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The 2016 NHL Entry Draft will be held at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo this coming Friday and Saturday.  As is our annual tradition, here is HabsWorld’s official mock draft.  The Habs are picking a lot higher than usual this time around as they hold the 9th overall selection.  In our mock, we project the entire first round plus Montreal’s second and third round choices.

Joining me to pick the draft this past Wednesday (the 15th) was HW Editor Norm Szcyrek.  Picks were made on an alternating basis as follows:

1, 3, 5, etc – Brian
2, 4, 6, etc – Norm

Each writer offers up their rationale for their selections below.

#1 – Toronto – Auston Matthews, C, Zurich (NLA)

The draft lottery wasn’t kind to the Atlantic Division as Matthews gives Toronto a franchise centre to build around for many years to come.  He’ll undoubtedly step in and play right away as a top six forward and it won’t be long before he makes a major impact for the Leafs.

#2 – Winnipeg – Patrik Laine, RW, Tappara (SM-liiga)

This is a no brainer.  Laine’s got the ideal power forward size and great shooting ability to become the next Teemu Selanne, and he’s enjoyed a meteoric rise in the rankings.  His only drawback may lie with the slew foot he suffered from Corey Perry at the Worlds, which caused Laine some pain at the time. He also had to pass up some of the lower body testing at the NHL Combine in Buffalo as a result. Assuming this is only a minor injury being handled cautiously, there’s no reason for the Jets not to take Laine.

#3 – Columbus – Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (SM-liiga)

While there have been rumblings out of Columbus that their management isn’t sold on Puljujarvi, it’s hard to see why.  He doesn’t have the elite skill that the top two have but he should still be a high quality, top line power forward in the NHL for many years to come.  GM Jarmo Kekalainen would be wise to not overthink this and make the safe, smart pick here.

#4 – Edmonton – Olli Juolevi, D, London (OHL)

Assuming Edmonton does not trade down, it’s tough to see them drafting another forward. There are some very good defencemen in this draft. It’s highly unlikely they will select the best player available this time; they’ll follow more of a longer term approach with this selection. The Oilers will make Juolevi their pick here, as he’s an excellent offensive defenceman with true ability to become their #1 blueliner.

#5 – Vancouver – Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London (OHL)

Tkachuk elicits some memories of his father – he’s a physical player who has a strong scoring touch and a nose for the net.  He needs to work on his skating and defensive play but if improvement is made there, he could be a star in the making for a team that’s in dire need for a star with the Sedins on the downside of their careers.

#6 – Calgary – Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

Dubois jumped up the rankings in the second half and is a well-rounded offensive player with good speed.  He’s not the most physical/aggressive of players despite his size but he’s strong enough to protect the puck.  Calgary already has a strong group of young forwards and Dubois is another top sixer that should make an impact there before long.

#7 – Arizona – Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor (OHL)

The top defenceman in the OHL this past season, Sergachev oozes speed and skill from the back end.  There are concerns about his in-zone play and effort level but as the league moves towards more of a skilled game, new GM John Chayka will overlook the warts in the hopes that Sergachev can become the next dynamic blueliner in the league.

#8 – Buffalo – Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga (OHL)

The Sabres are well set at centre and have a young group of defencemen with lots of upside. Nylander is a creative winger with good possession skills. He fits both an immediate need on the wing if he’s ready sooner than later to play in the NHL. Even if he’s not ready, he still represents an excellent long-term prospect as a winger for Buffalo.

#9 – Montreal – Logan Brown, C, Windsor (OHL)

Brown came on strong towards the end of the season and that, coupled with teams’ longing desire for size, has him in the top-10 discussion.  Marc Bergevin is always looking to add size, especially in the top six and Brown would work as a nice hedge against Michael McCarron if he doesn’t make it as a top six forward down the road.

#10 – Colorado – Jake Bean, D, Calgary (WHL)

Colorado really, really, really needs to draft a good defenceman. They have the core pieces of a typical good up-and-coming team with two top flight centres. A player like Bean represents exactly what the Avalanche need since trading or signing for a true #1 defenceman is nearly impossible in the NHL’s cap era. Bean has the quarterback capability that is similar to Erik Karlsson.

#11 – New Jersey – Clayton Keller, C, US U-18 (USHL)

Keller is one of the most dynamically skilled players in the draft.  His size is what has him down here instead of being in the top five while his defensive game needs a lot of refinement as well.  The Devils are a team that are solely lacking in pure offensive skill and they should be able to hone his defensive game as well.  Keller could be a home run pick for them if he pans out.

#12 – Ottawa – Tyson Jost, C, Penticton (USHL)

Ottawa will not let Jost get away at this spot. They can be patient with him and let him stay in college at least 2 years. Jost has the upside of a #1 offensive centre. He can do it all, pass, skate, and shoot with elite decision making. He’s a little undersized at 5’11 but also relatively stocky for his size, so he may develop a little more physically to bulk up to handle the rigours of the pro game.

#13 – Carolina – Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)

With Eric Staal gone, there is a big void organizationally at centre.  While there’s no way McLeod will be able to step in right away (or have as much an impact as Staal did when he does make it), he should be a quality two-way pivot down the road.  If the rest of his game catches up with his high-level speed, the Canes will have a steal on their hands.

#14 – Boston – Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston University (NCAA)

Based on who’s still available Boston will likely go with the hometown guy on the blueline. They need to stock up their depth on defence, and McAvoy could be a #1 or #2 d-man for them in a few seasons. He combines good skating with good decision making with the puck. He’s not a very tall defenceman, but his size and build is very similar to Ray Bourque.

#15 – Minnesota – Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia (OHL)

It seems like every year there’s a blueliner that’s projected to go in the top-10 that winds up slipping.  Chychrun seems like he’s going to be that defender this year.  His consistency is an area of concern and there are questions as to how good his offensive game may be.  Assuming he can improve his decision making though, Chychrun still profiles at least as a quality second pairing defender with the potential for a bit more.

#16 – Detroit – Dante Fabbro, D, Penticton (BCHL)

I can see the Wings going for a player like Fabbro, another good puck moving defenceman. They’ve had success recently drafting and developing up front, but on the back end they need to draft high there. Fabbro is a little undersized but has superior puck moving and rushing ability. On defence, his style is similar to Nicklas Lindstrom in that he often out thinks and out-reacts his opponent, and usually strips them of the puck and turns the play around for his team.

#17 – Nashville – Kieffer Bellows, LW, US U-18 (USHL)

If you’re looking for goal scoring beyond the top tier, Bellows will be in the conversation.  He’s more of a complementary scorer in that he doesn’t have the raw skill to do it all himself but pair him with a strong playmaker and good things will happen.  Nashville is a team that has been looking to add some offensive pop for a while now and Bellows would represent another step in the right direction.

#18 – Philadelphia – Max Jones, LW, London (OHL)

At this point in the draft, the Flyers may be looking to pick a winger and Jones fits that build well. He has good size, speed, and a bit of a mean streak. Philly fans like aggressive players, and Jones has that in spades to offer a team. It seems like the perfect match of a player to a team drafting him.

#19 – NY Islanders – Luke Kunin, C, Wisconsin (NCAA)

Kunin isn’t the biggest of players out there but is one of the most skilled left at this juncture of the draft.  He has the upside to be a top six forward and with the Islanders set to potentially lose a lot of their core forwards in the next few years in free agency, they could benefit from adding help there.  While college players generally take longer to develop, Kunin could move quicker than most considering he already has a year under his belt.

#20 – Arizona (via NY Rangers) – Logan Stanley, D, Windsor (OHL)

Arizona has a lot of young forwards NHL ready or close to it so a defenceman should be their focus here. I see a guy like Stanley being a good fit for them, huge size at 6’7 with a lot of raw ability. Stanley represents a player similar to Jarred Tinordi, with even more size but better puck handling and skating capability. Some other parts to his game are a work in progress, but that’s the same as many players this size at this age.

#21 – Carolina (via Los Angeles) – Julien Gauthier, RW, Val-D’Or (QMJHL)

Generally high end goal scorers in their draft-eligible season go high in the draft but Gauthier has dropped in the rankings throughout the season.  He’s not the most well-rounded offensive player and he has yet to use his size to his advantage.  But, Carolina is in dire need of adding scoring to their system and Gauthier, despite his flaws, is one of the better pure goal scorers in this draft class.

#22 – Winnipeg (via Chicago) – German Rubtsov, C, RUS U-18 (MHL)

Winnipeg’s has some good young forwards and a pretty solid top 4 on defence too. They could use a little help with the bottom 6 forwards or bottom 2 defencemen, or even a goalie, so they truly are going to pick the best player available. I’d say Rubtsov would fit in well for them. They may be hesitant to pick a Russian player at this point, but given their success with Alex Burmistrov they should go to the well again. Rubtsov is a solid two way player that can play a power game or a finesse game.

#23 – Florida – Riley Tufte, LW, Blaine (USHS)

It’s always hard to get a read on players who spend their draft year primarily at the high school level and even harder when they’re pretty much bigger and stronger than anyone else.  Tufte has the size and skill to be a quality power forward down the road but is going to take a while to get there.  The Panthers, who have a lot of quality prospects up front in their system, are a team that can afford to wait a little longer for him to develop.

#24 – Anaheim – Rasmus Asplund, C, Farjestad (SHL)

With the Ducks first pick this round, picking a player like Asplund makes a lot of sense. Anaheim has a ton of depth on the back end and in goal, so forwards that can fit into a role is what they can afford to look for.  He won’t be a high end scorer in the NHL but he should be a strong two-way forward that can slide into the #2 or 3 role down the middle.

#25 – Dallas – Dennis Cholowski, D, Chilliwack (BCHL)

The Stars have had a tendency to swing hard with their first round pick in recent years and Cholowski would represent one of those types of selections.  He’s a strong skater and fits the style of blueliner the league seems to be trending towards.  Cholowski is extremely raw and will need several years before being pro ready but has the potential to be an impact top four defender down the road.

#26 – Washington – Tage Thompson, C, UConn (NCAA)

Washington will take a chance on Thompson with their first round selection. He’s big and has some good offensive skills but is a bit of a project too. Since they already have a solid team they can afford to be patient with him, and let him develop in college.  Thompson has top six upside if he puts it all together.

#27 – Tampa Bay – Alex DeBrincat, RW, Erie (OHL)

DeBrincat has all the skills to be a strong top six forward but working against him is that he’s one of the smallest players in the draft.  The Lightning haven’t hesitated to go with smaller players in recent years and that seems to be working well for them so it’s not crazy to think GM Steve Yzerman will stick with what works and take the 5’7 winger here.

#28 – St. Louis – Cliff Pu, RW, London (OHL)

With St. Louis’ selection, the Blues will go off the board a bit with a dynamic forward in Pu. He could end up as a second line forward, or even as a 3rd liner with his great skating, strong puck handling ability and his power forward tendencies.  Having not played a lot with London this year, there is a lot of projection going into this pick.

#29 – Boston (via San Jose) – Brett Howden, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)

Howden doesn’t quite have the offensive upside as some of the other players that should be available here but he’s a safe selection.  He plays a smart, 200 foot game and profiles as a 2nd/3rd liner down the road.  With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci starting to get on in age, it’s feasible to think that they will want to pick someone who they could see replacing them a few years from now.

#30 – Anaheim (via Toronto/Pittsburgh) – Tyler Benson, LW, Vancouver (WHL)

Although Anaheim has some versatility with their second pick, they’ll likely make another forward their choice. At this point, a guy like Benson would be a sound decision. Benson has some power forward potential, as a strong skater with soft hands, who plays a 200 foot game.  His injuries this year dropped him in the rankings so this has some potential to be a steal for the Ducks.

#39 – Montreal – Pascal Laberge, RW, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

Laberge had a strong second half to his season which could cause him to go a bit higher than here but he has some solid offensive skills.  The rest of his game needs some improvement (particularly his decision making with and without the puck) but he projects as a second or third line offensive winger down the road.  The Habs, who are in dire need for RW help, should be quite pleased if he’s still on the board here.

#45 – Montreal – Frederic Allard, D, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)

For those who are looking for Trevor Timmins to take a big home run swing, this won’t be the pick for you.  Allard is a quality all-around blueliner but doesn’t feature any particular dynamic skill.  Selecting him would be a safe selection and given that the Canadiens don’t have the best of prospect pools on the blueline, he would be a good fit at this pick.

#70 – Montreal – Jacob Cederholm, D, HV71 U-20 (SuperElit)

The overall upside is limited with Cederholm but there’s still a lot to like about him.  He plays a steady defensive game, is a good skater, and is willing to get involved physically.  An overall lack of offensive skills likely limits Cederholm to a third pairing player at the NHL level but at this stage of the draft, a third pairing defender is still good value.

Who do you think the Habs will pick at #9?  Make your prediction by entering our draft pool.