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2016 NHL Draft Profile: Matthew Tkachuk a surefire pick

Good players are always going to play with good players, but Matthew Tkachuk has earned his place among the 2016 NHL Draft's elite.

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Rest assured, London Knights winger Matthew Tkachuk is one of the premier forward talents in the 2016 NHL Draft. Tkachuk has stood alone as an exceptionally gifted forward in the 2016 class for years and some talented line mates and bolstered secondary assists totals in London this season don't change that.

It is true that Matthew Tkachuk's 107 points in 57 games with the London Knights this season was aided by playing on one of the OHL's most talented teams, often alongside two of the league's best players in Mitch Marner (Leafs) and Christian Dvorak (Coyotes).

When I saw Tkachuk play in-person during London's visit to Ottawa this season, his line was so utterly dominant that it was hard to discern who was driving the play. But it didn't matter. Tkachuk, Marner and Dvorak are all so gifted with and without that puck that they could toy with the 67's (no matter the matchup) and create offence on every shift. None of them were a liability, none of them mishandled the puck or regularly trailed the play. That Tkachuk could elevate to their level and make both of them better spoke for itself. The game was Feb. 27. The Knights won 5-1 and Tkachuk picked up five points to Dvorak and Marner's three each. He was named the first star of the game.

While three of the five points were primary points, his play on the opening goal of the game to find JJ Piccinich down low and open up the cross-ice pass for the goal was a heady, confident play for the secondary assist.

As good as Marner and Dvorak are, Tkachuk might be this year's Knights MVP in that he added another physical playmaking dimension to the team.

Stylistically, he plays with both power and finesse despite not being an elite skater. He handles the puck well in tight and in stride and can score as well as he pass. His strength as one of the best defensive wingers in the OHL as well as his physicality make him an even more dynamic option at left wing. Defensively, he's relentless on loose pucks and does an excellent job lifting them off defenders to create turnovers. His maturity, and strength in both ends as a powerful offensive threat both lend well to transferring into an NHL-ready game sooner rather than later.

And he hasn't just become this player with the Knights. Tkachuk excelled offensively with the United States at this year's World Juniors as one of the team's best players and has widely been credited as one of the development program's top prospects since he was 16.

Before joining London, while players of his own draft year such as Clayton Keller played the majority of the season with the U17 Team, Tkachuk played on the U18 Team's top line, outscoring top older prospects such as Jeremy Bracco, Colin White and Jack Roslovic along the way (convincingly for the latter two).

In the playoffs, Tkachuk's game has continued to progress, outscoring Dvorak along the way at more than two points per game clip.

This season, Tkachuk also relied the least on the powerplay for his points among the big three Knights scorers -- 39 per cent of his production came with the man-advantage.

And while he wasn't named OHL Rookie of the Year, he might have out-done Alex Nylander for the award had it not been for his 1997 birth year.

Early on this season, Tkachuk quickly established that he was most efficient behind the net and in the low slot. Watch how quickly he gives the puck back to fool the goalie below the goal line.

Off the rush, Tkachuk has a unique ability to make plays at his own speed while still plainly beating defenders. Watch him thread a pass (after trailing the play) on a quick move to the backhand below.

And then he can shoot like this.

And make plays with his skill like this.

Ranked fifth by Future Considerations, Tkachuk has earned his place as one of the frontrunners for fourth overall after Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi.

Unsurprisingly, he was also named the OHL's Western Conference's second smartest player in the annual Coaches Poll (behind Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome).

And with Toronto's ties to the London Knights not only through Mark Hunter but also scout Lyndsay Hofford, if the Leafs fall to No. 4 it wouldn't be surprising if he's their guy.