With all the playoff hoopla in the air, it might seem a bit premature to talk about this Summer's upcoming draft. However, it can be both fun and enlightening to try and figure out what will happen. The Canes are flirting with a sniff at the postseason, but we fans have been down that path before. So whether as part of an exercise in keeping hopes in check or just trying to get a better read on how teams might be thinking, building your first mock draft seems like just the right remedy.
First, the background and the ground rules...the date of record for this mock draft's purposes is Valentines Day, 2016. Where teams are in the standings that day reflects their draft position. The resource used to designate the order of the draft is here. It is updated after each game so tomorrow's order is likely to be slightly different which gives one a feel for what GMs must go through. Also no draft day trades are factored in and no additional draft picks are assumed for any team. For the sake of sanity this will only be a 2016 1st round draft. Finally, in this scenario the draft lottery didn't affect the order of selection.
Now, on to the draft:
1. Edmonton Oilers - Auston Mattews - C
What can anybody really say about this. This isn't really the art of tanking, more a case of mastering the art of futility. At some point you've got to figure that their front office would realize that the other missing pieces are so glaring that some sort of hockey trade should take place. How can a team that will have had 5 out of the last 7 first overall picks (counting 2016) continue to be so bad? What's really amazing is that only Nail Yakupov can be considered something of a bust. Frankly, this would be one of those times where trading down a few slots might make actual sense (although trading away the first overall selection in a draft rarely does). Or they could surprise and select one of the 3 big wingers available. But Matthews is such a prototypical Top 6 centerman, he's impossible to pass up.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs - Jesse Puljujarvi - RW
This really is a toss up between the two big Finns and the Leafs can almost do no wrong here. There are those that think Laine has better offensive upside and others that feel Puljujarvi is the better skater. In either case, the Leafs' system is flush with forward talent and this will add to that treasure chest. Some may feel that the right option might be to trade down a few slots and select a blueliner such as Jakob Chychrun with this pick. However with Rinat Valiev playing well for the Marlies and both Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen excelling in juniors, Toronto is quietly building a stable of quality young defensemen. The other option, either through a trade down or just going a bit off of the board could be Mike McLeod, the big centerman projected a few slots lower in this draft. But with the assumption that Marner might actually play center (or perhaps Nylander, but not both) and Gauthier showing well in the AHL, one can never go wrong selecting the best player available.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets - Patrick Laine - LW/RW
Okay, this is sounding like a broken record, but in another case of "maybe these guys should trade down", the Jackets instead choose to go with the best player available. Patrick Laine as nearly everybody knows is that rare sniper with size and grit. He's a good skater but not excellent. His stock in trade is a laser-like shot that he gets off quickly and accurately. He currently plays professionally with men in Finland, but at 6'4" and 205 lbs. he's already got the body of a prototypical power forward. Even at this elevated draft status, he's the pick that is most likely to exceed expectations. The only question here is who is going to be the Blue Jackets' #1 center. Do they think Wennberg is ready and is capable of taking that responsibility? Not that they were going to necessarily find that guy in this draft unless.....(see McLeod, Michael).
4. Buffalo Sabres - Matthew Tkachuk - LW
Despite some who have called Tkachuk "the most likely to bust" from this draft, the Sabres get the guy who likely ends up beside one of Eichel or Reinhart for a very long time. Matthew Tkachuk is an outstanding skater with a nose for the net. He's also got a bit of an edge to his game which could position the Sabres for a long time to come (assuming Kane's off ice woes dissipate) as a team that regularly bruises its opponents into submission. Many saw what Tkachuk could bring at this December's WJC where he put up 11 points in 7 games. Having truly figured out "the tank" like none other, the Sabres with Bailey, Baptise, and Cornel are setting themselves up to be an offensive dyanamo (this year's scoring woes notwithstanding). Matthew Tkachuk adds the missing power forward piece to this equation.
5. Winnipeg Jets - Jakob Chychrun - D
Somewhere in Las Vegas there is probably someplace that would allow you to bet on who the Jets would take with this pick. While not a sure thing, if the Jets don't go defense with this pick most would be floored. While another Finn, Olli Juolevi, has risen on many draft boards, Chychrun has consistently polled as the top blueliner in this draft. Given the fact that the Jets selected forwards with their first 4 selections last year, this pick seems close to a guarantee. Chychrun has size, is very mobile, and plays an outstanding two-way game. His offensive talent is undeniable and he's a physical defender who gives nothing up down low. Playing on the left side with a left shot, he may someday slide in next to Big Buff on the top pairing in Winnipeg.
6. Calgary Flames - Alexander Nylander - LW/RW
Outside of the big 4 forwards and the best defender, Alexander Nylander has hovered at the top of the 2nd tier of potential draftees for quite some time. He proved his mettle at the WJCs this year with 4 goals and 5 assists over 7 games. The talented Swede has had an excellent year in international competition overall. That has solidified his draft position. Oh, and he does lead his Mississauga team with 66 points in 46 tilts. Calgary has a balanced pool of prospects but have graduated many of their high end guys to the big club. So this year's draft should be an effort in rebuilding that pool. The blueline is well positioned for the future with last year's two 2nd rounders, Andersson and Kylington. While the Flames could surprise and pick the next defender available, Nylander is too hard to pass up.
7. Ottawa Senators - Michael McLeod - C
Ranked 4, 6, 9, 10, and 12 by various services the big, skilled, and smart centerman, Mike McLeod is another that could be a surprise of this draft. He could easily move up the board or fall back as well. The Senators also could have just as easily gone for a defender with this pick, especially with the talented Mikhail Sergachov still on the board. Similarly, they could have also opted for one of the two best wingers on the board, Dubois or Gauthier. However, it feels like it is time for the Sens to play it a bit safe (as some of their prospects are borderline "disappointing") and McLeod is just that...a very safe pick with very high end upside and not much downside, if any. He has "future captain" written all over him.
8. Vancouver Canucks - Mikhail Sergachov - D
Vancouver does what Ottawa didn't and chooses the highest ranked blueliner remaining on the board. In fact they do what they haven't done since 2005 and that's take a defenseman in the 1st round. It is understandable given that Luc Bourdon pick yielded a whopping 32 NHL games. They'll do better with Segachov who projects to potentially be the best of any defender in the draft. He's a big, skilled guy who plays a very strong two way game. In time he could easily be the left side of a top pairing with Tanev. Given the depth of their blueline prospects, this is not only a smart pick, it is the right one.
9. Minnesota Wild - Pierre-Luc Dubois - C/LW
Pity the poor Wild. With the acquisition of Parise, Suter, Vaneck, and to a lesser extent Pominville, they were supposedly positioned to make a lot of noise out West. Yet if you add in Mikko Koivu, that's 5 key pieces north of 30. One would think the time is now for the Wild, but with the firing of Yeo and 1 win in their last 10 games, the questions are flying fast and furious in the great North woods. They need an impact player (or players) and they need him soon. Enter Pierre-Luc Dubois the big skilled winger playing in the Q for Cape Breton. His recent performance at the BMO Top Prospects Game solidified him as a probable Top 10 selection. His 75 points and 32 goals in 53 games this year also speaks to his skill set. While he plays mostly wing he can also swing over to center ice as well. With the young blueline (except for Suter) that the Wild has, more high end skill up front is what's needed most.
10. Arizona Coyotes - Ollie Juolevi - D
With one of the best, if not the best, prospect pool in the NHL, there is a distinct lack of depth on the back end. With the exception of Dysin Mayo and last year's 3rd round selection, Kyle Copobianco there is little on the blueline horizon. By selecting Ollie Juolevi, another multi-talented Finn, the Coyotes grab themselves a jewel. Juolevi is the epitome of the two-way defenseman. He is a great skater with very sound offensive instincts. His defense has been characterized as "smothering". With his showing at the WJCs (9 assists in 7 games), he opened many eyes. His consistently outstanding play with London this year has cemented his rise in the rankings. He's likely to vault to the top of Arizona's blueline prospect pool.
11. Montreal Canadiens - Julien Gauthier - RW
Okay, stop with the jokes....yes this is the highest ranked French-Canadian on the board, but that's not the reason for the Habs' selection. He's got size and skill in spades, something that Montreal still needs. He's a "hard-nosed" player who isn't afraid to throw his big body around. Responsible is one of the compliments that comes to mind. Despite his size he's considered an elite skater and an even more elite goal scorer. And make no mistake, Gauthier is all about putting the puck in the net. He will immediately join McCarron, Scherbak, and De la Rose at the top of the Canadiens' offensive prospect list.
12. Philadelpia Flyers - Tyson Jost - C/LW
A difficult choice faces the Flyers with this pick. Frankly they are pretty set on the back end. Many Philly fans would like to see a big pivot as the selection here, but the front office is more likely to recognize the need for a goal scoring left winger. Add to this the veritable drumbeat suggesting trades for forwards Simmonds and Schenn (who knows why as these two seem to fit in well on this team), a highly skilled and hard-nosed offensive winger is the likely choice. Up pops Tyson Jost who is currently putting up eye-popping numbers with the Penticton Vees (averaging over 2 points per game). Jost is simultaneously described as a player that thinks the game fast and plays at that speed. Average in height, he has a bit of a fireplug build that allows him to win tough puck battles. The Flyers could just as easily select Max Jones because of his combination of size and skill. Or they could grab Clayton Keller, the high scoring, but smallish centerman bound for Boston University. However, Tyson Jost seems to give Philadelphia the flexibility and the skill set that opens numerous options for the club.
13. Carolina Hurricanes - Max Jones - LW
Finally down to the pick that really matters to this audience. By selecting Max Jones the Canes make a safe pick, fill the need for a true power forward, and select a player with significant upside potential. It also might be considered somewhat confounding as Jones is ranked by the various services at 8, 12, 14, 15, 15, 16, and 18. His numbers are not necessarily overwhelming either with 40 points (21 goals, however) in 48 games. Yet, if you delve into his season, he got off to an incredibly slow start taking time to get acclimated to his new teammates on the high-powered London team. One could make an argument for the previously mentioned Clayton Keller, or for the all around defender Charlie McAvoy (yes, if you're going with "best player available"), or for the kid with the best bloodlines, Kieffer Bellows, all ahead of Jones. In the final analysis the Canes don't have as strong a need for a blueliner and Keller would be an excellent option skill-wise, but Jones ticks off several critical needs: power forward, speed, skill, and upside potential. He becomes the new Erik Cole but with better hands. Having said all of this, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Canes selected a Kieffer Bellows or if he's still on the board, they almost certainly would look very hard at Tyson Jost. Clayton Keller's all around skill-level has been compared very favorably to Mitch Marner, so he certainly would be a viable option. Still, with the tools that Jones possesses and the size that can't be taught, this relatively unsexy pick may prove to be pivotal for the Canes 3 or 4 years down the road.
14. New Jersey Devils - Clayton Keller - C
The Devils jump at the chance to select Keller. Outside of last year's 1st rounder, Paval Zacha, New Jersey's prospect pool has a serious lack of high end skill. Clayton Keller overwhelmingly brings that to the table. Who is he most often compared to? Why one Zach Parise, that's who. Known as a great thinker of the game, he's got world-class vision and, while considered an excellent playmaker, the kid's shot is something to behold as well. Most say his overall skill level surpasses Parise's. He takes critical defensive zone draws, is very elusive, and demonstrates the leadership that his teammates inherently feel. He has evolved to be the proverbial complete package, albeit in a slightly smaller box.
15. Colorado Avalanche - Kieffer Bellows - LW
The Avs essentially have one prospect, Mikko Rantanen, who projects to be a top 6 forward. That's partly due to McKinnon and Landeskog having already jumped to the NHL. They need a guy like Bellows who brings both size and skill to the table. His puck handling skills are scary good and his shot, with both a quick release and deadly accuracy, combine to make him a threat - cliche alert - "any time he touches the puck". But this shouldn't surprise anybody as Kieffer Bellows is the son of Brian Bellows, the #2 overall pick in the 1982 draft and owner of 8 seasons scoring 70+ points. Second in scoring on the USDP (to Clayton Keller), this Boston University commit will make a dramatic impact on the Avs as soon as he arrives.
16. Nashville Predators - Charlie McAvoy - D
While Seth Jones may be impossible to replace, the Preds do a fine job with the selection of Charlie McAvoy. Strong with good size (6'1" 210 lbs.) McAvoy is an excellent, fluid skater. While he didn't post any points in the recent WJCs, it widely thought that he had an outstanding tournament. He's an outstanding passer, seemingly always finding the right place/right time type of transfer. His shot is accurate and "heavy". Currently a freshman at Boston University he's playing with the "bigger boys" and doing so quite well. In fact pundits have lauded his ability to grow his physicality while never seeming to be out of position. Yup, he's no Seth Jones, but he is a damn good Charlie McAvoy and that's a very good thing for Nashville's future defensive outlook.
17. Anaheim Ducks - German Rubtsov - C
This young Russian has been characterized as potentially the best two-way player forward in this year's draft. The Ducks will take that all day long as he fits right in with their punishing style of play. Rubtsov has been characterized as mature beyond his years and with his dedication to both ends of the ice, he's another "safe" pick (despite the overused Russian factor). He likely increases his role on Russia's U18 international team and look for some fireworks out of him this April at the U18 World Championships. Not flashy, but effective, the Ducks need a prospect like Rubtsov who can dependably fill a future middle 6 role.
18. Tampa Bay Lightning - Luke Kunin - C/LW
Another very difficult choice as the Lightning's prospect pool is pretty darn good, they ultimately go for the highest rated, skilled forward in Luke Kunin. Currently playing in college with Wisconsin, he leads the team in goals with 10 in 24 games. Kunin is a very smart player with outstanding instincts that allow him to anticipate both shots and passes. His pinpoint accuracy on his improving shot gives this freshman lots of options when the puck is on his stick. He's fast, smart, and tough along the boards. Kunin's versatility (can play LW as well as C) ultimately win the Lightning over.
19. Toronto Maple Leafs - Jake Bean - D
With their 2nd pick in the first round the Leafs grab the best remaining blueline prospect in Jake Bean. While it is hard to call any 1st rounder the steal of the draft, the upside for this kid is pretty "'uge". He is just plain gifted as an offensive player with equally outstanding passing and shooting skills. Excellent in his own end, Bean is more of a stick-work and positioning guy, yet he still regularly confounds the forwards he opposes. In truth, as "the anti-Dion", Jake Bean will easily make Leafs fans forget that painful chapter.
20. Boston Bruins - Logan Brown - C
21. Boston Bruins - Dante Fabbro - D
The Bruins could have used either of their back to back picks for either of these players. Both have upside and both have things to work on. Brown is a hulking centerman (6'7' 220 lbs) who has a nose for the net but is particularly adept at dishing the puck. He's 2nd in assists on his Windsor team with 39 only trailing the sniper Christian Fischer by one. He needs to continue to build strength and agility on his skates, but for his size he's quite passable. He was also thrust into something of a lead dog role at the end of last season, so he's building leadership skills in a trial by fire basis.
The second Penticton Vee projected, Fabbro shows high octane offensive skills. He's the epitome of the quarterback on the ice. A great skater with a great shot, both hard and accurate, Dante Fabbro is yet another prospect who will be off to Boston University in the Fall. As good as his offensive game is he really gives up nothing on the defensive side of the puck. He plays the body, has a quick stick, and his positioning is superb. The Bruins can only hope that as Fabbro jumps up in competitive level that skill set translates.
22. New York Islanders - Chad Krys - D
At this stage in the draft and with the Islanders looking for a defenseman this becomes something of a hunch pick with the remaining higher end defenders on the board all having equivalent positives and negatives. Chad Krys is no different. He still needs to build strength and add a little power to his accurate shot. He is, however, a very fast and skilled skater. Playing in all situations, his defensive play is based more on positioning and stick work (much like Bean and Fabbro). He's committed to adding even more muscle to his smallish frame. This next year (as yet another Boston University blueliner) will be a test for his growth and development.
23. Detroit Red Wings - Libor Hajek - D
In the most Red Wing thing ever, Detroit takes the under appreciated Hajek. Strong on his skates and an excellent analyzer of game situations, Hajek often goes unnoticed (except by scouts) because he just does most everything right in his own zone. He's a capable offensive player who could stand to improve his overall puck handling skills as well as the power on what is a very accurate shot. Hajek is the type of overlooked player that every team would love to have on their back end and Detroit will be happy to have him on theirs.
24. Florida Panthers - Riley Tufte - LW
The first thing you notice about Tufte is likely the second and the third thing too. He's big and tall. At 6'5" and nearly 200 lbs. he's got a frame to grow into. That's what initially entices the Panthers. They've got some skilled forwards but all are conspicuously lacking in the size department. Last year's selection of Crouse is the 1st step at remedying that situation. Tufte, who draws comparisons to the Panthers Nick Bjugstad as well as Rick Nash, is a Minnesota high schooler who eschewed the USHL to try and lead his team to a state championship. At nearly 3 points per game he's certainly leading by example. With Tufte heading off to the highly regarded Univ. of Minnestoa - Duluth program, he'll get plenty of opportunity to develop into his big body.
25. Arizona Coyotes - Logan Stanley - D
How many skilled forwards does a team need? Well the Coyotes won't be finding out (they already have a ton) and choose to go blueline again selecting perhaps the largest man child in the draft. Interestingly enough he plays with the other huge Logan on the Spitfires. He's got a bit of a mean streak to him and, of course, plays physically. A fairly good skater for his size, his offensive game is a work in progress. A couple of years in juniors and a couple of years at the AHL level and he could be a beast for Arizona (who will likely be winning a lot of 7-5 games for a long time).
26. Carolina Hurricanes - Tage Thompson - C/RW
The last time the Hurricanes drafted specifically for size, things didn't go according to plan (see Paradis, Philippe). One would hope that lessons were learned and with size must come at least a pinch of skill. Nobody has to worry about that with Tage Thompson, the University of Connecticut freshman forward. Let's see....big and tough - check, huge shot - check, magical hands - check. Thompson is a very good skater, especially considering his size with his style being described as "fluid". Best of all that big shot has allowed him to lead the Huskies in power play goals with 9 on the season. He is also a very patient and heady player which allows him to use his wonderful puck skills as an accomplished passer as well. Many pundits have Thompson climbing the draft board rankings. The Hurricanes should count themselves lucky to get him here.
27. St. Louis Blues - Pascal Laberge - C
This is the kind of sleeper pick that can either prove to be stellar or Laberge could prove to be an adequate bottom sixer. More of a passer than a shooter (although his Victoriaville coach praises his shot). He showed outstanding skill in both areas at the recent Top Prospects Game as he and youth hockey linemate Pierre-Luc Dubois paired up on a number of scores (including the game winner set up by Laberge). Laberge is also considered a high energy, feisty player who is always on. He'll be a solid addition to the Blues somewhat sleepy forward prospect pool.
28. Chicago Blackhawks - Dillon Dube - C
Having been given his chance during his first year as a Kelowna Rocket despite injury, Dube has come back this year with a fire in his belly to reward his coach's trust. Tough and box-like, Dube is an outstanding two-way player with excellent passing skills. His shot is no slouch either. But his biggest asset for the Hawks may be his tough Western Hockey League mentality that likely meshes well with the reigning Cup champs. Dillon Dube probably tops out as a middle six guy which should put him in competition with the arguably weakish forward prospect pool of the Blackhawks.
29. Dallas Stars - Alex DeBrincat - C
Likely stealing the little guy from the Caps, Dallas takes this highly skilled but diminutive forward prospect. The second leading overall scorer on the high powered Erie Otters, he leads his team in goals, partly due to the distribution skills of one Dylan Strome. He plays more scrappy than his size would indicate (and maybe a little dirty given the 5 minute penalty and game misconduct suspension he received for spearing Travis Konecny at the WJCs). He is a very talented scorer nonetheless and the Stars do have some size capable of protection once he reaches the bigs.
30. Washington Capitals - Rasmus Asplund - C/LW
Showing quite well in the SHL this year, Rasmus Asplund really came into his own at December's WJCs. His 3 goals and 2 assists over the 7 games helped guide Sweden which played well but didn't medal (Go USA!). There are a number of "best players available" at this point and it really becomes anybody's guess, but Asplund has a scorers high skill level and he will join prospects Jakub Vrana and Madison Bowey as the next wave for the Capitals.
There you have it. A guess at best, but the reasoning is hopefully sound. The 2016 draft class is forward heavy well into he 2nd and 3rd rounds. The defensive prospects drop a bit more rapidly but there are some proverbial "diamonds in the rough" that can be had with 3rd and 4th round picks.
A related article to this will explore the Hurricanes' 1st five picks (picks in the Top 100) of that same 2016 draft and make "suggestions" as to whom they might want to select. Feel free to play along with both articles.