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 Ranks 16-20
16) Jeremy Roy, Defence, Sherbrooke Phoenix (6’0″, 183 lbs): An alternate captain with Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, Roy put up three assists in five games and brought home a gold medal. This season, Roy has shown dynamic offence from the blueline for the Phoenix, with 40 points in 42 games. Roy is an outstanding skater, and shows great mobility both forwards and backwards, as well as the strong edge work and agility to cover all areas in the defensive zone, and walk the line in the offensive zone. He’s a smart player, who almost always makes the right pass out of his own end, or on the point at the powerplay. Roy is developing a hard one-timer, and understands that by keeping it low and on net, he creates second chance opportunities for the Sherbrooke forwards. Roy’s hockey sense and positioning are extremely good, and he battles hard in the corners and in his own end. He may only be 17, but he plays all situations and against top competition for the Phoenix this year and is a real difference maker for his club.
17) Yevgeni Svechnikov, Right Wing, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (6’3″ 205 lbs): Svechnikov is a late-96 birthday who had an excellent tournament for Russia at last spring’s Under-18s. He was also part of Russia’s 2013 Silver medal winning U17 squad, and the silver medal winning team at the 2013 World Junior “A” Championships. In his first season in North America, Svechnikov is opening eyes with his offensive ability, putting up 23 goals and 56 points in 44 games so far. He has good size at 6’3″ and an outstanding wrist shot and release. He is a strong skater, who loves to drive the net and can finish in close when he gets there. He has the speed to take a defender wide and the power to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. Svechnikov also has excellent vision and passing ability. He could fall below this due to the Russian factor, but basing purely on skill Svechnikov is easily a first round pick.
18) Nick Merkley, Centre, Kelowna Rockets (5’10’, 187 lbs): Last season Merkley won the WHL Rookie of the Year award. He is another member of Canada’s 2015 Ivan Hlinka winning squad, and a quick riser on draft boards. After scoring four points in five games in the summer tournament, Merkley has exploded in Kelowna putting up 77 points in 56 games, good for third in WHL scoring. Merkley is a big reason why Kelowna was a WHL favorite even before they bolstered their lineup at the trade deadline. Merkley is currently listed at 5’10” and size is the major knock against him right now. Despite the size, Merkley isn’t afraid to go to the net, and to battle in the dirty areas of the ice. With his excellent balance, and good lower body strength, he is hard to knock off the puck. He’s got excellent offensive skills including superb vision and passing ability; a hard shot and good release; and high-end hockey IQ. Merkley is tenacious in the backcheck and uses his hockey IQ to anticipate plays and create turnovers. He has very good speed and gets the transition game going when he does steal pucks or intercept passes. He could stand to shoot the puck more though, as he has an accurate shot that he just doesn’t use enough. He could stand to add some strength and power though.
19) Colin White, Centre/Right Wing, US NTDP (6’0″ 183 lbs): Colin White played a top line role for the US NTDP U17 team at centre and was leading the squad in points before a late season call-up to the Under 18 team where he played in a checking line wing spot. He was incredible at last year’s U17 World Hockey Challenge with 10 goals and 18 points in just six games. He is back with the U18 team this year and is once again the top line centre and captain. White has put up 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in 27 games so far. White plays a great puck protection and cycle game, always keeping his feet moving and working down low. He wins the vast majority of his puck battles showing outstanding balance and strength. He has decent speed and generates the power to fight through checks and go to the net. He also has good agility. White is equally adept as a passer or as a shooter, and displays the good hands to stickhandle around defencemen or to finish in close to the crease. He also has shown the ability to play in his own end as well being outstanding in the face-off circle.
20) Jakub Zboril, Defence, Saint John Sea Dogs (6’2″, 185 lbs): Along with Pavel Zacha, Zboril is part of one of the best Czech draft classes in years, as the country has really turned around their hockey program following a number of dark years. Zboril was part of the silver medal winning squads at the 2013 U18 World Championship last spring, and the Ivan Hlinka this past summer. Drafted 5th overall in the CHL Import Draft, Zboril has put up 22 points in 33 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs Zboril is living up to the hype and looks like the total package on the blueline this season. He is an excellent powerplay quarterback, with strong poise with the puck and good vision and passing skill. He also has a rocket of a slap shot, and has already scored three goals. Zboril has good skating skill and his excellent pivots, edgework, and agility allow him to cover a ton of ice. He’s also not afraid to be physical in the defensive end of the ice.
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.