Ranking the 10 Most Well-Rounded NHL Prospects Ahead of 2014-15 Season
They may not get all of the attention from fans, but players who possess a wide range of skills are vital to NHL teams' success.
In a normal season, very few rookies show two-way acumen, but this season there are several with the ability to impact the game in all three zones. They may not be able to do it in the NHL at the beginning of their careers, but the talent is there.
Here are the 10 prospects who display the most complete skill set for the 2014-15 NHL season.
10. Jacob De La Rose, C, Montreal Canadiens
What is His Skill Set? De La Rose has a nice range of skills, as explained by Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus:
De la Rose is an all-around forward. He can play every forward position, and he has two-way value. He works hard and plays physically, and when you combine that with his speed, he can be a nuisance on the forecheck. De la Rose has above-average vision, and he can make some creative plays.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? The Canadiens love players who can help in multiple areas, and De La Rose might rise quickly through the organization. One of the major positives is his versatility, giving the club more than one position for De La Rose to fill. He may spend the entire 2014-15 season in the AHL, but he should be able to help at the big league level soon.
9. Mark McNeill, C, Chicago Blackhawks
What Did He Do Last Season? Mark McNeill made his pro debut and had a solid year with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL. He is progressing well as an NHL prospect and should be considered on track as a future NHL player.
What is His Skill Set? McNeill was a first-round selection of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011. Corey Pronman wrote about him in 2012 for Hockey Prospectus:
"He's the whole package" said one scout when describing McNeill—he's a great do it all type of player. McNeill is a solid to above-average skater, puck-handler, passer, shooter, and physical player who plays well in his own end.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? The 'Hawks have terrific forward depth and it's probable McNeill spends another year in the AHL. His range of skills will eventually force the issue, and he'll find his way to the NHL.
8. Brett Ritchie, RW, Dallas Stars
What Did He Do Last Season? Brett Ritchie made his pro debut in 2013-14 with the Texas Stars. He posted solid numbers in the regular season and had a bigger impact in the playoffs.
What is His Skill Set? Ritchie is a rare power forward prospect and an emerging talent. Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus had this to say on Ritchie:
He is a strong, 6'4'' winger with good hands and vision. He can make plays with either his offensive creativity or his power game. Ritchie protects the puck very well, and he can be a handful to deal with on the forecheck, as he hits hard, and he is a tough guy to match up against.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? Ritchie's skills are valuable to an NHL team. Dallas may make room for him this fall if he impresses in training camp. His strong AHL showing bodes well for a fast track to the NHL.
7. Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers
What Did He Do Last Season? Darnell Nurse took a big step forward in what might be his final OHL season, playing big minutes for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
What is His Skill Set? Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus suggested Nurse possesses terrific skills for the NHL:
Nurse is a great athlete with all the physical tools necessary, and he has impressive hockey sense. He is a big, tough defenseman with a high amount of physicality. Nurse skates at an above-average level, if not better, and he can close his gaps very well for a big defenseman.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? The Edmonton Oilers are being patient with Nurse, and they signed several NHL free agents this summer. He will have to earn his playing time, but he might get a nine-game audition with Edmonton. Training camp and preseason will be a time to watch his progress closely. If Nurse can handle the physical aspect of the game, and win battles, he'll be in the NHL to stay.
6. Brandon Gormley, D, Arizona Coyotes
What Did He Do Last Season? Brandon Gormley had his second effective AHL season with the Portland Pirates. He also played in five NHL games.
What is His Skill Set? Gormley's skills were described by Kirk Luedeke of Bruins 2010 Draft Watch before the draft:
Superb, effortless skater who looks like he's gliding over air. Very good acceleration and recovery speed. Balanced and agile; adept at crossing over and keeping containment on speed to the outside; his footwork has improved since last year. Good hockey IQ; maintains gap control effectively and keeps the puck in front of him.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? The Arizona Coyotes have a defense factory, with a full and impressive pro depth chart and quality bubbling under. Gormley looks NHL ready and should impact the game in all three zones. Once he establishes himself in the NHL, it's likely he'll have a long and productive career.
5. Scott Laughton, C, Philadelphia Flyers
What Did He Do Last Season? Scott Laughton posted an outstanding offensive season with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.
What is His Skill Set? Corey Pronman wrote about Laughton for Hockey Prospectus:
Laughton is a good all-around forward who has the puck possession elements a team would want in a scorer, to go along with the pace and grit of a pro. He exemplified the latter in his brief stint on the Flyers roster. He has above-average speed and hands.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? Laughton may take some time in the AHL, but he looks close to NHL ready. He is a perfect style fit for the Flyers and could be a crowd favorite by Christmas. If he is placed in an offensive role, Laughton could be a candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2014-15.
4. Bo Horvat, C, Vancouver Canucks
What is His Skill Set? OHL Prospects' Brock Otten described Horvat as a quality prospect:
In his final 40 games of the season, Horvat had 25 goals and 20 assists. Prorate that and it's a 40+ goal season. That type of production, plus physical play, two-way ability, face off skill, penalty kill ability, AND leadership capabilities and you've got yourself one hell of a player.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? The Vancouver Canucks traded one of the best two-way centers in the NHL this summer, as Ryan Kesler was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks. Bo Horvat will take time to establish himself at the NHL level, but he has all the tools required to be a complete center upon maturation.
3. Curtis Lazar, C, Ottawa Senators
What Did He Do Last Season? Curtis Lazar led the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup in 2013-14. He was a major part of the team's success, and his enthusiasm for the game makes Lazar a crowd favorite.
What is His Skill Set? Lazar has a wide range of skills. Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus wrote about him in the summer of 2013:
Lazar is a versatile forward with tremendous character. He plays a high-speed game, and his skating is a legit plus skill. Lazar picks up speed quickly, and he is always moving his feet with quick strides.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? The Ottawa Senators are very deep at center, so Lazar may have to start on the wing. There's nothing in his game that suggests he isn't ready for the NHL in 2014-15. If he does return to junior, fans can expect a major impact season.
2. Sam Bennett, C, Calgary Flames
What Did He Do Last Season? Sam Bennett exploded in his second OHL season, improving his point total by 50 and emerging as an elite talent for the Kingston Frontenacs.
What is His Skill Set? Central Scouting's David Gregory raved about Bennett's ability at NHL.com:
He plays the kind of game you think cannot be sustained for a whole season because it’s a high-energy game and compete game at all ends of the ice. He just never stops, and put that with the skill package he has and how well he thinks the game, he’s pretty much a top-notch player.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? The Calgary Flames may have to be patient with Bennett. He's a June 1996 birthday, making him one of the youngest players in the 2014 draft. Another year in junior leagues will only reinforce his elite skills and range of ability. A strong training camp may be rewarded with a nine game look in the NHL regular season.
1. Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers
What Did He Do Last Season? Aaron Ekblad posted an enormous season across the board with the Barrie Colts of the OHL. He capped it off as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
What is His Skill Set? Brock Otten from OHL Prospects discussed Ekblad's skills before the draft:
His ability and confidence as a puck mover really took off this year (and helped to secure his appointment as the OHL's defenseman of the year). He also grew leaps and bounds as a powerplay QB this year. At the same time as his offensive game was growing, his defensive game remained dominant.
Can He Bring it to the NHL in 2014-15? The Florida Panthers acquired a franchise player in Ekblad. They will be able to deploy him in every situation when he matures, and his scouting report suggests a complete player with top-end skills across the board. It's worth noting that defensemen who make the leap from junior to the NHL are rare, but Ekblad is expected to do it this season.