Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Stars. Over the next few days we will be previewing the 2014 NHL Draft by ranking our top 30 prospects and honourable mentions. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
With the CHL season now 2 months old, a month or so of NCAA hockey, plenty of games for the USNTDP and a few international tournaments (Ivan Hlinka, 4 Nations, first two games of the Subway Super Series) in the books, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the draft are doing this year. That said, myself and the rest of the LWOS staff haven’t seen everyone yet… its quite simply not possible at this point in the season, so if there is someone you feel is an obvious name that has been left out, we’ll do our best to get a look before our final ranks come out in April, May, and June. At this point the group we haven’t seen a lot of are those European prospects who for whatever reason haven’t had much exposure on the international stage. With the World Juniors, the five Nations, and the Under 18 all to come later in the year, we should get a better look at most. For now, this is what we have, we hope you enjoy the early preview.
1) Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice, (6’0″ 185 lbs): The third member of the Reinhart brothers might be the best of the bunch. Father Paul played for the Calgary Flames in the 1980s. Brother Max is a centre currently making his way through the Flames system, while brother Griffin is a defenceman drafted 4th overall by the Islanders in the 2012 NHL Draft. Sam Reinhart is in his third season with the Kootney Ice and has been a big time producer since he got there. So far this season he has 39 points in 25 games. He was also Canada’s top line center, and team captain in leading the team to the IIHF Under 18 Gold Medal this past spring. Reinhart has excellent hockey sense and vision. He seems to know where the puck is going before it gets there and finds the openings in the defence. He has excellent stickhandling and puck protection skills, which when coupled with his good vision and passing make him an excellent playmaker. His shot could be a little harder and should get there as he gains muscle, but he is deadly accurate and has a great release. He could be a big part of Canada’s World Junior squad in Malmo.
2) Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie Colts, (6’4″ 215 lbs): Followed John Tavares as the second 15-year-old to be given exceptional status and enter the OHL a year early, Ekblad is also in his third season in the CHL. He has really matured on the Barrie defence, and now is the team’s most important defender playing absolutely huge minutes in every situation. Last season, as a 16-year-old he played top pairing minutes as the team went all the way to the OHL final, only to lose on literally a last second goal, in the third period of game 7. This summer, Ekblad captained Team Canada to another Ivan Hlinka tournament vicotry. He has a bullet slap shot from the point, and a strong first pass. He shows a ton of offensive potential and has 19 points in 22 games this season. With that in mind right now his best assets are a well-developed defensive game, as Ekblad dominates older players physically in his own zone winning board battles and clearing the front of the net. He also has strong positioning and good hockey sense and defensive instincts.
3) William Nylander, C, Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik, (5’10″ 170 lbs): The son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, who played for the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and New York Rangers, the young Nylander is looking to follow in his father’s footsteps. He has outstanding hands, and incredible stickhandling ability. He can pass the puck through the eye of a needle, making him an excellent playmaker. Nylander is a solid skater who has very good top end speed and excellent acceleration and change of pace ability. His shot features a quick release, and good accuracy, but needs to add some power. Nylander will need to work on his defensive game over the coming years. Nylander is playing against men this season and showing impressive numbers for a 17-year-old putting up two points in four games in the SHL (formerly Elitserien) since being called up two weeks ago. Nylander had four goals and eight points in 18 games while on loan to Rogle in the Allvenskan.
4) Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert Raiders (6’2″ 198 lbs): The 2nd overall pick in the 2013 CHL Import Draft, Draisaitl looks to be the highest ever drafted German hockey player. A big centre with excellent reach and stickhandling ability, Draisaitl protects the puck very well, and then finds an open teammate with a quick and accurate pass. He also has a strong and accurate wrist shot, with a very good release, leading to goal scoring ability. Draisaitl is not afraid to take the puck to the net, and has the soft hands to finish when he gets there. Draisaitl has greatly improved his skating since coming to North America and it is no longer a weakness. He seems to be a better skater every time I see him. What is most impressive though is his ability to read the play, and be in the right spot at the right time. Draisaitl has very impressive hockey sense. He has put up 10 goals and 28 points in 21 games for Prince Albert this season.
5) Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa Generals (6’2″ 180 lbs): Played on Oshawa’s top line, and produced 48 points in 63 games on a deep Generals squad last season. In the summer he won gold at the Hlinka. This year Dal Colle and the Generals have been a huge story to start the year as they are running away with the OHL’s East Division, and Dal Colle has 16 goals and 40 points in 24 games. Dal Colle showed an excellent ability to play the cycle game protecting the puck down low, and making quick, smart passes. When given openings he drove the net and showed soft hands in close, and ability to beat defenders and goaltenders one on one. He’s a power winger who is strong on his skates and also isn’t afraid to bulldoze through a defender if necessary. Willing to take a hit to make a play, but also unfraid to dish them out. Dal Colle can only improve as he adds more strength.
6) Roland McKeown, D, Kingston Frontenacs, (6’1″ 186 lbs): Last year, McKeown had a strong rookie season with Kingston, playing top 4 minutes on a club that was vastly improved this season over 2011-12. In the spring he won Gold with Canada at the Under 18 Worlds, and spent summer winning gold at the Hlinka. This season he’s taken his game up another notch playing huge minutes for a Kingston team that is currently second in the Eastern Division. He has put up 13 points in 22 games. His skating ability is at an elite level. Excellent speed and acceleration both forwards and backwards, great pivots, excellent lateral agility, fantastic edgework. He is so smooth on his skates, its like he’s floating above the ice. The mobility allows McKeown to always be in position defensively, and to join the play offensively. He shows confidence and poise with the puck on his stick, and is really developing into a solid two way defenceman. He could add more muscle to his frame, and play a more physical game however.
7) Jakub Vrana, C, Linkopings (6’0″ 180 lbs): A Czech centre who is playing in Sweden. Vrana already has a ton of international experience with 8 points in 6 games at the 2012 IIHF Under 18 Championships, and appearances for the Czech Republic at the 2013 World Juniors, 2013 Under 18s and this summer’s Hlinka. Has very good top end speed, but its his elite acceleration and change of pace ability that really sets him apart and allows him to beat defenders one on one. Has good vision and passing skills to be a creative playmaker. His wrist shot is very accurate, and he has an excellent release. Has already risen one spot from our summer ranks and could continue to do so. He’s recently moved up to the SHL but like many 17-year-olds in the league, ice time and points have been hard to come by early. The real story will continue to be what he does against his peers at the international stage.
8) Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough Petes, (6’2″ 215 lbs): The brother of Dallas Stars draft pick, and 2013 WJC Team Canada member Brett Ritchie, Nick is finding his own way as a power forward prospect winning gold with Team Canada at the 2013 IIHF Under 18 tournament, and again at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament. Due to shoulder issues, he played in just 41 games last season, but managed to put up 35 points on an understaffed Peterborough team. He seems to have answered the questions about any lingering injury issues with 12 goals in 20 games to start this season. A power forward prospect who finishes his checks, and plays a very straight line game, taking the puck right to the front of the net and not caring if he has to go through a defenceman to do it. He has a powerful skating stride, and excellent balance, but could stand to work on his speed as it is just average right now. He loves to stand in front of the net and has the quick, soft hands necessary to score on rebounds and deflections.
9) Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary Hitmen, (6’1″ 192 lbs): A power forward prospect who never hesitates to get involved physically. Loves to hit, and be involved in battles along the boards. Takes the puck to the net at every opportuntiy. Has the creative stickhandling and good agility to beat a defender with slick creative moves, but is also willing to go right through them. Really impressive at the World Under 17 Challenge where he scored 5 goals in 5 games for Team Pacific. Also won a gold medal at the Hlinka. The first overall pick in the 2011 WHL Draft. A pure goal scorer who can score in tight, but also has an excellent shot with great accuracy and a tremendously quick release that fools goaltenders. Has 9 goals in 19 games so far this season for the Hitmen.
10) Hayden Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels (6’3″ 204 lbs): A solid two-way defender with good size at 6’3″, and impressive skating. He has good edgework, and solid mobility. His smooth skating stride lets him generate good speed. He is a sold defensive defender, with long reach, and the ability to cut down passing lanes. As his rookie season wore on, he seemed to get stronger and better in board battles as the year went on. He does have decent puck handling skill and good vision and passing ability. With 13 points in 20- games this year, he’s showing offensive production that wasn’t there last year, and given his skills, its really not a huge surprise.
Thanks for reading. Please give our Hockey Department a follow on Twitter – @lastwordBKerr, @Rick W10, @TheHockeyMitch, @LastWordBigMick, @crimsonskorpion, @CMS_74_, @TwoTurtleDuffs, @d_rocchi, @dasimonetta, @ddmatthews, @CanuckPuckHead, @NKonarowski2, @LarryScotti, @PurpleRocktober, @jaynichols11, @meaghannn_, @LastWordOnNHL, @LWOSDanRussell, and @darrinharmy and follow the site @lastwordonsport and like our Facebook Page.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? If so, check out our “Join Our Team” page to find out how.