MONTREAL, QC. — Here we are. While the Kings are on the verge of hoisting the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years, hockey fans eagerly await the coming of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
This is the time of the year when junior hockey fans grab a bag of popcorn and wait anxiously to find out which players will get drafted, by which team and at what rank. Just like they will in the stands of the Wells Fargo Center, in Philadelphia, where roughly two hundred players will hope to hear their name.
Again this year, I’ve decided to do my first round mock draft, in three parts of ten picks. Just so you know, I’m not a professional scout and I don’t pretend to be one. I’m just a fan who likes junior hockey like anyone. But while I’m no scout, I can proudly say that for the third consecutive year, I was covering the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada from the QMJHL. So I managed to watch carefully every player of this league.
Before I begin, please note that the Florida Panthers have the first overall pick because they’ve won the lottery, the New York Islanders have chosen to keep their first pick for this upcoming draft and to transfer their 2015 pick to the Buffalo Sabres (Thomas Vanek trade) and the Anaheim Ducks have the Ottawa Senators first round pick (Bobby Ryan trade.)
Rankings : 2nd overall by the International Scouting Service (ISS), 2nd North American by the Central Scouting Bureau (NHL CSB), 3rd overall by Hockey Prospect and 2nd overall in my rankings.
Think fast and name me three Florida Panthers defensemen? Done? That’s why Aaron Ekblad will end up in the sunshine state. After becoming only the second player in the history of the OHL to get the exceptional player status, Ekblad has met the expectations. He has size, offensive and defensive abilities and an impressive hockey IQ that will help him dominate in the NHL for several years. He is ready to play 20 to 22 minutes per game and will be more than welcomed in this struggling defensive squad. Seth Jones was the talk of the town last year, I think Ekblad is better. That says it all.
NHL comparable : Shea Weber
2nd pick : SAM REINHART (Kootenay Ice (WHL)). Center, shoots right, 6’1’’ 183 pounds. Season stats : 60 GP, 36 goals, 69 assists, 105 points and 11 penalty minutes.
Rankings : 1st overall by the ISS, 3rd North American by the NHL CSB, 2nd overall by Hockey Prospect and 1st overall in my rankings.
The Sabres are building a nice defensive squad with Myers, Zadorov, Ristolainen, McCabe and Pysyk, but they are missing some skilled forwards. Sam Reinhart is a pure offensive threat coming from a well-known hockey family (with his father Paul and his brothers Max and Griffin). A few young players can handle the puck like him and it serves him well since he’s a pretty good playmaker. He is a skilled skater with a vision better than the majority of the junior hockey players. He could become the cornerstone of this organization in the future.
NHL comparable : Ryan Getzlaf
3rd pick : SAM BENNETT (Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)). Center, shoots left, 6’0’’ 181 pounds. Season stats : 57 GP, 36 goals, 55 assists, 91 points and 118 penalty minutes.
Rankings : 4th overall by the ISS, 1st North American by the NHL CSB, 1st overall by Hockey Prospect et 3rd overall in my rankings.
I really think the Oilers should trade this pick for a top-2 defenseman, but if they decided to go on and make a pick, Sam Bennett is the guy they need to draft. They may need defensemen but you have to go with the best player available mentality. Bennett doesn’t seem to have flaws in his game. He’s a skilled hard worker who has everything in his toolbox to be considered a first overall pick. His all-around game will make him a force in the NHL.
NHL comparable : Jonathan Toews
Rankings : 6th overall by the ISS, 4th North American by the NHL CSB, 6th overall by Hockey Prospect and 4th overall in my rankings.
I will admit it, Draisaitl is my favorite player of all the draft. To be successful in the WHL, you have to be a special player and he surely is. His size, his strength, his patience with the puck and his intelligence will validate the fact that many analysts give him nicknames such as “The German Gretzky.” With Sean Monahan, the Flames will have their top-2 centers for at least ten years. More and more, countries like Germany, Switzerland and Denmark develop good young players.
NHL comparable : Jamie Benn
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
5th pick : MICHAEL DAL COLLE (Oshawa Generals (OHL)). Left wing, shoots left, 6’2’’ 171 pounds. Season Stats : 67GP, 39 goals, 56 assists, 95 points and 34 penalty minutes.
Rankings : 3rd overall by the ISS, 5th North American by the NHL CSB, 7th overall by Hockey Prospect and 5th overall in my rankings.
Some people think Dal Colle will be called before the 5th pick and it’s quite possible, but I doubt he’s a better player than the previous four. Without a doubt, he has top-5 skills offensively and it could definitely help the Islanders at the end of the day. In my opinion, he is the purest goal scorer of the draft. Despite his slender frame, he likes the physical play and uses his speed to his advantage. He may not be the best two-way player, but he certainly won’t hurt your team in the defensive zone.
NHL comparable : Patrick Marleau
6th pick : HAYDN FLEURY (Red Deer Rebels (WHL)). Defenseman, shoots left, 6’3’’ 198 pounds. Season stats : 70 GP, 8 goals, 38 assists, 46 points and 46 penalty minutes.
Rankings : 12th overall by the ISS, 9th North American by the NHL CSB, 10th overall by Hockey Prospect and 9th overall in my rankings.
Maybe I’m going off the tracks here but the Canucks’ situation intrigues me a little bit. It’s been a long time since they experienced such a tough season and I think it’s time to refill the bank of blueliners, with players like Horvat, Shinkaruk, Jensen and Gaunce coming up front soon. Fleury is a versatile defender who can do the job on the special teams. Skilled skater, he will start the attack with his first pass and will create some scoring chances with his puck handling skills.
NHL comparable : Jay Bouwmeester
Rankings : 11th overall by the ISS, 13th North American by the NHL CSB, 4th overall by Hockey Prospect and 8th overall in my rankings.
People who say the Dane slightly benefited from Jonathan Drouin’s game this season haven’t seen him play like I did. I saw him several times and I can assure he will make anyone look bad with his stick handling and his agility. Ehlers is a dynamic forward who will solidify Carolina’s top two lines. Also, he surprised many with his play in all three zones and has been successful in shorthanded situations.
NHL comparable : Patrick Kane
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
8th pick : NICK RITCHIE (Peterborough Petes (OHL)). Left wing, shoots left, 6’3’’ 229 pounds. Season stats : 61 GP, 39 goals, 35 assists, 74 points and 136 penalty minutes.
Rankings : 10th overall by the ISS, 7th North American by the NHL CSB, 5th overall by Hockey Prospect and 7th overall in my rankings.
If Nick Ritchie is still available when the Leafs arrive on the stage, I can’t find a reason why he would not become their first round pick. He’s exactly the type of player that fits really well in the mentality of the long hated Habs rivals : intensity, strength and character. He has that goal scoring touch, he sometimes drops the gloves and isn’t scared to go in the traffic. He’s not as flashy as some others but he’s still one of the best power forwards of the draft.
NHL comparable : David Backes
9th pick : JAKE VIRTANEN (Calgary Hitmen (WHL)). Left wing, shoots right, 6’1’’ 210 pounds. Season stats : 71 GP, 45 goals, 26 assists, 71 points and 100 penalty minutes.
Rankings : 7th overall by the ISS, 6th North American by the NHL CSB, 18th overall by Hockey Prospect and 6th overall in my rankings.
If Nick Ritchie was one of the best power forwards, Jake Virtanen is the best of the draft in my opinion. A perfect blend of skill, speed and above average goal scoring abilities. He knows how to use his big body and won’t hesitate to hit every player who is not wearing the same jersey. Virtanen’s style of play is very similar to the style played in the Western Conference, therefore he won’t see any difference while graduating with the Jets.
NHL comparable : Corey Perry
10th pick : WILLIAM NYLANDER (MODO (Sweden)). Right wing, shoots right, 5’11’’ 181 pounds. Season stats : 22 GP, 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points and 6 penalty minutes.
Rankings : 5th overall by the ISS, 2nd European by the NHL CSB, 8th overall by Hockey Prospect and 10th overall in my rankings.
When it’s time to talk about William Nylander, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. The son of former NHLer Michael has the same offensive qualities than his father, if not better. He has soft hands and he uses his speed to skate through the visitors’ defense. He is unfortunately not the most reliable player defensively, but when he crosses the red line, he knows what to do with the puck. The Ducks already have some big players in their lineup and he could benefit from it in a few years.
NHL comparable : David Krejci