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