I’ve got to say, when Tom and I discussed the idea of each putting out our May draft lists on the same day, I was still putting a lot of thought into the best order of the 4-12 picks, because to me this was going to be my case for who the Leafs should pick at 4. I was certain that was going to happen. I was also heavily invested in the Puljujarvi vs. Laine debate, and that has now completely eroded. As a Leafs fan, I am feeling blessed this week, and while that may have a future impact on how much I care about how the rest of the top ten rounds out, it still hasn’t changed the fact that I love the draft, and in particularly I love watching a ton of junior hockey leading up to the draft.
With the U18s behind us, and the CHL playoffs nearing a close it seems like an appropriate time to update our lists. With final lists coming in June, things are pretty close to being settled, and as far as players with Top 30 consideration are concerned, it’s just really Juolevi, Tkachuk, Laine, and Matthews that are still playing hockey this month.
So with that being said, here are my actual rankings…
Rather than go one by one and explain every pick (I’ll save that for the final list in June) I’ll summarize my thinking here.
First and foremost, the top three order seems pretty much set to me. I get the argument for what people like about Laine, and I think that’s enough to make him a clear cut favourite over Puljujarvi, but not enough to honestly consider him ahead of Matthews.
Chychrun, in my opinion is still the runaway favourite of the defensemen in the draft. Saying that he’s too plain, and comparing him Jay Bouwmeester (as if that is a bad thing, assuming you are talking about Bouwmeesters prime) seem ridiculous, as Chychrun has proven that he knows how to use his speed and his size to be effective at all ends of the ice.
Keller’s impressive USNTDP numbers move him to the five spot for me, and in a year where there aren’t a lot of great center options, this should be more of a no brainer than people are making it out to be. He’s shorter and has that working against him right now, but there is no doubting the talent.
McLeod, Dubois, and Jost are the next best options at center, although Dubois is likely being considered a winger from here on out. All three have the size advantage over Keller, McLeod also adds some incredibly speed, and Dubois and Jost have a great offensive talent.
Alexander Nylander and Matthew Tkachuk are likely to be drafted higher than I’ve placed them, and the same is likely true for Olli Juolevi, who has gone from being one of the most underrated players in the draft to one of the most overrated. While I believe you have to go with the best player available, I strongly believe that position factors into that consideration and centers generally are the best players. That is my only knock on Nylander and Tkachuk, who would probably be 4 and 5 in the rankings if they played in the middle of the ice.
For the most part, this is a draft that only has about 20 players that are locks for the first round, and after that it there are decent finds available well into the late second round but all with some question marks attached to them.
Will Bitten had a solid U-18 tournament as one of Canada’s top scoring forwards. After being off the radar in Flint as they went through one of the most embarrassing seasons, Bitten made a name for himself, and if he played anywhere else this season, the center would probably be ranked higher.
Tyler Benson is a name a lot of people remember for being granted exceptional status (correction: was considered for, but never received exceptional status) when he came into the WHL. Unfortunately this season has been anything but exceptional as Benson has spent the year at home due to injuries. The hockey he did play wasn’t anything particularly special because, you guessed it, he was getting over injuries. Benson has been highly regarded throughout his entire career, he’s still worth the risk later in the first based on what he’s done so far.
Sean Day is the player that I will probably receive the most flack for including in my top 30. Like Benson, he was granted exceptional status, and like Benson I’m sure he’d like to have this year back. Off ice issues played a big part in Day’s on ice performance, but the fact remains that Day is large defenseman, who skates like the wind and is offensively gifted. Getting Day refocused on hockey sounds easy enough, but is likely a lot more difficult than I’m giving it credit for. Based purely on talent, Day is a top 30 player, but in reality he’ll probably be lucky to get picked in the second round now.
In general, the 2016 NHL Draft is a little underwhelming after the 2015 draft which has drawn comparisons to some of the best drafts ever. This year still has a very limited high end, but then moves into what looks like three rounds of solid depth.
The first round seems to guarantee all the lottery teams a blue chip prospect. The second round looks like a great place for teams to get serious about defensive prospects, and this could be one of the better years for teams to stock up on goaltenders as well.
Look for Tom Hunter’s Top 30 coming this afternoon and let us know who’s list is better.
(It’s probably his, he won’t have Day in the top 30)