Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Sam Bennett, Aaron Ekblad 1-2 in NHL Central Scouting final ranking

So it's Benny and the Ek at the top of the draft class of 2014. Two years plus a day after he joined the Kingston Frontenacs and had the chutzpah to ask to wear his general manager Doug Gilmour's famed No. 93 in the legend's hometown, Sam Bennett will go into the NHL draft as North America's top-ranked prospect.

The top of the draft class of 2014 is as wide-open as any, with the Fronts' Bennett, Barrie Colts star defenceman Aaron Ekblad, Kootenay Ice's Sam Reinhart, Prince Albert Raiders' Leon Draisaitl and Oshawa Generals' Michael Dal Colle standing as the top five, just as they did at the midterm. The only change was that Draisaitl was slotted fourth after being second in January.

The draft isn't considered to be as strong as the Nathan MacKinnon-Aleksander Barkov-Jonathan Drouin-Seth Jones-headed 2013 draft, or as good as what is to come in '15 when the likes of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Travis Konecny and Mathew Barzal become available. That's just part of the cycle, plus it's not considered a overall strong year from the European cohort.

"It's a so and so draft year in Europe," Central Scouting's head European scout Goran Stubb says. "Solid but no superstars. I would say that Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander are stand outs. Then it is pretty even between players like Adrian Kempe, David Pastrnak, Kevin Fiala, [and], Jakub Vrana."

Bennett molds very high-end skill with an ineffable moxie; please excuse the dumb-down that's about to happen, but the Holland Landing, Ont., plays like he has an obligation to have the puck on his stick, plus he also has the knack for making opponents mad. Hence the varying comparisons with Chicago Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and with Jonathan Toews.

Buzzing The Net hasn't finalized its annual Jeff Skinner rankings, which projects junior players' stats to the NHL. Prior to the start of the Canadian Hockey League playoffs, the 1997-born wunderkinds McDavid and Konecny were 1-2 on the preliminary ranking. Bennett, whose 18th birthday falls a few days prior to the draft, was next on the list, as the first '96. The 18-year-old Reinhart, Dal Colle and the Halifax Mooseheads' Nikolaj Ehlers were the other first-time draft eligibles in the top 10, at sixth, seventh and 10th respectively.

Point being, Bennett's case to be at the top of the board for Central Scouting, which approaches the process as if it is the '31st NHL team,' is solid. How the draft lottery is determined is still going to have some sway, especially with a potential blueline cornerstone available in Ekblad, who is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the defenders in this wave of prospects.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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