Wednesday, January 24th
With the Subway Super Series, World Junior Championships, CHL/NHL Top Prospects game behind us and teams nearing the end of their respective junior and collegiate season, NHL Draft season is revving up. All season long I have been posting my thoughts on the OHLers eligible for the 2014 draft via the ramblings and in my Youngblood Monthly release. I am looking to publish my version of the 2014 NHL Enttry Draft Mid-Term Rankings early next week so please keep an eye out for that. As of now, I am just finalizing the players ranked in the 25th to 60th slots.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie released his annual mid-term rankings after polling ten or so scouts and it can be viewed here in its entirety, including a Top 50 ranking.
Common to my list, defenseman Aaron Ekblad leads the way at number one overall, followed by Sam Reinhart from the Kootenay Ice, Sam Bennett from the Kingston Frontenacs and Oshawa’s Michael Dal Colle. Identical to my listing. I can only speak to my own rankings but it’s certainly rare for me to rate a defenseman first overall and I struggled to finally put Ekblad over Reinhart. I am skeptical about projecting defensemen ahead of forwards as their development takes a much different path but Ekblad’s progression since receiving “exceptional status” has been remarkable taking giant leaps each season. With a draft class that features few potential franchise defensemen, Ekblad gets the nod for first overall at this point. His maturity (and ability to grow a beard) is admirable and he earned his spot at #1 after a fantastic WJC showing, where he was arguably Canada’s top defenseman from start to finish. Ekblad will be ready to suit up for an NHL team come Fall 2014.
I am a big fan of Sam Reinhart and he’s probably the most intelligent and complete player in this draft class. He has a knack for finding time and space and even though he doesn’t produce flashy points, there’s something to be said about his ability to just get the job done on each and every shift.
Kingston’s Sam Bennett was recently listed as the top North American skater for the 2014 NHL Draft class ahead of both Ekblad and Reinhart by NHL Central Scouting. Bennett has been a favourite of mine since he was drafted out of the Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget program and I have fancied him in every viewing this season. He has shades of Jonathan Toews’ compete level and clutch ability. In at least two of my viewings, Bennett was thrown on the ice in the final minutes and willed his way to a goal. That’s an element of the game that’s unteachable and the reason I considered him for the number one spot. In the end, Ekblad and Reinhart’s proven track record and projectable games were just slightly more appealing but this trio of players should battle it out right to the end for the first spot in the draft. Unfortunately, Bennett wasn’t able to compete in the Top Prospects game due to injury.
Outside of Sarnia’s Nikolay Goldobin and Tony DeAngelo, I have watched Oshawa’s Michael Dal Colle more than any other draft eligible player and I can say with confidence that I’ve never walked out of the rink disappointed. Dal Colle has progressed well since coming onto the scene last year as his feet and confidence levels have improved substantially. His best asset is definitely his vision and ability to read the play as there are few players who can find seams on the ice like Dal Colle. His shot is top notch as well. On the powerplay Dal Colle excels and he’s a big reason the Generals powerplay is ranked fourth in the OHL. The most promising aspect of Dal Colle’s game is that he still doesn’t dominate with his sizeable frame as well as he could. The big winger could stand to engage more at times. Dal Colle reminds me of a James Van Riemsdyk type of player for all of you comparison seeking prospect junkies. He’s shown to be a great protector of the puck but with room to grow even more, he’s far from reaching his promising potential. Scary.
Bob McKenzie’s poll revealed Prince Albert’s Leon Draisaitl as the 5th ranked player but my list speaks differently. While I can appreciate Draisaitl’s game (ranked 6th for me) that is featured around size and skill, I am not convinced that he’ll translate to the big leagues as well as my 5th ranked player – Nick Ritchie. Both Draisaitl and Ritchie have massive upsides and I might argue that this duo are the two players who may have the most potential to become a “superstar” at the next level. Neither player is complete without flaws of their own. Draisaitl has struggled with consistency (see the Top Prospects game and WJC for recent examples) while Nick Ritchie has battled to stay in the lineup because of injury. I am excited to follow these two players right until draft time as both sit as potential “climbers”. I see shades of Anze Kopitar in Leon Draisaitl and Jamie Benn in Nick Ritchie….both Kopitar and Benn are favourites of mine.
Now, I won’t be revealing the rest of my rankings quite yet but with a sneak peak of the top five, you all should be enticed enough to return next week to see the finalized rankings. I will speak on my favourites at that time.
I weighed in on some thoughts on draft eligible Russian skater Nikolay Goldobin, who received Player of the Game honours at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game this week in Calgary. Check it out here.
OHLW: Having been in on almost 48% of the Stings’ offense, it goes without saying he has elite offensive talent. How do you see him bringing that to the NHL level?
Ross: What Goldobin has accomplished as an OHL with such little offensive support is very impressive, as he sits as one of the OHL’s top producers after leading all rookie scorers in 2012-13. He’s proven that he can lead the offensive charge but also compliments teammates well sending slick imaginary passes for easy tap-in goals. At the next level, Goldobin could adopt a similar role as current NHLers such as Jordan Eberle or Patrick Kane – two players who can slow the game down with using exceptional puck handling abilities. He’s the type of player who can buy extra time for teammates using his deceptive hands and projects as a future staple on the power play.
Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino has a surprising player ranked second behind Sam Reinhart in his Top 10 WHL Players. Ahead of Leon Draisaitl at 2nd is Saskatoon Blade import Nikita Scherbak.
Cosentino on Scherbak….
“Without talented overage help in Saskatoon, the second half of the season will be a big proving ground. He is this year’s Nikita Zadorov.”
One draft prospect I have loved watching this year is Swift Current defenseman Julius Honka. He’s not big but damn, can this Finn ever skate and lead the rush with exceptional puck moving ability. Honka is clipping along at a point-per-game pace from the blue line and sits second in WHL scoring behind the abovementioned Sherbak. I will predict that he goes much higher than people expect.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p><a href=”https://twitter.com/search?q=%23Habs&src=hash”>#Habs</a> prospect <a href=”https://twitter.com/Fucale31″>@Fucale31</a> Zach Fucale became the youngest goalie in <a href=”https://twitter.com/QMJHL”>@QMJHL</a> history to win 100 games last night <a href=”http://t.co/sF6fCKypXp”>http://t.co/sF6fCKypXp</a></p>— Patrick King (@SNPatrickKing) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SNPatrickKing/statuses/426062984855580672″>January 22, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Fucale’s record setting feat is impressive…
The Montreal Canadiens prospect and Canadian National Junior Team netminder became the first goalie to have 100 wins in fewer than 150 games recording his milestone victory in just his 145th career game.
“It’s a tremendous honour,” the 18-year-old native of Rosemere, Quebec, told The Chronicle Herald following the win. “I want to thank the teams I’ve had in front of me, to get one win you need everyone, I’m really happy and proud we accomplished 100 wins in less than 150 games.”
The record was previously held by Jacques Cloutier who achieved 100 wins during his 150th game, 35 years ago on January 6, 1979. Fucale becomes just the seventh QMJHL goalie to reach 100 wins in the leagues 45 seasons.
Lightning prospect stud Jonathan Drouin was named CHL Player of the Week for the second time this season after recording one goal and 10 points in three games. Since returning from the World Junior Championships, Drouin has tallied a dozen points (1G, 11A) in four games including back-to-back four-point efforts on January 18th and 19th.
Remaining in the Q, Red Wings’ prospect Anthony Mantha has been underperforming based on his lofty standards set early this season. Since returning from WJC action, the big scoring winger has just six points in the five games and he has been held off of the gamesheet in two of those contests – a situation that happened only ONCE prior to the WJC (back on October 17th). Mantha remains the current QMJHL scoring leader with 39 goals and 79 points in 37 contests.
Rangers prospect Anthony Duclair is red hot in the Quebec League as he is coming off a four-point effort January 23rd and has run off 25 points over his past dozen contests. Duclair trails only Anthony Mantha in QMJHL scoring with 71 points through 45 games and leads in goals (40) as of January 24th.
If you enjoy following prospect news in the Canadian Hockey League, then you may fancy Sam Cosentino’s CHL Notebook series….
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p>A weekly favourite, Sam Cosentino’s CHL notebook: <a href=”http://t.co/9btIGminGp”>http://t.co/9btIGminGp</a></p>— Patrick King (@SNPatrickKing) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SNPatrickKing/statuses/426058601933713408″>January 22, 2014</a></blockquote>
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In a similar yet more random style as CBC’s Elliot Friedman’s 30 Thoughts, Cosentino rifles off quick thoughts…
– A hat trick in a game against Kitchener in November resulted in Guelph’s Robby Fabbri accidentally shortening his stick by about an inch and a half.
– Oshawa’s Michael Dal Colle is finally getting the recognition he deserves as a top 5 pick in the upcoming NHL draft.
– Nikolay Goldobin’s carefree attitude is what makes him so good, but at the same time makes him a risk to draft.
– Nick Ritchie and Hunter Garlent grew up playing lacrosse together in Orangeville, Ont.
– Many thought the Peterborough Petes overpaid to get Garlent out of Guelph (Stephen Pierog and four second-round picks), but the early returns have been great for the Petes, who badly needed the boost.
– Go figure: as soon as the Knights traded away Liam Herbst, Anthony Stolarz [Flyers prospect] got hurt.
NHL Prospect news….
Valeri Nichushkin broke the twine twice last night and added an assist in Dallas’ 7-1 rout of the Maple Leafs. There’s no doubt that Nichushkin has formed promising chemistry playing with Benn and Seguin. Nichushkin was pointless in six games coming into last night but recorded his first career three-point game (although, he did have a four-point effort back on December 7th versus the Flyers). I see big things for Nichushkin in his future as he’s already starting to show that he can be dominant in puck possession. He’ll reach new levels once he fills out his frame and there’s no better place to learn how to do that than playing alongside Jamie Benn.
Rookie defender Olli Maatta picked up his 5th goal and 14th assist in Pittsburgh’s Thursday night win over the Islanders. Maatta sits with 19 points on the season placing him second in defensive scoring on the Penguins behind Niskanen and AHEAD of Kris Letang (albeit, Maatta has played 18 more games). The young Finn is on pace to post 31 points…not too shabby for a rookie blueliner.
Sweet goal from Maatta last night:
The Calder Trophy race is red hot and while Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon likely has first dibs on the hardware (cue the intense debate) due to his draft status and the fact he leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (33) , there’s plenty of others who deserve SERIOUS consideration as well.
Tampa’s Tyler Johnson has fired home 13 goals and is second in first-year scoring with 31 points and an impressive plus-14 rating.
Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm has looked like a seasoned veteran patrolling the blue line and his plus-23 rating is tops all rookies. Through 50 games, Lindholm has registered five goals and 17 points.
Coming off a three-point effort Tuesday night, Chris Kreider is climbing the scoring charts and is only three back of MacKinnon with 30, in three less games.
Mark Scheifele (28 points), Ondrej Palat (26 points), Tomas Hertl (injured), Valeri Nichushkin and Torey Krug (25 points) are all within striking distance too and playing valuable minutes for their respective clubs.
It’s been an impressive rookie defensemen crop with Jacob Trouba, Hampus Lindholm, Torey Krug, Seth Jones, Eric Gelinas, Ryan Murray and Sami Vatanen not only producing offensively but also contributing big defensive minutes.
Nathan MacKinnon (7), Chris Kreider (6), Torey Krug (5) and Eric Gelinas (5) lead the way with rookie power play goals.
Jacob Trouba (21:29 min/gm), Danny Dekeyser (21:08), Seth Jones (20:54), Calvin de Haan (20:15) and Radko Gudas (20:08) remain atop the rookie ice time chart.
Former Flyers’ defenseman Jeff Chychrun has enjoyed watching his son, Jakob, compete for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens Minor Midget squad…and so have I. Jakob Chychrun is the unanimous choice to go first overall in the upcoming OHL Draft and probably could’ve received exceptional status last season. He wouldn’t look out of place competing on a current OHL lineup this season.
For those who haven’t watched him, here is an ISO video courtesy of TheScout.ca, an independent scouting agency I’ve been working for. Fast forward to the 4:30 mark to see what he’s all about …Man. Amongst. Boys.
The Belleville Bulls currently head the Chychrun race as they sit in last place in the OHL.
Thanks for reading folks,