Auston Matthews, C, Zurich (SWISS)
Matthews has lived up to expectations by delivering all season long. A 6-foot-2, 195-pound forward, he impressively posted 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games with the ZSC Lions of the NLA. He owns a heavy shot, is a remarkable puckhandler, and has proven that he can already play a strong two-way game against men. The Arizona native captained the United States at the World Junior Championships, where he scored seven goals in as many games, and led the Americans with nine points in 10 games at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Moscow.
Patrik Laine, RW, Tappara (LIIGA)
Simply put, he’s a game breaker. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Laine is a bona fide scoring threat every time he steps on the ice, as was demonstrated when he notched 17 goals for Tappara in 46 SM-liiga regular season games before setting a rookie record in the playoffs with 10. On a line with Puljujarvi and Carolina Hurricanes prospect Sebastian Aho at World Juniors, Laine buried seven goals in as many games for the gold-medal winning Finns before being named a tournament all-star. His encore? He impressively netted a tournament best seven goals at the 2016 IIHF World Championship.
Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (LIIGA)
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound winger has played against men in Finland’s SM-liiga since he was 16 years old. He not only captured World Junior gold on Finland’s top line over the holiday break – adding tournament MVP to that achievement – but also led Suomi to World U18 gold, notching a hat-trick in the gold medal game versus archrival Sweden. He’s hard to defend against due to his large frame and powerful stride (Evgeni Malkin comes to mind) and could arguably have the highest hockey IQ in this draft. His intelligence, combined with his strength, was just not fair at the World U18 tourney.
Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia (OHL)
The well-rounded two-way blueliner should be the first defenceman to hear his named called in Buffalo. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound rearguard has a powerful shot, can skate, and can bring a physical game. He recorded a combined 82 points over two seasons with Sarnia. He also has the bloodlines. His father Jeff suited up for 262 NHL games over eight seasons with Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Edmonton while his uncle Luke Richardson was a veteran of 1,417 NHL games after being a first round (seventh overall) pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1987.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
He will celebrate his 18th birthday by hearing his name called in the first round. Compared by some to James Neal, he is considered the most complete player in this year’s draft. He could go much lower due to his skating weakness, however he competes hard and has a strong two-way game. He can also produce offensively, as he finished third in QMJHL scoring with 42 goals and 99 points. He was a recipient of the Mike Bossy Trophy as the league’s top professional prospect.
Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London (OHL)
The son of former NHL power forward Keith Tkachuk is go, go, go. A relentless fore-checker with incredible playmaking ability, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound winger racked up 30 goals and 77 assists this season under head coach Dale Hunter in London. When looking back at this draft class in 15 to 20 years don’t be surprised if he has pieced together the most impressive career.
Olli Juolevi, D, London (OHL)
One of the most fluid skaters among this year’s eligible defencemen, Juolevi will no doubt be a go-to blueliner in all situations at the NHL level. He has plenty of hockey sense and competitiveness wrapped up in his sturdy 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame. He was a pivotal member of Finland’s gold-medal winning squad at the World Juniors, where he led all defencemen with nine assists and was named to the tournament all-star team. He also led all blueliners with seven assists at this year’s Memorial Cup tournament in Red Deer.
Alexander Nylander, RW, Mississauga (OHL)
The swift-skating younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs rookie forward William Nylander and son of former Calgary Flame Michael Nylander was named the OHL Rookie of the Year after leading the Mississauga Steelheads with 28 goals and 78 points in 57 games. At 6-foot-0 and 176-pounds, the Calgary-born prospect will need to spend an ample amount of time in the gym this summer if he has any hopes of earning a full-time NHL job next season. He is likely to return for one more year of junior, which isn’t the worst thing.
Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor (OHL)
The Russian likes nothing more than to take control of the game from the back end. And he makes it look pretty darn easy in the process. A sixth overall pick at the 2015 CHL Import Draft, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenceman remarkably collected 17 goals and 57 points in a seamless first year playing in North America. He was named a finalist for the CHL Defenceman of the Year award.
10. Jake Bean, D, Calgary (WHL)
As a 17-year-old rearguard, the undrafted WHLer impressively racked up nearly a point per game with 64 in 68 – with 24 of those being goals to set a new Calgary Hitmen franchise record for goals by a defenceman in a single season. He missed the World U18 Championships with a broken foot sustained in a pre-tournament exhibition game, which could cause some concern. However, his knack for puck moving should have teams overlooking his off-season injury.
Clayton Keller, C, USA Under-18 (USHL)
The undersized 5-foot-10, 170-pound speedster who shows great patience with the puck has been rapidly moving up the pre-draft rankings over the course of the season. He finished as the American top scorer at last month’s World U18 Championships in North Dakota. He can be a human highlight reel just from his playing making ability alone. In desperate need of offence? Look no further.
12.Tyson Jost, LW, Penticton (BCHL)
A highly-skilled energy player who’s not afraid to go to the dirty areas and once there can make things happen. As captain of the British Columbia Hockey League’s Penticton Vees, Jost amassed 104 points in only 48 games. The 5-foot-10, 192-pound forward has committed to University of North Dakota for the 2016-17 season.
Logan Brown, C, Windsor (OHL)
A massive body with the skill of a small forward, the largest centre expected to hear his name called at this year’s NHL Draft – all 6-foot-6, 225 pounds of him – has teams salivating. The top ranked pivot, Brown finished second in team scoring with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires with 21 goals, 74 points and a plus-24 rating in 59 games.
Charles McAvoy, D, Boston University (NCAA)
He enjoyed a productive freshman campaign under the nose of the Bruins as a member of the Boston University Terriers, which should make for a no brainer. A 6-foot, 205-pound offensive defenceman from Long Island, McAvoy posted 25 points in 39 games while patrolling a top-four spot on the blueline for the Terriers this season. Representing the United States on the international stage, he has captured gold at the World U18’s, Four Nations, Five Nations and the World U17 Hockey Challenge.
Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)
He basically came out of nowhere this season. An elite offensive centre, McLeod notched 21 goals and 61 points in 57 games for his hometown Steelheads. It’s difficult to take your eyes off the 6-foot-2, 190-pound pivot when he rushes the puck through the neutral zone with his smooth and top-end skating ability. His acceleration is uncanny.
German Rubtsov, C, Russia U18 (MHL)
The Wings elected to take a Russian (Evgeny Svechnikov) with their first round pick at last year’s draft and they will likely continue that trend in Buffalo. With the Wings losing Pavel Datsyuk to NHL retirement this season, they will select one of the most complete forwards among this year’s prospect crop with hopes of replacing him. Despite being relied on for his shutdown abilities, the highest ranked Russian forward still finished second in team scoring with 12 goals and 26 points in 28 MHL games.
Carl Grundstrom, LW, Modo Hockey (SHL)
Not overly big at six-foot, 194-pounds, Grundstrom is a hard-hitting Swedish right wing who plays a simple, no frills style of game but has the ability to generate offence and put the puck in the net. A solid skater and forechecker, Grundstrom led all Sweden Hockey League draft eligible players – a league he has played in since he was 16 years old – by ferociously banging and crashing his way to 16 points for MODO Hockey Club.
Logan Stanley, D, Windsor (OHL)
A 6-foot-6, 209-pound behemoth of a rearguard, Stanley would be a natural fit with the Flyers due to his bruising style. Though his offensive game has come a long way, he is still known as “that guy” that’s not fun to play against. He has racked up 163 penalty minutes over two seasons in Windsor.
Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton (BCHL)
Yet another future stud defenceman committed to Boston University, Fabbro is a two-way blueliner that can chip in offensively. He collected 100 points in 85 games over the last two seasons with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Penticton Vees. If the Islanders show patience, they could have a gem.
Max Jones, LW, London (OHL)
The power forward is fresh off a tremendous rookie season with the London Knights, where he not only captured the 2016 Memorial Cup but posted 28 goals, 52 points, 106 penalty minutes and a plus-30 rating. He would be a dynamic addition to a Coyotes team on the rise.
Julien Gauthier, RW, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)
A self-proclaimed “shooter more than a passer”, Gauthier impressively netted 30 of his 41 goals this season at even strength or shorthanded. The sniper’s ranking slid from fourth to 12th among North American skaters over the second half of the season, but a team seeking an aggressive forechecker that brings goal production from the right side can’t go wrong with this dynamic force. He was the lone eligible skater to represent Team Canada at World Juniors.
Brett Howden, LW, Moose Jaw (WHL)
The Jets won’t drift too far from home with their first round selection. The Manitoba native enjoyed his second consecutive 20-goal season with Moose Jaw, recording 24 goals and 64 points in 68 games, before racking up 15 points in 10 playoff games. He captained Canada’s U18 team at this year’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. His brother Quinton was a first round (25th overall) pick of the Florida Panthers in 2010.
Libor Hajek, D, Saskatoon (WHL)
Each year there is an off the board pick at the NHL Draft that shocks. This could be it. He impressed every time I saw him play this season with his brute strength and intelligence. He is, in my opinion, the top draft-eligible NHL ready defenceman that played in the Western Hockey League this season. The Panthers get an absolute steal with the 23rd selection.
24. Keiffer Bellows, C, Sioux Falls (USHL)
Yet another highly-regarded power forward that plays every area of the game at a high level. He can pass, shoot and dish out punishing checks. A son of former NHLer Brian Bellows, the 6-foot-1, 194-pound forward notched 50 goals and racked up 101 penalty minutes with the U.S. National U18 Team. He has committed to Boston University for the 2016-17 campaign.
Kale Clague, D, Brandon (WHL)
A slow start shouldn’t prevent the offensive defenceman from hearing his named called in the first round. His speed, vision and hockey sense make him a high-sought after prospect. He chipped in with 43 points and was a plus-25 from the back end for this year’s Western Hockey League champion Brandon Wheat Kings.
Rasmus Asplund, C, Farjestad BK (SHL)
Only the Big 3 - Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi – are ranked higher among European prospects. The 5-foot-11, 176-pound speedy forward is a workhorse who is relentless on the forecheck and has shown an above average finish. He notched three goals and five points while centering Sweden’s top scoring line at World Juniors.
Luke Kunin, C, Wisconsin (NCAA)
Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the sixth grade hasn’t stopped the 6-foot 190-pound centre with soft hands from scoring in bunches at each level he has played. He potted 19 goals as a freshman this past season for the Wisconsin Badgers and added another six markers in seven games at the World U18 Championships while captaining the American team.
Filip Gustavsson, G, Lulea HF (SHL)
The first goaltender taken off the board will be heading to Missouri. The top-ranked European puckstopper is technically and fundamentally sound, rarely straying out of position. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound netminder showed well as a rookie in the Sweden Hockey League, where he posted a 2.17 GAA and .910 save percentage.
Dennis Cholowski, D, Chilliwack (BCHL)
A smooth skating, puck moving defenceman who has rocketed up the draft rankings since leading the Chilliwack Chiefs to the BCHL Fred Page Cup Final. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound Langley, B.C. native racked up 40 points in 50 games from the backend this season for the Chiefs, before adding another 15 during his team’s lengthy playoff run. Committed to St. Cloud State University next season, the left-handed Cholowski could become the highest ever drafted Husky.
Riley Tufte, LW, Blaine (USHS)
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 190-pounds, Tufte’s combination of size and skill makes him an intriguing prospect. A native of Ham Lake, Minnesota, the highly-skilled forward collected a whopping 47 goals and 78 points in only 25 games with Blaine High in the USHS. The “whole package” is committed to University of Minnesota-Duluth for the 2016-17 campaign.