This man could shake up the first round of the 2016 draft

Pierre-Luc Dubois.  (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

BUFFALO – Weird. Vincent Lecavalier retired. You’d swear it was him, or a magical teenage version of him, sitting on a podium overlooking Lake Erie. That’s what it felt like talking to elite 2016 NHL draft prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Dubois, a friendly, rosy-cheeked tank of a youngster at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, carries himself like a young Vinny. It’s a strange coincidence, as the last time the draft went down in Buffalo was 1998, when Lecavalier went first overall. Dubois was calm yet confident, exuding the poise of a man many years older, seemingly enjoying the questions as he sat outside on a windy Thursday. The novelty hadn’t yet worn off.

He was endearingly wide-eyed about the draft experience. He said his old QMJHL teammate, Red Wings 2015 first-rounder Evgeny Svechknikov, told him to have fun and not waste the experience. Dubois was gracious about his off-season workouts, in which he encountered the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Alex Killorn and Andrej Sustr and eventually worked up the courage to approach them for advice. Dubois can’t wait to face his childhood idol, Henrik Zetterberg, and couldn’t believe his eyes when, while he attended the Stanley Cup final in San Jose, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby approached and said, “Maybe I’ll see you soon.”

Read more

Mock draft: how will the first round go down in Buffalo?

Ryan Kennedy
Jakob Chychrun (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

We are achingly close to the 2016 draft in Buffalo. The first round is Friday night and there is a lot of anticipation about what might happen. While Auston Matthews will still get his coronation in Toronto, late speculation was casting doubt upon what would follow. Is Winnipeg hot on Jesse Puljujarvi? Does Columbus want to trade the third pick? Personally, I don’t believe any draft rumors that happen in the final week – especially when so many people in the industry were partying in Las Vegas last night – but hey, the draft is unpredictable. Here’s what I see happening in the first round, assuming no trades are made (ha ha, like that’s realistic).

Read more

Top prospect Matthews says Swiss league helped him elevate his game

Jared Clinton
Auston Matthews (John Carnessali/Bauer)

Auston Matthews is less than half a week away from arguably the biggest day of his young life. Come Friday, the 18-year-old center is expected to become the first-overall pick in the 2016 draft and a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He’s already seen what the pro life can be about. He’s gotten the experience playing in the World Championship, he’ll be a key player on Team North America at the upcoming World Cup and, on Monday, Matthews inked the first major equipment deal of his career, signing on to become one of the new faces of Bauer.

But getting to this point, and being less than a week from being drafted, saw Matthews carve out a new path. He made a bold decision to forego the traditional development path and eschew time in the NCAA or Canada’s major junior ranks saw him take a highly publicized trip over to Switzerland, sign a deal with Zurich’s Lions of the NLA and try his hand at pro hockey. It could blaze a new trail for Matthews. He says the choice was a wise one.

“It helped a lot, and if I were to do it all over again, I’d do the same thing,” Matthews said. Read more

Final rankings: the top 120 prospects for the 2016 draft

Ryan Kennedy
Auston Matthews  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

We are one week away from the 2016 NHL draft in Buffalo. So now is the time to really bear down and get your knowledge. The following is my top 120 list. That represents about the first four rounds (give or take a compensatory pick) and it’s my hope that you will see all these names on the draft board by the time everything wraps up on Saturday afternoon.

Important note: This is not a mock draft. None of the selections are based on which teams are picking when, because that can (and pretty much always does) change with trades on the floor. This is a ‘Best Player Available’ list, for all intents and purposes. Nearly all the players here are first-time eligible. I try not to speculate on those already passed over unless they’re obvious (Tanner Pearson in 2012, for example), but a couple got through.

Otherwise, enjoy this primer.

Read more

Who were the big winners at the draft combine this weekend?

Ryan Kennedy
Alex Nylander at the bench press (Photo by Jen Fuller/NHLI via Getty Images)

The draft combine is a tricky event. Some folks grouse that there is no on-ice component and the exercises do lend a bit of a dog-and-pony show vibe to the proceedings, but there is still a lot of business conducted. For players who didn’t have great years, or played in smaller circuits, the team interviews can be key. And it is interesting to see how certain players did on the physical tests compared to their peers. So who won the weekend?

Read more

Top defensemen make their case at the draft combine

Mikhail Sergachev  (Photo by Jen Fuller/NHLI via Getty Images)

BUFFALO – There was a lot of interest among the local media in defensemen this morning. With Buffalo hosting the draft combine, camera crews and reporters got a chance to quiz a number of potential future Sabres and several of those candidates were blueliners. With Buffalo picking eighth, a top D-man will surely be available, but which one?

Read more

Jesse Puljujarvi will not be quiet any longer

Finland's Jesse Puljujärvi (Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

BUFFALO – The main attraction at today’s draft combine access was top-rated Auston Matthews, as it probably should be. But for the few reporters who went to Jesse Puljujarvi first, a new personality could be seen. Puljujarvi, it seems, won’t be taking a back seat to anyone for much longer.

Read more

Inside the interview room at the draft combine

Ryan Kennedy
Draft veterans Brian Burke and Paul Holmgren (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

BUFFALO – The NHL draft combine has two main components: the physical testing, most of which will happen this Saturday, and the interview portion. The latter is spread out over a few days this week, with all 30 teams interviewing a range of players from the 114 invited by Central Scouting. So what happens in those interviews? I had the good fortune to find out this year, as one franchise let me sit in on a block of interviews. Here’s how it went down.

Read more