We can certainly agree that the 2013 NHL Draft was the most anticipated one in a while although only time will tell if it will surpass the one in 2003 in which most drafted players selected in the first round turned out to have successful NHL careers. I happened to like the 2009 entry draft myself with John Tavares, Brayden Schenn, Hedman and Duchene as top ranked prospects. Usually when I follow a player since he turns 14-15 I always look forward to the year he is drafted. That was the case with Tavares and Schenn. However there is no such player for 2014 as the list of eminent prospects is lean. We must keep in mind however that a player can always develop quickly during a short period of time. For example, Jonathan Drouin was playing Midget AAA in Montreal in December 2011 and by September 2012 he was among the top 5 NHL prospects for the draft last June in New Jersey. He was finally drafted 2nd overal by Tampa Bay.
There is no flashy star this coming season but there are skilled and great all-around players nonetheless. If the OHL did not draw too much attention in 2013 the league has lot of promising prospects for 2014. It will be the opposite for the QMJHL which had its best year ever in terms of players being drafted among the top 60 in 2013. Consequently this coming year might very well be its lowest ever. As usual the young European players are not too be neglected. Most of the top 17-18 year-old players under the radar of NHL scouts have all played in international tournaments so we will have the opportunity to see most of them at the next World Junior Championship in Molmö. Sweden.
Which names can we expect to hear early on the next 27th of June at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia as the GMs will approach the microphone? Here is my Top 5 list of junior prospects worldwide with additional names to garnish the whole. This short list was made according to what I have read in scouting reports and players I watched at the WJC, IIHF World U18 and the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
1) Sam REINHART, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL), (6’0″, 185 lbs)
First there was Max the older brother who got drafted, then Griffin was drafted 4th overall in 2012 by the New York Islanders – a future NHLer for sure – and now here comes Sam who could be the highest drafted among former NHLer Paul Reinhart’s three sons. In a few words the kid simply knows how the game works. He is a very intelligent player with and without the puck. He can score (65G, 84A in 139 WHL games) and if you happen to be coaching him he is the type of player you want on the ice for all purposes in any crucial situation. To cap it off, he was Canada’s top line center and team captain in leading the team to the IIHF Under 18 Gold Medal. The only aspect of his game is to work on the strength of his accurate shot. He is young and gaining muscles will correct that. Reinhart is a can’t miss.
2) Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert Raiders, (WHL), (6’2″ 198 lbs)
Draisaitl is my favorite player of the pack and I’m hoping he will be drafted 1st overall. Although he still have to improve on his quickness to jump on the play the rest of his game is very much there. That includes a strong ability to protect the puck and find a teammate for the perfect pass. Add to that a quick release. For those skills he reminds me a lot of the great Jaromir Jagr and Marian Gaborik for his size and speed. Representing Germany at the last WJC, he scored 4 points in one game managing to finish 1st in scoring for his national team as a 17 year-old. He will be there in December as he could become the highest ever drafted German hockey player. He was also wise enough to have a taste of North American hockey by joining the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders who are very happy to have him aboard. He tallied 58 points in 64 games in his rookie season in 2012-2013. Draisaitl will be among the league’s top scorer this season if he stays healthy.
3) Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie Colts (OHL), (6’4″, 215 lbs)
This physically imposing defenseman has the distinction of following John Tavares as the second 15-year old to be given exceptional status to enter the OHL a year early since its creation in 2005. He can beat older players in a battle for the puck 99% of the time. He clears the puck in front of the net and most of all he has a very hard shot. A blasting one. I had the chance to watch him for the first time on TV last May as the Barrie Colts lost the OHL FInals to London in 7 games (OT). He was no stranger to their success. He is not a top scoring D but he has shown improvement all along to be consistent. The season is promising for him. I would pick him in my team over Seth Jones any day of the week. Definitely the top D in the next draft.
4) Roland McKeown, D, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL), (6’1″, 186 lbs)
One scout went as far as to mention that the Kingston Frontenacs will be the Halifax Mooseheads of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft with three solid prospects in left wing Samuel Bennett, right wing Spencer Watson and defenseman Roland McKeown. There is no doubt that his skating ability is at an elite level with a great speed and acceleration both forwards and backwards. He is smooth on his skates. It looks easy. Think Scott Niedermayer here. He is as good defensively as he is offensively. His knack to jump on the play and move up the puck is NHL caliber. His plus/minus stat must improve though as he finished his rookie season with a minus-24. Mind you the Frontenacs were a minus-57 as a team last season. If he improves during the season we will hear more from him.
5) William Nylander, C, Sodertalje J20, (5’10″ 170 lbs)
The son of former NHLer Michael Nylander is looking to follow in his father’s footsteps. He has outstanding hands and amazing stickhandling ability. He can pass the puck where you would think it is not possible, making him an excellent playmaker. Nylander is a solid skater who has speed and excellent acceleration and can change pace easily in the neutral and offensive zones . Great shot and it is accurate. Defensively he will have to get better and he must add up some muscles. Reports show him as a #2 overall prospect but because of those two last elements I rated him 5th. At 17, he plays in the Sweden 1st Division with older players. The only stats available are 6 points in 8 games. Anyhow he always finds a way to be on the scoring sheet. I can hardly wait to watch more of him at the WJC in December.
Who could sneak in that top 5?
Portland Winterhawks center Chase DeLeo,
Peterborough Petes left wing Nick Ritchie (Yes…Brett Ritchie’s brother).
Oshawa Generals left wing Michael Dal Colle.
Red Deer Rebels defenseman Hayden Fleury,
Calgary Hitmen left wing Jake Virtanen.
The potential sleeper: Portland Winterhawks center Dominic Turgeon, son of former NHLer Pierre Turgeon. (Long shot but I like him).
Big question mark: Daniel Audette who plays for my hometowen Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL. Although he was drafted 1st overall in 2012 in the Q league Audette has barely drawn any attention in 2012-13 and the fans here are not impressed by his will to develop into the player he can be. At 5’8”, 168lbs his skills are his best assets but we have yet to see them every single game. His injury was no excuse.
Top Goalie: Thatcher Demko. A native of San Diego, Demko went 30-9-4 with six shutouts, a 2.08 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 46 games with the U18 team in 2012-13. Impressive stats.
Every year I set my eyes on 2-3 top prospects on a daily/weekly basis. Leon Draisaitl and Sam Reinhart will be among them. The other one will be Connor McDavid, 16, already considered the top prospect for the 2015 NHL draft.