NHL Comparisons for Top Offensive Prospects in the 2014 Draft

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistMay 13, 2014

NHL Comparisons for Top Offensive Prospects in the 2014 Draft

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    The 2014 NHL Entry Draft offers teams some terrific offensive talent. It's difficult to envision these players in the NHL because fans haven't seen them yet.

    One way to develop a picture of each prospect is to find comparables who are currently in the NHL. An established player with a similar skill set gives us a mental image of the amateur player's qualities.

    Here are 10 of the top draft-eligible players in this year's draft, and their NHL comparables.

10. Julius Honka, D, Swift Current (WHL)

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    The Player: Julius Honka is a small, sublime puck-moving defenseman. Craig Button from TSN noted his impressive World Junior performance and his range of skills. 

    The Comparable: One of the NHL's truly underrated defensemen is Andrej Sekera. He is a small defender who is brilliant with the puck and makes smart plays consistently.

    Style and Substance: The comparable is strong in style and substance. Players of this type sometimes make it with their second team, because patience is required. Julius Honka has all of the elements to make a quality puck-moving defenseman in the Sekera mould. 

9. Robby Fabbri, Guelph (OHL)

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    The Player: Robby Fabbri is a brilliant offensive forward, one of the very best available in the 2014 draft. His size will impact where he is chosen, meaning he will be a bargain for his drafting team. 

    The Comparable: In 2006, skilled center Claude Giroux fell all the way to No. 26, partly due to size issues. He emerged as one of the best players available that year, and is one of the top-value picks of the last decade.

    Style and Substance: The similarities between Fabbri and Giroux are perfectly framed when looking at offensive output. In Giroux's draft year, he went 69GP, 39-64-103, which is 1.49 points-per-game. Fabbri's numbers this season were 58GP, 45-42-87, giving him 1.5 points-per-game.

8. Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Kalpa (Sm-Liiga)

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    The Player: Kasperi Kapanen might be the best two-way forward available in this year's draft. Craig Button of TSN says he is capable in all situations. 

    The Comparable: Patrick Sharp has shown himself to be an invaluable forward for the Chicago Blackhawks. He can play on a scoring or checking line, play the wing or center, and impact the game at even strength, power play or penalty kill.

    Style and Substance: The Kapanen-Sharp comparable works stylistically, but the young Finn brings an exceptional amount of skill. This video gives us reason to ponder just how good Kapanen might be as an NHL player. A forward with exceptional skill and a defensive conscience will be an impact player.

7. Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL)

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    The Player: Haydn Fleury is a swift-skating defenseman who uses finesse and positioning to get the job done. Craig Button describes him as an intelligent defender who can move the puck.

    The Comparable: Fleury's scouting report is a perfect description of NHL veteran Jay Bouwmeester. The big, fast defenseman has been a steady, reliable player since he entered the league over a decade ago.

    Style and Substance:  Speed doesn't slump and it's useful on offense and defense. Haydn Fleury may not become an impact player in any area, but he should have a long career as an effective two-way defender. His size and speed combination is very valuable to NHL teams.

6. Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough (OHL)

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    The Player: Nick Ritchie is a big power winger with an impressive offensive resume. At 6'3", 229 lbs. he is a unique 18-year-old prospect. 

    The Comparable: This is a very unusual prospect, and finding a comparable is difficult. This past season, fewer than 30 forwards played at or above 229 lbs. in the entire NHL.  Among those, Chris Stewart is a solid comparable.

    Style and Substance:  In terms of size and production, Nick Ritchie fits the Chris Stewart profile. Stewart's career has been inconsistent, owing to injury and scoring droughts. This may serve as a cautionary tale for fans, as the physical strain on power forwards makes injuries more likely in their NHL career. 

5. Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa (OHL)

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    The Player: Michael Dal Colle is an impressive scoring winger with Oshawa (OHL). Dan Marr from NHL.com told Shawn Cayley of DurhamRegion.com about Dal Colle, calling him an NHL power forward in the making.

    The Comparable: Nazem Kadri is not considered a power forward, but he is a skill player with similar offensive totals at the same age, and in the same league. In Kadri's draft year, he went 56GP, 25-53-78 for a 1.39 point-per-game total. Dal Colle's OHL totals this season were 67GP, 39-56-95, good for a 1.42 point-per-game total. They are similar offensive players.

    Style and Substance: The substance of the Kadri-Dal Colle comparison looks very close. If you look at Kadri's career progression offensively, that's a very nice guide for Dal Colle's expectations. Many things can impact career progress, but Dal Colle looks like a worthy selection in the top-10 overall. The style comparison should give us pause about Dal Colle as a power forward. Kadri is the same size, and a physical player, but at the NHL level he isn't close to a power forward.

4. Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert (WHL)

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    Darko Bandic/Associated Press

    The Player: Leon Draisaitl is a big offensive center. He delivered an outstanding season, including a big step forward after the new year.

    The Comparable: Chris Westcott of edmontonoilers.com quotes Draisaitl as saying he has been compared to Anze Kopitar. That's an outstanding player, who possesses offensive ability while also being a strong defensive player.

    Style and Substance: The two players are similar physically, and big-skill centers who can post significant offense are rare enough for strong comparables to be difficult. Kopitar is a wonderful two-way center who has developed into an impact player over a long period of time. Leon Draisaitl is a quality prospect, and his style matches Kopitar, but the substance will have to be proven.

3. Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)

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    The Player: Sam Reinhart is a cerebral playmaker, and likely the best offensive player in the draft.

    The Comparable: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was taken in the 2011 draft, and his resume was very similar. He is a young, creative center with terrific playmaking skills and ability to make a difference on the power play.

    Style and Substance: This is a very close comparable. Nugent-Hopkins had more of a two-way reputation, but that's a quibble so early in Reinhart's career. One area the team drafting should be aware of involves injuries. Nugent-Hopkins is a tall, lean center who has absorbed a lot of hits and injuries at a young age. Perhaps keeping Reinhart in junior for a season or two is a good plan.

2. Aaron Ekblad, Barrie (OHL)

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    The Player: Aaron Ekblad will offer his NHL team a complete skill set. He can score on the power play, play positional defense and is a master of the transition game. Ekblad boasts a wide range of skills. 

    The Comparable: Erik Johnson was a No. 1 overall selection by the St. Louis Blues. His draft-day scouting report, via bluejackets.nhl.com, gives a description of Johnson that resembles what we're reading about Ekblad. 

    Style and Substance: Ekblad and Johnson are similar players in style, and they offer complete skill sets. The worry might be that they'll be similar in substance, as Johnson's NHL career has been slow to develop. He struggled as a young defender in St. Louis, eventually getting dealt to the Colorado Avalanche. The 2013-14 season saw him deliver quality across the board. At 26 years of age, he may be coming into his own as an NHL player. That should serve as a warning sign for Ekblad supporters. 

1. Sam Bennett, C, Kingston (OHL)

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    The Player: Sam Bennett is a quality two-way center with substantial offensive skills. He scored 57GP, 36-55-91 during the season while playing a physical style. Bennett's even-strength totals—57GP, 25-34-59—are truly exceptional and give us a strong idea about his impact when teams are at even manpower.

    The Comparable: Jonathan Toews played his amateur hockey in the NCAA, but he gained a reputation for being a quality two-way center. Dan Marr of NHL Central Scouting had some insight about the comparison in an article Mike Morreale wrote for NHL.com:

    There are guys who elevate their game when it matters most, and you're looking to project which players will do that consistently at the next level. The guys we have at the top all are in that mold, but when we look at Sam Bennett we see a guy who could potentially have a Jonathan Toews type of career.

    Style and Substance: Toews was an exceptional NCAA player in his draft year. It would be unrealistic to expect that kind of two-way production from Sam Bennett. They delivered similar results at the same age, but the level of quality in Toews' game makes him incomparable.