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 CHL season now 2 months old, a month or so of NCAA hockey, plenty of games for the USNTDP and a few international tournaments (Ivan Hlinka, 4 Nations, first three games of the Subway Super Series) in the books, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the draft are doing this year. That said, myself and the rest of the LWOS staff haven’t seen everyone yet… its quite simply not possible at this point in the season, so if there is someone you feel is an obvious name that has been left out, we’ll do our best to get a look before our final ranks come out in April, May, and June. At this point the group we haven’t seen a lot of are those European prospects who for whatever reason haven’t had much exposure on the international stage. With the World Juniors, the five Nations, and the Under 18 all to come later in the year, we should get a better look at most. For now, this is what we have, we hope you enjoy the early preview.
21) Joshua Jacobs, D, Indiana Ice, 6’3″ 185 lbs: Jacobs is a big defenceman who has put up 8 points in 14 games for the Indiana Ice in the USHL. He showing added offence this year after a solid rookie year where he showed a good defensive game for a 16-year-old. He is a very good skater, with a fluid stride, good top end speed, and explosive acceleration. He uses his size effectively exploding into big hits and battling hard along the boards and in front of the net, as well as being a willing shot blocker. He does need to work on his positioning, as well as a habit for giveaways, but he is young and raw with excellent potential to grow past those issues.
22) Spencer Watson, LW, Kingston Frontenacs, 5’10” 157 lbs: Watson may not be as highly touted as his two Kingston teammates, Sam Bennett and Roland McKeown in our first two rankings, but he’s a potential first round draft pick in his own right. The pure sniper who plays on a line with Bennett, he is able to find openings in the defence from which to unleash a fantastic wrist shot or one-timer. His shot is powerful, accurate and features a great release. He also has the speed and stickhandling ability to join the rush with his linemate and to create goals on odd man rushes. He’s willing to go to the dirty areas to score goals, and has the soft hands to bury rebounds and tip ins close to the net. His playmaking game is underrated at this point because he’s such a great sniper, but the passing skills ansd vision are also there. Like Bennett, he must add muscle to his frame. He has 14 goals and 33 points in 23 games this year.
23) 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 17 goals and 38 points in just 29 games so far. 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 needs to work on adding muscle to his frame and getting better in working down low and on the cycle, as well as on his defensive game, but he has high end offensive potential.
24) Jack Glover, D, US NTDP, 6’2″ 195 lbs: Glover is a solid two-way defence prospect. He has good size and plays the defensive game with a physical edge. He is willing to throw the body, and to battle in his own end of the ice. He’s extremely smart as he reads the play well anticipating passes and causing turnovers, and always making the smart play with the puck on his stick. There is offensive potential, as he is a very good passer, able to make a good outlet pass, and uses great vision and creativity to really quarterback the play from the blueline. He has a good wrist shot and good release, and uses it to make sure he gets his shot on net and create rebound and tip in opportunities for teammates. He doesn’t have a huge slapshot though, not at this point.
25) 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. The 17-year-old also has a great chance to make Finland’s World Junior team this year. 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 playmaker as his wrist shot has good power and an excellent release, and also has good vision. He’s a player I’d really love to see more of, as this rank is based on some limited viewings, but I could see him being a big riser as I’ve really liked what I’ve seen at those International events.
26) Blake Clarke, LW, North Bay Battalion, 6’1″ 190 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. Clarke was considered a possible top-10 pick in the summer as he was coming off a season where he scored 19 goals and 51 points in 68 games as a 16-year-old, however he’s stuggled this year with just one goal and two points in 11 games. He played the first five games of the season with a bad shoulder after being injured in the American Top Prospects game, before shutting it down for 6 weeks. He’s been back for a couple weeks now but hasn’t turned it on yet. I still think he has enough talent to get it going and move up the ranks quickly though.
27) Ryan MacInnis, C, Kitchener Rangers, 6’3″ 170 lbs: The son of Al MacInnis, Ryan was the top line centre on the US National Team Development Program U17 squad, last year. Its pretty rare to see a player leave the program and jump to the OHL before their U18 season, but that is exactly what he did (Yes, many jump to the CHL after their U18 season). MacInnis hasn’t wowed yet with just 12 points in 23 games for the Rangers, but he has a ton of untapped talent and could quickly rise as he adjusts to the OHL. He has a very strong wrist shot with a good release that can fool goaltenders. He also has very good hockey sense and vision and outstanding passing skills. He has great size but he isn’t really physical at this point. While he doesn’t initiate contact his size and balance help him to battle his way to the front of the net and fight through checks, protecting the puck. He may become more physical as he adds mass to his lanky frame.
28) Nick Schmaltz, C, Green Bay Gamblers, 5’11” 170 lbs: Schmaltz has put up 7 goals and 17 points in 13 games for the Gamblers. Its an impressive start after his solid rookie season last year, when he led all USHL 1996-born players with 52 points. His best assets are his hockey sense and ability to read the play, along with his vision and playmaking skills in the offensive zone. He is very hard to knock off the puck and controls the game in the cycle waiting for teammates to get open and thread those great passes onto their tape. He’s also willing to take the puck to the net himself if he sees an opening. He is the younger brother of former St. Louis Blues first rounder Jordan Schmaltz.
29) Jacob Middleton, D, Ottawa 67s, 6’4″ 195 lbs: Acquired from Owen Sound at the trade deadline last year, the 67s hope Middleton will become part of their core going forward. So far so good as he’s taking top four minutes as a 17-year-old. At 6’4″ Middleton has the ideal size that NHL teams are looking and will catch many scouts eyes this season. He is also tough, throwing hits, playing mean and clearing the front of the net, and being aggressive in the corners. He is a decent skater, with good edgework and agility, making him an agile big man on the blue line. He didn’t show much offence as a rookie, but did show decent defensive ability. This year he’s put up 7 points in 23 games, showing a bit of development in this aspect, but its his defensive game that gets him noticed on a rebuilding Ottawa club.
30) Alexis Pepin, C, Charlottetown Islanders, 6’2″ 238 lbs: Capable of playing both Center and Left Wing, he is a quick and agile skater, with a very good shot and excellent release. A big forward who is still growing and is already 6’2″ and well developed at 235 lbs at just 17-years-old, Pepin is your prototypical powerforward who loves to throw his weight around and drive to the front of the net. He looks to improve on a rookie year that saw him put up 18 goals for the former PEI Rocket, and has struggled a bit with just 5 goals in 27 games to start the season for the newly named Islanders. Pepin has taken steps to improve his defensive game and become a two way forward this year, though. With his package of size and physicality, he would really rise if the goals start going in the net.
Thanks for reading. Please give our Hockey Department a follow on Twitter – @lastwordBKerr, @Rick W10, @TheHockeyMitch, @LastWordBigMick, @crimsonskorpion, @CMS_74_, @TwoTurtleDuffs, @d_rocchi, @dasimonetta, @ddmatthews, @CanuckPuckHead, @NKonarowski2, @LarryScotti, @jaynichols11, @meaghannn_, @LastWordOnNHL, @LWOSDanRussell, and @darrinharmy and follow the site @lastwordonsport and like our Facebook Page.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? If so, check out our “Join Our Team” page to find out how.