As the 2015-2016 NHL season approaches, teams will be completing last minute signings and/or offering professional tryouts (PTO) to free agents. A new season means a new year which brings in a whole new crop of draft eligible players for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Back in June, Leafs fans were able to witness the best draft we’ve had since, well, a long time. For those who are unaware, the Leafs first draft under Mark Hunter was a success as the club placed a greater emphasis on smaller, skilled players which was something our prospect pool lacked immensely. Here’s the list of players that were drafted by Toronto in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft:
Round 1, 4th Overall: C Mitch Marner, London Knights (OHL)
Round 2, 34th Overall: D Travis Dermott, Erie Otters (OHL) – 61st Overall: RW Jeremy Bracco, USA U-18 (USHL)
Round 3, 65th Overall: D Andrew Nielsen, Lethbridge (WHL) – 68th Overall: LW Martins Dzierkals, Riga 2 (Russia-JR)
Round 4, 95th Overall: D Jesper Lindgren, Modo Jr. (Sweden JR)
Round 5, 125th Overall: LW Dmytro Timashov, Quebec (QMJHL)
Round 6, 155th Overall: D Stephen Desrocher, Oshawa (OHL)
Round 7, 185th Overall: RW Nikita Korostelev, Sarnia (OHL)
Safe to say our Leafs had one of, if not, the best draft of 2015. But, now that this year’s draft is complete, the focus of NHL scouts and executives shifts towards the 2016 draft as we look forward to seeing these young men accomplish their dream of being drafted into the NHL. I’ve kept fairly close tabs on the 2016 draft eligible players over the past few months, but I still wanted to find out more. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with Dennis MacInnis, the Director of Scouting for ISS Hockey, to get a closer look into the 2016 NHL Entry Draft:
Jordan MacKenzie: So first off, Dennis, I’d like to thank you for putting time aside to do this with me. It is greatly appreciated. Now, the 2015 draft was probably the deepest we’ve seen since 2003. Can we expect the same type of class in 2016? If not, better?
Dennis MacInnis: It’s a bit early to tell. I don’t think we’ll know until December or January, but as of right now, it is a pretty strong draft class. It’s early; however, the 2016 class of European players looks very strong. There’s some good talent.
JM: In most drafts, there’s either a clear cut No. 1 or a toss-up between the top two prospects. The talk leading up to the 2016 draft will be about American Auston Matthews who will most likely be picked at No. 1. Dennis, are there any players that can challenge Matthews for the No. 1 spot?
DM: There are a couple of guys. Big Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi and Jakob Chychrun are players that certainly could challenge Matthews for the first overall pick. Max Jones and Matt Tkachuk can be dark horses as well. As of right now, Matthews is ranked No. 1, but that can certainly change overtime.
JM: We haven’t quite seen a defenseman as good as or better than Victor Hedman since he was drafted in 2009. Is there a defenseman in this draft that you see as a comparable to Hedman or a future Norris trophy winner in general?
DM: Jakob Chychrun definitely has the tools, if he can say healthy. He’s big, mobile, physical and plays a solid two-way game. He will certainly be in the discussion of being the 1st overall pick. He has a lot of stylistic similarities to Chris Pronger.
JM: Being a Leafs fan at my age, I grew up watching Mats Sundin every night when I was a kid. The Leafs have not had that productive big bodied centre since he was here, but one name that intrigues me in the 2016 draft is Spitfires’ rookie, Logan Brown. What report do you have on the player and do you see him as a No. 1 centre in his career at the NHL level?
DM: The potential is there. He has development to do; growing into his body and maturing. This is certainly a big year for him. His skating is still raw. He needs to improve his agility and increase his foot speed. Brown has a high hockey IQ and good puck skills. He’s also responsible in the defensive zone. When he figures out how to use his frame to its potential, he’ll be a force.
JM: John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid were players that got granted exceptional player status in junior and went on to be first overall picks in the NHL. Sean Day is draft eligible in 2016 and he was also granted exceptional player status, but there is literally no talk of him going first overall. What’s different about Day’s game that has him possibly slipping from the first round even though he was granted exceptional player status?
DM: The biggest thing with Day is his hockey sense and compete level are questionable. The tools are there, but he needs to put it all together. This will be a big year for his development.
JM: With advanced stats and analytics being factored in more and more each year when it comes to player comparisons, important intangibles can start to get left behind. In your eyes, how important are the intangibles, and how much do they affect a player’s draft stock?
DM: The intangibles are very important. When you consider half the NHL rosters are full of third & fourth line guys, those intangibles are often what separates a ten year NHL career from a career that lasted only ten games.
JM: Is there somebody who is ranked low right now, but there are whispers of them shooting up to the top tier?
DM: Alexander Nylander is ranked at 20th overall going into Ivan Hlinka tournament, and could make a jump into the top ten. Dante Fabbro is another player that can make a jump in the draft. You can look at Morgan Rielly as a comparable in terms of his skillset and skating ability. He’s that good.
As of right now, the Leafs have eleven draft picks for 2016:
Round 1: 2
Round 2: 1
Round 3: 2
Round 4: 1
Round 5: 2
Round 6: 2
Round 7: 1
Not a bad amount of picks for what’s expected to be a pretty good class. Want to know the best part? With the latest free agent signings and several “core” players likely to be traded, the Leafs are set to gain more picks/prospects not only in 2016, but quite possibly in the years to come. Trade chips such as: Roman Polak, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf, James Reimer, Nick Spaling and P.A Parenteau. My guess would be that the Leafs will be able to bring in 11-15(!) draft picks in the coming years. Did I mention along with our 2015 draft prospects, we also added Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington and Zach Hyman? I don’t know about you guys, but I can get used to this whole rebuild thing!
Assuming that the Leafs hold a pick (maybe two?) in the top five, who knows what will unfold. Will Mark Hunter go after American phenom Auston Matthews? Will Morgan Rielly’s blue-line partner for the next fifteen years be Jakub Chychrun? Will Hunter bring on William’s brother Alexander for a family reunion? Or will he touch toward the Knights again and bring in Matthew Tkachuk and/or Max Jones? So many options! Either way, the future looks pretty bright in Toronto my friends.
Special thanks to Dennis MacInnis for taking the time to answer questions and offer his valuable insights. I also want to thank Monica Bialek for putting us in touch! Be sure to follow @ISShockey for prospects/draft info.