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The NHL Draft elite: three players soar above the rest

AJ Haefele Avatar
May 23, 2016


Every year at the top of the NHL Draft there’s a separation of the elite from the very good and comes to define those particular draft years. Of course, some years are significantly stronger at the top than others, making the lottery process even more of a roll of the dice. For example, last year’s top two of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel was seemingly set in stone years before the draft actually took place and when each player consistently lived up to the hype, they left fellow draft prospects Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, and Noah Hanifin in the dust.

This year the hierarchy is a trio, with an American leading the way followed by two Finnish players who are ushering in a new era of hockey for Finland following the retirement of favorite son Teemu Selanne. At the beginning of the season, Auston Matthews, who missed eligibility for the 2015 NHL Draft by mere days, was thought to be the easy number 1 pick, with Finnish forwards Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine following behind in some order.

Because the majority of our draft coverage will be focused on prospects the Colorado Avalanche could theoretically draft, I’m simply running down the top 3 together because it’s extremely unlikely the Avalanche find themselves in a position to select any of these players. Still, let’s take a quick look at the draft’s elite:

Auston Matthews

The big American center is a force to be reckoned with on the offensive end and his potential has been oft-discussed for years. Is he in the same class of prospect as McDavid? Not quite, but some have put him above Eichel. While he was a consensus number one entering the season, the raw dominance of Laine has made this more interesting than expected. Here’s the scouts look at Matthews, followed by some highlights:

Future Considerations:

Matthews is a strong, powerful player who has the ability to make those around him elevate their games. He is a real good skater with powerful strides and strong jump. He possesses strong vision, excellent possession skills, a strong shot and the ability to create plays out of nothing for himself and his linemates. He is also strong defensively, bringing a good effort level and complete game


A high octane dynamo that thrives under the microscope, Auston Matthews is a complete offensive forward who consistently boasts quick hands, feet, and thinking at both ends of the ice. Naturally nimble skater that accelerates to top speed very quickly. An unwavering focus on fine tuning elements of his own game facilitates confidence and competence in his young, but mature, mind.
Prolific goal scoring ability and doesn’t wait for opportunities to show themselves. He makes his own luck, so to speak, maximizing the use of his body and stick to gain leverage against the toughest of opponents. All-in-all, a generational talent that has the potential to develop into a top flight franchise center.
Even though his Zurich squad was upset in the first round of the Swiss League playoffs by SC Bern, Matthews still had an incredible year as an 18-year-old. Squaring off against men, the powerful center tallied 24 goals and 46 points in just 36 games, while getting great development away from the puck.Known for his cool confidence and creativity, Matthews will be welcome on a lot of rosters as his NHL career begins.

Patrik Laine

The man on the meteoric rise, Laine has exploded in an unprecedented way. Laine’s ridiculous list of accomplishments in his draft year include Rookie of the Year in Finland’s top league, the Jari Kurri Award for top player in the playoffs, a gold medal in the World Junior Championships, and most recently the MVP of the World Championships in which Finland won the silver medal. The list of accomplishments is significantly longer but we’ll stop the puff piece there and turn it over to some scouts:


A natural scorer, Laine’s greatest asset is his intimidating shot. He’s not a speedy skater, but possesses power and a long stride, and protects the puck well with his large frame and longer stick. Overall, skating has been a minor issue through Laine’s development but has improved with some help from his ability to read the game. Laine has the hunger to create chances on his own from the wing and actively looks for and creates opportunities to use his shot. His elite wrist shot is notable for its quick release and his powerful one-timer from the top of the circle is a constant threat on the man-advantage.

Mike Morreale, NHL.com:

A typical power-forward, Laine (6-4, 206) has an intriguing combination of size, skill and strength to complement his soft hands and big shot. Laine has eight goals, 16 points, 136 shots on goal and a plus-2 rating in 24 games for Tappara in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league. He averages 16:25 of ice time and is viewed as a two-way player with great offensive instincts and a nose for the net.

Future Considerations:

The big forward has some soft hands and a deadly shot that makes him extremely dangerous from the hash marks in. He moves well although it takes him a bit to get going and is offensive minded. Plays physically when needed, but is not a nasty checker or a natural fighter. Is near impossible to contain and can use his impressive frame to power his way through traffic to the net for a scoring chance.

Jesse Puljujarvi

Seemingly the forgotten man in the group, Puljujarvi is still an elite prospect in his own right after an exceptional season in the Liiga and a great draft season. Puljujarvi’s simply been the victim of Laine’s unprecedented success but there’s no doubt he’s the draft’s third best prospect. A power forward in his own right with playmaking skills for days, Puljujarvi is likely headed to the Columbus Blue Jackets third overall and he’s going to be nothing short of a star.

Future Considerations:

Puljujarvi is a big, power winger who is hard to handle for opposing defenses and has a heavy, cannon of a shot that he likes to use often. Skates really well with a strong top end speed and excellent quickness. Blessed with a massive frame, there is lots he can do with his long reach and enviable strength that are just dominant at this level. Plays in traffic, goes to the net and has an eye towards his own ends as well as being a top end offensive guy. Looks like a future NHL goalscorer.


Puljujärvi is a big winger who combines size, skating and skill. A strong skater who can blast past the opposition in full speed. Able to use his size, reach and stickhandling skills to retain the puck in speed. A smart player at both ends of the ice, both on and off the puck. Great work ethic and positive attitude. More of a playmaker than a scorer and could improve his shooting skills. Doesn’t shy away from physical play, but could use his size more to his benefit.

Mike Morreale, NHL.com:

Puljujarvi (6-3, 203) is an all-around threat each time he’s on the ice. A powerful skater with good speed and balance, Puljujarvi has five goals, 12 points and a plus-4 rating in 31 games with Karpat in Liiga. Puljujarvi, who averages 14:30 of ice time per game, has outstanding hockey sense, is strong in 1-on-1 situations and will take advantage of his long reach. He should form a dynamic combination with Laine for Finland.




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