Adam Keal

NHL Draft Primer: The Top 10 Prospects

NHL Draft Primer: The Top 10 Prospects

Its about time for the NHL draft, which means a bunch of teams are about to make a ton of mistakes, and a couple will do something right. With the first round going tonight, everyone will have their eye on the top 10, especially with 6 of the 7 futile Canadian teams picking in that range. So which kids are up there? Which 18yr olds should your team draft? I’ll tell you, because I think I stand a chance at being smarter than most GMs and scouts who are dumber than potatoes.

By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde

Honourable Mention: Josh Ho Sang, Haydn Fleury

Ho-Sang is a tremendously talented player that has “character issues” such as too much confidence and not liking people treating him differently because he’s black. For most people this isn’t a big deal, but for NHL scouts its a red flag anytime a player isn’t boring. Guarantee you some team will pick him based on ability and in 5 years everyone will be lauding said team for their ability to “find diamonds in the rough” and “sort a player out” when all they did was ignore the noise.

Fleury, on the other hand, reminds me a lot of Darnell Nurse last season. I think he’s got the tools to develop into a solid top 3 defenceman like Jay Bouwmeester or Matthias Ohlund. He’s got the frame to fill out into a big guy and its conceivable that he’ll play in the NHL at 6’3 and 220. Having that size in your top 3 playing 22 minutes a night is something to drool over. He’ll never be a game breaker, but he’ll be good.

Now on to the top 10.

#10 – Kasperi Kapanen RW

The good: He has a lot of Finnish! (Get it, because he’s from Finland!) A lot of talent and offensive ability. He can shoot, pass, dig in the corners, play well along the boards and skate like the wind.

The bad: As is a theme with young players, he’s not great defensively. He’s also not small, but not big at 6 foot and 200 generous pounds. Plus, a lot of people have concerns over the European style transitioning smoothly to the North American game.

My say: I wouldn’t be worried about defence. Most young players struggle with it and positioning is something you can teach, talent is not. Size doesn’t worry me either, nor does his game transitioning to North America from Finland. A lot of young Finnish players have done it lately and I’d take every single one of them: Ristolainen, Barkov, Granlund, Teravainen. He won’t be a regular for 2-3 years, but that shouldn’t be a concern for whoever picks him.

Comparison: His dad, duh. But look to a sort of Eberle-ish type player on the high side. Low side look to Briere or any other smaller offensive 2nd line player.

#9 – Jake Virtanen LW

The good: He’s already got average NHL size at about 6’1 and 200 pounds and the ability to maybe grow another inch and a half. His 45 goals were impressive and his line was pretty well the only good line on his junior team. Most of his game is perfectly fine.

The bad: While he has NHL size, its nothing exceptional despite scouting reports keep noting it. He also had an absurdly high shooting percentage this season which is likely to regress, and his linemates this season were a pair of 20yr olds about to age out of junior hockey. With his game being perfectly fine, he’s not really exceptional anywhere.

My say: He gets a Milan Lucic comparison a lot, which is usually the kiss of death. A lot of bad players get drafted too high because of Lucic-esque qualities. He’s not Lucic and I’d be surprised if he ever was. He’s a good shooting winger who I think has a future as a quality 2nd liner or a 1st liner who rides shotgun with better players.

Comparison: I feel a Shane Doan type of career isn’t out of the question. High side of James van Riemsdyk or Joffrey Lupul, low side of Ryan Clowe.

#8 – William Nylander C

The good: The guy is over-flowing with offensive talent. Like, Patrick Kane levels of pure offensive ability. Great puck hound and great protection abilities would make you swear he was bigger than he is (5’11, 175lbs). Patrick Kane level hands and ability to play in traffic.

The bad: He’s only an OK skater, but you can work on that. There are some character concerns as well from scouts, but I tend to find this stuff is overblown with elite teenage athletes. It only ever seems to be a concern in hockey. His defence needs work, and he does need to get stronger, though not so much bigger.

My say: I only put him this high because of just how talented he is. You could flip-flop him with Kapanen for a bit of a safer pick. This high in the draft you don’t make a “safe” pick. You want an impact player that you can’t find anywhere else, and Nylander has that ability. Whether he gets there is an argument for another day. I’d take him at 8 and run away screaming with happiness.

Comparison: His dad, duh (again), but better. High side at Patrick Kane, low side at Nikolai Zherdev or other talented flame-outs.

#7 – Nick Ritchie LW

The good: For a big guy (6’2, 226lbs) he skates very well which makes him hard to stop. Also has a great set of offensive tools, especially for a winger such as puck protection, play on the boards and puck retrieval. He’s a talented big man.

The bad: You have to wonder though, how much does his dominance have to do with the fact that he’s playing against a lot of kids who aren’t even 180lbs? He also doesn’t really possess a “best ____” in the draft class, besides hitting, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence he’ll be a game breaker.

My say: He has everything to be a good player. I do wonder how much his size game will effect his overall game once he gets to the NHL. In junior, you can run over players at his size. In the NHL, he’s only slightly bigger than average. A lot comes down to how well he can adjust his power game to maximize the skill he does have. He’ll be a pretty safe pick at the top with good ability to be an impact player.

Comparison: Again, he gets the Lucic tag. Again, I think thats horribly miscasting him. I’d look more to Nathan Horton and Max Pacioretty at the high end. Low end you’re getting a contributing middle 9 winger like Dustin Brown.

#6 Michael Dal Colle LW

The good: He’s got pro size at 6’2 and his offense is just better than any of the other big wingers. He has the best wrist shot in the draft, and his ability to find holes in coverage to make plays is excellent. Very underrated playmaker and one hell of a player.

The bad: Not much. Everything that isn’t great, is still solid, if unspectacular. His choice in music sucks though, as his favourite song is ‘Drops of Jupiter‘, which is actually pretty inexcusable.

My say: He’s the safest big winger in the draft. He has all the tools of everyone else, plus he’s just better. Solid defence, great offensive potential. He’s just every bit better than a player like Ritchie or Virtanen. The fact he’s lanky is a blessing in disguise as it’ll give him more time to develop in junior to become a better player instead of being rushed.

Comparison: Another, talented big winger but a safer bet than the above to be an impact player. Think Jamie Benn on the high side, Glencross on the low side.

#5 Nikolaj Ehlers LW

The good: He’s got talent. Boy does he ever. Patrick Kane talent again. Speed, shooting, passing, stick handling, awareness. All of it. He’s arguably the best skater in the draft and pretty much a complete mirror of highly touted prospect Jonathon Drouin.

The bad: He’s a pretty slight guy at 5’10 feet and 172lbs which means it’ll be a while before he competes in the NHL, but that isn’t a bad thing. Its also hard to say how good his defence is considering his team has been such an offensive juggernaut the last 2 years.

My take: He’s electric and every bit as good, if not better, than Drouin. Proof? Read this. If I want a forward after the big 3 centers are gone, this is my guy.

Comparison: Would you be upset if I said high side was Patrick Kane again? Providing he doesn’t outright bust, a low end could be Mats Zuccarello.

#4 Leon Draisaitl C

The good: He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got talent and he’s a centreman. You need a guy like that to win a championship. He’s a terrific playmaker and probably a better skater than he gets credit for. Great puck protector as well.

The bad: His footwork needs to improve. His speed is fine, but its the little things about transitioning his edge to help open some space that could use improvement. Also unsure just where his defensive game is at. Sometimes it was great, other times not so much.

My take: Hard to not like what you see. I think he’s riding a bit too much of the hype train right now, but he isn’t exactly undeserving. Another year in junior to work on his skating and he could probably step right in and be a 40-50pt #2 center on the right team.

Comparison: His high end is Anze Kopitar but even if he turns into a David Backes or Jordan Staal its not the end of the world. Still a good player. If his skating never improves enough you could look at David Legwand

#3 Aaron Ekblad D

The good: He’s big and strong. Skates very well. Can run a powerplay and has the heaviest shot in the draft. When he loads it up, he’s hurting you or forcing the goalie to make a good save. Also he’s the only real elite D prospect in the draft.

The bad: To start, a lot of his points came from the powerplay and that can be a hard thing to replicate in the NHL. He dominates with size, but what happens when a 6’4 240lb Ryan Getzlaf is coming at him? Or even slightly smaller players? Its always a concern.

My take: While the size/dominance correlation is of concern, he’s got enough talent to offset it. However, I would be wary because Dmen picked in the top 5 don’t always pan out like forwards do, but its hard to pass up the chance to get a #1 defenceman.

Comparison: Depends on how physicall dominant he can be. Less physical, Jay Bouwmeester. More physical, Niklas Kronwall. At the toppest of top end, you’re probably looking at Ryan Suter. Low end could really be anywhere from Bryan Allen to Eric Brewer.

#2 Samuel Bennett C

The good: He can score and he plays the game the way people crave. He’s tenacious on the puck, plays great defense, is fast, creates plays and a frame he can grow into. His offensive ability is great, but its not flashy. More of a meat-and-potatoes offence.

The bad: He’s not exactly a strong kid after failing to do a pull-up at the NHL Combine. It called into question his commitment to training, but who cares. Honestly. He’s also dealt with a little bit of injury maintence already as a young player which could raise a few red flags among some GMs and scouts.

My take: I don’t care about the combine. If he’s this good and can’t do a pull-up, wait to see how good he is once he trains properly and grows into a man instead of a boy. He’s a bit of a project for a high pick though. I don’t think there is a chance he can last a full season in the NHL next year. Best for him to back to junior to play and work on his strength levels.

Comparable: There is a lot of Jonathon Toews fluff, which is pretty lofty. I think maybe a bit more along the lines of Claude Giroux with a lower end of Plekanec is more at home.

#1 Samuel Reinhart C

The good: Elite. Offensive. Talent. That’s all you need to know. The highest ceiling in the draft with age adjusted junior scoring levels similar to John Tavares and Steven Stamkos. He’s not tiny either at 6’1 and 185lbs.

The bad: I guess you could nitpick his defensive game? Might be nice if his shot was a bit more lethal.

My take: I think he’s the best player in the draft. I won’t bore you with the fancy stats, but he ranks up very highly against all his peers and scored at an elite level in the WHL which is very rare to see. He’s quite similar to Nugent-Hopkins and if he ends up in a situation where he can be sheltered more during his early development he could be an elite player by the time his first contract is up.

Comparison: Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis and the low end someone similar to Kyle Turris.

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