2016 NHL mock draft: first round

0:56 | NHL
Maple Leafs take top pick at NHL Draft Lottery
Thursday June 23rd, 2016

Your teams. Your favorite writers. Wherever you want them. Personalize SI with our new App. Install on iOS (iOS or Android)

Auston Matthews slipping a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater over his head is the only sure thing about the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft on Friday night at Buffalo's First Niagara Center (7 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN).

Beyond that lies chaos.

A class deep with scoring forwards and mobile, transition-minded defenders has teams jockeying for position both up and down the board. Columbus, Calgary, Buffalo and Arizona are waiting by the phone and Edmonton is at least willing to listen to offers, setting the stage for some blockbuster deals. And with the spectre of an impending expansion draft looming over the proceedings, there could several big-name veterans on the move as well.

While we can't predict those trades, we can give you some insight into the players your team might select. We weighed the best players available up against drafting trends and organizational needs to create our annual mock draft.

We've also included thoughts from scouts to give you an insider's look at how players are perceived, along with NHL comparables for each player—just keep in mind these are intended as a broad indication of a player's style, not a projection of what these prospects will become.

With that important caveat in mind, here's how things might play out on Friday night.

Matthews blazed own unique path to NHL  

• Top forward prospects | defensemen | goalies

•​ Each team's best active drafted player

 All-time worst picks by Eastern teams | Western teams

 Notable draft busts | Late round gems | Greatest by slot

VAULT: Connor McDavid (2014) | Jack Eichel (2014) | Sidney Crosby (2003) | Eric Lindros (1991) | Mario Lemieux (1984) | Wayne Gretzky (1978) | Guy Lafleur (1971) | Bobby Orr (1966)

2016 NHL First Round Mock Draft
  • 1
    toronto maple leafs
    auston matthews, C
    zurich SC (Switzerland) |
    6' 2", 216
    24-22-46 in 36 games
    Matthews is the dominant No. 1 center the Leafs have lacked since the retirement of Mats Sundin. Every element of his game is elite, from his size to his skating to his offensive creativity. He competes consistently and raises the level of his teammates. Look as hard as you want for holes—you won't find them.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “The complete package. He'll be a superstar in this league.”

  • 2
    winnipeg Jets
    patrik laine, rw
    tappara tempere (finland) | 6' 4", 201
    17-16-33 in 46 games
    Over time, he might prove to be as fine a player as Matthews ... maybe even better. Laine isn't quite the overall package, but he's a more dynamic scorer and the more likely of the two to challenge for the Art Ross and the Rocket Richard. Coming off an MVP performance at the World Championship, he'll step into a top-six role next season.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “I've never heard of a 17-year-old dominating a men's league like Finland's the way he did. He has an exceptional shot, a quick release...and throws everything net. He'll be a volume scorer.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Alex Ovechkin

  • 3
    columbus blue jackets
    jesse puljujarvi, rw
    karpat (finland) | 6' 3", 208
    13-15-28 in 50 games
    There's a greater than zero chance that this pick will be dealt to a team looking to acquire Puljujarvi or possibly even Pierre-Luc Dubois, whose ability to play center might make him more attractive. If the Jackets keep it, they'll add a big-bodied winger who drives possession (team-high 57.5%), has a quick, accurate shot and plays a complete 200-foot game. He can play a top-six role next season in the NHL.
     SCOUT SAYS: “Powerful skater...uses his size effectively to battle for space...above-average offensive instincts...well-developed defensive game.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Blake Wheeler

  • 4
    edmonton oilers
    Matthew Tkachuk, lw
    London (OHL) | 6' 1", 202
    44-82-16 in 63 games
    The Oilers may look to trade with an eye on one of the top defensemen, but Tkachuk would fill a clear need for an abrasive, physical presence with high-end offensive tools. He gets knocked for his skating and for piling up points on a super line. Neither criticism is fair. Tkachuk isn't blazing fast, but he's strong on his feet and has a powerful stride. And while he benefited from his linemates in London, his hockey sense and sharp passing was as critical to their success as they were to his.

    • SCOUT SAYS: “Aggressive forward who plays a pro-style game. Strong skater who can create offensive chances with his slick hands as well as his heavy shoulders. Needs to work on his defensive game.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Keith Tkachuk (his dad)

  • 5
    vancouver canucks
    pierre-luc dubois, c/lw
    cape breton (QMJHL) | 6' 2", 205
    42-57-99 in 62 games
    The winner of the CHL's Top Prospect Award, Dubois is a natural left wing who spent most of this past season playing center. To a team that traded away both Hunter Shinkaruk and Jared McCann during the past few months, that's catnip. Dubois is big, physical (122 PIM, 12th in QMJHL) and has tremendous hockey sense to go along with elite scoring ability.  

    • SCOUT SAYS: “He's a complete, 200-foot player. He's opportunistic in the offensive zone...equally comfortable taking the shot or making the play. A tenacious defender who reads the play quickly and makes good decisions away from the puck."

  • 6
    calgary flames
    logan brown, c
    windsor (OHL) | 6' 6", 222
    21-53-74 in 59 games
    He's a massive center with a powerful, agile stride, high-end hockey sense and elite playmaking skills. Brown really opened eyes down the stretch, scoring 13 goals and 24 points in his final 13 games as he committed to driving the net and taking the shot instead of looking for the pass first. That “selfishness” makes him a much more dangerous, and more appealing, prospect. No one should be surprised if he ends up going even earlier than this.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “One of the most intriguing kids in this draft. His potential is unlimited. Everyone loves his size. Everyone loves his skating. Can he be that dominant first-line center? I think so.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Ryan Johansen

  • 7
    arizona coyotes
    Mikhail Sergachev, d
    windsor (ohl) | 6' 2", 221
    17-40-57 in 67 games
    There's some thought that the Coyotes may be willing to move this pick, but whoever holds it would be wise to grab Sergachev. The left-shooting, right-sider won the OHL Defenseman of the Year award as a rookie, a testament to his play in all three zones. He draws attention for his unparalleled ability to push the play and his confidence on the attack, but he also brings a surprisingly mature defensive game. He has an excellent stick and a nasty physical presence. Could be a franchise defender.  
    • SCOUT SAYS: “The most upside of any defenseman in this draft. He checks all the boxes. Size, skating, smarts and a cannon of a shot that will make him a big point producer.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Oliver Ekman-Larsson

  • 8
    buffalo sabres
    olli juolevi, d
    london (OHL) | 6' 2", 188
    9-33-42 in 57 games
    The draft hosts are looking to add immediate help, which means this pick is definitely in play. If they hold it, Juolevi is the safest pick. He's a smooth skating defender who is efficient both with and without the puck. He has elite hockey sense and can create offense in transition. Great situational awareness makes him highly effective in his own end.  
     SCOUT SAYS: “He has that ability to move the puck up the ice that every team is looking for. Poised under pressure...creative with the puck...has the tools to be an outstanding power play QB.”

  • 9
    montreal canadiens
    Alexander Nylander​, LW/rw
    mississauga (ohl) | 6', 178
    28-47-75 in 57 games
    The Habs have interest in Logan Brown and may try to move up to grab him. If they stay put, Nylander is too good to pass up. Maybe the most exciting player in the draft. He's a deft stickhandler who can deke a defender out of his shorts before picking off the one opening a goalie gives him. Has a nasty, accurate wrister that just flies off his stick. With brother William set to join Toronto, this would make the Forever Rivalry a whole lot more fun.  
    • SCOUT SAYS:“A dynamic scorer who always seems to have the puck on his stick. Very dangerous off the rush.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Artemi Panarin

  • 10
    colorado avalanche
    Jakob Chychrun, D
    sarnia (ohl) | 6' 2", 200
    11-38-49 in 62 games
    Came into the season as the top-rated defenseman for this draft. Now, he's third ... maybe fourth. That might be because others made greater progress, or it might be that he's facing blowback after being touted as a possible top pick. Either way, there's no denying the raw tools. He's capable in all three zones, but is best in his own end where he's physically punishing and strong positionally—exactly what the defense-starved Avs need. If he slides further, some team will land a great value.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “Didn't have the year we expected, but no one should write him off. He still has that size and that strong positional game. Will he process the game fast enough to excel at the next level? That's the question. There's not a lot of downside, [though]. He's going to be a good player.”

  • 11
    new jersey devils
    Clayton Keller​, c
    usa ntdp (ushl) | 5' 10", 164
    37-70-107 in 62 games
    Take size out of the equation and Keller might be the fourth-most talented player in the draft. He's an offensive wizard who uses his supernatural hockey sense to exploit weaknesses and create chances for himself and his teammates. He did that consistently for the NTDP, smashing the career scoring records of Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel and setting a single-season assist mark with 70. Still, it's impossible to ignore the obvious question: Can he overcome his lack of size and translate that game to the NHL? It's a risk, but the rewards are too ample to ignore for a team like the Devils that is in dire need of an offensive spark.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “Don't overlook how young he is. He won't turn 18 until July ... he's way ahead on the development curve. He could be the steal of the draft if he falls out of the top-10.”

  • 12
    ottawa senatorS
    Tyson jost, c
    penticton (bcHL) | 5' 11", 190
    42-62-104 in 48 games
    Jost is a solid value at this point. He's undersized, but makes up for it with determination, an improved defensive game and eye-popping offensive tools. He broke Connor McDavid's scoring record at the U-18 Worlds this spring, scoring 15 points in seven games for Team Canada.
     SCOUT SAYS: “There are always questions about a kid who lights it up in a lower league, but I don't hear anyone knocking [Jost] for it. He's one of the better skaters available and is a wizard with the puck. Really like his wrister.”

  • 13
    carolina hurricanes
    michael McLeod, C
    mississauga (oHL) | 6' 2", 185
    21-40-61 in 57 games
    Every scout believes McLeod will be a player. The discord comes when they argue about what type of player he'll be. Some see him as a dependable, two-way forward who makes things happen at both ends of the ice with his skating. Others think he can be a dangerous weapon once his hands catch up to his feet. He'd add size and speed to an organization that is loaded on the back end and needs some talent up front.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “McLeod catches your attention every game. He has a high motor...[and] is one of the top skaters in this draft."

  • 14
    boston bruins
    kieffer bellows, lw
    us ntdp (ushL) | 6', 197
    50-31-81 in 62 games
    Despite his size, Bellows plays like a power forward. He's a punishing checker, aggressive on the puck and always has his GPS set for the front of the net. He's a natural finisher, like his father, former NHL star Brian Bellows. The B's need an offensive blue-chipper—he's the best they'll get at this point of the draft.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “You can't ignore the pedigree. He was gifted with those hands ... [but] his drive and work ethic are his own. Needs to work on his skating.”

    • 15
      minnesota wild
      Julien Gauthier, rw
      Val D'or Foreurs (QMJHL) | 6' 3", 231
      41-16-57 in 54 games
      Gauthier is a specimen. His combination of size, speed, power and desire make him a challenge for any defender to handle ... but it's his ability to finish that makes him so intriguing. His Cy Young-like stat line raises eyebrows, but for a team that needs size as much as scoring touch, that's something the Wild are likely to overlook.
      • SCOUT SAYS: “An old-school power forward with a shoot-first mentality. He can beat you with his strength and his hands.” 

  • 16
    detroit red wings
    Charlie McAvoy, d
    boston univ. (NCAA) | 6', 199
    3-22-25 in 37 games
    The youngest player in the NCAA this season looked like a veteran by season's end. McAvoy has the smarts the Wings love and plays a fast-paced, possession game. Can lead the rush and distribute the puck effectively. Needs to work on his defensive awareness, but the tools are there to be a reliable second-pair blueliner.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “Was a dominant player at times but has just scratched the surface of his potential. A bit raw in his defensive reads but knows just what to do when the puck is on his stick.”
  • 17
    nashville predators
    Jake Bean​, d
    calgary (whl) | 6' 1", 173
    24-40-64 in 68 games
    There are some who feel Bean will be long gone by this point—at least one scout has him as a lock for the top 10—so the Preds could get exceptional value with this pick. Bean was the goal-scoring leader among WHL defenders, jumping up from just five in 2014-15, but his real strength is his passing. When he gets the puck on his stick, it's out of the zone and out of danger in a hurry.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “Smart ... dangerous offensive-minded defenseman...who could mature into a solid No. 3/second power-play weapon. I'd like to see him take fewer risks. He wants to make something happen so badly sometimes that he tries to force a play where there isn't one."

    • 18
      philadelphia flyers
      Max Jones, lw
      london (oHL) | 6' 2", 206
      28-24-52 in 63 games
      Big, strong, aggressive, borderline dirty ... this kid was born to wear black and orange. Jones projects as a middle-six power forward who can rev up the team with his motor or a big hit. Plays a hard north-south game and has better offensive tools than he gets credit for. If the Flyers don't go for Jones, winger Riley Tufte could be an option here.
      • SCOUT SAYS: “He's a wrecking ball out there. Absolutely fearless. He'll earn his living below the dots. A hard man to play against.” 
      • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Scott Hartnell

  • 19
    new york islanders
    dante fabbro, d
    penticton (bcHL) | 6', 192
    14-53-67 in 45 games
    Fabbro was the top defenseman in the BCHL this season, playing a modern possession-style game. He's a highly effective puck mover and a strong skater but his hockey sense and his situational awareness are his greatest assets. 
    • SCOUT SAYS: “He's a reliable two-way defenseman who processes the game quickly and makes excellent decisions with the puck. Projects as an offensive-minded top-four.”
  • 20
    arizona coyotes
    german rubtsov, c 
    Russia u-18 (mhl) | 6', 178
    12-14-26 in 28 games
    (Pick acquired from Rangers). We don't yet know what a “John Chayka player” looks like, but Rubtsov might fit the bill. The Russian center earns high marks for his hockey sense and his competitiveness and his skating is borderline excellent. He's committed to playing hard at both ends of the ice and while there are questions about his scoring ability, his work ethic suggests he can address any problems. 
    • SCOUT SAYS: “Might be the best two-way forward in the draft. Lacks elite offensive talent, but has some zip on his wrister and good instincts. Missing [U-18 World Championship after entire team tested positive for meldonium] hurt his chances to move up [in the first round]."

  • 21
    carolina hurricaneS
    luke kunin, C/rw
    wisconsin (ncaa) | 5' 11", 193
    19-13-32 in 34 games
    (Pick acquired from Kings). Kunin's a fierce competitor who does whatever it takes to make a positive impact each time he's on the ice. Solid finishing skills combined with high-end hockey sense and passing ability. Relentless in the defensive end. 

    • SCOUT SAYS: “Multi-purpose forward who can chip in with big plays in all three zones. Plays with intensity and focus.”

    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Ryan O'Reilly  

  • 22
    winnipeg jets
    logan stanley, d
    windsor (ohl) | 6' 7", 224
    5-12-17 in 64 games
    (Pick acquired from Blackhawks). With one first round win under their belts, the Jets can afford to swing for the fences with this high-upside prospect. Stanley is a massive, shutdown defender who uses his size and physicality to quell any opposing attack. But is that all there is? Any team using a first-rounder on him will have to believe that he can become more effective outside his own zone.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “It's important to see a player developing [in his draft year]... he might have been the most improved player in the OHL. He was so much more comfortable with the puck on his stick. Last season, it was a hand grenade. He just wanted to get rid of it. Now, he's making plays, and good ones, too."

  • 23
    florida panthers
    tage thompson, c
    connecticut (ncaa) | 6' 5", 195
    14-18-32 in 36 games
    A frame like that is bound to grab the attention of scouts, but that doesn't mean they agree on what he could become. Thompson's 14 goals were a decent total for a freshman, but 13 of them came with the extra man. That will drop him in some books, but raise him in others since that total led the nation. 
    • SCOUT SAYS: “Raw. Really raw. Doesn't use his size to his full advantage. Doesn't skate all that well... [and] needs to put more effort into his defense. But, he has a heavy shot and he plays a smart game. He's someone who, with the right coaching, could become a player.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Martin Hanzal

  • 24
    anaheim ducks
    brett howden, c
    moose jaw (whl) | 6' 2", 193
    24-40-64 in 68 games
    The brother of Quinton Howden plays a similar game to the Panthers' depth forward. There's nothing flashy about him, but he brings good size and a well-rounded skills package that projects to a solid middle-six role. He'll probably wind up being more valued for his defensive ability than what he can do on the attack. 
    • SCOUT SAYS: “Solid complementary player. Send him over the boards and trust him to give it his all.”

  • 25
    dallas stars
    alex debrincat, c/rw
    erie (oHL) | 5' 7", 165
    51-50-101 in 60 games
    Five years ago, DeBrincat wouldn't have been drafted at all, let alone be considered in the first round. But times have changed, and the smaller player is the beneficiary. Now scouts see the back-to-back 51-goal seasons, the skating ability and the fearless way he attacks the greasy areas and can picture him translating that production to the NHL. The Stars are loaded on the back end, so adding the forward with the most upside makes sense for the organization. 
    • SCOUT SAYS: “His size is an issue, no doubt about that. But he makes something that's hard [scoring goals] look easy. The way he plays the game, the way he plays bigger than his size, the way he handles traffic, I think he can be an impact player.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Tyler Toffoli

  • 26
    washington capitals
    Libor Hajek, d
    Saskatoon (whl) | 6' 1", 205
    3-23-26 in 69 games
    Solidly build, defense-first defenseman. That's not to downplay his skating ability or hockey sense—he's strong in both areas. But his natural inclination is to take care of his own zone. He has great instincts, has a good stick and is tough to beat one-on-one. He's a safe bet to play on the second pair.
     SCOUT SAYS: “A modern shutdown defenseman. Good size, good raw tools. I'd like to see him make better reads at times. He'll need a few years before he's ready but all the pieces are there.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Dennis Seidenberg

  • 27
    tampa bay lightning
    Dennis Cholowski​, d
    chilliwack (bcHL) | 6' 1", 177
    12-28-40 in 550 games
    It's all projection with Cholowski, who feasted on lesser competition in the BCHL this season. He's painfully thin and that's made him easy to push around, but scouts look at how quickly he's grown and think it's only a matter of time before his body fills out. In the meantime, they rave about his skating, his hockey sense and his positioning. 
    • SCOUT SAYS: “A tremendous skater already, but you can imagine how good he'll be once he gets stronger. Great offensive instincts. Knows how to get the puck through a crowd to the net.”
    • COMPARABLE NHL PLAYER: Alex Goligoski
  • 28
    st. louis blues
    Lucas Johansen​, d
    kelowna (whl) | 6' 2", 175
    10-39-49 in 69 games
    He's not his brother, Predators star Ryan Johansen. Different position. Different temperament. Different skill set. Lucas is a smooth skating, two-way defender who can be trusted in all situations. He can key the transition game and join the rush when appropriate, but he's at his best in his own zone where his smarts and positioning make him highly effective.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “If you're looking for a safe pick, he's your guy. He'll give you reliable minutes without a lot of fanfare. Probably tops out as a second-pair [defender].”

  • 29
    boston bruins
    wade allison, rw
    tri city (ushl) | 6' 1", 205
    25-22-47 in 56 games
    (Pick acquired from Sharks). If last year's draft was any indication, the B's are likely to go off the board with their second of two first-rounders (acquired in the Martin Jones trade). Allison fits the bill perfectly. The power forward plays a Bruins-style game, wreaking havoc along the walls and down low. He won't make anything happen in open ice, but he knows where to go to score. He led the USHL playoffs with nine goals, and was named postseason MVP after helping the Storm win the league title. 
    • SCOUT SAYS: “He's got a lot of buzz behind him. A first-rounder? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised. We all like kids who score. Kids who score in big games? Even better. He's raw and he has to work on his skating, but he's got a lot of upside, that's for sure.”

  • 30
    Anaheim ducks
    Boris Katchouk, lw
    Sault Ste. Marie (oHL) | 6' 1", 190
    24-27-51 in 63 games
    (Pick acquired from Penguins). There's nothing fancy about Katchouk. He fills that hard-nosed energy role, bringing intensity and determination to every shift. He's more of a support player in the attack zone than a driver, but don't underestimate his offensive potential. He won't be a highlight reel staple, but he'll score the kind of goals that make a difference come crunch time.
    • SCOUT SAYS: “He might not be the biggest piece of the puzzle, but he's the sort of player you win with. Has solid all-around tools and a nose for the net. The fans will love him wherever he plays.”

Five to Watch

Riley Tufte, Tri City Storm (USHL): Massive winger tore up Minnesota high school hockey, but struggled to score in USHL. Very raw talent.

Tyler Benson, Vancouver Giants (WHL): Physical winger oozes skill, but injuries could knock him out of first round.

Rasmus Asplund, Farjestad BK (Sweden): Versatile forward lacks size, but no one questions his speed and smarts.

Vitali Abramov, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Forward is just 5' 9", but highly skilled and willing to work down low to generate scoring opportunities.

Will Bitten, Flint Firebirds (OHL): Center carried the Firebirds while the team was undergoing upheaval on and off the ice. Scouts wonder what he might have done in a stable situation.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.