2016 NHL Entry Draft Podcast: View from the Top

I want to thank everyone who gave feedback about the first podcast I posted on the blog, covering the top 10 Boston Bruins prospects. I enjoyed doing it, so I figured it was a good time to go back to the well and do some extended coverage on the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, which will be here before we know it.

This particular podcast is designed to be the first in a series, where I will share observations on the various players in the late ’97/prior to September 16, 1998-born guys eligible for the 2016 NHL draft.

These are *not* players I am identifying just as options for the Bruins- the draft series should appeal to all fans who have an interest in the draft class. The way the B’s are performing at least up to the beginning of February, they aren’t serious contenders for Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine, but you never know. Perhaps the fans of clubs who are in position to come away with those two will find this audio informative.

As for the 2016 draft as a whole- it’s not all that deep, at least compared to a year ago. It’s superb at the top- and I talk about that to start the podcast, but there’s probably a big drop-off once you get out of the first round, and that means that a lot of the pre-draft rankings will see a lot of variance and movement once you get into the 40’s.

Well, enough of an intro- here’s the podcast.

I plan to do an audio mailbag in the future- a podcast version of what I was doing over the summer when I solicited questions over at Twitter, so if you have some questions that spin out of this post, fire away and I will try to address them on the next podcast.

 

The Duthie Dish: top OHL players in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft Pt. 1

Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) play-by-play announcer Reed Duthie spent a good deal of time talking to the Scouting Post last week on some of the best options coming out of the Ontario Hockey League for the next NHL entry draft.

Over the weekend I posted Duthie’s background and his thoughts on B’s prospect Zach Senyshyn, who posted a two-goal game last night against Sudbury to tie his 26-goal total from his rookie OHL season a year ago. This time, he did it in 37 games as opposed to 66, so Senyshyn is certainly living up to his 15th overall draft grade from last June. You can go here to read that post.

This coming June, the NHL draft is being held in Buffalo, which is appropriate because there is a lot of high-end talent and depth coming out of the OHL for the late 1997 and 1998-born players. We’ll just jump into it. The players covered are in order of where Red Line Report has them in the OHL’s pecking order at mid-season, which can change a good bit based on key factors such as the World Jr. tournament, second-half of the OHL season and playoffs,and the World Under-18 tourney in April. Out of respect to my employer at Red Line, I am not sharing the actual ranking numbers with you, but this does give you an idea of how our Chief Scout and Ontario scouts saw it over the first half of the 2015-16 campaign.

Reed breaks down the key OHL players in the first of a two-part series that will post this week. We start at the top and will continue in the next post with a couple of significant WJC standouts in Alex Nylander and Olli Juolevi.

Jakob Chychrun, D Sarnia Sting: The son of former NHL defensive defenseman Jeff Chychrun is a different player than his dad was, bringing a mix of high-end mobility, skill and awareness to make him a two-way threat from the blue line and the 2016 draft class’s best bet to one day develop into a No. 1 at the NHL level. Here’s an impressive rookie season goal courtesy of TVCogeco:

GP- 33 Goals- 5  Assists- 19  Points- 24  PIM- 20

Reed Duthie: If he’s not the first player taken out of the OHL, then I think somebody’s gone crazy. He’s an all-around stud defenseman. His positioning is right on, he can skate with the best of them, he can throw the body, he can put up points. I think personally he’s immediately ready to step into the NHL. We haven’t had (the Sting) in Hamilton yet, but I’ve watched him a few times in preparation for other games and Jakob’s just on another level. I think there’s a definite chance he steps right into the National Hockey League. Physically, he’s ready to do it and personally, I was shocked when he got cut from the Canadian team at the World Juniors- I thought he would be a shoo-in for that squad. There are some parts of his game he needs to work on, but I don’t see him being that far off from Aaron Ekblad.

Scouting Post: What are the warts on his game that you alluded to?

RD: I’ve heard people talk about his consistency and it’s a lot like what I said about (Zach) Senyshyn in terms of people just saying he doesn’t have that consistency you want in a top player every single night. But at 17 years old I would challenge you to find a defenseman who does. I remember seeing Aaron Ekblad and thinking at times he looked out of it and at times he looked like a world beater, and I’m seeing the same thing out of Jakob. There’s no reason that people should be overanalyzing his competitiveness and I think they’ll be punished for it eventually if they do harp on that. Jakob is the kind of guy- you’ll get a much better sense of him when the OHL gets to their playoffs and when you see him on an every night basis at a high level against high-end opponents, you’ll get a sense of how good he really is.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW London Knights: Keith’s eldest son has ties to Massachusetts but was born in Arizona and raised in the St. Louis area, now plays junior hockey for Dale Hunter and one of the most storied and successful (over the past 15 years) OHL franchise in London. Like his dad, he’s a power forward who can hurt you in a variety of ways. He’s a better skater and playmaker, but probably not as physically dominant as the 1990 first-rounder for Winnipeg was at the same age. This video posted by “big white 06” will give you an idea of what he can do:

GP- 29 Goals- 14  Assists- 45  Points- 59  PIM- 40

RD: Matt is a tremendous hockey player with high-end hockey IQ, excellent skater, pushes the play- he’s got all the skills you want from somebody in the middle of the ice to make an impact. The downside with Matt is that sometimes you can question the hockey IQ a little, and not so much his smarts in the play but along the lines of a Brad Marchand– he gets called for being a little hot-headed and taking an undisciplined penalty here and there when he likely shouldn’t but the skills far outweigh any downside for him. He’s got the size to do it, he’s got the compete level, which is sometimes a little too high, he’s got all the skills offensively. He could probably use some improvement in his backchecking- he’s on a good enough London team that they score enough that they’re not really going to worry about that at this point. But, there are a couple of things he could work on- he’s a definite NHL player.

Mikhail Sergachev, D Windsor Spitfires: Good-sized frame at 6-foot-2 and already north of 200 pounds at age 17. Has a well-rounded package of offensive skills and defensive prowess. Russian player who brings more of a North American-style game to the rink with him each night. Here are highlights from his first 2-goal OHL game back in November from Hockey U20:

GP- 38 Goals- 10  Assists- 16  Points- 26  PIM- 30

RD: He’s got a lot of the “Russian” skills to him- you’re not going to find a smoother talent in the OHL. Everything he does looks like he’s not making much of an effort, and yet he’s probably exerting maximum effort and I say that because some have felt that he can be lazy, but I don’t see that at all out of him. I think he’s a tremendous hockey player- he’s already got nine goals, I believe, on the season- he’s got just a bomb of a shot. He’s another defenseman like Chychrun- who’s physically ready for the rigors of the NHL, but his game is going to take some refining. I guess I would call it Dennis Wideman syndrome- at times, he’s as likely to pass it to his teammates as he is to pass it to the opponents. It’s all done with the thought of pushing the play (and the pace) forward and making things happen but sometimes he’s a little too over the top with it, but I think if he can get into a team and a system in an NHL situation where they can settle him down a little bit and just let him know that he doesn’t have to push it so hard, he’ll be fine.

Alex DeBrincat, RW Erie Otters: Small but dynamic scorer and natural sniper leads the OHL goals and is deadly accurate between the hash marks, where he does most of his damage. More from bigwhite06 to show you DeBrincat’s scoring ability from earlier this season:

GP- 30 Goals- 33  Assists- 23  Points- 56  PIM- 12

RD: I could talk about DeBrincat for hours. Being a little man myself, I love the kid. I talked about it with Tkachuk- and you saw it at the World  Juniors- he can be a little bit of a hot head at times, but he has a better way of taking it out on people vis a vis the scoreboard.He does not take penalties very often and usually, when he takes a tough hit, he doesn’t take a number, but the number goes up on the scoreboard. Tremendous shot- his size at the next level could hurt him, but his skating will make up for it. I believe he’s a better skater than a lot of people thought he was last year- I thought being overshadowed by Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome had a lot to do with that- he was underestimated. He has a tremendous shot and he can set up plays, he can work in the corners, he can work a point on the power play…just about anything you want him to do he can. Again- as is the case with a lot of these young very talented offensive players, the defensive side of the game is going to take some refining. He’s probably going to have to spend some time in the American Hockey League to used to the physical rigors of the pro game but with his skills and talent- you can’t teach what DeBrincat has.

SP: The big thing with DeBrincat is the concern about the size- you addressed it, but he’s listed at 5-7, 160 pounds- is he so dynamic and talented a la maybe a Johnny Gaudreau style of player that you throw caution to the wind and you look at a Gaudreau or maybe a Brendan Gallagher and say, hey- look, we don’t  need to be as concerned about the size because the skill and creativity is there in spades?

RD: A year ago, I might have wondered if there was more of a concern there with the McDavid effect creating some of the hype around DeBrincat, but this year he’s doing it himself and doing it more even before they sent Dylan Strome back to Erie and being able to produce without that supporting cast around him. It’s kind of funny that you mention Gaudreau and Gallagher because I’ve mentioned both as comparables and I almost see him as a blend between the two. He really gets under people’s skin and I’m not sure it’s that he does a lot of chirping at ice level or what it is, but he really gets people mad at him and he’s got a little more skill than Gallagher- more to the Gaudreau side. If you’re defending him and you get out of position or take a bad penalty because of something he’s done, he’s going to make you pay for it. I think that’s what’s been so valuable for him and why he’s going to succeed at the NHL level as long as he stays away from what he did against the Canadians in the World Juniors.

We’ll be back with more on the OHL and 2016 draft picks with part 2 in the next day or so, so be sure to bookmark the blog and keep checking in.

 

 

Thoughts on Central Scouting’s 2016 NHL Entry Draft watch list

We’re still a couple of months away from Central Scouting’s annual midseason rankings, but the NHL’s amateur talent evaluation staff released the watch list they put out every year as the new season gets underway.

In this particular iteration, the CSS does not rank the players, but organizes the players by league/competition level and assigns each an A, B or C grade. Players with ‘A’ grades are expected first-round selections next June. ‘B’ players are expected draft selections and the ‘C’ players are on the bubble but have a shot- hence the use of the “players to watch” to describe the list.

But enough with the administrativa…here are some thoughts on a few of the players on the list I have some knowledge about through live and online viewing, not to mention discussions with NHL scouting sources. This is by no means a comprehensive list- my position with Red Line Report limits my ability to go into exhaustive detail, but my hope is to give the readership a good starting point for further research.

Vitaly Abramov, LW Gatineau (QMJHL) 5-9, 172 (B)- Little but electrifying winger brings pure speed and dynamic puckhandling and creativity to the table. Impressive start and he’ll likely rise as the year goes on because of his upside.

Kieffer Bellows, LW U.S. NTDP (USHL) 6-0, 196 (A)- Son of former NHL 50-goal man Brian Bellows is a Boston University recruit and native Minnesotan with a knack for finding the back of the net. He’s a good skater but has the scorer’s instincts, hands and heavy shot to finish off chances.

Tyler Benson, LW Vancouver (WHL) 6-0, 200 (A)- Injuries slowed his start as he has yet to get in on the regular season with the Giants, but this edgy scoring winger has the tools and pro attributes to be an early pick and eventual NHL star. He was impressive in helping Canada to yet another gold medal at the August Ivan Hlinka tourney in Europe.

Jakob Chychrun, D Sarnia (OHL) 6-2, 215 (A)- Wonderful talent/skill with the head and maturity to be an instant impact defender and eventual franchise cornerstone. His first goal of the season exploded off his stick, shattering the the shaft, but the puck rocketed into the net top shelf. With his ability to skate, move the puck and play a smart game, he’ll be the first defender off the board in June and will challenge Auston Matthews for top billing.

Alex DeBrincat, RW Erie (OHL) 5-7, 165 (A)- Late ’97 Michigander lit it up to the tune of 51 goals and 100+ points a year ago riding shotgun with Connor McDavid. He impressed by amping up the production when McDavid was lost for a month with a hand injury, so there is reason to believe the small but fast and highly dangerous scoring wing can do it again.

Timmy Gettinger, LW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-5, 206 (B)- Massive winger isn’t fancy but he just goes to the net and unleashes a cannon shot that can beat goalies cleanly or uses his hand-eye coordination to deflect pucks into the net. Gettinger was one of the few bright spots on Team USA’s Ivan Hlinka entry this past summer. He’s a bit raw at this stage, but you can’t argue with the physical attributes.

Olli Juolevi, D London (OHL) 6-3, 180 (A)- High-end Finnish talent from the back end left home for North America and is an impressive package of skating, passing, shot and offensive instincts. He alternately impressed and provided scouts with plenty of areas to address in the first weekend of OHL games, but there is no arguing that he has unlimited potential. He’ll have to work on the little things like his reads, pinches and making the right decisions under pressure, but he’s going to rack up some points for the powerhouse Knights this season.

Luke Kunin, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten) 5-11, 193 (A)- Missouri native who grew up skating with Tkachuk showed off the impressive chemistry the two have together when he blasted a top shelf shot past Evan Sarthou just seconds into the All-American Prospects Game last week. Has the skating and shot of a prolific scorer and the Badgers will welcome him with open arms after a tough season in 2015.

Charles McAvoy, D Boston University (HEA) 6-0, 208 (A)- Heady defender can do it all- he pushes the pace with his skating and runs the PP like a seasoned veteran. The Long Island native might not possess ideal size, but his brain and skill level will allow him to make a rapid transition with the Terriers as a freshman.

Jesse Puljujarvi, RW Karpat (Finland) 6-4, 205 (A)- Finnish power forward will be a coveted draft commodity for his size, smarts and polish. A guy as big as he is- essentially a linebacker on skates- should not be as quick and nimble while making it look so effortless. He, Matthews and Chychrun in my view are at the head of the 2016 class.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW London (OHL) 6-1, 200 (A)- I must admit, my man-crush on Keith’s oldest son might be a tad disturbing, but this is a kid who can just flat-out get things done. You hate to compare him to his old man, but it’s inevitable, and while he might not have Keith’s pure size and power (yet) he’s every bit as smart, instinctive and driven. Beyond the uncanny physical resemblance to his dad, Tkachuk is a different player, but every bit as coveted in the modern NHL for his ability to provide offense and be effective in the faceoff circle (even though he’s a winger). Tkachuk was a force in the AAPG and racked up 6 points in his first two OHL games as an encore. The scary thing is- had his linemates been a little more on the ball, he might have scored 10+ last weekend. He’s active and engaged around the net and is only going to get better now that Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak are back with the Knights. Just in time for Halloween- the OHL had best be ready for a horror show.

Matt Tkachuk

 

 

 

 

 

 

Random thoughts on the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Auston Matthews vs Jakob Chychrun. Center vs. Defenseman. Arizona offensive wunderkind with Mexican roots vs. Florida-born Ontario product and son of a former NHLer. Both bring a lot to the table in terms of potential and there is a lot left to play out before the draft. Just like 2013 when Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones came into the season with a lot of hype, you could see a similar dynamic play out. If Matthews ends up in Switzerland it would be a fascinating side story to the normal draft race and I don’t think too many NHL scouts would complain about having to go over there to see him. Matthews’ great uncle, Wes, played in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins in 1966, so the high-end athletic ability runs in the family.

As is the case every year, you get a good dose of bloodlines with each draft class. Some of the big names coming down the pike this year: Logan Brown (Windsor Spitfires), Kieffer Bellows (playing in Sioux Falls of the USHL), Matthew Tkachuk (London Knights), and Alex Nylander (AIK) are all sons of NHL players and very good ones at that. Jeff Chychrun was not a high-end player but he was tough and gritty- his son brings some of his dad’s toughness but some top-level skill at the defense position as well.

In Kieffer Bellows’ case- the apple has not fallen far from the tree. The BU-bound center scored 33 goals in the USHL as a 16-year-old which is a remarkable feat when you consider how much older and stronger so many of the guys in that league are. His dad, Brian, was the second overall pick in the 1982 NHL draft, going to the Minnesota North Stars behind Gord Kluzak when the North Stars gave Harry Sinden a couple of journeymen not to take the elder Bellows. In retrospect, Scott Stevens was the real gem of that draft class, taken fifth overall by the Washington Capitals, but Bellows scored 55 goals in 1990, won a Stanley Cup with Montreal three years later, and finished his NHL career with 485 goals and 1,022 points. No pressure or anything, kid!

This could be the year of the Finns, as Jesse Puljujarvi is up near the top of the draft class as a power forward with legitimate skill and scoring ability to go with good size. Defensemen Olli Juolevi and Markus Niemelainen begin the year with 1st-round promise as well.

I’m going to keep an eye on Mississauga defenseman Sean Day this season mainly because a friend of mine who knows his OHL hockey told me I should going back to last year. Day has put up nice numbers so far and seems to have the requisite tools to be the first-round prospect many see him as going into 2015-16.

It’s not as strong a year in New England, but that’s to be expected after Massachusetts saw three players come off the board in the top-21 selections and 13 overall. U.S. NTDP two-way defenseman Chad Krys of Connecticut is the top ranked area native for the preseason. His dad, Mark, was a Boston Bruins draft pick who played at Boston University and the AHL’s Providence Bruins but never cracked an NHL roster. I also like John Leonard, the lone area representative of the USA Under-18 select squad that will play in the annual Ivan Hlinka tourney in Slovakia to make some mid-round noise this year with Green Bay of the USHL. He’s leaving Springfield, Mass. power Cathedral High and it’s a good move for the UMass recruit to play at a higher level of competition. The August Hlinka, along with USA WJC camp at Lake Placid is always the harbingers of the new season for me, and they’re right around the corner.

Until then, smoke ’em if you got ’em and enjoy the hot summer days and nights.