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.
#26 – Carolina Hurricanes (via Los Angeles Kings)
Clayton Keller is no. 8 on NHL Central Scouting’s 2016 midterm rankings list, but the unfair stigma surrounding smaller players will force him to wait way longer to hear his name than he should have to. The 5’10,” 170-lb. center has split his 2015-16 season between the United States Hockey League and the United States Development League, and he has been unbelievable in both.
With the USNTDP Juniors in the USHL, the Illinois native scored 30 points (11G, 19A) in 16 games, but he really broke-out in the USDP. In just 38 games for the U.S. National U18 Team, Keller has amassed 73 points (27G, 46A) in just 38 games; should he keep this up over the course of the next 25 games or so, he will have the equivalent point total as the second-highest scorer on the U18 team last season (leaping over Matthew Tkachuk and Jeremy Bracco and finishing just behind Auston Matthews).
Carolina is in a weird transition right now, possibly on the brink of a total rebuild, so taking a chance on a high-risk, high-reward forward like Keller with their second first-round pick in the draft would be in their best interest as they continue their effort to get younger.
#27 – St. Louis Blues
About half the St. Louis Blues’ roster players were involved in some kind of trade rumors over the course of the 2015-16 season, and we will soon see if any of them come to fruition as the trade deadline is just under a month away. But one name that keeps popping up is Kevin Shattenkirk, and it seems increasingly likely that he will be on his way out of Missouri very soon. The rise of Colton Parayko and the continued dominance of Alex Pietrangelo has made Shattenkirk expendable, and the defense may very well undergo a makeover in the near future.
St. Louis has always been a bit light on left-handed D, so adding an enigmatic but highly-talented one in Sean Day seems to be the perfect fit here. This late in the first round, there are not many forwards who can be of service to the Blues, who have an enormous stockpile of both roster and prospective forwards.
Off-ice issues have taken a toll on Day’s game over the course of the past year or so, but he is focused and ready for the 2016 NHL Draft, as well as a chance to play in the NHL. One thing for all the harsh critics to consider, though: keep in mind that these prospects are still just kids – everyone hits their stride on the ice, and learns to deal with hardships off the ice, at different times. Day is going to be great, and a lot of general managers are going to be kicking themselves for letting him get this far down in the draft some day.
#28 – Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars made some big moves this summer, most notably in the form of the additions of 2015 Stanley Cup champions Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. Just the simple fact alone that those two had ‘been there before’ (a common rhetoric in the hockey world) does not always mean that two players in particular – especially older guys like Sharp and Oduya – can push their new teams over the edge and make them instant contenders.
That has been the case in Texas, though, where Dallas is currently the third-best team in the league and the second-best in their division. So obviously, the team does not need any major upgrades on either offense or defense, but forward Simon Stransky can be a nice addition to the prospect pool where his brother Matej Stranksy already resides. After all, the Stars have a good track record of playing brothers together.
The Czech forward primarily plays the left wing for the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders, and he has scored 38 points (14G, 24A) in 37 games this season.
#29 – Chicago Blackhawks
After a long absence from international representation, Swedish forward Rasmus Asplund will finally break the 24-pick streak of North American selections when the Chicago Blackhawks take him with their late first-round pick. Asplund is a great pickup for the current defending Stanley Cup champions, who can always use another forward in the system (since they seem to be rotating them out as a result of cap casualties).
Asplund has played 34 games in the Swedish elite league, the SHL, where he has scored four goals and five assists. It may not seem like much, but he just turned 18 about two months ago and is playing against men who are much bigger, stronger and more experienced than he is. He dominated in the U20 World Junior Tournament this year, scoring three goals and two assists in seven games for the Swedes.
#30 – Washington Capitals
With the last pick in the first round of the 2016 draft, the Washington Capitals may go a bit off-the-board (and why not, with such a low pick?) and select the University of Connecticut’s Tage Thompson. UConn is not exactly a hotspot for draft-eligible prospects – especially not first-rounders – but stranger things have happened.
Thompson’s 6’5″ frame has a lot to do with this selection, as the league seems to love bigger players, but the right-handed forward is pretty offensively adept too. With 10 goals and 12 assists in 26 games for the Huskies this season, the Capitals could be finding themselves a unique, overlooked and obscure prospect with their 30th overall pick.