College hockey is still a few weeks away and junior hockey seasons are just beginning, but it's never too early to start looking towards next June's NHL Draft. TSN analyst Craig Button released his first monthly ranking list for the 2016 NHL Draft.
Button's draft ranking lists are usually fairly good, though they are known for their willingness to buck conventional wisdom, this month's list included. It's a good conversation piece, especially this early in the year when it is hard to find real professional opinions on where things stand.
There are a lot of interesting names on this list for American and NCAA hockey fans. Current NCAA commits on the list include: #7 Clayton Keller(BU), #14 Tyson Jost(UND), #15 Kieffer Bellows(BU), #17 Charlie MacAvoy(BU), #32 Chad Krys(BU), and #36 Riley Tufte(UMD). In addition, #10 Dante Fabbro and #18 James Greenway still hold NCAA eligibility and offers from numerous schools.
In addition, American Auston Matthews, who will play pro hockey in Switzerland this year tops the list. Other Americans, all playing in the OHL this year, include Jakob Chychrun, Matthew Tkachuk, Logan Brown, and Max Jones. Tkachuk and Jones have already played for the US at an IIHF event. Chychrun and Brown are dual-citizens with Canada and seem likely to represent Canada if given the opportunity.
As usual, I agree with most of the list, but a few things stand out that I really don't agree with. Here are my thoughts on how Button has the Draft class graded so far.
What I Agree With
#1 Auston Matthews-- Well this one was pretty obvious. Matthews is clearly at the head of this class to start the season. Most of the discussion tends to lean towards where Matthews would have gone if he were eligible for the last summer's Draft(I still maintain behind McDavid, ahead of Eichel, for the record). Matthews turns 18 on Thursday and when he does, he'll be eligible to play for Zurich in Switzerland's top pro league. It will be interesting to see how the season goes for him and if anybody else can challenge him for the top spot.
#7 Clayton Keller--There are going to be questions about Keller throughout the season because of his size, but I've always maintained his offensive potential is good enough to justify overlooking his size. Keller is also a bit different from Jeremy Bracco last season, who fell to the second round of the Draft because of his concerns about his size, because Keller is a more versatile player, able to play up the middle and be effective on the defensive end.
#10 Dante Fabbro-- It's not a sterling class for defensemen, but Button has Fabbro ranked as the second-best defenseman available in this Draft, behind Jakob Chychrun, which is where I would rank him too.
#13 Vojtech Budik--I mentioned how impressed I was with Budik at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, and Button, whose list leans heavily on the recently completed tournament, seems to be in agreement. Budik is an explosive skater that could be a game-changer from the blue line
#34 Logan Brown--This was a controversial one, as Brown has been one of the more hyped players in this age group. But at this point, Brown is still offering more potential than actual results. He wasn't selected for Canada's Ivan Hlinka team, and by most every account, didn't deserve to be. He isn't anywhere close to his ceiling yet, so there is lots of room for him to rise this year, but this seems like a fair ranking at this point.
What I Don't Agree With
#38 Max Jones--This was the biggest head-scratcher for me, as I have Jones as a top-five player in this Draft. Button has never been as excited about Jones as me, but he did rank him 11th last January after the U17 Challenge. Of course some new names have risen since then, and like I said, there's a bit of recency bias towards kids that played at the Ivan Hlinka, but I can't imagine Jones not being a first round pick. The energy and physicality he brings to the game is unparalleled and he looks to have a great pro career ahead of him.
#32 Chad Krys--What I said about Jones applies here too. Button has never been as personally high on Krys and the recency bias of the Ivan Hlinka factors in. I really like smaller defensemen Kale Clague and Samuel Girard and have no issues with where they're ranked in the first round. But compare either player to Krys and Krys is the clear, much more dynamic choice.
Jacob Cederholm--Everyone I have as a likely first round pick on my list made an appearance on Button's list, with the exception of Cederholm. Cederholm isn't the flashiest defenseman, but he's a big body that eats up a lot of ice and has the agility to make plays in tight spaces. I expect him to rise throughout the year.