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Over the next several months leading up to June’s NHL draft, I will present you with an in-depth profile of a future star, or in some cases a feature on one, almost every single day. If things are like 2012 and 2013, you can expect 80 player profiles, almost unrivaled in the industry, along with a number of special features along the way (a Memorial Cup Preview, A detailed Mock Draft, amongst others), so check in now, and check in often, right here at www.lastwordonsports.com, and follow me on Twitter for regular updates and analysis – @LastWordBKerr
Some of you may have already read our 2012 or 2013 articles, or you may have been following along throughout the year as I gave early previews of the 2014 draft, last summer, again in November, and yet again in February. If you have read our stuff before, great, I’ll be trying to bring more of the same. If you haven’t then you can get an idea of what we are about by looking at our 2012 coverage here, and our 2013 coverage here.
There is always much talk about the characterization of a draft class and whether it should be called a “strong” draft or a “weak” one. The first thing that a reader should remember when I personally talk about these distinctions, I’m not talking about the top talent in a draft. Every year there is elite talent available in the top five picks. Yes, a player like a Sidney Crosby may not come about every year, and there is likely no Crosby in this year’s class, but normally the top picks have the potential to be star players in the NHL.
The question of strength of a draft is answered when we look at the players ranked between about 15-45 and the quality and depth that is available at that point and beyond. While there will always be good players in any draft, this year is not as strong in terms of depth as the 2013 draft was, or the 2015 draft projects to be. In fact while some recent strong performances have helped elevate the stock of some players in this range, this draft is still looking like the weakest since 2007. Perhaps this is the reason why we have seen so many first and second round draft picks traded this season.
Strong year for the OHL
Last year was a bit of a weaker year for the OHL than is normal. The OHL often leads the way in terms of being the league with the most prospects drafted, and the best prospects drafted. In fact the league had quite the run of consecutive first overall picks from 2008-2012, however the top OHL prospect did not come until sixth overall in 2013. It was a down year as other leagues such as the QMJHL had very strong years last year. This year we see that these things are cyclical, and the OHL is right back where they normally are, and perhaps even above that. My number one ranked prospect comes from the OHL, and its possible that we could see as many as seven of the top 10 players come out of the league.
One NHL Scout said to me: “There is a ton of talent in the OHL this season, especially in the Eastern Conference where there are five potential top 10 picks.”
Forwards Over Defence Early
2012 was a year that was all about defencemen, as most of the top picks played that position. 2013 and 2014 have seen that dynamic shift, as there are more quality forwards in the early part of this draft than defenceman. There are of course some very good defence, and the quality is there, but the quantity is a little bit lacking. Expect teams to really load up on forwards.
In terms of forwards, we see the big, power forward type of prospects being rated very highly, and in the middle part of the draft there are plenty of highly skilled, but somewhat undersized players. The question marks surrounding these forwards are often related to the lack of size.
The Russian Factor
The ever present Russian Factor is not going away any time soon. Expect the Russian players, especially those playing in Europe to fall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft due to questions about the KHL and their signability. With the possibility of economic sanctions on Russia due to the situation in Ukraine/Crimea, this could even get worse this year. Expect my rankings to reflect that reality when looking at players currently playing in the KHL. We saw a Valeri Nichushkin who had top four level talent drop to 10th overall due to the Russian factor last year, and with no KHLer at the elite level of a Nichushkin this season, I would not be surprised if there are zero KHL players drafted in the first round. That said, players like Nikolay Goldobin, and Ivan Barbashev who are playing in the CHL may not experience as big of a fall.
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