With the 2016 NHL Draft less than a month away, however, those drafts are old news. The eyes of the hockey world were focused on the last CHL game of the season and through it all one player stood out in a way that should place him firmly in the No. 4 slot of 2016 draft-eligible players--Matthew Tkachuk.
Outside of Auston Matthews the expected first overall pick, Patrick Laine, the presumed second-overall pick, and Jesse Puljujarvi who should go third, scouts and pundits had a varying array of three or four prospects slotted in that fourth-overall slot. Yet, with the performance yesterday of Knights’ Tkachuk in the Memorial Cup Final, there really shouldn’t be any doubt any more.
Tkachuk, son of longtime former NHL'er Keith Tkachuk capped off an immense season with two goals, including the Cup-winner in overtime. Sure, the OT winner may have nicked Dvorak on it's way to the back of the net, but neither player really cared nor did the celebratory Knights. Tkachuk took a feed at the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL) blueline on the play and headed straight for the net off of the left wing. He calmly held the puck while waiting for traffic (Dvorak) to provide a screen, did a nifty little toe-drag to gain some space then snapped a wrister short side for the winner.
That Tkachuk ended up on the ice after the goal after being tripped only added to the moment. Or perhaps his sprained ankle finally gave way after seeing the puck in the back of the net. Regardless, although he wasn't Bobby Orr flying through the air in celebration, he still began his celebration while on the ice.
The 6'1" 194 lb. Tkachuk, who was born in Scottsdale, AZ, had himself a grand season for a Knights team that was loaded for bear. In 57 regular season games he had 30 goals and 77 assists while on the road to the Memorial Cup he had 20 goals and 20 assists in 18 playoff games. With those kinds of numbers and with the show he put on at the Memorial Cup, he represents the best prospect outside of the top-three and may not be far behind Puljujarvi.
The Edmonton Oilers hold the fourth pick in the draft and would be in the position to take Tkachuk there. That is, if they hadn't already taken a boatload of forwards with their first pick--including four of the last six first overall picks--over the last couple of decades or so. The Oilers are in the market for a defenseman and should they not be able to trade down, they may be tempted to take one of the top-three defensemen in the draft--Tkachuk team mate, Olli Juolevi, Jakob Chychrun (Sarnia Sting) or Mikhail Sergachev (Windsor Spitfires).
Buffalo is also looking towards a defenseman with the eight-overall pick in the draft as GM Tim Murray has used a number of defensive prospects to strengthen the forward ranks. Right now only one, Brendan Guhle (2015, 51st overall,) projects as a top-four/top-pairing defenseman. Yet it's hard not to be intrigued by a left-winger like Tkachuk who would immediately be slotted as the top left wing prospect for Buffalo while possibly being in the top-three overall with Guhle and RW, Justin Bailey (2013, 52nd overall.)
The Sabres, however, may need to outbid another possible suitor for a trade with Edmonton--the Arizona Coyotes. The Yotes have a nice one-two punch in the system at center with Dylan Strome (2015, 3rd overall) and Dvorak and they have a pretty solid stable of young defensemen with 24 yr. old Oliver Ekman-Larsson (2009, 6th overall,) and 23 yr. old Connor Murphy (2011 12th.) And even though they have two fantastic young players on the wing in Max Domi (2013, 12th) and Anthony Duclair (2013, 80th, NYR,) they can still use some fresh blood for an aging group of wingers lead by recently re-signed, 39 yr. old Shane Doan.
Arizona heads into the draft with the 7th overall pick (one ahead of Buffalo) plus the 20th overall acquired in a trade with the NY Rangers and speculation has them packaging the 7th and 20th to Edmonton for the 4th overall. It's a trade like that makes a ton of sense for both clubs. For Arizona, they'd be able to land Tkachuk and add to their burgeoning stable of young, quality forwards while Edmonton would likely be able land one of the top-three defensemen in the draft while also landing another pick.
With Buffalo sitting in the eighth slot, unless they're willing to put together a package that would include this year's first rounder and a top prospect (like Guhle,) it's hard to forsee them being able to get up there to land Tkachuk. And in a case like that, it really wouldn't be worth it. One can see Arizona moving up for Tkachuk, Vancouver taking Juolevi at No. 5 overall, Calgary taking one of two forwards--Pierre Luc-Dubois or Alexander Nylander--and Edmonton landing one of Chychrun or Sergachev which fits right with their needs.
At No. 8 Buffalo will still have the opportunity to land one of those players including one of the top-three d-men. Unfortunately, a young powerforward like Tkachuk might be just out of reach for the Sabres this year.