2016 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Riley Tufte
While he's still a ways away from any time in the NHL, Tufte is a big man with some very big potential
Name: Riley Tufte
2015-16 Team: Blaine High School (USHS)
Stats: 25 GP, 47 goals, 31 assists, 78 points, 53 PIMs
Future Considerations Ranking: 22nd
NHL Comparable Player: Brock Nelson
It's generally harder to scout and asses players coming from high school hockey leagues compared to their colleagues in other, more notable leagues, but sometimes players stand out so much that you can't help but take notice.
Riley Tufte is one of those players, but he stands out in more ways than one.
Officially weighing in at 6'5" and 211 pounds at the draft combine, Tufte is a gigantic player that's impossible to miss out on the ice. He doesn't use his size to play nasty or overly physical, but knows how to use his large frame in other beneficial ways, such as shielding the puck and using his long reach with his stick to disrupt opposing teams.
Even more impressively, Tufte, unlike so many other big forwards, also has a strong skating ability and soft hands, which make him all the more dangerous offensively when combined with his natural size. He's not a particularly adept play-maker, nor is he even an especially lethal sniper, but he has strong instincts around the net and good control of his stick to corral loose pucks and bury them. You don't necessarily need to be able to stickhandle in a phone booth or unleash a howitzer coming off the rush when you can consistently get the puck in the prime scoring areas.
All of this leads to the other main way that Tufte stands out: on the scoresheet.
It's not uncommon for top prospects to put up gaudy numbers in high school leagues, where defensive systems are often a little less structured and quality of competition is more inconsistent, but Tufte's 47 goals and 78 points in 25 games this season were nevertheless eye-popping. For comparison sake, Florida Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad played on the same Blaine team back in his draft-eligible season in 2010 and finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 25 games.
There were some hiccups, however, in the short times when Tufte went up a level and joined his USHL team, the Fargo Force. His numbers there weren't quite so spectacular (10 goals and 14 points in 27 games, not especially noteworthy for top prospects coming from the USHL), yet he still earned a lot of praise from scouts for the work that he put in during those games.
All-in-all, Tufte is an impressive prospect with a number of excellent tools at his disposal, but one that still needs a good bit of development time to fully mould himself into an effective player once he hits the professional ranks. Luckily for him, he has up to four years to do exactly that as he's now off to the NCAA's University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he should get plenty of opportunities to play in key offensive roles on a team that just saw its top two scorers graduate and leave for pro leagues.
Tufte won't be a difference-maker in the NHL any time soon, but any team that's willing to be patient with his development could have a very impactful prospect on their hands a few years down the road.