Thursday, June 09, 2016

Six Options at No. 6: Evaluating Who the Flames Might Take in First Round of 2016 NHL Draft

Two weeks away from the 2016 NHL Draft, the question on everybody's mind is who are the Flames going to select with pick No. 6?

While it's a number that had its reputation sullied for a decade and a half thanks to former general manager Al Coates going with Daniel Tkaczuk (1997) then Rico Fata (1998) in back-to-back years at No. 6, Jay Feaster helped change the stigma in 2013 grabbing Sean Monahan at that number.

Famously known as 'Boring' Monahan, it really should be 'Scoring' Monahan as explained in this piece from late last season in which I documented how what he's done goal scoring-wise is not only best-in-class (by far) from his own draft year, but he's also at or near the top for goals if you add in draft classes from 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

To get Calgary back pointing in the right direction again after a regression last year that led to the dismissal of coach Bob Hartley, the pressure is on Brad Treliving to get this pick right when it comes time to head to the podium at No. 6.

Oh, and I do mean No. 6 and not any higher. While there are rumblings about Columbus being open to possibly trading down from No. 3, the exorbitant price it would probably take to do that as I explored recently, likely makes it cost-prohibitive. Although it sure makes for great patio conversation over a couple of chilled adult beverages.


Expect it to be a Forward

In looking at the six most likely options for the Flames when it comes their pick -- and note that I'm not someone that thinks there's even the tiniest of chances that anyone in the much ballyhooed trio of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi fall out of the top three -- you’ll notice that five of them are forwards. In fact, I was really close to making it all six and including Tyson Jost too.

There are a couple reasons I would be very surprised if Calgary selects a defenceman:

1. Late to Develop - With defencemen, there is inherent risk when using a high pick on them as they're closer to goalies than forwards when it comes to their development timeline. Often, who you think the best D is right now will not turn out to be the best. If you look at the Norris Trophy winners of the last decade, not one was even among the top five D selected in their draft year. Four of the five weren't even among the first 15 D to be selected:
  • Erik Karlsson - 7th D taken in 2008
  • Duncan Keith - 16th D taken in 2002
  • PK Subban - 17th D taken in 2007
  • Nicklas Lidstrom - 19th D taken in 1989
  • Zdeno Chara - 22nd D taken in 1996

2. Existing Depth - Already having Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton locked up for the next several seasons, having expended its top two picks in last year's draft on defencemen Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington, and with young guys like Jyrki Jokipakka, Tyler Wotherspoon, Brett Kulak and Brandon Hickey in the organization, this is far from Calgary's position of greatest need.

While I agree you should always pick the best player available, I don't envision a scenario in which the best player available is a defenceman. It's that simple. At best, it's a push and in the case of a tie, always go with the forward.


Before we begin, a shout-out to Aaron Vickers and the good folks from Future Considerations, whose comprehensive draft guide contributed to this piece. They rank and profile the top 211 draft eligibles for 2016 and it is a terrific resource to have by your side when watching things unfold in Buffalo on June 24 and 25.



Six Best Options for the Flames at No. 6


1. LW Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)
     HT: 6-2  |  WT: 200  |  SHOT: L  |  AGE: 18Y, 6M

Future Considerations Says
"Feisty pro-style winger who goes hard to the net. Offensive-minded, plays a quick-thinking, dynamic game. Is clever with an explosive burst, who has the ability to take over a game with his play down low. Gets to prime offensive areas thanks to his high hockey IQ. Has a flair to his game, making creative and skilled passes. Is strong on the puck, protecting it and making it difficult for defenders to knock him off it."

Why He'd Be a Great Pick
Flames have been vocal about wanting to get bigger and add more skill to the wings. This achieves both. The thought of Tkachuk rumbling up and down the left side, burying set-ups from Sam Bennett, should have fans salivating. Plus, as someone that has a little nasty in his make-up and who doesn't get pushed around, he would bring some much-needed bite to Calgary's line-up and you know that would appease certain folks in the front office.

Why He Could Fall to Calgary
With the Memorial Cup unfolding 90 minutes south of Edmonton, it's hard to imagine the Oilers passing on Tkachuk, who in Red Deer once again demonstrated that he's an elite player. He'd be a great fit up north for the same reason the Flames would be all over him. However, should GM Peter Chiarelli prefer Pierre-Luc Dubois and with Vancouver GM Jim Benning being somewhat a wild card at No. 5 -- possibly opting for giant Logan Brown to address the Canucks biggest need of centre -- that could result in Tkachuk falling to six where he'd be scooped up in a heartbeat.

The Worry
Playing on major junior's best line with the uber-talented Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak, his point totals are obviously going to be inflated. The question is how much?

Recent Resume
Had a big regular season with the Knights in which he went 30-77-107 in 57 games. The one interruption was a trip to the World Juniors where he was an impressive 4-7-11 in 7 games, tying him with Matthews for Team USA's scoring lead. His strong play continued in the post-season where playoffs and Memorial Cup combined, he went a ridiculous 25-23-48 in 22 games.

Trending (midterm ranking compared to final ranking)
  • Future Considerations  |  5th to 5th (-)
  • ISS   3rd to 4th (-1)
  • Sportsnet   4th to 4th (-)
  • TSN  |  4th to 4th (-)
  • NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)  |  1st to 2nd (-1)

Did You Know
The son of longtime NHLer Keith Tkachuk was voted No. 2 in the Western Conference for Smartest Player in the 2016 OHL coaches poll.

ETA
2016-17

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2. LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
     HT: 6-2  |  WT: 205  |  SHOT: L  |  AGE: 18Y, 0M

Future Considerations Says
"Rangy forward who seems to always be on the attack. Has nice blend of size, strength and hockey sense. Quite mobile for a player of his size. Anticipates plays well and gets the puck into dangerous areas in the offensive zone. Very strong vision. Skates well, making quick, deliberate cuts to create separation. Uses his size to his favor when engaging in battles along the boards. His shot is heavy and quick off his blade."

Why He'd Be a Great Pick
Like with Tkachuk, a combination of size and skill makes for a coveted package. While Calgary's greater need is right wing, second line left wing is a need also as it became a void when Bennett was moved to centre. The other attraction with Dubois is he has also played some centre and with Mikael Backlund a UFA in two years, that flexibility is also something to keep in mind. Also, his 112 penalty minutes suggests he is a guy that gets surly at times and would bring some edge to Calgary's line-up, which can be too Lady Byng-like at times.

Why He Could Fall to Calgary
If the Oilers don't overthink it and select Tkachuk and the Canucks and Benning do overthink it and decide to go with the hulking frame of Brown, or even a defenceman, then Dubois could fall in the lap of the Flames. This would be despite Dubois being the NHL's No. 1 ranked North American skater, just like Bennett was in 2014 when Calgary was able to get him fourth overall.

The Worry
Sometimes the QMJHL can be a tough league to gauge success in. Calgary knows all about that having seen first rounder Emile Poirier leave Gatineau with such promise only to have seen the shine come off him last year after a disappointing season, his second in the AHL.

Recent Resume
Dubois finished third in the league in scoring in the regular season with 42-57-99 in 62 games. Included was three goals and four assists while shorthanded, which shows his versatility. In lasting two rounds in the playoffs, he went 7-5-12 in 12 games.

Trending (mid-term ranking to final ranking)
  • Future Considerations  |  11th to 4th (+7)
  • ISS   18th to 5th (+13)
  • Sportsnet  |  12th to 5th (+7)
  • TSN  |  10th to 4th (+6)
  • NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)  |  7th to 1st (+6)

Did You Know
Dubois says he used being cut by Team Canada for the World Juniors as motivation in the second half of the season. Over the final two months in raising his draft stock, he averaged over two points per game going 12-18-30 in 14 games.

ETA
2016-17

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3. RW Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL)
     HT: 6-1  |  WT: 178  |  SHOT: R  |  AGE: 18Y, 3M

Future Considerations Says
"Smart and super-skilled, he will make you pay if you give him the tiniest of space. Finds his spots in the offensive zone and picks apart lanes exceptionally well. Possesses quick feet and some high-end agility. His puck skills complement his incredible shot perfectly. Possesses incredible puck skills in tight quarters. His shot is his greatest asset—it is fast and rocket-like—and he has a deceptive release from in close while in movement."

Why He'd Be a Great Pick
Right-shooting RWs is a barren wasteland for the Flames. While Laine or Puljujarvi were the guys fans were most hoping for, Nylander is a nice consolation prize. This is an opportunity to add tremendous skill and a NHL-ready shot to the top-six and at a position of need. Everybody knows about the opening that exists at right wing on the top line. His right-shot would also nicely change up the look of the power play. One other attractive bonus would be the option to play him in the AHL next season, something Calgary could do because he's not subject to the regular CHL-AHL agreement since he's on loan from a club in Sweden. Moving him up a level would be great for his development.

The Worry
He's tall but isn't a big guy. He'll need to fill out his frame and get stronger if he hopes to make the same kind of impact in the NHL. There is also some concern about his defensive game.

Recent Resume
Having just arrived back in North America last summer, he led his team as well as all OHL rookies in scoring with 28-47-75 in 57 games. His strong play continued in the playoffs, putting up 6-6-12 in 6 games. The early playoff exit enabled him to represent Sweden at the IIHF U18 World Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota. In leading Sweden to a silver medal, he was fifth in scoring at 3-8-11 in 7 games and could easily have had more goals as he led the tournament with 32 shots. He also represented his country at the World Juniors going 4-5-9, which led the team.

Trending (mid-term ranking to final ranking)
  • Future Considerations  |  6th to 8th (-2)
  • ISS   6th to 6th (-)
  • Sportsnet  |  5th to 9th (-4)
  • TSN  |  5th to 5th (-)
  • NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)  |  3rd to 3rd (-)

Did You Know
Born in Calgary and the son of ex-Flame Michael and brother of Leafs 2014 first rounder William, he grew up playing hockey in North America until he was around 12 or 13 and his family returned to Sweden.

ETA
2017-18

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4. C Clayton Keller, USA U-18 (USHL)
     HT: 5-10  |  WT: 164  |  SHOT: L  |  AGE: 17Y, 11M

Future Considerations Says
"Has ability to create space and time with his exceptional skating ability, quick turns, speed, acceleration and elusiveness. Incredible at handling the puck in traffic. Keller sees the play develop exceptionally well, and isn’t afraid to make the creative play. Skating ability is nearly flawless. Aspects of his game that are at elite levels are his vision and playmaking ability. Has a quick release and deadly accurate shot."

Why He'd Be a Great Pick
What's better than having one Gaudreau? Having two. The Flames certainly know first-hand how dominant a small by highly-skilled guy can be in this era of the NHL. Pittsburgh is on its way to winning a Stanley Cup with five of its 12 forwards under 6-foot-0. He can skate, create, and can also defend, offering up a delicious blend of talent. Plus, as one of the younger guys in the draft, he could be even better when he's the same age as others. As a center, it would give the Flames the ability to move Bennett back to left-wing and that would further help shore up the top six.

The Worry
Like with all undersized players, one wonders if he can keep it going at the pro level, especially as a centre when you're going up against so many big, strong players. Gaudreau's inability to be nearly as effective on the road last year as he was at home, is an example of this concern.

Recent Resume
Playing on the U.S. national development team, he put up 33-60-93 in 55 games. He then kept that going with a dazzling showing at the U18 World Championships where he was named MVP after finishing second in scoring with 4-10-14 in 7 games.

Trending (mid-term ranking to final ranking)
  • Future Considerations  |  7th to 7th (-)
  • ISS   17th to 12th (+5)
  • Sportsnet  |  8th to 13th (-5)
  • TSN  |  11th to 6th (+5)
  • NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)  |  8th to 9th (-1)

Did You Know
Keller is committed to going to Boston University, where he would be a teammate of Flames prospect Brandon Hickey.

ETA
2018-19

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5. C Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL)
     HT: 6-6  |  WT: 220  |  SHOT: L  |  AGE: 18Y, 3M

Future Considerations Says
"Has all the tools to be an impact playmaker. Doesn’t play a powerful, speed-driven, in-your-face game, but does use his frame to protect the puck. Plays a solid all-around game. Has loads of speed. Is a smooth skater with a strong center of gravity, making it extremely difficult for opponents to move him off the puck or knock him around. Displays impressive hockey sense and overall awareness with and without the puck. Possesses soft hands."

Why He'd Be a Great Pick
He's a big center and even though Calgary is as deep at that position as they've been in a long time, you can never have too many. As the Flames know from being dreadfully weak at that position for decades, you can't trade for them or find them in free agency, you need to draft and develop top centres. With Bennett a guy that can also play the wing and with Backlund probably too rich for the Flames to re-sign when he becomes a UFA in two years, one can envision Brown slotting into the top six down the road.

The Worry
He has really shot up the rankings lately. Is what he's done lately reflective of an even greater upside or just a spike that will flatten out. Big guys are nice to have but if you don't have the foot speed to get around the ice, that size will go wasted.

Recent Resume
Enjoyed a strong finish to the year with Windsor going 11-13-24 in his last 13 games with eight multi-point games. On the season, he finished 21-53-74 in 59 games. At the U18s where he joined Keller on Team USA, he went 3-9-12 in 7 games.

Trending (mid-term ranking to final ranking)
  • Future Considerations  |  22nd to 12th (+10)
  • ISS   13th to 7th (+6)
  • Sportsnet  |  22nd to 8th (+14)
  • TSN  |  35th to 7th (+28)
  • NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)  |  14th to 7th (+7)

Did You Know
The son of former NHL defenceman Jeff Brown, he was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the time, his Dad was playing for Carolina. It was the Hurricanes inaugural season after Brown and the team relocated from Hartford.

ETA
2018-19

---------------------------------------------

6. D Olli Juolevi, London (OHL)
     HT: 6-2  |  WT: 182  |  SHOT: L  |  AGE: 18Y, 1M

Future Considerations Says
"Fluid, two-way defenseman who plays a strong puck-moving game. Processes the game at a very high level and appears very calm when pressured. Quickly escapes trouble with his quick feet and good puck protection. Strong backwards skater. Possesses a quick first step and impressive acceleration from stationary. Very mature thinker, he just always seems to be aware of what is going on around him. Carries the puck on the attack with poise and speed. Displays incredible awareness as he works his way up ice. Good offensive instincts."

Why He'd Be a Great Pick
Could be the best defenceman in the draft and would give the Flames a nice top-four and potentially top-two option for way down the road once Giordano is closer to retirement and Brodie inches towards free agency.

The Worry
Defence take a while to develop so how does his progression this year, in which he's established himself as a top young defencemen, translate in future years. As well, being part of such a dominant team with the London Knights, are their holes in his game that have not yet been exposed.

Recent Resume
In his first year in North America after coming over from Finland, he was 9-33-42 in 57 regular season games. He kept that going with 3-11-14 in 18 OHL playoff games. In the Memorial Cup, he was 0-7-7 in 4 games. Playing for his country at the World Juniors, he was 0-9-9 in 7 games to tie Zach Werenski from Team USA as top-scoring defenceman.

Trending (mid-term ranking to final ranking)
  • Future Considerations  |  10th to 11th (-1)
  • ISS   14th to 11th (+3)
  • Sportsnet  |  7th to 6th (+1)
  • TSN  |  6th to 9th (-3)
  • NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)  |  5th to 5th (-)

Did You Know
Scouts compare Juolevi to Pittsburgh defenceman Olli Maatta. Uh-oh, we know what happened when the Flames passed on him in 2012.

ETA
2018-19

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Final Word

For all the things that could happen -- so much speculation about teams trading up, trading down -- my gut says it could be an uneventful start to the 2016 draft. That wouldn't be inconsistent with what normally happens either.

Trading of top 10 picks are rare occurrences these days, it's not until later in the first round when the shuffling really begins.

The top three are elite and they'll go in the order speculated -- Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi. As for the rumblings of Tkachuk making it a top four, I'm not buying it. Puljujarvi being hurt seems to have brought him back to the pack through absentia but how soon we forget. Heck, he was considered better than Laine for much of last season. There's zero chance he falls out of the top three.

While on the surface, everyone screams about the Oilers defence being their glaring need but they do have young pieces coming. Instead, I'd suggest Tkachuk is exactly what they need and I find it hard to believe they pass on him or trade down.

Vancouver could be a wild card but after parting with centre Jared McCann recently, you sense they did so knowing that they could get Dubois at No. 5 and he would replace McCann on the Canucks centre depth chart.


Calgary is Proud to Select...

That leaves the Flames with several players to pick from but I still say Nylander is the guy and that in a year or two, jersey No. 92 will be in circulation once again. That number has only been worn once before and it will be the same name bar on the jersey this time.

The same day Treliving got back to Calgary after returning from the World Juniors, I ran into him at the elevators after a Flames game.

While he was candid in how good the Finns looked (quipped that he wanted to smuggle the two of them back in his suitcase), the other comment he said that resonated was overall, how impressive the 17 year-olds looked in what is typically a tournament in which it's the 18 and 19-year-olds that shine.

Five of the top six scoring leaders at last year's World Juniors are draft-eligible players. Behind the two Finns, Matthews and Tkachuk was Nylander.

Behind the other four could very well be where the Swede slots in this year's draft too in which case he'll find himself right back in the city where life began 18 years ago.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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11 comments:

  1. Nylander or Tkachuk of course - they'd slot in right away and have an immediate impact- something flames need- now all that will remain is to solidify between the pipes, hire a puck possession coach who HATES shot blocking nonsense and doesn't over emphasize it and Flames will contend. GO FLAMES GO. ( @mohawkcanuck76 on Twitter )

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    Replies
    1. I don't think Nylander plays right away. He'll need to bulk up. No need to rush him. I'd anticipate close to a full season in AHL should that be the guy Calgary goes with. Tkachuk, on the other hand, he's built like an NHL player, he could step right in. Not for sure, but has a better shot.

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  2. If we take a D I prefer Sergachev over Juolevi.

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    Replies
    1. You're not alone as I know there are Sergachev supporters out there. Brad told me a while back that there was a real divide among GMs with defencemen with several GMs each liking a different guy. It's that divided at the top. The one with taking a Russian is I know the Flames have not had a real great experience in their dealings with Mother Russia and Rushan Rafikov. Russians being the enigmas they often are, there is some inherent risk if you go that direction. That said, I go back to what I stated in the article in that I wouldn't take a defenceman with that high of a pick anyway, whether he was born in Moose Jaw, Moscow or Helsinki.

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  3. Didn't Nylander play on the PK this year? If so, what are the questions regarding his defensive game? His point totals are very impressive on their own, but particularly if you take into account it being his rookie year in NA and playing on a weaker team in which he was far and away the top scorer on the team.

    And his size really isn't that small, he just needs to fill out his frame. Imo, he's the best pick even if Dubois or Tkachuk are available

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the note. A few things: 1. Just because a player played on the PK, that does not automatically mean he is a strong defensive player. This isn't true at the NHL level and very much should not be assumed in junior hockey. 2. You make valid points regarding rookie contribution in first year in North America where I do see a scenario where Nylander ends up being the better pick of the three players mentioned. To be honest, I don't have time or the ability to watch as many OHL/QMJHL games as I'd need to be able to formulate such opinions myself so for this, I'm deferring more to what I've heard from others that have watched more of him. 3. By small, I probably should have said 'lean'. For sure, I agree that 6-foot-1 is not small! My bad for word choice. 4. Regarding his defensive game, again, it's just something I've heard. But not a major concern and to be honest, most players have that as an area where they need to get better as they get older -- especially when they're also the relied-upon offensive player as you mentioned. I don't believe it's a major concern area. I guess we'll see what happens in a couple weeks and see what Calgary's scouts think as those are the only guys that matter!

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    2. I will add that I nearly ranked Nylander ahead of Dubois on my rankings. It was essentially a coin flip for me. Although I would still have had Tkachuk ahead of Nylander.

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    3. Thanks for the reply man! You're right that assuming someone being on the PK doesn't necessarily make him good defensively, but it does at least show that his coach trusts him defensively, right?

      I was studying in London for the year so I got to see Tkachuk a couple times, including when they played against Erie and Mississauga. I was very impressed with Nylander's skill and hockey sense. I also loved Tkachuk, but I felt that Marner and Dvorák ran that line. Not to say Tkachuk wasn't a big contributor though - his puck retrieval is better than any prospect I've ever seen and he is superb at setting up in the zone. imo Nylander has a much higher ceiling but also a lower floor. Of course, I'm far from a professional scout so I trust Brad and Button to make the best choice for our team.

      On another slightly related note, I thought DeBrincat was absolutely amazing. I really hope we trade up from 35 to take him. He has skill and tenacity out the kazoo and his size never seems to be a factor even against top OHL dmen (Juolevi, Dermott).

      Also, Mangiapane and Andersson are even better in person than on TV. Boy are we lucky to have got those two where we got them.

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    4. I'm not dumping on his D and you're right that PK guys are at least trusted so that's a start. Hell, maybe that bit of info was some bad intel I was given. I can't speak to it from my own eye-test as I haven't seen him play enough to fairly comment. For what it's worth, I know someone that plays on the Western Ontario CIAU team and they watch London play frequently and he's not a scout either, but he plays and he raves about Tkachuk. As noted, I put stock on the coaches poll too -- these guys see all the league's players and all the time so for them to say Tkachuk is the 2nd smartest player in the conference, that's saying something. Looking forward to seeing how it all shakes down. Cheers.

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  4. Any insights as to why you excluded Jost? After his dominant perfomance at the U18s, his high IQ, and his clear leadership skills, I would think he may be a dark horse for the Flames

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    Replies
    1. It's as simple as I wanted to limit it to six and to insert him, I'd have to remove someone else and I could not put him ahead of any of these six. As noted, I did almost insert him instead of Juolevi but decided to stick with one D on the list. But he's right there with the darkhorse candidates like Keller and Brown. I really don't think the Flames are chasing a C so I included Brown because I know the team is determined to get bigger so maybe his size attracts them. So I suppose that was the tie-breaker between Brown and Jost, if you want to look at it this way. Keep in mind, this is not a list of guys ranked according to what I think, but more so who I think the Flames will pick. Personally, I'd have Jost ahead of Brown and Juolevi -- but I'm not the guy that will head to the podium. Agree with the attributes you mentioned and how they would hold some appeal. Absolutely. (Plus if they do end up picking him, he'll be on home ice for the rookie tournament!)

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