Haggerty's Final 2016 NHL Mock Draft
The one thing we know as a rock-solid certainty from last summer’s NHL Draft weekend: anything can happen with so many teams looking to shake up their rosters, potentially moving players ahead of an expansion draft and clear off cap space with a cap ceiling that might grow much from last season to next. Count on teams with multiple first round picks like the Bruins, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Coyotes and Jets to make things interesting, and attempt to flip picks from a first round that’s actually pretty deep in NHL talent this year.
Beyond that, the one thing most agree on is that there is some level of drop-off after the top three forwards (Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi) of the draft, each of whom is expected to be able to play in the NHL while making an impact right off the bat.
“The first three forwards will all be high impact guys right off the bat next season, but I believe there are five forwards at the top of the draft that will all eventually be good, productive No. 1 line players in the NHL,” said one veteran talent evaluator of the 2016 draft pool. “There is no Drew Doughty, or Victor Hedman, or Aaron Ekblad-type of franchise defenseman in this draft, but there are still some pretty good top pairing guys to be had. It’s a good draft, but there is a bit of a drop-off after those first five picks.”
After that it will be up to the 30 scouting departments to figure out which players will be a first round success like Logan Couture rather than a Zach Hamill cautionary tale just a few years from now.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews, Zurich (Swiss)
The consensus No. 1 overall pick is a big center in the Joe Thornton mold, and exactly what the Maple Leafs need as they continue their Shanahan/Lamoriello/Babcock overhaul of the star-crossed organization that’s floundered for more than a decade. The US-born Matthews has perhaps been off the radar a bit while choosing to play in Europe this season rather than going the junior hockey route with the Everett Silvertips, but he’ll be Toronto’s first legitimate franchise center since the prime pivot days of Mats Sundin. The big, skilled Matthews showed good flashes of what he can do offensively for Team USA during the world championships with his size/speed/hands/vision combo, and should just keep getting better as he goes from junior hockey strength to man-strength against NHL competition. There’s no question we’ll be seeing him quite a bit on Hockey Night in Canada for years to come. My one thing with Matthews at this point is whether or not a seemingly laid-back West Coast dude is going to be able to handle the pressure that’s coming in Toronto. One thing an 18-year-old can’t be prepared for is being treated by the savior by a Toronto media corps that covers the Leafs from every angle. I couldn’t get a good read on that particular answer for the long-term future during NHL scouting combine week, but Matthews is the top guy regardless.
2. Winnipeg Jets: Patrick Laine, Tappara (Finland)
A big, goal-scoring left wing that will really make this whole lottery/draft process a huge win for a Jets team that already boasts considerable talent on their NHL roster. Laine was clearly a presence for Finland in helping get them to the final Gold medal game of the world championships against a talented Canada contingent, and the big winger showed the ability/willingness to mix it up physically as a young player finding his identity on the ice against established pros. He also told the media at the NHL scouting combine that he thinks he’ll be an Alex Ovechkin-level talent in the NHL, so there’s no lack of self-confidence when it comes to the Finn power forward’s mental game off the ice either. Both the top-2 picks are locked in for Toronto and Winnipeg, but beyond that some funky things might start to happen. Besides…Winnipeg had luck with some other first round pick from Finland many, many moons ago, didn’t they? Some guy named Selanne, I think.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Jesse Puljujarvi, Karpat (Finland)
Finnish GM Jarmo Kekalainen may select his countrymen at the No. 3 spot, but I think somebody else will end up making this pick on draft night in Buffalo. Puljujarvi had 17 points in seven games to lead Finland to the Gold Medal in the World Juniors last December, and is an explosive offensive force that could replace Ryan Johansen’s production in time. But the sense here is that the Blue Jackets really want a big franchise center, and they like massive, skilled and talented center Logan Brown a little lower in the top-10 of the draft. All that being said, you just can’t teach 6-foot-3, 203-pounds, and drafting a player in Puljujarvi that’s ready to play next season will make an impact in Columbus, or wherever he ends up being selected.
4. Edmonton Oilers: Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)
While the Oilers already have a bevy of talented forwards, drafting the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Tkachuk would give Edmonton the kind of physically dominant power forward they don’t really have up front right now. It would also free up Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli to pull the trigger on dealing Taylor Hall away, and perhaps finally addressing the defensemen situation that’s been victimizing the Oil for years. Chiarelli values size, heaviness and strength on the wing, and Tkachuk would bring plenty of that along with net-front presence just like his old man. He also has the added benefit of hockey IQ as a second-generation NHL prospect that comes from a great hockey family in Boston. While Tkachuk is expected to need a little more time to develop, he felt like he’d be ready for the NHL sooner rather than later when asked about it at the NHL scouting combine. There’s still a chance that Edmonton could deal this pick if that helps them land a coveted young RFA defenseman like Jacob Trouba, but Tkachuk is the guy if Edmonton sticks to their guns and keeps the pick.
5. Vancouver Canucks: Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
The 6-foot-3, 201-pounder has the versatility of playing both left wing and center, and could give Jim Benning and the Canucks the kind of power forward-type on the wing they thought they might have had in Zack Kassian a few years ago. Or he could give them the kind of big, physically dominant center that you need to compete in the Western Conference after surprising everybody with a solid turn in the middle last season. That versatility has really boosted the value of Dubois to teams picking in the top-5. Dubois is ranked at the top of the NHL Central Scouting List for North American skaters, had 42 goals and 99 points in the Q this past season. If the Canucks are going to re-tool around the Sedin Twins, this is as good a place to start as any after addressing some of the D-men issues with the deal for Erik Gudbranson. Most around the league feel that Benning will go for a forward here rather than a defenseman given the quality levels of the draft, and that he won’t end up getting the value in trade he’d be looking for to move the pick.
6. Calgary Flames: Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL)
With big brother William already pushing his way into the NHL for the Maple Leafs thanks to his undeniable skill level and game-breaking offensive abilities, Brian Burke and Brad Treliving take a first round flier on the offensively explosive, 6-foot, 172-pound younger brother in Alexander. The bloodlines are undeniable for this Swedish family, and that’s something that old school NHL folks like Burke value highly even as the Flames could also stand to get much bigger and stronger on the wing as well. Nylander, like his brother, is probably a couple of years away with the similar slight build shared by the family including longtime NHL father Michael. But Nylander would give the high-octane Flames offense yet another player on the roster that can play video game hockey-style offense with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and that talented young D-men crew.
7. Arizona Coyotes: Olli Juolevi, London (OHL)
Another Finnish hero from the World Junior team, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound blueliner is a smooth puck-moving defenseman with very good size. There is disagreement among scouts, however, as to whether there is even a single prospect in this draft that will eventually develop into an elite No. 1 defenseman. Juolevi is probably closest to that type of D-man and said as much when asked about it at the NHL scouting combine last week, but he isn’t drawing any comparisons to Drew Doughty or Victor Hedman at this point in his career. The 14 points in 18 OHL playoff games was impressive for the Finn-born prospect, and he would make a nice compliment to Oliver Ekman-Larsson out in the desert for a Coyotes team that’s stockpiling young talent.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL)
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenseman is a bit of a tough one to predict: he could be the first defenseman taken, or he could last all the way to something in the neighborhood of Boston’s pick at No. 14. The feeling here is that he’ll go in the top-10 at some point given his mix of size, toughness and high end offense, but there are some scouts that wonder if it will ever completely come together for such a physically gifted prospect. He was clearly the best and most dominant athlete in much of the combine fitness testing two weeks ago in Buffalo, and looked the closest to being NHL-ready physically based simply on the eye test. There is a potentially high upside coupled with a wee bit of risk when selecting this player, but it was also interesting to note that Chychrun is family friends with Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his family. That might be enough to tip the scales his way when Buffalo makes their selection, and then people can focus on whether or not the laconic Tim Murray is actually going to address the First Niagara Center crowd when he makes the selection.
9. Montreal Canadiens: Tyson Jost, Penticton (BCHL)
The University of North Dakota-bound center was the top forward at the U18 World Juniors, and would give the Canadiens a formidable 1-2 center punch with Alex Galchenyuk. Jost has been gathering momentum in the second half of the scouting season after dominating the BCHL on the same team with fellow first rounder Dante Fabbro, but that also leaves some lingering questions about the level of competition they faced throughout most of the season in juniors. Scouts love his makeup just as much as the skill he shows on the ice, which sounds just like another Canadian center that went to North Dakota. Some guy named Toews, I think? The leadership, skill and cachet of a guy like Jost is exactly what Montreal has needed at the center position for some time.
10. Colorado Avalanche: Mikhail Sergachyov, Windsor (OHL)
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound defenseman is effective at both ends of the ice, and doesn’t have any easily exploitable weaknesses with speed, tenacity and puck skills among the items in his tool box. He was named the best defenseman in the OHL after his first year in the league. With the Colorado Avalanche in the middle of debating whether or not they’re going to trade Tyson Barrie, Sergachyov could give them a young player ready to fill those skates in the next couple of years. Perhaps just as important to his skill level and draft prospectus, Colorado doesn’t seem to be scared away from the Russian prospects given some of the players already within their organization. That’s always a consideration on draft night.
11. New Jersey Devils: Logan Brown (Windsor, OHL)
The Devils could use a little offense everywhere within their lineup, and will continue to address that by adding a big potential franchise center to their organization in a big, big way, and Brown can be that kind of guy a couple of years down the line. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound pivot has rare massive size at the center position, and could pair with Pavel Zacha to give New Jersey a potent 1-2 combo down the middle for years to come. The 21 goals and 74 points were impressive in junior last season, and the 53 percent success rate in the face-off dot will make NHL coaches big fans of his quickly. While Brown’s potential ceiling is high someday down the line, the big-bodied project might take a little while before he reaches it like fellow massive centers Brian Boyle and Joe Colborne, but Columbus is a couple of years away from truly competing anyway.
12. Ottawa Senators: Clayton Keller, USNTDP (USHL)
Undersized at 5-foot-9, 170-pounds, but Keller has the kind of creativity, speed and playmaking skills that would fit right in with the Ottawa Senators’ frenetic, offensive style of play. Keller says that Patrick Kane is his favorite player, and it’s easy to see why when you watch his highlight reel making feisty, creative plays while snaking through bigger bodies on the ice. His 70 assists in 62 games for the NTDP U-18 team last season is eye-popping, and he could do a lot of damage with the offensive talent up and down the Ottawa lineup. Like several of the first round favorites, Keller is likely headed to Boston University next season even though he seemed a bit noncommittal about the whole thing during the NHL scouting combine week.
13. Carolina Hurricanes: Kieffer Bellows, USNTDP (USHL)
The son of former NHLer Brian Bellows is a 6-foot, 189-pound sniper at left wing that could bring some of that explosiveness to a solid Carolina team that simply needs more offense. Bellows had a ridiculous 50 goals in 62 games for the NDTP U-18 team last season, and obviously has the hockey IQ and instincts that go along with the NHL bloodlines as the son of a player that topped 400 goals and 1,000 points in his NHL career. The shot, release and ability to make plays in tight around the net for goals will all be difficult traits in Bellows to pass up once the draft falls toward the midway point of the first round. Bellows also plays a strong, physical game along the walls to pair with elite offensive production, and that makes him the kind of player a team could easily take a flier on at this point in the draft. If Bellows is still there at No. 14, the Bruins will think long and hard about making that pick over a defenseman.
14. Boston Bruins: Dante Fabbro, Penticton (BCHL)
The talented defenseman could go anywhere from here to about the 25-range based on some scouts’ varied opinions of the solid blueliner, but Fabbro fits in here with a Bruins organization that still badly needs puck-movers. Fabbro is one of a couple of D-men in this draft that’s expected to be able to play in all situations, and his good attitude was palpable during interviews at the NHL combine a couple of weeks ago. Bruins fans will get a good look at him as he’s one of about four or five first round talents committed to Boston University next season in what should be a fun season on Comm. Ave for David Quinn. One talent evaluator likened the high-octane Fabbro to Kevin Shattenkirk at a similar stage in the player’s development, and that would certainly be a good fit given that the All-Star-level Shattenkirk is one of their potential targets in the immediate future for the NHL club.
15. Minnesota Wild: Julien Gauthier, Val D’Or (QMJHL)
There is much to like about Gauthier’s game. He’s big at 6-foot-4, 221-pounds, he can skate and he can score while giving the Wild another premium forward to go along with Zach Parise and company. His 41 goals, and 11 power play strikes, in 54 games last season is mighty impressive, and lets you know he’s much more than just a big body steaming down the wing. Gauthier might have initially gone higher, but faded a bit offensively down the stretch when scouts were making their final judgments. That will be to Minnesota’s benefit when it’s all said and done. Max Jones, London (OHL) – The big winger has a bit of nasty in his game, would give the Wild the kind of size and offensive ability they’re looking for on the wing and will fill out more while currently sitting at 6-foot-2, 203-pounds. They could opt for a D-man or a center if a run at free agent Kyle Okposo is in their plans, so this will be an interesting choice for Minnesota. If the Bruins go for size, toughness and scoring at the forward position then Jones might be very be their pick at No. 14 instead of Fabbro. His 28 goals and 106 penalty minutes last season screams out Old Time Hockey.
16. Detroit Red Wings: German Rubstov, Russian National U18 Team (MHL)
The Red Wings will be digging deep in the amateur junior ranks in Russia for a strong two-way center to replace the departing Russian center Pavel Datsyuk. The 6-foot-2, 178-pounder is strong on the puck and a high-effort player, and certainly would give Detroit what they’re always looking for in their prospects. Some teams shy away from the Russian prospects for any number of reasons, but not the Red Wings even given the difficulty of gauging a Russian prospect at their junior levels. This will be an interesting name to watch in the first round given how limited some of the scouting reports might be for him coming out of Russia’s junior hockey ranks, but that kind of thing is right in Ken Holland’s wheelhouse.
17. Nashville Predators: Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL)
He probably needs to eat a few more steaks and hamburgers at a slender 6-foot, 173-pounds, but the talented Bean can skate and move the puck with some creative flash. He’s also the best finisher among the defensemen in this year’s draft, and that counts for his something. His legitimately dangerous point shot will create offense on the power play, and it should be a trademark NHL weapon as long as he keep getting bigger and stronger while moving up the ranks. He’s one of those players that’s got an uncanny way of getting pucks through traffic, and those D-men are worth their weight in gold at the NHL level. The drafting of Bean would allow the Predators to replenish their young D-men supply after dealing away Seth Jones last season, but the one question is whether Calgary will be tempted to take him early given that Bean’s dad is the Flames’ COO.
18. Philadelphia Flyers: Max Jones, London (OHL)
The big winger has a bit of nasty in his game, and would give the Flyers the kind of size, offensive ability and attitude that they’re always looking for on the wing. Certainly Jones will fill out a little more while currently sitting at 6-foot-2, 203-pounds, and should be a certified beast by the time he enters the league. They could opt for a D-man given their constant need for blueliners, so this will be an interesting choice for Ron Hextall. If the Bruins go for size, toughness and scoring at the forward position then Jones might be very be their pick at No. 14 instead of Fabbro. His 28 goals and 106 penalty minutes last season screams out Old Time Hockey, but there’s also been a feeling he’s starting to slide down the draft a bit after a stellar season in London. He was the only first round prospect that skipped out on the media session at last week’s NHL scouting combine, for what that’s worth.
19. New York Islanders: Michael McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)
The Islanders could go in a number of different areas depending on need and losses in free agency, but are always on the lookout to find talented, skilled and dangerous forwards with leadership qualities. McLeod and his speedy skating legs will start to help fill a seemingly impossible void should the Isles lose out on forwards like Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen in free agency. The 6-foot-2, 188-pounder is relentless and crafty, and should fit right into the Isles way of doing business alongside John Tavares. McLeod would be a steal at this point in the draft as many evaluators have him going much closer to top-10, but a run on defensemen could put him into this range for the Isles’ pick.
20. Arizona Coyotes (from the Rangers): Rasmus Asplund, Farjestads (Sweden)
One of the youngest players in the Swedish Elite League, who performed well for Sweden at the World Juniors. The 5-foot-11, 176-pounder has skating speed and playmaking that could translate quickly, particularly with a talented young group of forwards in Arizona, and his leadership and attitude are considered pluses as intangibles. He only had four goals and 12 points last season, but that’s actually note-worthy considering the high level of competition he faced in Sweden. He’d fit right in with fellow Swede Oliver Ekman-Larsson out in the desert. Charlie McAvoy, Boston University (NCAA) – The Coyotes will be one of several teams to pluck Boston University talent in this first round, and that’s a testament to the recruiting class for Dave Quinn. McAvoy is a smooth-skating 6-foot, 206-pound defenseman that posted three goals and 25 points as an 18-year-old freshman for the Terriers, and blocked 39 shots in 37 games while cracking the All-Hockey East Rookie Team.
21. Carolina Hurricanes (from the LA Kings): Charlie McAvoy, Boston University (NCAA))
The Hurricanes will be one of several teams to pluck Boston University talent in this first round, and that’s a testament to the incoming recruiting class for head coach David Quinn. McAvoy is a smooth-skating 6-foot, 206-pound defenseman that posted three goals and 25 points as an 18-year-old freshman for the Terriers, and blocked 39 shots in 37 games while cracking the All-Hockey East Rookie Team. He plays big minutes in all situations and has the kind of solid physical build that will hold up once he gets to the NHL level. The real question is how a Terrier in McAvoy and a BC Eagle in Noah Hanifin will co-exit together on the same blueline corps. McAvoy is a tough one to gauge because he could easily go as early as No. 14 to the Bruins.
22. Winnipeg Jets (from the Chicago Blackhawks): Luke Kunin, University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Kunin was a point-per-game player with a feisty playing style and leadership qualities as one of the youngest players on his team. The 19 goals and five power play goals in 34 games is a ridiculous level of domination at the NCAA level for such a young player at the collegiate level. He sounds like the kind of player that could bring many of the intangibles and qualities that the Jets are constantly on the lookout for while building a sustained contender in the Western Conference. The Jets wrap up their two first round selections with Kunin, and come away with two very good plays that could help them for years to come.
23. Florida Panthers: Alex DeBrincat, Erie (OHL)
The Panthers already have a slew of giant forwards on their front end, so they shouldn’t be afraid of mixing in some smaller forwards among goliaths like Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov. DeBrincat is 5-foot-7, 165-pounds, but plays with an amazing talent level that helped him score 51 goals this season. He could be another Johnny Hockey-type in the making, and no scout wants to miss the boat on that with the NHL trending very much toward these smaller, skilled forward-types. Back-to-back 50 goal seasons will make him a surefire first round pick no matter what size he is or that he played alongside Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome for those seasons, and the Panthers get good value nabbing him right here.
24. Anaheim Ducks: Riley Tufte, Blaine (Minnesota High School)
The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder is headed for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, so the Ducks can be patient with yet another power forward that fits right into their power/production style. He should be ready to step into Anaheim’s lineup right as Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are gearing down in their NHL careers, so you can easily see the Anaheim line of thinking with the pick. His stat line was predictably sick: 47 goals and 10-game winners in 25 high school games. But the real draw here is the projectable size at such a young age, and the skill level that goes along with it. Will the level of competition scare some teams away? Possibly. But the fact that he’s the 2016 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award winner is also nothing to sneeze at either, don’tcha know?
25. Dallas Stars: Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack (BCHL)
The 6-foot-1, 176-pound defenseman wasn’t on many of the earlier mock drafts, but has gained momentum as the combine and draft approached after a great year in the BCHL. He finished with 12 goals and 40 points in 50 games for the Chiefs, and then really excelled while posting four goals and 15 points in 20 playoff games for Chilliwack. He’ll be a good long-term investment for the Chiefs as he’s headed to St. Cloud State University for the next few seasons after protecting his college eligibility in the BCHL. His speed, strength and shot are all solid, but it’s his intelligence, instincts and decisions with the puck that are most notable as he borders on the draft’s first round. He could be a good replacement for Alex Goligoski a couple of years from now.
26. Washington Capitals: Pascal Laberge, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
A versatile forward that can play center or wing and do it all offensively, but needs time to get stronger and continue learning his craft of about playing both ends of the ice. He already gets high marks for his grittiness and willingness to get to the dirty areas in the offensive zone, and his speed is one of the trademark assets that will most definitely play at the NHL level. He was the MVP of the NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game in January, and that’s another feather in his cap with the scouting community. He sounds like he’ll make a fine addition to the Caps forward group someday, and will give a nice balance to some of the elite offensive skill already on board. He’s a Barry Trotz kind of player with the speed element they seemed to be missing against the Penguins this spring.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Tage Thompson, UConn (NCAA)
While UConn isn’t known as a hockey hotbed, a first round talent like Thompson could help start to change things in Storrs, CT. The 6-foot-5, 189-pound center is a big project in need of increased size and strength, but Tampa Bay is the kind of team that can have patience with a player that’s got excellent hockey pedigree as the son of a coach. Thompson would also bring the kind of size down the middle that the Lightning should be looking for as their front end can be a little small-ish in spots. He led the NCAA with 13 power play goals in 36 games, and could someday be a real force in front of the net given his size, strength and hands. He’ll have time to further develop at the college level regardless of which team takes a flier on him in the first round, and he could really become a player that changes things for the UConn program.
28. St. Louis Blues: Carl Grundstrom, Modo (Sweden)
He’s not as big as that other NHL Carl (Soderberg) from Modo, but he plays a respectably gritty game as a left winger that could potentially fit in an NHL organization that boasts plenty of Swedish talent. He also played well under the big spotlight of World Juniors, which counts for plenty within the scouting world when it comes to investing first round draft picks. The Blues certainly don’t shy away from the top Swedish hockey talent on their NHL roster, and Grundstrom could be a good eventual replacement down the line if a Troy Brouwer-type player moves on in free agency. This is the kind of pick at the end of the first round that isn’t going for broke, but could net the Blues a useful, effective NHL player for a long time to come.
29. Boston Bruins (via the San Jose Sharks): Wade Allison, Tri-City (USHL)
The biggest riser from the midterm rankings to the final rankings in the Central Scouting watch list jumping from 162nd among North American skaters to 62nd, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound right wing/center was dominant in the second half of this past season. Allison posted 25 goals and 44 points in 56 games for Tri-City, and showed strength, toughness and determination in bulling his way to the net for points and offensive opportunities. He also showed a penchant as a big game player when he scored nine goals during the USHL playoffs while helping lead Tri-City to the championship, and being named MVP of the entire playoffs. Allison will head to Western Michigan University for college hockey in the fall, so this is a pick that the Bruins could be patient with if he’s the guy at the end of the first round. With most big-bodied players, there’s still work to be done with his skating and explosiveness. There’s also a very good chance that this pick is going to be moved for a defenseman prior to the draft, and that Allison would end up being Boston’s choice with their second round pick.
30. Toronto Maple Leafs (via the Pittsburgh Penguins): Kale Clague, Brandon (WHL)
Clague’s stock has dropped a bit over the last season when he was considered among the top D-men available, but there’s still plenty to like about the raw tools from the 5-foot-11, 178-pound blueliner. The 43 points in 71 regular season games and 14 points in 21 playoff games were significant for the Wheat Kings, and Clague is in the mix at the end of the first round among a number of D-men with similar skill/projection levels. What will be interesting to watch are the teams like Toronto, Winnipeg, Carolina, Arizona and Boston that have multiple first round picks, and might be willing to move them for major and immediate upgrades to their NHL roster.