Auston Matthews was the top player on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ scouting board for the 2016 NHL Draft long before it was time for them to make the first selection.
“The reports go back a year or two before that, when he was with the [USA Hockey National Team Development Program],” John Lilley said. “He was the consensus No. 1 from the day we saw him until the day we picked him.”
As an amateur scout for the Maple Leafs at the time, Lilley not only saw Matthews play with the NTDP, but he also traveled to Switzerland in 2015-16, when the forward played with ZSC in the National League.
Lilley said there was one game against Lugano that further cemented Matthews’ status atop the draft board.
“Maxim Lapierre, who was a former NHL player, he was a good NHL veteran, and he’s checking a 17-, 18-year-old Auston Matthews and Auston still managed to score,” Lilley said. “He did it at that pro level in his draft year, which usually is not the case for a North American guy. He took that next step very easily and it was obvious to us.
“He started as the top guy when we first saw him, and he finished off there. He excelled in every level he moved up to.”
In five NHL seasons since being selected No. 1 by Toronto in the 2016 draft, Matthews has become one of the League’s top goal-scorers. However, not every player picked in that draft has panned out. So looking back five years, how would that draft go if the same players were made available today?
Note: Players are listed next to the team that originally drafted them with the selection in parenthesis.
1. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs (1)
Matthews announced himself to the League by becoming the first player in the NHL’s modern era (since 1943-44) to score four goals in his debut, and he hasn’t slowed down much since then. He has scored at least 34 goals in each of his five NHL seasons, including more than 40 three times. This season, Matthews won the Rocket Richard Trophy by scoring 41 goals, becoming the first U.S.-born player to lead the League in goals since Keith Tkachuk in 1996-97. Matthews leads all players selected in the 2016 draft in goals (199) and points (351), and he’s second in goals among all players behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (205) since entering the NHL in 2016-17. His production has helped the Maple Leafs qualify for the postseason in five straight seasons after they missed in 10 of their previous 11.
2. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary Flames (6)
Tkachuk has scored 278 points (110 goals, 168 assists) in 349 games with the Flames, which is second among players selected in the 2016 draft. He’s scored at least 20 goals in three of his four full NHL seasons, including a career-high 34 in 2018-19, and his 88 power-play points (33 goals, 55 assists) are third among his draft class behind Matthews (92) and Patrik Laine (91). Tkachuk also has a knack for getting under players’ skin, evidenced by his 185 penalties drawn since 2016-17, the most in the NHL.
3. Alex DeBrincat, LW, Chicago Blackhawks (39)
DeBrincat led the Blackhawks with 28 goals as a rookie in 2017-18, and he tied for sixth in the NHL the following season, when he scored 41. Following a down season in 2019-20, when he scored 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games, DeBrincat finished third in the League this season with 32 goals, and his 1.08 points per game (56 points in 52 games) was the highest in his NHL career. Among players selected in the 2016 draft, he’s third in goals (119) and fourth in points (229).
4. Adam Fox, D, Calgary Flames (66)
Fox impressed as a rookie with the New York Rangers last season, scoring 42 points (eight goals, 34 assists) in 70 games. But he topped that this season, winning the Norris Trophy voted as the League’s best defenseman after he scored 47 points (five goals, 42 assists), second among his position behind Tyson Barrie of the Edmonton Oilers (48), and had a plus-19 rating while averaging 24:42 of ice time in 55 games. Fox is fifth among defensemen from the 2016 draft with 89 points (13 goals, 76 assists), but he ranks first with an average of 0.71 points per game. Originally selected by the Flames in the third round, Fox was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on June 23, 2018, and then to the Rangers on April 30, 2019.
5. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston Bruins (14)
McAvoy was pushed into a larger role this season following the departures of defensemen Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, and he responded by scoring 30 points (five goals, 25 assists) with a plus-22 rating while averaging an NHL career-high 24:00 of ice time in 51 games. McAvoy has a plus-79 even-strength goal differential since entering the League in 2017-18, which is tied with Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the best among all NHL defensemen. Among defensemen from the 2016 draft, McAvoy is second in points (122), and third in goals (24) and assists (98).
6. Mikhail Sergachev, D, Montreal Canadiens (9)
Sergachev has played a significant role in helping the Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Last season, he scored 34 points, including an NHL career-high 10 goals, in 70 games before adding 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 25 postseason games. This season, he scored 30 points (four goals, 26 assists) in 56 games while averaging 21:58 of ice time, which was second on the Lightning to Hedman (25:03). Sergachev, who was acquired by Tampa Bay in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for forward Jonathan Drouin on June 15, 2017, leads all defensemen from the 2016 draft with 136 points (29 goals, 107 assists) in 284 games.
7. Patrik Laine, LW, Winnipeg Jets (2)
Laine was second to Matthews among NHL rookies in goals (36) and points (64) in 2016-17, then was second among all NHL players with 44 goals in 2017-18. In November 2018, he scored 18 goals in 12 games, the most by any NHL player in a single month since Pavel Bure scored 19 in March 1994, and on Nov. 29 of that year he became the fourth-youngest player in League history to score 100 goals (20 years, 224 days), behind Wayne Gretzky (20 years, 40 days), Jimmy Carson (20 years, 116 days) and Brian Bellows (20 years, 179 days). Laine scored 10 goals and was minus-29 in 45 games this season after being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Pierre-Luc Dubois on Jan. 23, but his 150 goals are 11th among all players since he entered the League.
8. Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets (3)
Dubois scored at least 20 goals each of his first two NHL seasons, including a career-high 27 in 2018-19. Last season, he led the Blue Jackets with 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) in 70 regular-season games and 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 10 postseason games, including scoring a hat trick in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Maple Leafs. Among players selected in the 2016 draft, Dubois ranks fifth in goals (74), seventh in assists (105) and sixth in points (179).
9. Jakob Chychrun, D, Arizona Coyotes (16)
Chychrun led NHL defensemen with 18 goals this season, and his 30 over the past two seasons are three more than Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who is second in the League during that span. Chychrun was hampered by knee injuries during his first three NHL seasons but played in all 56 games for the Coyotes this season.
10. Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers (48)
When Hart won his NHL debut against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 18, 2018, he became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to win his first game (20 years, 127 days) and the youngest in the NHL since Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens (20 years, 55 days) on Oct. 10, 2007. Although Hart struggled mightily this season, going 9-11-5 with a League-worst 3.67 goals-against average and .877 save percentage (minimum 25 games), he has still shown a lot of promise, including when he finished seventh in the League in GAA in 2019-20 (2.42).
11. Clayton Keller, RW, Arizona Coyotes (7)
Keller was second among NHL rookies with 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) in 2017-18 , when he finished third in voting for the Calder Trophy behind Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders and Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks. Keller is fifth among players selected in the 2016 draft with 193 points (68 goals, 125 assists) in 293 games.
12. Samuel Girard, D, Nashville Predators (47)
Girard had played only five games for the Predators when he was acquired by the Colorado Avalanche as part of a three-team trade that included the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 5, 2017. But since arriving in Colorado, Girard’s usage and production has continued to increase, and this season he scored 32 points (five goals, 27 assists) while averaging 23:13 of ice time in 48 games. Among defensemen selected in the 2016 draft, Girard ranks fourth with 116 points (17 goals, 99 assists) in 273 games.
13. Luke Kunin, C, Minnesota Wild (15)
Kunin set NHL career highs in goals (15), assists (16) and points (31) in 63 games last season. He was then traded to the Nashville Predators on Oct. 7 and scored 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 38 games this season, including seven points (six goals, one assist) in his final nine games.
14. Jesper Bratt, LW, New Jersey Devils (162)
A sixth-round selection by the Devils, Bratt has been consistent since entering the League in 2017-18. He has scored at least 30 points in each of his four NHL seasons, including 30 (seven goals, 23 assists) in 46 games this season, and his 130 points (44 goals, 86 assists) are eighth among players from the 2016 draft.
15. Filip Hronek, D, Detroit Red Wings (53)
Hronek led the Red Wings this season with 26 points (two goals, 24 assists) in 56 games, becoming the third defenseman to lead Detroit in scoring since the NHL expanded to 12 teams in 1967, joining Paul Coffey (1994-95) and Niklas Kronwall (2013-14). Hronek scored an NHL career-high 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 65 games last season, and his 80 points (16 goals, 64 assists) in 267 NHL games are sixth among defensemen from the 2016 draft.
16. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Edmonton Oilers (4)
Puljujarvi scored 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in his return to the NHL after playing last season for Karpat in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league. Puljujarvi played at times with Connor McDavid, and he averaged 15:08 of ice time in 55 games after averaging 12:28 during his first three NHL seasons, each of which were split between Edmonton and Bakersfield of the American Hockey League.
17. Jordan Kyrou, C, St. Louis Blues (35)
This season was the first Kyrou spent exclusively in the NHL after splitting the previous two between St. Louis and San Antonio of the AHL. Kyrou started strong with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in his first 10 games and finished fifth on the Blues in goals (14) and points (35) in 55 games.
18. Ryan Lindgren, D, Boston Bruins (49)
Lindgren was a sophomore at the University of Minnesota when he was acquired by the Rangers in a trade with the Bruins for Rick Nash on Feb. 25, 2018. In two seasons with New York, Lindgren has matured into a dependable top-four defenseman, including averaging 20:00 of ice time and leading Rangers defensemen with a plus-20 rating this season.
19. Tyson Jost, C, Colorado Avalanche (10)
Jost has provided solid secondary scoring during his four NHL seasons with the Avalanche. Playing in a bottom-six role this season, he scored 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists), had an NHL career-best plus-14 rating, and averaged 2:01 of ice time while shorthanded to help the Avalanche finish eighth in the NHL on the penalty kill at 83.1 percent.
20. Ross Colton, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (118)
Colton scored the game-winning goal in his NHL debut against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 24, and he finished the season with 12 points (nine goals, three assists) in 30 games despite averaging 10:34 of ice time. Colton then had six points (four goals, two assists) in 23 playoff games, including scoring the Cup-clinching goal for the Lightning in a 1-0 win against the Canadiens in Game 5 of the Final.
21. Jake Bean, D, Carolina Hurricanes (13)
Carolina’s depth at defenseman forced Bean to play each of the past two seasons with Charlotte of the AHL. However, Bean got his chance to be an NHL regular this season and scored 12 points (one goal, 11 assists) in 42 games despite averaging 14:32 of ice time, which was seventh among the eight Hurricanes defensemen to play at least 15 games.
22. Dante Fabbro, D, Nashville Predators (17)
Fabbro continued his development this season, scoring 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 40 games after he had 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 64 games as a rookie in 2019-20. Fabbro also averaged 19:19 of ice time, including 1:27 per game on the penalty kill, which was 57 seconds more than he had last season.
23. Dillon Dube, C, Calgary Flames (56)
Dube split the previous two seasons between Calgary and Stockton of the AHL, but this season, he stuck with the Flames and scored 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 51 games.
24. Filip Gustavsson, G, Pittsburgh Penguins (55)
Gustavsson was selected by the Penguins in the second round before being traded to the Senators on Feb. 23, 2018. After spending four seasons developing in the AHL and ECHL, Gustavsson made his NHL debut on March 17 and went 5-1-2 with a 2.16 GAA and .933 save percentage in nine games.
25. Alex Nylander, RW, Buffalo Sabres (8)
Nylander played only 19 games in his first three seasons with the Sabres, moving frequently between Buffalo and Rochester of the AHL. He was given a chance by the Blackhawks to be a full-time NHL player last season after being acquired in a trade on July 9, 2019, and he responded by scoring 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 65 games. Although he didn’t play this season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Nylander could be a top-nine forward for Chicago next season.
26. Janne Kuokkanen, LW, Carolina Hurricanes (43)
After playing 12 games with the Hurricanes and Devils in his first three NHL seasons, Kuokkanen scored 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 50 games this season and developed solid chemistry on New Jersey’s top line with Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich.
27. Tage Thompson, RW, St. Louis Blues (26)
Thompson was one of the Blues’ top forward prospects when he was acquired by the Sabres as part of the trade for forward Ryan O’Reilly on July 1, 2018. He scored 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 38 games this season, including 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in 25 games after Don Granato replaced Ralph Krueger as coach on March 17.
28. Logan Stanley, D, Winnipeg Jets (18)
Stanley played two seasons in the OHL and two with Manitoba of the AHL before making his NHL debut against the Maple Leafs on Jan. 18. At 6-foot-7, 228 pounds, Stanley provided a physical presence for the Jets, averaging 6.0 hits per 60 minutes of ice time, and also scored four points (one goal, three assists) in 37 games. In eight playoff games, he averaged 15:23 of ice time, up from 13:13 during the regular season, and scored the two goals in Winnipeg’s 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Second Round.
29. Sam Steel, C, Anaheim Ducks (30)
After scoring an NHL career-high 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 65 games in 2019-20, Steel scored 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 42 games this season and won 52.8 percent of his face-offs, which was second on the Ducks behind Adam Henrique (55.4; minimum 20 games).
30. Brandon Hagel, LW, Buffalo Sabres (159)
Hagel was selected by the Sabres in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, but they lost his rights after not signing him before the 2018 NHL Draft, which allowed him to sign with the Blackhawks as a free agent on Oct. 30, 2018. Hagel then spent one season in the Western Hockey League and one in the AHL before joining Chicago this season, when he finished ninth among rookies with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in 52 games, including scoring 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in his final 34 games.
Missing first-round picks: Olli Juolevi, D, Vancouver Canucks (5); Logan Brown, C, Ottawa Senators (11); Michael McLeod, C, New Jersey Devils (12); Kieffer Bellows, LW, New York Islanders (19); Dennis Cholowski, D, Detroit Red Wings (20); Julien Gauthier, RW, Carolina Hurricanes (21); German Rubtsov, C, Philadelphia Flyers (22); Henrik Borgstrom, C, Florida Panthers (23); Max Jones, LW, Anaheim Ducks (24); Riley Tufte, LW, Dallas Stars (25); Brett Howden, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (27); Lucas Johansen, D, Washington Capitals (28); Trent Frederic, C, Boston Bruins (29)
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