Early Ranking of the Top 10 Prospects in the 2014 NHL Draft
The 2014 NHL draft is more than seven months away but for the players who are eligible to be chosen, their time is now.
Every game counts when it comes to making favorable impressions in front of scouts that can lead to improved rankings when the big day arrives.
International tournaments such as summer's Ivan Hlinka tournament and the World Under-18 Championship can be key showcases in front of big audiences. The chosen few will also show what they've got at the Subway Super Series later this month or the World Junior Championships over the holidays.
For the rest, the goal is to make a contribution to their junior squad while working on the physical and mental tools they'll need if they hope to crack the elite world of the NHL someday.
Here's a look at 10 who are impressing so far in the early season.
10. Kasperi Kapanen: Kalpa (FIN)
Born July 23, 1996
5'11", 172 lbs
2013-14 stats: 15 GP 2-1-3
Kasperi is a third-generation hockey player: the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen and grandson of 1976 Olympian and former Jokerit player Hannu Kapanen.
Kapanen has the unusual privilege of playing with his 40-year-old dad for Kalpa. His father is also majority owner of the team.
Kasperi has amassed a strong international resume already and is hoping to get the call to join Team Finland for the 2014 World Junior Championship.
Heading into his draft year, he remains on the small side and his numbers are low, but Kapanen's a versatile player who's strong on both sides of he puck The raw talent from his gene pool should combine with his hockey sense to make him a top-10 pick.
9. Brendan Perlini: Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)
Born April 30, 1996
6'2", 205 lbs
2013-14 stats: 17 GP 13-16-29
Brendan Perlini may have been born in England, but he has hockey in his blood. His father Fred played eight games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1980s but was plying his trade in Britain with the Guildford Flames when Brendan came along in 1996.
Perlini has drawn serious attention with the Niagara Ice Dogs this season as he has climbed to the upper reaches of the OHL scoring race.
Perlini's a big, skilled winger in the vein of a Rick Nash. He's peaking at the right time as the NHL scouts come calling, making a strong case for a high pick.
8. Haydn Fleury: Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Born July 28, 1996
6'2", 207 lbs
2013-14 stats: 16 GP 3-7-10
One of just two blueliners currently projected in this year's top 10, Haydn Fleury is a steady, physical defenseman who also has some offensive skills. He's a strong skater for his size and uses his body well to prevent scoring chances.
Fleury was invited to be a part of Canada's under-18 team for the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia last August, helping to bring home the gold for the squad of impressive young prospects.
The Red Deer Rebels have struggled this season, but Fleury has been one of their steadiest defensive forces. More solid play will keep him high in the conversation for the 2014 draft.
7. Nick Ritchie: Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Born December 5, 1995
6'2", 218 lbs
2013-14 stats: 13 GP 6-6-12
Nick Ritchie is the younger brother of the Dallas Stars' 2011 second-round pick, Brett Ritchie, and is almost a mirror image of his sibling. Both players are big power forwards who make life difficult for the opposition.
Ritchie was part of Canada's gold-medal winning team at the 2013 IIHF under-18 tournament last April and has helped his Peterborough Petes get off to a good start in the new OHL season.
Petes general manager Mike Oke told Yahoo's! "Buzzing the Net" that he likes what he's seen:
He's been dominant physically holding off defenders and forcing himself to the net, making it very difficult to defend against him. I can really notice a maturation in his physical abilities. I think he's really trying to establish those daily habits and the routine of being a pro hockey player.
6. Willie Nylander: Rogle (SWE)
Born May 1, 1996
5'11", 169 lbs
2013-14 stats: 18 GP 4-4-8
The son of former NHLer Michal Nylander, Willie's one of the top-ranked international players based on his speed and skill. He's an explosive talent who can break a game wide open offensively.
Nylander has some growing to do and needs to work on the defensive side of his game. A strong showing at World Juniors would prove that he has enough quality tools in his toolbox to warrant a high pick from an NHL general manager looking for an explosive game-breaker.
5. Michael Dal Colle: Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Born June 20, 1996
6'2", 184 lbs
2013-14 stats: 18 GP 11-22-33
Currently second in OHL scoring, Michael Dal Colle has been a driving force in pacing the Oshawa Generals to the best start in the league's Eastern Conference.
A lanky player, Dal Colle's good vision, strong puck sense and willingness to get into the dirty areas have all contributed to his big numbers. His hot start was enough to earn him the first CHL "Player of the Week" honour of the 2013-14 season and he hasn't taken his foot off the gas. Dal Colle's averaging more than 1.5 points per game so far this year.
Dal Colle and superstar 16-year-old Connor MacDavid are the only under-18-year-old forwards to have been named to the OHL's Subway Super Series roster for the games to be played against top Russian prospects later in November.
4. Sam Bennett: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Born June 20, 1996
6'0", 178 lbs
2013-14 stats: 16 GP 10-12-22
The Kingston Frontenacs are enjoying a strong 2013-14 season thanks, in part, to playmaking center Sam Bennett.
A former winger for phenom Connor MacDavid, Bennett switched to the pivot about 18 months ago. He made tremendous progress in his development as part of Canada's gold-medal winning teams at the 2013 Under-18 Championship and the Ivan Hlinka tournament, and has shown continued improvement this year in Kingston.
Bennett's commitment and work ethic are strong—two traits always in demand by NHL general managers.
3. Leon Draisaitl: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Born October 27, 1995
6'1", 208 lbs
2013-14 stats: 18 GP 9-15-24
Next summer, German-born Leon Draisaitl could become the highest-ranked player from his country ever to be drafted into the NHL.
Marcel Goc currently holds the honour after being chosen 20th overall by the San Jose Sharks back in 2001. Through the early part of the WHL season, Draisaitl looks like a lock for the top 10.
A playmaking center, Draisaitl is leading his Prince Albert Raiders in scoring as they sit atop the East Division. Draisaitl's strong performance at the 2013 World Junior Championship helped the German team avoid its usual relegation to the "B" pool. He hopes to make an even bigger contribution in his second appearance at the tournament this Christmas.
2. Aaron Ekblad: Barrie Colts (OHL)
Born February 2, 1996
6'4", 216 lbs
2013-14 stats: 16 GP 6-8-14
Hulking Aaron Ekblad has the kind of body that any NHL team would like to have on its blueline. Just 17 years old, he's already 6'4" and 216 pounds and might not be finished growing.
Considering his size, Ekblad is impressive in his mobility and contributes to both the offensive and defensive sides of the game. He's putting in another solid season with the Barrie Colts, was a member of Canada's gold-medal winning team at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka tournament and is the youngest defenseman on the OHL roster for the Subway Super Series.
NHL teams have shied away from choosing defensemen with high draft picks in recent years, but Ekblad will be a difficult prize to resist in June.
1. Sam Reinhart: Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Born November 6, 1994
6'1" 185 lbs
2013-14 stats: 18 GP 9-21-30
With a fantastic pedigree and an impressive resume already under his belt, Sam Reinhart looks well-positioned to make a big impact when he reaches the NHL.
The son of former big league defenseman Paul Reinhart and youngest brother of Max (a third-round pick by Calgary in 2010) and Griffin (a first-round pick by the New York Islanders in 2012), Sam is said to be the best of the bunch. He's a shifty scorer who has shown great leadership abilities as captain of Canada's gold-medal winners at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka tournament and the 2013 IIHF Under-18 Championship.
On the ice, Reinhart is having another solid season with the Kootenay Ice, leading his team in scoring.
Reinhart and 2015 super prospect Connor MacDavid were the only undrafted players to be invited to Canada's 2013 under-20 summer camp, giving him an inside track to the 2014 World Junior Championship. He has also been named to the WHL roster for the Subway Super Series in late November.
At this point, the No. 1 spot in 2014 is Reinhart's to lose.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter for lots more hockey thoughts and news.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!