With the World U18 Championships now complete, the 2015-2016 scouting season is pretty much over, give-or-take a few USHL/CHL playoff games. And with the NHL Draft lottery coming up this weekend, it's time to start hammering out final lists and figure out how the 2016 NHL Draft will shake out.
This is what the top-30 of my Draft list looks like, as of today. Note that this isn't a mock draft--we'll do that as we get closer to the Draft--but just how I would personally rank these players based on what I've seen this season. As always, I limit these lists to players I've seen play and felt comfortable enough to rank, which this year, is a pretty considerable number. Still, there are a few good players I missed, so I'm adding a 'Haven't Seen' list at the bottom with a few players that have popped up on the Top-30 of some other scouting services.
1. Auston Matthews, Forward Zurich(Switzerland)
Nobody really knew what to expect with Matthews when he took the unprecedented step of going from North American to play in the Swiss pro league, but he had a very strong season. Matthews combination of explosive skating, size, and ability to create offense from the center position is exceptional. He'll be a special player in the NHL.
2. Patrik Laine, Forward, Tappara(Finland)
Laine is the only serious challenger to Matthews as the top pick. Laine overcame questions about his attitude and willingness to get better this season and showed the promise to be a dominating scorer. He's a big power forward with a heavy shot and natural scoring ability that should immediately be a goal-scoring threat at the NHL level.
3. Jesse Puljujarvi, Forward, Karpat(Finland)
Puljujarvi is a big, skilled winger that helped lead Finland to gold at the World U18s and U20s this year. He's a fast, powerful skater with exceptional puck-handling and passing ability. He's an exciting, dynamic offensive force.
4. Clayton Keller, Forward, US NTDP(USHL)
Keller has the best vision and playmaking ability of any skater in the Draft. He sees the ice and understands where open areas are. Some may think his size will hold him back, but he's smart enough that he's going to be an offensive force regardless of how big he is.
5. Alex Nylander, Forward, Mississauga(OHL)
Nylander is the best, most complete skater in the Draft. He's got great straight line speed, but more importantly, tremendous agility and the ability to stop on a dime then utilize his quick first step to blow past defenders. He still needs to develop physically, but has the tools to be an offensive force
6. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Forward, Cape Breton(QMJHL)
Dubois is a big and dynamic power forward that understands the game well and uses his combination of size and quickness to be an extremely effective player.
7. Max Jones, Forward, London(OHL)
Jones is a big, mean power forward. He has tremendous quickness and agility for a big man. He uses his size effectively, playing with a physicality and toughness that sometimes crosses the line. There are some concerns about his scoring ability at the next level, but players with his physical skills don't come along very often.
8. Logan Brown, Forward, Windsor(OHL)
Brown has remarkable hands and passing ability for a 6'6" skater and late in the year, he started to translate those abilities into big results. Brown's size makes it near impossible to knock him off the puck when he's along the boards, allowing him to establish clean possession and work the puck to an open teammate.
9. Matt Tkachuk, Forward, London(OHL)
Tkachuk doesn't necessarily create a lot of offense on his own, but he's an incredibly smart player that knows how to get into the right area at the right time and has to skill to make a play when he gets the puck. He should be a steady, reliable scorer at the pro level.
10. Mikhail Sergachev, Defenseman, Windsor(OHL)
Sergachev is a big, strong defenseman that is great at using his size to his advantage while defending and when he has the puck by angling off forecheckers. He's not an elite straight line skater, but has a strong first step and good lateral movement which allows him to walk the blue line as a power play quarterback where he can take advantage of his heavy shot.
11. Olli Juolevi, Defenseman, London(OHL)
Juolevi is a dynamic skater capable of jumping into the offensive rush. A strong World Juniors moved him into the conversation for the best defenseman available in the Draft.
12. Dante Fabbro, Defenseman, Penticton(BCHL)
Fabbro is a skilled, extremely cerebral defenseman that is always thinking one or two moves ahead on the ice. Whenever the puck comes to him, he already knows where it's going next. He's only going to get better as he gets stronger and can better take advantage of his tremendous hockey IQ.
13. Jakob Chychrun, Defenseman, Sarnia(OHL)
Chychrun is one of the most pro-ready players in the Draft from a physical standpoint. A lack of elite offensive upside pushed him down a bit on my list, but he's an exceptionally strong skater and plays extremely reliable defense.
14. Kieffer Bellows, Forward, US NTDP(USHL)
Bellows is a pure sniper. He loves to shoot the puck and with his quick release and strong upper body strength, he's really effective as a shooter.
15. Tyson Jost, Forward, Penticton(BCHL)
Jost is a hard-working, very complete two-way forward with excellent offensive upside. He's not incredibly flashy, but makes a lot of smart plays to be a very effective offensive player.
16. Jake Bean, Defenseman, Calgary(WHL)
Bean missed the U18s after breaking his foot in pre-tournament play, which was a real shame because I was really hoping to get another shot to see him(and also it was probably not fun for him). But he has a ton of upside as a point-producing offensive defenseman.
17. Julien Gauthier, Forward, Val D'Or(QMJHL)
Gauthier was the only 2016-eligible to make Canada's World Juniors team. Gauthier is a hard-working big-bodied power forward that has shown the ability to be a solid finisher at the next level.
18. German Rubtsov, Forward, Russia Team U18
Rubtsov was the most disappointing omission from Russia's U18s roster after his team was replace due to their meldonium scandal. But Rubtsov was extremely impressive at the Ivan Hlina and the World Jr. A Challenge. He's a big two-way center that is very good on both ends of the ice.
19. Riley Tufte, Forward, Blaine HS/Fargo(USHL)
Tufte didn't produce great numbers in the USHL this season, but during the high school season, showed amazing skating ability for a legit 6'5" forward. It's such a rare combination that it's worth taking a risk in the first round that the offensive side of the game develops in the coming years.
20. Michael McLeod, Forward, Mississauga(OHL)
McLeod is a big centerman that plays an effective, high-energy game. His combination of size and skating allows to win pucks and be a force on the offensive and defensive end of the ice. He's struggled to put up big offensive numbers, however, which suggests he has a lower ceiling than some of the other prospects in the top 20.
21. Luke Kunin, Forward, Wisconsin(Big Ten)
Kunin doesn't have tremendous size or skating ability, but is a pure finisher, scoring 19 goals as an underage freshman for Wisconsin last season. He's good at working into good scoring areas and has great finishing ability when he gets the puck.
22. Charlie McAvoy, Defenseman, Boston University(Hockey East)
McAvoy isn't a finished product yet, but has some incredible physical tools to work with. He's an excellent four-direction skater for a player his size. He still needs to work on his decision-making but his upside as an offensive defenseman while having the size to be a strong defender is an intriguing combination.
23. Brett Howden, Forward, Moose Jaw(WHL)
Howden is a big, tough centerman that plays a really solid, honest game. He works hard to get into dirty areas and create offensive opportunities and is strong on the defensive end as well.
24. Logan Stanley, Defenseman, Windsor(OHL)
At 6'7", Stanley is an imposing physical force on the blue line. His long reach allows him to defend a very wide area despite not being as quick as other skaters. Stanley doesn't bring a big offensive element to his game, but has decent puck-handling abilities for his size.
25. Kale Clague, Defenseman, Brandon(WHL)
Clague is an extremely smooth offensive defenseman. He skates well and is an excellent passer.
26. Alex DeBrincat, Forward, Erie(OHL)
DeBrincat is tiny, but he is a pure scorer that has put together two incredible seasons for Erie in the OHL. He has great hands and surprising goal-scoring ability for a smaller player.
27. Joey Anderson, Forward, US NTDP(USHL)
Anderson is often forgotten as the third player on the dynamite top line of the NTDP U18s with Clayton Keller and Kieffer Bellows, but he's a legitimate first round talent in his own right. He's a smart, solid two-way player with an pro-level stick that allows him to handle difficult passes and get off his plus-shot. He doesn't generate a lot of offense with his skating, but can make a good pass or finish off a play equally well.
28. Evan Fitzpatrick, Goalie, Sherbrooke(QMJHL)
Fitzpatrick is the best goalie available in the Draft. He lacks the size of some today's monster-sized NHL goalies, but he's big enough to be a starter at the NHL level and makes him for a lack of size with elite-level quickness, especially in his lower body.
29. Carl Grundstrom, Forward, Modo(Sweden)
Grundstrom is a tough, strong two-way forward that played well for Sweden at this year's World Juniors. He's not afraid to use his size to get into tough areas of the ice and can really shoot the puck.
30. Adam Fox, Defenseman, US NTDP(USHL)
Fox is the best pure passer from the blue line available in this Draft. He doesn't have huge size, nor is he an elite skater, but he has the intelligence to be effective at the NHL level.
Next 10: Jordan Kyrou, Ryan Lindgren, Sam Steel, Dilon Dube, Victor Mete, Pascal LaBerge, Tim Gettinger, Sam Girard, William Bitten, Libor Hajek
Haven't Seen: Rasmus Asplund, Dennis Cholowski, Lucas Johansen, Nathan Bastian, Taylor Raddysh, Vitali Abramov, Cliff Pu, Jonathan Dahlen