The 2016 NHL Entry Draft is still a few months away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate about the players who may be picked in the top five. The reality is that some of these young players have been on hockey insiders’ radars for the last few years. The 2016 draft will take place on June 24-25, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. In order to be eligible for the 2016 draft, a player must turn 18 prior to September 15, 2016.
The 2016 draft won’t have the drama of last year’s draft. There is no Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, players who stand out as sure-fire NHL superstars. However, the overall depth of the draft may be deeper than last year’s, which makes it all the more intriguing. We are finally reaching a time when the NHL’s expansion into the southern U.S. is starting to pay off with elite-level players.
Don’t be surprised if a young man from Arizona is selected with the first overall pick in 2016. Not long ago that thought would have been laughable. A lot can change in a few months, but it would be a surprise if any of the players we look at here drop out of the first round. So, who are the five players that currently stand out as potential top picks in the 2016 NHL draft? Read on to find out.
1. Auston Matthews
Auston Matthews should be the first pick in the 2016 NHL entry draft. Even if he’s not, he will most likely be the highest NHL pick to hail from Arizona. His only competition in that category is Sean Couturier, who was drafted eighth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011. Only one other Arizona-born player has made it to the NHL; Jim Brown played three games for the Los Angeles Kings during the 1982-83 season.
While playing for Zurich of Switzerland’s National League this year, 17-year-old Matthews missed some time with a back injury, but don’t expect that to affect the draft standing of this 6-foot-1, 210-pound center. Matthews’ coach in Switzerland is former Stanley Cup-winning coach, Marc Crawford. That relationship will only benefit Matthews’ development and NHL readiness. He has all the tools to be a top-level, two-way center in the NHL.
2. Matthew Tkachuk
If Matthew Tkachuk’s name seems familiar, it’s because his father is long-time NHL star, Keith Tkachuk. Matthew spent the last two seasons with the U.S. National Development Team. This year, the 17-year-old plays for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. A left wing, Matthew plays well in both ends of the rink, and he uses his size, hockey smarts, and strength to his advantage. The 6-foot-1, American-born player is tied for the team lead with 36 points (8G, 28A) in 19 games.
3. Jesse Puljujarvi
Swedish-born right wing Jesse Puljujarvi is a 6-foot-3, almost 200-pound player who will have two years of professional experience under his belt by the time the 2016 draft rolls around. This professional-level experience may be what separates the 17-year-old from many of the other players in the upcoming draft. Then again, his size, speed, skating, and puck-handling skills may be even more notable. Many scouts have the power forward listed in the top two for the draft.
4. Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine is big. At 17 years old, he is 6-foot-4 and 206 pounds. The Finnish right wing is playing for Tappara of the Finnish Elite League, where he competes against full-grown men. Laine is a power forward with a hard shot. He plays well in both ends of the ice with good puck-handling skills. His skating needs some work, but that’s not enough of a concern to drop him out of the top five of the 2016 draft class.
5. Jakob Chychrun
Only seven Florida-born hockey players have ever played at the NHL level. None of those players were drafted in the first round. That will likely change at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. 17-year-old Jakob Chychrun, born in Boca Raton, Florida, is currently the top defenseman eligible for the upcoming draft. The young man currently plays for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, where he was a nominee for OHL rookie of the year last season. Chychrun has a solid bloodline; his father, Jeff Chychrun, won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and his uncle, Luke Richardson, played more than 20 seasons in the NHL. Jakob is already 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds. In addition to size, he brings strength and speed to his game.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com.