June 24, 2016: Logan Brown is congratulated by Ottawa Senators management and coaches after he was selected as the 11th pick in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY (Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire.)
NHL Prospects

Three dark horse 2016 draftees who could be NHL ready

John Crouch/Icon Sportswire

Not every recent draft pick will spend the summer wondering whether he will make it to the NHL in the fall.

Auston Matthews has already been informed that his linemate in Toronto will be William Nylander to start the season, Pierre-Luc Dubois was the first 2016 draftee to sign an entry-level contract this summer, and the Taylor Hall trade likely wouldn’t have been feasible if the Edmonton Oilers didn’t believe Jesse Puljujärvi was ready for NHL action.

Among several other obvious 2016 draft selections, these will be the 18- and 19-year-olds who will be more than ready for professional hockey when the regular season starts in October, and many of them have a great shot at sticking with their respective NHL clubs.

But as always, there are a few wild-cards, those who prove themselves in training camp and crack the opening night roster.

Logan Brown

With a junior hockey coach for a father, Logan Brown grew up in a hockey family. Needless to say, he’s been playing the game his whole life, which has helped him become a very skilled centerman. One could say that hockey is in his genes, but regardless of natural talent, a hockey player has to work hard to hone his craft.

One thing can’t be practiced or taught, though, and that’s his build.

At 6’6” and 220 pounds, Brown is a hulking dynamic forward. Just by looking at him, you’d assume that he would be a Milan Lucic-type; instead, he is more of a two-way forward than a power forward. That doesn’t mean he won’t get physical when the situation calls for it, it’s just that he’s not running around looking to knock guys down.

What makes Brown so intriguing as a potential NHL lock in 2016-17 is that unique size and skill combination. We saw the infamous Lawson Crouse debate last year – a physically mature forward who was not quite offensively-adept in junior, therefore sparking many arguments both for and against his promotion to the NHL immediately following his drafting.

But Brown is a different case. In 2015-16, he scored 74 points (21 goals, 53 assists) in just 58 regular-season games, adding six assists in five postseason contests. He also tallied 12 points en route to a bronze medal win by the Americans at the U18 World Junior Tournament and put up 13 points in a short, nine-game stint with the U.S. National U18 Team in the USNTDP.

Whereas Crouse was just physically ready for the NHL, Brown is more than ready offensively as well. It’s up to the Ottawa Senators as to whether they think a return to the OHL is necessary for their prized prospect, but they do seem to be very high on him – in fact, they went a bit off the board to select him at 11th overall.

Julien Gauthier

On the contrary, Julien Gauthier took quite the fall at the 2016 draft, having previously been regarded as a top-five prospect in the months leading up to the event. He was eventually scooped up by the Carolina Hurricanes at 21st overall, which was an absolute perfect match.

The Canes desperately need offensive help, and all Gauthier needs is a fair chance to crack an NHL roster. Like Brown, Gauthier is physically ready for professional hockey, but he has far more intangibles and should be considered a serious threat to his fellow Hurricanes prospects who are trying to impress in training camp.

A power forward in every sense of the term, the Quebec native possesses an elite skill-set and is a prolific goal-scorer. Probably the biggest steal of the first round, he has everything a coach could want – an incredible work ethic, physicality, and an offensive awareness that allows him to create chances for both himself and his teammates when it seems as though no options exist – he’s the full package.

And he is the most likely prospect on our list to make it to opening night of the 2016-17 regular season.

Vitali Abramov

The Columbus Blue Jackets made waves when they used their third-round pick to select QMJHL Rookie of the Year Vitali Abramov. The Russian forward joined the Gatineau Olympiques this past season after being selected in the 2015 CHL Import Draft, where selections are hit-and-miss.

He was definitely a big hit, having put up the most goals (38), assists (55) and points (93) among QMJHL rookies. He added 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) in 10 playoff games.

Abramov was an unheralded prospect for most of the year – so much so that many fans still don’t know much about him. The biggest detractor for the high-octane offensive forward is his size; at just 5’9” it will be an uphill battle for him to crack an NHL roster ever, let alone this year.

Another year of development could be the best route for both Abramov and the Blue Jackets to take, but watch for him to make a lot of noise in the weeks leading up the start of the 2016-17 regular season.

The feisty playmaking forward won’t make it easy for management to keep him out of Columbus this coming fall.

Three dark horse 2016 draftees who could be NHL ready

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