Ranking Best Options for Toronto Maple Leafs' 1st-Round Pick in 2014 NHL Draft
While this draft may have no future NHL superstars, there are some talented skaters who are going to be great players at the pro level. Outside of the top four or five prospects, there is not a lot of consensus on who should round out the top 10.
Considering the Leafs need to add some skilled big men and more defensive depth—what NHL organization doesn't?—here are the best options for Toronto's first-round pick, listed in ascending order.
5. William Nylander, LW, Modo
William Nylander may not be the perfect fit in Toronto because of his 5'11", 180-pound size. However, he may have the best set of hands in the draft, and he just oozes skill.
With the Leafs picking in the eighth spot, they won't be able to control much. The elite prospects will go in the top four or five picks, yet Nylander, the son of former NHL star Michael Nylander, is as skilled as anyone in the 2014 draft class outside of Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart.
The biggest questions surround his ability to handle the pounding and grind that is NHL hockey.
With his high hockey IQ coupled with this ability to avoid the big hit, Nylander could be a calculated gamble for the Leafs.
It could be a high-yielding one.
4. Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara Ice Dogs
Brendan Perlini has the makings of an NHL star. He will turn 18 at the end of April and has all kinds of room to grow on a few levels.
The Niagara Ice Dogs star is a superlative skater with a deft scoring touch. The native of Shelby Township, Ontario is 6'3" and more than 200 pounds.
With his reach and excellent vision, he has the ability to make his linemates better. He's an unselfish player who has a mature game at just 17 years of age.
Here's an in-depth look at Perlini from a recent series I did for the Edmonton Journal.
He may not be around when the Leafs pick in the first round, but if he is, it will be difficult to pass up the talented winger.
3. Jake Virtanen, RW, Calgary Hitmen
Jake Virtanen gives off the signs of being an excellent pro. He's like Perlini in some ways, as his stock is on the rise coming into the draft.
He won't be 18 until August, so he's much younger than most of his fellow draftees.
At 6'1" and 210 pounds, he plays a 200-foot game already. The one advantage he may have over Perlini, at least at this stage, is his mean streak. He put up a point per game in the WHL this season, but he also had 100 penalty minutes.
Virtanen will not be pushed around, and the Abbotsford, British Columbia native is a great blend of size and skill. The Leafs could use more of both.
2. Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels
Haydn Fleury is 6'3" and still filling out. He's another prospect who won't be 18 until the summer, so both his body and his game will continue to mature in the coming years.
He is very mobile and is an effortless skater. While the Barrie Colts' Aaron Ekblad is more NHL-ready at this stage, the Rebels' assistant captain has room to improve.
The young defender has the ability to shut down the best offensive players and also chipped in 46 points this season in the WHL.
He might not be an NHL player for two or three more seasons, but the Leafs need to continue to stockpile talented, mobile defencemen who can play the game in all three zones.
Fleury fits that bill.
1. Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough Petes
At times, Nick Ritchie has completely dominated OHL games this season. The massive Peterborough Petes winger is quite literally a man-child.
At 6'3" and more than 225 pounds, he has toyed with opponents on myriad shifts in his OHL career.
It remains to be seen how he will develop at the pro level. However, his game has reminded me of Ryan Getzlaf's in junior hockey, where the Anaheim Ducks star was so physically dominant that it looked too easy.
Ritchie may not develop to the elite level that Getzlaf has, but his ability to dominate shifts bears resemblance to Getlaf's junior days.
The Orangeville, Ontario native has a great shot and will push for an NHL spot next season. Here's another feature I wrote for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey that focuses on the Petes star.
Ritchie has a lot of edge to his game and enjoys punishing opponents physically and on the scoreboard. If he continues to develop as a professional, he could be an elite power forward to challenge the NHL's best on a nightly basis.
Stats courtesy of HockeyDB.com.
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