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 Junior seasons not just in Canada but throughout the world gearing up for the stretch drive and a number of international tournaments (Ivan Hlinka, Four Nations, Subway Super Series, World Juniors, Five Nations) in the books, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the draft are doing this year. This is an up to date look and ranking of these prospects. That said, there is still plenty of work to be done and many important games to be played including junior league playoffs, European playoffs, and of course the Under 18 World Championships. While the rankings still have some fluidity, a pecking order is also starting to define itself. For now, this is what we have, we hope you enjoy the early preview and be sure to be ready in late March as we roll out our full player-by-player draft preview.
2015 NHL Draft February Rankings 6-10
6) Zach Werenski, Defence, Michigan Wolverines (6’2, 214 lbs): With 18 points in 22 games as a freshman, and playing some big minutes for the Wolverines, Werenski is settling in nicely at the NCAA level. Like Noah Hanifin, he is another 17-year-old who accelerated his education and is one of the youngest players in the NCAA, making his output even more impressive. Werenski was also part of the United States team at the World Juniors this winter. He is a mobile, two-way defender who is not afraid to be physical in his own end of the rink. He can battle in the corners and works to clear the front of the net. He’s also been known to throw a hit if a forward comes down his side of the rink with his head down, though does not go out of his way and get himself caught out of position to do so. Werenski possesses high-end offensive ability with good passing skills, and strong ability to handle the puck and quarterback things from the blueline on the powerplay.
7) Oliver Kylington, Defence, Farjestad (6’0″ 181 lbs): Kylington is another in a long line of Super Swedish defencemen. He has been playing against men. He has spent time with Farjestad in the SHL, the highest level of Swedish hockey, and with AIK in the Allvenskan. He has played big minutes and put up good offensive numbers for his age with 12 points in 34 games across the two leagues. Even more incredible is the fact that he was a regular with Farjestad down the stretch last season, at just 16 years old. While an injury unfortunatately kept Kylington out of the World Juniors, he has played for Sweden at the Ivan Hlinka tournament where he was very impressive. An outstanding two-way defenceman, Kylington is a strong skater who can rush the puck and get back into position defensively. He has an excellent stride, which gives him great speed and acceleration in both directions. Excellent agility, edge work, and pivots give him the mobility to cover all areas of the ice. Kylington shows good passing skills and excellent vision. Defensively his game relies on strong positioning, and a quick stick to take the puck off opponents and start the transition game.
8) Pavel Zacha, Centre, Sarnia Sting (6’3 203 lbs): The first overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, the Sting convinced the Czech star to join the team in Sarnia. Zacha has been a star at the international level playing in the Under 18s two years in a row, as well in the Ivan Hlinka and the last two World Juniors. Recently some injury issues have kept him out of the Sting lineup, but Zacha has shown off his talents when he has been healthy with 11 goals and 23 points in 26 games. He has the skills to be a power forward at the NHL level, but also possesses elite skill. He is a good skater with a powerful stride that can help him to drive the net and has the soft hands to finish in close. His wrist shot has great power and a hair trigger release. His vision and passing skill is also decent, but Zacha is very much a shoot first kind of player.
9) Ivan Provorov, Defence, Brandon Wheat Kings (6’0″, 200 lbs): The young Russian defenceman is rising quickly up draft boards, after a solid display at the World Juniors, and excellent play in his rookie season in the WHL. He spent last year with Cedar Rapids in the USHL. Provorov has really taken off in the last couple of months, and now has 12 goals and 51 points in 47 games 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. Provorov shows outstanding defensive skill as well, and is a really good two-way defenceman. He is strong positionally, and reads the play very well. He understands how to use his stick to cut down passing lanes and his body to block shots. He is also showing improved strength and clearing the front of the net extremely well.
10) Lawson Crouse, Left Wing, Kingston Frontenacs (6’4″ 212 lbs): Was part of Team Canada’s Ivan Hlinka winning squad this summer leading the team with 6 goals in 5 games. He has followed that up by making the World Junior Team and playing an important defensive role on the fourth line and penalty kill. Others have Crouse slightly higher than I do, and while I like him enough to have him in the top 10, and he’s a very complete player, I’m just not convinced about his high end offensive upside right now. Don’t get me wrong, I think he can be a top 6 forward at the next level, there are just some questions about whether or not Crouse has enough offensive potential to be a first line player. He has 18 goals and 28 points in 36 games for Kingston so far this year. At 6’4″ and 212 pounds Crouse is a budding power forward. He has a powerful skating stride, but could work on his first step and acceleration. That good power allows him to fight through checks and get to the net. He loves to get in the forecheck, and finishes his hits along the boards. He is very good in protecting the puck in the cycle and has the soft hands and can bang in goals from the front of the net. Lawson Crouse is also an excellent penalty killer, and has excellent defensive instincts. If he can show some more offense down the stretch, he could rise rapidly on my final rankings.
Stay tuned the rest of the week as we go through the rest of the top 30, and honourable mentions.
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Main Photo via Getty Images.