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Historically poor showing from Canadian NHL teams comes with draft day silver lining

By Sonny Sachdeva, April 5 2016 —

The 2015–16 season has been an undeniable failure for the NHL’s seven Canadian teams.

A mix of timely injuries and underwhelming performances conspired to push Canadian clubs into one of their worst seasons in history. The result — all seven Canadian NHL teams were eliminated from playoff contention with just over a week left in the regular season.

While this may not be surprising considering these teams’ well-known flaws, the fact that none of Canada’s clubs earned a shot at the postseason is certainly notable. It’s only the second time this has happened in the NHL’s 99-year history, and the first in nearly half a century.

But the subpar showing put forth by the NHL’s Canadian teams comes with a silver lining. Though playoff hockey will take place exclusively south of the border this summer, the power shift will mean a significant influx of talent to Canadian clubs.

All seven Canadian teams currently reside in the bottom 10 spots of the league’s overall standings, meaning all seven are set to earn top 10 picks in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft in June. If this holds true, it will be the first time since 1975 that Canadian teams will all draft in the top 10.

They certainly picked a good year to earn that distinction, as the 2016 draft class is notably deep with regards to the quality of the top prospects.

Courtesy Alexander Laney

Courtesy Alexander Laney

American-born Auston Matthews leads the pack. The consensus choice for the future number-one selection, 18-year-old Matthews, tried his hand at competing against much older players in Switzerland’s professional league this season. It was an unprecedented choice for the promising centreman, as elite prospects like him usually suit up for junior hockey teams in their final pre-draft year.

But the change didn’t do much to slow Matthews down. He posted 46 points in 36 games for the Zurich Lions, alongside 24 goals — the fourth-most in the league, despite missing 14 games this year.

The 2016 talent pool doesn’t drop off after Matthews though. Right behind him are the high-flying Finnish duo of Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi, who are projected to earn the second and third selections. The pair put their scoring prowess on display at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, helping Finland win the gold medal on home ice.

Puljujärvi led the tournament in scoring with 17 points in seven games, while Laine finished third with 13. Laine and Matthews tied for the tournament goal-scoring lead with seven tallies apiece.

Behind these three is a second tier that includes American defender Jacob Chychrun and promising forwards Alexander Nylander and Matthew Tkachuk. The final four spots in the top 10 are less predictable. And with plenty of quality options available, the sixth to 10th teams will likely draft in accordance with their specific organizational needs.

With only three of the top 10 selecting teams at the 2016 draft hailing from the United States, the majority of these previously mentioned players — all of whom are projected to become notable NHL contributors — will end up on Canadian teams next season.

That significant influx of talent will be crucial for Canada’s presence in the NHL — especially for teams who are already close to contender status.

While clubs like the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs have plenty of holes to fill before they can compete with the top squads in their conference, the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens are much closer.

Montreal fell apart this season due to simple bad luck, as netminder Carey Price — the league’s top goaltender — missed the majority of the year after suffering a lower-body injury early in the season.

Calgary failed to follow up on their 2015 playoff run due to subpar goaltending from Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo — who combined to position the Flames last in the league in goals-against per game.

But both of these teams still have a few of the league’s top players, capable of raising their team up next season when these previously mentioned issues are sorted out. Calgary certainly proved that this season, as 22-year-old winger Johnny Gaudreau is set to finish among the top 10 scorers in the league. Both Calgary and Montreal now have the opportunity to add a top 10 talent this summer.

While 2015–16 was a step back for Canadian NHL clubs, the disappointing season figures to be the last in quite a while. A few of Canada’s teams are poised to right the ship and add some exceptional pieces along the way, setting them up for bounce-back campaigns in 2016–17.

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