NHL Central Scouting released its final rankings prior to the 2016 NHL Draft Tuesday morning.
While the final list is not the end-all, be-all of players will hear their names called in June’s NHL Draft at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., it is a fairly solid indicator.
NHL Central Scouting breaks prospective draft picks into four different categories: North American skaters and goaltenders and European skaters and goaltenders. Players born between Jan. 1, 1996 and Sept. 15, 1998 are eligible to be selected.
Topping the European list at No. 1 is Auston Matthews, an American playing for Zurich in the Swiss Elite League, who will almost certainly be selected first overall.
A review of the American list shows a significant presence of players with New England connections, including Boston University freshman Charlie McAvoy (6) and UConn freshman Tage Thompson (20), who are slated to go in the first round. However, the top rated local player is former Malden Catholic star Matt Filipe.
Cedar Rapids Connection
Filipe, a Lynnfield, Mass., native, is ranked 51st. Currently skating for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the United States Hockey League (USHL), Filipe is a power forward who plays the game with an edge.
“He’s learning to be more physical on a more consistent basis. He definitely has the toughness. He doesn’t have to fight, but he’s shown he can,” said longtime Cedar Rapids coach Mark Carlson.
In his first season in North America’s top Junior ‘A’ league, Filipe is third on the team with 19 goals.
“Matt has come a long, long way since the beginning of year. It was a big step up coming from high school. His biggest improvement is he’s learned to play fast and use his speed to his advantage,” Carlson said.
One of the feel-good stories to come out of today’s release was the inclusion of Filipe’s Cedar Rapids teammate Ross Colton, who is in his third season of draft eligibility as a 1996-born prospect. The New Jersey native and Vermont commit played prep hockey at Taft School (Conn.) before going to the USHL.
“It’s been great to see Ross accomplish what he has. You have a player who was really dedicated to his game. Ross had a nice first year for us, but he came back in great shape. Wire-to-wire, he’s been terrific,” said Carlson of his team’s leading scorer, who went from unranked in the Midterm to 86th in the Final Rankings.
A third player on Cedar Rapids’ roster with New England ties is Matt Gosiewski, a Wilton, Conn., native committed to Harvard. The former Millbrook School (N.Y.) prep star is rated 196th.
“He was really coming on [before his injury]. He has real good hockey sense and vision with great size. He has tremendous tools,” Carlson said.
Eagles Soar High
A current Boston College defenseman as well as a future one, both with local ties, made the final rankings.
Freshman Casey Fitzgerald, the former Malden Catholic standout, had a solid rookie campaign and was ranked 156th. He assisted on both game-winning goals for the Eagles in the NCAA Northeast Regional.
"He's a dynamic skater. He's a very intelligent player, hockey-wise. His competitive level is off the charts," said BC coach Jerry York, prior to last week’s Frozen Four.
BC recruit and former Hingham and Dexter star Luke McInnis, now with the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms, was rated 141st. He had a few memorable moments in front of NHL scouts, including a game-winning goal in September’s CCM USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
Cardinals Place Four
Selects Academy at South Kent (Conn.) placed several current and former players on the final rankings. Leading the way is Notre Dame commit and Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) defenseman Andrew Peeke.
Providence recruit and Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) defenseman Jake Ryczek (114) is another smooth-skating blue liner from South Kent. Another Providence commit, senior left wing Greg Printz, also made the list at 160.
Another alum, Quinnipiac freshman Chase Priskie, climbed 57 spots to 127 following a terrific rookie season that concluded with a loss in last Saturday’s national championship game to North Dakota.
"Chase had a great year. He's been dominant. The way he plays is how we want all our 'D' to play. We want to get our 'D' in the rush. We want to create that second wave, that third wave of attack,” said Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold.
A 'Swede' Day
It’s tough to describe Tuesday as anything but a good day for Gunnery (Conn.) center Gustaf Westlund. The Parisian-born Swede verbally committed to play college hockey at Michigan, and saw his stock jump 28 spots from the Midterm up to 116.
In his first year in North America, Westlund was Gunnery’s top center as the school captured the Elite 8 Prep School Championship trophy this March.
“Gustaf is a dynamically talented Swedish import who has some of the best puck skills in the draft. He has a long stride, quick hands and plays the game very hard. He will be a steal if he gets past the fifth round,” said one NHL scout.
A wrist injury slowed down Albany Academy (N.Y.) star Kevin O’Neil at the start of the season, but the Yale recruit was rewarded for a strong second half and a promising effort at the Beantown Spring Classic.
“He sees the ice, he can make plays and he has a deceptive speed. His first two steps are strong,” said Albany Academy coach Brett Riley.
O’Neil, who had 21 goals and 44 assists, changed his game a little this winter, partly due to the injury and also because other teams were centering their defense around him. He will play with the USHL’s Madison Capitals next season.
Between the midterm and final rankings, O'Neil jumped more than 50 spots, going from 179 to 122.
“He made a huge jump in the draft list. He finished the year really strong. Points aside, every game he was a marked man. He had teams trying to shut him down, but he made the guys around him better,” Riley explained.
Smooth as Silk
Few players in this year’s draft class can skate like Hotchkiss (Conn.) junior defenseman Marshall Rifai. The Harvard commit is ranked 123rd, but several NHL clubs think his skating ability and propensity to push the pace is a real attribute.
“His strength is definitely his skating ability. When a defenseman can break a puck out with his feet, he can take the pressure off of other players in the defensive zone. I think Marshall's skating allows his teammates to play a little bit looser, knowing he is able to recover on some mistakes,” said Hotchkiss coach Mike Traggio.
“He gives the attack a fourth forward on the rush, and he is still able to backcheck on a turnover or be the first man back on a dump in,” added the former Brown University defenseman.
For his first few years of prep hockey, Ty Amonte was a good player, but was more known for being the son of former BU and NHL star Tony Amonte, his prep coach at Thayer.
However, he took a huge step in his progression over the past 12 months. The recent Boston University commit was a major reason the Tigers won the Prep Large School Tournament this March. Amonte, who had 12 goals and 30 assists during the prep season, was rated 201st.
“Ty is a player who continues to get better with each viewing,” said one NHL scout. “He does not have any single elite attribute, but is very good across the board with his hockey sense, three-zone play, skating and skill.”
“When the games matter the most is when Ty is at his best. He is a winner. His challenge will be if he is elite enough at his size, but with the way he has been developing, I see him as a solid late round candidate,” the scout added.
Avon Old Farms (Conn.) was consistently one of the top teams in prep hockey this winter before being upset by eventual champion Gunnery in the semifinals of the Elite Tournament.
A trio of seniors, Northeastern recruit Jamie Armstrong, Boston University commit Patrick Harper and UConn commit Adam Karashik, were a driving force.
Armstrong is the son of St. Louis Blues Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong, and is a rugged winger who plays well below the dots. The former Bishop Hendricken (R.I.) star is rated 124th.
Harper is diminutive in stature, but is a human highlight reel. He has great acceleration and hands to go with it. The future Terrier was slotted 143rd.
Karashik is a smooth defenseman who isn’t afraid to throw his body around despite his lack of size. He’s ranked 154th.
Brooks senior winger Vito Bavaro went from unranked to 165th in the final rankings. The Florida native and Sacred Heart recruit helped guide Brooks to a prep championship as a junior.
“Vito is a dynamic athlete who grew a ton as a player over his four years at Brooks. He's one of those kids who really love the game. He's constantly working out, shooting pucks and doing things to get better,” said Brooks coach Dave Ries.
“His heavy shot and quick release make him a threat to score from all over the ice. He's gotten a lot stronger and is working at using his body more effectively in tight areas,” Ries added.
Belmont Hill defenseman Brian Matthews is rated 175th. The captain of Jeremiah McCarthy’s prep power is a smart player who is committed to Yale.
“Brian Matthews impresses you on the ice with his hockey ability, grit, and IQ. His intangibles are even more impressive,” said McCarthy.