This year’s crop of draft eligible prospects is already getting a little shade thrown their way, since they are sandwiched between two amazing groups. The 2013 draft saw five of the first seven picks go straight to the NHL, while 2015 brings up Connor McDavid, Mathew Barzal and Noah Hanifin, among others. But the top end of the 2014 draft will produce very good players and I would suspect our top three here would easily find themselves at home in the NHL next season. Let’s get into the rankings.
1. Sam Reinhart, C – Kootenay (WHL): Older brothers Max and Griffin are both close to full-time NHL careers and Sam will soon be at their heels. The most gifted of the three, he’s a cerebral two-way player who makes those around him better. And the 30 points in 18 games doesn’t hurt.
2. Aaron Ekblad, D – Barrie (OHL): Big, strong and talented, Ekblad raised eyebrows with his incredible playoff performance last year and can really eat up minutes on the blueline. He’s trying to get nastier, but already does a little bit of everything out there.
3. Sam Bennett, C – Kingston (OHL): A high riser with the potential to go even higher, Bennett is a character kid with a great competitive streak and off-the-charts hockey sense. Plays with a strong stick and rarely gets outmuscled on the puck.
4. Willie Nylander, C – Rogle (Swe.): The season started off turbulent for Nylander, who is playing on a new team with dad Michael that had to fire its coach early. But Willie is finding his groove amongst the men, playing the game with elite skill and possessing difference-making abilities.
5. Leon Draisaitl, C – Prince Albert (WHL): Will likely be the highest-drafted German of all-time if he keeps up his play. Draisaitl is a dangerous offensive player whose creativity and skill set features a lot of unteachable goodness. Like Reinhart, he’s one of the top scorers in the ‘Dub.’
6. Michael Dal Colle, LW – Oshawa (OHL): Brings a tantalizing physical package to the ice. He’s big and has great hands, vision and creativity. Knows where to be in the offensive zone and solid on the power play.
7. Kasperi Kapanen, RW – KalPa (Fin.): An injury slowed his start to the campaign, but Kapanen, who plays alongside dad Sami, is a two-way player with skill whom scouts really like. Currently playing against men back home, the world juniors will be a good showcase for him.
8. Jake Virtanen, LW – Calgary (WHL): Tough to play against because he’s strong, fast and can beat you with his offensive skills or his physical game. Virtanen waged a blood war with Ekblad at Canada’s Ivan Hlinka tryouts, but it was water under the bridge once they became teammates on the squad.
9. Brendan Perlini, LW – Niagara (OHL): Playing on a line with Maple Leafs prospect Carter Verhaeghe, Perlini has been a juggernaut so far, racking up 29 points in 17 games. A big man who skates well, Perlini has a tremendous release and makes himself available.
10. Haydn Fleury, D – Red Deer (WHL): With all the tools to be an effective NHL
defenseman, it’s no surprise scouts are fond of Fleury. The big blueliner is strong, quick and composed with very good hockey sense and great mobility.
11. Jared McCann, C – Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
12. Roland McKeown, D – Kingston (OHL)
13. Nick Ritchie, LW – Peterborough (OHL)
14. Anton Karlsson, RW – Frolunda (Swe.)
15. Ivan Barbashev, C – Moncton (QMJHL)
16. Nick Schmaltz, RW – Green Bay (USHL)
17. Conner Bleackley, C – Red Deer (WHL)
18. Alex Tuch, RW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
19. Dylan Larkin, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
20. Adrian Kempe, C – Modo (Swe.)
21. Julius Honka, D – Swift Current (WHL)
22. Jacob Middleton, D – Ottawa (OHL)
23. Jakub Vrana, RW – Linkoping (Swe.)
24. Alex Nedeljkovic, G – Plymouth (OHL)
25. Brycen Martin, D – Swift Current (OHL)
26. Sonny Milano, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
27. Oskar Lindblom, RW – Brynas (Swe.)
28. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW – Halifax (QMJHL)
29. David Pastrnak, LW – Sodertalje (Swe.)
30. Thatcher Demko, G – Boston College (HE)