Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the daily column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day I will bring you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2014 NHL Draft. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “Draft”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2014 Draft Articles Click here.
The big day has come and gone, and now we look back to see how each team did in the NHL draft. Look, we know that it is way too soon to evaluate a draft and that the true evaluation will be seen four or five years from now. However, we don’t want to wait, instead we follow our yearly tradition and do our draft grades now.
One Note though: BEST VALUE PICK does NOT mean best player drafted. It means best value. For Example Sam Reinhart is the number two player in this draft in our rankings, which means we would bet on him to be at least the second best NHL player in the group. However he is not our Favorite pick for the Sabres. Why? Because anyone can take the second best player with the second pick, we are looking for value here, what steal did the team get in the draft that went later than we thought he would? If it was merely an exercise in naming the best player drafted, might as well just name the team’s first pick.
LWOS 2014 NHL Draft Grades Part 2
Detroit Red Wings
2014 NHL Draft Grade C
Best Value Pick: Dylan Larkin 15th overall
I like Dylan Larkin, he’s a solid two-way player who put up points while playing the toughest defensive assignments for the US NTDP. He may have been overshadowed by the Milano-Eichel-Tuch line, but he’s a solid prospect in his own right. Still it was a little surprising to see the second line centre go ahead of first liners like Milano and Tuch. After that pick, things go south with this draft. At 63, I feel that Dominic Turgeon was a reach. He just doesn’t have the offensive upside to justify that pick and was taken about a round too early. Christopher Ehn was unimpressive and an uncharacteristically underwhelming Swedish team in what we saw of him at the Under 18s, and Vahtalho is a draft re-entry who has gotten zero time with Finnish national teams in his age group. The best of their remaining picks might turn out to be Axel Holmstrom who was amongst Sweden’s best players at the Under 18s. Overall though an underwhelming draft for Detroit.
2014 NHL Draft Grade C+
Best Value Pick William Lagesson 93rd overall
The Oilers need to build their defence, but that just wasn’t possible in this draft. They couldn’t get their hands on Aaron Ekblad, and taking another defenceman at three would have been a reach, so we aren’t going to criticize the Leon Draisatl pick on that basis. That said, we still feel Sam Bennett is the better player, and worry about Draisatl’s lack of footspeed for such a high pick. We like Draisatl well enough, but just don’t think it was a big 4, we see it as a big three, so that hurts Edmonton’s grade. Oiler fans better hope that their staff got this right though, cause it will burn even more if Bennett is the better player as a Flame (see what I did there? Burn, Flames, I digress). The Oliers didn’t have second or third round picks due to trading for Ben Scrivens and David Perron. Those trades seem to be working so we will give them a pass on those. Lagesson played big minutes for Sweden at the Under 18, and was generally pretty good for them, even scoring three goals in the tournament, and playing a solid and rugged defensive game. That was a solid pick. Taking two goalies in this draft seems odd though, including the guys they already had, the Oilers have a plethora of project goalies now, but none who seems to be a sure-fire blue chip prospect.
2014 NHL Draft Grade B-
Best Value Pick: Aaron Ekblad, 1st Overall
Lets be clear here, Aaron Ekblad was the top player in our rankings and we love him as a prospect. He’ll be an anchor on the Panthers blueline and a franchise defining defenceman for them. Great Pick here. That said, things are pretty easy when you win the Draft Lottery, and picking first overall shouldn’t be difficult. When its the best value pick you got in the draft though, it says something about what I think of the rest of this draft, and without Ekblad, this grade would be a D. Jayce Hawryluk is a talented player, but was a reach at 32, and as an undersized, skill centre doesn’t fill a need for Florida either. If they wanted to go Centre they would have been better off with Barbashev, Cornel or MacInnis. The pick of Lammikko was another guy we felt went a round too early. In Wegwerth we have a forward who didn’t score much (5 goals 9 assists in 92 games for the US NTDP), lacks footspeed, and was average defensively. We had him as a Do Not Draft. Hey though, the Panthers should still be thrilled with Ekblad and with good reason.
Los Angeles Kings
2014 NHL Draft Grade A
Best Value Pick: Spencer Watson 209th overall
The rich get richer in what was a tremendous draft for the team that has won two Stanley Cups in the last three years. Adrian Kempe is yet another big, strong, fast, and skilled forward to join a team full of that type of player. Roland McKeown was an absolute steal at 50 and would be our “favorite value pick” for any other team in the league. We are big fans of McKeown, and see him as a potential top pairing guy. Spencer Watson and Jacob Middleton were the last two picks of the draft, and they were ranked much higher here. We are particularly impressed with Watson’s ability to produce goals at even strength in Kingston. Matt Mistele had a tough second year in the OHL, but looked like a first or second rounder as a rookie. Michael Amadio has the potential to be a shut down defensive centre going forward, in the old-school (think Doug Jarvis, Guy Carbonneau, Joel Otto) way. The one criticism is Alex Lintuniemi, who we felt was a real reach at the end of the 2nd round as we were not impressed with him in Ottawa.
2014 NHL Draft Grade B
Best Value Pick: Kaapo Kahkonen 109th Overall
Alex Tuch was a very good pick, and gives the Wild the type of power forward prospect that every team is looking for. The Wild have a very deep prospect pool, but you can never have too many of these types of wingers and he is potential top line player going forward. Louis Belpedio was a defenceman who improved as the season went on and was at his absolute best in the Under 18 tournament. If he continues to improve as he did in the second half then this pick will look really good going forward. Finnish goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen was ranked well above where he was selected, and the youngster has #1 goalie potential. We had him as the second best European goalie amongst the ’96s. Add in Reid Duke as a solid two way player taken late in the draft and you have another solid draft day showing for the Wild, who just continue to do very well at the draft table under Chuck Fletcher.
2014 NHL Draft Grade C+
Best Value Pick: Daniel Audette 147th overall
Montreal has been a draft day star in Marc Bergevins’s previous two drafts, but didn’t have a bunch of extra second rounders to play with this year. Things started strongly enough as Nikita Scherbak is exactly the type of big, physical, and highly skilled winger that the Canadiens have needed. The Russian factor played into his draft ranking, and he could have been a top 20 pick if he name was Nick Smith and he came from Saskatoon. Then things got weird. The Habs traded the 87th and 117th picks to Arizona for the 73rd pick in the draft, and took Brett Lernout. Lernout is big, he has a legit mean streak, and is a good skater and solid defensively, but he handles the puck like a hand grenade and has real trouble making a first pass out of the zone. He’s a project, and a reach at this pick, and trading up to make it is worse. The Habs would return to the table in the fifth round taking Nikolas Koberstein and we fully admit that we don’t know what to think here as we have not seen him play (it happens, you can’t see every team/league). Later, Montreal took a skilled, but undersized forward in Audette, the son of former Habs player (and current Habs scout) Donald Audette. We think this was excellent value though for a former 1st overall in the QMJHL draft who has produced offensively for Sherbrooke. The Habs would get Hayden Hawkey, the USHL’s best goalie, at 177. This is excellent value even if they don’t necessarily need a goalie after taking Zach Fucale last year. With their final pick the Habs took a skilled forward in Jake Evans who is headed to Notre Dame next year. The biggest question with Evans is if he can have the same offensive impact against tougher competition that he has in the OJHL.
Nashville Predators (includes James Neal trade)
NHL Draft Grade B+
Best Value Pick: Jack Dougherty 51st Overall
After years of making defence first picks, and playing defence first hockey, the Predators went in the complete opposite direction with their first round pick in Kevin Fiala. We have no doubts about his offensive ability, but his total lack of attention in his own zone had him ranked far lower by us than most other services. Vladislav Kamenev is another extremely talented forward, but one who plays a two-way game, and probably fell further than he should have due to that pesky Russian factor. Jack Dougherty is a solid two-way defender with the US NTDP, and we saw him as an early second rounder so was great value where he was picked. Justin Kirkland is another forward who can add offence to the Preds. Overall, Nashville definitely tried to fill some big offensive holes going forward, but this draft is no sure thing, and carries heavy amounts of risks too. Nashville, and David Poile need to give new head coach Peter Lavoilette the offensive weapons to play his system, and this draft starts the process of doing that. The trade for James Neal was fantastic for Nashville and here is a guy who was a 25 goal scorer early in his career in Dallas. The idea that he won’t score goals without Malkin is really underrating who he is, and he is immediately Nashville best weapon up front. The Predators also reportedly tried to acquire Jason Spezza, but the Senators captain didn’t waive his no trade clause.
New Jersey Devils
NHL Draft Grade B-
Best Value Pick: Connor Chatham 71st overall
The Devils reached a little with John Quenneville at the bottom of the first round. He does fit the Devils’ mold though, playing the type of two-way game that has been a staple of New Jersey teams for two decades now. In Joshua Jacobs the Devils get another excellent skating defenceman with offensive skill to add to the large stable of them that they have built up in recent years. You never can have too many good puck movers in the system though, and Jacobs has real potential. In Connor Chatham the Devils get a potential power forward in the third round. Chatham really started to show offensive potential in Plymouth this year and worked his way onto the top line. In the fifith round the Devils took a big, tough defenceman in Ryan Rehill who plays a very simple, physical, defence first game. Brandon Baddock didn’t get a lot of minutes on a deep Oil Kings team, but showed some potential when he did play. He could be an interesting project with their last pick.
New York Islanders
NHL Draft Grade B+
Best Value Pick: Josh Ho-Sang, 28th overall
Going into this draft, Josh Ho-Sang was the alk of the hockey world in the last week. An interview with the Toronto Star, and talk of all his talent but his “attitude issues” dominating the headlines. Its easy to forget that he’s just 18 years old though, and many 18-year-olds are cocky teenagers, but not many have his skill on the ice. The pick even overshadowed at top 5 pick in Michael Dal Colle. Don’t get me wrong though, Dal Colle is the gem of this draft for the Isles and an extremely talented winger. He has size and skill and will look great alongside either John Tavares or Ryan Strome. With these two first rounders the Isles got the type of high-end wingers they needed to surround their high-end centres. In Ilya Sorokin and Linus Soderstrom the team added a pair of European goaltenders to fill a need for a prospect goaltender. The pick of Lukas Sutter is intriguing, he was a good prospect going into the 2012 draft, but a lack of progression had him not receive a contract offer from Winnipeg. He’s not a bad go to take a chance on in the seventh round though.
New York Rangers (includes Derek Dorsett trade)
NHL Draft Grade C-
Best Value Pick: Keegan Iverson, 85th overall
The lack of a first round pick really hurts, but when the Rangers got into the second round and reached on goaltender Brandon Halverson at 59th overall, it really put them behind the eight-ball in this draft. While its true that the Rangers needed a goalie prospect Jonas Johansson, Ilya Sorkin, Ville Husso, Kaapo Kahkonen, and Brent Moran were all still on the board at this pick, and we had all of them rated higher than Halverson. Keegan Iverson was a good pick in the third round, a player with grit and some offensive potential, but is more likely to end up a third liner than a top six forward. Ryan Mantha was a reach in round four, yes he has tremendous size, but he needs real work on his skating ability. The Rangers get one of our lowest draft grades as we just can’t seem to find any high end potential here. In addition to the draft, we have to take into consideration moving Derek Dorsett out. We felt he was a valuable member of the fourth line for the Rangers in the playoffs, and I’m not sure that moving him out (when it also looks likely that Brian Boyle will leave, and Brad Richards is also gone) was the right decision as thats a lot of forward depth being depleted and depth was key in their playoff run.
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