Mike Finewax

Expert Analysis

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2014 NHL Draft: First Round

Friday, June 27, 2014


 

1. Florida - Aaron Ekblad - (D) Barrie Colts

 

Ekblad is a confident player who has NHL size, toughness, skating ability and the smarts to play in the NHL next year, and eventually become a top-pair stalwart. He is an excellent two-way blueliner, with a three-zone game and a balance between his offensive and defensive game. Ekblad is skilled with the puck, his shot is heavy and accurate and he possesses great vision and poise. He complements his offensive game well with ruggedness, an active stick and solid positioning on the defensive side. He is very hard on himself and could stand to be more physically assertive at the next level. In 2013-14, Barrie's captain was named the OHL's most outstanding defenseman, leading all rearguards with 23 goals and finishing finishing tied for fifth with 53 points. There was a lot of speculation that the Panthers might deal this pick, but in Ekblad they're getting a player that will make an immediate impact in the NHL.


2. Buffalo - Sam Reinhart - (C) Kootenay Ice


Sam Reinhart’s elite hockey sense, offensive skill and excellent character have scouts raving about a special NHL career for the nicely built 6’1, 186 pound center. During the past 14 months, Reinhart has captained Team Canada to a gold medal at the U18 World Championships, participated in the World Junior Hockey Championships, scored 128 points in 73 games for Kootenay during the WHL regular season and playoffs and now follows his dad and two older brothers to be drafted into the NHL. Reinhart sees, thinks and understands the game better than anyone in the class of 2014. He is solid on faceoffs, backchecks hard, kills penalties, supports his defensemen down low and is not afraid to get dirty and block shots. Reinhart makes his linemates better, much like Henrik Sedin does in Vancouver, and his professional, humble and focused demeanor will allow him to take a leadership, top-six role in the years to come with the Buffalo Sabres.


3. Edmonton - Leon Draisaitl - (C) Prince Albert Raiders


Back home they call him "The German Gretzky," and Leon Draisaitl has already made waves as the highest drafted German player in history. The 6"1, 208 pound center combines power and playmaking to torment opponents, as he notched 105 points in 64 games with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. He also captained Germany’s World Juniors squad, garnering six points in as many games with 52 penalty minutes. The 18 year-old is a pass-first player who reads the game very well, he is decent playing in the defensive zone but needs to become a better skater. He hulks over the puck like Joe Thornton, and appears to be ready to move up a level from the WHL and blossom into a top-six forward in the big show. Draisaitl adds some nice size down the middle for a team lacking it, and in a conference that commands it. He'll be a nice complementary player to go with the Oilers' flashy wingers.


4. Calgary - Sam Bennett - (C) Kingston Frontenacs


Sam Bennett is among the class of 2014’s fiercest competitors. The six-foot, 178 pound center is an elite playmaker and ferocious forechecker, keeping opponents consistently on their toes. Bennett had a breakout season in the 2013-14 OHL season, notching 36 goals and 91 points in just 57 games. He has the enviable ability to elevate his play in crunch time, using guts and talent to be a game breaker. The 18 year-old plays in all situations, and many believe he has the tools and drive to be a Jonathan Toews-type player. Bennett is a quick, creative and versatile forward, able to draw in opponents when he has the puck, and then make difficult passes through ifted vision and awareness. Bennett needs to get bigger and stronger, but it should not take long for him to make the leap to the NHL. He will make a dynamite one-two punch with Sean Monahan, possibly as early as this upcoming season.


5. New York Islanders - Michael Dal Colle - (LW) Oshawa Generals 

 

Michael Dal Colle is a speedy, powerful winger with an imposing frame whose soft, quick hands have generated 39 goals and 95 points in 67 games for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals this past season. He is a versatile player who contributes in all three zones, and can impact a game through his speed, his toughness, along the boards and on the penalty kill. What sets him apart is his ability to do all that while honing elite offensive skills. Dal Colle is not a flashy player, but his solid puck carrying, shooting and passing skills compliment his strong body and we expect him to have a long career as a top-six NHL forward. That being said, he will have a tough time sticking with the Islanders in 2014-15.


6. Vancouver - Jake Virtanen - (RW) Calgary Hitmen

 

Virtanen is the full package; a massive power forward with explosive speed and a lightening shot. The six-foot, 208 pounder is a decent playmaker with great vision who excels at taking the puck to the net and pounding his opponents with his size and drive. He was a 45-goal scorer this past season with the Calgary Hitmen, notching 71 points in as many games as a WHL sophomore. He plays a style similar to Jarome Iginla, and torments defensemen with his quick acceleration and gifted ability to put the puck in the net. He should end up as a tough, offensive-minded top-six forward in the NHL, but he may be a year or two away from making his way to the big show.


7. Carolina - Hadyn Fleury - (D) Red Deer Rebels


Forward Brenden Morrow was his babysitter as a three-year-old, and now Fleury will try to follow his lead and become the third player from Carlyle, Saskatchewan to make the NHL. Fleury is a rangy, but strong defenseman who is a good skater with excellent defensive instincts. He is physical, especially along the walls, but he is also very disciplined. His skating ability helps as he’s not forced to take penalties to prevent scoring chances. Fleury’s angle work against opposing forwards has room to improve, and he could stand be more aggressive in taking the body. Though he led Red Deer defenseman with 46 points, he is not considered an impact player offensively right now as the creativity is lacking. He picks his spots in joining the rush, and he needs to work on getting shots through and making the repeated crisp first pass out of the zone. Experience is all he needs to fulfill the promise of becoming a shutdown defenseman, and eventually a second-pair power-play contributor.

 

8. Toronto - William Nylander - (C) Sodertalje

 

William Nylander might have the greatest arsenal of offensive talent in the 2014 class. The son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, the undersized winger plays with exceptional poise, confidence and boasts incredible speed and puckhandling skills. Nylander is a lightweight, but can deke, dazzle and dangle through opponents effortlessly and instinctively finds the open man or puts the puck in the net himself. He tends to think he can do it all himself and that selfishness could knock him down the draft rankings. During April’s IIHF U18 World Championships, he generated a staggering 16 points for Sweden in just seven games. The 5’9, 169 pound small forward is a bit of a gamble, but his puck wizardry and hockey IQ could allow him to become a perennial top line talent in the NHL down the road. Nylander may need a season or two before he is NHL ready, but when he does arrive the Leafs will have a potentially dynamic offensive forward.


9. Winnipeg - Nikolaj Ehlers - (LW) Halifax Mooseheads


Nikolaj Ehlers is one of the most electrifying players of this draft class. His speed is off the charts, his shot is lethal while his hands are silky smooth. The 5'10" Danish winger dominated the QMJHL in his rookie season, notching 60 goals and 132 points in 79 games for the Halifax Mooseheads, including playoffs. Elhers is dynamic and fearless, able to pull off tricks at top speed and change direction on a dime. Ehlers needs to bulk up his 176-pound frame, but has the raw skills and competitive drive to make the same plays that Patrick Kane is able to do in the NHL. Due in part to his size, he's very unlikely to play in the NHL next season.


10. Anaheim (via Ottawa) - Nick Ritchie - (LW) Peterborough Petes

 

The Ducks acquired this selection from Ottawa in the Bobby Ryan deal. Ritchie is a hulking winger who boasts a 6"2, 226 pound frame. He can score as well as he managed to put up 74 points in 61 games for Peterborough in the OHL this past season and averaged over a point-per-game in the playoffs. He has impressive mobility for a giant, and when he’s skating and driving hard the winger is very difficult to stop. Ritchie can own the offensive zone, both on the boards and around the net,by his ability to win puck battles and create scoring chances. Ritchie's play could be inconsistent at times, but an 18 year-old this big and this skilled is not a common commodity.


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Michael Finewax is entering his 10th season as the Senior Hockey Writer and Editor for Rotoworld. You can follow him on Twitter @mfinewaxhockey.
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