2014 NHL Draft: Top-10 Prospects & Mock Draft

Sam Bennett of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs

Sam Bennett of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs

The draft is upon us. Here are my top-10 prospects and a mock draft. Check out my other draft posts from this week here and here.

Top-10 Prospects

(1) Aaron Ekblad

This big defenceman started playing in the OHL when he was 15 years old – the first defenceman ever to play in the CHL prior to age 16. (Recently, John Tavares and Connor McDavid did the same, but as forwards). Since then, all he’s done is improve and dominate in every facet of the game. He’s big and strong, but skates like a much smaller player; he’s calm and poised, intelligent with and without the puck, has a great shot, and enough meanness to him to him to keep his opponents honest. In the OHL coaches’ poll, he was named top offensive defenceman, AND top defensive defenceman. Without loing anything up, I’d be willing to bet that no draft-eligible defenceman has ever achieved this. (Even Drew Doughty – who was dominant in his OHL career, didn’t do this).

In a worst-case, Ekblad looks like Colorado’s Erik Johnson – who actually went 1st overall to St. Louis in 2006, but never lived up to his potential. Nonetheless, Johnson is a good, two-way defenceman who can play in any team’s top 3 or 4. His upside is simple: Shea Weber. I’d expect him to be closer to Weber than Johnson.

(2) Sam Bennett

Although Sam Bennett couldn’t do a single chin-up at the NHL draft combine, that won’t stop him from going early in the draft. With 91 points in only 57 games, no one is calling his production into question. His calling cards: speed, skill, and tenacity. His skating and puck skills are reminiscent of Matt Duchene, while his will and two-way play are similar to Mike Richards. And in some ways, his current lack of upper-body strength is almost a positive, in that he has tons of room to grow. The downside for Bennett is you get a 60 point, 2nd line centre who plays in every situation. His upside is a mini-Jonathan Toews.

(3) Sam Reinhart

Son of Paul, and youngest brother of Max (Cgy) and Griffin (Nyi), Sam Reinhart might be the best player in the family. His combination of skill and smarts led him to 105 points in 60 points this year with Kootenay in the WHL. He also suited up for Canada at the World Juniors and turned in a good performance. Most scouts believe he might be a better fit as a 2nd line guy – in the 70 point range – but his versatility should have him pretty high on everyone’s list. It’s worth noting that his 105 points came in his 3rd season in junior, since he is born late in 1995. (Players born after September 15 of any given year are drafted when they’re almost 19, rather than just recently 18; in this draft, most players are ’96 birth years, but some, like Reinhart, are ’95). Regardless of where he goes, it looks like he’ll be no less than a good 2nd line forward.

(4) Leon Draisaitl

This big German centre played with our stud Jets D-prospect, Josh Morrissey in Prince Albert. He draws some comparisons to other big centres like Anze Kopitar and Joe Thornton, but those are outlandish – he doesn’t have that kind of upside. He is however, a very good playmaker, and his lots of size and strength. Like Reinhart, he is a ’95 birthday, in his 3rd junior season, so you have to take his numbers with a grain of salt. (105 pts this season). Odds are he’s a 2nd line centre, not a 1st. Some see him going to Edmonton because he solves their need for size, but he doesn’t have the skill of the other centres, Bennett and Reinhart.

(5) Michael Dal Colle

Dal Colle put together a really nice season in Oshawa (OHL) scoring 39 goals and 95 points in his second season in the OHL (’96 birth year – I always put stock in this). He’s best known for his pure scoring ability – he can beat you with a wrister from the slot, a one-timer from the face-off dot, in-tight, or any way you wanna get beat. Few scouts have him ahead of the top-4 above, but he’s almost universally ranked at #5 ahead of the next group of 5. He looks like a potential 30-goal scorer, possibly 35 if he gets to play with John Tavares. (Nyi pick 5th…)

(6) Jake Virtanen

6’1, 210, skates like the wind, and probably has the best shot in the draft – he’s ranked outside the top-5 by everyone because he lacks hockey sense and playmaking ability. Craig Button, who ranks him at 43, suggests that if he can’t score at the NHL level, he’ll be a 3rd liner like Raffi Torres. That said, he might also be regular 30-goal scorer. A nice fit for him would be on the right wing with the Sedins, and Vancouver picks at 6. (However, with all the trades they’ve made today, they might be trading up…)

(7) William Nylander

The son of former skilled centre Michael Nylander, slick Willy is said to be the most skilled player in the entire draft. However, scouts also say he’s fairly selfish on the ice, and he doesn’t have game-breaking speed or size, so his draft stock varies depending on who you talk to. That said, someone will probably fall in love with his upside. He could go in the top-5, or he could fall outside the top-10, so it really depends on the team picking.

(8) Nikolaj Ehlers

This slight Danish winger reminds many of a poor man’s Patrick Kane. He’s shifty and quick, and is just as good at finishing plays as he is setting them up. He scored 49 goals and 104 points this past season in Halifax, which is a slight concern because he played alongside Jonathan Drouin – the most talented player in all of junior hockey. That said, when Drouin was gone for the World Juniors, Ehlers scored 6 goals and 8 assists in 7 games. Furthermore, this was his rookie season in the QMJHL, so he adjusted to a new team, language, and country very quickly. If I’m a team drafting outside the top-5, this is probably who I would take.

(9) Haydn Fleury

After Ekblad, he’s the best defenceman on the draft board. 6’3, nearly 200 lbs, and a very fluid skater, Fleury projects to be a very good two-way defenceman. A fair comparison is Washington’s Karl Alzner, who had a similar profile coming out of the WHL in 2007. However, Fleury probably has a bit more offence to his game than Alzner. It’s hard to say where he’ll be drafted with so many skilled forwards around him, but almost every scouting service has him somewhere in the top-10.

(10) Nick Ritchie

Is he Todd Bertuzzi, or Taylor Pyatt? That’s the predicament when a team drafts a big winger like Nick Ritchie. He’s a ’95 birth year, so his stats aren’t overly impressive with only 74 points in his third season in the OHL, but he did score 39 goals. The big draw for scouts is his size – already 6’2, 230 lbs! I see him as more boom/bust than most of the other prospects in the top-10, but you know some GM will be tantalized by his combination of size and scoring ability.

 

Notes on this year’s draft

We’ve already seen movement this year from Vancouver, trading Kesler to Anaheim and Garrison to Tampa Bay; the Canucks have picks 6, 24, 36, and 50, and given that they’re now in a rebuild, they could be moving up. Spezza is probably on the move, maybe to St. Louis. Word is Chicago wants to trade Sharp, to clear space for Paul Stastny. Evander Kane rumours persist. Florida is looking at trading pick 1, the Islanders are dangling pick 5, and Edmonton is a loose cannon with pick 3 if they can get some help on D asap. In short, I predict this to be unpredictable, with picks being swapped more often than we’ve seen in recent years.

That being said, here’s a Mock Draft which assumes all the teams are picking in their given slots:

 

#

Team

Player

Pos

1

Florida

Aaron Ekblad

D

2

Buffalo

Sam Bennett

C

3

Edmonton

Leon Draisaitl

C

4

Calgary

Sam Reinhart

C

5

New York I

Michael Dal Colle

W

6

Vancouver

Jake Virtanen

W

7

Carolina

William Nylander

W

8

Toronto

Nick Ritchie

W

9

Winnipeg

Nikolaj Ehlers

W

10

Anaheim

Kasperi Kapanen

W

11

Nashville

Brendan Perlini

W

12

Phoenix

Haydn Fleury

D

13

Washington

Dylan Larkin

C

14

Dallas

Robby Fabri

C

15

Detroit

Kevin Fiala

W

16

Columbus

Jared McCann

C

17

Philadelphia

Alex Tuch

W

18

Minnesota

Travis Sanheim

D

19

Tampa Bay

Julius Honka

D

20

San Jose

Sonny Milano

W

21

St. Louis

Adrian Kempe

W

22

Pittsburgh

Ivan Barbashev

C

23

Colorado

Roland McKeown

D

24

Anaheim

Jakub Vrana

W

25

Boston

Connor Bleackley

W

26

Montreal

David Pastrnak

W

27

Chicago

Brett Pollock

W

28

Tampa Bay

Nikita Scherbak

W

29

Los Angeles

Nikolay Goldobin

W

30

New Jersey

Nick Schmaltz

C