Ryan Kennedy is the associate senior writer and draft/prospect expert at The Hockey News. He has been with the publication since 2005 and in that span, Don Cherry, Lil Jon and The Rock have all called his house. He lives in Toronto with his wife and kids where he listens to loud music and collects NCAA pennants.
By all accounts, Carter Hart is having a great draft year with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips.
He’s a second-year starter with some of the best stats in the league despite playing in what can be a ravenous American Division, featuring potent squads such as Seattle and Portland. Is he the top North American netminder available next summer? There’s actually no collective wisdom right now.
In past years, big names such as Zach Fucale, Thatcher Demko and Malcolm Subban were obvious frontrunners – though, to prove just how fickle tastes are, only Subban ended up a first-rounder and the first North American goalie taken his year. “Of all the years,” one NHL exec told me, “it really is wide open.”
The world juniors in Finland were almost unprecedented in terms of draft influence. Four of the six tournament all-stars (as chosen by the media) were 2016 prospects: Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Olli Juolevi and overall MVP Jesse Puljujarvi. The kids aren’t supposed to dominate like that, but here we are. With Alexander Nylander and Matthew Tkachuk also having strong tournaments, the big question around the campfire right now is where to slot defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
The OHL Sarnia star did not make Team Canada, but he’s the only defenseman in the top echelon right now – though Juolevi is seriously threatening that. One exec I spoke with believes Chychrun is in a positional class by himself, while another team scout told me Juolevi is pushing his way into the conversation.
So what happens on draft day? Top D-men are hard to find, but those elite forwards are awfully tempting. Since we’re nowhere near knowing which teams will be selecting early, I’m keeping things conservative, as I generally do. Here’s a look at my current top-30:
The Montreal Canadiens have now gone 5-14-1 in their past 20 games, ceding first place in the Atlantic Division to the Florida Panthers and falling precipitously towards wild card territory. So how about a silver lining, Habs fans?
For instance, this devastating hit by defenseman Alexei Emelin on Chicago’s Andrew Desjardins:
Calgary Flames rookie Sam Bennett had hockey historians on high alert last night as he became the third-youngest player ever to score four goals in an NHL game (only Bobby Carpenter and Jack Hamilton were younger). Impressively, they were all really nice tallies:
Kris Versteeg now has seven goals on the season, but it will be pretty hard for any future tallies to measure up to the one he scored against Pittsburgh last night. The Carolina Hurricanes right winger got several crazy bounces in what can only be described as a magic pinball goal:
I’m back from Finland and things are not slowing down. The home team took gold at the world juniors in one of the best games I’ve ever seen live and the talent overall was incredible in Helsinki. But a whole slew of trades have gone down in the CHL since we last gathered, while the USHL Top Prospects Game runs tonight in Omaha. Names to watch in Nebraska include Cam Morrison (Notre Dame commit), William Knierim (Miami) and Matt Filipe (Northeastern). As for everything else prospect, let’s get to the list.
New York’s Henrik Lundqvist has been a premier netminder for more than decade now, but he can still break the lights on Broadway when he needs to. Check out this save on Boston’s Max Talbot from Monday:
Taylor Hall knows that he has absorbed way too many nuclear hits in his career. The Edmonton Oilers star literally told me this over the summer when I interviewed him for a feature in our annual Yearbook:
“You get injured a few times and you start to look in the mirror,” he said. “The biggest way to contribute is to hit the scoresheet, so maybe you don’t skate into the corner going a million miles an hour anymore.”
So far this season, Hall has lived up to that code, suiting up in all 43 games so far for the Oilers and leading the squad with 41 points. But it’s not just the corners Hall has to worry about – open ice can be just as dangerous, as he found out against the Panthers on Sunday: