In the third installment of his rankings this year, our prospect guru wrestles with a lack of consensus among scouts at the top end of the class.
The basis of my draft rankings has always been weighed heavily by the interviews I conduct with scouts and executives that work for NHL teams. My logic being that they're the ones making the picks, they're the ones with skin in the game. So this year has been difficult, since a real plurality is forming around the No. 1 pick overall. Two players are getting nearly all the votes, but will they end up being the first two taken? That's the fun and mystery of the draft in a non-Steven Stamkos, non-Sidney Crosby year. But it also makes rankings a lot more chaotic…
1. Leon Draisaitl, C – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
He's the big center every team craves. Draisaitl didn't have a lot of elite talent to play with, other than defenseman and Winnipeg prospect Josh Morrissey, yet the German still rang up 105 points. Scouts have compared him to Anze Kopitar and Joe Thornton; he plays a complete game and has excellent awareness and anticipation.
2. Sam Bennett, C – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Bennett is getting so much buzz after his season in Kingston thanks to his array of talents. He's been compared to Doug Gilmour, although he's bigger and faster than 'Killer,' who also happens to be Bennett's GM in Kingston. A versatile player who combines hockey sense, strength, speed and grit, he could also very easily go first overall.
3. Aaron Ekblad, D – Barrie Colts (OHL)
I did have one scout tell me his team had Ekblad first overall, but even he conceded that if the franchise actually picking first (Florida) wanted more flash, they would probably go with either Bennett or Draisaitl. Nevertheless, Ekblad is the top D-man in the draft by far. He's a virtual lock to go straight to the NHL thanks to his complete game and bomb point shot and won't fall past the third selection.
4. Sam Reinhart, C – Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Tying Draisaitl with 105 points this season, Reinhart is similar to Bennett in that he's a competitive two-way player and the Kootenay star showed a fondness for big stages when he lit up the CHL Top Prospects Game. He was also solid for Canada at the world juniors and put up huge points in the playoffs for the Ice.
5. Michael Dal Colle, LW – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
A point-producing machine for the Gens, Dal Colle has size, great hands and lots of creativity. He's not a bruiser and he's not defensively staunch, but his ability to create offense will make him an NHLer very soon. Like Reinhart, Dal Colle looked fantastic at the CHL Top Prospects Game.
6. William Nylander, C – Modo (SHL)
Despite bouncing around on three different Swedish pro teams, Nylander elevated himself as one of the most talented offensive forces available in the draft. He capped off his season by lacerating the world under-18s for 16 points in seven games and he has that dazzling creativity that lifts fans out of their seats.
7. Nick Ritchie, LW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Big, mean and talented, Ritchie has so many pro attributes already and while consistency can be an issue, there's a lot to love. A classic power forward, Ritchie helped the Petes overcome a 3-0 series deficit to Kingston in the playoffs and the big man dealt the final blow to the Fronts by scoring in overtime of Game 7 to clinch the comeback.
8. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
An incredibly dynamic Dane who has drawn comparisons to teammate Jonathan Drouin, Ehlers put up a boatload of points for The Herd this season – 104 in 63 games to be precise. Fast, smart and able to make plays at high speeds, Ehlers has a slight frame, but it hasn't slowed him down yet and he has shown a willingness to venture into the dirty areas.
9. Haydn Fleury, D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
If a team wants a high-end defenseman and Ekblad is off the board, Fleury is a pretty nice consolation prize. Big, smart and mobile, Fleury was named the top defenseman of the tournament at the world under-18s and brings a lot of composure to his game as well. He's a safe pick that also happens to be elite.
10. Kasperi Kapanen, RW – KalPa Kuopio (Fin.)
Blessed with speed and hockey sense, Kapanen can probably thank his father Sami, the ex-NHLer, for the good genes. But Kasperi is also a hard worker with a pro mentality that went through a lot of adversity this season, from injuries to playing on a men's team that leaned on him more than it should have.
11. Brendan Perlini, LW – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
12. Jake Virtanen, LW – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
13. Jared McCann, C – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
14. Alex Tuch, RW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
15. Dylan Larkin, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
16. Ivan Barbashev, LW – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
17. Julius Honka, D – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
18. Conner Bleackley, C – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
19. Jakub Vrana, RW – Linkoping (SHL)
20. Robby Fabbri, C – Guelph Storm (OHL)
21. Adrian Kempe, C – Modo (SHL)
22. Kevin Fiala, LW – HV 71 (SHL)
23. David Pastrnak, LW – Sodertalje (Swe.)
24. Jack Dougherty, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
25. Thatcher Demko, G – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
26. Roland McKeown, D – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
27. Sonny Milano, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
28. Nikita Scherbak, RW – Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
29. Nick Schmaltz, RW – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
30. Travis Sanheim, D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)