2014 NHL Draft

Stock Watch for the Top 10 Prospects in the 2014 NHL Draft

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2014

Stock Watch for the Top 10 Prospects in the 2014 NHL Draft

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Back in November, I laid out a very early ranking of the NHL draft class of 2014.

    As a group, my top 10 has performed well. ISS Hockey released its latest rankings on March 14, with eight names from my initial list in its Top 10. Left wing Nick Ritchie of the OHL's Peterborough Petes and right wing Kasperi Kapanen from the Finnish League have fallen just below the cut line, while two new players have moved up.

    The CHL's regular season is now complete, and the playoffs are beginning. Draft day's three months away.

    Here's a look at that current ISS Top 10, with an emphasis on how situations have changed over the course of the season.

     

    Stats courtesy of WHL.ca, ontariohockeyleague.com, USAHockey.com and EliteProspects.com.

10. Haydn Fleury: Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Stock Report: FALLING 

    Defense, 6'3", 198 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 70 GP 8-38-46

    My Previous Ranking: 8

    There's no great shame in dropping a couple of points when you've held your spot in the top 10 all season. Fleury increased his point totals in his second full WHL season from 19 to 46 and logged a plus-15 on a Red Deer Rebels team that just missed the playoffs after losing a tiebreaker to the Prince Albert Raiders.

    Fleury's a big body who skates well with the puck and is projected to fill out into a reliable two-way defenseman. With only one blueliner ranked higher this season, he should become an anchor for a team looking for help on the back end at the draft.

     

     

9. Alex Tuch: U.S. National Development Under-18 Program (USHL)

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    Stock Report: RISING 

    Center/Right Wing, 6'3", 219 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 22 GP 13-13-26

    My Previous Ranking: outside top 10

    Alex Tuch is a new name in the ISS Top 10, climbing from No. 14 in February and up all the way from No. 23 back in November. He placed 21st among North American skaters in Central Scouting's midterm ranks and ranks 27th on Craig Button's March list over at TSN.ca.

    Tuch doesn't turn 18 till May but is already playing as a power forward. With close to 220 pounds on his 6'3" frame, he'll tempt teams that are looking for a physical presence with good hands up front—a relatively rare commodity.

    Tuch is committed to playing for Boston College next season.



     

8. Jake Virtanen: Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Stock Report: RISING

    Left Wing, 6'1", 210 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 71 GP 45-26-71

    My Previous Ranking: outside top 10

    Jake Virtanen's 45 goals led the Calgary Hitmen this year, on a team where ice time tends to be evenly distributed. Virtanen's a pure scorer with a determination to get to the net on every shift.

    Virtanen's also not afraid to use his body to help accomplish his goals. As one NHL scout told writer Gare Joyce in this article for Sportsnet.ca, "Last game I saw him he put two guys out of the game with hits because he wants the puck that bad."

    Central Scouting ranked Virtanen as the ninth-best North American forward available midway through the season, but not everyone's a believer. TSN's Craig Button has moved Virtanen up his rankings, but he still sits in just 41st place on Button's March list.

7. Brendan Perlini: Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

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    Stock Report: RISING

    Left Wing, 6'3", 205 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 58 GP 34-37-71

    My Previous Ranking: 9

    Brendan Perlini likes to play hockey with the puck on his stick. With the speed and the hockey sense to make plays, Perlini exploded offensively in 2013-14.

    According to the Niagara IceDogs' website, a poll of Eastern Conference coaches conducted at the end of the season pegged Perlini as the most improved player in the conference. That recognition should certainly help to boost his stock on draft day.

     

     

6. Leon Draisaitl: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

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    Stock Report: FALLING

    Center, 6'1", 209 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 64 GP 38-67-105

    My Previous Ranking: 3

    Despite finishing in a tie for fourth in WHL scoring this season, Draisaitl faces some questions about his commitment as the final months tick down until the draft.

    Gare Joyce quotes an anonymous NHL scout who has issues with Draisaitl's game.

    He likes to slow things down, a control game, which is fine if you can do it. But that’s the one speed he likes to play at and he’s going to have to skate faster and make quicker decisions when he gets to the next level. In terms of his commitment, willingness to go into traffic and take a hit to make a play, he’s not there for me yet.

    Despite the criticism, Draisaitl was named to the WHL Eastern Conference's first All-Star team and has a chance to increase his stock in the playoffs after his Prince Albert Raiders squeaked in with a final-game tiebreaker win.

    Draisaitl has been a bright light for Germany in two years of play at the World Junior Championships, and with an October birthday is one of the older players in the draft. He could turn out to be NHL-ready quicker than some of his peers. 

5. Willie Nylander: MODO (Sweden)

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    Stock Report: RISING

    Center, 5'11", 170 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 22 GP 1-6-7

    My Previous Ranking: 6

    It's been an interesting year for Nylander, who worked his way up from a lesser league in Sweden to join the senior men's Modo team for the late stages of the 2013-14 season. So don't let that stats line fool you—Nylander's a shifty 17-year-old who has been playing with men over in Europe.

    He's undersized compared to many of the big North American players who are being touted in this year's draft pool, but Nylander has the skills to score in a National Hockey League where goals are becoming more and more precious commodities.

4. Michael Dal Colle: Oshawa Generals (OHL)

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Stock Report: RISING

    Left Wing, 6'2", 171 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 64 GP 39-56-95

    My Previous Ranking: 5

    After a blistering start to his 2013-14 OHL season, Michael Dal Colle finished the year tied for fifth in league scoring with 95 points.

    Dal Colle ranked second in the OHL Eastern Conference coaches poll in two categories: best playmaker and best stick-handler. There's little doubt that he has skills to go along with his size, but he'll need to mature physically before he can be expected to play a complete NHL game.

    Even without that bulk, Dal Colle's aggressiveness has caught the attention of NHL scouts. He'll be part of that second tier, right behind the very best prospects in this year's draft.

3. Sam Bennett: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

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    Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

    Stock Report: RISING

    Center, 6'0", 181 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 57 GP 36-55-91

    My Previous Ranking: 4

    It may come down to East vs. West in the battle for the top forward to be chosen in this year's draft. Representing the Ontario Hockey League, the Kingston Frontenacs' Sam Bennett is ranked as the top North American skater by Central Scouting and has been lauded as the most consistent prospect of this year's bunch.

    Bennett finished the 2013-14 season ranked ninth in OHL scoring and cleaned up in the Eastern Conference coaches poll. He was named smartest player, best playmaker, best stick-handler and third-best defensive forward—an impressive cadre of talents.

    With his feisty, high-energy game, Bennett's among the most tantalizing options available in 2014.

2. Sam Reinhart: Kootenay Ice (WHL)

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Stock Report: FALLING

    Center, 6'1", 183 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 60 GP 36-39-105

    My Previous Ranking: 1

    Representing the west coast in the Battle of the Sams, it's Sam Reinhart of the WHL Kootenay Ice.

    Considered one of the best prospects available earlier in the fall, Reinhart's reputation took a bit of a hit when Canada came home empty-handed from the 2014 World Junior Championships.

    His game has been back on track since his return to his junior team. Reinhart was named the WHL's player of the month in February, putting up a stunning 10-22-32 in 13 games to help his team go 11-2-0-0.

    As part of an impressive hockey family, Sam Reinhart is best-known for his leadership and his ingrained hockey sense. He has the ability to bring out the best in those around him, which could make him a team's franchise cornerstone for many years to come.

1. Aaron Ekblad: Barrie Colts (OHL)

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    Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

    Stock Report: RISING

    Defense, 6'4", 217 lbs

    2013-14 stats: 58 GP 23-30-53

    My Previous Ranking: 2

    In a draft year that's thin for defensive prospects, Aaron Ekblad makes up with quality what's lacking in volume.

    He's the only blueliner ever to have been granted "exceptional player" status when he entered the OHL, and he's heading into the draft with four first-place finishes in the Eastern Conference coaches poll. Ekblad was touted for having both the best shot and the hardest shot, as well as being the best offensive and defensive defenseman—a can't-miss combination in the eyes of pro scouts.

    It's been eight years since a defenseman was chosen first overall in the NHL draft, when the St. Louis Blues picked Erik Johnson in 2006. Ekblad has shown enough consistency this season that he could grab the honour in 2014.

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