NHL Central Scouting Service took their first stab at the 2014 NHL draft class by releasing their preliminary ranking.
Of the North American skaters, the OHL led the way with nine players ranked in the A-list category.
Although the A-list players aren’t ranked from top to bottom, it’s safe to assume Barrie Colts defender Aaron Ekblad is the cream of the OHL crop based on a scouts’ consensus that BTN put together in the summer. The Belle River, Ont., native is regarded as a future cornerstone defenceman. He has the size, standing 6-foot-4, 217-pounds, is mobile with offensive upside, and is a horse in his own end.
The Kingston Frontenacs are following in the footsteps of the Halifax Mooseheads this year to some degree. Like Halifax last year with Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Zachary Fucale, Kingston has trio of high-end players: winger Samuel Bennett, defenceman Roland McKeown and winger Spencer Watson. All three players cracked CCS’s A list and are in running to have their names called in the first round.
McKeown leads the way among the Kingston trio. The combination of his 6-foot-1, 186-pound frame, exceptional skating ability and offensive upside has most scouts regarding him as the second best blueliner in the OHL behind Ekblad. That said, he’s currently in the running to have his name called with a top-10 draft choice.
The Peterborough Petes’ Nicolas Ritchie is touted as one of the top wingers of the draft. Many expect the 6-foot-2, 218-pounder, who is the brother of Dallas Stars prospect Brett Ritchie, to have a breakout season in his third year with the Petes following potting 18 goals and 35 points in 41 games last year.
Plymouth Whalers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic is the only North American puck stopper to earn an A-list ranking. The 6-foot, 182-pound American had a phenomenal rookie season last year, posting a .923 save percentage and a 2.28 average throughout 26 games.
Kootenay Ice centre Sam Reinhart leads the WHL’s seven A-list players. At this point, the 6-foot-1, 183-pound centre is the safe pick to go first overall. He possesses elite vision, hands, is a strong skater, and has the character and leadership abilities to be a future captain. Moreover, he proved last year that he makes everyone around him better while netting 35 goals and 85 points in 72 games on an offensively challenged Kootenay club.
Prince Albert Raiders centre Leon Draisaitl is the next best thing in the Dub. It took the German native no time at all to adapt to major junior hockey last year, scoring 21 goals and 58 points in 64 games. He seems poised to explode into a superstar this year while possibly leading the Raiders to a lengthy playoff run.
It’s going to be tough for the QMJHL to follow up their outstanding 2013 draft class, where they had six players selected with top-30 picks. Only Moncton Wildcats forward Ivan Barbashev cracked CSS’s A list. There is the Russian factor with Barbashev, but taking into account he potted 18 goals and 62 points in 68 games as a rookie last year and stands 6-foot-3, 185-pounds, he should ensure the Q will have at least one player don a jersey in the first round.
"Of course every European has to make a North American adjustment, but the bottom line is talent is talent and Barbashev has it," NHL director of scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "He's a dynamic player who plays with a presence and who looks to get involved and finish the hit. He's not shy and is a strong skater with good drive to the net. He's got very good hands and puck control and is able to set up nice plays going at top speed. He's got a good shot with a quick, accurate release, has a good work ethic and leads by example. We expect a lot from him and this year."
Sweden leads the overseas countries in talent. They had four players given A-list ratings: Jakub Vrana, Adrian Kempe, David Pastrnak, and of course, William Nylander.
Nylander is in the running to be selected first overall in the draft. Like his father, former NHL star Michael Nylander, he possesses second-to-none playmaking abilities and elite vision.
Outside of Sweden, only Finland’s Kasperi Kapanen, who is the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, cracked the top ranking. There are some concerns about his small 5-foot-10, 165-pound stature, but the winger's high level of skill and hockey sense should keep him in the first-round mix.
It seems every year NHL Central Scouting Service's preliminary ranking has some questionable calls.
In 2012, they didn’t even rank Prince George Cougars winger Troy Bourke who went onto to be selected in the third round by the Colorado Avalanche. In addition, they pegged Regina Pats winger Chandler Stephenson, who went onto be a Washington Capitals third round pick, and Prince Albert Raiders centre Mike Winther, who went onto to be a Dallas Stars second round pick, as C-list prospects behind many players who weren’t even drafted.
Here is a look at three head-scratching 2014 omissions.
Tyson Baillie, centre, Kelowna Rockets (WHL) – The 5-foot-10, 187-pound Baillie followed up a great regular-season, notching 26 goals and 56 points in 67 games, with an even better playoff, where he scored eight goals and 14 points in nine contests, last year.
It appears Baillie is poised to follow the footsteps of Bourke. His high-end talent and potential to post big numbers could put him in the mix to be a top-100 draft choice.
Dylan Diperna, defence, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) – Diperna seemed to play a steady enough game on the Frontenacs’ back end last year to earn a C-list mention. The combination of his 6-foot-1, 187-pound frame and slick skating ability should put him on some scouts’ radar.
Matt Schmalz, centre, Sudbury Wolves (OHL) – Schmalz is by no means in the running to have his name called early in the draft, but his 6-foot-6, 210-pound stature makes him an appealing prospect in the later rounds. He will, however, have to double and then some his point total, four goals and 10 points in 51 games, from last year to garner NHL interest.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen