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Tkachuk tops North American list for 2016 NHL Draft

by Mike G. Morreale

Forward Matthew Tkachuk of London of the Ontario Hockey League was named the No. 1 North American skater on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft.

The draft will be held June 24-25 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

Tkachuk, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound left wing, has 15 goals, 63 points and a plus-25 rating in 33 games with London this season.

He also helped the United States win the bronze medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, tying for the U.S. lead with 11 points.

"It was unanimous that Tkachuk was first overall on the North American list," said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting. "He has met and exceeded expectations and continues to excel with London after having a solid World Junior tournament. Matthew is unique in that he brings a skilled and physical package combination to game situations in which he consistently contributes and impacts."

Tkachuk chose to play for London this season after a dominant 2014-15 with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team; in 65 games he had 38 goals and 96 points.

"I've been fortunate enough to play with a lot of great players in London and for a great coaching staff," said Tkachuk, the son of U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Keith Tkachuk. "It's been a professional atmosphere and that was the same thing with the U.S. team. It basically just puts me in a spot where I can only succeed."

Sarnia (OHL) defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6-2, 215), one of the last players cut from Canada's WJC team, is No. 2 in the midterm rankings. Chychrun, the son of former NHL player Jeff Chychrun, has seven goals, 27 points and a plus-11 rating in 39 games for Sarnia. He is considered the best draft-eligible defenseman.

"Chychrun has size, strength, speed and high-end talent," Marr said. "He has all the assets and intangibles required to play and be successful in the NHL, and during the first half of the season his game continued to mature, showing us that he's a real-deal prospect."

Rounding out the top five in the North American skater midterm rankings: left wing Alexander Nylander of Mississauga (OHL); right wing Julien Gauthier of Val-d'Or in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League; and London defenseman Olli Juolevi.

"It's always tough to draw a distinguishing line between the top prospects for the draft because often it's a fine line," Marr said. "The players in the top five at midterm are all excellent NHL prospects, and at this stage some are interchangeable on the North American ranking. The second half of the season will be very interesting as other players in the top 10 are trending upwards and it will be a tougher task to distinguish between them for the final ranking."

Nylander (6-foot, 179) leads OHL rookies goals (24), power-play goals (eight) and points (54) in 37 games. He also led Sweden with four goals and nine points in seven games at the WJC.

"[Nylander] possesses an elite skill set and is able to make plays at full speed," Central Scouting's Matt Ryan said. "He's extremely dangerous in 1-on-1 situations and has high-end goal-scoring instincts. He has very good hockey sense and is able to create offense a number of different ways, making himself difficult to defend."

He also has strong hockey bloodlines. His father, Michael Nylander, played 15 seasons in the NHL and now is an assistant coach with Mississauga. His older brother, William Nylander, was chosen by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the eighth pick of the 2014 draft.

Gauthier (6-3, 225), who played for Canada at the WJC, has 30 goals and 38 points in 32 games with Val-d'Or.

"Gauthier is a big power forward who can skate and hit," Central Scouting's Troy Dumville said. "He finds ways to get open and shoot the puck, and has better playmaking skills than his eight assists indicate."

Juolevi (6-2, 179) has five goals, 26 points and a plus-25 rating in 31 games for London. He helped Finland to a gold medal at the WJC by tying for the tournament lead among defensemen with nine points, all assists.

"[Juolevi] has probably been our best defenseman in London this year," Tkachuk said. "It showed by his performance at World Juniors and just the style he played for Finland. He's a good puck mover and big kid, skates really well. He's that prototypical Finnish defenseman who likes to rush the puck and likes to have the puck on his stick."

Five of the top 10 players on the North American skater ranking played at the WJC: Tkachuk, Nylander, Gauthier, Juolevi and Boston University defenseman Charles McAvoy, ranked No. 9, for the United States.

"When draft-eligible players receive ice time and contribute at the World Junior Championship, then it's a tremendous experience for those players and it greatly influences their development as hockey players," Marr said. "For most of these draft-eligible players participating in the World Junior Championship, it confirms their potential as NHL prospects, and the NHL scouts know from experience how to qualify and quantify World Junior participation in ranking players."

Two players who rose in the rankings because of solid play in the first half of the season were No. 8 center Clayton Keller (5-9, 168) of the NTDP U-18 team and No. 24 center Tage Thompson (6-5, 185) of the University of Connecticut.

Keller, a late cut by the U.S. for the WJC, leads the NTDP with 45 assists and 68 points in 35 games.

"Keller is a skilled center who is a game breaker," Marr said. "Every time he's on the ice he influences the game, and as a small player has the requisite hockey IQ, speed and compete that smaller players need to be successful in the NHL."

Thompson, a freshman, has nine goals, eight power-play goals and 18 points in 23 games.

"Thompson has been under the radar somewhat," Marr said, "but he's a power forward with a good offensive game, and his improvement and development continue to impress."

The top North American goalie is Carter Hart (6-foot, 177) of Everett of the Western Hockey League. In 40 games this season Hart is 26-11-3 and leads WHL goalies in goals-against average (1.92) and shutouts (six) and is second in save percentage (.927).

"He's very poised, patient and calm in the net and doesn't get rattled," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "He makes saves look easy with his strong power lateral movements while keeping his body under control. He has excellent butterfly coverage, seals the ice well with his pads and keeps his body upright to protect the upper corners.

"He's been very consistent in his play in the first half of the season."


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