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WHAT SEPARATES THIS YEAR'S DEFENSIVE PROSPECTS, IN THEIR OWN WORDS

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

Who is the best defenseman available in the upcoming NHL Draft? With the Scouting Combine behind us and less than two weeks ago until the picks are made, talent evaluators still don’t have a definitive answer, and it's because of the amount of good options.

Dan Marr, Director of Central Scouting for the NHL, gives the distinction to the Sarnia Sting's Jakob Chychrun. Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com placed Chychrun third among the defensemen ranked on his Top 30 prospects list, behind fellow Ontario Hockey League D-men Mikhail Sergachev and Olli Juolevi.

Craig Button of TSN has Chychrun ranked even lower, fifth among defensemen and 17th overall. He placed Boston University's Charlie McAvoy and the Calgary Hitmen's Jake Bean behind Sergachev and Juolevi for the top four spots.

Marr said at the Combine that this would be the case.

"The core D-men, the top four or five guys that are ranked, there's no predicting the order," he said. "They're all good; they're all different in their own way. We've kept Jacob Chychrun at the top of our list, he's the real deal as far as we're concerned, and it's up the individual team whoever they want at that position."

It appears the players don’t disagree. Sergachev, who played against both Chychrun and Juolevi in the OHL in 2015-16, wasn't willing to bite when asked how he compared to the other two players as it pertains to their futures in the NHL.

"I love them both. They are good players," he said. "Maybe we're three of the best defenders, who knows? I don’t know, they're good players. I don’t want to say someone's the best, someone's the worst. Everybody's good."

Maybe everyone will be good, but they're also going to be different. So, who better to ask what sets them apart then the players themselves?

Sergachev: Offensive Instincts

"I think my shot and I can make a good first pass," Sergachev said when asked was might separate him from the pack of defensemen. "I can be on the power play, can be a quarterback."

Indeed, Sergachev placed third among OHL defensemen with 57 points (17+40) in 67 games for Windsor and led all defensemen with 31 points on the power play (8+23). That combined with his strong defensive game earned him the Max Kaminsky Trophy, awarded to the league's best defenseman.

Sergachev compares himself to Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty, currently a finalist for the NHL's Norris Trophy.

Chychrun: A Two-Way Mentality

"I played forward growing up until I was 12 years old so I feel that naturally gave me my offensive instincts," Chychrun said at the Combine. "I want to be able to contribute offensively but I know how tough it is for young defensemen to defend at the National Hockey League level so I want to continue to improve defensively, I want to be able to play a shutdown role and I want to be able to play an offensive role."

Chychrun admitted that, coming off his shoulder surgery, his offensive production wasn’t quite where he wanted it to be in 2015-16. Still, he scored 49 points in 62 games for the Sarnia Sting, fourth in the OHL behind Sergachev. All the while, he said, he was able to grow leaps and bounds as a defender.

"That's a good way to put it," he said. "Like I said, not my ideal season … but I feel like I definitely improved on other areas of my game that I needed to. I think I improved defensively a lot, that was my main area of focus was my D-zone play."

Chychrun said it is a personal goal of his to play in the NHL next season at age 18, but added that he is open to whatever his future team deems best for him.

Juolevi: Hockey IQ

"I think it's pretty hard to teach that," Juolevi said of his smarts on the ice. "I can always go to work out at the gym to get more muscles, practice my shooting or something like that but it's hard to teach [hockey IQ]."

Juolevi's hockey acumen is part of what led Baker to tout him as a "mature, complete" defenseman while ranking him as the No. 8 overall prospect in the Draft.

Juolevi, who scored 42 points (9+33) in 57 games for the London Knights, compared himself to Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm as a player who can contribute both on the power play and on the penalty kill.

McAvoy: Level of Competition

While Juolevi, Chychrun and Sergachev were competing against other young players in the OHL, McAvoy spent the past season honing his skills as the youngest player in the NCAA's Division I for Boston University. He sees the advanced competition as an advantage for him going into the next level.

"I think from a competitive standpoint, the competition is more like the next level, playing against guys who are anywhere from one to six years older than you on a Friday and Saturday-night basis," he said. "I think playing that kind of competition and that kind of level, I think that only prepared me more for the next level."

McAvoy also compares his game to Doughty's, citing himself as a complete two-way player who likes to join on the rush and can impact the power play. He scored 25 points (3+22) for the Terriers as a freshman in 2015-16.

Bean: Big-Game Mentality

If Bean ends up being overlooked in the NHL Draft, it won't be anything new for him. He went undrafted in the Western Hockey League and had to earn his spot in a tryout with the Calgary Hitmen, and then he scored 39 points (5+34) as a rookie in 2014-15. That number climbed to 64 points (24+40) last season.

He's played 12 playoff games over those two seasons and wanted teams to know that he is never one to shy away from the big stage.

"I think I told them I was a two-way defenseman that likes to play in big games against other teams' top lines and I like to play in any situation," Bean said.

Bean compares himself to the Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith and Anaheim Ducks' Cam Fowler for their ability to make a good first pass. Where he can improve, he says, is his size: he's currently listed at 6-feet-1-inch tall and 172 pounds.

"I know in time that's going to come and with what I've been doing and I know that if I can just kind of keep on this right track then I'll be OK," he said.

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