Red Wings fans are excited about Teemu Pulkkinen and prospect expert Ryan Kennedy says there’s good reason for that. With a booming shot and the chance at a top-six role, Pulkkinen could have a breakout season for Detroit. Plus, Kennedy looks at Timo Meier’s chances in San Jose, the 2016 draft’s potential top-five and more.
Welcome back to the Futures mailbag, where prospects and the draft are always in the spotlight. We’re getting into real games these days and the All-American Prospects Game hits Buffalo next Thursday, so we can officially say it’s hockey season. Remember: if you have a question you would like answered, hit up my Twitter page (@THNRyanKennedy) and tag your query with the hashtag #thnfutures. Let’s get to it:
What do you expect from Teemu Pulkkinen this year?
– Johnny Upops (@ukrainianplug)
I’m pretty excited about Pulkkinen this season. The Detroit Red Wings left winger has already gotten his feet wet in the NHL with 31 games last year (and three the year before), while at the same time showing that he can dominate in the AHL. In fact, his year-over-year progression with Grand Rapids was incredible. Though he only put up eight points with the Wings, I can see him taking the next step this season, especially since Pavel Datsyuk will miss the start of the year due to ankle surgery.
So Pulkkinen, who has excellent offensive skills, a great shot and has rounded out his game since being drafted in 2010, will have a great chance at a top-six role early on. If he seizes it, expect his numbers to go way up.
Can we get comparables for the top five prospects in the 2016 draft?
– TL Hansum (@TLHansum)
I’m not great at comparables, but I’ll give it a shot nonetheless. And as always, let’s keep in mind this is a style projection – I’m not trying to put extra weight on the shoulders of these kids (which is part of the reason I’m not great at comparables).
Auston Matthews – I’ve been comparing Matthews to Jack Eichel a lot as an explainer for people, since both are big, strong centers with great hands and IQ. Style-wise, Eichel has been compared to Mario Lemieux and Matthews works in the analogy as well.
Jesse Puljujarvi – The best line about this Finnish scorer came from a scout recently, who described him as “Mats Sundin, but more intense.”
Jakob Chychrun – Chychrun is a beastly two-way defender who can move, so Duncan Keith would be a nice example for him.
Matthew Tkachuk – It would be easy to say “Keith Tkachuk,” but the son had an answer for himself when I spoke to him last season: James van Riemsdyk. Big frame, sweet hands.
Max Jones – Tkachuk will be joined in OHL London by Jones, who was once described to me as an “American Lawson Crouse.” Nasty kid to play against – much better if he’s on your team.
Do you think Timo Meier can make the San Jose Sharks this year? What are his chances?
– Lee (@Leethecarroll)
I’d say Meier is a long-shot at this point to crack the NHL straight from the draft. Even though the Sharks missed the playoffs, they still have a lot of veteran forwards, not to mention another first-rounder ahead of Meier in Nikolay Goldobin. The Russian already has pro experience from a year in Finland and he would be the favorite to make noise this fall.
Having said that, Meier will have a great chance to grow this year in Halifax. The Mooseheads will need him thanks to Nikolaj Ehlers’ departure and Meier will also be front and center on Switzerland’s world junior team thanks to his size and shot. If San Jose continues to re-jig, I could definitely see him wearing teal in 2016-17.
Who are the top five players to watch in the WHL this season?
– Steve Scott (@Seebz87)
Since the Western League starts next week (watch for my preview!), this seems like a good time to weigh in on this.
1. Matt Barzal, Seattle – Healthy after last year’s freak knee injury, the New York Islanders first-rounder will contend for the scoring crown while leading a very good Thunderbirds team.
2. Tyler Benson, Vancouver – Though he’ll miss the start of the season due to a lower-body injury, Benson also starts the year as the top draft prospect in the league thanks to his strong offensive game.
3. Nolan Patrick, Brandon – A late birthday, Patrick is a big, offensive powerhouse who won’t be draft eligible until 2017, but will definitely put up numbers.
4. Nick Merkley, Kelowna – The Arizona first-rounder will challenge Barzal for the scoring title while taking on a bigger leadership role with the defending champ Rockets.
5. Haydn Fleury, Red Deer – The best defenseman on the Memorial Cup hosts will also be key for Canada at the world juniors. Fleury is a Carolina first-rounder.
Honorable mention to Brandon’s Ivan Provorov, who could also hypothetically crack the Philadelphia Flyers’ defense corps.