The picks will be made Friday night so we’re here to give you a primer on which players will be selected and what teams may snag their rights.
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).
1. Toronto: Auston Matthews, Zurich (Swi.). Not only is he the best player in the draft, but he’s also the potential franchise center the Maple Leafs have craved forever. Big skill and he plays a two-way game.
2. Winnipeg: Patrik Laine, Tappara (Fin.). The Finnish juggernaut has so much upside and we’ve already seen some pretty incredible performances from the precocious sniper. Jets get a sick weapon on the wing.
3. Columbus: Jesse Puljujarvi, Karpat Oulu (Fin.). Can you imagine a Puljujarvi-Boone Jenner-Brandon Saad line in a couple years? Devastating. Jackets get a big, skilled competitor who doesn’t shirk from responsibility.
4. Edmonton: Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL). Thinks the game at such a high level and has skill and strength. Oilers can’t pass on him if they make a selection here; Tkachuk is just too tempting.
5. Vancouver: Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL). Play him at center or the wing; Dubois will get you points and bash the enemy in the process. I’ve heard the Canucks are quite hot for him.
6. Calgary: Olli Juolevi, London (OHL). Flames could use help in a couple spots, but Juolevi may be too good to pass up. Excellent poise and mobility make him a perfect defenseman for the current game.
7. Arizona: Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor (OHL). Coyotes have ton of skill up front, but Sergachev works in this spot anyway. He’s a minute-munching defenseman will nice offensive skill and almost NHL ready.
8. Buffalo: Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL). Here’s one for the home crowd. Nylander is incredibly skilled on the wing and has somewhat unique status in that he can go to the AHL next year, despite being drafted out of junior.
9. Montreal: Tyson Jost, Penticton (BCHL): The Habs need skill up front and Jost can deliver. He’s a strong center with great character, bound for North Dakota. Kid can rack up points, too.
10. Colorado: Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL). The Avs seriously need defense and Chychrun is the type of player who will play in the NHL for a long time thanks to his size, strength and mobility.
11. New Jersey: Clayton Keller, U.S. NTDP (USHL). The Devils need an injection of skill and Keller is one of the best in the draft. He’s not the biggest, but the center has incredible consistency. Windsor and Boston University will battle for his services.
12. Ottawa: Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL). If the Senators land Brown, it works on two levels. First, he’s a potential No. 1 center thanks to his frame and playmaking ability. But he’s also half-local, spending his summers in the Ottawa area.
13. Carolina: Mikey McLeod, Mississauga (OHL). The Canes are set on the back end, but the speedy and powerful McLeod would fill in a slot up front in a couple years. Has the potential to be a dangerous center.
14. Boston: Max Jones, London (OHL). Jones would be adored by Bruins fans. The power forward hits hard, plays nasty and can also put up points. He’s a big kid and a superb athlete.
15. Minnesota: Kieffer Bellows, U.S. NTDP (USHL). Minnesota has a great defense pipeline, but the Wild could use the scoring punch of Bellows, owner of one of the draft’s best shots. Bonus: his dad Brian might be familiar to Minny fans.
16. Detroit: Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL). GM Ken Holland has always put an emphasis on skill from the blue line and Bean is one of the best offensive defensemen in the draft. Great vision and skating acumen.
17. Nashville: Dante Fabbro, Penticton (BCHL). The Preds know defense and Fabbro is probably a little undervalued on this list. He can put up points and play a shutdown role. The Boston University commit has a big shot, too.
18. Philadelphia: Julien Gauthier, Val-d’Or (QMJHL). With Nicolas Aube-Kubel in the system already, I bet the Flyers saw a lot of Gauthier on the Foreurs this year. He’s a powerful sniper with Rick Nash-type potential.
19. New York Islanders: Charlie McAvoy, Boston U. (Hockey East). Local boy alert! McAvoy was born in Nassau County, but the real draw here is a defenseman with great mobility, creativity and confidence.
20. Arizona: Logan Stanley, Windsor (OHL). It would be funny if the Coyotes took two Spitfires defensemen in the first round, but Stanley has a lot of upside. At 6-foot-7 he’s a tower and his reach makes him an ideal option to be the stay-at-home guy with a rushing partner.
21. Carolina: Riley Tufte, Blaine HS (Minn.). At this point, I feel the Canes are playing with house money. So picking Tufte, one of the best raw prospects out of Minnesota in years, may be the play. He’s 6-foot-5, skates well and will play at Minnesota-Duluth next season.
22. Winnipeg: Luke Kunin, Wisconsin (Big Ten). The Jets have gone to the NCAA well a bunch lately and Kunin has some nice attributes. On a bad Badgers team, he still put up points thanks to his skilled and varied game.
23. Florida: German Rubtsov, Russia J18 (Rus.). It will be interesting to see what Florida’s new regime does at the draft, so let’s give them Rubtsov, a smart and dangerous center who also has a nice two-way element to his game.
24. Anaheim: Alex DeBrincat, Erie (OHL). The Ducks have size, but the future will need more skill and few youngsters can score as much as the diminutive DeBrincat. Quick player with a scintillating shot.
25. Dallas: Cliff Pu, London (OHL). The Stars are in a pretty good place right now in terms of balance, so they can grab Pu, an undervalued center with great vision, speed and upside.
26. Washington: Markus Niemelainen, Saginaw (OHL). With so many weapons up front, the Caps can turn their attention to defense, where this towering Finn can be a great future asset. Niemelainen moves well and has great reach at 6-foot-6.
27. Tampa Bay: Brett Howden, Moose Jaw (WHL). With Brayden Point in the organization already, Tampa knows Moose Jaw. So they’ve seen the potential in Howden, who has size, skill and a nice edge to his game that he just needs to maintain more consistently.
28. St. Louis: Pascal Laberge, Victoriaville (QMJHL). Feisty and skilled, Laberge still needs to get stronger, but there’s time for that. The Blues can let him develop into the kind of player other teams don’t want to face.
29. Boston: Nathan Bastian, Mississauga (OHL). Bastian is interesting because he mainly played right wing this year, but grew up as a center and played down the middle when Mikey McLeod was hurt. Bastian has great size and is a great complementary player when he’s on the wing.
30. Anaheim: Carter Hart, Everett (WHL). The Ducks traded goalie Frederik Andersen for this pick, so why not restock with Hart? He’s got incredible poise and calm in the crease, plus a great technical game.