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SB Nation NHL Mock Draft 2016: Carolina Hurricanes Select Riley Tufte at 21

At 6'5 and 200 pounds, the young winger could be an impact player for Carolina in the future.

Riley Tufte warms up before a prospects game in September.
Riley Tufte warms up before a prospects game in September.
Jen Fuller/Getty Images

With the Carolina Hurricanes second pick and 21st overall in the draft, we select Riley Tufte, from USA Hockey.

Every once in awhile you have to swing for the fences and admittedly we might be doing that just a bit here.  Let's take a look at the results so far.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafsvia Pension Plan Puppets, select center Auston Matthews.
  2. Winnipeg Jetsvia Arctic Ice Hockey, select winger Patrick Laine.
  3. Columbus Blue Jacketsvia The Cannon, select winger Jesse Puljujarvi.
  4. Edmonton Oilersvia The Copper & Blue, select forward Pierre-Luc DuBois.
  5. Vancouver Canucksvia Nucks Misconduct, select defenseman Olli Juolevi.
  6. Calgary Flamesvia Matchsticks & Gasoline, select winger Matthew Tkachuk.
  7. Arizona Coyotesvia Five For Howling, select defenseman Jacob Chychrun.
  8. Buffalo Sabresvia Die By The Blade, select winger Alexander Nylander.
  9. Montreal Canadiensvia Eyes On The Prize, select forward Tyson Jost.
  10. Colorado Avalanchevia Mile High Hockey, select center Logan Brown.
  11. New Jersey Devilsvia All About The Jersey, select center Clayton Keller.
  12. Ottawa Senatorsvia Silver Seven, select defenseman Mihkail Sergachyov.
  13. Carolina Hurricanes, via Canes Country, select forward Kieffer Bellows.
  14. TRADEBoston sends No. 14 pick to St. Louis along with Boston's 2nd round pick in 2016 and forward Matt Beleskey in exchange for Kevin Shattenkirk, Ty Rattie and St. Louis' 1st round pick (28th overall). With the 14th pick, the Bluesvia St. Louis Game Time, select center Luke Kunin.
  15. Minnesota Wildvia Hockey Wilderness, select center Michael McLeod.
  16. Detroit Red Wingsvia Winging It In Motown, select center German Rubtsov.
  17. Nashville Predatorsvia On The Forecheck, select defenseman Dante Fabbro.
  18. Philadelphia Flyersvia Broad Street Hockey, select forward Julien Gauthier.
  19. New York Islanders, via Lighthouse Hockey, select Jake Bean.
  20. Tampa Bay Lightning, via Raw Charge, select Max Jones.

Gone are Kunin, McLeod, Rubtsov, Gauthier, and Jones.  Defensemen Jake Bean and Dante Fabbro might have been interesting if they slipped a bit further, but they are also gone.

Riley Tufte played most of last season racking up points for Blaine High School, the same high school where Nick Bjugstad of the Florida Panthers excelled.  Like Bjugstad, he won the Minnesota "Mr. Hockey" Award for the state's top high school hockey player.

Unlike Bjugstad, who scored 29 goals in 25 games with 31 assists for a total of 60 points in his senior year, Tufte scored 47 goals, added 31 assists and totaled 78 points in his 25 games.

He also scored 10 goals and four assists in 27 games for Fargo  in the USHL.

To back up a bit, once again I narrowed down my focus to two candidates for this pick, Tufte and Brett Howden, who is another fine player ranked by many in this same range.

Howden's stock has been rising, he does everything well, and many scouts think he looks like a sure thing to make the NHL.  The thing is, he is projected by many to be a third line center, (not that there is anything wrong with that.)  But Tufte could be a first line power forward, much like a young Rick Nash.  He's too interesting to pass up at this spot.

There are not many scouting reports on the youngster because he spent so much time in the high school ranks.  It's also tough to get a good read on his skill set because he played against a lower level of competition.

But what you see so far is pretty promising.

The Red Line Report ranks him as their 15th best player in the draft, the highest I saw out there.  They project him to be a first line power forward.  Here is what they have to say.

"Exceptional physical tools. Big horse is a freight train gathering speed as he barrels down the wing.  Has a really dynamic combination of size, speed, and puckhandling ability.  He's an extremely smooth mover for such a huge man-child and has great reach and release around the slot.   Soft, quick hands with a 6-5 frame.  Can stick handle and create separation in close quarters.  Has the stick skills and quickness of a much smaller man.  Can do virtually anything he wants down low in the offensive zone and comes out of corners with power moves to the net.  Toned down physicality in high school because he would flat out hurt opponents.  Has a blistering shot.  Capable defensive player, supports his teammates and uses his reach well to disrupt.  Raw talent and will require patience as his development may take longer."

The following is from  He was ranked the 17th best skater in North America by NHL Central Scouting.

"If NHL teams are looking for a physically large forward with a skill set to match his size in the 2016 NHL Draft, then Riley Tufte will draw a lot of interest.

At 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, the Minnesota high school standout is one of the tallest forwards eligible for the 2016 draft.

I don't see him being a guy that's going to be a huge pounder and the prototypical power forward, but I see him understanding how to use his size more and make that a part of his game because he's going to have to to be a successful player in the NHL," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "There's going to be that sweet spot somewhere in between that skilled and power forward for him in my mind. Maybe it's a Rick Nash-type of player where he has unreal hands for a big guy but can eventually understand he's using his size because it can give him such an advantage."

One aspect of Tufte's game that helps set him aside and differentiates him from being a typical power forward is his ability to get a shot off in difficult areas of the ice or in tough situations. Good hands on a big forward can help set him apart from others relying on their size alone to get them by.

"I think when you have a player that big that has the mobility and the stick skills that Riley has, it makes him a tough combination to hold back and I think that will happen at every level as he adjusts to the level of play; he has that upside," Gregory said. "He gets his shot off so quickly, he can move in traffic and get clear to make a pass or shoot the puck, and those are things that when a guy has the size that he does it's a great combination."

"Riley's got a great future ahead of him," Fargo coach Cary Eades said. "He's almost 6-6 and can skate like the wind. His game was maturing and growing here. He's adding some more stop and start to his game, a little more physicality, winning more puck battles, utilizing his size, speed, and strength to go to the net and getting to the net creating scoring chances. He was tied for our team lead in scoring goals with five. He was really showing some nice progression."

Tufte was rated a B prospect by NHL Central Scouting in the preliminary September 2015 players to watch list, but he was upgraded to an A rating on Oct. 12. An A rating indicates he's a first-round candidate for the 2016 draft. That upgrade came before he returned to Blaine High School, but that move isn't expected to affect his rating."

Ryan Kennedy from The Hockey News:

"Tufte (somewhat) controversially went back for one more year with his Blaine high school team this year, but it turned out to be a master stroke. Starting the year in Fargo, he struggled. But the 6-foot-5 University of Minnesota-Duluth commit went off at Blaine for three points a game and now back in the USHL, he looks like a brand new player – the best raw prospect one scout had seen from the state of Minnesota in decades."

Scouting Report by Ben Kerr of the Last Word on Sports.

Riley Tufte is an excellent stick handler. He uses his long reach to keep the puck away from defenders, but can also stick handle close to his body to navigate through traffic. Tufte is highly skilled with an excellent wrist shot and quick release. He also has a good snap shot and slap shot. His passing skills can be refined slightly as he has grown accustomed to doing it all himself at times. This probably comes due to the way he has been able to dominate at the USHS level, and should be able to improve playing with better teammates and against better opponents. Tufte has excellent size, coming in at 6’5″ tall. While he’s not a big hitter, he uses his size to win battles along the boards, to protect the puck in the cycle game, and to establish position in front of the net. He can provide an effective screen, and also tip in pucks, as well as pounce on rebounds. Given his size, he could stand to add some muscle to his frame to be even more effective when he begins facing bigger and tougher opposition.

Tufte is an excellent skater for his size. He moves very well for a big man with surprising speed, first step quickness and acceleration. His agility is also something you are more likely to find in a smaller player, and uncommon for a 6’5″ player. Tufte could stand to add some core strength and improve his balance going forward. This would help him to fight through checks and drive the net, as well as continue to improve his work in the cycle game.

Tufte’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. Again this may be an issue where he has dominated so much at the high school level, that learning to defend has not been something that he has needed to do. Tufte shows determination, but must work on his positioning and reading the play. He needs to learn to use his size in his own end, in physical battles, and in cutting down passing and shooting lanes. Good coaching should go a long way here.

Tufte has a number of things to work on before he is NHL ready, but if he can add some weight, and overcome the issues with his defensive game and improve his playmaking ability he can become a valuable weapon in a team’s top six. His size, skating, and skill with the puck are an intriguing combination for any team. Playing at Minnesota-Duluth will certainly give him some time to add that muscle to his frame. Tufte’s style is similar to Nick Bjustad of the Florida Panthers, but this is a style comparison only and not one based on talent.

Here is an article explaining his decision to leave the USHL and return to his high school team.

Riley Tufte in spotlight.

Tufte, who is a diabetic, is scheduled to play at the University of Minnesota at Duluth next season.

Here are a couple of highlight videos: