Welcome back to the Futures Mailbag, where I will answer any prospect and draft-related questions you the readers may have. If you have a query, hit me up on Twitter (@THNRyanKennedy) and use the hashtag #thnfutures to make sure I scoop it up. If you don't see your question this week, stay tuned – there's always some overflow. Let's get to it:
Is Auston Matthews the real deal?
– Steven Woj (@stevenwoj)
A short but sweet question. Right now, center Auston Matthews is the No. 1 contender to go first overall in the 2016 NHL draft. Defenseman Jakob Chychrun of OHL Sarnia and right winger Jesse Puljujarvi of Karpat in Finland will be the challengers.
I belive Matthews is the real deal and I like to use Jack Eichel as a comparable. The two have many similarities, starting with the fact they are both late birthdays who played for Team USA's National Team Development Program the season before they were draft eligible. They're the same size (about 6-foot-2, 194 pounds) and both played top-line minutes with talented linemates.
While Eichel was amazing for the NTDP, leading his squad with 87 points to rank fourth all-time in program history, Matthews destroyed the record with 116 points – that's 14 more than Patrick Kane put up in his best NTDP season. He's fast, protects the puck well and plays a 200-foot game. So yeah, I think he's for real. The big question now is whether he plays for WHL Everett or Zurich in the Swiss League – an ongoing saga.
Does Michael Dal Colle have the ability to come play next to John Tavares and Kyle Okposo this year?
– Michael (@islanderjunkie)
This is a tricky one. Does Dal Colle have the ability? Yes. His shot is NHL-caliber and his big frame will be a great asset moving forward. But the Islanders are really deep on the wings right now (especially on one-way contracts) and I wonder if he goes back to Oshawa because of that. With a Memorial Cup already under his belt, Dal Colle doesn't need to prove anything, though kids can always improve on defensive play. 'MDC' would be a focal point for Canada's world junior team, too. So barring an injury to a New York regular, I think he hits the ground running in 2016-17 instead.
How do the Maple Leafs rank in terms of prospects? Any insight on NCAA products like Tony Cameranesi, Zach Hyman and Casey Bailey?
– TML Rumors (@RumorsTml)
In Future Watch, we had Toronto ranked 27th overall when it came to prospects, though that was before the draft weekend that brought Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington from Pittsburgh, plus a pretty good draft crop (Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, Dmitro Timashov, etc.). So I would bump them a little bit higher right now.
As for the college kids, the speedy Cameranesi had a nice bounce-back year for Minnesota-Duluth, leading the Bulldogs in scoring. Hyman (acquired from Florida) was a big story for Michigan in his senior year, while Bailey was a free agent from Penn State. I tend to be very reserved when it comes to NCAA free agents these days. For every Danny DeKeyser in Detroit, there's a number of these kids that turn out to be NHL/AHL tweeners (Matt Gilroy, Christian Hanson, Casey Wellman). And in fact, that's how I see all three of the Leafs kids mentioned right now. Hyman will get the best crack this year, especially since the Buds are rebuilding.
Stephen Johns, the potential key to the Patrick Sharp deal: where does he top out?
– HawksCap (@HawksCap)
Dallas GM Jim Nill was very high on Johns after the Chicago trade went down, specifically citing the blueliner's size and presence as needs for his squad. Though Johns has some offense to his game, that's not his selling point and in today's NHL, a top pairing guy tends to have that (remember the old Ken Holland axiom about not wanting D-men who can't score). But I could easily see Johns as a steady bottom-pairing guy in the near future and possibly a No. 4 when he hits his peak. He moves well and plays hard.