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 a good 6 weeks old, a month or so of NCAA hockey, plenty of games for the USNTDP and the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the books since we last updated our draft rankings, 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 Four Nations, Subway Series, World Juniors, 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.
2015 NHL Draft November Rankings 21-30
21) Jeremy Bracco, Centre/Right Wing, US NTDP (5’9″, 172 lbs): Bracco is having a fantastic start to the season with the US National Team Development Program, and its getting him noticed in scouting circles. Any time a US NTDP player puts up 74 points in 54 games on the Under 17 team, and has 9 goals and 26 points in 17 games to start the year with the Under 18 team, its going to make waves. The biggest knock on Bracco is his size, as he’s just 5’9″ and 172 lbs. For an undersized player to succeed in, he must be a great skate, and Bracco meets that requirement. He is one of the fastest players in this draft class, and has outstanding acceleration, edgework, and agility. He also has great hands and this combined with his skating makes him extremely dangerous off the rush. He has very good vision and strong passing skills as well, making him an ideal playmaker. Bracco has a decent shot and good release, but sometimes seems a little too hesitant to shoot. Overall he must get stronger to win more battles on the boards, and to be able to succeed with his frame.
22) Paul Bittner, Left Wing, Portland Winterhawks (6’4″ 194 lbs): Big things were expected of Bittner and the Portland Winterhawks this season, but a bit of a slow start has seen him fall down the rankings. He has just 10 points in 17 games as the Winterhawks are just 7-10-0-2 to start the season, and are in last place in the U.S. Division. It is still early and the Winterhawks and Bittner certainly have time to climb the standings and draft boards. The big winger has the size and skills to be a budding power forward, with the strong, powerful stride to fight through checks, and the soft hands to finish plays in tight. He also has a very powerful wrist shot and an excellent release. Bittner is not afraid to stand in front of the net and cause havoc for the opposing goaltender and is more than willing to battle for pucks in the corners, and to throw or take a big hit. He’s also very polished defensively for a draft eligible player. Picking up his game at this point in the season season would solidify this late-96 birthdate as a first round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and could even see him go a lot higher.
23) Nicolas Roy, Centre, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (6’4″ 203 lbs): Another big forward with big expectations. Roy, the first overall pick in the 2012 QMJHL draft, is coming off playing for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka and winning a gold medal. He put up 5 points in 5 games in the tournament. Last season he had 41 points in 63 games. He’s had a slow start this year though with eight points in 18 games. Roy has a very powerful stride, and excellent balance. He is already tough to knock off the puck, and good in board battles, and in the cycle game and this will only get better as he gets stronger. Has good passing skills and visions, he also goes to the net hard, and is willing to get to the dirty areas of the nice. A potential power forward in the making, but needs to start being more consistent.
24) Ivan Provorov, Defence, Brandon Wheat Kings (6’0″, 200 lbs): The young Russian defenceman is playing his rookie season in the WHL after spending last year with Cedar Rapids in the USHL. He has adapted well and put up eight goals and 19 points for the Wheat Kings. He is a very good skater and stickhandler who isn’t afraid to lead the rush. When he does go up ice, he has the speed to get back to the defensive end and cover up as well. Has both a very good wrist shot and a slap shot from the point. Provorov can play the role of powerplay quarterback and is extremely good at moving laterally to open up passing and shooting lanes. When there is a lane he makes crisp tape to tape passes.
25) Brock Boeser, Right Wing, Waterloo Blackhawks (5’11”, 174 lbs): A USHL rookie, Broeser has been on fire to start the season with nine goals and 13 points in nine games for the Hawks. This follows up on a solid six goals in five games for the US squad at the Ivan Hlinka, and three goals and seven points in four games at the Under 17 last season. Boeser is a pure sniper who has a tremendous one timer, and a hard wrist shot with a hair trigger release. He has the hockey sense and ability to find holes in the opposing defence and set up for a shot. A good skater and puck handler, Boeser also has the ability to create openings for himself or others. He could stand to add more muscle to his frame, to be even more effective in the corners and in front of the net. He doesn’t show fear to go to dirty areas right now, but it is an area where he could simply win more battles with more core strength.
26) Mitchell Stephens, Centre, Saginaw Spirit: The Spirit’s first round pick in the 2013 OHL Draft, Mitchell Stephens has started the year with four goals and seven points in 11 games, following up on six points in five games and a gold medal in the summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament. He is becoming one of the best players on a rebuilding Spirit team. Stephens shows tremendous acceleration and great top end speed. He can really fly out there, and this makes him deadly off the rush. As defenceman have to back off him to protect against that speed, he can use them as a screen, and has a very good wrist shot and release. Stephens stickhandling is good, and he seems to have improved his two way play this year, though there is still room to continue to work on it. He could also use work on his passing, vision, and hockey sense though. If he can fix some issues, he can really rocket up draft boards due to the elite skating and strong shot he possesses. A big risk/reward pick here late in the first round.
27) Thomas Novak, Centre, Waterloo Blackhawks (6’0″ 181 lbs): Novak put up five goals and 11 points in five games at the Ivan Hlinka this summer, helping the United States to a Bronze medal in the tournament. He has started the year with six points in nine games for Waterloo. Novak has good speed and excellent acceleration. He is a creative playmaker with great stickhandling ability, crisp tape-to-tape passes and excellent vision. Novak has good offensive instincts and seems to make smart plays with the puck more often than not. He also has a good wrist shot and decent release. He could continue to work on his defensive game. The effort is there, but he needs some coaching on positioning and decision making in his own end.
28) Jansen Harkins, Centre, Prince George Cougars ( ): Harkins started slow for the Cougars last year, but really turned it on in the second half, and has carried that into thsis season with 21 points in 18 games. Harkins is a good skater, with solid acceleration and top end speed. He also has decent balance, and a low centre of gravity, but could stand to add some muscle and core strength going forward. He has the vision and passing skills to be a playmaker, but also has the soft hands, and quick release on a powerful shot to score goals. He needs to use that shot more though. A versatile player he can create off the rush and in the cycle game, equally. Harkins also plays a solid defensive game.
29) Callum Booth, Goaltender, Quebec Remparts (6’3″ 196 lbs): Our top ranked goaltender has put up a .911 save percentage to start the year for the Remparts, an excellent number in the QMJHL. He has very good size and gets out well to cut down angles and give shooters very little to look at. He has extremely solid technique for a young goaltender, with a good compact butterfly and he gets up and down quickly. Has really improved his puck tracking and his side to side movements which have helped him this season. Has very good rebound control for a young goaltender. Booth is calm and cool in the net and doesn’t let a bad goal rattle him.
30) Ryan Pilon, Defence, Brandon Wheat Kings (6’2″, 190 lbs): A late 96 Birthday, Pilon is in his third year in the WHL. He is strong two-way defender with good size at 6’2″. He can play a robust physical game, doling out big hits and battling in corners and in front of the net. He also has good vision and passing skills and can start the rush from his own end or play on the powerplay. Pilon has a good shot and one-timer from the point as well. He put up 7 goals and 36 points last year in 66 games split between Brandon and Lethbridge. This season he has shown increased offence, and has started with 18 points in 16 games. He is a good skater, with above average mobility. Pilon is the nephew of former NHLer Rich Pilon. He was also part of Team Canada at the U18s last spring and won a Bronze medal.
Come back later in the week to see the honourable mentions of players just outside the first round.
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