There's not much debate surrounding the top forwards available in the 2016 NHL draft. American center Auston Matthews is the clear No. 1, with Finland’s Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi close behind. Given a choice, most scouts would agree that U.S.-born Matthew Tkachuk is the clear No. 4.
But it's a different story when it comes to defenseman. In a class loaded with high-end talent, there's little consensus about which blueliner will be the first off the board.
That's not what we're not looking at here (we'll address the likely order of selection in our annual mock draft). Instead, this is our ranking of which players we think will be the top-performing pros.
Will your team land one of them? Keep this list handy when the draft kicks off June 24 in Buffalo.
1. Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
The 6'2", 206-pound left-shooting, right defender ranked eighth on Central Scouting's final tally of North American skaters. He won't last that long.
“Someone's going to make a move [up in the draft] to get him,” one scout said. “He has the highest ceiling of [any blueliner] in this year's class.”
Sergachev is a one-man breakout, mobile and poised with the puck. He has a heavy, accurate shot that has many projecting him as a future power-play quarterback and brings a nasty, physical edge.
This past season, he became just the second rookie in OHL history to be honored as the league's top defenseman.
“He has all the tools to become a top [pairing] defenseman [in the NHL],” another scout said. “He's a very well-rounded young man.”
2. Olli Juolevi, London Knights (OHL)
Juolevi might be the most well-rounded defender up for grabs. He's coming off a remarkable season in which he played a key role in Finland's World Junior championship, followed by London's Memorial Cup victory.
“For my money, he's the best puck mover and power-play option of them all,” a scout said. “Strong skater with elite offensive instincts,” said another.
He struggles at times in his own end, but physical maturity may be all that separates the 6'2", 185-pound left shot from addressing that.
“There's almost no downside with Juolevi,” the first scout said. “You know he's going to play. With his tools, the upside is considerable.”
3. Jake Bean, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Here's your pure next-gen defender. Bean is custom built to play the possession game.
“He has outstanding vision [and] reads the play as well as anyone in this draft,” a scout offered. “He can lead the rush and power the attack with his passing or by taking the shot himself.”
Bean's shot might be his killer quality. He gets the puck off his stick quickly and accurately and, like Dallas's John Klingberg, has a knack for getting it through bodies and onto the net. That was the key to his Canadian Hockey League-leading 24 goals this season.
He's never going to be a bruiser (he's just 6-feet,175 pounds), but he's willing to initiate contact and he has the awareness to be an effective presence in the defensive zone.
4. Dante Fabbro, Penticton Vees (BCHL)
At 6-feet, 189 pounds, Fabbro lacks ideal size, but scouts rave about his refined, pro-style game.
“He's a two-way defender with a high offensive upside,” one said. “He's an athletic skater ... who processes the game at a high level ... and can bring the offense.”
Fabbro had 14 goals and 67 points in just 45 games this year. Granted it was in a lower developmental league, but proved himself against the big kids with Team Canada at the U-18s. “He showed a lot of poise,” said one scout in attendance. “He's not physical, but he reads the play well and has a good stick.” He's also a right shot, which could enhance his value.
5. Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
It's not that Chychrun, the son of former NHLer Jeff Chychrun, has under-performed necessarily. But a player many believed would contend for the top pick simply didn't do enough in his draft year to keep pace with others in his class.
The 6'2", 215-pound blueliner put up decent numbers (11-38-49) but rarely seemed to rise above the moment. That has some concerned that he may have plateaued.
“The tools are there for him to become a dominant defenseman,” one scout said. “The size, the skating, the hockey sense, it's all there. But the delivery-to-hype wasn't there, you know? I don't think he's the player we thought he'd be. He might become that guy, but he's not there yet.”
It wouldn't be surprising to see Chychrun drop out of the top 10.
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6. Kale Clague, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
There's a reservation to the way scouts speak about Clague that suggests they might be trying to mask their enthusiasm. Not that anyone's going to overlook him at this point.
Klague is a classic mid-sized (6-feet, 190 pounds) defender who thinks offense first. He's a powerful skater with slick hands and a creative mindset. He has a heavy shot from the point, but he's just as likely to venture deeper into the zone if the opportunity presents itself.
He's made huge strides in his own zone, playing a feisty game that belies his stature. He probably won't drop the gloves much in the NHL, but that willingness says something about the price he'll pay for his team.
7. Logan Stanley, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Stanley is a massive physical specimen, standing 6'7" and weighing 225 pounds. He earns his keep in his own end with some surprisingly agile feet, a relentless physical game and a startling wingspan that makes it difficult for opposing shooters to get pucks or bodies past him. “Good luck beating him one-on-one,” a scout said.
A team looking for a shutdown defender would be thrilled to land him, but he has some offensive upside as well.
8. Charles McAvoy, Boston University (NCAA)
A 6-foot, 199-pound right-shot defender, McAvoy generates some mixed reactions. Most scouts are impressed by his transition skills and hockey sense. “He's ideal for today's game,” one said. “He moves the puck quickly and efficiently and is rarely rattled under pressure.”
Others have expressed concerns about the rising sophomore, who notched three goals and 25 points in 37 games as a freshman. “I'm not sold on his skating,” said one. “And there's a higher element of risk to his game than with some others in his class.”
The overall sense: There's something there, and if he works on his mobility, the reward might be worth the risks.
9. Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL)
A strong 200-foot player who, like most at the top of this class, is at his best in the offensive zone (12-28-40) where his agility, creativity and puck skills make him a dangerous weapon. But he's a smart positional player as well, who assesses the play quickly and takes away time and space effectively. Once he puts some weight onto his 6'1" frame, he could be a solid second-pair option.
10. Libor Hajek, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Although he played heavy minutes in every situation as a rookie with a weak Blades side, Hajek is at his best in his own end. He keeps it simple, playing a smart, positionally sound game. He likes to play physical, but knows when he can go for the hit and when he needs to stay in his line.
He's the sort to lead the rush, but he makes a good outlet pass and can get a heavy shot off from the point.
Given time, he'll mature into a reliable second-pair option.