This is the final of our five draft ranking articles this season. We will be covering the 2014 NHL draft in Philadelphia and continuing with our “At the Draft Table” articles between now and June 27, 2014.
1. Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)–Although Reinhart is not a consensus number one, we think that he is the best player available in this year’s draft. He is a complete player, with excellent leadership skills, outstanding hockey IQ and the ability make plays calmly and smoothly. Reinhart is tremendous with the puck on his stick. He will need to continue to work on his strength and skating, but he is an outstanding offensive threat.
2. Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie Colts (OHL)–A very good skater for his size, Ekblad has a physical maturity that no other top player in this draft possesses. Considered by most scouts to be pro-ready, Ekblad has a high hockey IQ, excellent reach with his stick, and is a highly desired right-hand shot. He does need to improve positionally and could be a bit more physical in his defensive play, but he could easily be taken first overall in the draft by a team looking for a top pairing, two-way blueliner.
3. Sam Bennett, C, Kingston Fronts (OHL)–Top notch two-way player, who has a high hockey IQ, displays some of the best effort in this draft and plays a very gritty game. Bennett is an excellent passer and has an excellent shot. Defensively, he may have the best skills of the top forwards available in Philadelphia. Definitely a top-five pick in the upcoming draft, almost all NHL scouts and independent scouting services have Bennett in the top three.
4. William Nylander, F, Sodertalje (Sweden-Allsvenskan)–We at Hockey Prospectus go back and forth about Nylander. There is no question, he has the best offensive skills available in this draft, and is the prototypical potential game-breaker. But he also has the potential to become a power play-only specialist in the NHL. Labeled the dreaded “not a team player,” Nylander, who once was considered a possible number one overall, dropped in most teams’ rankings. However, after he had an excellent U18 World Junior Championships and now a good Combine, he has bounced back. But there are still too many questions about his ability to be successful in the NHL to crack the top three. Clearly a boom or bust player, our final ranking of Nylander has him at fourth overall.
5. Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)–Dal Colle is of average size, but he uses his reach and passing abilities to be one of the top offensive forwards available in this draft. He protects the puck well, has a good nose for the net, and likes the responsibility of being the “game changer’ for his team. But Dal Colle’s best attribute may be the release on his shot, which is one of the best in the 2014 draft. He is adequate in his own zone, but will be expected to be more two-way in the pros, so Dal Colle will have to continue working on this issue.
6. Leon Draisaitl, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)–If it were not for questions about his skating and consistency, Draisaitl would be a contender for one of the top three picks in the 2014 draft. He has excellent size and strength, and protects the puck very well. Draisaitl sees the ice very well and makes very good decisions with and without the puck. Never shying away from going to the net, he can defeat opponents with dirty goals, but Draisaitl can also make very creative passes to find teammates. The issues with Draisaitl are will he be his elite talent self in any given game and can he accelerate fast enough to keep up with the NHL game. In that way, Draisaitl is also a boom or bust pick–he could turn out to be one of the best players of the draft or never play an NHL game.
7. Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough Petes (OHL)–A big power forward, Ritchie has outstanding size and good hands. He enjoys playing in traffic, protecting the puck well and driving well to the net. He plays a physical game, is strong along the boards and can easily separate an opponent from the puck. With his huge frame and muscled body, Ritchie is still working on acceleration issues, however, his acceleration and skating in general are improving. Consistency of effort has to be worked on, but if given players of his level to skate with, this issue may disappear quickly.
8. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)–With excellent offensive skills, Ehlers is an intriguing prospect. He is probably the best skater in the draft, which, when combined with his puckhandling skills, make him a tremendous offensive threat. Outside of his defensive game, which is just average, the big question about Ehlers is his size and strength, particularly along the boards. If he can overcome those issues, Ehlers could be an offensive dynamo in the NHL.
9. Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)–Expected to contribute some offense at the professional level, Fleury is first and foremost an excellent defender in his own zone. Reliable with good hockey sense, Fleury can be physical when he needs to be and distributes the puck well. He has excellent speed and is very calm under pressure.
10. Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)–An excellent power forward, with a outstanding shot and quick release, a nose for the net and elite speed. With very good size and good offensive instincts, Virtanen was impressive for team Canada in the U18s in Finland. Recently, Virtanen underwent shoulder surgery and is expected to be out 4-6 months. Had the shoulder injury not occurred, he might have been ranked a little higher, but Virtanen is still a top 10 prospect in this year’s draft.
11. Sonny Milano, LW, US NTDP (USHL)–Milano continues his rise through the rankings, as scouts become believers in his creative, speedy, play-making style. Milano has an incredibly fast first step and reads the ice extremely well. Although not known for defensive play, as the season went on, he improved greatly in this area. Now considered a decent defender, who is incredibly dangerous should he strip the puck from his opponent, Milano may be the first player from the United States NTDP to be drafted in Philadelphia.
12. Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)–Scouts call Barbashev an atypical Russian hockey player, in that he is not dynamic offensively, but plays a complete, consistently high-effort game. Strong on the puck with an impressive wrist shot, Barbashev pursues the puck well and finishes his checks. Expected to be a two-way, second line player in the NHL, Barbashev has climbed through the rankings throughout the year.
13. Alex Tuch, RW, US NTDP (USHL)–Very big power forward, who plays a big game. Tuch has a very high compete level with good vision. He can skate very well for his size and does not hesitate to go to the net. Tuch is responsible in his own zone and has some offensive upside, the question will be how much production can be expected of him when he turns pro. Tuch needs quite a bit of development, but he has the potential to be an impact NHL power forward.
14. Dylan Larkin, C, US NTDP (USHL)–Larkin has been in the teens in all our rankings this season, but he ends up the highest we have had him–at number 14. A natural center, he really can do it all–skate, pass, shoot, handle the puck, make good decisions and remember that he is not the only player on his team. In addition, Larkin is a character kid, who we can easily see captaining a team in the NHL. A very good two-way center, Larkin projects to be a second to third line center in the NHL.
15. Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)–The enigma that is Perlini has many scouts shaking their heads in confusion–and confused is not what you want scouts to be about your potential. There is no question that Perlini is an excellent skater and is always an offensive threat. What is not known is if he has the grit to play the pro game. Scouts have called him soft and they worry about Perlini’s defensive game, but we at Hockey Prospectus feel his offensive upside will be too much for teams to ignore. We expect Perlini to be selected in the middle of the first round.
16. Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Kalpa (Finland—Liiga)–An offensive wizard, who is not afraid to forecheck, Kapanen has explosive speed and displays very good creativity with the puck. He has excellent vision and makes quick, good decisions with the puck. No one doubts that Kapanen has game-breaker abilities, however, his dynamism offensively is intermittent and his defensive play needs work. Scouts have him going all over the first round, but we think that he is a boom or bust player that a team should be taking a chance on in the middle of the round.
17. Robby Fabbri, C, Guelph Storm (OHL)–The little engine that could, Fabbri has an incredibly high compete level, and is out to prove that just because he is small, he will be able to play in the NHL. His skating skills are excellent, he has an extremely high hockey IQ, he is great on face offs and is a very effective playmaker. But, Fabbri plays in traffic and often gets knocked off the puck (and off his feet). Although he gets up quickly, its mostly without the puck. A player with his offensive skills should go higher in the first round, however, scouts are concerned about his strength. That should drop him to the bottom half of the round.
18. Kevin Fiala, LW, HV71 (SHL)–Fiala may have the highest hockey IQ among all the players eligible for the draft this year. With excellent acceleration, smooth skating style, outstanding shot and high compete level, Fiala is a highly prized prospect. However, his decision to opt out of the fitness portion fo the Combine last month has had a negative effect on his final ranking. In addition, Fiala does need to develop more defensive skills over the next two to three years.
19. Adrian Kempe, LW, Modo (Sweden-SHL)–We were very glad when Kempe starting showing some real offensive upside in the U18s in Finland this spring, because it was the part of his game that had scouts worried. With consistently high effort, excellent skating, high hockey IQ, and very good defensive abilities (he blocks shots really well), Kempe is a dream lunch bucket player. But scouts wondered about how much he would produce. He looks like he is capable though, when its needed. And that has shot Kempe up our draft list in the past couple of months. No one has Kempe going this high, but in a wide open draft, it is quite possible that his jack of all trades approach will be very attractive to a team picking in the second third of the 2014 draft.
20. Jakub Vrana, LW/RW, Linkoping (SHL)–Vrana is one of the top European skilled forwards in the 2014 draft. His outstanding skating abilities, top notch shooting skills and very high hockey IQ have had scouts watching him for years. However, he seems to show inconsistent effort on defense and at times tries to do too much in the offensive zone. This has caused his stock to drop over the season, however, a very good U18 WJCs has Vrana on the radar for the first round once again.
21. Jack Dougherty, D, US NTDP (USHL)–A right-handed two-way defenseman, Dougherty has been impressing all year. He is a reliable, physical blueliner, who can skate very well, has good size and has pro decision-making abilities. Dougherty has a heavy shot from the point and can move the puck well, which he showed very successfully at the U18s in Finalnd this spring. Dougherty has moved up the rankings all season and has every chance of being the third defenseman selected in the 2014 draft.
22. David Pastrnak, RW, Sodertalje (Sweden—Allsvenskan)—High end offensive skills, combined with good skating and an excellent work ethic make Pastrnak a prized prospect. After he recovered from a concussion sustained in late January, and was unimpressive in the U18s in April, we dropped Pastrnak in our rankings, but he still has the skill set that makes scouts drool.
23. Connor Bleackley, C, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)–True two-way forward, who puts maximum effort into every game–scouts say they have never seen Bleackley take a shift off. He has a very high hockey IQ and vision, and Bleackley outworks almost every opponent. A natural born leader, the questions about Bleackley concern his offensive upside. Can he play top six minutes? If it was a sure thing that Bleackley could, he would never be available at number 22 in the draft–he would be top 10. As it is, expect him to go late first round.
24. Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)–The tall McCann must fill out for him to fulfill his potential as an NHL forward. McCann does have a good skill set, good wheels, a nice shot and he sees the ice very well. But, the question for McCann is whether or not he can round out his play to be a true two-way forward–he needs to bulk up and to work on play in his own zone. McCann’s defensive skills are nowhere near what his offensive skill-set is.
25. Nick Schmaltz, C, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)–Schmaltz is one of the most offensively gifted players in the 2014 draft. Based upon those skills, he should be selected top 10 in Philadelphia. The problem is he has a tendency to take shifts off and to disappear from the play when in traffic. In short, there are work ethic issues that are keeping him from being selected from among the very top players in the draft. That said, the team that drafts Schmaltz has the chance to hit a home run with the pick. Schmaltz is the ultimate boom or bust selection.
26. Nikita Scherbak, RW, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)—A winger with excellent vision, Scherbak has outstanding speed and passes the puck extremely well. He is very slippery and often skates his way out of trouble. Unable to come to the Combine because of Visa issues and not playing in the U18s hurt Scherbak’s ranking in the draft, but it will be hard for NHL teams to pass up his offensive skills at this point in the draft.
27. Julius Honka, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)–The only truly offensive defenseman in the entire upper echelon of this year’s draft, Honka has the skating, shot, decision-making abilities and elite hockey sense to be a first-pairing right handed blueliner. Like most offensive blueliners of his age, Honka needs to work on his defensive game, but he will have to do so, as he is nowhere near NHL-ready.
28. Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College (NCAA)—Earlier this season, we were pretty sure that Demko would go first round, but now we are not so certain. Not that he would not be worthy; it is just the circumstances of a pretty even draft from picks 10-45. Demko has excellent size, good lateral movement, stays square to the shooter very well and has a better than adequate glove. He will be the only goalie considered toward the bottom of the first round.
29. Travis Sanheim, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)–A two-way defenseman who has developed very quickly this season, Sanheim was very impressive in the U18s in Finland this spring. With a very large frame, good vision, good wheels and an excellent shot from the point, Sanheim is a player on the rise in scouts’ draft rankings.
30. Vlad Kamenev, C, Magnitogorsk (MHL/KHL)–Kamenev drew rave reviews after an excellent U18 performance in April. A high end talent, who has said he is looking to come play hockey in North America as soon as it can be arranged, Kamenev has started to be in the conversation for a first-round selection. With good size and good work along the boards, Kamenev can produce a combination of those things with his excellent offensive instincts
Leslie Treff covers professional and amateur scouting for Hockey Prospectus.
Follow Leslie on Twitter at @HFNYRangers.