NHL draft prep: Top 10 defensemen

NHL draft prep: Top 10 defensemen
June 9, 2014, 11:00 am

Last year's draft had a much stronger group of defenseman than this year's, according to Russ Cohen. (AP)

This year’s crop of defensemen has a few notables, but many of these young players have more flaws in their game than we’re used to seeing.

With that said the cream will always rise to the top -- and for now, drafting a defenseman this year will be a real gamble as you go down anybody’s list.

Below are the players I see as the top blueliners of the 2014 draft. Catch up with last week's list of my top 10 forwards here.

1. Aaron Ekblad - 6-4/216
This well-mannered Canadian already has a pro shot. He’s a big-minutes defenseman who can play in the NHL next season, much the same way Seth Jones did after getting drafted last year. His right-handed, accurate, fast shot produced 23 goals. He has shown tremendous discipline. He’s not a shutdown defenseman, but he’s very solid in his own end. He’s a captain who plays the penalty kill, and is an offensive weapon as a result. He’s hockey smart and gets into plays when he has to -- and when he does, he doesn’t make many mistakes. Ekblad straddles the line well with the man advantage, too. He’s an excellent skater who is very strong, and a fierce checker. He was the OHL defenseman of the year for 2014 with the Barrie Colts.

2. Haydn Fleury - 6-3/203
This sturdy rearguard will battle for the puck. He plays in all situations for Red Deer, and is especially solid on the power play. This talented defender has a solid first pass. He’s already pretty strong. He skates very well and can strip the puck with a lot of skill. He can really get up the ice quickly with long strides. You have to like his one-timer. His toughness gets him this spot on the list  -- plus his good discipline.

3. Julius Honka - 5-11/180
This offensive defenseman shined in Swift Current and in international competition. He’s a consistent point producer. He skates well and his sneakiness has him darting in and scoring like a forward with great stick precision. He possesses a quick wrist shot and is gifted on the power play because of his excellent puck distribution and a great right-handed shot. The Finn can take a hit, too. He’s got a slick one-timer as well.

4. Tony DeAngelo - 5-11/175
The local kid from Sewell, N.J., is possibly the second-best offensive defenseman in the draft. He’s a very gifted passer and stickhandles well. He sometimes has a turnover in bad spots, however. He may have the second-best first pass in this draft class. He’s capable of making ridiculous trick passes from the point. He has that elusive right-handed shot and is adequate in his own end.

5. Jack Dougherty - 6-1/186
This National Team Development Program mainstay works out of trouble well. He strips the puck like a pro. His defensive awareness is high. He has an excellent shot. He showed off a great first pass in international play, long and accurate. He’s excellent skater with a right-handed shot. He gives a great effort every shift. Good on the power play but not his best talent.

6. Roland McKeown - 6-1/195  
This athlete gets out in open ice and keeps the puck ahead of him with his long stick. He has shown off a nice wrist shot. So far, he looks like a future second-pairing talent, but improved skating will help. He has shown some emerging offense for Kingston. He, too, has a right-handed shot. Like many on this list, though, he has to work on his defense.

7. Dysin Mayo - 6-1/180
This young man shoots well and can quarterback a power play. He has a knack for getting into the offensive flow of the game and is an excellent puck mover as well as a great stickhandler with a right-handed shot. He has to work on minimizing mistakes in his own end, however. This blueliner can play physical hockey and that played a part in the Edmonton Oil Kings' winning this year’s Memorial Cup.

8. Josh Jacobs - 6-2/193  
This emerging defenseman battles hard. He knows how to play a simple game. His Indiana Ice team went from last place to winning the USHL’s Clark Cup. He has a long stick and a long skating stride. He’s a solid-two way defenseman with a right-handed shot. The Michigan native has committed to Michigan State.

9. Brandon Montour - 6-0/172  
He’s just the third USHL defenseman to be named Player of the Year. Was also named the league’s best defenseman too. He had 14 goals, 48 assists and 62 points. He’s been moving up the charts. His right-handed shot is an asset on the power play. He’s a very good skater. At 20, he’s a hot commodity. He has committed to the University of Massachusetts.

10. Alexis Vanier - 6-5/215  
This big defenseman really stood out for Baie-Comeau in the “Q” (QMJHL). He checks hard. He will start and win fights. He has a very active stick in the crease. This big man already has a booming point shot. He has to work on his skating, though, and is definitely a long-term project.

Last week: Top 10 forwards
Next week: Mock draft

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