Not even two months after the 2013 NHL entry draft, player rankings are already popping up for the 2014 draft class.
Barrie Colts defender Aaron Ekblad topped International Scouting Service’s preliminary ranking. Past the OHL rearguard, Kootenay Ice centre Sam Reinhart, Sweden’s Anton Karlsson and William Nylander, and Calgary Hitmen winger Jake Virtanen closed out the top five in that respective order.
Mckeen’s Hockey preliminary top-30 ranking looks a lot different from ISS’s list. They have Nylander leading the way with Reinhart behind him and Ekblad all the way down at seventh overall. In addition, they have Kingston Frontenacs defenceman Ronald McKeown, who wasn’t in ISS’s top 15, ranked fifth and NTDP forward Ryan MacInnis, who wasn’t ranked by ISS either, pegged sixth overall.
Here is a look at BTN’s preliminary 2014 draft list. This ranking is based on a compilation of Mckeen’s Hockey and International Scouting Service’s draft lists.
1. Sam Reinhart, centre, Kootenay Ice (WHL) – It seems the Reinhart family saved the best for last. Sam Reinhart clearly has a step on his two older brothers: New York Islanders 2012 fourth overall pick Griffin Reinhart and Calgary Flames prospect Max Reinhart.
Reinhart scored 35 goals and 85 points in 72 games last year on the Ice’s thin offense, which only had one other player score more than 50 points. The writing is on the wall that the Vancouver native will take another huge stride in his game this season, undeniably capable of scoring north of 100 points.
Since it will be tough to compare Reinhart’s season in the junior ranks to Karlsson and Nylander’s seasons in professional leagues, the world junior championship seems to be the best opportunity for the 6-foot-, 182-pound centre to prove he’s the top forward in the draft. Reinhart hasn’t been guaranteed a spot or anything, but all signs point to him cracking the team based on his success at international tournaments.
Scout's take: “He's a great offensive thinker with great skills and a natural nose for scoring goals,” says ISS’s head scout Ross MacLean. “He's a very smart playmaker who can really control his time and space well around the puck. He's got a great release on his shot, a release that reminds me a lot of James Neal. He has a natural ability to adapt to his surroundings and seems to build chemistry quickly with whomever he lines up with. He's a quality individual with good character and leadership qualities as well, so not only is the skill there but he brings some very valuable intangibles.”
2. William Nylander, centre, Rogle (Allsvenskan) – Nylander is following the footsteps of his father, former NHL star Michael Nylander. He has blossomed into an extremely talented forward with elite skating abilities and vision.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound centre was introduced to competitive hockey in Chicago while his dad played for the Blackhawks. But since his father left North America for Sweden in 2011, Nylander has developed in Swedish junior leagues.
Nylander has shined for Sweden at the international stage. Following racking up four goals and six points in 10 games at U18 tourneys, he scored four goals and six points in four matches at the recent Hlinka Memorial.
Scout’s take: “He’s very slick and skilled offensive player,” says MacLean. “He has a lot of the same appeal that made Max Domi so popular in the 2013 Draft. He has exciting abilities around the puck and absolutely loves the offensive side of the game. He has some defensive deficiencies that are to be expected with a player in his mould and can try to be too flashy at times, but creativity and technical ability with the puck are extremely exciting.”
3. Aaron Ekblad, defence, Barrie Colts (OHL) – Ekblad is above and beyond the top blueliner of the draft. This shouldn’t surprise anyone as he is the first defenceman of the OHL’s history to be granted exceptional status.
Ekblad is poised to develop into a cornerstone defenceman. He has the size, standing 6-foot-4 and 213-pounds, can lead a penalty kill, has offensive upside as he potted 34 points in 54 games last year and is a leader in the room. The precedents that suggest selecting defenders high in the draft is riskier than forwards could keep him behind Reinhart and Nylander, though.
Scout’s take: “He’s a smart, tall and poised rearguard who makes intelligent reads on both sides of the puck,” says Mckeen’s Hockey scout Sean Lafortune. “He’s not flashy, more tidy and efficient. He battles along the boards and mans the power play well, developing better poise in possession, no longer rushes and forces plays as he did last year. He’s an adequate north to south skater; however, his first-step quickness, turns and pivots can be a challenge for him, as he struggles to maintain positioning against opponents who play at a high pace. He projects out as a defence-first defender with offensive upside.”
4. Anton Karlsson, wing, Frolunda (SuperElit) – ISS believes Karlsson is the top Swede of the draft, ranking him third overall. Mckeen’s Hockey, however, pegged him 10th overall. So the book is out on where the 6-foot-1, 203-pound forward stands in the draft.
Similar to his older brother, Carolina Hurricanes prospect Erik Karlsson, the Sweden native is known for his smooth skating ability and offensive pizazz. He projects to be a future top-six forward versatile enough to play in both offensive and defensive situations.
Scout’s take: “He's already one of my favorite prospects for 2014,” says MacLean. “He can do a bit of everything and thrives off his battle and compete level. He's got very good leadership qualities, is technically sound in all the major skill areas and has some great grit and desire. He can put a team on his back and will his way to success. He’s a gifted shooter, can start and finish plays, is responsible in all three zones and can play in all situations. From what I've seen of Karlsson so far, I would be comfortable saying he's a kid I would want on my team without question.”
5. Nick Ritchie, wing, Peterborough Petes (OHL) – Having a late 1995 birth date, Ritchie is one of the older prospects of the draft. He already has two seasons with the Petes under his belt, notching 34 goals and 74 points in 103 games in that time.
Ritchie, who is the brother of Dallas Stars prospect Brett Ritchie, is regarded as one of the most appealing power forwards of the draft. He has a thick 6-foot-2, 218-pound frame, plays with an edge, and has a nose for the net.
“He’s a skilled sniper whose prized offensive weapon is a howitzer shot, one that is amplified by a deceptive, tricky release,” says Lafortune. “He creates havoc when using his big frame to bully into scoring areas, taking direct routes to the net in and out of puck possession. He’s not a pure puck handler, albeit flashes moments of creativity. He is, however, an adequate north-to-south skater and does have some awkward, stumbling moments which can truncate his progress.”
6. Leon Draisaitl, centre, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) – Called the German Gretzky by some, Draisaitl came into the WHL with a lot of hype. It seemed it would be tough for him to live up to the high expectations, but he did exactly that. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound forward made an immediate impact, going on to be named the Eastern Conference’s top rookie after scoring 21 goals and 58 points in 64 games.
7. Michael Dal Colle, wing, Oshawa Generals (OHL) – Standing 6-foot-2, 171-pounds, possessing above-average strength, elite skill, and smarts makes Dal Colle a standout prospect out of Ontario. As a rookie with the Generals, he thrived despite adapting on the wing following playing centre in minor hockey. He scored 15 goals and 48 points in 63 games, while maintaining a plus 19.
8. Jared McCann, centre, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) – McCann took major strides in his game as a rookie for the Greyhounds. The 6-foot, 174-pounder scored seven goals and 16 points in his last 10 games following racking up 14 goals and 28 points in his first 48 contests. He will have ample opportunity in Sault Ste. Marie next year with a handful of their core players graduating to the pros in the offseason.
9. Jake Virtanen, wing, Calgary Hitmen (WHL) – Virtanen, who is the top pick of the 2011 bantam draft, brings a lot more to the table than just his goal scoring abilities. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder forward plays a solid two-way game with an edge. It is premature to compare him to NHL stars, but his style of play has elicited some comparisons to Anaheim Ducks centre and former Hitmen Ryan Getzlaf.
10. Jakub Vrana, wing, Linköping (SHL) – Vrana leads the way among Czech Republic prospects. The 6-foot, 165-pound winger, who stands out for his speed and vision, got the draft map at international tournaments. He was the youngest player at the 2013 world junior championship in Russia and shined for his country at U18 showings, scoring three goals and six points in 10 games.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen