Draft

2016 NHL Draft: Central Division Grades

By Colin Likas
Jun 24, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Patrik Laine poses for a photo with team officials after being selected as the number two overall draft pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagra Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 24, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Patrik Laine poses for a photo with team officials after being selected as the number two overall draft pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagra Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /
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How Did The Central Division Fare In The 2016 NHL Draft?

Another NHL draft has come and gone, and despite the fact only about 10 of the guys selected — if that — will appear in the big leagues during the 2016-17 season, that means it’s time to break down how certain teams did.

Since this is a Chicago Blackhawks blog, we’re going to focus on them and their main competition in the Central Division. It was an interesting draft for the Central, as five of the seven teams made the postseason. That meant we weren’t going to get a lot of “Wow” picks in the early going, outside of Winnipeg, which picked second overall.

On top of that, Minnesota didn’t have a whole lot going on, the Blackhawks did a lot of maneuvering to squeeze out some extra picks in 2016 and 2017, and the Blues were more noted for a trade than for any of their draftees.

With all that on the table, let’s see how each team fared in our Central Division report card for the 2016 draft.

Chicago Blackhawks: B

When the Stanley Cup Final ended with the Pittsburgh Penguins as champions, the Blackhawks weren’t picking until the draft’s third round. A bevy of past trades ensured that. By the conclusion of the draft, however, the Blackhawks had made three second-round choices.

The Teuvo Teravainen/Bryan Bickell deal with Carolina netted one second-rounder (in addition to a 2017 third-round that the Blackhawks had previously given the Hurricanes in the Kris Versteeg/Joakim Nordstrom deal), and the trade of Andrew Shaw garnered two more second-rounders from Montreal.

What you would’ve liked to see the Blackhawks do with these three picks was take at least one goaltender and at least one blueliner. They did the latter with Chad Krys, an undersized defenseman, but one who can move the puck from the back end. It’s something the Blackhawks have desperately needed more of since the Nick Leddy trade.

Taking right wing Alex DeBrincat, who has two-consecutive 50-goal seasons in the OHL under his belt, sounds like it could be a steal, as he was projected as a first-round selection by several outlets. Russian winger Artur Kayumov, another smaller guy (5-foot-11, 171 pounds) sounds like a guy who uses strong playmaking abilities and net-front presence to overcome his size disadvantage.

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So those are three nice picks. But where’s the goaltender? Four were selected in the second round, with three of them coming after the Blackhawks’ last second-round pick and the other (Carter Hart) going just a few selections before that. Yeah, the Blackhawks took big Wouter Peeters (6-4, 205) in the third round, but it sounds like he’s a bit of a project. Doesn’t mean you can’t build him up to be the future franchise starter, but it feels like a more stable option could’ve been found sooner.

The Blackhawks added three defensemen (including a Swedish one, obviously), a center and a winger with their final five picks. It was a solid crop, even if it was mostly undersized, and it was nice to see the team take four blueliners total. But the goaltending decision knocks down their grade.

St. Louis Blues: B

The trading of Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames for just the 35th overall pick was interesting, especially given Shaw being traded for two second-rounders shortly before Elliott was moved. But at least it indicates the Blues are finally picking a direction with their netminder. Is Jake Allen the right direction? We’ll see.

While the Elliott trade was slightly underwhelming, the Blues drafted fairly well after making that move. They also drafted a lot of centers. With eight of their picks, six were used on guys who have a “C” next to their name — and not for captain.

This would seem to indicate the Blues aren’t satisfied with what they currently have for NHL or AHL center depth. With David Backes potentially on his way out and Paul Stastny oft-injured since arriving in St. Louis and the AHL’s Chicago Wolves not exactly overflowing with centers (only Pat Cannone, Jeremy Welsh and Ivan Barbashev currently fit that mold), the Blues identified a need and pounded it into the ground.

Their first selection, center Tanner Tage at No. 26, is right up their alley.

Chicago Blackhawks

He’s a big dude (6-5, 195) with scoring touch (32 points in 36 games with UConn last season). Taking QMJHL goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick late in the second round also shores up their net a bit.

If the Blues could’ve gotten a little more for Elliott (which I think was possible), their grade is probably higher. But they did a fine job overall.

Dallas Stars: C

So, your team’s goaltending situation is the primary thing keeping it from contending for a Stanley Cup. What’s the first thing you do, Jim Nill? You trade a goaltender. Okay.

Maybe Jack Campbell wasn’t developing quickly enough for the Stars’ liking. The 2010 first-round pick struggled through 19 AHL games last season (.884 save percentage, 3.65 goals-against average) but fared well in the ECHL. They let the 24-year-old go to the Los Angeles Kings. But even with his struggles, the Stars really need some goaltending depth. So this was just an odd trade to start their draft.

They had just six picks in this draft, including a large hole between No. 25 and No. 90. With their first-round choice, the Stars took left wing Riley Tufte, who is freaking huge (6-5, 211). The Stars have a propensity to play an up-tempo game under coach Lindy Ruff, so it’ll be interesting to see how Tufte fits into the team’s plans. As a first-rounder, we should expect to see him sooner rather than later.

Tufte also has limited professional action, having achieved most of his success at the high school level. He did post 10 goals in 27 USHL games last season, but this seems like a bit of a gamble for Dallas, especially considering how few early picks they had this year.

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The team stuck with gunning for size over the last five picks, not drafting anyone shorter than 6-1. They got their prospect goaltender back with the fifth-round choice of Colton Point, but they also drafted just one defenseman, and that was with their last pick (Jakob Stenqvist at No. 176). For a team that needed help in goal and on the blue line and likes to play a fast style, the Stars really went against the grain with many of their selections. For now, it garners a middling rank.

Nashville Predators: B

This was a nice, balanced draft for the Preds. They had eight selections and started with a defenseman in Dante Fabbro. After trading Seth Jones to Columbus in January, it appears Nashville is aware it needs some blue line fortification. After all, Shea Weber can’t play forever.

Fabbro checks in at 6 feet, 192 pounds and comes off as a solid all-around defenseman. According to Elite Prospects, Fabbro “is a dependable two-way defenseman with high offensive upside. He plays with poise and makes mature, high-percentage decisions under pressure. In his own end, he is proactive with both his body and stick, and does everything right to interrupt passing lanes and win back possession. With the puck on his stick, he is mobile at an elite level and can direct plays like a quarterback.”

This is the type of player the Preds could really use going forward, especially as they’ve evolved from the sluggish style of Barry Trotz to the high-paced style of Peter Laviolette behind the bench.

The Preds then added four more defensemen, two centers and a goaltender. This is a team that could certainly use some minor league depth on defense and at center, and taking goaltender Konstantin Volkov in the sixth round at least allows you to try and build someone toward following Pekka Rinne some day. It was a quiet but solid draft for the Preds.

Minnesota Wild: C-

Somehow, Minnesota had just four selections in this draft. Were they making that may costly trades the last few seasons? It’s hard for me to remember anything the Wild do, because I try to block it all out so I don’t die of boredom. But four picks it was.

Center Luke Kunin was an interesting choice at No. 15. Only four guys in the first round were taken from outside a professional-league team (the Central Division managed to get three of those four), and Kunin saw some weaker competition (relative to other first-round choices) by being part of the Big Ten’s University of Wisconsin.

So his 32 points in 34 games last season with the Badgers was impressive, but how will it stand up to better competition?  Additionally, he posted a minus-9 rating in 2015-16 despite the points showing, and a knock against him is that he isn’t the most defensively sound center. He certainly has room for development at age 18, but for a Minnesota team that had just four draft picks, starting with Kunin seemed a bit risky.

The other three choices came at No. 106 or later and included two defensemen and a right wing. It’s hard to be excited about any of this if you’re a Wild fan. It’s not like sub-100 picks don’t make the NHL — far from it. But for a team with a really sketchy championship-contending window, this was an underwhelming draft that doesn’t appear likely to help in the immediate future.

Colorado Avalanche: B

The Avs did a nice job finding really good potential with their first-round choice. Center Tyson Jost is going into his freshman season at North Dakota, and he’s very highly regarded. While everyone right now is recognizing Jost for his grandfather happily weeping over Jost’s draft selection, they should also recognize this kid has discernible skills.

With the British Columbia Hockey League’s Penticton Vees last season, Jost posted 104 points in 48 regular-season games and 14 more points in 11 postseason affairs. So that’s pretty good. Yeah, it’s not OHL, ECHL, AHL or NHL talent, but 104 points in 48 games … wow.

Elite Prospects describes Jost as “a crafty goal-scorer who carries out plays as quickly as he envisions them. He sees the ice very well and has the willingness and determination to win battles in the tough areas.” The site also describes him as having “top-six potential.” So this pick really makes the Avs’ draft.

With its other five picks, Colorado selected two left wings, two defensemen and a goaltender. Cameron Morrison, a left wing who went to the Avs at No. 40 overall, could also be an impact player for Colorado down the road. The hulking athlete (6-2, 207) potted 66 points in 60 USHL games last season and is heading to Notre Dame this fall.

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Jost is the real gem of this draft, but Colorado’s top two picks could wind up being key players for them down the road.

Winnipeg Jets: A-

When you have two first-round picks, you just have to try not to screw them up (looking at you, Columbus). The Jets got a potential franchise-changing player in Patrik Laine at No. 2 overall. One Western Conference executive said the Finnish right winger is going to be “better than all of (the other draftees).” Another said “he should be ready to play” at the NHL level.

The Jets would certainly hope so, considering how rough things got last season. Laine is highly touted for his stick handling and puck moving skills and also has a big-time shot. He netted 48 points in 64 games at SM-liiga last season, and it’d be fun to watch him play alongside the likes of Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers in Winnipeg.

Now, no one can say the Jets screwed up drafting Laine. But their second choice in the first round has gotten some backlash. Winnipeg took huge defenseman Logan Stanley at No. 18 out of the OHL. When I say huge, I really mean it with Stanley — he checks in at 6-7, 224 pounds.

While speed is always going to be an issue with a guy that size, Draftsite notes Stanley is a “giant defensemen with a great reach and decent mobility for a youngster this size. Has an active stick and his length lets him close gaps, and is exceedingly calm under pressure, and despite the need to get stronger and bigger, he doesn’t wilt in his defensive zone.”

It’s no secret the Jets need defensive help, and I think Stanley will fit into their system really well. Winnipeg prides itself on a bruising style of play, and Stanley is someone they can develop into a really effective monster on the back end.

Next: AHLers Key For Blackhawks In 2016-17

The Jets added two defensemen, a center and a goaltender with their remaining picks. All of them were 6-foot-plus. The goaltender pick (Russia’s Mikhail Berdin at No. 157) is probably a wise move for the Jets, considering the guy who is probably their best goaltender right now (Connor Hellebuyck) is just 23. Nice draft by the Jets, I’d say the best in the Central Division.

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