NHL Draft: 2014 Entry Draft Preview
By, Jon Litterine
The 2014 NHL Entry Draft takes place on June 27-28 in Philadelphia. The Florida Panthers hold the first overall selection in a draft that figures to be amongst the most unpredictable in recent memory. Our annual top 30 ranked players are listed below.
1) Aaron Ekblad (D, Barrie-OHL): There are several players who can make a case to be the top player in the draft, but due to the fact that he has the greatest probability of making a high impact at the NHL level, Ekblad gets the top spot on our list. There have been comparisons to Drew Doughty, although I think that is a bit of a reach. I think the best comparison for Ekblad is more along the lines of a Brent Seabrook type. A big, strong guy, who can play 25 minutes a game and can help in both ends of the rink. He doesn't figure to be a pure shutdown defenseman or a true power play quarterback, although he should be able to help in both of those areas. He's head and shoulders above any other defenseman in the draft and is a lock to be a top-three selection.
2) Sam Bennett (LW, Kingston-OHL): If Bennett stood 6'3 and not 6'0, he would probably be the first overall pick. He skates exceptionally well, has great vision, and is more than willing to go to the tough areas of the ice to make plays. After scoring just 40 points in 60 games in his first season in the OHL, Bennett raised that total to 91 points in just 57 games this year. He was remarkably consistent all year long and showed a real willingness to stand up for himself against bigger players.
3) Nikolaj Ehlers (LW, Halifax-QMJHL): There are a lot of people who think that Ehlers' fantastic season (49G, 104P in 63GP) was a direct result of playing on the same team as the top prospect in all of hockey, Tampa's Jonathan Drouin. And while there's no doubt that Ehlers needs to bulk up from his current weight of roughly 160 pounds, he has offensive abilities that just cannot be taught. Ehlers does absolutely everything at high speed and is equally adept at both finishing and setting up his teammates. He may be the best pure offensive prospect in the entire draft.
4) Sam Reinhart (C, Kootenay-WHL): Reinhart made Team Canada for the World Juniors and did himself a world of good in a tournament that is notoriously difficult on younger players. Reinhart has no elite physical attributes to his game. He has just average size and is an average skater, but his pure hockey sense is hands down the best in the entire draft. He is always in the right position and that leads to a lot of points, especially on the power play. Reinhart is the International Scouting Services (I.S.S.) top ranked player.
5) Leon Draisaitl (C, Prince Albert-WHL): I'm the first one to admit that Draisaitl scares the heck out of me. When he's playing his "A" game, he looks an awful lot like Anze Kopitar. He's big, physically mature, and has the ability to use his body to dominate in the offensive zone. On the down side, he can disappear for long stretches at a time and put forth a performance to forget for his native Germany at the World Juniors due to some selfish penalties and was virtually invisible at the CHL Top Prospects Game. Whoever takes Draisaitl is taking a risk, but it has potential to pay off by getting perhaps the best player in the draft if everything works out.
6) William Nylander (C, Modo-Sweden): Nylander grew up around the NHL scene while his dad Michael played for several different teams. His game is actually fairly similar to his father's. Dynamic with the puck and able to make something out of nothing. Nylander had a bit of an odd season, playing for three different teams in Sweden, which is a rarity for draft eligible players. Nylander is undersized at just 5'11 and 170 pounds, but he has offensive ability that you can't teach and those kinds of skills will be in high demand on draft night.
7) Michael Dal Colle (LW, Oshawa-OHL): The biggest knock on Dal Colle is one that could potentially send him sliding down draft boards a bit; he just doesn't like the physical aspect of the game. That's not to say that he goes out of his way to avoid getting hit, but he doesn't engage other players physically and it's difficult to be successful in the NHL if you don't do that to some extent. As a true point producer, it isn't as much of a concern as it would be if Dal Colle was a third line, grinder type, but there are certain to be teams who will be a bit hesitant to select him which is a shame because he really is a fantastic offensive player.
8) Haydn Fleury (D, Red Deer-WHL): If Ekblad is the consensus best defenseman available in the draft, then Fleury is the consensus number two. He has a lot of the same traits as Ekblad; big, strong, good skater, and can play major minutes. The one noticeable difference between the two is that Ebklad's offensive game is more advanced than Fleury's at this stage of their careers.
9) Jake Virtanen (LW, Calgary-WHL): Last year, Anthony Mantha was one of my favorite players available in the draft. He lasted until the 20th overall pick and then responded with 57 goals in 57 games for Val d'Or in the QMJHL this season. Mantha has just one elite trait to his game - he's a top-flight goal scorer. Virtanen has the same trait, but he's also a fantastic skater. At 6'5, Mantha is five inches taller than Virtanen, but at 210 pounds, Virtanen is actually five pounds heavier. I don't want to say that I expect Virtanen to blow up next season like Mantha did this year because Mantha's season was perhaps the most impressive junior season in the last 10 years, but he definitely has the potential to improve on the 45 goals that he scored in 71 games this season.
10)Kasperi Kapanen (RW, KalPa-Finland): The son of long time former NHL veteran Sami Kapanen, Kasperi had a bit of a rough season while playing for a dreadful team in KalPa. Kapanen projects as a solid two-way forward in the NHL. His offensive production may be limited to somewhere around 55-60 pounds, but he gets his teammates involved, has great hockey sense and like many Finnish players, is fairly responsible in his own zone for such a young kid. An injury robbed Kapanen from a chance to compete at the World Juniors this past December.
11)Nick Ritchie (LW, Peterborough-OHL): 18-year-old kids who are 6'2 and 225 pounds with good hands don't grow on trees, and as a result, Ritchie is going to find himself taken in the top half of the first round. That's the good news. The bad news is that Ritchie is perhaps the most inconsistent top prospect in this year's draft. On some nights he looks like he has the ability to be a dominant power forward at the NHL level, on other nights, you are wondering if he's even dressed. Ritchie isn't the first player to be wildly inconsistent at his age and he won't be the last. A lot of them eventually figure it out, but he's a risk for a team who picks in the top 15.
12)Brendan Perlini (LW, Niagara-OHL): Perlini and Ritchie are in the same exact boat. Two players who play similar games and some nights look like they should be top five picks and other nights they look like they should be taken in the second round. An argument can be made that Ritchie's upside is a bit higher but Perlini has a better chance of reaching his. Perlini played on a bad team in Niagara but showed great improvement from his first year in the OHL when he scored seven goals to this year when he scored 34.
13)Robby Fabbri (C, Guelph-OHL): While Perlini was on a poor team, Fabbri was on a great team. Guelph won the OHL championship and made it all the way to the Memorial Cup final. In 58GP this season, Fabbri had 45G and 87P. Guelph acquired 2013 Columbus first rounder Kerby Rychel from Windsor at the OHL trade deadline and he and Fabbri had great chemistry the remainder of the season. The only worry about Fabbri is that he's 5'10 and 170 pounds, but with the way the game is called today, that shouldn't be much of a problem.
14)Sonny Milano (LW, U.S. NTDP-USHL): The big knock on Milano is that he stickhandles way too much and doesn't use his teammates enough. As a result, he often looks like a selfish player on the ice. He can get away with that in the USHL, but that won't fly when Milano heads to Boston College next season. On the bright side, that's coachable, and Milano's offensive abilities are not. Milano had 14G and 39P in 25GP this past season for the US NTDP in the USHL where it's notoriously difficult to put up points.
15)Ivan Barbashev (LW, Moncton-QMJHL): Barbashev earns bonus points on two fronts. First, he was willing to leave his native Russia to come over and play in the QMJHL. Second, he's a true 200-foot player. He seeks out contact in the offensive zone and is more than willing to bang in his own zone to get the puck out. He also has a decent amount of offensive ability, led by his great vision with the puck. Barbashev played a defensive role at the World Juniors, helping Russia win the bronze medal. He was the youngest player on the team. He doesn't come with many of the risks that most Russian players come with these days.
16)Julius Honka (D, Swift Current-WHL): No one could have predicted the impact that Honka would have for Swift Current in his first season in North America. In 62 games, Honka had 16 goals and 56 points. He also represented Finland at the World Juniors, although he didn't play much. Honka is one of the best pure offensive defensemen in the draft. But as is often the case with offensive defensemen, there are shortcomings in the defensive zone. Honka isn't big (5'10, 180 pounds) and his reads in his own end need some work, but his upside is immense.
17)Thatcher Demko (G, Boston College-NCAA): Demko, a San Diego native, actually started his freshman season at B.C. as the Eagles backup. But once he was given the opportunity, he wrestled the number one job away from junior Brian Billett and by the time the season was over, Demko was the clear cut number one man in Chestnut Hill. Demko has great size (6'3, 190 pounds) and he is extremely athletic. He tries to do too much at times, but that's common with young goaltenders. It would be a surprise if Demko were not the first goalie selected in the draft.
18)Nikolai Goldobin (RW, Sarnia-OHL): Goldobin had a monster season (38G, 94P in 67GP) while playing for one of the worst teams in the CHL. He was a standout at the Top Prospects Game and is one of the best pure goal scorers in the entire draft. But it's not all positive with Goldobin. He's not big (5'11, 180 pounds) and he's another player who's moody on the ice. He's into it one shift and not the next. It's something that seems to be increasingly common amongst young Russian players these days. There are definitely teams who won't want to risk their first round pick on a player like that on draft day.
19)Kevin Fiala (LW, HV71-Sweden): Fiala had quite a season. He played very well for his native Switzerland at the World Juniors and earned a call up to HV71's big club by mid season. He responded by putting up 11 points in 17 games as a 17-year-old and showed off his world-class skill. One of my favorite players in the entire draft, Fiala is undersized (5'10, 180 pounds), but that's the only knock against him. He battles hard and is a fantastic passer. He has the potential to be a steal in the middle of the first round.
20)Dylan Larkin (LW, U.S. NTDP): A team deciding if they want to take Larkin has another dilemma on their hands. No one in the draft plays harder than Larkin. He busts his tail every single shift and you know exactly what you're getting. On the other hand, his offensive upside is limited and you're probably getting a future third-liner. If you're ok with that, there's nothing wrong with taking a guy like Larkin, but some teams will want more upside with their first round pick. Larkin heads to the University of Michigan next season.
21)Alex Tuch (RW, U.S. NTDP): Add Tuch to the list of players who have the potential to be a dominant power forward at the NHL level. Tuch is built like a tank at 6'3 & 215 pounds and he has good hands. He also has a cannon of a shot. It's just so hard to predict which of these kinds of kids will make it. The Canadiens spent their 2013 first round pick of forward Michael McCarron, who's built like a house, and he responded with an absolutely dreadful season for a stacked London team in the OHL. Tuch is a better prospect than McCarron, but he's another first round risk in a draft that is seemingly full of them.
22)David Pastrnak (LW, Sodertalje-Sweden): A native of the Czech Republic, Pastrnak left his home country two years ago to play in Sweden so he could face better competition. He missed a lot of time this season due to a back injury, but he played very well at the World Juniors and is a very gifted offensive player. Currently listed at about 165 pounds, Pastrnak needs to bulk up, but playing against men at age 17 can only bode well for his future and he's one player whose stock really has a chance to explode next season.
23)Nikita Scherbak (RW, Saskatoon-WHL): Some scouts think that if Scherbak didn't play for one of the worst teams in all of the CHL, he would have easily approached 100 points. As is, in his first season in North America, Scherbak came up with 26G and 69P in 54GP. He literally had no one to pass to the entire season. But as is the case with all young Russians who play major junior in North America, there's fear that Scherbak may flee back to Russia at some point. He was one of the best players at the Top Prospects game and if some team can keep him in North American for the long term, they will probably have gotten a steal.
24)Anthony DeAngelo (D, Sarnia-OHL): This is the biggest mystery of the entire draft. On talent alone, DeAngelo would be a lock for a top 10 pick. But there are problems surrounding DeAngelo. Big problems. He has dealt with substance abuse problems in the past, which he has openly admitted to. He was suspended twice this season for incidents with his teammates. One of which was for taunting a teammate with a racial slur. In other words, the entire situation is a mess. As far as the hockey side of things, DeAngelo is a great skater and puck handler and has the potential to be a quality power play quarterback at the NHL level. Defensively, he's small (5'10, 175 pounds) and his play in his own zone needs work. One thing that's certain, whoever takes DeAngelo will certainly know what they are potentially getting into when selecting him.
25)Travis Sanheim (D, Calgary-WHL): There aren't many players who have raised their draft stock as much this season as Sanheim has. A guy that was ticketed for the fourth or fifth round at the start of the year, he has now turned himself into a likely first round selection. He's still filling out and working on his play in his own zone, so Sanheim isn't a finished product yet, but he's a big kid (6'3, 180 pounds) who skates fairly well and has the potential to help out on the power play down the road.
26)Roland McKeown (D, Kingston-OHL): There are two big issues that McKeown is currently dealing with. The first is that he tries to do too much when he's on the ice. When he plays a simple game, he's most effective. The second is that scouts are still trying to figure out what kind of defenseman he would be at the NHL level. He has some shown offensive ability in juniors, but he doesn't figure to be a big point producer at the NHL level and he's fairly competent in his own zone, but he isn't the type of defenseman that you would match against another team's top line.
27)Adrian Kempe (C, Modo-Sweden): NHL teams most definitely take into consideration the programs that young European players grew up playing in, and few are as well respected as Modo in Sweden. Like many young European players, Kempe is too good for his club's junior team and as a result ends up getting limited minutes for the top team. Kempe is a brilliant skater, but there are real questions about his skill level and how that will translate at the NHL level. With the way the game is called today, you would think a player like Kempe would be able to draw a ton of penalties and help on the penalty kill even if he never develops much of a scoring touch.
28)Nick Schmaltz (RW, Green Bay-USHL): Schmaltz has been a big time point producer (115 P in 119GP) the past two seasons for Green Bay in the low scoring USHL. His brother Jordan was a first round pick of St. Louis in 2012, and Nick is easily one of the most skilled players in the draft. The downside is that Schmaltz tends to take shifts off, often looks like he isn't trying when he's on the ice and if he isn't using his puck skills to create offense, he isn't doing much else to help your team win. He's another high risk, high reward pick.
29)Jared McCann (C, S.S. Marie-OHL): McCann does everything well, and nothing great. As a result, he figures to be a solid third-liner at the NHL level. He may never score more than 50 points, but he can kill penalties, help out on the power play and plays hard, despite not being very big (6'0, 180 pounds). He needs to get more consistent, but McCann will be viewed as a "safe" pick.
30) Josh Ho-Sang (RW, Windsor-OHL): Selecting Ho-Sang isn't a proposition that every NHL team will be interested in. No one doubts his skill level (32G, 85P in 67 GP this season), but he doesn't use his teammates often enough on the ice and has been slapped with the dreaded "character issues" label off the ice. There are a fair share of scouts who think that Ho-Snag's gifts are going to go to waste and he will never get his act together, but some team is going to take him (likely in the first 40 picks) in hopes that he can figure it out. He's also suspended the first 15 games of next season for an incident that took place in the OHL playoffs.