Every year, prospect watchers predict who will be chosen the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. What is different about this season is the variation in the number of names that have been mentioned. The front runner going into the 2013-14 season was the WHL Kootenay Ice captain, Sam Reinhart. A smooth skating, offensively minded forward, Reinhart has the talent and hockey IQ that has every NHL team drooling. However, he does not have that absolute elite label that would make him a sure number one. Without that standout from the others status, other players have been named. Among them is the OHL Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who has been watched by NHL scouts since before he was granted “exceptional status” to play in the CHL at age 15. An excellent blueliner, who projects to be a two-way defenseman in the NHL, Ekblad has a very mature body, and is an excellent puck mover.
Other names that have surfaced over the season have included European forward, William Nylander, who has skated in Sweden’s Allsvenskan league this season. With outstanding offensive talents, Nylander was not selected to play in the U20 World Junior Championships in December/January, which effectively killed his chances to be selected number one overall. The other name that has been heard is that of Kingston Fronts’ Sam Bennett, a strong, two-way forward, who has put up outstanding numbers in the OHL this season.
We at Hockey Prospectus, however, are sticking with Reinhart this month, as he is still the player who has outstanding offensive potential, will not be a defensive liability, and has quite a bit of room to grow. So, let’s get to the list.
1. Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)—With excellent vision, hockey IQ, very good speed and leadership skills, as well as exceptional hands, Reinhart is still growing into his game. He does not shy away from battling for the puck, and has those intangible qualities that will make him an asset to any NHL team.
2. Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie Colts (OHL)—Physically mature blueliner, who can carry the puck and distribute it well. Excellent in his own zone, with some offensive upside, Ekblad is a good skater with exceptional vision.
3. Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)—Big, strong on the puck, while a very able playmaker, Draisaitl has elite offensive talent. Although he still has to develop consistency and is not overly physical in his play, Draisaitl’s combination of size and protection of the puck make him one of the best prospects in this draft.
4. Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)—Dal Colle has shown outstanding offensive production on the wing this season. An excellent two-way playmaker, who can skate, play well in traffic, and get a team timely goals.
5. Sam Bennett, C, Kingston Fronts (OHL)—Speedy and tough, Bennett can score goals, as well as make plays. With his constant effort and creativity, Bennett is the total package.
6. William Nylander, F, Sodertalje (Sweden-Allsvenskan)—Probably the best natural goal scorer in this year’s draft, Nylander can play either at center or on the wing. He is quick, creative, has outstanding vision and a nose for the net. He does need work on his decision-making and own zone play, however, his natural gifts make him the top European prospect in this draft.
7. Nicholaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)—One of the best skaters in the draft, Ehlers has good vision and hockey smarts, as well as a quick release on his shot.
8. Alex Tuch, RW, US NTDP (USHL)—Tuch has jumped up the rankings this year, as he has shown excellent hockey IQ as well as abilities with the puck. Tuch plays well in both zones, has excellent size which allows him to win battles along the boards, and consistently contributes offensively. High energy and high effort are hallmarks of his game.
9. Nicholas Ritchie, LW, Peterborough Petes (OHL)—A power forward, Ritchie has outstanding size and good hands. He enjoys playing in traffic and protects the puck well.
10. Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Kalpa (Finland—Liiga)—With excellent vision and a very quick release, Kapanen is one of the most dangerous offensive players in this draft.
11. Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)—Virtanen is a protypical power forward—a good-sized goal scorer, who can go to the net well, play in both zones and fight, if called upon.
12. Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)—With good size and hockey sense, Perlini has excellent speed and is very strong on the puck.
13. Adrian Kempe, LW, Modo (Sweden-SHL)—Excellent in all zones, Kempe has a big frame and does not shy away from using it. Very strong work ethic and a good shot.
14. Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)—In a draft top heavy with forwards, Ekblad stands alone in the first tier of blueliners. However, Fleury leads the second tier. With excellent size and mobility, Fleury can contribute offensively, but is also not afraid to engage physically.
15. Nikita Scherbak, RW, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)—A winger, who is more of a playmaker than goal scorer, Scherbak has outstanding speed and very good hands. An excellent passer, Scherbak’s vision on the ice is one of the best in the draft.
16. Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)—A very good playmaker, who can pot a timely goal, Barbashev has had a very productive season. He has good size and projects to be a forward that plays well in all zones.
17. Dylan Larkin, C, US NTDP (USHL)—A center with a nose for the net, Larkin is a goal scorer who has very good speed and strength
18. Nikolai Goldobin, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)—Explosive speed and offensive skill level. Impact player.
19. Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College (NCAA)—The only goaltender likely to go in the first round, Demko has excellent size, good lateral movement, stays square to the shooter very well and has a better than adequate glove.
20. Roland McKeown, D, Kingston Fronts (OHL)—Excellent skater who can contribute offensively. Effective in all zones–good positionally.
21. Sonny Milano, LW, US NTDP (USHL)—Slightly undersized, Milano is a wizard with the puck, with good vision and speed.
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. Pastrnak is currently recovering from a concussion that he sustained in late January.
23. Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)—McCann is a two-way scoring center, who has good size, excellent hockey sense and a very good work ethic.
24. Nick Schmaltz, C, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)—Schmaltz is a heady playmaker, with good vision and excellent passing abilities.
25. Josh Ho-Sang, RW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)—Ho-Sang is a playmaking winger, who has excellent speed and vision.
26. Connor Bleackley, C, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)—A two way forward, who has a good hockey IQ, strength and skates well.
27. Julius Honka, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)—Small, with an offensive upside, Honka has very good speed and a heavy shot; a potential power play quarterback.
28. Anton Karlsson, F, Frolunda Jr. 20 (Sweden–Junior)—Karlsson is an excellent two-way forward, who plays a physical game and can surprise with his sneaky offensive skills.
29. Jack Glover, D, US NTDP (USHL)—Big, strong two-way defenseman, who skates well, is good positionally and can distribute the puck.
30. Jack Dougherty, D, US NTDP (USHL)—Solid two-way defenseman, who has good vision and a high hockey IQ.
Leslie Treff covers professional and amateur scouting for Hockey Prospectus.
Follow Leslie on Twitter at @HFNYRangers.