like they’re OK up front with the names Strome, Duclair, Dvorak and Domi leading the charge whereas, their blue line with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the newly added Alex Goligoski could still use a little bit of work. Cue Olli Juolevi, a player who was ranked as a mid first rounder coming into the season. Playing for a Memorial Cup powerhouse certainly opens some eyes, and while watching Christian Dvorak with the Knights, Coyotes brass got a good long look at Juolevi.
Juolevi is a smart defender who plays well with the puck and makes good decisions with it moving up the ice. He was highly effective as the point man on Dale Hunter’s vaunted Knights power play unit and will figure to be a key component next to Ekman-Larsson in Arizona.
Comparable: Olli Maata
8. Buffalo Sabres – Jakob Cychrun
A lot of people have this defensive stud falling out of the top 10 completely in Buffalo. A claim I find to be both amusing and ludicrous.
Cychrun is a big, big fella at 18 years old. Coming into the year, after a good rookie showing on a playoff bound Sarnia Sting team, Cychrun had a ton of expectations on his broad shoulders. While in this writer’s eyes, he was very good, a lot of people didn’t see it that way and now there’s talk about him coming out of the top 10.
Cychrun has a big shot, can control the point on the power play and with maturity, will learn the defensive end of the game fairly quick. This is a well spoken and prepared young man who could play in the NHL as early as next year, but why not give him a third OHL season with a Sting team that could be strong?
Buffalo is looking for a left handed defenseman, and if they don’t trade for one, look for them to take Cychrun who went to school with owner Terry Pegula’s daughter.
Comparable: Shea Weber
9. Montreal Canadiens – Logan Brown
A lot of people in Montreal, including General Manager, Marc Bergevin want to move up in the draft and grab Dubois before the Canucks do, but with the price being PK Subban from Edmonton, I think the Habs will be happy to march up to the podium and select Logan Brown of the Windsor Spitfires.
Brown had a tough go to start the season, scoring only four goals heading into Christmas. However, he was able to score 20 in the season after taking a more aggressive approach and attacking the play.
Brown is generously listed at 6’6, has NHL bloodlines, and has outstanding vision while being able to protect the puck with skill. He is not the fleetest of foot, but makes up for it with his hockey sense.
The Canadiens have not had a big centre in the middle of their line up for a long, long time and Logan Brown is the perfect tonic for that. He will need another year of seasoning in the OHL however.
Comparable: Joe Thornton
10. Colorado Avalanche – Mikhail Sergachev
Rounding out the top 10 of the 2016 edition of the draft is Brown’s Windsor teammate, and the best remaining defenseman on the board left, Mikhail Sergachev.
Sergachev is an offensive defenseman who is figuring out the defensive side of the puck on a very strong, host Memorial Cup team, Windsor. Sergachev can make crisp outlet passes to his forwards and is never afraid to join the rush. He came over to North America to learn this side of the game on a smaller surface and doesn’t look out of place.
With only Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson on the back end of consequence, the Avalanche will look at defense here with the forward situation being sorted out thanks to Matt Duchene, Nathan McKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Raantanen.
Comparable: Sergei Gonchar
11. New Jersey Devils – Clayton Keller
The New Jersey Devils are escaping the shadow cast by Lou Lamoriello for the past 27 years by becoming a team that is more offensive minded and wanting to attack the play. Cue Clayton Keller, a man generously listed at 5’10. Keller may be one of the most talented players in this draft, but because of his diminutive size, Keller will slide down the charts where Ray Shero and company will gladly take the offensive wizard, Keller.
The Devils have started to infuse some skill into their prospect pool with Pavel Zacha and Blake Speers, but they need more, and Keller will provide that. The Boston University commit scores wherever he goes and was one of the top players at the u-18 tournament in North Dakota.
Keller can dish the puck with ease and has a deceptive shot with lethal hands. If he was 6’3, he’d be a top three pick no problem, but since the league is full of height supremacists, Keller will come out of the top 10. How many Tyler Johnsons, Johnny Gudreaus, Marty St Louis’ do we have to see come and go before the league realizes size is irrelevant. If you can play, you should be taken because of your skill.
Comparable: Artemi Panarin
12. Ottawa Senators – Jake Bean
The Senators are in need of help around their line up and could go anywhere here. I like them to take Jake Bean who would look pretty sharp patrolling the second power play unit after Erik Karlsson.
Bean was a point per game player with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, and while not being the biggest of prospects, at 6’1, he’s not small either.
Bean can move the puck well, he has a good shot, and is a solid puck distributor. The Senators will give him a year or two in the WHL before making him a full time member of the team.
Comparable: Ryan Ellis
13. Carolina Hurricanes – Tyson Jost
Tyson Jost took the unconventional path of playing in the BCHL in his draft year along with fellow draft eligible, Dante Fabbro for the powerhouse Penticton Vees. Jost is committed to the University of North Dakota where he hopes to play just one year before moving on to to the NHL. Jost looked at the NCAA for being the best for him because they play fewer games which will allow him to spend more time in the gym to bulk up and be ready for the pros.
Some call him Zach Parise, some call him Jonathan Toews, some call him Travis Zajac. Just like all three of them, he will be a member of North Dakota, and will be a long time NHL contributor. Carolina needed someone to replace Eric Staal, and they’ll get one with Jost.
Comparable: Zach Parise
14. Boston Bruins – Dante Fabbro
Two BCHLers going back to back in the top 15 seems crazy, but it’s not. Fabbro seems like he’ll be a two way defenseman with the proper development who has the chance to be very strong offensively in the future. Fabbro is a Boston University commit where he’ll join a powerhouse Terrier team and will be thrust immediately into the spotlight.
With the accuracy of an NFL quarterback, Fabbro is destined to be one of a long list of good defenseman from this draft, much like 2012.
Comparable: Tyson Barrie
15. Minnesota Wild – Michael McLeod
The second Mississauga Steelhead to go in the top 15, Michael McLeod is a big bodied, strong skater who lacks true offensive upside when it comes to playing in the NHL.
McLeod is a two way centre who is already very sturdy in his defensive end and will be one of the players most likely to be a NHL player. Gifted with a decent amount of vision and a decent shot, McLeod will do well as a second or third line centre in the show. Minnesota, plagued by poor free agent signings, really need a home run here.
Comparable: Jordan Staal
16. Detroit Red Wings – Max Jones
The Red Wings should be very familiar with Max Jones as he played for the nearby London Knights, and also spent time with the US National Developmental program. The Michigan native brings something the Wings really miss, a pesky demeanor with the drive to get to the dirty areas of the ice. Jones of course, is the son of former NHLer, Brad Jones and was earlier suspended for 12 games in the OHL for a blindside hit.
At 6’3, 201 lbs, Jones is NHL size, however, he will need at least another year with the Knights before he is ready.
Comparable: Todd Bertuzzi
17. Nashville Predators – Julien Gauthier
The Predators, lord bless em, do not need anymore defenseman. With Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis patrolling the blue line, the Predators are set. Where they lack firepower, even after the Ryan Johansen and James Neal acquisitions, the Preds need forwards. Enter Julien Gauthier, who saw himself move up the draft charts after being named to Team Canada as the only draft eligible on the 2016 junior team.
A disappointing finish for Canada, and a lackluster second half of the year pushes Gauthier down the draft charts, but the Predators will be comfortable in taking him.
Gauthier is a physical specimen, blessed with speed and a lethal shot. A perfect compliment to the rest of the Predators forwards.
Comparable: James Neal
18. Philadelphia Flyers – Keiffer Bellows
Another player with NHL bloodlines, Keiffer Bellows is the son of the beloved t*t f***er, Brian Bellows who played for the Minnesota North Stars a number of years ago.
Bellows will go to Boston University this year to play with one of his best friends, Clayton Keller, and is a young man with a good head on his shoulders.
Bellows is a two way forward who will be a bit of a project to get to the NHL, but the Flyers are willing to be patient here.
Comparable: Johan Franzen
19. New York Islanders – Charles McAvoy
Another product heading to Boston University, Charlie Mac is the kind of guy who will push the pace of play offensively from the back end. The Islanders have a need back there and McAvoy will fill it with his smart hockey sense.
There are concerns about his footwork, but it’s something he can work on. The Islanders, who made it to the second round of the playoffs, can afford a little patience with McAvoy as he looks to be another key cog on the Terriers.
Comparable: Duncan Keith
20. Arizona Coyotes – German Rubtsov
The Coyotes are back in the first round, 13 picks later, where they will likely add a forward after going with Juolevi, seventh overall.
Rubtsov is a wild card in this year’s draft because of his no show at the U-18 with the Russian team being suspended due to doping. That shouldn’t deter the Coyotes though who are building a nice prospect pool for the future. Rubtsov has the ability to play a two way game while adding a little bit of offense from the centre position.
Rubstov has one of the biggest boom/bust potentials in this draft.
Comparable: Charlie Coyle
21. Carolina Hurricanes – Logan Stanley
Another repeat customer in the first round, the Hurricanes will look to build their back end with hulking blue liner, Logan Stanley added to the mix.
Stanley is a big defender who projects to be more of a defensive defenseman who plays his position soundly. There is no rush for Stanley to step in right away, and should be tickted back for Windsor come September where he is guaranteed to play in the Memorial Cup.
Comparable: Hall Gill
22. Winnipeg Jets – Boris Katchouk
Like these guys need anymore good prospects. Katchouk is a personal favorite of mine, who has the skill and jam to be an effective second or third liner in the NHL.
A solid leader on the Soo Greyhounds and a key contributor to the u18 Canadian team, this son of Russian immigrants is one of the smartest players in the draft.
If he is elevated to a higher role offensively in Sault Ste. Marie this year, he could put up some surprising numbers.
Comparable: Bo Horvat
23. Florida Panthers – Luke Kunin
The Panthers have a wonderfully delightful prospect pool, and could fill it further with this centre from the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Kunin is a fearless forechecker who is not afraid to get involved on the offensive end. While not overly big for the center position, Kunin has the ability to be a fan favorite everywhere he plays.
Comparable: Chris Kunitz
24. Anaheim Ducks – Riley Tufte
Tufte, a Minnesota-Duluth commit is a rather large gentleman who clocks in at 6’4 210 who skates wonderfully for a man of his size and strenght. Park him in front of the net and watch him do some damage.
Pair him with Nick Ritchie in the future, and the Ducks will reunite the bash brothers in Arrowhead.
Comparable: Nick Ritchie
25. Dallas Stars – Markus Niemelainen
The Stars need some back end help, and the Saginaw Spirit defenseman can provide that.
Markus came to North America to learn the NA game and learned it well in his first year. A player projected to go much later, a strong u20 showing has him in the top 30 of this year’s draft.
Comparable: Slater Koekkoek
26. Washington Capitals – Nathan Bastien
The third Mississauga Steelhead to go in the first round, Nathan Bastien has an unbelievable motor and NHL capable size. Eventually Jason Chimera is going to run out of gas and the Capitals will need someone to replace him. Cue Bastien. A player with a good head on his shoulders, should be a welcome addition to Washington.
Comparable: Jason Chimera
27. Tampa Bay Lightning – Tage Thompson
With the big team facing a lot of questions, the Bolts will step up to the plate and pick Tage Thompson of the University of Connecticut is a long term project for the Bolts who are set for years in their lineup.
Thompson is a big bodied forward who has potential to be a third line player with some upside. He plants himself in front of the net and makes himself loom large. He certainly has some work left, but could be a valuable contributor some day.
Comparable: David Steckel
28. St. Louis Blues – Dennis Cholowski
The Blues are in almost all likelihood, going to trade Kevin Shattenkirk over the weekend. They will be looking to bolster their blue line for the future, so, cue Dennis Cholowski of the BCHL. Cholowski experienced a growth spurt and saw himself get up to six feet tall while maintaining a tiny skater’s skating ability.
Cholowski is a smart four way skater who makes heady plays and could get as tall as 6’3 if he keeps growing. He needs to get stronger and fill into his height while working on his shot selection. If he can put it together, he could be one of the more shrewd picks of the draft.
Comparable: Brent Seabrook
29. San Jose Sharks – Brett Howden
Howden isn’t a super flashy player, but he plays the game 200 feet and has the ability to contribute offensively once in a while.
He needs to work on his skating and shot selection before making the jump to the pros. But he has a pro player written all over him at some point.
Comparable: Travis Zajac
30. Anaheim Ducks – Lucas Johasen
The pick Toronto acquired from Pittsburgh for Phil Kessel that was traded to Anaheim for Frederik Andersen, the Ducks will be happy to select defenseman Johansen from the Kelowna Rockets.
Johansen is the younger brother of Predators star, Ryan Johansen and is described as a work in progress.
While already possessing the size of a NHL player, the younger Johansen will need to add some muscle to his 6’2 frame and work on being more aggressive. If he can do that, the Ducks should walk away with a good defensive prospect.
Comparable – Paul Martin
And that concludes the first round of the National Hockey League Draft. I look forward to 7 PM on Friday where the rest of the league obliterates my mock draft and goes in a completely different order. It should be an exciting night. Enjoy it everyone.