Final 1st-round mock draft and Bruins draft preview (audio)

Well, NHL Entry Draft time is upon us…I can hardly believe that I will be flying to Buffalo, N.Y. in the morning and that by this time Friday night, Bruins fans will know who the next big hopeful will be.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but rather than write an excessively long post here, I’ll take the advice of a recent blog critic who didn’t like the length of my Bruins draft strategy piece and break it down for you in about 15 minutes. He’s out of luck on the bolded names, though- sorry pal. As Kenny Loggins once crooned- I’ll meet you halfway. I’m sharing my thoughts on where the Bruins are heading into the draft, and where I think they’re going, and not just in round 1. Keep in mind this is just one person’s opinion, and lots of things can happen between now and pick No. 14 in the First Niagara Center.

Here’s the audio:

I am not going to weigh in on internet rumors surrounding Jimmy Vesey. Look, until he either signs with the Buffalo Sabres or he doesn’t and becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15, I’m going to do my level best to stay above the fray. Because of my relationship with him and members of his family going back to his prep school days, that’s precisely *why* I’m not going to get into the middle of what is flying around. I give full credit to the Sabres for stepping up and getting his rights- that puts them in the driver’s seat, at least for the next some-odd 60 days, and Tim Murray will either convince him to forego the chance to pick his destination, or Vesey will stay the course. My thinking- and it’s just my own intuition here- is that he’s come a full four years since Nashville drafted him in Pittsburgh. What is less than two months more at this point? But if Murray and Sabres owner Terry Pegula (and don’t forget Jack Eichel) make a convincing enough pitch, there’s not much stopping him from ending the soap opera.

But, if you’re looking for me to repeat things flying around various message boards- that’s not happening.

Now, onto the mock draft:

1- Toronto- Auston Matthews, C; The Leafs get their man- Arizona native’s the wire-to-wire No. 1 overall selection and with good reason.

2- Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW; The first big winners of the NHL’s new lotto jackpot system cash in with this pure shooter who turns goal scoring into an art form.

3- Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; GM Jarmo Kekalainen pounces on this Finnish horse who isn’t quite the threat his countryman is, but isn’t that far off, either.

4. Edmonton- Matt Tkachuk, LW; On a team whose GM once saw firsthand what Milan Lucic could do, the Oilers grab a high-end power forward with serious bloodlines.

5- Vancouver- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW; The Canucks need help everywhere, so Jim Benning can’t go wrong here with as complete a two-way threat as there is in this class.

6- Calgary- Logan Brown, C; Described by my pal Reed Duthie (who calls Hamilton Bulldogs games) as an “aircraft carrier with feet”, this massive center is also highly skilled, meaning- he’s off the board in the blink of an eye.

7- Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D; Is this Finnish version of the old Val Kilmer movie ‘Real Genius’ the first defender off the board in Buffalo? Very possible.

8.- Buffalo- Jakob Chychrun, D; After making a splash with the Vesey trade, the Sabres fire more shots across the bow, picking up this big name at 8, but his hockey IQ has raised some doubts.

9- Montreal- Alex Nylander, RW; The Canadiens seek skill and scoring, so why not grab the player who might have absolutely been the most talented player in the OHL draft class, even if he doesn’t always bring it.

10- Colorado- Mikhail Sergachev, D; The Avalanche land a big talent that has scouts divided on his overall defensive awareness, but may be at the top end of the skill factor in the OHL.

11- New Jersey- Tyson Jost, LW-C; Ray Shero blinks- he can’t believe Jost is on the board here, and after landing Pavel Zacha a year ago, grabs another potential elite forward bound for North Dakota in the spirit of one Zach Parise 13 years ago.

12- Ottawa- Michael McLeod C; The Senators are betting that McLeod’s blend of size, skating and smarts propels him to stardom up the middle, even with questions about his NHL upside.

13- Carolina- Clayton Keller, C; Small but dynamic center has major league potential as an uber-dangerous playmaker.

14- Boston- Dante Fabbro, D; Knowing what the Bruins tend to value in their players and what they need at this stage, this defender is right up their alley at 14.

15- Minnesota- Luke Kunin, C; St. Louis native did a great job as a freshman on a poor team- the sky’s the limit and the Wild can’t resist.

16- Detroit- Charlie McAvoy, D; A player who could just as easily go to Boston two picks earlier, if he’s still on the board here the Wings pounce.

17- Nashville- Jake Bean, D; The Predators know Bean has a high-end skill set and grab him with outstanding value at 17 where others had him projected inside the top-10.

18- Philadelphia- Kieffer Bellows, LW; Passed up by his hometown Wild, Bellows doesn’t have much time to dwell  on it & makes sense as a fit in Philly with his deadly release and penchant for filling the net.

19- NY Islanders- Riley Tufte, RW; Big, massive, skates well, tremendous long-term promise and the Isles struck gold with Brock Nelson in Minnesota before, so why not take a big payoff project here?

20- Arizona via NYR- Julien Gauthier, RW Major concerns about hockey sense and a tepid second half after tearing it up early in the season mean that the Val d’Or standout slides, but he’s solid value here.

21- Carolina via LAK- Max Jones, LW; Speedy power forward has some nasty play that has gone over the line, but if the Hurricanes can harness that raw aggression- he could be one of those role guys you win with.

22- Winnipeg via CHI- Logan Stanley, D; When you pick Laine at 2, you can afford to take on more of a project player with your bonus 1st-rounder, and with Stanley’s size, skating and snarl- he looks like a solid bet to play even if he tops out as a mid-tier shutdown D.

23- Florida-German Rubtsov, C; The Russian forward in class is someone worth jumping on in the early 20’s and Dale Tallon does just that.

24- Anaheim-Tage Thompson, RW; Huge but raw with an upside that some in the NHL scouting community feels is too legit to quit, the UConn Husky becomes a part of the West Coast quack attack.

25- Dallas- Dennis Cholowski, D; It sure looks like the late-surging BCHL two-way defender is bound to land in the 1st round, and he looks like a good fit for the resurgent Stars under Jim Nill.

26- Washington- Pascal Laberge, C; Speedy and skilled, the Capitals need to find secondary scoring behind Ovechkin and Backstrom- this Victoriaville Tigre brings that in spades.

27- Tampa Bay- Brett Howden, C; Some say he looks a lot like his older brother, but this Howden seems to have more killer instinct and finish around the net. Stevie Y. will take it.

28- St. Louis- Lucas Johansen, D; With Kevin Shattenkirk likely to leave via trade, the Blues will look to infuse more offensive talent and potential with this latest product of the Kelowna D machine.

29- Boston via SJS- Markus Niemelainen, D; The B’s could go with a forward with their second pick like a surprise 1st-rounder in Wade Allison here, but if they add another 6-5 D who can really skate, this Finn will complement the right-shooting Brandon Carlo nicely at some point.

30- Anaheim via Toronto via PIT- Boris Katchouk, LW; Anaheim grabbed the big RW earlier, now they get the gritty, in-your-face and underrated Soo Greyhounds scorer at the end of the round after giving up Frederik Andersen to the Leafs. (Thanks to the readers who pointed out my mistake)

Alex DeBrincat drops out of the 1st round, but he won’t last long in the 2nd.

***

Okay- that’s it. I’m off to Buffalo.

Reminder- if you want breaking NHL draft news, picks, analysis and hot takes (or is it “taeks?”) give me a follow on Twitter: @kluedeke29 I might be able to get some Periscope action going as well, so look for that.

Will be on TSN 690 with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, with host Tony Marinaro this Friday, June 24, from 11-noon (Eastern) live from First Niagara Center to talk draft, draft and nothing but draft.

Will do some deeper dives on the draft at the blog in the coming days, but this is pretty much it until the big event, and even then- will just hit the wave tops, but keep checking in- I might have some Easter Eggs and surprises for you.

TSP Podcast: 2016 NHL Draft thoughts- the non-Bruins-centric edition

For those who aren’t that keen on the Boston Bruins, this podcast is for you!

In it, I break down some of the top talents in this year’s class- where they’re probably going and also discuss some risers (Luke Kunin, Dennis Cholowski are just two).

We’re about 2 weeks out and the combine is in the books, so more and more info will start to leak out. Is it legit? Is it deception operations from teams looking to distract away from the guys they want?

Check it out and pass it on.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 All-American Prospects Game notebook: NHL sons Tkachuk, McInnis lead hit parade

Had a chance to watch last night’s All-American Prospects Game played at First Niagara Center in Buffalo (broadcast on NHL Network for those like me who couldn’t be there in person) and the United States has some impressive talent coming into the draft next June 24-25 (in the same building, by the way).

The game, which began as a tradition in 2012 by USA Hockey as a model on the CHL’s highly successful Top Prospects Game played every January for the past 15 years or so, featured a teams coached by former NHLers Jeremy Roenick and Derek Plante. Plante’s blue shirts came from behind to win it late thanks to a goal from Massachusetts product Luke McInnis (son of former NHL and Bruins forward Marty McInnis) in a 6-4 contest.

Based on what I have seen so far (and it’s admittedly early) if the Bruins end up with two early picks in 2016, it’s hard to envision a better scenario for them than coming away with Sarnia Sting defenseman Jakob Chychrun and London Knights winger Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk blew the doors off of observers early last month with his showing at Team USA World Jr. National Evaluation Camp at Lake Placid, and he continued his tremendous play in the AAPG last night. He’s not the same kind of pure power forward that his dad was, but with a 6-1 frame, he’s big enough to get in there and is reportedly weighing in at around 200 pounds these days. The eldest Tkachuk son just might have better skills and offensive hockey sense than his old man, though- and that’s saying a hell of a lot. We’ll see how it goes, but expect him to leave a trail of destruction in the OHL this year. B’s will need both picks in the top-five, possibly even top-three to make this scenario work, and there is a lot of hockey to be played between now and next June.

And now- here are the notes on some (not all) players:

Team Roenick

Matthew Tkachuk, LW- He made an immediate impression with an assist on St. Louis minor hockey teammate Luke Kunin’s goal in the opening moments. Tkachuk is a good skater who has tremendous anticipation and ability to read the unfolding play in front of him. He plays has that killer instinct that all great scorers must have- he goes down into the trenches out in front of the net and finds ways to get his stick on pucks. Tkachuk takes pucks straight to the net and uses his body and skill to protect the puck and maintain possession against an aggressive defense. He might bear quite a physical resemblance to his father at the same age, but Matt is a different player, and fans should be careful not to make direct comparisons between the two at this stage of the younger Tkachuk’s development. He’s got some high-end hands and hockey sense, so he looks like the  real McCoy. He’ll be in one of the premier hockey programs in the world this season at London, a year after posting 36 goals and 96 points at the U.S. NTDP. Tkachuk scored a goal in the second period last night from his knees after taking an initial shot from inside the left faceoff circle and losing his balance. The puck squirted back out to him on the rebound and he put it in- not a highlight reel score, but a goal scorer’s tally for sure. 10 seconds later, the same line broke back into the zone and Tkachuk fed Kunin with a quick go feed at the offensive blue line for Kunin’s second goal of the night to make it 4-3.

Luke Kunin, RW- Had a fine game, scoring right off the bat with a bar-down, under-the-crossbar beauty from the right circle over Evan Sarthou’s shoulder after breaking in. He showed some terrific chemistry with friend and minor mate Tkachuk and will be a kid to watch this season at the University of Wisconsin.

Griffin Luce, D- Big defenseman is the grandson of former Buffalo Sabres great Don Luce and his dad, Scott, heads the Florida Panthers’ player development and amateur scouting staff. A dual citizen (he was born in Ontario but claims Williamsville, N.Y. as his home), at one point Luce looked like he might be evolving into a dominant blue line presence a couple of years back at Salisbury School. After a year at the NTDP, the University of Michigan recruit looks like a solid defense-first, shutdown player but does not project as much of an offensive threat at the higher levels. He’s big and physical- needs to improve his skating transitions and direction changes.

Chad Krys, D- I just really like this kid’s refined offensive game and skating. He doesn’t possess ideal size at a shade under 6-foot and has to work on his positional play overall, but when it comes to vision and feel for the flow of a contest, Krys is a legitimate threat to make something happen on every shift.

Team Plante

Max Jones, LW- Son of former NHLer Brad Jones drove the net hard on his first goal, a wicked shot and finish on a jailbreak play. Jones and Tkachuk are mates on the Knights in the OHL this season and the two of them are going to give opponents fits. With his 6-2 size, he’s still filling out, but Jones is a gritty and skilled player who can do a little bit of everything. He tied the game at four goals apiece with about 6 minutes remaining in the third period on a bad-angle snipe through the shortside post that beat Stephen Dhillon.

Luke McInnis, D- The undersized but speedy defenseman from Hingham, Mass. left Dexter Southfield to skate in the USHL with the Youngstown Phantoms this season. Like his dad, he can really skate (and as is the case with Tkachuk- he looks just like him when the two dads were on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team together). The Boston College recruit scored the winning goal with less than 2 minutes remaining and earned MVP honors, though I think other players made better cases to take top honors. His NHL caliber wheels allow him to motor up the ice to be an offensive threat. He’s a project player who will need a lot of time to mature physically while refining his game- he was beaten pretty cleanly by Kunin on a move in the second period because he allowed the Roenick forward to close on him too fast with the puck and opened himself up to Kunin put the puck through his skates and then zip around him. He later prevented a goal in the third frame when Roenick D Sam Rossini took a shot that leaked through behind goalie Ryan Edquist, but McInnis made the poised play to secure the puck and get the whistle. These things will have to come along gradually for McInnis, but he’s a smart, industrious player with the raw tools to develop.

Kieffer Bellows, LW- Another NHL scion, he scored an empty-net goal to seal the victory, but had some great chances generated with linemate Clayton Keller. A Minnesota native from his father’s North Stars connections, the apple did not fall far from the tree, as the younger Bellows shows the same kind of wicked shot and finishing skills. A Boston University recruit, Bellows could terrorize the Hockey East in short order next year after another season in the USHL. He was that league’s rookie of the year after setting the record for most goals by a 16-year-old in 2014-15. His empty netter happened on a nice athletic play- he leaped over a sliding Chad Krys at the blueline while Team Plante was shorthanded and on a 6-on-4 disadvantage, and then while falling to the ice, shot the puck down the ice and into the open cage. Pure athletic and competitive hustle play right there.

Clayton Keller, C- Although he’s smallish, this pivot has outstanding skills and creativity. He played a good game, generating scoring chances from broken plays and using his speed and quick stick to create headaches for Team Roenick. Keller has first-round skill, but it remains to be seen if he can stay healthy and productive over the course of the year with the NTDP U18 team to remain there. He’s another good get for BU, so he and Bellows will be able to keep a good thing going when they get to Comm Ave.

J.D. Greenway, D- Jordan’s younger brother made a memorable play when he grabbed the puck at the blue line, beat a defender down low with some good footwork (10-to-2) to open up some space for himself and then finding a breaking Trent Frederic at the right circle for the quick-strike. He’s not quite as massive as his older sibling, but he has enough in the way of size and NHL-caliber measurables that he’ll be someone to watch as the season goes on.

Logan Brown, C- Former long-time NHL defenseman Jeff Brown’s son had a relatively quiet game save for his wicked one-timer goal in the second period off a William Knierim feed. The younger Brown was cut from Team Canada’s Under-18 team that won gold at the Ivan Hlinka tourney this past August, so he might leverage his dual citizenship to pursue an international track with USA Hockey- we’ll see what happens. At 6-6, he’s huge and a load to handle when he’s going to the net, but he also goes stretches where he’s a little passive and doesn’t use his tremendous physical gifts enough.

Charlie McAvoy, D- Was not really impressed with McAvoy’s play for much of the night, but he came up big when needed, skating through the zone and around the back of the net before finding a wide-open McInnis out high for the winning power play goal. Right before that, he fumbled the puck at the blue line and struggled to make the play against the fore checker. The BU freshman is extremely talented and smart, but this wasn’t really his night. It happens.