10 Names to Learn for the 2014 NHL Draft
The 2014 NHL draft isn't supposed to be quite as strong as the 2013 version, but that doesn't mean that there won't still be plenty of top-end players available to teams whose seasons don't go quite according to plan.
Around this same time last year, the Nathan MacKinnon versus Seth Jones debate was getting underway, and the likes of Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov were throwing their hats into the ring as well.
They've all been drafted now, and their monikers as top draft-eligible prospects have been passed down. Standing in their wake are players like Sam Reinhart and William Nylander-Altelius, two forwards that are vying for the top spot in Philadelphia next June.
They aren't alone, though, as there are several other players worth keeping on your radar heading into the 2014 regular season.
All statistics appear courtesy of hockeydb.com unless otherwise noted.
No reason to ignore it: Sam Reinhart could very well end up being the first name called at the draft next June. He possesses the hockey smarts and work ethic befitting of a top prospect, and his bloodlines are tough to ignore.
He'll be the third Reinhart drafted into the NHL once selected, following in the footsteps of his brothers Max (taken 64th overall in 2010 by the Calgary Flames) and Griffin (selected fourth overall in 2012 by the New York Islanders). His father, Paul, also played for the Flames in the '80s.
Like most kids at this stage of development, Reinhart could stand to get a little stronger. The muscle will come, though. What's most noticeable about him is his anticipation skills, as Reinhart always seems to be one step ahead of the play out on the ice.
And you can't teach that.
He put up 85 points with the Kootenay Ice last season, and bigger things will be expected of him this year as one of the top prospects available.
If Sam Reinhart is the best offensive player available this year, Aaron Ekblad represents the other side of the coin as the best defensive player available. Already towering at 6'4'' and weighing in at well over 200 pounds, he's an incredibly imposing presence out on the ice for a teenager.
He was granted exceptional status by the OHL and given the privilege to play in the league as a 15-year-old, the first player to do that since John Tavares. That's a strong indicator of where Ekblad's career could be heading.
His defensive game has been his focus since entering the OHL, and he's nearly unbeatable in his own zone. Ekblad consistently (almost constantly) wins board battles down low and is capable of making good decisions with the puck while under pressure.
Thirty-four points in 54 games last season for the Barrie Colts shows that Ekblad is far from being a one-trick pony, however. The offensive side of his game is tantalizing, to say the least, and teams looking for a big boost on their blue line shouldn't have to look beyond this Belle River, Ontario native.
As long as they are selecting within the top two or three selections, that is.
Some people watch Blake Clarke and see a budding power-forward type. Others see an outstanding skater that is capable of making defenders miss with his agility and edge work. Truth be told, he's an enticing combination of skill and grit, making Clarke one of the more interesting top prospects heading into 2014.
His shot is outstanding, and he's able to snap off quick wristers while in top gear. Clarke is often able to use his speed to compress defenses a bit, opening up some room for his teammates, whom he is typically able to hit with a tape-to-tape pass as well.
While he never bowls anyone over—that's not the kind of power forward Clarke is—he is more than capable of protecting the puck in traffic and he uses his body well down low when cycling out of the dirty areas.
In 2014, he'll look to build off of a strong OHL debut, a season in which he scored 51 points in 68 games with the Brampton Battalion.
If Blake Clarke is a bigger player that uses his big body to protect, than Nick Ritchie is a power forward that uses his body to attack. He loves to lean on defenders while carrying the puck, and he never leaves a check unfinished when the opportunity presents itself.
The brother of 2013 Dallas Stars pick Brett, Nick shares the strong bloodlines that seem to flow through the 2014 draft.
Some shoulder issues kept him on the shelf throughout last season, but he still nearly scored a point per game with a weaker Peterborough Petes team. Thirty-five points in 41 games is a strong showing, but the feeling is that Ritchie will find another gear altogether when allowed to find his groove without stints on the IR interrupting.
A north-south forward that doesn't mess around with the puck, teams selecting within the top 10 that are looking to add a skilled big man could do much worse than Ritchie in 2014.
What Ekblad is in his own zone, Roland McKeown is in the offensive zone: a force, and one to be reckoned with at that. He scored 29 points in 61 games playing with the Kingston Frontenacs, getting a solid feel for the OHL as a rookie.
The point total might not initially grab your attention, but McKeown's excellent mobility makes him impossible to ignore out on the ice.
A big 2014 season could see him charge into the top five, as puck-moving/fleet-footed defensemen are so important in the NHL right now. His skating stride is just about perfect, and he's able to quickly achieve his considerable top-end speed while going both forward and backward.
Like most teenage blueliners, McKeown has decided to focus on one end of the ice over the other. While his defensive play could use some work, his hockey IQ is too high for him to continue to struggle on that side of the puck.
Another power forward that's cut from the same cloth as Nick Ritchie, Jake Virtanen is a bull once he gets the puck on his stick. He never hesitates to make the simple play in driving it to the net, making things happen with brute force as often as he does with his slick hands.
Virtanen is one of the most dangerous players in this draft in close, and he's able to get to those high-scoring areas because of his willingness to put his body on the line and battle for position.
You'll never see the kid back down from a physical confrontation, and he thrives on the physical aspect of the game. His 34 points in 62 games with the Calgary Hitmen serve as a good indicator of what he can do, and a quick start in 2014 could cause Virtanen to be an early riser this year.
Jakub Vrana is another forward who could see his name climb up the ranks of the ISS list as the season wears on. His maturity is off the charts, as he's a top-end Czech player that is currently cutting his teeth in Sweden.
He already made his professional hockey debut in the SEL as a 16-year-old, and if the high selection of Aleksander Barkov in 2013 is any indication, NHL teams are taking notice of teenagers that have proven capable of playing alongside adults prior to being drafted.
Like a shifty running back in football, Vrana is able to create time and space for himself by alternating between his gears, pushing defenders back at a high speed and then checking down a bit to utilize the open space he's created.
His ability to accelerate is top-notch, and his hands are good enough to beat defenders one-on-one if they try to close the gap on him. Making Vrana even more dangerous is his outstanding vision. He's often able to creatively find open teammates with passes no one else on the ice saw coming.
With more exposure, Vrana could be one of the dark-horse selections in 2014, possibly cracking the top five with an outstanding performance in 2014.
Michael Dal Colle
As Michael Dal Colle continues to add strength and evolve as a player, he'll only get more dangerous. Standing at 6'2'' and weighing in at just over 170 pounds, he already tries to identify defenders that he can out-muscle and goes right at them.
When he's outmatched, he's very willing to absorb some damage to make something happen in the offensive zone and is very effective below the hash marks. As he gets stronger, he'll be even tougher to contain.
Dal Colle is at his best when he's working the cycle game with his teammates, keeping his feet moving and digging and battling along the boards. Despite being a rookie on a talented Oshawa Generals team, he managed to play top-line minutes and posted 48 points in 63 games last season.
If there's a sleeper capable of dethroning Sam Reinhart as the top forward available in 2014, it's Leon Draisaitl. The German phenom put up an outstanding 58 points in 64 games with the Prince Albert Raiders while adjusting to the North American style of play and dealing with the culture shock that comes with leaving your home country for the first time.
Through all the changes, Draisaitl never missed a step out on the ice and showed why he's being referred to as the "German Gretzky."
His hockey IQ is ridiculous, and he's often making plays through gaps that no one else out on the ice was even aware of. If there's a hole in Draisaitl's game, it's his skating. He's improved his first step noticeably over the last year, though, and another year of seasoning in the WHL should sand even more of that rough edge off.
Just as tough as he is smart, Draisaitl is willing and able to take the puck to the net when passes aren't making themselves available to him. His wrist shot is top-notch, making him a threat to make something happen every time he's in the offensive zone.
Yet another draft-eligible player with strong NHL bloodlines, William Nylander-Altelius is the son of former NHLer Michael, who had a lengthy 920-game career. Like his father, William is an outstanding playmaker with an uncanny knack for slipping the puck through the smallest of spaces.
If there's an open teammate, Nylander will find him. If there's a pass to be made, Nylander is aware of it. He's one of the smartest players available in 2014, and the term "can stickhandle in a phone booth" applies here as well.
Like most 17-year-old offensive dynamos, Nylander will need to work on his play in the neutral and defensive zones, but that maturity will come with time. Right now, few players are capable of doing what Nylander can from the slot, and a top-three draft position is his to lock up or lose at this point.