Early Look: Top 10 Prospects of 2014 NHL Draft

Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day from April to June, I brought you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2013 NHL Draft. However the fun doesn’t stop now, be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical draft profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Draft”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2013 Draft Articles Click here.

TopShelfProspectsThe 2013 NHL Draft has come and gone, and most teams have already held their post-draft development camp, or are now in the process of holding it, getting an up close and personal look at the players they have selected in their new jerseys.  However, scouting new talent never stops and with this in mind we turn our attention towards the talent that will be available in the 2014 NHL.  It may be early and there is still a full year of hockey to be played, likely leading to a lot of movement between these rankings and where players end up at the end of next season, but still lets take a look and preview the 2014 NHL Draft.

10) Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary Hitmen, 6’1″ 192lbs
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.  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.

9) Roland McKeown, D, Kingston Frontenacs, 6’1″, 186 lbs
After what was a bit of a down year for the league in 2013, the 2014 OHL crop appears to be extremely strong.  McKeown had a really strong first year with Kingston, playing top 4 minutes on a club that was vastly improved this season over 2011-12.  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 should really develop into a solid two way defenceman this season.  Could add more muscle to his frame, and play a more physical game however.

8) Jakub Vrana, C, 6’0″ 180 lbs, Linkopings (Swe Jr)
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, and 2013 Under 18s.  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.  Could be a riser this season.

7) 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.  Due to shoulder issues, he played in just 41 games this season, but managed to put up 35 points on an understaffed Peterborough team.  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.

6) 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.  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.

5) Blake Clarke, LW, Brampton Battalion/North Bay Battalion (6’1″ 196 lbs)
Clarke has good speed, but really shows off his skating skill with his agility, edgework, and ability to change speeds.  He has great hockey sense and always seems to make the right play.  Equally adept with strong playmaking skills and a good shot, with a quick release, Clarke can play the roles of playmaker or sniper off the wing.  He’s not afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice to score goals, or to carry the puck in traffic, protecting it well with good stickhandling.  Not overly physical though.  Has a solid frame and could stand to add some muscle this season.

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, but he will need to continue to work on his first step quickness and his acceleration going forward.

3) 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 really matured on the Barrie defence this season, playing top 4 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.  Ekblad has a bullet slap shot from the point, and a strong first pass.  He shows a ton of offensive potential.  With that in mind right now his best assets are a well developped 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.

2) William Nylander, C, Sodertalje J20, (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.

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 was a big time point producer for Kootenay this season, with 85 points in 72 games.  He was also Canada’s top line center, and team captain in leading the team to the IIHF Under 18 Gold Medal.  In 2011-12, as a 16 year old he had 62 points in 67 games and tied his brother Max for the team goal scoring lead with 28.  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.


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