The difference between Cape Breton left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois and London left wing Matthew Tkachuk, two of the top prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft, appears to be small, according to a poll of NHL scouts.
NHL.com recently asked 11 NHL scouts for their choice if given the option; Dubois earned a 6-5 edge.
Dubois became the first player from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League since Sidney Crosby of Rimouski in 2005 to be named No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters. He moved past Tkachuk, who is No. 2 after being No. 1 in the midterm ranking.
"I think they're both going to be excellent players in the NHL, but I give the edge to Dubois because I think he's a little better skater," TSN hockey analyst and former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button said. "I also think that Dubois has that ability to play in the middle of the ice so there's some flexibility for coaches depending on what happens in a game.
"Honestly I would be happy with either player because they're such big competitors and they want to help their team be successful."
Video: Chatting with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alex Nylander
Dubois (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) is a natural left wing but is versatile enough to play all three forward spots. He was shifted to center for most of the second half of the season and was third in the QMJHL with 99 points, fifth with 42 goals and sixth with 57 assists in 62 games. He also won 50.4 percent of his faceoffs.
Tkachuk (6-1, 202) was fifth in the Ontario Hockey League with 107 points and tied for second with 77 assists in 57 games, playing mostly on a line with Mitchell Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Christian Dvorak (Arizona Coyotes). He also led the OHL playoffs with 20 goals and was second with 40 points. At the Memorial Cup he had five goals, including the championship-clinching overtime goal, in four games despite playing with a sprained ankle.
St. Louis Blues director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong is an evaluator very familiar with Tkachuk, the son of United States Hockey Hall of Fame member Keith Tkachuk, who played parts of nine seasons with the Blues and now is a part-time amateur scout for them.
"We've watched Matthew all year and he's obviously an exciting player and there's some ties with the Blues; his dad is part of our staff and we're genuinely excited for the family and for Matthew," Armstrong said. "So you never know."
NHL.com sought the opinion of NHL scouts who watched each player this season. The scouts promised honesty in exchange for anonymity.
Scouts in favor of Dubois:
"If I come away with either of them at the draft, I'm pretty happy, but I still feel Dubois has that complete game. He's such a smart player and can play up and down your lineup. I think Tkachuk has a natural scoring ability and playmaking ability that's maybe on a higher end than Dubois, but Dubois will do more."
"Taking nothing away from Tkachuk, because below the dots in the offensive zone I don't know if there's anyone any better. But for an overall and complete game I like Dubois. I don't think you can hold against Tkachuk the fact he played with [Mitchell] Marner and [Christian] Dvorak. I noticed at times he was almost trying to force a play and being a little too unselfish. I still see Tkachuk as a dominant player with or without those linemates, but I see Dubois with a slightly better projection down the line."
"I just think we're pretty much seeing the complete player Tkachuk is going to be, which is tremendous and there's nothing wrong with that. But I think there's a really high ceiling with Dubois. Tkachuk had the luxury of being in a system where you're playing a pro game with special teams where he'll be an asset with what he does. If we flip-flopped, Dubois would have been just as effective. Tkachuk is already competing like a pro, and Dubois is a great competitor, but I think he's going to understand there's another gear to get to. There's a great history of people who have been in the NHL for a while who learn how to compete even harder, and I think there's some room for that from Dubois."
"Tkachuk is able to get behind guys because of what he's able to do with the puck and doesn't lose speed with the puck even though his speed isn't his best asset. But there's one thing that worries me about taking Tkachuk over Dubois, and that is that Dubois' skating and ability makes him less vulnerable. People can skate with Tkachuk, but that said, he might be the best competitor I've ever seen."
Video: Two of the top prospects in the Draft join the guys
Scouts in favor of Tkachuk:
"I think I'd go with Tkachuk. He's seen what it takes from his dad and seems like a game-breaker. He's a guy who did it again in the Memorial Cup final and seems to come through in clutch situations."
"If I'm Edmonton, I'm taking Tkachuk. Looking at the long-term projection, I'd take Tkachuk because the Oilers need what he has [with the No. 4 pick]. Tkachuk has had an impact on most games. You wonder about his skating, but as another scout said to me the other night, he gets behind people all the time and is able to get to where he needs to be. The Oilers can then try and trade to get the NHL-ready defenseman. They need a defenseman right now, and prospects Jakob Chychrun, Olli Juolevi or Mikhail Sergachev might not be able to play immediately after being drafted."
"Tkachuk finds a way to produce. Obviously I've seen him a lot more over the last two years. I don't care what level he plays, he finds a way to score. For me, it's Tkachuk. He's smart with the puck and so strong."
"Knowing the Tkachuk dynamic as a family, the kid just wins and he can play fast and is good from the circles on down. He's a kid you win with in May and June. That's no slight against Dubois, but for me the deciding factor is knowing the Tkachuk family dynamic. You know the type of player you are getting."