I have often been asked to prepare a ranking of all of the drafted NHL prospects. When I scouted with McKeen's Hockey, I was provided a platform to do just that through the annual yearbook and online content that focused not only on the NHL Draft but also on the NHL's top prospects after their selection. Since pivoting to join Future Considerations as an OHL and QMJHL scout and feature writer, my focus has turned strictly to evaluating and ranking prospects before their draft day -- at least in the public sphere.
Beginning in the summer of 2016, I will be restarting my annual ranking of the top 60 drafted NHL prospects.
This ranking will list the top prospects across all 30 organizations, and will run 60 players deep in order to provide a gauge for where each team's top young talent sits. In theory, in a league where parity exists -- it doesn't, some organizations bring along talent quicker than others which creates more cyclical team-to-team prospect depth -- each team would have roughly two prospects in the top 60. Next summer, with the addition of the Las Vegas Knights (?), the ranking will run 62 players deep.
Most drafted NHL prospect rankings use Calder Memorial Trophy criteria to dictate who is eligible to be ranked and who isn't. Calder eligibility is currently dictated by a number of criteria. First, the player must be under 26 years old by September 15 of their rookie season. Second, the player must not have played more than 25 games in a single season or six or more games in two separate preceding seasons.
While I will use the latter to dictate eligibility, I have amended the age for the former. Because we know that a player is no longer a prospect at age 26, and the average NHL player begins to decline between the age of 26 and 30, the criteria for this ranking will dictate that a player must be 24 years old or younger by the start of his rookie season.
I think it's important, in any evaluation process in hockey, to clearly define your biases. While I have multiple viewings of all 60 players in this ranking and do my best to mitigate against the disproportion between some and others, there is no denying that my exposure to certain players creates a confirmation bias.
First, it must be understood that while I have scouted each of the past three drafts for either McKeen's Hockey or Future Considerations, I have viewed OHL and QMJHL-bred prospects more than players in any other leagues because I am based out of Ottawa and Gatineau (I attend and cover the majority of each team's home schedules, barring conflicts with one another). My WHL viewings come from streaming and viewings of the CHL's annual Canada-Russia series, as well as international events.
I have also extensively covered the AHL in the last five years both via streams and live viewings (two years in Toronto and three years in Ottawa when I spent my summers covering the AHL playoffs back in Toronto, though I have also twice covered the annual AHL game in Ottawa).
While I have also covered the 2015 World Juniors in person, my viewings of European prospects are limited to online streams of league play (SHL, Champions Hockey League, KHL, Liiga, etc.) tape (not actual tape), and major international events (U17s, U17 camps, U18s, U18 camps, Ivan Hlinka, lower-level World Junior tiers, etc.).
Similarly, my collegiate, USHL and NTDP viewings are limited to international events, streams, Canadian television broadcasts of college games, and marquee U.S. events like the top prospects game and the Frozen Four.
My viewings of the BCHL prospects represented in this ranking (there are two) stem primarily from tape, international events, and the World Junior A Challenge.
Naturally, as someone who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, their prospects, and the Toronto Marlies, I have also seen the three Leafs prospects in this class considerably more than the rest.
Factors (in short)
It's also important to outline the factors I consider in evaluating players, in order to best avoid confusion over where a player is ranked and why.
In the 2016 FC Draft Guide, I wrote a feature on descriptive analysis and the need for dynamic evaluation. In it, I began to outline that age, position, and role are factors. Here is an excerpt from that piece:
At 17 or 18 years old, a prospect’s game and body are changing so rapidly that the player you see in September could be stronger, faster, and more confdent with the puck by New Years. Or he could be off the proverbial tracks, gaining unhealthy weight while teams learn to check him and expose his flaws.
There are so many tools at the disposal of junior hockey coaches and trainers that he could be changing his game, addressing inefficiencies to pivot from a pass-first player to more of a versatile primary scorer. Linemates change and players develop tools and roles that better suit their skillsets.
Sometimes, players aren’t in the right role at all.
Coaches aren’t infallible. In junior hockey, cyclical success could mean that a draft-eligible player is staring on a weak team with too much of a leash. It could also mean that he’s playing on the fourth line on a top team where a weary coach is turning to veteran players over a more talented youngster. In professional ranks, highly-skilled players could go scoreless for 10, 20 games at a time while playing limited roles.
And while the evolution of a player could drastically change his ranking year-to-year, this becomes less of a factor as a player ages and we begin to truly identify his ceiling. By the time a forward or a defensemen are in their early 20s, they are already entering their prime.
Above all else, skill and skating are paramount. The two biggest indicators of a player's skill, particularly a forward's, are his ability to get his shot off (not necessarily how hard it is but if he can shoot as well in stride as from a standstill, and whether the kick is deceitful) and his ability to handle the puck (on the toe and heel of his blade, and in traffic or out wide). As a skater, edge work (the ability to change direction or stop up with or without the puck) and change of pace (more so than raw speed) are essential. In today's game, while the need to be more athletic grows, size no longer defines a player.
Other important factors are, without question, a player's passing ability (not only on his forehand but also on his backhand, as well as as a receiver), his ability to shed checks (doesn't always have to be with pure strength, can be with technique) and his defensive ability (how well he closes gaps, his stick-on-stick plays, whether he picks up his check within a system, if he's a passive or aggressive forechecker and how that works or doesn't work to his advantage).
Each of these factors must be verified against whatever statistic each of their junior or pro leagues make available.There has to be a checks and balances process with what you see in a player and how they perform. This can be extremely hard to accurately do in levels outside the NHL, particularly in the CHL where there is virtually no team-to-team parity.
Without further ado...
The 2016 Ranking
|1.||Auston Matthews||Toronto Maple Leafs||C|
|2.||Patrik Laine||Winnipeg Jets||W|
|3.||Jesse Puljujarvi||Edmonton Oilers||W|
|4.||William Nylander||Toronto Maple Leafs||C/W|
|5.||Dylan Strome||Arizona Coyotes||C|
|6.||Mitch Marner||Toronto Maple Leafs||W|
|7.||Mikko Rantanen||Colorado Avalanche||W|
|8.||Kyle Connor||Winnipeg Jets||C/W|
|9.||Pierre-Luc Dubois||Columbus Blue Jackets||C/W|
|10.||Zach Werenski||Columbus Blue Jackets||D|
|11.||Matthew Tkachuk||Calgary Flames||W|
|12.||Clayton Keller||Arizona Coyotes||C|
|13.||Ivan Provorov||Philadelphia Flyers||D|
|14.||Matt Murray||Pittsburgh Penguins||G|
|15.||Jakob Chychrun||Arizona Coyotes||D|
|16.||Alex Nylander||Buffalo Sabres||W|
|17.||Christian Dvorak||Arizona Coyotes||C|
|18.||Olli Juolevi||Vancouver Canucks||D|
|19.||Tyson Jost||Colorado Avalanche||C|
|20.||Shea Theodore||Anaheim Ducks||D|
|21.||Sebastian Aho||Carolina Hurricanes||C/W|
|22.||Timo Meier||San Jose Sharks||C/W|
|23.||Mikhail Sergachev||Montreal Canadiens||D|
|24.||Brock Boeser||Vancouver Canucks||C/W|
|25.||Colin White||Ottawa Senators||C/W|
|26.||Travis Sanheim||Philadelphia Flyers||D|
|27.||Mathew Barzal||New York Islanders||C|
|28.||Michael Dal Colle||New York Islanders||W|
|29.||Jakub Vrana||Washington Capitals||W|
|30.||Thatcher Demko||Vancouver Canucks||G|
|31.||Ilya Samsonov||Washington Capitals||G|
|32.||Jimmy Vesey||Free Agent||W|
|33.||Travis Konecny||Philadelphia Flyers||C/W|
|34.||Dante Fabbro||Nashville Predators||D|
|35.||Jake Bean||Carolina Hurricanes||D|
|36.||Jake Walman||St. Louis Blues||D|
|37.||Brayden Point||Tampa Bay Lightning||C|
|38.||Daniel Sprong||Pittsburgh Penguins||W|
|39.||Kevin Fiala||Nashville Predators||W|
|40.||Nick Schmaltz||Chicago Blackhawks||C/W|
|41.||Conor Garland||Arizona Coyotes||W|
|42.||Charlie McAvoy||Boston Bruins||D|
|43.||Logan Brown||Ottawa Senators||C|
|44.||Michael McLeod||New Jersey Devils||C|
|45.||Esa Lindell||Dallas Stars||D|
|46.||Julius Honka||Dallas Stars||D|
|47.||Anthony Beauvillier||New York Islanders||C/W|
|48.||Christian Fischer||Arizona Coyotes||C/W|
|49.||Anthony DeAngelo||Arizona Coyotes||D|
|50.||Jason Dickinson||Dallas Stars||C/W|
|51.||Evgeni Svechnikov||Detroit Red Wings||W|
|52.||Kieffer Bellows||New York Islanders||C/W|
|53.||Jacob Larsson||Anaheim Ducks||D|
|54.||Pavel Zacha||New Jersey Devils||C/W|
|55.||Anthony Mantha||Detroit Red Wings||W|
|56.||Jon Gillies||Calgary Flames||G|
|57.||Thomas Chabot||Ottawa Senators||D|
|58.||Pavel Buchnevich||New York Rangers||C/W|
|59.||Alex Nedeljkovic||Carolina Hurricanes||G|
|60.||Josh Ho-Sang||New York Islanders||C/W|
Honourable mentions: Barber, MacInnis, Barbashev, Milano, Kamenev, Kempe, Eriksson Ek, Saarijarvi, Lehkonen, Crouse, Kunin, Poirier, Abramov, Kapanen, DeBrusk, Forsbacka-Karlsson, Blackwood, McCoshen, Bowey, Siegenthaler, Quenneville, Sadowy, Guryanov, Sorokin, Carrier, Bigras, Yan, Dunn, Gauthier, Merkley, Pouliot, Fleury, Perlini, Kylington, McCarron, Tuch, Anderson, Johnson, Merkley, Subban, Juulsen, Fasching, Scherbak, Morrissey, Roslovic, Hawryluk, Brown, Matheson, Lauzon, Lindblom, Björkstrand, Shinkaruk, Girard.
- The Coyotes led all NHL teams with seven players in the top 60 (not including the likes of Ryan MacInnis, Nick Merkley, Brendan Perlini and others)
- The Leafs led the way with three prospects in the top-10, followed closely by the Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets with two
- There were 39 forwards (led by Matthews), 16 defensemen (led by Werenski), and five goalies (led by Murray) in the top 60
- The Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, and Minnesota Wild were the only teams without a prospect in the top 60
If you have any questions about the ranking, or any of the players listed in it, feel free to leave them in the comments section below or contact me via Twitter at @scottcwheeler.