In the wake of the Winnipeg Jets trading star forward Patrik Laine along with Jack Roslovic to the Columbus Blue Jackets for another star forward in Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third round pick in the 2022. It had me thinking about the 2016 draft class, specifically the top six picks. This draft featured both Laine who went second to Winnipeg while the Blue Jackets got their hands on Dubois just one pick later at number three. We rarely see such high level players, selected in the same draft class get swapped for each other, but that was the scenario that played out on Jan. 23, 2021. The last time we saw this happen was 25 years ago to the date. When first and second overall picks Bryan Berard and Wade Redden were swapped for one another in 1995.
The reason this trade had me pondering this draft class was to do with where Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk fit in terms of a theoretical re-draft? At this very moment in time, I think you could soundly place him as the second best player from that draft. It’s fairly obvious that he has surpassed Edmonton’s Jesse Puljujarvi, who went fourth overall, who has so far registered 39 points in 147 career NHL games. He took a stint away from the Oilers to play with Karpat of the Finnish SM-liiga, where he posted some solid numbers (53 points in 56 games) but has since come back to Edmonton and registered two assists in eight games. Now, I’ll take those with a grain of salt because he just got an opportunity to play with Connor McDavid, but he is still a ways behind Tkachuk, even if he does get his game back on track.
Then there’s Tkachuk’s former London Knights teammate Olli Juolevi, who went one pick ahead of Tkachuk to the Canucks. He JUST started playing NHL games this season with Vancouver, registering one goal in seven games so not only has he been surpassed by Tkachuk, but he also isn’t in the conversation for best defencemen with the likes of Stanley Cup winner Mikhail Sergachev and Boston’s Charlie McAvoy becoming premier rearguards at a very young age.
This leaves us with Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Matthew Tkachuk as the remaining players who could hold the title as the top dog in the draft.
Matthews is thriving in Toronto as the Leafs number one option at centre, where he routinely scores 35-40 goals each year, while at the same time excelling in his own zone. He leads the draft in overall scoring as well, posting 162 goals and 293 points in 289 games. This stat puts him slightly over a point per game at 1.01. I have zero issues with Matthews holding down the spot of being named first overall again.
This is where it gets dicey. Patrik Laine is second on the list with 140 goals and 250 points in 306 games. He is by far and away the best shooter in the draft (although Matthews makes it close) and his point-per-game average comes in at 0.81. If we were ranking who was the best scorer in the draft, Laine would surpass Tkachuk, but in terms of playmaking, play driving, defensive ability and just being the better all around player, Tkachuk tops Laine in each of these categories.
You can see that here, from the years 2017 to 2020, Tkachuk trumps Laine in GF/60, xGF/60, CF/60, xGA/60 and CA/60 at even strength per this RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey.
Tkachuk also trumps Pierre-Luc Dubois. Not only is he superior statistically, Tkachuk posting 239 points in 298 games (0.80 points-per-game) while Dubois sits at 159 points in 239 (0.66 points-per-game), but he holds a sizeable advantage in the analytical stats that highlight play driving ability. Dubois is able to make up some ground as he is slightly better than Tkachuk in the offensive zone, where he has a higher CF/60 and xGF/60.
Some teams might also rank him higher due to the fact his ceiling should be a bonafide number one center, but at this very moment it’s not enough for him to surpass Tkachuk in terms of where each player would go in the draft.
For that, here is how I would rank the top six draftees if teams were allowed to have a do over.
1. Auston Matthews TOR
2. Matthew Tkachuk WPG
3. Pierre-Luc Dubois CLB
4. Patrik Laine EDM
5. Jesse Puljujarvi VAN
6. Olli Juolevi CGY
This is obviously without moving playing such as Charlie McAvoy and Clayton Keller into the top six and removing Puljujarvi and Juolevi. But I think if you removed Puljujarvi and Juolevi, and replaced them with McAvoy and Keller, the pecking order doesn’t really change in my eyes. You could bump McAvoy up past Laine, but it all depends on preference and team need. I still stand by my case that Tkachuk is the clear cut number two player in this class.
As we’ve seen over his young career, Matthew Tkachuk can do a lot of things really well. He can score goals, he can generate offence, he can play against the other teams top lines is responsible in his own zone and as Leafs twitter has shown us, he has a knack for getting under opponents skin + he can fight. He also is tops in the league at drawing penalties according to www.icydata.hockey, coming in at second behind only Connor McDavid in that category since 2016. If all those things aren’t good enough for you, he is the lifeblood behind the Flames. He drags his teammates into the fight every game and when Tkachuk is rolling, the team is normally doing the same. I truly believe he is the second best player from this draft class, and while he’s behind Matthews for number one, it’s closer than a lot of people would have expected. There’s still a ways to go before any of their careers are over. Tkachuk could pass Matthews or even drop down past Laine or Dubois, but at this moment in time, the Calgary Flames made a genius selection with their sixth overall pick back in June of 2016.