With every draft class, a theme emerges and while the 2014 Draft class lacks in size it more than makes up for it in skill. With this draft, it does not have some of the lustre of past years, due to its lack of star power at the top end of the draft, but there appears to be a lot of depth and skill at the forward position. As a rule of thumb, the best pick to take is the best forward available and while many will argue there is no clear cut top forward I am starting to see one emerge.
This year I decided to include the points-per-game of each player as well as their points-per-game not including power-play points. I have also included what percentage of their points are non-power play points.
1. Sam Bennett
TEAM: Kingston (OHL)
STATS: 41GP 27G 41A 68P +29 95PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 1.14 (69.4%)
Bennett not only has the best points per game of any CHL player in the draft, he also has the most impressive even strength production with a P/G >15% better than the rest of the CHL draft class. Combine this with the fact Bennett is a 96 born rather than a 95 born like Reinhart and that he plays with an edge at a very high compete level, Bennett currently stands out as the best forward available.
2. Aaron Ekblad
TEAM: Barrie (OHL)
STATS: 38GP 17G 21A 38P 0 60PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.39 (39.5%)
For most people Ekblad is the top choice, as he projects to be a minute munching pillar of a d-man and the perfect partner to match on a top pairing with an offensive player. While I never projected a huge offensive upside with Ekblad, what I like this year is he has developed into a strong shooting option on the power play making him the type of d-man that can be used in all situations.
3. Sam Reinhart
TEAM: Kootenay (WHL)
STATS: 40GP 24G 41A 65P +9 9PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.95 (58.5%)
Reinhart is always described as being the most intelligent player in the draft, so it is not surprising to see he is very effective on the power play where it allows him to pick apart the other team. While he does not project to be an elite player, he appears more likely to be a very good two-way center that would be a #1 on a bad team or a great #2 on a good team.
4. Michael Dal Colle
TEAM: Oshawa (OHL)
STATS: 50GP 32G 39A 71P +9 32PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.76 (53.5%)
Out of my top five players, Dal Colle has been the least effective player at even strength, but you have to factor in that he is a younger player than either Draisaitl or Reinhart and should be further behind in development. Another positive going for Dal Colle is that he can add a lot of size and strength to his lanky frame so he has more room for growth in this area compared to Draisaitl.
5. Leon Draisaitl
TEAM: Prince Albert (WHL)
STATS: 43GP 19G 41A 60P -2 20PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.93 (66.7%)
Statistically Draisaitl and Reinhart are having similar seasons in the WHL, with the big difference in point production due mainly to Reinhart’s power play production. However, Reinhart has outperformed Draisaitl at the big scouting events and while I do not like to put too much emphasis on a handful of games, it can show how a player reacts to a pressure situation.
6. William Nylander
TEAM: Sodertalje (Allsvenskan)
STATS: 29GP 11G 10A 21P 0 14PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.52 (71.4%)
While being arguably the most skilled player available, Nylander has had an up and down season, as he had only been scoring at a 0.44 P/G pace with Rogle before being transferred to Sodertalje where his production spiked to 1.18 P/G. If he continues to play at this level for the rest of the season, where his production actually matches his talent level, I would expect Nylander to move back into the top 3 discussion.
7. Jake Virtanen
TEAM: Calgary (WHL)
STATS: 51GP 32G 18A 50P +15 73PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.73 (74%)
What Virtanen has going for him is his strong even strength goal production combined with the fact that he is one of the youngest players available. Add in the fact that he is a great skater, with a good shot, who likes to play a power forward game and it would not surprise me if he ends up a top 5 choice.
8. Nick Ritchie
TEAM: Peterborough (OHL)
STATS: 42GP 23G 25A 48P -4 97PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.83 (72.9%)
It would be nice to have TOI stats because with his huge frame and his strength I would have expected Ritchie to have more power play points. While I do think Ritchie’s offensive skills are a notch below that of the top five players, I could see him easily going top five as a team falls in love with a big physical winger that can skate and may play in their top six.
9. Haydn Fleury
TEAM: Red Deer (WHL)
STATS: 51GP 6G 30A 36P +16 32PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.35 (50.0%)
In terms of skillset, Fleury has all the tools you want in a top 4 d-man as he brings size, smarts and skating. At even strength, Fleury has produced at a similar rate to that of Ekblad and while his upside is not that far behind Ekblad, Fleury is not as polished currently.
10. Alex Tuch
TEAM: USA Under-18 (USHL)
STATS: 37GP 22G 19A 41P +23 32PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.86 (78.0%)
NCAA P/G: 0.93
NCAA P/G(w/o PP): 0.79 (84.6%)
Tuch is a player that is currently all over the map in the rankings but count me on the Tuch bandwagon as I like the fact that he produces strong even strength numbers not only at the USHL level but also when playing against NCAA teams. The main concern with Tuch is how much of his production is a result of other talented players on his team (Eichels, Milano) and how much is due to him.
11. Nikolaj Ehlers
TEAM: Halifax (QMJHL)
STATS: 48GP 30G 41A 71P +41 39PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.90 (60.6%)
While not a big person, this Dane has had an outstanding rookie season and you can see that his lack of size is doing nothing to stop him from scoring at an even strength rate similar to Reinhart. Combine that with the fact he has blazing speed and this little guy is showing good signs that he could be a very productive top 6 forward.
12. Kasperi Kapanen
TEAM: KalPa (Liiga)
STATS: 35GP 5G 5A 10P 0 4PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.26 (90.0%)
When a player plays in a men’s league it can make it tough to project their offensive potential, so in these situations I have to put more emphasis into what the scouting rankings are saying. With a European player what I like to do is slot them alongside a North American player who I perceive to have similar upside and in this case I see a skilled player with top six upside like Kapanen slotting in just behind Ehlers.
13. Sonny Milano
TEAM: USA Under-18 (USHL)
STATS: 35GP 16G 36A 52P +21 19PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.94 (63.5%)
NCAA P/G: 1.00
NCAA P/G(w/o PP): 0.50 (50.0%)
Scouts have described Milano as a skilled finesse playmaking winger and he is having a very good year, as he is the current leading scorer for the USA Under-18 team. One thing that makes it difficult when looking at Milano’s stats is the fact that the USA U-18 team plays against different levels of competition. One interesting stat to look at is his NCAA production where Milano has put up a 1.00 P/G.
14. David Pastrnak
TEAM: Sodertalje (Allsvenskan)
STATS: 36GP 8G 16A 24P +7 24PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.50 (75.0%)
When you read the scouting reports for Pastrnak you hear many similarities to Ehlers as both are smaller, flashier players with good speed and offensive skills. At this point in time, I have more information about Ehlers, so he slots in ahead of Pastrnak, but it is very impressive that Pastrnak is currently the scoring leader for Sodertalje playing in the Allsvenskan (the Swedish AHL).
15. Robby Fabbri
TEAM: Guelph (OHL)
STATS: 40GP 30G 27A 57P +29
P/G(w/o PP): 0.93 (67.3%)
Fabbri is my dark horse pick and the player I feel is being underrated the most out of any player in the first round. When compared with a NHL player, Fabbri is usually compared with former Guelph player Ryan Callahan but the difference is that Callahan was 3 years older than Fabbri when he put up a 1.35 P/G season with the Storm. (Jeff Skinner put up comparable numbers in his draft year to Fabbri).
16. Josh Ho-Sang
TEAM: Windsor (OHL)
STATS: 49GP 24G 39A 63P +27 32PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.96 (74.6%)
In terms of skill level, Ho-Sang is one of the most talented players in the draft and I find it impressive that the majority of his production has been at even strength despite being an undersized forward. One of the concerns with Ho-Sang is that he can be too individualistic in his play but if he continues to improve upon this I could see him continuing to shoot up the rankings.
17. Brendan Perlini
TEAM: Niagara (OHL)
STATS: 46GP 28G 33A 61P -4 24PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.61 (45.9%)
In past years, I would likely have overrated a big skilled player like Perlini, as I would not have put up enough emphasis on him racking up over half of his points on the power play. One thing to keep in mind with Perlini is the amount of growth he has had from one year to another as he had only 12 points all of last season.
18. Ivan Barbashev
TEAM: Moncton (QMJHL)
STATS: 38GP 17G 33A 50P -8 25PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.74 (56.0%)
With Barbashev I was expecting to see a higher PPG for a 95 born but you should not just fixate on just the numbers as there are many factors such as TOI, luck, quality of team and so much more to consider. What I really like about Barbashev is that if his offensive game isn’t good enough to be in the top 6, he is such a versatile hard working player that he should be able to find a role as a 3rd liner.
TEAM: Sarnia (OHL)
STATS: 50GP 34G 41A 75P -16 21PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.98 (64.4%)
Goldobin has great offensive skills that he has been using to carry the offensive load for the Sting. What I find impressive is that his even strength production is so strong considering how other teams must key in on him every game. While his offensive talents are undeniable, Goldobin needs a lot of work in other areas like his defensive game and physicality.
20. Anthony DeAngelo
TEAM: Sarnia (OHL)
STATS: 43GP 13G 47A 60P -29 67PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.67 (48.3%)
What speaks volumes of DeAngelo’s offensive talent is that if you were to show me just his stats lines I would expect him to be a playmaking centre not a defenceman. The concern, as with most small offensive d-man, is whether he can develop the defensive side of the game so that he can be an effective pro. The upside is huge if he does.
21. Julius Honka
TEAM: Swift Current (WHL)
STATS: 43GP 12G 30A 42P +11 34PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.53 (53.8%)
It is a tossup, at the moment, as to which small puck moving d-man I prefer but for now I went with DeAngelo, who has the more dynamic offensive skills. Who ends up as my favorite at the end of year will likely come down to pouring over the scouting reports to try and determine which of the two players projects to be the better overall defenceman.
22. Adrian Kempe
TEAM: MODO (SEL)
SEL STATS: 36GP 4G 5A 9P +5 12PIM
J20 STATS: 16GP 3G 16A 19P +9 24PIM
SEL P/G 0.25
SEL P/G(w/o PP): 0.25
J20 P/G: 1.19
J20 P/G(w/o PP): 0.75
It is impressive that despite barely making the cut-off age for the draft, Kempe has spent the majority of the season playing in the top league in Sweden. While I like the fact he plays a strong power forward game it will be whether I feel Kempe has 2nd line upside or is he more suited to be a 3rd line checker.
23. Jared McCann
TEAM: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
STATS: 49GP 22G 26A 48P +11 30PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.53
McCann is a player that you can find in the top 10 on a few rankings but I just don’t see the upside that warrants such a high selection with his even strength production projecting him to be more likely a 3rd liner. While only being average sized, what he does have going for him is being a smart well-rounded centre with a good shot.
24. Dylan Larkin
TEAM: USA Under-18 (USHL)
STATS: 37GP 17G 15A 32P +9 38PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.62 (71.9%)
NCAA P/G: 0.71
NCAA P/G(w/o PP): 0.50 (70.0%)
There is a lot of talent on this years USA Under-18 team and Larkin is among them as he is a speedy hard working power forward. The question with Larkin is whether he has the skills to be a top 6 forward and if you compare him with Tuch and Milano his even strength production is about 2/3 of theirs which suggest to me he is likely more of a 3rd liner.
25. Conner Bleackley
DOB: February 7, 1996
TEAM: Red Deer (WHL)
STATS: 51GP 23G 34A 57P +13 37PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.71 (63.2%)
The theme for this section of my draft rankings would be versatility as Bleackley is another hard working character player that every team likes to have. It was a close decision between Larkin and Bleackley but Larkin being the better skater was the deciding factor at this time.
26. Roland McKeown
TEAM: Kingston (OHL)
STATS: 47GP 8G 24A 32P +25 47PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.36 (53.1%)
There was a point in time when I would have slotted a great skating jack-of-all-trades d-man like McKeown ahead of many of the forwards above him because d-men are the more valuable commodity. However, history has shown d-men are tougher to predict than forwards are so it is less likely McKeown reaches his second pairing potential.
27. Anton Karlsson
TEAM: Frolunda (J20)
STATS: 22GP 10G 8A 18P +4 57PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.55 (66.7%)
Karlsson is another one of those players that is tough to get a read on due to him being all over the rankings. The reason his rankings are inconsistent is likely due to Karlsson’s play being described as inconsistent. The power winger plays a well-rounded game in tournament play but a more selfish skilled game in league play.
28. Nikita Scherbak
TEAM: Saskatoon (WHL)
STATS: 51GP 25G 39A 64P +4 28PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.80 (64.1%)
It is a credit to the skill level of the forwards in this draft that a tall lanky skilled player like Scherbak is considered a late first round pick. With Scherbak, I see his top end potential slightly lower than the players in my teens and he is not as versatile as the players just above him, so while I like him as a prospect, there are a few players I like just a little more.
29. Jakub Vrana
TEAM: Linkoping (SEL)
STATS: 19GP 2G 1A 3P -2 2PIM
STATS: 22GP 14G 11A 25P +6 16PIM
SEL P/G: 0.16
SEL P/G(w/o PP): 0.16
J20 P/G: 1.14
J20 P/G(w/o PP): 0.77
With most top Swedish prospects, like the skilled undersized forward Vrana, they split their time between the junior level and the SEL. I have always found it easier to compare their junior league stats where they receive considerably more playing time. Vrana stats lines at juniors are interesting where only one of his 14 goals has been on the power play yet only four of his 11 assists have been at even strength.
30(A). Nick Schmaltz
TEAM: Green Bay (USHL)
STATS: 33GP 10G 28A 38P 0 10PIM
P/G(w/o PP): 0.76
When it came to deciding to pick my final player for my top 30 I decided to cop out as I wanted to include both Schmaltz and Fiala in my rankings. With Schmaltz, there is always praise for his hockey sense and his puck skills, but he falls in my rankings as there are concerns such as the fact he has only five even strength goals for the season.
30(B). Kevin Fiala
TEAM: HV71 (SEL)
SEL STATS: 9GP 3G 7A 10P +3 4PIM
J20 STATS: 26GP 10G 14A 24P +9 38PIM
SEL P/G 1.11
SEL P/G(w/o PP): 0.88
J20 P/G: 0.92
J20 P/G(w/o PP): 0.54
I am having trouble getting a good read on where to place Fiala as his production at the junior level did not have him in my radar as he was producing less than a P/G pace. Where Fiala really started to grab attention was at the WJC and it continues with an impressive run in the SEL, where he is scoring at a higher P/G pace than he did at the junior level which is unheard of.