BUFFALO, NY - Check in with Oilers TV and edmontonoilers.com as we talk to some of the top prospects in the 2016 NHL Draft. Watch interviews and read the pertinent quotes from those interviews plus some great exclusives along the way.
On Friday, our panel chatted with Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli and met with some of the top prospects as they were introduced to the media. Chris Wescott also went one-on-one with Oilers Director of Player Personnel Bob Green.
All draft coverage is presented by Sport Chek.FRIDAY'S VIDEOSFRIDAY'S ARTICLES & BLOGS
** ALL TIMES MOUNTAIN **
5:30 AM - Vitaly Abramov, Adam Fox, Tiothy Gettinger, James Greenway, Libor Hajek, Arthur Kayumov, Vladimir Kuznetsov, Mitchell Mattson, Graham McPhee, Andrew Peeke, Simon Stransky, Tage Thompson GROUP 1 INTERVIEWS
According to Vladimir Kuznetsov, the Oilers were not one of the teams to interview him in Buffalo this week. A projected mid-round pick, based off his 99th overall ranking by ISS (55th among North American skaters by CSS), Kuznetsov could provide size to a team looking to add it.
“My game is powerful, I’m big,” said Kuznetsov. “I have size and I have a good shot. I need to play more aggressive, score more goals and stuff like that.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound winger came to North America and made a quick transition for Acadie-Bathurst in the QMJHL. He potted 25 goals and added 33 assists for 58 points in 68 games. He finished third on his team in scoring in his first season away from Russia.
“The CHL is different,” said Kuznetsov. “Here it’s a smaller rink and here hockey is faster. I like playing here more than Russia… It’s better for me because I’m a big guy and I like to play against more big guys, a faster game and I like that.”TAGE THOMPSON
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Tage Thompson spent the 2015-16 season at the University of Connecticut, where he posted 14 goals and added 18 assists for 32 points in 36 games as a freshman. Those totals were good for second on the team in scoring.
Thompson chose the NCAA path because he wanted to give himself time to develop. The 6-foot-5 forward wants to fill out that tall frame with more muscle and he believes the college route gives him that opportunity.
“Obviously, I’m a little underdeveloped physically and I think I need a little more time to fill my frame out,” said Thompson. “I think college is the best option for that, playing against older guys. You play less games but you work out more. I think that was the best path for me.”
Thompson is ranked as the 20th best North American skater by Central Scouting.
6:30 AM - Frederic Allard, William Bitten, Voltech Budik, Filip Hronek, Lucas Johansen, Beck Malenstyn, Brett Murray, Ty Ronning, German Rubtsov, Mikhail Sergachev, Jordan Stallard, Gabriel Sylvestre GROUP 2 INTERVIEWSLUCAS JOHANSEN
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Lucas Johansen sits 26th on Central Scouting’s list of top North American skaters. The Kelowna Rockets defenceman finished his season with 49 points (10-39-49) in 69 games. He’s trying to make a name for himself as a future NHL player, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lean on his brother.
Lucas’ brother is Nashville Predators centre Ryan Johansen. He went through the combine and draft process in 2010, when he was chosen fourth overall.
“I picked his brain and tried to get all the secrets about the whole week and he did his best to help me out in that regard,” said the younger Johansen. “His best advice to me was to just enjoy it. You only get to have this whole experience once so make sure you soak it all in and enjoy it.”
Throughout the interview process, Johansen says he did not get a better idea of where he might go. He’s just pleased with the opportunity to further his career.
“Whatever happens, every organization in this league is first class,” he said. “Just to be a part of an organization is my main goal and whichever one that is I will be excited for.”MIKHAIL SERGACHEV
There was definite raised interest in the fitness testing when Windsor defenceman Mikhail Sergachev took his turn with Group 2. Scouts’ heads turned in his direction as the big 17-year-old blueliner made his way from station to station.
Sergachev is the eighth-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting and one of the consensus top d-men available. It’s no secret that many teams have interest, and Sergachev confirms one of those is the Oilers.
“I met them like twice during the year,” said Sergachev. “It was kind of interesting. They told me my strengths and weaknesses, they told me what I have to work on. Maybe they will draft me, who knows? I don’t know.”
Sergachev says the Oilers have been in contact with their former assistant coach turned Windsor bench boss Rocky Thompson. So Edmonton knows this prospect very well.
When asked what in his mind makes him the top choice among this defensive group, Sergachev says, “I’m a big guy, I can make plays.”
“I can shoot and I can skate so it depends what the team wants. Maybe the Oilers want super smart Juolevi or big Chychrun or super-skilled Jake Bean. Who knows?”
The Russian native had 57 points (17-40-57) in 67 games during his first North American season.
7:30 AM - Jake Bean, Kale Clague, Dillon Dube, Brandon Gignac, Samuel Girard, Brett Howden, Luke Kunin, Pascal Laberge, Maxime Lajoie, Joshua Mahura, Auston Matthews, Zachary Sawchenko GROUP 3 INTERVIEWS
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Kale Clague enjoyed a successful season with the WHL Champion Brandon Wheatkings and he hopes to ride that to perhaps a better draft position.
The blueliner had 43 points (6-37-43) in 71 games and 15 (6-9-15) in 21 post-season performances. Ahead of the draft, Clague understands where he needs improvement.
“I think I’m still working on my defensive game,” said Clague. “I want to be an all-around defenceman. I consider myself offensive. The better I get in the defensive zone, it’s only going to help me get to the next level.”
Clague is from Lloydminster, AB.
Auston Matthews is likely to be taken first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of the month, and the reason he believes he’s worthy of that honour is his competitive nature.
“I think I’m extremely competitive,” said Matthews. “I compete hard. I elevate guys around me. I think I have an inner drive that really separates me from the rest.”
Considering the draft is in Buffalo, and he could go first overall to Toronto which is right down the road, this city and area could mean a lot to Matthews in his NHL career. Add in that he could be competing against fellow American star Jack Eichel (Sabres) who went second overall last season, and it makes sense that Buffalo will be special to the top prospect.
“It could mean a lot,” said Matthews. “Just to have the opportunity to be drafted here in Buffalo, it’s going to stick with you for a while. It’s every kid’s dream to be drafted so it’s definitely something you’ll remember.”
8:30 AM - Josh Anderson, Dennis Cholowski, Jakob Chychrun, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Dante Fabbro, Evan Fitzpatrick, Luke Green, Carter Hart, Tyson Jost, William Knierim, Jordan Kyrou, Carsen Twarynski GROUP 4 INTERVIEWS
Jakob Chychrun has a plan. That plan is to make whatever team drafts him think long and hard about sending him back to Sarnia.
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Not that Chychrun doesn’t enjoy playing in the OHL. He had 49 points (11-38-49) in 62 games, leading the Sting’s defence in scoring this season. But Chychrun has a goal in mind to make the NHL in 2016-17, which is tough to do has a young defenceman.
“It’s been a goal of mine to play in the NHL at 18,” said Chychrun. “I have my eyes set on that, but I’m an open book. At the end of the day, I know the NHL teams know what is best for us as players. My goal is to show up to camp and make it tough on them to send me back. If I do that, I feel I did my job. I want to play in the NHL at 18. I think every kid does. So I am going to go there, fight for a spot and if they send me back I am more than willing to go back another year and improve more, work on my game and just be ready for the next opportunity.”
Chychrun is considered one of the top defencemen available in the draft, and the Oilers interviewed him in Buffalo. Chychrun’s father, Jeff, finished his professional career within the Oilers organization in 1993-94.
“I did have talks with Edmonton. They went well,” said Chychrun. “It was cool having my dad play in Edmonton. He was familiar with some of the guys. All the meetings went well, Edmonton went well and I’m excited to see what’s going to happen come draft day.”PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS
Pierre-Luc Dubois is not only fluent in both French and English, but the top prospect hopes to be fluent in two positions as well. Dubois flipped to centre from the wing at the midway point of this past season. He finished 2015-16 with 99 points (42-57-99) in 62 games for the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
“I moved to centre halfway through,” said Dubois. “I had never played centre, but I think that’s where I play my best centre. I think at centre, in the future, I could play that position. But I’m used to playing wing. I played wing my whole life so maybe that’s the position I’m more comfortable with.”
Dubois is one of the players expected to be available and of good value around the fourth-overall pick, which the Oilers currently own. Dubois confirmed he spoke with the Oilers in Buffalo.
“I think it went well,” said Dubois. “I had a lot of good interviews, but I think the Oilers was one of the good ones.”CARTER HART
Carter Hart hopes to be among the first of his kind to hear his name called at the 2016 NHL Draft. The goaltender from Sherwood Park played 63 games for Everett, winning 35. He posted a 2.14 GAA and .918 save percentage during the regular season and had a .929 save percentage in the WHL playoffs.
Hart’s season earned him recognition from Central Scouting as their second-ranked North American goaltender. That means there is plenty of interest in the netminder, as he talked to 23 teams at the combine.
I talked to the Oilers, and they were awesome,” said Hart. “There are some good guys in there and it was actually a lot of fun, this whole process. I was a little nervous for my first one but once I got that out of the way it was smooth sailing.”
Hart’s first interview with the Flyers came with a former goalie in the room, which made for an intimidating but memorable start to the combine.
“Ron Hextall was standing right beside me,” said Hart. “He didn’t really ask me too much, he was sort of just eyeing me down the whole time. It wasn’t bad. I actually really liked that interview. It was just a great experience.”
9:30 AM - Allison Wade, Tyler Benson, Logan Brown, Evan Cormier, Julien Gauthier, Noah Gregor, Tanner Kaspick, Michael McLeod, Alexander Nylander, Joseph Raaymakers, Sam Steel, Matthew Tkachuk GROUP 5 INTERVIEWS
Nobody can deny Matthew Tkachuk’s claim to being one of the top available prospects in the upcoming NHL Draft. Central Scouting’s second-ranked North American skater has been gaining momentum throughout the draft process.
As he pitches himself to teams in the top five, like Edmonton, Tkachuk wants them to know he can help them turn a corner.
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“I’m a winner,” said Tkachuk. “I’ve proven that over the last couple of years. I know how to win and I know how to bring that winning mentality to a team. Personally, I think I am a really competitive player and I’m a smart hockey player. I think that’s what a lot of teams need.”
Tkachuk was London’s third-best scorer on a stacked team that won the Memorial Cup. Tkachuk had 107 points (30-77-107) in 57 regular season games. He added 20 goals and 20 assists in the OHL playoffs.
When Tkachuk is at his best, the play is in his hands.
“Having the puck on my stick and getting under teams’ skin,” said Tkachuk. “Just putting the puck in the net and providing offence.”
Tkachuk met with the Oilers at the combine in Buffalo and enjoyed his interview.
“This was my first time meeting Mr. Chiarelli,” said Tkachuk. “It was really nice. In the interview, they asked me some pretty hard questions but I obviously know that can be a team in my range. It was a really productive meeting getting to know them and them getting to know me. I think it went well.”
Logan Brown, son of former NHLer Jeff Brown, earned himself the seventh spot on Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters with a 74-point season for Windsor. The hulking centre from Raleigh, NC stands at 6-foot-6 and roughly 210 pounds. The question is what he will play at when he makes the NHL. He got some advice from teams in interviews at the combine.
“For me, it was actually getting lighter, losing some of the baby fat,” said Brown. “I’ve dropped a few pounds from the beginning of the season. Obviously, I need to get bigger to play in the NHL and I’m only 210 right now. But the game is so fast today you have to be light and be able to move with the little guys.”
Dropping some extra pounds may help with Brown’s quickness, but size is the name of his game.
“I’m a big, two-way centreman,” said Brown. “I pass first and I really like to use my size down low below the dots and kind of buy some time for myself holding off defenders, just be big and wait for the plays to develop and create plays.”
It has been a tumultuous draft year for Tyler Benson, who saw his draft stock dip due to medical complications that were out of his hands.
“At the beginning of the year, I had to get a cyst removed from my tailbone,” said Benson. “I had that cyst on my tailbone for a few months and just before the season I had an MRI done and it was something that had to be removed. That took about a six-week recovery. I wasn’t allowed to do anything while I was recovering and that led to the next one, which was osteitis pubis, which is an inflated pubic bone which affected a bunch of different areas of my body.”
Benson is Central Scouting’s 24th-ranked North American skater, but he perhaps could have been higher on draft boards had it not been for the medical issues. The Edmonton, AB native went first overall to the Vancouver Giants in the 2013 WHL bantam draft. He broke the AMBHL record for most points in a season the year before with 146 (57-89-146) in just 33 games.
Benson finished 2015-16 with 28 points (9-19-28) in 30 games. Now healthier, Benson hopes to show what he’s made of to NHL scouts and management teams.
“From this, I’m becoming a smarter person about my body,” said Benson. “I’m taking care of it a little better. When I’m healthy, I know what type of player I am. I know what I can do on the ice.”
Hockey runs thick in Alexander Nylander’s blood.
Perhaps that’s where one of the top prospects in the draft gets his offensive creativity.
“I think it comes from genetics,” said Nylander. “Since growing up with my brother, and watching my dad throughout his whole NHL career, I think that helped me to see how NHL players play… Seeing what kind of passes they make. Of course, with my brother, seeing how he developed throughout the years. That helped me a lot too to be able to know what I’m doing with the puck in the offensive zone or defensive zone.”
Nylander’s father, Michael, had a long NHL professional career that included stints in Hartford, Calgary, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Washington, Boston and New York. His brother, William, was taken eighth overall in 2014 by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Not only can he lean on their experiences during this draft process, but Nylander says the competition between him and his brother has helped him get this far.
“Of course there’s competition,” said Nylander. “We compete in everything growing up together. Whatever we’re doing, there’s always competition whether it’s on the golf course, hockey, in the gym, ping pong and all those kinds of sports. That’s been good for me and also for his development. We both want to win every single game.”
Nylander is Central Scouting’s third-ranked North American skater. He confirmed that he met with the Oilers in Buffalo.
“I think it felt good,” said Nylander. “It was a good meeting, my second one, so I was a little bit nervous. I think it went well throughout the whole week. Teams mostly asked the same questions, so I got used to that but otherwise I think it went really well in the meetings.”
11:00 AM - Joseph Anderson, Kieffer Bellows, Sean Day, Alexander DeBrincat, Benjamin Gleason, Max Jones, Jack Kopacka, Chad Krys, Ryan Lindgren, William Lockwood, Tyler Parsons, Max Zimmer GROUP 6 INTERVIEWS
Alex DeBrincat has put together two very impressive seasons with the Erie Otters. In 2014-15, DeBrincat had 104 points (51-53-104) in 68 games. This season, DeBrincat had 101 (51-50-101) in 60.
Now DeBrincat finds himself ranked as the 21st North American skater by Central Scouting.
“Without the teams we had in Erie, I don’t think I would have done nearly as well as I did,” said DeBrincat. “Definitely them and the coaching staff. They worked countless hours with me after trying to round out my game and get it better as the season went on.”
DeBrincat was third on the stacked Otters team that had Oilers centre Connor McDavid leading the way. DeBrincat had glowing remarks when asked about his former teammate.
“He’s probably the best player I’ve ever played with our seen. He’s unbelievable. There’s just not too many people that can compare.”
12:00 PM - Nathan Bastian, Trent Frederic, Michael Graham, Olli Juolevi, Boris Katchouk, Clayton Keller, Griffin Luce, Keaton Middleton, Logan Stanley, Riley Stillman, Riley Tufte, Max Zimmer GROUP 7 INTERVIEWS
London defenceman Olli Juolevi is among the top available prospects in the upcoming NHL Draft. The 6-foot-2, 182-pound Finnish blueliner is ranked fifth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting after an impressive season for the Memorial Cup Champions.
Juolevi confirmed he met with the Oilers this week in Buffalo.
“It was pretty nice,” he said. “It wasn’t one of the hardest ones and they were nice people. I had a good feeling after the meeting.”
One of the media members asked if he sees himself as a fit for Edmonton and he did not hesitate with the appropriate answer.
“Yeah, every team would be a good fit for me,” said the confident defender.
Juolevi sees himself as the first defenceman to be taken off the board at the end of the month. That confidence comes from his belief in his own hockey IQ, thinking it’s the best of the prospect pool.
“Because I’m the smartest of the D,” Juolevi said of why he feels he should go before any other defenceman. “That’s something that’s hard to teach anymore. It’s one of those natural things that you have or you don’t have. You can always go to the gym and work out and get bigger muscles, or you can go practice your shooting, start passing or skating or whatever but (smarts) are a hard thing to improve.”
Juolevi had 42 points (9-33-42) in 57 games. He added 14 points (3-11-14) in 18 post-season games as London won the WHL Championship.
Logan Stanley says he measured in at 6-foot-7, and that’s totally believable. The towering defenceman is massive, and he likes to use that size to his advantage on the ice.
“Someone who is hard to play against, shuts down other teams’ top lines and competes hard every night.”
From year one to two in Windsor, Stanley was much improved. He credits more confidence as the driving force behind his growth.
“I think a lot more confidence this year,” he said. “I had a long summer in the gym, got stronger, but I think I played with a lot more confidence.”
Stanley is one of two highly-regarded Windsor defencemen who were at the combine. Mikhail Sergachev is higher up the draft boards, and the two are good friends. In fact, they skated with eachother for about half the season.
“We’re good buddies,” said Stanley. “His English started to improve this year and I got to know him a little bit better. He’s obviously a gifted player, lots of skill and really strong legs so he’s got great skating ability. He’s a special player and I hope for the best from him.”