Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we have gone through the Summer of 2014 I featured a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. You can find all the articles here. You can also find the 2014 Draftees in our extensive NHL Draft preview, where players were reviewed and ranked prior to the 2014 NHL Draft. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoffs) or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
With all thirty NHL teams reviewed (3 prospects per team, plus one sleeper) its time to wrap up the series. In order to do this we will be releasing a number of wrap up pieces this week. Stay tuned for our organizational rankings, looking at the deepest and best prospect systems in the NHL, as well as our top 10 Calder Contenders. How are the Calder contenders different from the top prospects you ask? Well, our top 39 prospects are who we are picking to have the best careers, a Calder contender will be a prediction of who is going to have the best rookie season. NHL readiness, the situation inherited (linemates and opportunities) and the fact that the Calder is typically a very difficult award for a defenceman to win in recent years all play into this.
As for today, we bring you our selection for top NHL Prospects. Note that the reports here are condensed, and that by clicking on the player name you will get a full report.
Top 10 NHL Prospects
Leon Draisaitl is a big centre with excellent reach and stickhandling ability. He protects the puck very well, especially in the cycle game. He also has the vision and the passing skill to finds an open teammate with a quick and accurate pass. Draisaitl 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. 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.
Coming in at 6’3″ tall, Vasilevski has the ideal height and size that NHL teams are looking for more and more in goaltenders today. He is big and takes up a lot of space. When he gets out on his angles he doesn’t leave shooters with a whole lot of net to look at. Vasilevski is mature beyond his years, and this helps him maintain a cool and calm composure in the net. Vasilevski has quick and agile legs that cover the bottom of the net. He is very hard to beat down low. He also has an effective glove hand and is very good in his lateral movement. He gets side to side in his crease quickly and doesn’t overcommit to cross-ice passes.
Bennett has excellent hockey sense, and always seems to be in the right place, and make the right play. He finds holes in the defence and can get open. With the puck on his stick he is a deadly playmaker as he has the vision to find open teammates, and the skills to make tape-to-tape passes. He is a hard worker who will work on the cycle game and can protect the puck well. This will only get better as he adds muscle. Bennett can also score goals with good hands in tight, and an excellent release on his wrist shot. 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.
Teravainen is one of my favorite prospects to watch play. He has incredible hockey sense and vision, and is an extremely creative playmaker. Teravainen will attempt passes that most forwards don’t even dream about, feathering pucks through sticks and legs and putting them on the tape of his teammates. He shows incredible vision and passing skills in making these dynamic plays. Teravainen prefers to control the play in the offensive zone often working as a setup man working off the half boards. The has very good hands, and excellent stickhandling leading to a strong puck protection game despite his size. Teravainen also possesses a very hard and accurate one-timer and often unleashes it from the top of the circle. He is especially effective on the Power Play. He has shown that he is willing to take a hit to make a play, despite the fact he is often facing larger opponents. He could use increased upper body strength however, in order to help him win more battles along the boards.
As opposed to the traditional butterfly goalie, Gibson plays a hybrid style in net that is becoming more popular in recent years. He has excellent size, and is willing to come out of the crease to challenge shooters and cut down angles. He gives the shooter very little net to work with, especially down low, as his quick legs take away the bottom of the net. Excellent puck tracking and side to side movement are also major assets for Gibson. He has developed very good rebound control for a goaltender his age. His glove hand is also quick and takes away the top of the net. Gibson shows poise beyond his years, and the Ducks feel he is NHL ready after just one year in the AHL. He has shown to be nearly unflappable even in the most pressure packed situations and carries himself with extreme confidence.
Strome has all the offensive talent you would look for in a young player. He is a terrific skater with good top end speed and great acceleration. This acceleration gives Strome the ability to fool defenders by changing speeds on the rush. When he gets half a step to the outside he is able to turn it into another gear and drive past his opponent and get to the net. He also has terrific agility and edgework which help him to gain that half a step necessary to beat defenders in this way. Strome is also a terrific stickhandler, with great puck protection, and silky smooth hands. Add to that the creativity and confidence to try anything and Strome is extremely dangerous off the rush. Strome has the vision and creativity to be an outstanding playmaker as he is able to feather passes through the smallest of openings, and set up teammates with tape to tape passes to create quality scoring chances. As a sniper, he is NHL ready, having a fantastic wrist shot and release, an excellent slapshot, and a great one timer.
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. Reinhart is one of those special types of centres who has the ability to make his linemates better. He is very unpredictable, when a goalie is thinking shot he makes the perfect pass to a teammate to give them a wide open net, and if a goalie cheats towards the pass, he’ll put the puck in the back of the net. While 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 that fools goaltenders. Reinhart has shown the ability to protect the puck on the cycle and is willing to play in the dirty areas of the ice in order to score points. He’s a natural leader who seems to get a “letter” wherever he goes, whether it be Kootenay or Team Canada.
Aaron Ekblad has everything you could possibly want in a defenceman, and is great at both ends of the ice. He has a bullet slap shot from the point, and a strong first pass. He shows a ton of offensive potential and has been close to a point per game pace with 23 goals and 53 points in 58 games. He is extremely smart with the puck, and a good quarterback on the powerplay. He understands how to keep his shot low and on net when there is traffic in front of the net, but can still blast away. He has the skating and puckhandling skills to join the rush, or even lead it and recover defensively. 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.
Kuznetsov has limitless talent. At 6’3″, he has the ideal size that teams crave down the middle in the modern NHL. He could stand to bulk up a little, but it’s not an immediate concern. He’s an outstanding skater, with great top-end speed, excellent acceleration and changes of pace, super edgework and agility, and is strong and balanced on his skates. Combine that skating ability with his silky smooth hands, wide variety of creative moves, a fearlessness to try anything, and the ability to do all this with the puck while skating at top speed, and you have a player who is an absolute nightmare to defend off the rush. Add a lethal wrist shot and release, and it’s almost unfair to defenders and goalies.
The first thing that stands out about Drouin, is his incredible hands. Drouin has the ability to stickhandle in a phone booth and can make tremendous plays both off the rush and by controlling the puck in the offensive zone. He regularly beats defenders one-on-one leading to high quality scoring opportunities for himself and his linemates. He has tremendous vision and is more of a set-up man than a goal scorer, and is able to thread passes through the tiniest of openings. However, those great hands in tight situations, and a very good wrist shot and release, also help Drouin to score goals. He plays a fearless game. He’s willing to battle in the corners and at the front of the net, getting in the dirty areas he needs to be in to score points. While many are concerned with Drouin’s size, we feel that due to his extremely high skill level, his non-stop motor and compete level, and his tremendous hockey IQ, the issue of size will not hold him back at the next level.
Drouin is a tremendous skater. His balance, agility, edgework, and ability to change speeds makes him extremely dangerous off the rush. There are a number of tools in his arsenal that he can use to beat a defender one-on-one off the rush. Add to that his ability to get by you and make a play towards the net in the cycle game, and you have an offensive terror. To top it all off, Drouin’s top-end speed is well above average, and once he gets by, it is very difficult to chase him down from behind.
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