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Matthews highlights deep talent pool for 2016 draft

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

SUNRISE, Fla . -- The excitement surrounding Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel has subsided, but there could be an even greater collection of future stars at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo, N.Y.

The 2015 draft at BB&T Center saw Erie Otters center McDavid selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 1 choice, and Boston University center Eichel chosen by the Buffalo Sabres with the No. 2 pick. Each is expected to be starring in the NHL in 2015-16 and, perhaps, challenge for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

Meanwhile, NHL scouts are setting their sights on a 2016 draft that will include plenty of blue-chip talent. That group is led by center Auston Matthews, who was born Sept. 17, 1997, and missed the cut for the 2015 draft by two days. If Matthews were eligible, many believe he might have challenged McDavid as the first choice.

Matthews remains undecided about his future and where he'll play in 2015-16. His agent, Pat Brisson, told NHL.com that there's a strong chance Matthews will spend a year playing for the ZSC Lions in the top league in Switzerland.

Don Granato, who coached Matthews on USA Hockey's Under-18 National Team Development Program, said the future is limitless for Matthews, a 6-foot-2, 194-pound left-handed shot from Scottsdale, Ariz.

"The two players who come to mind when comparing Matthews would be Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby because of the components those guys bring to the table," Granato said. "Their commitment to winning, drive to win and the skill set; those are the attributes that are common threads."

Matthews will likely enter 2015-16 as the prohibitive favorite to become the first American-born player since Patrick Kane in 2007 to be selected No. 1 in the draft. He set single-season records at the USNTDP in 2014-15 with 55 goals and 117 points, passing Kane (52 goals, 102 points in 2005-06).

"Auston wants to challenge himself, and that's why he's had the thought of going overseas," Granato said. "The intrigue for him is that it's a challenge and an unknown. He did so well against Division I [college] teams this year, scoring 10 goals in 10 games. I don't think there's a player in college hockey who averaged a goal a game, and he's a junior in high school."

Joining Matthews as players to watch are right wing Jesse Puljujarvi (6-3, 200) of Karpat in Finland's Liiga, defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6-2, 200) of the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League, and left wing Matthew Tkachuk (6-1, 190) of the OHL's London Knights.

Swedish-born Puljujarvi, who is drawing comparisons to former NHL player Teemu Selanne, had four goals and 11 points in 21 games for Karpat Oulu in the Finnish League. He was also the youngest player at the 2015 World Junior Championship while representing Finland.

Tkachuk, the son of former NHL player Keith Tkachuk, had 38 goals, including five game-winners, as well as 95 points and 119 penalty minutes for the USNTDP.

"There's a definite resemblance [to his father], but Matthew's probably has a more creative upside and that's no disrespect to dad," Granato said. "He's watched his dad, so how could he not take influence from that. He's got the genes and is a big strong guy who's going to get bigger and stronger.

"He loves the front of the net and believes he can score goals, tips, screens and rebounds; there's not much hesitation."

Chychrun, the son of former NHL player Jeff Chychrun, had 16 goals and 33 points in 42 games as an alternate captain for the Sting in 2014-15. He was chosen No. 1 by the Sting in the 2014 OHL draft.

Among the USNTDP contingent, Granato is also high on left wing Max Jones (6-2, 200), center Clayton Keller (5-10, 165), right wing Luke Kunin (5-11, 188) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (6-foot, 206).

Keller starred on left wing on a line with center Colin White, who was selected in the first round (No. 21) of the 2015 draft by the Ottawa Senators, and Jeremy Bracco (Toronto Maple Leafs, No. 31) for the U-18 USNTDP.

"He has a lot of [Calgary Flames forward] Johnny Gaudreau in him," Granato said of Keller. "He's very evasive."

Kunin, who served as captain for the U-18 USNTDP, will attend the University of Wisconsin in 2015-16.

"The 2016 draft is going to be real interesting," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "There are some very good players. It might even be deeper for a longer period of time than the 2015 draft, but that's something you really can't say or know until you watch these players a full season."

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