TORONTO -- The scouts at NHL Central Scouting are in agreement that no two NHL teams will have the identical top 10 ranking on their boards heading into the 2016 NHL Draft.
That's what makes the upcoming draft unique in so many different ways. Creating an order of prospects from the Ontario Hockey League, for instance, was quite a chore this week for Central Scouting during their final meetings here to determine the top North American skaters and goaltenders eligible for the 2016 draft to be held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on June 24-25.
The process was challenging because none of the top skaters, though all exceptional in their own right, necessarily separated themselves from each other over the second half of the season. There may have been clear-cut frontrunners in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League, U.S. Hockey-East and U.S. Hockey-West, but that wasn't the case in the OHL.
The OHL led the way with 67 players chosen on Central Scouting's midterm ranking in January, including 60 skaters and seven goaltenders. That number figures to be par for the course when the final ranking of North American skaters and goaltenders is released in April. The WHL came in second with 51 players selected to the midterm ranking, including 43 skaters and eight goaltenders.
Here are five questions that were answered during Central Scouting's final meetings this week:
Q: What is the latest information regarding the 2016 NHL Scouting Combine?
A: The NHL Scouting Combine will be held in Buffalo from May 30-June 4 at First Niagara Center and the HarborCenter in Buffalo, N.Y.
It will feature 114 players, including North American and international skaters and goaltenders. Among the expected participants are Zurich center Auston Matthews, Karpat right wing Jesse Puljujarvi, Tappara right wing Patrik Laine and London left wing Matthew Tkachuk.
The combine will give all 30 teams a complete physical and medical assessment of hockey's future stars three weeks before the draft.
All NHL teams will have the opportunity for 1-on-1 interviews with the invited prospects at First Niagara Center from May 30 through June 3. The medical examinations of each player will take place June 1, and a majority of the fitness testing will take place June 4 at HarborCenter. No player can test until clearing the medical screening.
Q: How should we characterize the 2016 NHL Draft class?
A: David Gregory, who has worked with Central Scouting the past 15 years, believes there are a lot of interchangeable parts this year.
"In the past there always seemed to be one or two clear-cut candidates for the top, but that's different in North America this year," Gregory said. "Usually there's a defense-heavy draft, but we're not seeing that either. There's something of everything in this draft, so it makes it a challenge. It also means the teams are going to find somebody they can really use, for sure."
Q: In the 2015 NHL Draft, there were 30 players chosen from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, one short of their modern draft record 31 set in 2013. What does the QMJHL have to offer in 2016?
A: There are two big names from the QMJHL this season: Val-d'Or right wing Julien Gauthier and Cape Breton left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois. Central Scouting's Troy Dumville believes there could be long breaks between picks of players from the league this season.
"It's not a deep year," Dumville said. "Any time you got high-end guys like Gauthier and Dubois, it's exciting from that perspective, but we were deeper last year. There were a lot of guys taken over the first two rounds and it wouldn't surprise me if the same number of players this year won't be taken until five or six rounds into the draft. We just don't have that depth this year. We have those high-end guys and then it drops off, but those high-end guys are fun to watch."
Q: How big a role will the Western Hockey League play at the 2016 draft?
A: The WHL is usually stocked with high-caliber players projected to play in the NHL at some point in the future. The WHL had 34 players chosen in the 2015 draft, the most of any of the three leagues in the Canadian Hockey League. This year, Vancouver left wing Tyler Benson, Calgary defenseman Jake Bean, Brandon defenseman Kale Clague, Saskatoon defenseman Libor Hajek and Kelowna defenseman Lucas Johansen were near the top of Central Scouting's midterm ranking.
"It's not as deep as it was last year," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "It's a different year. Bean has had a great year and is certainly a guy who will get a lot of attention. Clague hasn't put up the points that maybe some thought he would. Benson (lower-body injury) has been hurt most of the year. A lot of people were expecting big things from him and I have seen him a lot. I don't think anyone saw him at his best this year, so he's a bit of a wild card. I'm not sure where he'll fit in."
Q: Are NHL teams seeking a different style of goaltender now that the League will incorporate smaller, more uniform goaltending equipment beginning next season?
A: Al Jensen, who evaluates goaltenders for NHL Central Scouting, thinks general managers are looking for quick, athletic-style goalies nowadays. But what is in high demand now might not be the case in five years.
"I think the game changes all the time and goaltenders are always trying to gain an edge," Jensen said. "The one thing I know is changing in goalies is they're trying to become more athletic and use their catching glove and hand on their blocker a lot more. But there are some goalies who are blockers, that's their style and that's what they're always going to be. But if you can get the goalies to use their hands a little bit more, it eliminates rebounds.
"Today, goalies can stop the first shot most of the time, so the ability to contain deflections, screens and rebounds becomes important. As a goalie, if you can eliminate a rebound, you might be able to eliminate a goal a game or something like that."