Ranking the Most NHL-Ready Prospects in the 2014 Draft

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

Ranking the Most NHL-Ready Prospects in the 2014 Draft

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    Since the NHL moved the draft-eligible age down in 1979, teams have had to show great patience with their draft picks. There are very few teenagers who are good enough to make the leap from junior hockey to the NHL. However, there are a select few each season who are able to make the transition.

    This year, despite the apparent lack of quality, there are several forwards who appear to be offensively capable. There's also a defenseman who appears to be ready. Using a system produced by Gabriel Desjardins of Behind the Net, NHL scoring equivalencies suggest there are several players who could in fact make the jump this fall. Byron Bader from Flames Nation explains the system, along with the positives and negatives.

    Here are the 10 prospects closest to NHL-ready from the 2014 draft.

10. Sonny Milano, LW, USNTDP (USHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 25 GP, 14 G, 25 A with the USNTDP Juniors (USHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 12 G, 23 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? In his article at Flames Nation, Byron Bader tells us if a prospect has an NHLe of 35 points or more, he reaches “can’t miss” range. Of course we're projecting, and the USHL equivalency puts Sonny Milano at the outer marker.

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? It's very unlikely Milano will play in the NHL in 2014-15. Despite impressive offensive ability, he is heading to Boston College and will probably stay there at least two years. He will be an impact player in college based on his USHL performance.

9. Nikolay Goldobin, LW, Sarnia (OHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 67 GP, 38 G, 56 A with the Sarnia Sting (OHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 14 G, 21 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? Nikolay Goldobin is a quality offensive prospect. He's also big enough to play at a higher level next year and will turn 19 in November. 

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? Despite his clear offensive talent, Goldobin has issues in other areas. Brock Otten from OHL prospects lists consistency and attention to detail without the puck as being negatives. For those reasons, Goldobin will be back in junior this fall.

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

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    2013-14 Stats: 60 GP, 36 G, 56 A with the Oshawa Generals (OHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 14 G, 21 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? Michael Dal Colle has a chance to play in the NHL next season. His equivalency is in the range, and he has good size. Craig Button's comments on TSN give us some guidance:

    Michael is just beginning to hit his physical maturity. Combination of size, skill and power will only be enhanced as he continues to grow on and off the ice. He's smart and knows how to play to his strengths.

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? Button's comments about just beginning to hit physical maturity may give an NHL team pause this fall. If he's elevated too soon, injury is a possibility, and Dal Colle is still in the development stage of his career. It's unlikely he plays a full season in the NHL in 2014-15.

7. Robby Fabbri, C, Guelph (OHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 58 GP, 45 G, 42 A with the Guelph Storm (OHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 19 G, 18 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? Robby Fabbri caught a huge break this spring. When all of the other top prospects were eliminated, Fabbri and the Guelph Storm kept rolling. It offered him a great showcase and proved he's a highly creative player. NHL teams will be wary of his size, but the numbers suggest he could play next season.

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? One of the absolute truths about the NHL is that small players get punished by decision-makers. Robby Fabbri would have to be exceptional in the preseason to get an NHL shot in 2014-15. It could happen, but size is a large issue.

6. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 63 GP, 49 G, 55 A with the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 18 G, 20 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? Nikolaj Ehlers is a brilliant offensive prospect and could probably handle the skill portions of the game at the next level. A team looking for a power-play option could use him in that role. Durability was a question one year ago, as reflected in comments made by director of central scouting Dan Marr to NHL.com.

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? Ehlers has the talent to play at a much higher level, and if his drafting team gives him a power-play push, the results would probably be satisfactory. Based on his size and possibility of burning a year of eligibility, it's likely Ehlers will remain a junior player in 2014-15.

5. Sam Bennett, C, Kingston (OHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 57 GP, 36 G, 55 A with the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 16 G, 23 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? Sam Bennett has the widest range of skills among the top forwards in the draft. An NHL team could employ him at even strength right away, although he might enter the league as a winger to cut down on defensive responsibility. The NHL equivalency suggests he could contribute.

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? It may sound crazy, but the pull-up story probably hurt him a little with NHL teams. There isn't much about Bennett that's on the downbeat, but that single item probably gets him a ticket back to junior in the fall. John Vogl covered the pull-up story and some of the impact for The Buffalo News.

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

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    2013-14 Stats: 64 GP, 38 G, 67 A with the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 15 G, 25 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? Leon Draisaitl's will deliver enough offense, based on his equivalency. He also has big league skills in other areas. Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald talks about his puck-protection ability, and Draisaitl has the size to play at the next level now.

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? Draisaitl is going to get a real chance to make his NHL team this fall. If he goes to Edmonton, the Oilers may give him a spin alongside Nail Yakupov. Those puck-protection skills and passing ability may unlock some goals on a Kid Line.

3. Kevin Fiala, W, HV71 (SHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 17 GP, 3 G, 8 A with HV71 (SHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 11 G, 30 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? Kevin Fiala is a strong candidate for NHL employment in 2014-15. He's a terrific skill player and may be able to help the power play as a rookie. Fiala played in the Swedish Elite League this past season, so he has some experience in a quality league.

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? Fiala's equivalency projection comes on 17 games, and that's a small sample size. Bob McKenzie has him No. 15 overall, deeper in the draft, and the team drafting him will have more options and better depth. If Fiala does get a chance, don't be surprised if he makes it.

2. Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 60 GP, 36 G, 69 A with the Kootenay Ice (WHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 15 G, 28 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? Sam Reinhart is an outstanding offensive player and is ready for the NHL. His equivalency is the best of this year's group, and he can quarterback a power play. Reinhart is a sublime passer, something that will get him playing time in the NHL.

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? Reinhart is in a great situation this year. He's among the best available players, and he may end up in Buffalo, where offense is badly needed now. There's every chance his drafting team will promote Reinhart as a big piece of the future, starting in training camp.

1. Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 58 GP, 23 G, 30 A with the Barrie Colts (OHL)

    2013-14 NHLE: 82 GP, 10 G, 12 A

    Can He Play in the NHL Next Season? Aaron Ekblad is a man at 18 years old. His size and strength are a major positive, and his bomb from the blue line should translate to NHL success on the power play. There are very few plug-and-play defensemen available in a decade, but Ekblad appears to be one.

    Will He Play in the NHL Next Season? Of all of the players who will be drafted in Philadelphia, Aaron Ekblad has the best chance to play the full 2014-15 season in the NHL. A team drafting him will no doubt have just that in mind as they step to the podium.