The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau released its latest Watch List today for the 2016 draft and there have been a bunch of movers. This is not surprising, since the early September edition was largely speculative and now the prospects actually have a good sample size of games under their belts, but it is interesting to monitor nonetheless. Also, as I first reported the other day, top 2016 prospect Auston Matthews will return to the ice for Zurich tomorrow in a Swiss Cup game against Ambri-Piotta. Here’s a look at what else is going on in the prospect world:
Jack LaFontaine, G – Janesville Jets (NAHL): As a rookie in the North American League, LaFontaine is defying any sort of adjustment period. The 2016 draft prospect is still leading the circuit with a 1.61 goals-against average and ranks second in save percentage at .931, with a stellar 8-3-2 record overall. Not bad for a kid from Misssissauga, a massive suburb of Toronto, who relocated to small-town Wisconsin.
“It’s different, because I was kind of a city boy,” he said. “It’s a close-knit town here and everybody knows you. When you put on that team tracksuit, people know who you are.”
On top of ample playing time, one of the benefits of playing for Janesville is that LaFontaine and his mates are only a half-hour drive from Madison, where the Wisconsin Badgers play, so NCAA games are a pastime on off-days. Playing college is important for the 6-foot-3 stopper, though he hasn’t made a commitment just yet.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to pursue the NCAA route,” he said. “Then the question was how to get there.”
The USHL was a possibility, but LaFontaine got edged out of a roster spot in Fargo when the Force decided to go with two veterans. Now, he’s soaring with the Jets, instead.
“I look at that as a silver lining,” he said. “It’s a positive situation and everything happens for a reason.”
LaFontaine prides himself on his work ethic, flexibility and intelligence and still wants to calm his game down more. Scouts are very enthusiastic about him thanks to his size and smoothness in net and in a year where the North American goalie field is wide open, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see LaFontaine plucked early in the draft.
In the Pipeline
Pavel Zacha, C (New Jersey): Hard to believe Zacha just notched his first OHL hat trick on the weekend, but the Czech power forward has been limited by injuries and international duty in the past. Now firing on all cylinders, the 2015 Devils first-rounder has nine points in his past four games.
Brayden Point, C (Tampa Bay): One of the few returnees available for Canada’s world junior squad, Point is tearing through the WHL again, this time to the tune of 43 points through 19 games. That’s tops in the league for the small but deadly producer.
Brandon Montour, D (Anaheim): The offensive defenseman has always been known for his skating and playmaking, but now the former USHL star is doing it at the pro level. Montour leads all San Diego Gulls in scoring with 18 points through 16 AHL games.
2016 Draft Stars
Matthew Tkachuk, LW – London Knights (OHL): With two points per game, Tkachuk sits second in OHL scoring and is maintaining his lofty draft stock. Smart, strong and willing to mix it up, Tkachuk is also able to get off his shot quickly in tight spaces, meaning he is always a threat to score.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL): One of the Quebec League’s three stars of the week, Dubois earned the distinction with eight points in two games – no kidding he won an award. Fast, skilled and smart, Dubois is one of only three ‘A’ skaters from the ‘Q’ on Central Scouting’s list. He’s also a top-10 scorer thanks to his 38 points through 27 games.
Charlie McAvoy, D – Boston University Terriers (Hockey East): A true freshman with the Terriers, McAvoy has impressed scouts with his mobility and willingness to take chances with the puck. He has five points through 11 games, but this is just the beginning of his skill set emerging.
Tyler Benson, LW – Vancouver Giants (WHL): A lower-body injury kept Benson out of the lineup early, but the Giants left winger is back and producing, with seven points during a six-game streak. Strong on his skates, Benson also has a sweet pair of hands.
Dennis Cholowski, D – Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL): Central Scouting upgraded Cholowski from a ‘C’ to a ‘B’ in its latest rankings – and made him taller since September. An offensive defenseman with vision and mobility, the St. Cloud State commit has gotten stronger and leads Chilliwack’s defense corps with 15 points through 23 games.
2017 Draft Star
Antoine Crete-Belzile, D – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL): The Armada aren’t going to baby Crete-Belzile, the team’s first-round pick from last season; they want him playing. “He needs mileage,” said GM/coach Joel Bouchard, “and we’re sure going to give it to him.”
The young D-man is a fluid skater who makes crisp, quick passes and is cautious in his own end. Assuming everything goes according to plan, Bouchard envisions a great future two-way player in the 16-year-old, who has two points in 12 games for Blainville-Boisbriand.
Injury Report: Goaltender Matej Tomek was part of North Dakota’s great recruiting class, but the freshman hasn’t made his debut with the Fighting Hawks due to a lower body injury. The 2015 Philadelphia Flyers selection has come close to returning recently, but now it sounds like the wait will have to continue.