Drafted third overall by Columbus, power forward Pierre-Luc Dubois has struggled at the Columbus main training camp and will likely return for another dominant junior season before making his inevitable NHL debut down the road.
By the final weekend of the pre-season, the bulk of NHL training camp rosters have been returned to junior, assigned to minor pro squads or released.
For example, prospect blueliner Griffin Reinhart’s former first-round draft status didn’t prevent the Edmonton Oilers from assigning him Friday to the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL and veteran NHLer Nathan Gerbe was placed on waivers by the New York Rangers so they could demote him to the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack.
The exhibition schedule concludes today with nine games and two more Sunday, giving veterans on the bubble one more chance to show they deserve to keep their NHL jobs and youngsters a final opportunity to demonstrate they deserve a promotion.
Today, we examine the status of the first 15 first-round picks from this year’s NHL draft.
- C Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs: Fresh from an impressive performance for the Team North America young guns at the World Cup, Toronto’s future franchise middleman smashed a pane of Plexiglas with an ill-aimed one-timer in his first practice with the Leafs and scored their lone goal in a 6-1 drubbing by the Habs. Projection: It’s not if but when Matthews is the top-line center in Toronto, although he likely begins the season on the second or even third line.
- RW Patrik Laine, Jets: Although Winnipeg’s Finnish Flash 2.0 went pointless in his first three pre-season games it’s hard to believe he won’t start the season in the NHL. He has played just a handful of games on North American rinks and there’s a big adjustment for any young European crossing the Atlantic. Projection: The flamboyant sniper might start on a lower line, perhaps with countryman Joel Armia, but he’ll be a top-six player by the second half.
- LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blue Jackets: Finnish GM Jarmo Kekalainen bypassed countryman Jesse Puljujärvi with the third-overall pick to select power forward Dubois, who combines eye-popping offense with intimidating physicality. Dubois, however, has struggled in pre-season games and isn’t in today’s final exhibition game in Pittsburgh. Projection: Dubois will return to junior, dominate there and make his pro debut next season.
- RW Jesse Puljujärvi, Edmonton Oilers: The strapping Finn starts today’s exhibition against the Canucks on the third line with Swedish C Anton Lander and rugged LW Patrick Maroon. Prediction: While the Oilers are eager to placate their restless fans with an uptick in the standings, they don’t want to place too much pressure too soon on another high first-round pick like they did with the just-traded Nail Yakupov. If Puljujärvi sticks with Edmonton, he might well start learning the NHL ropes on the third line.
- D Olli Juolevi, Canucks: The third Finn to be taken in the top five, Juolevi was the first D-Man drafted. Not overly large at 6-2 and without flashy offensive upside, Juolevi is a can’t-miss NHL two-way defender who will become the glue of Wet Coast blueliners. However, on the same day top netminding prospect Thatcher Demko was assigned to the AHL, Juolevi was returned the London Knights of the OHL. Projection: The Canucks might have finally learned that rushing young blueliners usually backfires. As much as they would love to have him now, they’ll let him marinate in junior this season, then reassess.
- LW Matthew Tkachuk, Flames: It’s increasingly looking like the son of former NHL power forward Keith Tkachuk will open the season with Calgary. He’s looked good on the second line in pre-season games, and could conceivably open there. Who knows? If Johnny Gaudreau hasn’t signed by the time the first puck drops for real, the fiercely competitive Tkachuk might even line up to the left of Sean Monahan. Projection: Tkachuk, who can excel in a rugged or finesse game, could still return to junior with the London Knights before he plays 10 NHL games. Or he could learn on the fly with the Flames.
- C Clayton Keller, Coyotes: After GM John Chayka surprised many by choosing the smallish Keller seventh, he’s quickly justified Chayka’s faith by eliciting comparisons to Patrick Kane. Projection: Committed to Boston University, the scoring center will be welcome in the desert whenever he’s had enough schooling.
- RW Alexander Nylander, Sabres: William’s younger brother has the same sensational hockey genes from former NHL puck wizard Michael Nylander, and followed his older sibling as a top-10 draft pick. Now that the Sabres have finished their pre-season games, it’s not clear if Alexander will start the season in Buffalo. In Thursday’s practice before the Sabres’ final pre-season game with Ottawa, Nylander practised on the fourth line with Nicolas Deslauriers and Derek Grant. Projection: Nylander might open the season with the injury-depleted Sabres, but will likely be assigned to the AHL before playing 10 NHL games through a loophole that allows it because he was on loan last season.
- D Mikhail Sergachev, Canadiens: As a long career winds down for Andrei Markov, another Russian D-Man arrives to audition for his job. After Sergachev was a standout in rookie camp, he continued to open eyes at the main training camp, paired in the final exhibition game with rugged fellow Russian Alexei Emelin. Projection: The 18-year-old is expected to begin the season with the Canadiens, although he might be demoted before 10 games if he struggles.
- C Tyson Jost, Avalanche: The scoring center declared he would attend North Dakota and play for its NCAA team in 2016-17. Projection: Jost could keep studying for four years or make himself available to Colorado before his sophomore year. The Avalanche have Nathan McKinnon, Steve Duchene and Carl Soderberg, so they can wait for Jost.
- C Logan Brown, Senators: Ottawa could not resist the 6-6 son of former NHL defenseman Jeff Brown. Unlike other giants, the younger Brown is a playmaker who lacks the strength and the inclination to play a power game. Projection: Brown will hopefully add some muscle and be ready for pro foes when he finishes another season in junior with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.
- C Michael McLeod, Devils: When you are easily the lowest-scoring team in the NHL, it’s no surprise when you draft a scoring center with your first draft pick. Projection: New Jersey returned McLeod to his junior team (Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL). About the same time, the Devils signed him to a three-year, entry-level NHL contract. The Devils need offense, and McLeod will supply it someday, potentially on a line with junior linemate Nathan Bastian and high-scoring LW Taylor Hall.
- D Jake Bean, Hurricanes: Continuing to stockpile talented young defensemen, Carolina snared this future power-play QB. Bean has an offensive mindset as well as the skating and passing skills to translate thought into reality. Projection: Like most offensively minded young blueliners, Bean needs a lot of work on his game without the puck. Accordingly, Carolina returned him to junior with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. He’ll play in the NHL once he fills out and plays better defense.
- D Charlie McAvoy, Bruins: Although Boston is desperate to bolster its blueline now, it will wait for this effortless skater until he leaves Boston University. Projection: The youngest player in NCAA Division I men's hockey last season, McAvoy totaled 25 points in 37 games as a freshman. Whether he leaves BU after his freshman year or stays in the NCAA for the full four years, the childhood fan of the New York Rangers will get a warm welcome in Boston.
- C Luke Kunin, Wild: A classic two-way center who plays a 200-foot game and scores his share of goals, Kunin greatly interests Minnesota with his versatility and the strength of his character. Projection: Back with the U of Wisconsin Badgers, Kunin has been compared to a Swiss Army knife by one scout who was impressed by the six-foot, 196-pounder’s range of assets.
Let the games begin…