As we inch closer to the 2014 draft (June 27-28), there are still conflicting opinions on just how strong this year’s class is. It’s not as strong as last year’s draft, which featured Nathan MacKinnon -- the leading candidate for this season’s Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. It’s also not as strong as next year’s draft is forecast to be. However, that’s not to say there won’t be a number of NHL players to emerge from the first few rounds of this year’s event.
Here are my top 10 forwards of 2014:
1. Sam Reinhart - 6-1/185, C
Reinhard is a captain in Kootenay. He has great open-ice speed and is extremely creative on the give-and-go. He scores down low, and he is a pro on the power play. He has a nose for the net and a pro one-timer aready. One of his best assets is he knows where to go without the puck. The WHL star follows up his own shots with tenacity. With technique and toughness, he wins puck battles too. He gave the OHL’s Aaron Ekblad some fits in this year’s top prospects game. Reinhart comes from an NHL family -- his dad Paul had a nice career, and brother Griffin, an Islanders prospect, was on the Memorial Cup-winning team this year. His other brother, Max, is in the Calgary Flames’ system.
2. Sam Bennett - 6-0/178, C
The Kingston star knows how to get behind the defense. He has a slick one-timer. His fast wraparound move shows his wheels. He’s feisty and ends up in the penalty box as a result. He has a high hockey I.Q., and is an excellent passer with a great first step, giving him terrific acceleration. The pivot can think ahead of the play to turn passes into scoring chances. He has a fast release on his wrist shot. He’ll lay a hit and will scrap when necessary.
3. Michael Dal Colle - 6-2/182, LW
This linemate of Flyers prospect Scott Laughton on the Oshawa Generals is very smart. He always gives a maximum effort. He has a frame that can add some muscle down the road. He’s a clutch goal-scorer. Dal Colle’s shot has a very fast release. He has a lot of discipline too, which keeps him out of the penalty box. He can take a hit. He had an amazing 2014 playoffs (20 points in 12 games) -- the puck always seems to find him. He makes players around him better. He may be only one or two years away from the NHL.
4. Leon Draisaitl - 6-2/204, C
The “German Gretzky” as he’s sometimes known is very good in transition. He has the defensive chops to strip the puck from the opposition, looking for that game-changing turnover. He has a very fast snapshot. With open ice, he can make a great drop pass or score himself. He’s a very shifty, fast skater who slashes his way ahead of the defense. He thinks the game fast, but needs to show better discipline. He slows down the play and makes safe passes. He can feather a pass in too. He brandishes a really long stick blade. The Prince Albert center knows where to go without the puck. One of his best moves is a toe-drag, and he was impressive in this year’s World Championships playing against professionals.
5. Nikolaj Ehlers - 5-11/162, LW
Ehlers put up more than a point per game in the World Junior Championships this year. This Danish winger is greased lightning when he sees an opening. When he gets a great scoring chance, he usually buries it. The Halifax standout can lead the pack for a goal or make a stretch pass to setup a scoring opportunity. He plays a very aggressive offensive game. There’s some magic in his game behind the net, too. He steals the puck quite often to get it back in the offensive zone. His father, Heinz, was drafted by the Rangers in 1984, but never played in the NHL. He is coaching in Switzerland.
6. Nick Ritchie - 6-2/226, LW
This winger who stars in Peterborough had a couple of multi-goal games this season. He’s a powerful, fast skater. He’s very good on the power play and has a fast snap shot. He can muscle his way to the net and shields the puck with his body well. His athletic frame makes him a physical defender. His older brother, Brett, is in the Dallas Stars’ system.
7. William Nylander - 5-11/169, C/RW
This Canadian-Swedish player is extremely skilled. He is offensively gifted just like his dad, Michael, who had a long and successful NHL career. William had a chance to play alongside his father this past season. The prospect plays a wide-open game. He’s got that coveted right-handed shot, too. Nylander is a scoring threat on the penalty kill. A versatile player, he’s a decisive passer with a fast shot, which makes him a power-play catalyst. He gains the offensive zone quickly, but needs to learn to be stronger on the puck.
8. Kasperi Kapanen - 6-0/181, RW
This Finnish product is from a great hockey family. His grandfather, Hannu, played professional hockey overseas, as well as in an Olympics and a Canada Cup. His father, Sami, was a valued member of the Flyers from 2002-08. In 2013, Kasperi got to play with his dad in Finland. This prospect has a good motor, and posses a sneakiness that causes problems for opposing defensemen. His moves are slippery smooth. He’s a solid two-way player, and has all of the good Kapanen traits – including thinking the game quickly.
9. Jared McCann - 6-0/179, C
This prospect averaged close to a point per game in the regular season and the playoffs for Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL. He’s a very consistent scorer who gets into prime areas quickly. His fast one-timer is pro caliber already, and he has a hard wrist shot too. He’s done well on the big stage in important games.
10. Jake Virtanen - 6-1/208, RW
Virtanen is a versatile hockey player who is a big hitter living up to the WHL’s Hitmen crest he wore during the season. He’ll drop the gloves too. This winger can be a real pest on defense. He’s got a fast shot and is a very fast skater. However, sometimes a lack of consistency plagues him.
Next week: top 10 defensemen