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:
1. Auston Matthews, C – ZSC Lions (Swi.): Still the king. Finding a strong, talented center with Matthews’ motor is near impossible and he is still lighting up Switzerland after a strong world juniors.
2. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW – Karpat Oulu (Fin.): He led the world juniors in scoring and when he wasn’t putting up points, he was using his speed and strength to harass enemy puck carriers. It was a statement tournament.
3. Patrik Laine, RW – Tappara (Fin.): Depending on who is picking, Laine could go ahead of Puljujarvi thanks to his potential. In the here and now, he’s already a deadly sniper thanks to his shot and a physical presence.
4. Matthew Tkachuk, LW – London Knights (OHL): I would be so comfortable picking Tkachuk if I was a GM. Smart, competitive, physical and creative, he does everything you need to be successful.
5. Jakob Chychrun, D – Sarnia Sting (OHL): Could easily go higher based on team needs, but either way Chychrun is an incredible defenseman with strength, skating, skill and a physical edge.
6. Alex Nylander, RW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): Yes, Nylander is getting a WJC bump here for sure. He was electric for Sweden and has been just as deadly for ‘Sauga thanks to his high-end hands and mind.
7. Mikey McLeod, C – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): McLeod is a gift at No. 7. A big, strong, powerful skater in a game that craves such attributes, he’s also a true center in a field heavy on wingers.
8. Olli Juolevi, D – London Knights (OHL): Tkachuk says Juolevi is London’s best D-man and he showed it in Helsinki. Size, offensive skill and great skating ability that allows him to defend as well as produce.
9. Tyson Jost, C – Penticton Vees (BCHL): The North Dakota commit was MVP of the World Jr. A Challenge, where he captained Canada West to a title. Gets behind guys thanks to his powerful skating and can light up a scoreboard.
10. Dante Fabbro, D – Penticton Vees (BCHL): Projects as a two-way blueliner with shutdown abilities, Fabbro has an NHL-tailored game thanks to his quick processor. The Boston U. commit is also putting up big points for the Vees.
- Julien Gauthier, RW – Val’dOr Foreurs (QMJHL)
- Max Jones, LW – London Knights (OHL)
- Logan Brown, C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
- Clayton Keller, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
- Mikhail Sergachev, D – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
- German Rubtsov, C – Russia J18 (Rus.)
- Jake Bean, D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
- Rasmus Asplund, C – Farjestad (SHL)
- Riley Tufte, LW – Blaine Bengals (Minn. HS)
- Sam Steel, C – Regina Pats (WHL)
- Alex DeBrincat, RW – Erie Otters (OHL)
- Kieffer Bellows, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
- Charlie McAvoy, D – Boston U. Terriers (Hockey East)
- Nathan Bastian, C – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
- Tyler Benson, LW – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
- Chad Krys, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
- Filip Gustavsson, G – Lulea (SHL)
- Luke Kunin, C – Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
- Brett Howden, C – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)