Observations on several 2016 NHL draft hopefuls

Watched Canada-USA on 26 December in its entirety and then went back to do iso work on several of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft candidates in action to see how they looked.

A couple of points/caveats up front:

  1. I am not in Finland, so all of my analysis is based on film study.
  2. While helpful, video analysis is not as effective as a live viewing given the limitations you have in terms of not being able to see much of the play away from the puck.
  3. I will not weigh in on players with specifics about their game if I don’t see them at least on film/video. As USA-Canada was the only game I watched, I cannot provide insights on Finland-Belarus, Sweden-Switzerland or Russia-Czech Republic.

USA

Auston Matthews, C (Zurich)- The horse. The expected No. 1 overall pick in Buffalo next June has been playing pro hockey in Switzerland this season. He did not have a dominating game, but you could see his impressive natural gifts on display: his natural strength and ability to protect the puck and establish an effective cycle. He goal was vintage Matthews- he was lurking around the goal crease, and when Zach Werenski’s shot squeaked through Mason McDonald’s pads and sat near the goal line behind him, Matthews finished it off. Matthews is a powerful skater who generates good speed and demonstrates command of his edges as he works through traffic in the neutral zone and drives the net in the offensive zone. He has superior vision and he made several good passes during game action that didn’t bear fruit but showed off his deft touch with the puck and offensive IQ. He assisted on Werenski’s power play goal to make it 2-1 in the third period.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW (London- OHL)- He registered a secondary assist on the Werenski and Matthews goals (2 helpers for the game) and didn’t look out of place on the top USA line. He’s an impressive specimen, but a different player than his dad was, showing a little more creativity and shake n’ bake than the straight-ahead force of nature Keith was in his prime. The younger Tkachuk protects the puck well and spends the majority of his time in the dirty areas, banging bodies and creating space. I thought Canada did a pretty good job of preventing him from creating the kind of net-front presence and havoc-wreaking he’s been known for with the Knights this season, but you could certainly see why he’s projected as a top-3/5 pick come June. It will be interesting to see if he can impose his will on Sweden tomorrow- it will be a tough test.

Matt Tkachuk

Charlie McAvoy, RD (BU- NCAA)- Quiet game from the BU freshman who isn’t all that tall, but thickly built and strong for someone who just celebrated his 18th birthday on the 21st of this month. You can see how he skates with his head up and advances the puck effectively and with confidence. He made a couple of nifty outlets and lead passes through the neutral zone, but wasn’t all that noticeable throughout the game. Sometimes, when it comes to defensemen, that’s not such a bad thing. He’s a good forwards/backwards skater in a straight line, but his footwork could stand to get more fluid, as he can get caught flat-footed when play rapidly reverses direction and he’s not as smooth in his transitions/pivots. I like this kid- he’s got swagger and brings the kind of mobility, vision, intelligence and puck skills that are so important to the modern NHL defenseman.

Chad Krys, LD (USA U18- USHL)- Tough showing for the Connecticut product and son of former Bruins prospect Mark Krys. I’ve long admired his offensive ability- skating, puck skills, vision and instincts are first-rate, but defense is holding him back and it showed yesterday. He got caught too deep in the offensive end on the Mathew Barzal jailbreak goal and spent a good amount of time (when he was out there) puck watching. He’s an April 1998-born player, so he’s young and has plenty of time to figure things out. Yesterday won’t go into the rolls of his best games, but he’s a superb four-way skater with smooth acceleration, quick, crisp transitions and a separation/recovery gear when he’s in the open ice. He’ll make the wrong read or bad pinch- that goes with the territory and I suspect Ron Wilson will shelter him given his youth, but there’s some impressive raw material for the BU recruit for an NHL team willing to be patient.

Canada

Julien Gauthier, RW (Val-d’Or- QMJHL)- Massive man child (6-4, 221) oozes potential with his impressive skating and shot for one so big. The Foreurs winger strikes me as more of a complementary player who needs skilled playmakers on his line to make it work, but someone will jump on him early. You could see his skating- a long, powerful stride- on display yesterday as he was generating speed off the rush. He started the Barzal goal play by blocking a Louis Belpedio shot and then charging up the ice with USA backpedaling. He got the secondary assist- getting the puck to Rourke Chartier– and showed an adeptness at recognizing the situation when Belpedio had the puck and closing quickly– putting his body in front of the shot and then taking off up the ice. Those are the kinds of plays that will have NHL clubs knocking on his door real soon.

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