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Rotoworld's 2016 NHL Mock Draft: Early first-round predictions

Rotoworld's 2016 NHL Mock Draft: Early first-round predictions

Rotoworld's Gus Katsaros released his first 2016 NHL mock draft version. Check out how he sees the first round unfolding:

1. Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews (C) — Toronto's lengthy quest for No. 1 center looks answered thanks to fortuitous Draft Lottery. The Scottsdale, Arizona native brings a tantalizing package of size, speed, and skill.

2. Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine (LW) — Jets prefer top-line center but happily settle for ultimate consolation prize. Finnish 'beast' gives Winnipeg dynamic left wing attack along with Nik Ehlers and Kyle Connor.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Jesse Puljujarvi (RW) — Odds are slim that Finnish-born GM Jarmo Kekalainen will pass on splendid physical specimen in fellow countryman Puljujarvi. Will likely be groomed as centerman.

4. Edmonton Oilers: Olli Juolevi (D) — Despite bounty of forwards available at No. 4, Oilers opt to fill dire need for top-pairing blueliner with gifted Finnish puckmover Juolevi.

5. Vancouver Canucks: Matthew Tkachuk (LW) — Canucks sort out the dizzying choices available up front and go with skill, grit and intelligence on the flanks in Tkachuk.

6. Calgary Flames: Alexander Nylander (LW) — Skill is the order of the day as the Flames add a versatile and highly-gifted forward. Sparks could fly with Nylander on a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett.

7. Arizona Coyotes: Jake Bean (D) — The Coyotes appreciate the necessity to get the puck to a crop of promising forward prospects — and peg the smart, mobile and skilled Bean.

8. Buffalo Sabres: Pierre-Luc Dubois (LW) — Buffalo had Nylander in the crosshairs, but settle for talented 'jack-of-trades' type in Dubois, arguably the safe pick here though perhaps not the home run.

9. Montreal Canadiens: Michael McLeod (C) — Under-appreciated toiling in shadows of teammate and fellow draft star Alex Nylander ... with size, breathtaking speed and an F1 motor, Habs may get last laugh.

10. Colorado Avalanche: Mikhail Sergachev (D) — The Russian factor grows on the Avalanche with selection of big, hard-shooting blueliner ... followed up strong import season in Windsor with inconspicuous U18 WJC.

11. New Jersey Devils: Clayton Keller (C) — The ever-flowing creativity of diminutive center Clayton Keller may be just the right catalyst in New Jersey's lineup.

12. Ottawa Senators: Logan Brown (C) — An impressive performance for Team USA at the U18 WJC is proof enough for Ottawa to select the huge, talented playmaking center.

13. Carolina Hurricanes: Tyson Jost (C) — A record-setting performance for Team Canada at the U18 WJC gets Jost a chance to help fill holes up the middle with Eric Staal gone.

14. Boston Bruins: Jakob Chychrun (D) — Big, mobile and athletic, Chychrun has all the physical attributes to mature into a staunch two-way NHL blueliner — development will be key.

15. Minnesota Wild: Charles McAvoy (D) — With Ryan Suter getting on in age and question marks on the blueline, the Wild take the skilled, fleet-skating McAvoy on heels of terrific freshman year at Boston University.

16. Detroit Red Wings: Dante Fabbro (D) — With a number of intriguing forwards still on the draft board, Detroit makes a partly surprising choice in Fabbro, a smart, steady two-way defender. 

17. Nashville Predators: Dennis Cholowski (D) — Nashville continue the run of blueliners by taking the Chilliwack standout whose progression over the second half of the BCHL season suggested home run potential.

18. Philadelphia Flyers: Luke Kunin (LW) — The Flyers opt for duty over dazzle with a versatile 'plug-and-play' forward whose contributions usually go beyond the score sheet. Led Wisconsin with impressive 19 goals as freshman.

19. Tampa Bay Lightning: Logan Stanley (D) — Stanley adds another towering figure to Tampa's blueline, however also a player who polarized opinions on the 'half-full-half-empty' debate. Too much projection for certain tastes.

20. Boston Bruins (from San Jose): Kieffer Bellows (LW) — The B's passed on Brian Bellows with the first overall pick back in 1982 — but don't same mistake with son Kieffer, a strong-shooting sniper.

21. New York Islanders: Adam Fox (D) — Oozed skill and creativity all season while displaying great chemistry with Clayton Keller and especially on the power play. Needs work on strength and defense, but upside is intriguing.

22. Arizona Coyotes (from N.Y. Rangers): Julien Gauthier (RW) — Arizona book the bullet train with big, fast, hard-shooting winger who fired impressive 41 goals in 54 games. Stock fell though amid questions on level of hockey smarts.

23. Carolina Hurricanes (from Los Angeles): Riley Tufte (LW) — The Canes can use some size and scoring from the wings  and tab Blaine High School star Tufte, a mammoth winger with soft hands and surprising athleticism and agility.

24. Florida Panthers: Brett Howden (C) — Howden performed well for Team Canada at the U18 WJC, demonstrating his skating, versatility, and steady high work rate. Re-joins brother Quinton, taken 25th overall in 2010.

25. Anaheim Ducks: Max Jones (LW) — Plenty for Anaheim to like in the Rochester, Minnesota native — a big, aggressive power forward with loads of speed, skill and moxy.

26. Winnipeg Jets (from Chicago): German Rubtsov (C) — Missed opportunity to showcase himself at U18 WJC thanks to Russian doping scandal. Brings size, skill and mobility, and a potential top-six center for Jets.

27. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Pittsburgh): Boris Katchouk (LW) — Leafs could go any direction with this pick but settle on Soo Greyhound forward Katchouk whose size, skating, and character may be a fit alongside Auston Matthews some day.

28. St. Louis Blues: Pascal Laberge (RW) — Laberge adds a skilled, slick-skating forward to St. Louis mix. Plays center or wing and has shown flashes of high-end potential; needs to develop physical play, work consistency.

29. Calgary Flames (from Dallas): Tage Thompson (RW) — The 6-5 Thompson turned in a strong freshman showing at the U. of Connecticut, playing on the right wing; has good hands, excellent shot — and holds equal allure as a centerman.

30. Washington Capitals: Jordan Kyrou (RW) — Some Caps showed their age in the playoffs and prompt the selection of speedy playmaking forward in Kyrou. Stock steadily rose following standout Top Prospects Game.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.