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 Junior seasons not just in Canada but throughout the world gearing up for the stretch drive and a number of international tournaments (Ivan Hlinka, 4 Nations, Subway Super Series, World Juniors) in the books, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the draft are doing this year. This is an up to date look and ranking of these prospects. That said, there is still plenty of work to be done and many important games to be played including junior league playoffs, the U18 European five nations, and of course the Under 18 World Championships. While the rankings still have some fluidity, a pecking order is also starting to define itself. For now, this is what we have, we hope you enjoy the early preview and be sure to be ready in late March as we roll out our full player-by-player draft preview.
1) Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie Colts, (6’4″ 215 lbs): For the first time this season, we have a new number one prospect as Ekblad has taken over top spot. This is no knock on our #2 prospect (who had been #1) but rather an acknowledgement of just how well Ekblad has played this season. He’s kicked it up even further and taken his game to another level in our recent viewings. Ekblad followed John Tavares as the second 15-year-old to be given exceptional status and enter the OHL a year early, he is 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 been at a point per game pace with 39 points in 39 games this season. Even with that great offensive potential, he’s even better defensively, 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. While the OHL doesn’t keep time on the ice stats he seems to play close to 35 minutes or more a night for the Colts against the best players in the league, and almost always seems to get the best of his peers. Ekblad was a key defender for Team Canada at the World Juniors and though he didn’t get the result he wanted going into the tournament, he proved that even as a 17-year-old he didn’t look at all out of place against top level junior competition. He could be NHL ready next season.
2) 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 put up 70 points in just 41 games (including a recent five point night). 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, and a valuable part of Team Canada at the World Juniors. 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. Reinhart had been our top ranked prospect in both our Pre-Season and November Rankings, and while he’s been bypassed by Ekblad, it isn’t due to any drop-0ff in his game. Reinhart is still an elite level talent and the battle is extremely close between these two, and they seem to be leaving the rest of the class far behind. He also could be NHL ready almost immediately after being drafted.
3) 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 leading the OHL’s Eastern Conference, and running away with the Eastern Division. Dal Colle has been a huge part of that leading the team with 32 goals and 73 points in 51 games. Dal Colle has shown 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.
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 22 goals and 64 points in 44 games for Prince Albert this season. Draisaitl also impressed at the World Juniors despite playing on an overmatched German squad.
5) Sam Bennett, C, Kingston Frontenacs, (6’0″, 170 lbs): My biggest riser on the board, Bennett has really taken off with the Kingston Frontenacs since my last ranking where he was 12th. He now has 28 goals and 72 points in 44 games. Slightly undersized, Bennett is extremely thin and needs to put on weight. Still that size hasn’t slowed Bennett down as he has excellent hockey sense, and always seems to be in the right place, and make the right play. Good skating, and excellent agility and acceleration make Bennett a menace off the rush, or in cycling the puck as he seems to slip by defenders who can’t keep up with him when he quickly changes speeds. Bennett has an extremely good first step, and when Bennett drops his shoulder and decides to take off, he can quickly separate from defenders. He has very good vision and can pass the puck through small openings and tape to tape for a teammate. A hard-worker, Bennett is fearless, and always involved in the corners, in front of the net and at the middle of the after the whistle scrums. He put up a point per game pace with 7 points in 7 games in helping Canada to Under 18 gold last spring. Added 4 points in 5 games in helping Canada to another gold at the Ivan Hlinka tournament last summer.
You can view Part 1 (1-5) by clicking here.
You can view Part 2 (6-10) by clicking here.
You can view Part 3 (11-15) by clicking here.
You can view Part 4 (16-20) by clicking here.
You can view Part 5 (21-25) by clicking here.
You can view Part 6 (26-30) by clicking here.
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