Auston Matthews tops mid-season draft rankings

Damien Cox talks about the top prospects approaching the NHL draft, with some top rankings (aside from Auston Matthews) still being shuffled around.

American forward Auston Matthews is the top ranked draft eligible player according to the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, which published their mid-season rankings Tuesday.

Matthews is currently playing for Zurich in Switzerland’s top professional league under former NHL coach Marc Crawford. He’s more than held his own against men, scoring 32 points (19 goals, 13 assists) in 26 games. The 6-foot-1, 210 pound centre won bronze with the United States at the 2016 World Championships, and finished tied for the tournament lead in goals with seven. He also added seven assists.

Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, calls Matthews, “an extraordinary prospect with NHL size, speed and smarts. He is the ultimate package when you combine all of that with his exceptional work ethic and relentless compete level.”

Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine, both of Finland, hold the second and third spots respectively.

They both starred on the gold medal-winning Finnish World Junior team with Puljujarvi leading the tournament in assists and points. He was the tournament's Most Valuable Player, Best Forward and was named to the tournament All-Star Team.

Carr considers Puljujarvi (6-foot-3, 203 pounds), "the ultimate power forward package. He is a big, mobile, highly skilled, well-rounded winger who is both a scorer and a playmaker. He is a powerful skater with excellent offensive instincts, puck skills and determination.”

Laine tied Matthews with seven goals and was also named to the All-Star Team. He has 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) in 27 games with Tappara of the Finnish Elite League.

“Laine is an extremely skilled winger with size, speed, hockey sense and competitiveness. He is a natural scorer who possesses an NHL caliber shot," according to Carr. "He is a tough competitor to play against and even harder to check, an offensive threat every time he is on the ice.”

Laine was actually ranked ahead of Puljujarvi in Sportsnet's Top 30 NHL Draft Prospects.

The three top skaters in North America are all sons of former NHLers: Matthew Tkachuk, Jakob Chychrun and Alexander Nylander.

No. 1 is Matthew Tkachuk, son of Keith Tkachuk. Matthew is currently the fifth-highest scorer in the OHL, with 63 points (15 goals, 48 assists), in 33 games with the London Knights.

The 6-foot-1, 195 pound American power forward was a teammate of Matthews on the U.S. World Junior team.

“Tkachuk is unique in that he brings both skill and a physical package to game situations in which he consistently finds ways to contribute and make an impact. He possesses elite hockey sense and vision, has a very good scoring touch and makes players around him better," said Carr. "One of the best puck protection players eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, he is difficult to check and willing to go to the hard areas to score goals.”

Jakob Chychrun (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) is the highest-rated defenceman in North America and plays for the Sarnia Sting in the OHL. He has put up 27 points (7 goals, 20 assists) in 39 games. He is the son of Jeff Chychrun, who played 262 career NHL games with the Flyers, Kings, Penguins and Oilers.

Born in Boca Raton, Fla., Chychrun tried out for the Canadian World Junior team but was unable to crack their blue-line.

“A complete defenceman with the size, strength, speed and puck skills for today’s NHL. Chychrun is an excellent transitional skater who possesses high-end hockey sense, passing ability, a powerful shot and the poise to make plays under pressure," said Carr. "He plays a solid two-way game displaying quick offensive instincts, is responsible defensively and rarely out of position.”

Rounding out the top three North American skaters is Swedish forward Alexander Nylander, who plays with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. He is the son of Michael Nylander, who played 920 games over 15 seasons in the NHL. His brother William was drafted eighth overall in 2014 by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Alexander leads all OHL rookies in scoring with 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in 37 games and is tied for 10th overall in league scoring. The skilled 6-foot, 179 pound left-winger had nine points in seven games at the 2016 World Juniors on Team Sweden.

“Nylander is a dynamic player who is an elite skater with a creative skill-set. He has very good offensive hockey sense allowing him to create scoring chances in a variety of ways while making plays at top speed," said Carr. "His offensive instincts make him extremely dangerous in one-on-one situations and a scoring threat every time he is on the ice.”

Carter Hart (Sherwood Park, Alta.) is the top-ranked goaltender from North America. He plays for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. Filip Gustavsson (Skelleftea, Sweden), is the top-ranked goaltender from Europe. He plays for Lulea's junior team in the Swedish Junior League.

The full rankings include the top 210 skaters and 30 goaltenders playing in North America, as well as the top 134 skaters and 15 goaltenders playing in Europe.