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Tkachuk, Nylander earn top Central Scouting grades

by Mike G. Morreale

The London Knights and Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League each had three players earn A ratings from NHL Central Scouting in its November players to watch list for the 2016 NHL Draft, released Tuesday.

Among the players Central Scouting believes could go in the first round in June are London left wings Matthew Tkachuk (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and Max Jones (6-3, 205), and defenseman Olli Juolevi (6-2, 179), as well as Mississauga centers Michael McLeod (6-2, 188) and Alexander Nylander (6-0, 179) and right wing Nathan Bastian (6-4, 208).

"The November players to watch list updates Central Scouting's preliminary grading of players by identifying prospects on a priority basis," said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting. "It is a scouting tool that assists Central Scouting and NHL team scouts in planning scouting coverage to prepare for midseason meetings where a comprehensive ranking of players is produced [in January] and is very much a work in progress."

The November players to watch list had 34 players receive A ratings -- up from 24 in the September players to watch list -- meaning they could go in the first round of the 2016 draft, which will be held June 24-25 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

Players with a B rating possess second- or third-round potential, and C-rated players are those with fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-round potential.

Among other notable players to receive A ratings are center Auston Matthews of Zurich in National League A, Switzerland's top professional league and the player expected to be picked first at the draft. The 6-1, 194-pound native of Scottsdale, Ariz., has missed the past six games because of an upper-body injury sustained Oct. 23 but hopes to play Wednesday against Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss Ice Hockey Cup. At the time he was hurt Matthews led National League A with 10 goals in 14 games.

Tkachuk, the son of United States Hockey Hall of Fame member Keith Tkachuk, is second in the OHL with 42 points in 21 games.

"[Tkachuk] has elite hockey IQ and vision," NHL Central Scouting's Matt Ryan said. "He makes the players around him better and has a very good scoring touch around the net. He plays inside the dots and is willing to go to the hard areas to score goals. He brings a physical element and is able to get under the skin of his opponents."

Jones has nine goals and 16 points in 17 games. Juolevi, from Helsinki, Finland, has three goals, 15 points and a plus-20 rating in 21 games.

"[Jones] is a strong power forward who possesses great speed and acceleration, has a heavy shot and quick hands," Ryan said. "He loves to drive the net and challenge defenders physically and is a nightmare for defenders below the hash marks in the offensive zone."

Ryan said he feels Juolevi has proven to be very smart in his first OHL season.

"He's a smooth-skating defenseman with poise and composure," Ryan said. "He has the ability to play in every situation."

There were 11 players identified as A-rated skaters from the OHL on the November list.

"Mississauga has been able to stockpile quite a collection of prospects for both the 2016 and 2017 NHL draft class," Marr said. "Second-year players McLeod and Bastian continue to develop and contribute while establishing themselves as first-round considerations. Nylander is excelling on the smaller North American ice and the three of these players give Mississauga a uniqueness of having a line of first-round prospects."

Nylander, the brother of Toronto Maple Leafs 2014 first-round pick (No. 8) William Nylander, is tied for fourth in the OHL with 16 goals, and in 25 games he leads all OHL rookies in goals and points (36). McLeod has eight goals and 30 points in 25 games, and Bastian, a B-rated prospect in September, has nine goals and 24 points in 23 games.

Sarnia Sting defenseman Jakob Chychrun, regarded by many as the top player at his position available in the 2016 draft, also received an A rating. The 6-2, 215-pound son of former NHL player Jeff Chychrun has four goals and 15 points in 22 games.

Windsor center Logan Brown (6-6, 222), a B-rated skater in September, earned an A rating on the November list. He has five goals, 23 points, a plus-15 rating and has won 56.0 percent of his faceoffs in 17 games.

"[Brown] is a typical case of bigger players requiring a little more time to develop and he had a slow start which was influenced by injury and suspension," Marr said. "But now he is on top of his game and the results are showing. He moves deceptively well for his size and he knows how to utilize that size to dominate on the play and protect the puck. Logan has such good hands and puck skills for a big forward that he's hard to stop when he's driving to the net."

Also earning A ratings were three players from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, six from the Western Hockey League and three from the United States Hockey League.

Left wing Kieffer Bellows (6-0, 196), center Clayton Keller (5-9, 168) and defenseman Chad Krys (5-11, 185), each playing for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team, are the three A-rated USHL players.

Keller leads the NTDP with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 20 games. Bellows has an NTDP-best 17 goals. Krys, a B-rated skater in September, has one goal and 15 points in 20 games.

In the QMJHL, forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois (6-2, 202) of Cape Breton, Julien Gauthier (6-3, 225) of Val-d'Or, and center Pascal Laberge (6-1, 162) of Victoriaville received A ratings.

Dubois and Gauthier were the only 2016 draft-eligible players named to the QMJHL roster for the 2015 CHL Canada-Russia Series, which is for players under consideration to play for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Dubois leads Cape Breton with 38 points and is second with 16 goals in 27 games.

"[Dubois] is a big, skilled forward who plays a complete game," Central Scouting's Troy Dumville said. "He goes to traffic areas and plays with an edge, has good vision and very good hands in tight."

Gauthier is third in the QMJHL with 21 goals.

"Gauthier is the prototype power forward who skates well, plays with an edge and can score," Marr said. "He's continuing to grow as a player and has tremendous upside. It's not often you have the combination of skating, skills and physical assets that are capable of finding ways to contribute."

Center Tyson Jost (5-11, 191) and defenseman Dante Fabbro (6-0, 189) of Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League earned A ratings.

Jost, committed to the University of North Dakota in 2016-17, leads the BCHL with 54 points and is second with 23 goals in 26 games. Fabbro, committed to Boston University for 2016-17, leads BCHL defensemen with 31 points in 20 games.

Other international players to receive A ratings are Karpat right wing Jesse Puljujarvi, Tappara right wing Patrik Laine, Farjestad center Rasmus Asplund and Modo right wing Carl Grundstrom.

Puljujarvi (6-3, 203), has five goals, 11 points and 73 shots on goal while averaging 15:11 of ice time in 23 games in Liiga, Finland's top professional league. Laine (6-4, 209) has five goals, nine points and 74 shots on goal while averaging 15:40 of ice time in 17 Liiga games.

Asplund (5-11, 176) has three goals and has won 51 percent of his faceoffs in 20 games in the Swedish Hockey League. Grundstrom has one goal and six points in 20 SHL games.

No goaltenders earned A ratings on the November list.


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