Franchise center Auston Matthews and top-pairing blueliner Jakob Chychrun continue to hold down the top two spots in the latest 2016 NHL draft rankings issued by the independent North American Central Scouting service, but there’s plenty of intrigue further down the list.
Asked to name a player who has made the most progress since the start of the season, NACS chief scout Mark Seidel pointed to Windsor Spitfires defenseman Mikhail Sergachyev. “I like him better now than I did Ivan Provorov [who went seventh overall to Philadelphia] this time last year,” Seidel said of the 6' 3", 207-pound left-shooting blueliner, who is currently ranked ninth. “He does everything well. He’s so smooth with the puck, he’s incredibly poised and he has some real nastiness in game. Every time I see him, he really stands out.”
Seidel also had high praise for Missisauga center Mike McLeod. “We probably have higher than most,” he said of the sixth-ranked skater. “Big kid, loves to create offense. The knock on him coming in was that he was a perimeter guy who relied on his speed and skill. Maybe we were wrong about him, because he goes in all the dirty areas. He's not afraid to stick his nose in there. The kid’s fearless.”
Fourth-rated skater Matthew Tkachuk of the London Knights has lived up to the hype that preceded his OHL rookie season. “That transition from [the US National Team Development Program] can take a bit of time but right from get-go he's been unreal,” Seidel said. “He’s created so much more than his numbers suggest ... if his teammates were finishing more of the plays he’s creating, he’d be putting up three or four points most nights.
“He’s got the whole game, but what he doesn’t have is the nastiness of his dad. He’s not soft by any stretch, but you’d expect the son of Keith Tkachuk to intimidate. But he’s so talented, and has such good finishing skills, much better than his dad (ex-NHLer Keith).”
Seidel also is a big believer in Erie Otters right wing Alex Debrincat. “The knock on him last year was that he's too small (5' 7," 165 pounds) or that anybody could score playing with Connor McDavid, but McDavid’s gone and here he is leading the league with 25 goals.
“I’m not saying he’s Brett Hull, but he has that same ability to make himself invisible for second or two, find those seams and when he gets a chance to finish, he does.”
Among the players whose stock is dropping is Sean Day. The Mississauga defender is rated 36th.
“He’s an interesting kid,” Seidel said. “He has all the physical talent in world. He’s easily the best skater I’ve seen since Jay Bouwmeester. And he’s so big, he’s like a linebacker on skates.
“But there’s a lack of urgency in his game that has some teams wondering, does he want to be a player? He’s like the Josh Ho-Sang of this draft. Some teams rate him in the first round because of his potential and others wouldn’t take him if he was available with the last pick in the draft. He’s a very polarizing player.”
It’s been a disappointing run for Day, who in 2013 became just the fourth player—following John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid—to be granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada and allowed early entry into the OHL at 15. That extra year in juniors might not have been the best thing for his draft stock.
“He’s just 17 but we’ve watched him forever, so we tend to pick him apart,” Seidel admitted. “If he was some kid from Croatia who just came over here, we’d be focusing on the good things.
“The talent is there to be a top-five pick. He just has to show he’s willing to play hard.”
Seidel also pointed at Sudbury winger Dmitry Sokolov (61st) as an early disappointment. “Last year at the U-17 [tournament] in Sarnia, he was probably the best player in the entire tournament. He was just unreal. His start in Sudbury though has been awful. He put on about 30 pounds, and his skating was not that great to begin with. But you know, he’s come over from Russia and it can take some time to adjust, so you have to give him a longer leash.”
Here’s a look at NACS’s top-30 prospects: