2014 NHL Mock Draft: Early First-Round Projections
The 2013 NHL draft is now in the rear view, clearing the way for the 2014 NHL draft, which will take place in Philadelphia next year on June 27 and 28. The conversation will no longer be about Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.
At least not when it comes to the best up-and-coming prospects.
Now the focus will shift to players such as standout defenseman Aaron Ekblad and silky-smooth center Sam Reinhart.
1. Aaron Ekblad, D
Biggest Strengths: A remarkably intelligent player on the back end, Aaron Ekblad was the first defenseman to be granted "exceptional" status by the OHL. Ever. He sees the ice very well and doesn't make mistakes with the puck very often.
Projected Role: Word around the hockey world is that Ekblad is better at 17 than Seth Jones was—and Jones was the consensus top junior player prior to the 2013 draft. That indicates that Ekblad has the makings of a franchise defenseman.
Where He Needs to Improve: Ekblad is a two-way defender that really doesn't have any holes in his game. His hockey IQ is elite, and he is already 6'3'' and weighs more than 210 pounds.
2. Sam Reinhart, C
Biggest Strengths: Sam Reinhart is a magician with the puck. His stick-handling is top-notch, and he has a knack for hitting teammates with sneaky passes.
Projected Role: The smarts and vision are both there and of high quality. Reinhart projects cleanly as a potential No. 1 center—especially if he improves on the defensive side.
Where He Needs to Improve: He punches in at 165 pounds right now, which isn't bad for a guy in the WHL. That said, he'll need to tack on a bit of muscle before making it as a pro.
3. William Nylander, C/RW
Biggest Strengths: One of the most outstanding offensive players available in 2014, William Nylander was among the top scorers in the J20 SuperElit as a 16-year-old. He has a dynamite finish and is a good skater.
Projected Role: Given his current rate of development, there's little reason to think that Nylander can't become an outstanding scoring threat and challenge for a top-line role in the NHL someday.
Where He Needs to Improve: There's some question about Nylander's abilities in traffic. He tends to get rattled when he's leaned on, which might not translate well in North America.
4. Leon Draisaitl, C/LW
Biggest Strengths: They call Leon Draisaitl the "German Gretzky" for a reason. There's a 0.0000001 percent chance that he surpasses the Great One, but that doesn't change the fact that this is an extremely intelligent and slick hockey player.
Projected Role: Whether he's playing wing or center, Draisaitl puts up piles of points. He has the tools necessary to anchor a top line at the NHL level, given his current production curve.
Where He Needs to Improve: Draisaitl is excellent when it comes to puck possession, which overshadows his very average skating. To be effective at the pro level, he'll need to improve his foot speed a bit.
5. Blake Clarke, LW
Someone make a compilation of Blake Clarke, pronto.
Biggest Strengths: Blake Clarke is a rangy forward that is as comfortable finishing chances as he is setting them up. His hockey IQ is awesome, and Clarke sees the ice very well.
Projected Role: Clarke is a good skater for a player his size (6'2'', 196 lbs) and could fill in a top-six role at some juncture. He's versatile and tends to bring out the best in the players around him.
Where He Needs to Improve: Clarke is an offensive weapon at this point. He could really stand to improve in the neutral and defensive zones.
6. Michael Dal Colle, C
Biggest Strengths: A power forward that thrives in cycling situations, Michael Dal Colle is the real deal. He's noticeably unselfish out on the ice and works hard to utilize the four guys that are out there with him.
Projected Role: Dal Colle has top-six power forward written all over him. He skates hard and has great vision.
Where He Needs to Improve: Sometimes he can be a little too unselfish. At the NHL, a pass-heavy tendency will get sniffed out quickly, so adding some more shooting ability would be stellar for Dal Colle.
7. Nick Ritchie, LW
Biggest Strengths: Part speedster and part sandpaper forward, Nick Ritchie is one of the more interesting prospects heading into 2014. He was a proven goal scorer at the midget level and has added a nice passing element to his game as well.
Projected Role: Ritchie is the kind of player that coaches love to have on their bench. He's capable of playing in various roles up and down the lineup.
Where He Needs to Improve: He's been consistently a minus player for the Peterborough Petes through two seasons of action, posting a minus-32. He needs to be better on the puck and in the defensive zone.
8. Roland McKeown, D
Biggest Strengths: Roland McKeown possesses noticeable speed and footwork. Not only is he a quick player, he's capable of making crisp passes during breakouts and has all the intangibles of a captain.
Projected Role: He's a long way from being NHL-ready, but McKeown projects as a top-four defenseman. He's too good in the offensive zone to be passed over.
Where He Needs to Improve: McKeown focuses most of his energy on the offensive side of the game and should improve his positioning.
9. Jakub Vrana, RW/LW
Biggest Strengths: Hailed as one of the best Czech prospects in recent memory, Jakub Vrana has breakaway speed and is deadly in one-on-one situations. He always seems to find open patches of ice and has outstanding first steps.
Projected Role: Players like Vrana aren't drafted to be checkers at the pro level. He's quick enough, has boatloads of finishing ability and could eventually be a top-six mainstay in the NHL.
Where He Needs to Improve: Like so many offensive stalwarts, Vrana needs to improve his play at his own end, which is typically sloppy at best.
10. Anthony DeAngelo, D
Biggest Strengths: An electric offensive presence on the blue line, Anthony DeAngelo is one of the best point-producing defensemen heading into the 2014 draft so far.
Projected Role: Speed kills, and DeAngelo has it to spare. He erupted for 58 points in 62 games for the Sarnia Sting in 2013. He clearly projects as an offensive half of a top-two pairing at the NHL level.
Where He Needs to Improve: DeAngelo spends all of his energy in the offensive zone. Despite his high point total in 2013, he still finished with a minus-13 rating. He needs to add at least a bit of a defensive awareness to his game.
11. Joshua Ho-Sang, C/RW
Biggest Strengths: Joshua Ho-Sang is one of the most offensively gifted players available in the draft. His ability to protect the puck in traffic is outstanding, and his one-on-one game is at an elite level already.
Projected Role: Ho-Sang will be would be worth keeping around for his shootout prowess alone. Thankfully he's a well-rounded player in the offensive zone, and he's the kind of forward that can add some dangerous scoring punch to any line.
Where He Needs to Improve: Sometimes Ho-Sang can be too passive when it comes to developing plays in the offensive zone. He needs to activate more often and attempt to become part of the play more quickly when he isn't the one initiating the action.
12. Ivan Barbashev, LW
Biggest Strengths: Ivan Barbashev is a fast and physical winger who doesn't shy away from the dirty areas of the ice. He's a great scorer and works hard in the offensive zone.
Projected Role: Given his ability to bang bodies, Barbashev could fit in on a checking line as an above-average role player. He's just as likely to light up the QMJHL this year, though, which would signify his ability to perhaps evolve into a top-six player.
Where He Needs to Improve: You can't teach size, sadly. He's been listed between 5'10'' and 6'0'' and weighs around 180 pounds. He won't be crunching anyone at the NHL level at that weight.
13. Jake Virtanen, C/W
Biggest Strengths: An all-go, all-the-time player, Jake Virtanen is arguably the best pure goal scorer available in this draft. He is relentless in his puck pursuit and loves to shoot.
Projected Role: Goal-scoring top-six forward. He's a weapon.
Where He Needs to Improve: He had a rough debut in the WHL in 2013, but Virtanen has the positive attitude and drive needed to get back on track over the next year.
14. Haydn Fleury, D
Biggest Strengths: Haydn Fleury doesn't have a lot of flash to his game. Instead he makes smart choices with the puck and doesn't fold under heavy forecheck situations.
Projected Role: One of the better defensive defensemen available in 2014, Fleury projects as a shut-down defenseman that can kill penalties.
Where He Needs to Improve: Attention to detail in the defensive zone is great, but just a little bit of offensive spark from Fleury could put him on another level entirely.
15. Patrik Koys, C/RW
Biggest Strengths: Patrik Koys is a polarizing player for the Shawinigan Cataractes. Some folks see a great talent that is struggling to adjust to a new way of life, while others see an over-hyped import. Still, he has the raw talent necessary to be an impactful player in the offensive zone.
Projected Role: Until Koys proves that he can adapt to the physical North American game, it's hard to accurately project his development.
Where He Needs to Improve: Koys has a strange skating stride that seems to cost him a bit of top-end speed. He will also need to prove that he can handle the rigors of North American hockey. He requires too much space and time to be effective right now.
16. Brandon Robinson, LW
Biggest Strengths: Another goal-scoring forward with good size, Brandon Robinson is a dangerous presence in the slot. He doesn't mind getting his hands dirty around the net and possesses a decent amount of finish.
Projected Role: Anytime a 6'3'', 200 pound shows goal-scoring ability, he's going to garner plenty of attention from scouts. If Robinson can stay on his current curve, he has the size and skill to be an effective top-nine forward in the NHL.
Where He Needs to Improve: Robinson is a deadly scorer when he gets into the slot, but sometimes he can look to pass a bit too often.
17. Daniel Audette, C
Biggest Strengths: Daniel Audette is one of the fastest players currently playing in the QMJHL, and his speed is apparent every time he's out on the ice. He's capable of getting his shot off while at top speed and can generate a lot of speed coming through the neutral zone.
Projected Role: Audette is a quick but smallish forward that could click on a line with a larger top-six player who can dig the puck out to him along the walls.
Where He Needs to Improve: Standing at only 5'8'' and weighing 168 pounds, Audette needs to continue to pack on muscle moving forward. Max Domi was approximately the same height but weighed nearly 200 pounds when he was drafted.
18. Nick Schmaltz, C
Biggest Strengths: Arguably the best 1996-born forward from the United States heading into 2014, Nick Schmaltz is another speedy center that is capable of doing a lot of damage in the offensive zone. His wrist shot is solid, and he has excellent first steps.
Projected Role: Again, these smaller players can be tough to project a year before they are drafted (and probably three or four years away from reaching the NHL). That said, Schmaltz has the offensive wherewithal to develop into a good scoring threat as a pro.
Where He Needs to Improve: He's only 5'11''—while not entirely undersized, the stronger Schmaltz can get, the better he will be.
19. Robby Fabbri, C
Biggest Strengths: Robby Fabbri is an agile player that can get a lot of heavy lifting done on the forecheck.
Projected Role: Fabbri is an excellent two-way forward that has captained several of the teams he's played for. He could settle in as an above-average second- or third-liner.
Where He Needs to Improve: While he's not deficient in the offensive zone by any means, adding a bit more of a scoring touch would elevate Fabbri to new heights as a prospect.
20. Brayden Point, C
Biggest Strengths: The 2014 draft is loaded with smallish-yet-skilled forwards, and Brayden Point falls under that heading neatly. He's a great finisher and can skate circles around less agile players.
Projected Role: While premature, Point has garnered comparisons to Patrick Kane. He could eventually become a shifty forward at the NHL level, posting points on a regular basis.
Where He Needs to Improve: He only weighs 148 pounds right now.
21. Eric Cornel, C
Biggest Strengths: Teams looking for a smooth puck-distributing center in 2014 will be hard-pressed to find one better than Eric Cornel. He's a tremendous skater and is very capable of shaking and baking defenders with his fancy stick work.
Projected Role: Rock-solid No. 2 center. Cornel is also able to play the point on the power play, finding open teammates from the blue line.
Where He Needs to Improve: It remains to be seen what Cornel can do when he's playing against the top forwards on the opposing team. He'll get the chance to prove he can hang with an improved point total in 2014.
22. Brycen Martin, D
Biggest Strengths: Brycen Martin is a steady defender that excels in his own zone. He's adept at clearing bodies from the crease and protects his goaltender well.
Projected Role: Offensive-defensemen can't do their job properly without players like Martin there to bail them out when they over-commit in the offensive zone. He projects as a good defensive anchor and a top-four player.
Where He Needs to Improve: Martin's hockey IQ is sound, but he needs to work on his positioning and gap control a bit.
23. Sonny Milano, LW
Biggest Strengths: A slippery and slick forward, Sonny Milano arguably has the coolest name out of all 2014 draft eligible players. More importantly, he's a handful in the offensive zone and can skate defenses backwards into the endboards with his speed.
Projected Role: Milano has the tools to be a top-six forward. He has a lot of (hard) work to do, but so do all of these kids.
Where He Needs to Improve: There's a tendency for Milano to try and be too cute in the offensive zone. Sometimes it seems like he's forgotten that he's only one-third of an offensive unit as he tries to beat defenses on his own.
24. Tyson Baillie, C
Biggest Strengths: Tyson Baillie is an outstanding two-way forward that is capable of chipping in his fair share of points. He really shines as a 200-foot center and works hard to wear down the opposition's forwards.
Projected Role: Baillie has the offensive skills needed to make him a third-line center that must be accounted for.
Where He Needs to Improve: The hard work sometimes turns into penalties for Baillie. No coach likes to see his players whistled down in the offensive zone while on the forecheck.
25. Brandon Prophet, D
Biggest Strengths: Coming off of a strong rookie year in the OHL that saw him nominated to the league's All-Rookie team, Brandon Prophet is one of the more promising defensive specialists available in the upcoming 2014 draft.
Projected Role: Prophet is a rangy player, standing at 6'2'' and weighing close to 200 pounds. He projects as a multi-purpose defenseman that can take care of business in his own end.
Where He Needs to Improve: A little more of an offensive touch from Prophet would improve his draft-day stock enormously.
26. Reid Gardiner, C
Biggest Strengths: A top-10 selection for the Prince Albert Raiders, Reid Gardiner had a successful rookie campaign in 2012 despite playing on a weaker team. He's a creative player capable of quick-strike offense if given too much room to maneuver.
Projected Role: Gardiner has shown a willingness to fulfill any and all roles with the Raiders.
Where He Needs to Improve: A solid all-around forward, Gardiner will need to show more of an offensive spark in 2014 to climb up draft boards.
27. Matthew Mistele, LW
Biggest Strengths: Matthew Mistele is one of the more talented gritty types that could be a top-30 or top-45 selection in 2014. He's not afraid to drop the gloves and can contribute in the offensive zone as well.
Projected Role: Mistele projects as a talented agitator.
Where He Needs to Improve: The more offense, the better for Mistele. He's strong in his own zone, but his stock could rise if he can improve on his 60-point season in 2014.
28. Sam Bennett, LW
Biggest Strengths: Sam Bennett is another tough forward that brings a healthy portion of offensive talent to the table. He's quick to get in on the forecheck and works hard along the boards.
Projected Role: He'd likely be most comfortable in a checking role at the NHL level—barring a big-time bloom in his offensive game, of course.
Where He Needs to Improve: Bennett likes to be a rough-and-tumble player, but he only weighs in at 168 pounds. He'll need to get stronger before attempting to push around even your average pro player.
29. Mason McDonald, G
Biggest Strengths: Arguably the best goaltender available in 2014, Mason McDonald has strong lateral movement and sees the puck well in traffic.
Projected Role: Admittedly it's nearly impossible to project where a 17-year-old goaltender will end up, but he has the poise and athleticism to be a very strong netminding prospect moving forward.
Where He Needs to Improve: Sometimes he over-commits to his angles and finds himself out of position if he coughs up a rebound.
30. Jared McCann, C
Biggest Strengths: Jared McCann was an elite scorer at the midget level and was relatively impressive in his first junior season in the OHL. He displayed a knack for both finishing and setting up goals. He has the talent to be a riser among the 2014 draft class.
Projected Role: It really depends on how McCann develops over the next year. The speed is there, and he's big enough to be an impact forward at the next level.
Where He Needs to Improve: Consistency needs to be ironed out, but the talent and tools are there for McCann to be a good player.