Teams looking for a top-four defensemen will have a wealth of choices at this year’s draft. Even in their late teens, many prospects possess maturity, size, and skill, giving fans high expectations they’ll see many of these players in the NHL sooner rather than later.
“It’s a very good corps of [defensemen], and they’re all going to be a top-four on their NHL team,” –Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting
Whether it’s the ability to defend with force, to make that first transition pass up ice, or to contribute on the offensive side of the puck, the following players show the best qualities among this year’s defensemen class.
10. Lucas Johansen, Kelowna Rockets – Johansen is a well-rounded player. The brother of Nashville’s Ryan Johansen, he may not catch your eye with an outstanding play, but he will make the right one that rarely makes costly mistakes. He is considered by many scouts to be a steady future blueliner, with the hockey sense to be a steady two-way defender. Johansen registered 10 goals and 49 points in 69 games in the WHL last season. He is a few years out from being an NHLer. With a little more growth and progression he could find himself a regular on an NHL team.
9. Kale Clague, Brandon Wheat Kings – The smallest of the top 10 at 5’11 and 184 lbs. Clague makes up for this with his strong skating and hockey IQ. His ability to make the right transition pass out of the defensive zone helps him elude the oncoming forecheck. He was a plus 25 rating last year while posting 6 goals and 43 points. He needs more time to grow his skills and become a regular on an NHL team, but scouts believe with his ability to stay calm in pressure situations and make composed plays he can crack an NHL line up in a few years.
8. Logan Stanley, Windsor Spitfires – A throwback type of defenseman, Stanley is 6’7, 224lbs. He is physical and tough, but lacks in speed and mobility. Though he may not have the speed most scouts desire in a defenseman, he is very difficult to beat 1 on 1. Playing along side Sergachev this past season has seen an improvement in his offensive numbers, though that may not translate to the NHL level, Stanley will be a solid stay at home defender for an NHL in the future.
7. Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack Chiefs – A bit of an unknown, Cholowski is starting to make a name for himself. The St. Cloud State University commit has played the last two seasons in the BCHL and has progressed to a high level. He is not aggressive with his play but his high hockey IQ has helped him climb the draft rankings this season. Cholowski demonstrates great positioning and puck movement, but lacks in the speed and grittiness categories some NHL teams like. With his puck-moving ability, hockey sense, and growth in skating, he could be scratching at a top 4 defenseman role in the NHL in 3 years time.
6. Dante Fabbro, Penticton Vees – An extremely gifted offensive defenseman. Fabbro has a high skill level of skating, puck control and vision. One of his best qualities is his skill for puck retrieval in the defensive zone, giving him more time to make one of his crisp tape to tape outlet passes on the breakout. The Boston University commit is expected to be a very good offensive defenseman in the NHL, but does need to work on his defensive game before making the leap to the NHL. Look for this kid to be a cornerstone defenseman in a few years time.
5. Charlie McAvoy, Boston University – A fast-footed, physical defenseman that can play any style of game. His uncanny situational awareness is just the beginning of his excellent hockey sense, an intelligent player to say the least. Coming off his freshmen season at BU, McAvoy is the type of player that can change the flow of a hockey game. His ability to lead rushes up the ice and find teammates with his precise passes makes him a legitimate contender for a top 4, if not top 2 defender spot on an NHL team in the future. He’s my personal pick for “steal of the draft”.
4. Jake Bean, Calgary Hitmen – A future power play QB, Bean is a highly gifted offensive talent. His ability to find the back of the net was evident last season in the WHL, with 24 goals and 64 points in 68 games. He does not shy away from physical play though he is not a big player. His ability on the offensive side is second to none in this years draft. Once he solidifies his defensive zone game he will easily be a top end defender in the NHL.
3. Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor Spitfires – Named the OHL’s best defensemen last season, Sergachev is easily top three on this list, though he could be higher on some others lists. He combines skating, mobility, scoring, physical play, and defensive zone play in his repertoire, that will make him a future top two defender in the NHL. Whatever team is able to select him will be very happy with the product on the ice he brings. I expect to see him in the NHL next year or the following year.
2. Olli Juolevi, London Knights – Juolevi really solidified himself in this draft with his breakout performance at the World Juniors. His ability to play away from the puck along with his composure and hockey IQ has many to believe he can make the jump to the NHL this upcoming season. Though his offensive game may be lacking a little bit in comparison to other defenders in the years corps, he makes up with NHL desirable play on both ends. Juolevi could easily become a top four defender in the 2016-2017 season.
1. Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia Sting – Chychrun possesses a strong two-way game and seems to be NHL-ready for this upcoming season. His maturity on and off the ice, as well as his explosive stride, and NHL ready shot make him a sure threat on the offensive side. On the defensive side he closes gaps, and defends in his own zone extremely well. His future in the NHL is bright and should begin in October 2016.
All in all, this years corps of defensemen seem to be a talented group and within a few years should all be impacting their respective NHL teams.