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: 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
Anaheim Ducks (includes Kesler Trade)
2014 NHL Draft Grade: A-
Best Value Pick: Ondrej Kase, 205th overall
The Ducks got a whole lot harder to play against this weekend, and this can only help in the Western Conference. Adding Ryan Kesler gives them a great one-two punch up the middle behind Ryan Getzlaf. They also closed the books on the Bobby Ryan trade by getting Nick Ritchie at 10th overall with the Ottawa Senators first rounder. Ritchie might not be NHL ready this season, especially with the Ducks hoping to contend again, but he isn’t far off. We are big fans of Ritchie, his excellent wrist shot, his goal scoring instincts, and his old-school power-forward type of game. Marcus Petterson is a high potential defender who has recently converted from centre, and will need to put on weight and refine his defense, but the upside is sky high. Ondrej Kase had an early third round grade from us and they got him in the seventh round. Can you say steal? I felt that Brandon Montour went a little high in the second round, but given what they did the rest of the day I can’t downgrade them too far for this pick. The rich get richer as the first place team in the Western Conference did very well in this draft.
2014 NHL Draft Grade: A++ *NHL’s BEST DRAFT AWARD*
Best Value Pick: Anton Karlsson 87th Overall
Don Maloney, we bow down to you. The best draft in the league… the Arizona Coyotes walked away with steal, after steal, after steal from our draft board. The forward pool is very deep, in a wide variety of players following this years draft. With seven of our top 70 ranked players we wonder if the Coyotes followed our draft board. In three years no other team has gotten so many of our top ranked prospects, and only two other teams have gotten six. Brendan Perlini is a stud, and a future power forward. The Coyotes got two of the Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings in Edgars Kulda and Dysin Mayo. After Henrik Samuelsson and Max Domi, we know their scouts love good bloodlines, and got more in Ryan MacInnis. It was an absolute steal in getting Anton Karlsson in the late 3rd round. Christian Dvorak and Michael Bunting are two other players we were fans of.
2014 NHL Draft Grade B+
Best Value Pick: Emil Johansson 206th overall
The Bruins got a steal in the first round in David Pastrnak. The highly skilled Czech forward needs to add some muscle before he will be NHL ready, but with a deep lineup the Bruins can be patient with his development. In Ryan Donato, they made the home town fans who remember his father very happy. In Anders Bjork they got an excellent two-way forward from the US-NTDP. The Bruins went forward heavy in this draft, and that is no surprise given the number of young defencemen who graduated and played well for them this season. That said, they did get Emil Johansson, a nice project and potential future offensive blueliner for the team. Having just five picks is the only thing that keeps them from an A.
2014 NHL Draft Grade A+
Best Value Pick: Brycen Martin, 74th overall
The Sabres took the award for best draft last year, and very nearly went back to back. The work of former GM Darcy Regier and current GM Tim Murray has given Buffalo a huge number of picks in the first three rounds in each of the last three years, and a very good start for next year as well. In Sam Reinhart the Sabres get an NHL ready centre and potential franchise player. In Brendan Lemieux and Vaclav Karabacek they add a pair of agitating wingers. Meanwhile Eric Cornel is a versatile forward who had a great second half. Jonas Johansson was our second ranked goalie prospect and Brycen Martin came in as a solid two-way defenceman. This Sabres rebuild is going exactly to plan and I think they will be a very strong team when they all develop. Owning three first round picks in 2015, a draft that looks considerably deeper than this year, the Sabres are poised to put together at least one more great draft as they build things from the bottom up.
2014 NHL Draft Grade B
Best Value Pick: Sam Bennett 4th overall
Now many other sites saw this draft as having a big four in Ekblad, Reinhart, Draisatl, and Bennett; we didn’t see it that way. We saw it as the big 3 with Ekblad, Reinhart and Bennett separating themselves from the next tier (which included Draisatl). To us, it was a big deal when the Oilers took Draisatl and left Bennett for Calgary, and we think the Flames got the clear better of this exchange in the battle of Alberta. In Mason McDonald, the Flames get a goalie with a ton of upside, but I felt he was a little raw in his technique. If the Flames goalie coaches can develop him though, he has the potential to be the best goalie out of this draft, for the goalie position, McDonald is the definition of what I call a boom or bust prospect for my skaters. The Hunter Smith pick has Brian Burke written all over it. And as a late second rounder in a weak draft we can’t critcize the low offensive upside of the pick too much. If he was a first rounder like Tyler Biggs was, or Michael McCarron, I’d be all over the Flames for the pick, but in the spot they got him, a big bodied, tough potential third liner makes as much sense as any other pick. Brandon Hickey is a high potential defender who looked good in the World Junior A Challenge, and will get plenty of time to develop going the college route. I would have liked the Flames to get more high end defensive prospects, but they just didn’t have the picks to make it happen. This here is the legacy of the failure to move out enough bodies (ie Mike Cammaleri) at the NHL trade deadline.
2014 NHL Draft Grade B+
Best Value Pick: Clark Bishop 127th overall
The Hurricanes got the second best defenceman in the draft in Haydn Fleury, addressing a major organizational need. Fleury has the potential to be elite at both ends of the ice, and the Canes hope that he will become a franchise blue liner for them. Alex Nedeljkovic may be undersized, but he was the best goalie in the OHL this year, yes even better than those 18 and 19 year olds in the league. He was our second best goalie in the draft. Warren Foegele is a wild card as one needs to see if the high end offence he brings in a weak league will translate to higher leagues. I didn’t like the Josh Wesley pick as I feel he is a defensive defenceman who needs to work on both his skating and his physicality and was a reach at that spot. That said the Canes made up for it with their next three picks as Lucas Wallmark is a talented Swede who really should have been drafted last year and Clark Bishop was great value in the fifth round as a smart two-way player. Kyle Jenkins is a strong skater with good passing skills, who we had ranked just outside our top 100. We even felt he was a better player than Wesley and great value in the seventh round. Overall a solid first draft for Ron Francis.
2014 NHL Draft Grade C
Best Value Pick: Luc Snuggerud 141st overall
The Blackhawks traded up in the first round to ensure that they got their man in Nick Schmaltz. He’s a polarizing prospect and we’ve seen him ranked in a lot of different placed, but we at LWOS think he’s got a real chance to be an excellent playmaker. Matt Iacopelli has good size and a high end shot, he could make the NHL if he can improve his consistency and defensive game. Snuggerud was a real steal where he was drated, as he has a very solid two-way game from what we know about him. Overall, the theme of this Blackhawks draft was a lot of high potential, and high risk prospects. For now we will give them a C based on that risk, as only Schmaltz likes like a high end prospect. As said earlier though, a draft is really judged in four to five years and if they can get a couple of the high risk propsects to reach their potential that C has potential to be closer to an A down the road. The development system will be key here though.
2014 NHL Draft Grade B-
Best Value Pick: Nick Magyar 93rd overall
Conner Bleackley is an excellent pick as a two-way forward, and really fits the mold of high skill, high character forwards that the Avalanche have on their team right now. While the Avalanche’s needs on defence are bigger than the need at forward given the youth they have upfront, we really can’t criticize this pick too harshly as there was really only one defenceman who wouldn’t have been a reach at 23rd. That said the draft went a little wonky after this pick. Kyle Wood seems like a reach based on his size alone, yes every team wants a defence prospect who is 6’5″ but he needs some major work on his skating, particularly his lateral mobility, his turns, his pivots, and his transitions. Nick Magyar and Alexis Pepin are potential power forward prospects and good value where picked, but skating is a concern for both of them as well. The Avalanche learned this year that the draft is a lot harder when you have a solid NHL season and aren’t picking in the top 3 to get a Duchene, Landeskog, or MacKinnon.
Columbus Blue Jackets
2014 NHL Draft Grade B
Best Value Pick: Olivier Leblanc 197th overall
Were the Blue Jackets feeling a little of that American World Cup Fever and patriotism taking US NTDP players with their first two picks, and two more Americans later in the draft? By now we’ve all seen the Sonny Milano puck trick videos and there is no doubt he is highly skilled. Ryan Collins seems like a reach at 44 though, we felt there were better defencemen on his own team still available at the time. Now we haven’t seen Elvis Merzlikins in the Swiss League, but when we have seen him on International duty, we haven’t been impressed. Given the fact he was passed over in the draft twice and the fact that the Blue Jackets have Bobrovsky, Dansk, Korpisalo, and Forsberg, I’m also confused as for the need for another 20-year-old goaltender at this spot. The fact that Kaapo Kahkonen and Brent Moran were also available at the time really makes us question the pick. However the Jackets started to get back in our good books with Blake Siebenaler who is a tremendous skater who is really improveing as an all-around defenceman and was a great pick at 77th. Later picks in Julien Pelletier and Oliver Leblanc were solid value selections.
2014 NHL Draft Grade A-
Best Value Pick: Aaron Haydon 154th overall
Another Solid Draft for Jim Nill in his second edition with the Dallas Stars. Julius Honka filled a real need for an offensive defenceman, and don’t underestimate his defensive game and compete level. Brett Pollock really moved up draft boards and might have been the best forward on the Edmonton Oil Kings during their WHL playoff run that culminated in WHL title. In Alex Peters the Stars get a solid defence first defenceman with size. Brent Moran is a solid goalie choice given where he was taken, and Aaron Haydon was a steal in the 6th round. Overall we said that the Stars needed more defencemen in the prospect pool before the draft, and they took 6 overall, restocking that cupboard.
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