About a week or two ago, most teams in the National Hockey League played their 41st game of 2015-16 – the iconic number that signifies the halfway point of each season. In honor of already being over the hump (and thus getting a more accurate idea of which teams will be drafting where come June), we decided to take a look at which three teams will be selecting first at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft using the NHL Lottery Simulator created by Rob Zaenglein.
Our results had Columbus picking first, Buffalo second and Toronto third, meaning that there was just a minor change in the original standings as of January 24th (Toronto and Edmonton swapped places, but all other teams remained where they originally were).
In an effort to gauge what the 2016 NHL Draft will look like, we used this draft order to see which prospect is the best fit for each team in their respective draft slots.
Note: starting this year, the draft lottery will determine the entire top-three of the draft, rather than the conventional method of solely determining who picks first.
#11 – Vancouver Canucks
The name Kieffer Bellows has hardly been mentioned recently, and it’s sort of impossible to imagine why. The 6’1,” 194-lb. power forward has the full package – he plays a physical game, he’s a powerful skater, and he’s got deft hands. He’s even defensively adept, which is a skill most junior players lack, so scouts should be lining up to grab this guy.
But luckily for the transitioning Vancouver Canucks, they aren’t.
Though he’s made some questionable moves as of late (see: Brandon Sutter), general manager Jim Benning likely knows just what he is doing. The Sedin twins are going to be around for a few more years, and until they retire, the Canucks are going to continue to be somewhat competitive. So while the club can’t tear it down and start over with a top pick just yet, Benning has amassed quite the impressive garrison of offensive prospects regardless.
Adding Bellows to the likes of Jared McCann, Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, Hunter Shinkaruk and several other highly-touted forward prospects gives the franchise an undoubtedly bright future. One of the youngest players in the draft class (he doesn’t turn 18 until June 10), he’s scored 48 points (28G, 20A) in 38 games for the U.S. National U18 Team this season, and he’s committed to Boston University for the 2016-17 season.
An argument can be made here for the team to focus on getting younger on the blue-line, but the forward talent trumps the defense at #11 in the 2016 draft. Plus, it’d be foolish for Bellows to slide any further than here – he’s going to make a lot of GMs regret passing up on him.
#12 – Arizona Coyotes
When you think of the Arizona Coyotes in recent drafts, the first thing that usually comes to mind is how masterfully general manager Don Maloney has constructed a new core of young players that should be the main cast in the desert for years to come.
But most of those young guys, from Max Domi and Anthony Duclair having explosive rookie seasons in the NHL to Dylan Strome and Conor Garland tearing up the Canadian Hockey League in their post-draft seasons, are forwards, and Arizona has shifted its focus toward building a solid blue line this season.
The recent additions of Jared Tinordi and Kevin Connauton signaled a commitment to shoring up the back end for the future, and Maloney needs to utilize this year’s draft to further that effort. The Coyotes are particularly thin on the right side of the defense, and right-handed two-way defender Charlie McAvoy could be the perfect fit.
McAvoy has quietly excelled in college hockey, playing for the Boston University Terriers this season. Having accelerated his studies to embark on his freshman college season as a 17 year-old, the New York native turned 18 just over a month ago. But age and inexperience hasn’t held him back, as the offensively-adept defenseman has registered 13 points (1G, 12A) in his first 23 NCAA games. He also took part in the Under-20 World Junior Tournament, where he helped the U.S. win bronze.
#13 – Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators general manager David Poile made a splash last month in acquiring Ryan Johansen to bolster what has been a mostly lackluster offense for the past few seasons. He gave up a lot to get him, of course, as he had to part ways with former fourth-overall pick Seth Jones – an exceptional defender mature beyond his years – but here he has the chance to turn a missed playoff into another celebrated addition without giving anything up in exchange.
Max Jones has been a source of inconsistent attention, some GMs love him, some are still wary of him due to his streaky play, but there is no doubting his obvious offensive talent. The goal-scoring power forward stands tall at 6’3″, using his strength and size to his advantage in bullying his way through the opposition. His game has a Rick Nash quality to it.
The Michigan native got off to a rough start with the London Knights this season, but ever since a break-out hat-trick performance in his ninth game, he’s been on a roll. To see Jones fall this far is going to be disappointing but not surprising.
Regardless, Nashville is set on defense and needs another offensive upgrade, and Max Jones may just be their missing piece at the forward position.
#14 – Montreal Canadiens
Andrei Markov isn’t getting any younger, Nathan Beaulieu is a top-four defender at best and Alexei Emelin is one of the most polarizing blue liners in the league. It’s pretty much safe to say that the left-side of Montreal’s back end is lacking, and there isn’t much help coming from within. That’s why if the Habs do somehow miss the playoffs (which would be catastrophic for the organization in many ways, but not at the draft), they should use their top half pick on a highly-touted left-handed defenseman.
Mikhail Sergachev is the guy GM Marc Bergevin should be keeping a close eye on. Since coming over from Russia and being selected sixth overall in the 2015 CHL Import Draft, the two-way defender has scored 35 points (12G, 23A) in 46 games with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. He plays with an edge and has exceptional skating ability that will surely make him a successful NHL defenseman. His potential puts him as a top-pairing defender in the future.
Sergachev may never be a face of the franchise, but he wouldn’t have to be in this situation; in Montreal, he’d be the perfect complement to #76.
#15 – Toronto Maple Leafs (via Pittsburgh Penguins)
Much like the Arizona Coyotes, the Toronto Maple Leafs are clearly in the midst of a full-fledged rebuild. They have selected some high-quality forwards and are stocked with solid left-handed defenders, but the right side can use a lot of work. After choosing a highly-touted forward with their own first-round pick earlier in the draft, they will get the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-rounder (acquired in the Phil Kessel trade) which they can use to grab a right-handed d-man.
The Penticton Vees’ alternate captain and top defender Dante Fabbro plays a complete two-way game; his 48 points (10G, 38A) in 33 BCHL games this season tell only half the story, as the blue liner is well known for his precise defensive play. Having said that, he loves to get involved on the rush and can quarterback a powerplay with ease, so he’d be a welcome addition in Toronto, especially alongside fellow offensive defenseman Morgan Rielly.
Fabbro’s headed to Boston University (which seems to be a common theme for a lot of NCAA-bound 2016 draft prospects) next season, so it may be a few years before he wears the Maple Leaf. But selecting Fabbro is not just a “best player available” move – the British Columbia native does not get nearly enough credit for how dominant a defender he is, and having the opportunity to select him at 15th overall is lucky for Toronto.