2016 NHL Draft: Comparing the Top Ranked CHL Forwards

OHL, U20s, U18s--You name it, Alexander Nylander has ripped it up. While he trailed off in the OHL regular season, he returned with vengeance in the playoffs. | Photo: Aaron Dell, OHL Images.

OHL, U20s, U18s–You name it, Alexander Nylander has ripped it up. While he trailed off in the OHL regular season, he returned with vengeance in the playoffs. | Photo: Aaron Dell, OHL Images.

The top of the 2016 NHL Draft is dominated by non-CHL forwards–a rare feat. However, there is a handful of top-end CHL talent that could beĀ around the range of the Montreal Canadiens’ ninth overall.

This article compares the top-five CHL forwards: Matthew Tkachuk, Alexander Nylander, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Michael McLeod, and Logan Brown.

Context

All five forwards had the benefit of being surrounded by quality linemates for the majority of the season. Matthew Tkachuk had Mitchell Marner and Christian Dvorak, Dubois had Yevgeni Svechnikov and Maxim Lazarev, Logan Brown had Christian Fischer, and Nylander and McLeod had each other, along with Nathan Bastian.

TeamWin %GFGAShot Diff.PDOPP%PK%
Cape-Breton (Dubois)59.43 (5th)285 (3rd)236 (10th)300 (4th)100.46 (8th)22.3% (9th)80.3% (6th)
London (Tkachuk)75.17 (1st)319 (1st)181 (1st)278 (6th)104.68 (1st)29.1% (1st)82.3% (6th)
Mississauga (McLeod & Nylander)47.75 (12th)213 (12th)226 (12th)-255 (15th)100.79 (9th)19.2% (12th)79.4% (13th)
Windsor (Brown)61.88 (7th)252 (5th)199 (7th)231 (8th)101.45 (3rd)23.6% (3rd)79.4% (13th)

Tkachuk’s London Knights are arguably the best team in the CHL. Tkachuk, along with Mitchell Marner and Christian Dvorak, combined for 344 regular season points. Tkachuk is the “net front” presence on the line, relied upon to win battles and be a commanding force behind and around the net. The deadliness of London’s PP was in part thanks to Tkachuk’s ability to pounce on loose pucks and maintain possession. The creative Knights were able to play a dynamic offensive game built on creating danger-scoring chances with speed and tremendous passing. As a player with excellent awareness, Tkachuk’s ability to create space was a perfect match. Tkachuk ranked third in London scoring.

The Mississauga Steelheads were on the opposition end of the spectrum. The team was heavily reliant on the Bastian-McLeod-Nylander to create chances. McLeod was used as the top centre, taking every important faceoff and garnering tough matchups. On the PP, McLeod roams around the ice, while Nylander is the triggerman from the top of the circle. The team lacked depth scoring, which placed a heavier emphasis on Nylander and McLeod. The structure was unorganized and free-flowing, which made Mississauga a worse team than they probably should’ve been.

The Windsor Spitfires came out rolling in the New Year, and perhaps no single Spit played a bigger role than Logan Brown. Brown’s production leapt from 1.02 P/GP in his first 36GP to 1.52 P/GP in the final 29GP. In the second half, his already strong supporting cast improved with Windsor bringing in Brendan Lemieux and Connor Chatham.

Over in the QMJHL, Dubois’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles were one of the league’s most explosive offences. Pre-trade deadline, Cape Breton was heavily reliant upon the highly skilled trio of Dubois-Svechnikov-Lazarev. Dubois was the top scorer on the team in terms of points-per-game and points. While the additions of Michael Joly and Giovanni Fiore improved depth scoring, the team’s defence continued to struggle. Dubois handled the puck a ton in his own zone, as the defence struggled with breakouts. The team also did not have a goaltender whose SV% was above .890.

In summary, all five players benefitted from having excellent linemates. However, Nylander, McLeod, and Dubois were on teams with weaker supporting casts. Meanwhile, Brown played for a very solid team, particularly in the second half, while Tkachuk was key component of arguably the CHL’s top team.

Statistics

With a bit of context, it’s time to examine the statistics.

NameGPG1A2APPts/GPPrim. Pts/GPSOGSOG/GPSH%
Logan Brown59213023741.250.861582.6813.3%
Pierre-Luc Dubois62424116991.601.342363.8117.8%
Michael McLeod57212416611.070.791713.0012.3%
Alexander Nylander57282720751.320.971783.1215.7%
Matthew Tkachuk573036411071.881.161913.3515.7%

Clearly, Tkachuk and Dubois had the best production, scoring at 1.88 and 1.60 clips, respectively. Nylander’s production is very respectable, as is Brown’s. The only player who doesn’t matchup favourably in McLeod, who posted at a 1.07 clip.

Dubois blows the competition away in primary points (goals + first assists), recording 1.34/GP. McLeod once against places last, but the difference isn’t nearly as large. Tkachuk was the only player who posted more secondary assists than first assists, but that can in part be explained by his linemates and role.

In terms of shots on goal, Dubois leads the way, with a ridiculous 3.81 SOG/GP. McLeod, Nylander, and Tkachuk all averaged 3.00 SOG/GP or more as well, while Brown is clearly the least frequent shooter.

NameESPES P/GPES Prim. P/GPPPPPP P/GPPP Prim. P/GP
Logan Brown450.760.56290.490.31
Pierre-Luc Dubois651.050.86270.440.37
Michael McLeod420.740.53150.260.19
Alexander Nylander460.810.58280.490.37
Matthew Tkachuk631.110.65420.740.49

Both Dubois and Tkachuk were an incredible even-strength point producers, averaging 1.05 ESP/GP and 1.11 ESP/GP, respectively. Nylander, McLeod, and Brown all fairly close to one another, hovering between 0.74 to 0.81 ESP/GP. Where Dubois really pulls away is ES primary points, as he averaged 0.86/GP, while Tkachuk was 0.65/GP.

Tkachuk’s PP production was absurd, as he, along with Marner and Dvorak, ranked top-four in both PP points and PP primary points in the entire OHL. The aforementioned three were the biggest components of the OHL’s deadliest PP. Meanwhile, McLeod was produced at the lowest clip on the PP, recording just 0.26 PPP/GP.

From these statistics, we can draw the following statistical conclusions:

  1. Dubois was clearly the best point producer, in terms of both even-strength and primary point production.
  2. Tkachuk’s production in all-situations was fantastic. While his production was buoyed by secondary assists, his primary point production was still highly impressive.
  3. Nylander’s point totals are not top-tier, but still fantastic, especially when considering the context.
  4. Brown was also a solid point-producer, even with his slow start.
  5. McLeod was clearly the worst point producer in all categories. While his even-strength primary point totals rank closely to Nylander and Brown, his lack of PP production relative to his teammate Nylander is shocking.

From here, it’s time to breakdown what each player does well, of course, in my opinion.

Talent Analysis

What makes Dubois a potent scorer?

Dubois is the complete package, arguably the most complete of the CHL’s top forwards.

Dubois combines a lethal shot, excellent vision, and soft hands to make a versatile offensive threat. He is a deadly player on the rush, as his speed allows him to gain separation from the opposition, creating room for his powerful shot or playmaking. In the zone, he continuously applies pressure with his relentless motor, aggressive nature, and quality stick placement.

While Dubois’ skill alone makes him a dynamic threat, he combines it with strength and high hockey sense. He fights through checks and handles the puck extremely well in traffic. While his creativity is a tad inconsistent, his straightforward nature and skill allow him to rack up the points.

Of the eligible CHL forwards, Dubois is the complete offensive threat. His skating, shot, hands, vision, and hockey sense are all well above-average. Considering this with his solid defensive game and versatility, and he appears to have the highest NHL upside out this group.

Tkachuk far from a complementary player

My opinion of Tkachuk has become increasing positive over the season due to his high-end hockey sense and great vision.

While Tkachuk has proven his ability to produce even when the other big guns aren’t firing. He’s a powerful player with an aggressive nature, even more so Dubois, which makes him a force while handling the puck. While Tkachuk isn’t flashy, he’s intelligent and strong, which makes him a force in the corners and around the net.

Tkachuk handles the puck less than his linemates, but he makes nearly every touch count. He consistently creates dangerous scoring chances as drives his way to net. While I’ve found that Tkachuk’s goalscoring ability often gets overstated, his playmaking, particularly in tight spaces in fantastic. He’s a short-to-medium range passer who can connect tape-to-tape through traffic, while minimizing turnovers.

Of course, there still is cause for concern with Tkachuk. While improved, his skating remains a hindrance, and his production admittedly is linked to his linemates. With that said, he creates a ton of chances, and succeeds at the “little things,” such as occupying lanes, creating space, and aggravating opponents.

Although Tkachuk is not quite as dynamic as Dubois or Nylander, he certainly is talented offensive player with a high upside.

Nylander: A complete offensive threat

All-in-all, none of the players discussed might be as skilled as Alexander Nylander is. The entire Mississauga Steelheads team was frustrating this year, and Nylander’s inconsistent game was certainly a big part of that.

What has possibly garnered the most discussion is Nylander’s shot. From the point, few are deadlier in this draft class. However, is an equally adept playmaker, showcasing excellent technique, on both forehand and backhand, and vision. He also possesses excellent side-to-side movement and a whack load of deceptiveness to open up passing lanes. His ability to create these shooting and passing lanes is incredibly deadly when paired with his ability to exploit them.

Nylander isn’t a blazing fast skater like McLeod, but shows excellent all-around quickness and awareness. His beautiful edge work is on full display when he’s dominating possession–a common sight.

Where Nylander falls short when compared to Dubois and Tkachuk is in the physical aspect. Nylander doesn’t consistently get to the corners or around the net. He’s not a soft player, but he could stand to be more assertive with his body. Additionally, his defensive positioning is below-average, but he has shown improvement.

Why is McLeod is ranked higher than the statistics indicate?

Few in this class are more divisive than Michael McLeod. While there’s definitely cause for concern with his production this season, he possesses some quality tools.

McLeod is easily the fastest skater of this group, possibly in the OHL, too. His blazing wheels are constantly noticeable, as he aggressive lugs the puck up the ice, making controlled zone exits and entries look easy. McLeod is constantly puck hounding, always looking to regain possession and turn around the other way.

When McLeod is going, so are the Steelheads. His speed and smarts combination bring a unique element; however, the skill isn’t always up to par. Despite putting defenders on their heels, he doesn’t properly utilize the space he has been given to unload his decent (albeit with a sluggish release) wristshot. While he does demonstrate quality playmaking off the rush, it’s not high-end. He flashes great hands, but only every now and then.

While McLeod is a well-above-average OHL defensive centre, he still makes poor reads. I find he’s constantly skating to keep up with the play, rather than simply being in the right position too often.

Brown’s second half surge

Logan Brown has shot up the rankings, and rightfully so. From January 21st and on, Brown’s production was closer to Dubois and Tkachuk’s than to Nylander’s. His strong U18s also aided in this rapid rise.

Brown is a talented playmaking centre, who utilizes the full extent of his reach and skill in order to beat defenders. He possesses excellent vision, although he is a forehand-dominant playmaker. In the second half, he began utilizing his frame better in order to protect the puck. His soft hands will wow from time-to-time. He’s also decent skater, with a smooth stride and good top-end speed.

Although initially hesitant to shoot, Brown soon began finding the back of the net with regularity, scoring 15 of his 21 goals in the last 24 games of the season. The power behind his shot is quite good, but his accuracy is even more impressive. He routinely picks his spots, if not scoring, at least generating opportunities from his shot. Although he’s not the most natural finisher, he does show a decent touch around goal.

While he’s certainly not as strong in his own zone as McLeod, Brown’s defensive game is fairly solid–another area that really improved in the second half. He doesn’t spend much time in his own zone, and demonstrates awareness to intercept passes and clog lanes.

Discussion

In terms of full body of work, there are three forwards ahead of the other two: Dubois, Nylander, and Tkachuk. However, Brown’s second half certainly puts his name into the mix.

If I were to rank the forwards based on who I believe is the best prospect, I would place Dubois first. While he is not as purely skilled as Nylander, his offensive game is similarly potent, and he’s also stronger and a better defensive player.

Second, Nylander. I love the dynamism that Nylander displays. He is constantly hovering around the puck; constantly creating chances–more so than any player here. While he lacks the physical aspect that Dubois, Tkachuk, and Brown have, I believe he can improve in that regard significantly.

Third, Tkachuk. I rank Nylander and Tkachuk fairly close, but Nylander is more dynamic. Tkachuk is a puckhound who possesses a complete kit of tools. His skating may be a hindrance, but his lengthy scoring history makes me more confident in him than Brown or McLeod.

Fourth, Brown. Brown’s second half was highly impressive. He’s highly skilled and solid in his own zone. While his consistency needs improvement, I believe his upside is similar to Tkachuk’s, but he’s further out from reaching it.

Lastly, McLeod. McLeod is the fastest player out of the group, but his hands need to catch up. More consistency and working on the little details will be of the essence. As the statistics might suggest, the other four forwards in the group all demonstrate a higher skill level on a more consistent basis.

This is an excellent group of prospects. The Habs have plenty of options at ninth overall, not just limited to this group, but also including a group of six quality defencemen, Tyson Jost, Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows, and German Rubtsov. With the draft wide open at #9, it will certainly be fascinating to see who the Habs end up with.

Statistics in this article provided from the official OHL website and Prospect-Stats.com

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