The Maple Leafs will have the first shot at the Terrific Trio when the 2016 NHL entry draft begins June 24 in Buffalo.
Toronto’s name was drawn first today in the league’s annual draft lottery, held to discourage sadsack teams from tanking late in a season to sweeten their draft position. The Winnipeg Jets have the second overall pick while the Columbus Blue Jackets are scheduled to draft third.
The Leafs, who have gutted their system of overpaid, underachieving veterans and replaced them with prospects and draft picks in one of the most aggressive rebuilds in living memory, had the best odds (20 per cent) of picking first, based on a last-place overall finish.
The Jackets had the fourth-best odds at 9.5 per cent and the Jets were sixth at 7.5, but they moved up at the expense of the second-ranked Edmonton Oilers (who fell to fourth), third-ranked Vancouver Canucks (fifth) and fifth-ranked Calgary Flames (sixth).
The Leafs are loaded up front with high-end prospects including centers Mitch Marner and William Nylander, their past two first-rounders, as well as highly touted wingers Dmytro Timashov and Nikita Sochnikov.
Nonetheless, it will be difficult for them to not choose center Auston Matthews first overall.
Auston Matthews highlights:
Playing for once and future NHL coach Marc Crawford with Zurich in Switzerland's top professional league, the 6-1, 210-pound Arizona native helped the U.S. finish third at the 2016 IIHF world junior championship, and was the first player named to the U.S. for the 2016 IIHF world championship.
Scouts have compared his playing style to that of Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and L.A. center Anze Kopitar. In other words, Mathews might not lead the NHL in scoring, but he would be expected to lead whichever team is lucky to have him to Stanley Cup glory.
For their second overall choice, the Jets will undoubtedly return to Finland, home of Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne, whom they drafted 10th overall in 1988 before he went on to become the highest-scoring Finnish player in NHL history, surpassing even the legendary Jari Kurri.
Which husky Finnish right winger does Winnipeg draft?
Patrik Laine led Tappara to the championship of Liiga, Finland’s top pro league, and was the post-season MVP based on 10 goals and 15 points in 18 playoff games. The 6-4, 206-pounder is a constant threat to score and, like Kurri, employs a lethal one-timer.
Six-foot-three, 203-pound Jesse Puljujarvi played for Karpat in Liiga this season. He topped the world junior tournament with 17 points, earning best-forward and MVP honors for the tournament.
Columbus will likely pick whichever Finn the Jets do not because the top three ranked players in the 2016 class are considered to be a cut above all others.
Fans of the 11 non-playoff franchises that failed to get into the top three should not lose hope, though, because this is expected to be an uncommonly deep draft pool. The top 10 to 12 players drafted are expected by scouts and pundits to challenge for NHL jobs within three years.
For example, Cape Breton forward Pierre-Luc Dubois of the QMJHL finished atop NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, jumping from 10th in January. The 6-2, 202-pound center/left winger was third in the QMJHL with 99 points, and fifth with 42 goals in just 62 games.
The next five North American skaters in Central Scouting's final rankings were left wing Matthew Tkachuk of London (OHL), winger Alexander Nylander of Mississauga (OHL), defenseman Jakob Chychrun of Sarnia (OHL), and defenseman Olli Juolevi of London (OHL).
As the top-ranked North American blueline prospect, the 6-2, 205-pound Chychrun is blessed with size, strength, speed and maturity.
The fourth through 14th draft positions are in inverse order of regular-season points, meaning: 4. Edmonton Oilers, 5. Vancouver Canucks, 6. Calgary Flames, 7. Arizona Coyotes, 8. Buffalo Sabres, 9. Montreal Canadiens, 10. Colorado Avalanche, 11. New Jersey Devils, 12. Ottawa Senators, 13. Carolina Hurricanes and 14. Boston Bruins.
Selections 15 through 30 will be determined by Stanley Cup playoff results.
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Future entry drafts would, of course, be affected by NHL expansion.
Ahead of an expansion draft expected next June, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have reached an agreement about the “rules of engagement.” In the absence of an official announcement, one hot rumor holds that players with no-movement/no-trade clauses would not be exempt from the draft.
Approximately 150 current players are believed to have no trade/no movement clauses in their contracts. The current collective bargaining agreement does not stipulate whether such clauses would be honored in an expansion draft, which is an oversight the players’ union might have to live with.
Nonetheless, expansion would benefit the NHLPA by increasing the number of unionized NHL jobs. Owners would get their cut of rumored $500-million entry fees, aging veterans would have a better shot of hanging on for one more NHL payday and prospects would have higher odds of entering the best league on Earth.
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A flood of free-agent signings has slowed to a trickle but there were several this week. Among them:
Already salivating about blue-chip netminding prospect Thatcher Demko, the Canucks covered their bets by enticing 24-year-old Michael Garteig to put his name on the dotted line of a one-year, entry-level contract. In his senior season at Quinnipiac University, Garteig backstopped the Bobcats into the NCAA’s Frozen Four, getting them into the championship game. He fashioned a 32-4-7 record with a 1.91 GAA and .924 save percentage, posting eight shutouts. Besides setting Quinnipiac single-season records for victories and shutouts, the 6-1 puck-stopper became only the fourth player in NCAA Division I men's ice hockey history to record 19 shutouts.
The Penguins inked smallish yet dynamic Swedish blueliner Lukas Bengtsson, 22, to a two-year, entry-level contract. The undrafted free agent had seven goals and seven assists in 30 games this season for Frölunda HC in the highest tier of Swedish hockey. He’s expected to report to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.
Lanky free-agent Czech forward Daniel Pribyl was signed to a two-year, entry-level deal by Calgary. The 6-4, 192-pounder was originally drafted by Montreal in 2011, but never signed with the Habs. Now 23, the center/right winger tantalized the Flames this season with 45 points in as many games, including 16 goals, in his third and easily most successful campaign with HC Sparta Praha in Prague. Pribyl, who added five goals and six assists in nine playoff games, has extensive international junior experience.