NHL Draft 2014: Ranking the Top 30 Prospects

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistJune 23, 2014

NHL Draft 2014: Ranking the Top 30 Prospects

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    The 2014 NHL draft is less than a week away, and final lists are coming out in anticipation of one of the league's most important annual events.

    Who are the 30 best players eligible for this season's festivities? What order should they be slotted in? We not only answer those questions but look at reasons to both believe and disbelieve in each prospect's NHL potential, as well as estimate when they should be NHL-ready if they develop as expected. 

    Read on for one view of how 2014's draft eligibles should be ranked, based on each prospect's strengths and weaknesses as well as their NHL readiness.

     

    Statistics courtesy of EliteProspects.com, ExtraSkater.com, HockeyDB.com and KHL.ru.

30. Vladislav Kamenev

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    Reason to believe: Vladislav Kamenev is an intriguing combination for size, scoring and two-way ability. Already 6'2" and over 200 pounds, he excelled in the U-18 tourney and has contributed enough to appear in 16 KHL games even at this early point in his career. Red Line Report calls him "one of the best two-way forwards in the draft." 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Metallurg Magnitogorsk's third overall pick in the 2013 KHL draft, Kamenev is never going to be short of options back home and may be difficult to lure overseas—with his development almost completely out of the hands of whichever NHL team drafts him. 

     

    NHL timeline: It's likely to be some time before Kamenev comes overseas, and when he does, there is likely to be a learning curve; 2016-17 seems a likely target if all goes well. 

29. Conner Bleackley

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    Reason to believe: Red Deer's captain is described by multiple outlets as a character player who will do whatever it takes to win the game. As TSN's Craig Button put it, "He doesn’t allow himself to be denied!"

    In other words, he's exactly the kind of player one would expect a Brent Sutter-coached team to produce. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Conner Bleackley lacks high-end offensive talent. His numbers in juniors this year (68 points in 71 games) were far and away the best of his career, and for a prospective first-rounder, even that's pretty mediocre. 

     

    NHL timeline: A 2017-18 NHL arrival gives him two more full seasons in juniors and a year to acclimate to the professional game in the AHL. 

28. Jakub Vrana

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    Reason to believe: Touted as an offensive star, Jakub Vrana scored eight times in just seven games at the U-18 tourney and was a point-per-game player in Swedish junior.

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Vrana had a gorgeous 26.7 shooting percentage at that U-18 tournament, but against men in Sweden, he was much less impressive, scoring just twice in 24 SHL contests. Additionally, his scoring numbers at the junior level were stagnant year-over-year. 

     

    NHL timeline: If everything goes well, 2017-18 seems a good bet. 

27. Adrian Kempe

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    Reason to believe: Already playing against men in the Swedish Hockey League, Adrian Kempe was a point-per-game player at the U-18s and has already contributed at a high level. Red Line Report compares him to Dustin Brown and describes him as having both great speed and and an aggressive game. He's also extremely young, only two days short of missing the 2015 draft. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: RLR critiques both Kempe's discipline and the accuracy of his shot, and he hasn't really been a goal scorer at any level of hockey. He likely doesn't have the kind of top-end offensive potential available elsewhere in the draft. 

     

    NHL timeline: Given his age, the needed adjustment to North America and his probable difficulty creating the kind of offence that creates major league promotions, 2017-18 seems a reasonable target. 

26. Anthony DeAngelo

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    Reason to believe: Anthony DeAngelo is probably the purest offensive talent available on the blue line in this year's draft, and that's including highly touted Aaron Ekblad. DeAngelo had more assists than Ekblad had points in 2013-14 while playing fewer games, and he did it while playing for a lousy team in Sarnia. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: The Hockey News' Ryan Kennedy explains that attitude is a huge question mark:

    [T]he reason DeAngelo only played 51 games was because of two suspensions. In both cases, he was found to have violated the OHL’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy. One of those incidents involved making an “inappropriate statement to a teammate.

     

    NHL timeline: Defence is a tough position to learn, and DeAngelo is undersized by NHL standards. He should probably get at least two more years of junior and a season of AHL development before making an NHL debut in 2017-18. 

25. Dylan Larkin

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    Reason to believe: The Detroit-born Dylan Larkin is much loved by Red Line Report, which describes him as a "silky smooth pivot" who makes his teammates better, plays a responsible game and creates scoring chances. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Larkin's numbers in the USHL (26 points in 26 games) are OK but not great for that league, which is generally seen as being just back of the Canadian major junior leagues in terms of difficulty. Fellow draft-eligible Sonny Milano produced 50 percent more offence with the same team.

     

    NHL timeline: Bound for the University of Michigan, if Larkin stays in college for a full four years, he won't turn pro until 2018-19. 

24. David Pastrnak

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    Reason to believe: David Pastrnak performed well in the Allsvenskan, Sweden's second-tier professional league, where he posted 24 points in 36 games. As Ryan Kennedy notes in the video above, he's regarded as a true two-way threat.  

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Pastrnak is undersized for the aggressive game that he plays, and he hasn't really done a lot of goal scoring over the last few seasons.

     

    NHL timeline: Three seasons would appear to be a reasonable waiting period, which would make Pastrnak an NHLer in 2017-18.

23. Jared McCann

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    Reason to believe: Jared McCann seems to be nearly universally lauded for his two-way game, consistent effort and offensive creativity. SB Nation's Arik Parnass talked to Victor Carneiro, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds director of player personnel, who described McCann's shot as "NHL-ready."

     

    Reason to disbelieve: A history of concussions is troubling, particularly for a player who has significant work to do in terms of his strength. Additionally, McCann's offensive production in the OHL and internationally isn't really so impressive that it cannot be ignored. The above video compares him to Claude Giroux, but Giroux had 103 points in his draft year. McCann had just 62. 

     

    NHL timeline: Two more seasons of juniors and a full year in the AHL to mature suggests the 2017-18 season as an appropriate target. 

22. Julius Honka

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    Reason to believe: Julius Honka is a puck-possession defenceman, scoring at just under a point per game pace in the WHL in 2014-15, and he's also known for his willingness to make open-ice hits. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: The NHL seems to be shifting more toward players who control puck possession, but even so, it's difficult for a 5'11" defenceman to break into the majors. 

     

    NHL timeline: For an undersized player who has to learn to defend at the NHL level, 2017-18 is an aggressive arrival date. 

21. Roland McKeown

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    Reason to believe: Red Line Report tags him as the fourth-best skater in the draft and the best of the available defencemen, saying his "edging is so clean you never hear his blades touch the ice." 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: The same source criticizes Roland McKeown as soft and says that he "doesn't want to be first into the corners against a hard forecheck."

     

    NHL timeline: Two more years of juniors to round out his game and add strength and a year in the AHL to learn the professional game sets 2017-18 as an appropriate NHL target. 

20. Brendan Perlini

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    Reason to believe: Size and scoring. Brendan Perlini is a 6'3", 205-pound winger who scored 34 goals and managed 71 points in 58 contests.

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Perlini had just a single assist in seven postseason contests, and he was heavily reliant on the power play for his scoring during the regular season. 

     

    NHL timeline: A couple of seasons in juniors to round out his game probably wouldn't hurt, but Perlini's physical maturity helps his cause; 2016-17 seems a reasonable estimate. 

19. Alex Tuch

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Reason to believe: Already 6'4" and 213 pounds, Alex Tuch is a monster on the ice, and he combines that imposing frame with real offensive ability, scoring at better than a point-per-game pace in the USHL. Red Line Report describes him as a "mountainous man-child" and an "absolute load" to knock off the puck. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: The question is to what degree Tuch benefited from his linemates, the highly talented Milano and Jack Eichel, the wunderkind who just might unseat Connor McDavid as the No. 1 selection in the 2015 draft (and who led the U.S. U-18 team in scoring, despite being a draft class behind Tuch and Milano). 

     

    NHL timeline: Slated to spend 2014-15 at Boston College, a full four years of NCAA hockey would slot Tuch to compete for an NHL roster spot in 2018-19. 

18. Nikolay Goldobin

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    Reason to believe: Nikolay Goldobin ranked fifth among draft-eligible forwards in Canadian major junior with 94 points for the underwhelming Sarnia Sting. It was Goldobin's second season in the OHL, demonstrating his clear intention to play in North America. The Sting were also significantly better with Goldobin on the ice than on the bench; he scored 28 more points than the next-closest forward on his team. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Red Line Report sums it up in one line: "Pretty with the puck, pretty worthless without it." 

     

    NHL timeline: As one of the older members of the first-year eligibles for the 2014 draft, Goldobin's chances of advancing to the NHL quickly really aren't that bad. On a team in need of scoring, 2015-16 could be a realistic target.  

17. Josh Ho-Sang

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    Reason to believe: Josh Ho-Sang is ridiculously talented, one of the best pure offensive players in this year's draft. He led the Windsor Spitfires with 85 points, which slots him in the top 10 of first-time draft eligibles in Canadian major junior.  

     

    Reason to disbelieve: “I’ve made mistakes. I’ve been late to stuff. I’ve just not done certain things the proper way," Ho-Sang told the Windsor Star's Bob Duff. "That’s just all part of maturity, so if that’s going to hurt me in the draft, that’s something that I’m accepting of, because that’s all me. It’s something that’s a part of growing up."

    It's not hard to figure out that NHL teams are worried about his attitude. 

     

    NHL timeline: Ho-Sang is such a talented player that it wouldn't be a huge shock if he made it to the NHL after just one more season of junior hockey, in 2015-16. 

16. Sonny Milano

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    Reason to believe: Exceptional skill separates Milano from the pack, but Red Line Report notes that he's also rounded out his defensive game and describes him as a "dangerous penalty-killer." 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Milano is just 6', 185 pounds, so he's a little undersized for the NHL game.

     

    NHL timeline: A full college career would mean Milano could contend for an NHL roster spot in 2018-19. 

15. Ivan Barbashev

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    Reason to believe: Red Line Report compares Ivan Barbashev to Alex Steen and Paul Stastny, praising his coachability and defensive responsibility, as well as his ability to "dominate physically."

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Barbashev's offensive instincts aren't as good as some of the players ranked under him on this list.

     

    NHL timeline: Given his two-way reputation (and Russian background), it wouldn't be a surprise if Barbashev moved to the majors relatively early, perhaps as soon as 2015-16.

14. Kevin Fiala

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    Reason to believe: Not only did Kevin Fiala play in the World Juniors, where he was very impressive, but he even represented Switzerland at the World Championships. He also scored well in the Swedish Hockey League against men. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Fiala's lack of size doesn't help his case, and Switzerland doesn't have much history of producing impact NHL skaters. 

     

    NHL timeline: He probably needs at least a year, making a prospective NHL debut in 2015-16 at the earliest. 

13. Robby Fabbri

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    Reason to believe: Robby Fabbri excelled on a first-rate Guelph Storm team, scoring 45 goals and adding 87 points en route to an OHL championship. He added six points in Guelph's run at the Memorial Cup, which ended with a loss in the final to Edmonton.  

     

    Reason to disbelieve: A good team can be a double-edged sword, as Fabbri had plenty of support (Jets prospect Scott Kosmachuk ended up topping 100 points). He also lacks the size teams typically like to see from a top-10 selection.

     

    NHL timeline: At least one more season in juniors seems relatively assured, which would mean an NHL debut in 2015-16 at the earliest for Fabbri. 

12. Nikita Scherbak

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    Reason to believe: Nikita Scherbak, a Russian import who hadn't done anything spectacular back home in 2012-13, was basically the only reason to watch the Saskatoon Blades (16-51-5) last season. Scherbak put up 78 points in his debut North American season, which put him 35 points ahead of the next-highest scoring Blade.  

     

    Reason to disbelieve: The Russian factor is pretty much it. 

     

    NHL timeline: It wouldn't be a surprise to see Scherbak make the jump to the majors as early as 2015-16. 

11. Kasperi Kapanen

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    Reason to believe: Sami Kapanen's son brings exceptional speed and creativity, along with his father's offensive instincts.

    "Good skater, excellent, smart moves around the net," Central Scouting's Goran Stubb summarized for NHL.com. "Has a very good selection of shotsa real sniper." 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Kasperi Kapanen was snake-bitten at the U-18s this year, leading Finland with 18 shots but just scoring once, and he has yet to really excel in Finland's top senior league. 

     

    NHL timeline: His size and the fact that he's still adjusting to the senior level in Finland suggest that Kapanen will need at least two more seasons, not reaching the NHL until 2016-17. 

10. Haydn Fleury

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    Reason to believe: The consensus second-best defenceman in the draft, Haydn Fleury's fast and capable at both ends of the rink, and as the video above notes, he's also blessed with hockey sense. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Fleury isn't a high-end offensive player; his 46 points in the WHL wasn't bad, but it's also a long way from the players who really excel in the offensive department in the NHL. 

     

    NHL timeline: At least two seasons for Fleury makes sense given the position he plays, but more likely even three, which would set his NHL arrival in 2017-18. 

9. William Nylander

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    Reason to believe: Michael Nylander's son has inherited his father's offensive gifts, and he showed it at the Under-18s, posting a ridiculous 16 points in seven games. He also went on a better than point-per-game run for Sodertalje of the Allsvenskan. 

      

    Reason to disbelieve: William Nylander scored just once in 22 SHL games, and Red Line Report has concerns about his attitude, describing him as "sometimes selfish, always a diva" and saying he will "give coaches gray hair."

     

    NHL timeline: Given his mediocre numbers in Sweden's top league, Nylander seems a good bet to need at least one more year before jumping to the NHL in 2015-16.

8. Jake Virtanen

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    Reason to believe: Jake Virtanen's size (6'1", 208 pounds) is good, but it's his aggressiveness, skating and goal scoring that make him a power forward to watch. He scored 45 times in the WHL last year and chalked up 100 penalty minutes. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Red Line Report notes that he "doesn't have great vision or hockey sense" (though it also says that if he did he'd be the best player in the draft).

     

    NHL timeline: If he graduates to the majors in time for 2016-17, nobody should be disappointed. 

7. Nick Ritchie

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    Reason to believe: A 6'3", 236-pound forward who plays a vicious game, Nick Ritchie scored 39 goals and added 74 points to lead the Peterborough Petes in scoring. That he's willing and able to fight on top of that is likely to win him the hearts of at least one or two hockey departments.

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Red Line Report projects Ritchie as a second-liner, citing his lack of speed and need to work on his "defensive-zone responsibilities." He also, like many bigger skaters, gets tagged as having "inconsistent effort."  

     

    NHL timeline: It seems safe to say that Ritchie should spend at least one more year in juniors, which would make an NHL arrival no earlier than 2015-16. 

6. Nikolaj Ehlers

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    Reason to believe: Nikolaj Ehlers has ridiculous offensive talent and posted over 100 points playing alongside Jonathan Drouin in Halifax. Every team in the league is looking for an elite skater with good hands.

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Ehlers played alongside Drouin, a ridiculously talented forward who was the No. 3 overall pick in last year's NHL draft and managed 108 points in just 46 games. Add in that Ehlers is 5'11", 162 pounds and there is at least some reason for concern. 

     

    NHL timeline: Maybe he plays immediately, but it's more likely that (like Drouin) Ehlers returns to juniors for his post-draft season, setting an NHL arrival no earlier than 2015-16. 

5. Michael Dal Colle

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    Reason to believe: Michael Dal Colle has exceptional talent, running up 95 points to lead the Oshawa Generals in scoring and another 20 in a dozen playoff contests. He also has a projectable frame at 6'2". 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: There isn't much to dislike about Dal Colle. He's rather light for being 6'2", weighing just 182 pounds, but that's the only real concern at this juncture. 

     

    NHL timeline: It wouldn't be a huge shock if he made the majors next season, nor would it be a big surprise if he played one more year in juniors. 

4. Leon Draisaitl

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    Reason to believe: The consensus No. 4 selection combines just about everything. He's 6'2", 204 pounds, he scored 43 points more than Prince Albert's second-highest scoring forward, and he gets virtually unanimous, rave reviews for his hockey sense. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Leon Draisaitl is more of a cerebral than instinctive player, and as a result, his intensity level is questioned in some quarters. 

     

    NHL timeline: In a perfect world, Draisaitl gets one more season of juniors, but it's believed he's physically mature enough to jump to the NHL in 2014-15. 

3. Sam Bennett

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    Reason to believe: Virtually every scouting report out there raves about Sam Bennett's character, physical play and extraordinary two-way ability. He scored 21 points more than the next-best forward in Kingston.

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Bennett's strength gets negative reviews, which was reinforced by his failure to do a pullup at the draft combine. He also plays a high-risk physical game for someone who weighs just 178 pounds. 

     

    NHL timeline: Bennett will likely make the jump immediately, but as a late birthday, it may be in his best interest to defer his NHL debut to 2015-16. 

2. Aaron Ekblad

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    Reason to believe: As 2014's best defenceman by a wide margin, Ekblad brings a little bit of everything and plays an exceptionally mature game for his age. At 6'4" and 216 pounds, he's already a huge player by NHL standards. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: TSN's Ray Ferraro (via LowTide.ca), a fan of the player, suggested earlier in June that Ekblad likely wouldn't end up as a top-pair defenceman in the NHL, and that while he was going to play for a long time in the pros, he might not be in a feature role. 

     

    NHL timeline: There seems to be no question that Ekblad will play in the NHL in 2014-15. 

1. Sam Reinhart

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    Reason to believe: No less an authority than Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray described Sam Reinhart to WGR 550 (via David Staples of The Edmonton Journal) as "the smartest player on the ice every game I see." Given that Murray's background is amateur scouting (with the Ottawa Senators) and that the Sabres hold the No. 2 overall pick, that's awfully high praise. 

     

    Reason to disbelieve: Red Line Report critiques Reinhart's speed, describing him as "barely an average skater," and at 6'1", 185 pounds, he isn't a big-bodied pivot. 

     

    NHL timeline: He'll likely be in the majors in 2014-15.