Scottsdale, Arizona. Boca Raton, Florida. St. Louis, Missouri.
Hardly traditional breeding grounds for world-class hockey players.
But the world has changed, my friends, and so have the places from where hockey players come. Not only that, but it’s clear NHL expansion—and the minor hockey organizations that have grown from it—have played a leading role in this evolution.
Auston Matthews, after all, played for the Arizona Bobcats, rivals of the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes. Jakob Chychrun skated for the Florida Jr. Panthers. And Matthew Tkachuk was tutored by former NHL stars like Al MacInnis while learning the game as a member of the St. Louis Jr. Blues.
It’s early, but it’s possible those three could go 1-2-3 in next June’s NHL Draft in Buffalo, which would illustrate just how spread out the world developmental hockey system has become, particularly in the United States. Matthews carved a new path by heading to Switzerland to play pro for Marc Crawford in Zurich. Chychrun, unable to play in the USHL as a 15-year-old, instead headed north to Toronto and is skating for the Sarnia Sting. Tkachuk, meanwhile, went through the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. and then landed in the OHL with London this season. “(The Knights) are interested in the same thing as I am; getting me to the NHL as fast as possible,” said Tkachuk.
So far, the 2016 Draft looks to have lots of size at the top, including two 6-foot-4 Finnish forwards, Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. Also, at this point, it appears the draft won’t feature as strong a group of Canadian-born players as in years past. Chychrun, by the way, claims both Canadian and American citizenship as a child of former NHLer Jeff Chychrun, but is expected to play in the Hockey Canada system.
Here’s an early look at the Top 30 Prospects for the 2016 NHL draft:
1. Auston Matthews, C, Zurich (Swiss) 6-2, 195 lb.
Passed on the NCAA and the WHL to go to Europe and has six goals in first eight games.
2. Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia (OHL) 6-2, 194 lb.
Has recovered from off-season shoulder surgery. Is a physically dominant player with offensive talent.
3. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London (OHL) 6-1, 188 lb.
Just like his dad: A prototypical power left winger. Chose the Knights over the University of Notre Dame.
4. Patrik Laine, LW, Tampere (Finland) 6-4, 210 lb.
Has an NHL shot now and scouts are already talking about how he plays with an Esa Tikkanen-like edge.
5. Julien Gauthier, C, Val d’Or (QMJHL) 6-4, 221 lb.
Seven goals in 10 games to start his third campaign in the “Q”. Had 38 last season.
6. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (Finland) 6-4, 200 lb.
Already has a full season in the Finnish league and will form dangerous pair with Laine at the world juniors.
7. Kiefer Bellows, LW, U.S. National Team Development Program (USHL) 6-0, 189 lb.
The son of former NHLer Brian has seven goals in nine games to start the season.
8. Kale Clague, D, Brandon (WHL) 6-0, 184 lb.
Canada’s best defenceman at the Ivan Hlinka summer showcase is silky smooth on the back end.
9. Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL) 6-2, 190 lb.
Canada’s second-best forward at the Hlinka event. He has the size to be a No. 1 pivot.
10. Tyson Jost, C, Penticton (BCHL) 6-0, 195 lb.
Committed to North Dakota and averaging 2.1 points per game.
11. Luke Kunin, C, University of Wisconsin (NCAA) 6-0, 190 lb.
Showed well at the All-American Prospects Game, scoring twice while playing with Tkachuk.
12. Alexander Nylander, RW, Mississauga (OHL) 6-0, 172 lb.
Brother of Leafs prospect, William. His father, former NHLer Michael, is an assistant coach with the Steelheads.
13. Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton (BCHL) 6-1, 185 lb.
Committed to Boston University and declined to play in the WHL. He has 16 points in 10 games.
14. Pierre-Luc Dubois, C, Cape Breton (QMJHL) 6-3, 202 lb.
Has 13 points in 12 games and was selected to play in next month’s Canada-Russia series.
15. Olli Juolevi, D, London (OHL) 6-2, 180 lb.
The Olli Maatta clone was named the top D-man among Finland under-20s.
16. Brett Howden, C, Moose Jaw (WHL) 6-1, 190 lb.
Team Canada’s captain at the summer Ivan Hlinka tourney plays a 200-foot game.
17. Tyler Benson, LW/C, Vancouver (WHL) 6-0, 196 lb.
Named captain of Giants, but has yet to play a game this season because of abdominal injury.
18. Jake Bean, D, Calgary (WHL), 6-0, 165 lb.
His father is CFO of NHL Flames. Bean forms dangerous power-play tandem with Flyers 2014 first-rounder Travis Sanheim.
19. Max Jones, LW, London (OHL) 6-2, 189 lb.
His father Brad played for three NHL teams. His older brother Mitch played four seasons with Plymouth.
20. Alex DeBrincat, RW, Erie (OHL) 5-7, 160 lb.
Had 51 goals last year and has 10 goals in five games to start this season, including a five-goal effort.
21. Vladimir Kuznetsov, LW, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL) 6-2, 214 lb.
The first pick of 2015 CHL Import Draft has three goals in his first 11 games.
22. Dmitri Sokolov, C, Sudbury (OHL) 6-0, 190 lb.
The pure goal-scorer was taken third in 2015 CHL Import Draft.
23. James (J.D.) Greenway, D, USNTDP (USHL), 6-4, 205 lb.
Brother Jordan went 50th to Minnesota in last year’s NHL Draft. J.D. will follow him to Boston University.
24. Libor Hajek, D, Saskatoon (WHL), 6-2, 196 lb.
The second pick of 2015 the CHL Import Draft is a big, physical blueliner.
25. Dillon Dube, C, Kelowna (WHL) 5-10, 175 lb.
Small, quick forward. Part of the Rockets’ Memorial Cup final squad last year.
26. Logan Brown, C, Windsor (OHL), 6-5, 215 lb.
The son of former NHLer Jeff Brown has choice to play internationally for U.S or Canada.
27. Luke Green, D, Saint John (QMJHL) 6-1, 186 lb.
First pick in 2014 QMJHL Draft was recently suspended three games.
28. Riley Tufte, LW, Fargo (USHL) 6-5, 205 lb.
A towering winger with good wheels who has committed to play at Minnesota-Duluth.
29. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston University (NCAA), 5-11, 195 lb.
Took extra courses to get to BU early. Is family friends with Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco.
30. Sean Day, D, Mississauga (OHL) 6-2, 225
Easily the most polarizing prospect of the draft. A world-class skater built like a linebacker.
Rasmus Asplund, C, Farjestads (Sweden) 5-10, 176 lb.
Sam Steel, C, Regina (WHL) 5-11, 165 lb.
Mikael Sergachev, D, Windsor (OHL) 6-3, 195 lb.
Tim Gettinger, LW, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-5, 202 lb.
Taylor Raddysh, RW, Erie (OHL) 6-1, 198 lb.
Chad Krys, D, USNTDP (USHL) 5-11, 185 lb.
Clayton Keller, C, USNTDP (USHL) 5-9, 170 lb.