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.
11) 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 34 points in 48 games. His skating ability is at an elite level and features excellent speed and acceleration both forwards and backwards, great pivots, excellent lateral agility, and 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. His offensive game is keyed by smart decision making and excellent passing skills. His shot isn’t the hardest, but he gets it through to the net, and it is accurate. However he looks more like a powerplay quarterback type who runs the play with his smart offense than the big bomber from the point. Defensively his mobility keeps him in position to make plays, and a good active stick help him to cut down passing and shooting lanes. He works hard in the corners, and is willing to battle in front of the net, but he could add more muscle to his frame, and play a more physical game as he’s not really a big hitter.
12) Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, (6’0″ 180 lbs): Another member of Team Canada’s Hlinka winning squad, McCann is a very good skater, with great acceleration and very good top end speed. He combines this with good agility and edgework, along with top notch stick-handling which makes him incredibly dangerous off the rush. He has excellent vision and passing skills, making his linemates better. He also has a quick shot, and can get it off very quickly. McCann has already developed a strong-two way game and has become a strong penalty killer for the Greyhounds, as well as the centre who plays against the other team’s best line every night. He brings his non-stop work ethic in all three zones, and is extremely gritty. He shows a dogged determination to take the puck off of his opponents, and battles every step of the way. McCann is a very well-rounded and complete two-way player already. He has 23 goals and 49 points in 51 games.
13) Ivan Barbashev, LW, Moncton Wildcats, (6’1″, 185 lbs): Barbashev, the 1st overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, is a pure sniper, he has a great arsenal of shots with a terrific wrister, slapshot, snapshot, backhand and one-timer. These shots also feature an excellent release which can fool goalkeepers and the puck will be in the back of the net before he knows it. Barbashev also has good stickhandling skills, and the creativity and vision to make passes which surprise opponents and set up teammates for easy goals. He’ll have scouts headed to Moncton all season long. He needs to find more consistency in his defensive effort level, and defensive game to crack the top 10. With 15 goals and 46 points in 36 this season, he’s leading the Wildcats offence this year. A Moskva, Russia native, he may face questions about the “KHL factor” even though he is currently playing in the CHL. He played in the World Juniors, but had a rather forgettable tournament from an individual perspective. However this is a tough tourney for 17-year-olds so I won’t really hold it against him in his rankings.
14) Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Kalpa (SM-Liiga) 5’11″ 170 lbs: The son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, he’s been a fixture on the international stage with great results at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in 2013, the World Under 18 last year. In total he put up 17 points in 12 games in those two showcase events. Unfortunately an injury kept him out of this year’s World Juniors which really could have been a showcase event for the 17-year-old. He is currently playing for Kalpa in the Finnish SM-Liiga. He is an outstanding skater, with great speed, acceleration, and agility. Add to that soft hands and great stickhandling and he is deadly off the rush. Can be both a scorer and a play maker as his wrist shot has good power and an excellent release, and also has good vision. He understands the game at a high-level and almost always seems to make the correct play. He also has a well-developped defensive game. Despite his size and age (playing in a men’s league) he is gritty and always involved in puck battles.
15) Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads, 5’11″ 165 lbs: The 6th overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, Ehlers has exploded with the Mooseheads putting up 28 goals and 67 points in 45 games so far this year. One of the best skaters in this draft class, his speed is off the charts, with outstanding acceleration and great agility. He beats defenders one-on-one and has great hands and can score in close by cutting to the net. He is absolutely lethal off the rush, and if defenders back off on him to avoid being beaten by his speed, he can use the space to let go a great wrist shot, and excellent release. His passing skill is also high level. He is willing to work in the dirty areas, and handles the puck well even in heavy traffic areas. He does need to work on adding muscle to his frame and getting better in making more muscular plays down low and on the cycle, as well as working on his defensive game and instincts. That said Ehlers has high end offensive potential and continues to show that every game for the Mooseheads.
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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