Riley Tufte is a rare prospect in this year's NHL draft. It isn't often that a prospect goes in the first round out of high school, and that is exactly where he is expected to go later this month. Drafting a high school player is usually considered a pretty big gamble, but this is one that many scouts expect to pay off eventually.
Currently committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for next season, it will be a few years before he'll get his shot at the show. That said, he is the type of project player you want to have, with pro size and major scoring upside to boot.
Birthplace: Ham Lake, Minnesota
Position: Left Wing
Height: 6'5" Weight: 212lbs
Tufte is one of the purest power-forwards available in this year's draft. He is big, strong, and extremely difficult to separate from the puck. When he takes it to the net, there are few who can stop him from doing so. Playing in high school, he was nothing short of dominant.
He uses his frame and reach to the utmost advantage. It enables him to bide time in the offensive zone and look for the right play, which he does a great job of finding. He has virtually no problem winning board battles, and really asserts himself physically whenever he can.
He is a solid skater with an explosive stride, but like many bigger prospects, he has some work to do on his skating before he can turn pro. Playing in the NCAA should help that, as the brand of hockey there is very conducive to developing better skating skills. It will also give him a chance to show what he can do when he's not necessarily the most physically intimidating player on the ice, like he was in high school.
Concern has also been expressed by several scouts over his defensive play. His high school team relied very heavily upon him to create offence, so the worry is that he hasn't developed enough at his own end of the ice. That will be a focus for him moving forward, and it should be interesting to see what he can do at the next level.
Tufte is a big power forward who has solid mobility and skilled hands. He is hulking and rangy, able to move around defenders with a fluid stride and strong stick reach, which he uses to protect the puck. He is most effective when he uses his big body to protect the puck. He possesses very powerful first strides, which he uses to rush through the neutral zone. Tufte is able to get rid of back-pressing forwards with only two to three strides. His big size helps him to drive the net very aggressively and successfully screen the goaltender. He is extremely hard for defenders to move and he is present in after- whistle scrums. Given his size, Tufte has no reason to be afraid of board battles and he wins most of them. He has very good sense of what each play calls for. He isn’t afraid to play a simple game if it means he will have success, as evidenced by his decisions to chip and chase, beating the defender to the puck and setting up a teammate from the backdoor.
He could use his quick hands to try deking around defenders, but instead simplifies his play if the situation calls for it. Tufte has a deadly wrist shot, which is NHL-quality in release and velocity. What looks like an effortless flick of the wrist can become a lethal bar-down snipe. When he had the puck on his stick with a head of steam, there was nobody at the high school level who could stop him. He uses his reach to his advantage in the defensive zone and when picking up his man on the backcheck, extending his reach to wrap around the puck carrier in an effort to get his stick on the puck. Tufte is a big power forward who can draw defenders in and keep them off of the puck at the same time. He will help his future teams offensively and as a power play threat deep in the offensive zone as he will find a way to get the puck to the net at all costs.
He's become one of the top power forwards in his entire draft class. He's always been blessed with size but his skill level has grown in leaps and bounds. Literally the only remaining question we have about Tufte is his defensive game ... his high school team relied so heavily on his offense that his defensive game wasn't called on as much. He'll need to continue to work on his skating but this young man should be a first round pick in this summer's NHL draft. Has become very effective at using his size at both ends of the rink. Has a great sense of both identifying and making the right plays at key moments.
Future Considerations: 22nd
Central Scouting service: 17th (North American skaters)
Draft Buzz Hockey: Not Ranked
Hockey Prospectus: 24th
ESPN: Not Ranked
Draft Analyst: Not Ranked
If the Canadiens made this pick at ninth overall, they'd be making one heck of an off-the-board gamble. Montreal needs some help sooner than later, so even if they were to trade down, I'd rather see them go after someone who is a little bit closer to NHL-ready.
He's really a gamble for any team, as lot is going to hinge on what he can do in the NCAA. He started last season in the USHL, where he was not nearly as dominant as he was in high school. Then he went back to high school, and once again, nobody could touch him. You have to wonder if he was playing below where he should have been.
That is very concerning, because dominating in high school certainly does not guarantee success at higher levels. He has size working for him, but he'll need to prove himself against tougher competition. He's a project player that will take some time to develop, so any team taking him has to be rather patient.
There are a number of intriguing players that should be available late in the first round. Were I one of the teams possessing such a pick, and don't need help in the NHL any time soon, then I might take a look at Riley Tufte.