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NHL Draft

Dubois jumps to top of draft rankings

Cape Breton forward is Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Cape Breton forward Pierre-Luc Dubois became the first Quebec Major Junior Hockey League player in more than a decade to be named No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Dubois, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound forward, is versatile enough to play all three forward spots but appears most comfortable at center. He 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. 

"If you need someone to check the other team's top line and be a shut-down forward, he's a guy who can do that," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "If you need someone to generate scoring opportunities, he has the skill, speed and hands to do that too. He's a very all-around player."

Dubois is the first QMJHL player since Sidney Crosby of Rimouski in 2005 to be No. 1 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters. 

Dubois was No. 7 on Central Scouting's midterm list in January. He moved six spots to supplant left wing Matthew Tkachuk of London of the Ontario Hockey League at the top of the final list of 210 North American skaters. Tkachuk is No. 2.

"[Dubois and Tkachuk] are bona-fide future stars for an NHL club," Marr said. "And while they both play a different style, their differences for NHL projection are minuscule. Each of them bring elite skills and attributes and either could be listed in the No. 1 spot. Our projection, which factors in how the player's game will translate at the NHL level, gave the slim nod to Dubois, whom we view as a multi-dimensional player possessing the ability to influence a game in a number a ways."

Rounding out the top five North American skaters on Central Scouting's final ranking were left wing Alexander Nylander of Mississauga (OHL), defenseman Jakob Chychrun of Sarnia (OHL) and defenseman Olli Juolevi of London (OHL).

Tkachuk, a 6-1, 195-pound left wing, was fifth in the OHL with 107 points and seven with 77 assists in 57 games, playing mostly on a line with Mitchell Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Christian Dvorak (Arizona Coyotes). He is the son of United States Hockey Hall of Fame member Keith Tkachuk.

"You have to be an elite player to skate with those type of players," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "There's no question those are the kind of players [Tkachuk] will likely play with at the next level so you should have even more confidence in drafting him. Here's a kid that thinks the game well enough, brings passion and competes, and that's a deadly combination.

"You can put him with any player in the world and he's going to produce."

Nylander (6-foot, 179), who led Mississauga with 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games, was No. 3 on the midterm and final list. He is the brother of Toronto Maple Leafs center William Nylander, and son of former NHL player Michael Nylander.

"He's just a dynamic offensive player," said Central Scouting's Matt Ryan, who specializes in OHL players. "He has an ability to create offense whether it's on the rush or off the cycle and his shot and playmaking ability are great. He really has an ability to effect the game in so many ways offensively."

Chychrun (6-2, 215), No. 4 on the final ranking, remains the top-rated defenseman on the board. The scouts said there was very little to separate Chychrun from Juolevi, Charles McAvoy of Boston University and Mikhail Sergachev of Windsor (OHL).

"Chychrun, in a sense, held them off, but it's a really tight, close bunch because each of them brings something that definitely translates to the pro game and the NHL," Gregory said. "We can't predict when these guys are going to be significant players in the NHL, but we feel they will be. It was almost a pick-your-favorite-flavor type of thing. If you're able to pick any one of these defensemen in the early part of the draft you'll be happy."

Chychrun, the son of former NHL player Jeff Chychrun, plays in all situations, doesn't make many mistakes and can impact a game when needed. He had 11 goals, 49 points and a plus-23 rating in 62 regular-season games. He had two goals and eight points in seven OHL playoff games.

Juolevi (6-2, 179) is highly regarded by scouts because of his offensive flair. He is considered to be a better offensive-minded defenseman than Olli Maatta, another Finnish defenseman who played in the OHL prior to being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins with the 22nd pick of the 2012 draft. 

Juolevi had nine goals, 42 points and a plus-38 rating in 57 games for London. He also played a key role for Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. 

Defenseman Dennis Cholowski (6-foot, 170) of Chilliwack in the British Columbia Hockey League made one of the biggest jumps, climbing 25 spots from the midterm rankings to No. 23. Cholowski, committed to St. Cloud State for next season, had 12 goals, 40 points and 15 power-play points in 50 games.

"He's come a long way in the last year and has grown about an inch-and-a-half," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "He still has a young man's frame so there's a lot of room for growth. But what I really like about his game is how well he thinks and processes the game. He sees the ice and makes plays and is a guy who takes what's given to him and does not get himself into any kind of trouble.

"I don't think he's an unknown anymore; he's a guy everyone asks about."

The highest-ranked scholastic player is left wing Riley Tufte of Blaine (Minn.) High School. Tufte (6-5, 205), No. 17 on Central Scouting's final ranking, won the Mr. Hockey Award as the most outstanding senior boys scholastic hockey player in the state.

"He has an NHL body right now, is mobile, takes the puck to the net and handles the puck well," said Greg Rajanen of NHL Central Scouting. "He's one of the best high school players I've ever seen come out of Minnesota at his age, including [Florida Panthers forward] Nick Bjugstad, who also played at Blaine."

Tufte had 47 goals, including 10 game-winners, and 78 points in 25 regular-season games, and two goals and seven points in two state playoff games. 

The top North American goalie is Evan Fitzpatrick of Sherbrooke (QMJHL). He went 18-26-8 with a 3.42 goals-against average, .896 save percentage and two shutouts in 54 games. Fitzpatrick (6-3, 206) moved ahead of Carter Hart (6-foot, 180) of Everett (WHL), who was No. 1 at the midterm.

"They are each really good top-end goalies," said Al Jensen, who evaluates goalies for NHL Central Scouting. "Each has very good pro potential. But I think Fitzpatrick had an exceptional second half as far as I was concerned. I just feel that with his type of game, I think he has a little bit of an edge. It was more the positive play of Fitzpatrick than anything else why he went ahead of Hart for me. He's got a big presence in the net and I really like his compete."

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