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 11-15
11) Mikko Rantanen, Centre/Right Wing, TPS (6’4″ 209 lbs): The 18-year-old playing with TPS in the Finnish Sm-Liiga has started the season with 17 points in 44 games while playing against men. Add this to the four goals in five games at the World Juniors, five points in five games that he scored at the 2014 Under-18s, and the three goals and seven points in five games that he scored in the 2013 Ivan Hlinka tournament. Rantanen is a big player who plays a power forward style of game. He works extremely hard along the boards and is extremely effective at winning battles in international tournaments in his age group. He may not throw huge hits, but he uses his size effectively in the corners and in establishing position in the offensive zone. He also drives the net hard and can finish in close. He controls the puck well down low on the cycle and has the vision to spot open teammates and the passing skill to feather a tape-to-tape pass through the tiniest of openings. Rantanen’s skating is decent. He has good top end speed but he can improve his first step and acceleration. He shows good effort at the defensive end and is a solid two-way player.
12) Mathew Barzal, Centre, Seattle Thunderbirds (6’0″ 181 lbs): With 7 goals and 23 points in 22 games, Barzal was following up on a nice performance in the Ivan Hlinka tournament (7 points in 5 games, gold medal), with a strong start to the WHL season. Unfortunately some injuries have slowed him down though. The first overall pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam draft, Barzal is an outstanding skater, with top notch speed, great acceleration and outstanding pivots and edge work. He also has incredibly soft hands, great stick handling, and incredible hockey sense and intelligence. These skills alone would make him a dynamic offensive threat, but when you add in his great shot and excellent vision and play-making ability he is the total package as an offensive player. He does need to use that shot more, and would score more goals if he was a little more selfish. He has shown the willingness to play in the dirty areas of the ice, and shows flashes of adding a power game to his offensive finesse and skill after adding some weight this off-season.If he continues to grow and add that game, the sky is the limit for him both in the WHL and eventually the NHL.
13) Kyle Connor, Centre, Youngstown Phantoms (6’1″ 174 lbs): Was part of Team USA’s gold medal winning squad at the U18 World Championships last spring, putting up four goals and seven points in seven games last season. Connor is back with the Phantoms in the USHL this season and has had an excellent start with 18 goals and 44 points in 36 games. He is committed to the University of Michigan for the 2015-16 season. Connor is a very good skater, with excellent speed. He has extremely good stickhandling ability, and can make plays while moving at close to top speed. He is extremely agile, and uses this and his stickhandling ability to terrify defenders off the rush. Connor is an excellent playmaker who has the vision to spot the open man, and the skill to make passes through tight areas. He also is developping a good two-way game. While he’s not afraid to give, or take a hit, he must get stronger to be more effective at it, and to be better at protecting the puck down low.
14) Paul Bittner, Left Wing, Portland Winterhawks (6’4″ 194 lbs): After a slow start to the season Bittner has really picked up his game and has 21 goals and 43 points in 47 games. Bittner was also one of the best players on the ice at the CHL Top Prospects game. 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. other play who doesn’t throw a lot of big hits, but still use his size effectively as 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.
15) Travis Konecny, Centre/Right Wing, Ottawa 67s (5’10”, 172 lbs): The first overall pick in the 2013 OHL Draft, Konecny was the captain of Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka, and his five goals and six points in five games were key to Canada’s Gold Medal win. He’s carried some of that momentum into the OHL season where he has put up 21 goals and 48 points in 46 games for the 67s, another club where he is the captain. He is a cousin of Bo Horvat, a recent top 10 NHL pick by the Vancouver Canucks. Konecny has excellent speed, and tremendous acceleration. He utilizes it both on the rush, and to be a cannonball on the forecheck. He’s not afraid to grind in the corners, work in the cycle game, or get to the front of the net. Add to this great vision and passing ability and Konecny is the type of player who can make his linemates better. He also has a strong wrist shot and a good release. Its not something he can control, but growing an extra inch or two this season could help him go higher in the draft.
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.