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.
#21 – Detroit Red Wings
Since his mid-first round draft selection in 2014, Dylan Larkin has become quite the star in his home state playing for the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL. He’s quickly become one of the top-5 under-20 NHL players, and he became a household name almost instantly following last year’s 2015 U20 World Junior Tournament. His meteoric rise is a testament to the Red Wings’ scouting staff, as they tend to grab raw talent later in the draft and turn it into something special.
They have the chance to do that here with Brett Howden – a 6’3″ currently playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League. Howden has put up 17 goals and 24 assists (41 total points) in just 44 games, but his stats only tell half the story. The big forward definitely has some room to bulk up and fill out his frame, but he has the ability to play a physical game nonetheless. The talented centerman wears an alternate captain’s ‘A’ on his sweater in just his second full major junior season, too – a display of trust on the part of the coaching staff in his leadership abilities.
An all-around, complete player, Howden is one of those prospects who – if he slides this far – will be a diamond in the rough for the the scouting-savvy Red Wings.
#22 – Tampa Bay Lightning
Unknown to most, Luke Kunin is very quietly having a solid season at the University of Wisconsin. His leadership is hard to ignore – he captained both the U.S. National U18 Team and the U18 American WJC team last year – as are his offensive tools; the centerman is a goal scorer by nature but can make some pretty plays too. He scored 42 points (including 27 goals) in the USDP last year. and he was also a standout at the U18 WJC with six goals in seven games.
The forward hails from Missouri – not exactly a hockey hotbed, which is interesting – and in the event that Steven Stamkos does not re-sign in Tampa, Steve Yzerman may look to Kunin to be his long-term replacement. Storylines aside, though, Kunin is one of those guys who is going to sneak up on draft observers just a month or two before the 2016 NHL Draft. Once you finally notice him, you won’t want to look away – he’s grossly underrated.
#23 – New York Islanders
It’s not often that a defenseman breaks out and scores at almost a point-per-game pace after a promotion from a lower-level of junior hockey, but Chad Krys tallied 20 points in 22 games last year when he joined the U.S. National U18 Team about two-thirds of the way into the season (as opposed to 29 points in 41 games with the U.S. National U17 Team).
But forget the points – Krys is a solid, complete two-way defender, and the Connecticut native may see a return to the Tri-State Area at the draft in June.
The New York Islanders could use some more left-side defensive help; they’ve got Nick Leddy of course, but they could use a replacement atop the prospect pool after the departure of Griffin Reinhart at last year’s draft. Krys is committed to Boston University for the 2016-17 season, so he’s a project pick; long-term, though, this is the perfect selection for the Islanders.
#24 – Arizona Coyotes (via New York Rangers)
It’s not often that high school hockey players are selected in the first round of an NHL draft. The most recent notable prospect to do so was Mark Jankowski, who was selected 21st overall by the Calgary Flames in 2012. Currently in his senior year at Providence College, he’s tallied 24 points in as many games – so sometimes, it’s worth taking the risk on such an inexperienced, low-level hockey player in the first round.
Riley Tufte may be the next such success story out of high school hockey. The Minnesota native has registered 50 points (29G, 21A) in 18 games for Blaine High, and he’s held the captaincy for his team for the better part of two years now. At 6’5,” his combination of size and skill has attracted plenty of scouts, and he was ranked fairly high on NHL Central Scouting’s 2016 midterm rankings. General manager Don Maloney could use another left-wing prospect, and this is a no-brainer this late in the draft.
#25 – Florida Panthers
One prospect who has certainly fallen from grace in the 2016 draft class is Kale Clague. Despite missing a large portion of the 2014-15 regular season, Clague managed to put up 13 points (4G, 9A) in 20 games for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings last year. He also played a key role in the Wheat Kings’ long run to the WHL Final, in which he added three points, but this year his fortune has sort of run out.
Through 47 games this season, Clague has scored just 19 points (2G, 17A) – disappointing when compared to how he fared in 2014-15. The former sixth-overall bantam draft pick just hasn’t regained the prowess that made him such a hot commodity back in the spring of 2013 when he was supposed to be the next greatest thing for the Wheat Kings.
Luckily, the Florida Panthers can use another left-handed defenseman to complement their exceptional righty arsenal (Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic, to name a few), so Clague would be a perfect fit in Fort Lauderdale.