Progress reports on 2014 Top 10 picks, Jake Virtanen returns from injury and prospects approach 9-game mark.
Monday, October 27th
Finishing off the third of a three part series started last week, we check-in with how the remaining top prospects from the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft are faring in action. This section will look at Nick Ritchie, Nikolaj Ehlers, William Nylander, Haydn Fleury, Jake Virtanen, Michael Dal Colle, Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl, Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad.
10th – Nick Ritchie (Anaheim Ducks) – There’s no denying Don Cherry loves Nick Ritchie (as do I) after ripping the Maple Leafs for not drafting this budding skilled tough Ontarian [see video below]. While I won’t comment on whether I think Don is right or wrong (an argument can be made for both), I do like how the Leafs finally took a chance and drafted someone with star offensive upside.
With that said, I loved Ritchie and what’s frustrating for most Leafs fans is that they witnessed their team draft big tough forwards with their first round picks (see Tyler Biggs) and they’ve failed to show much promise. With Ritchie, he’s different than a Tyler Biggs because in addition to being a big, tough competitor, he is also a very skilled accomplish scorer. I don’t think the Leafs could’ve went wrong with selecting Ritchie but also applaud their selection of Nylander. Ritchie leads the Petes in scoring with five goals and 13 points, as well as 25 PIM, through 10 games.
His team’s 2-6-1-2 record isn’t as promising as many projected coming into this season but there were some notable off-season additions and acclimating these players into the team game takes time.
9th – Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg Jets) – While producing at a point-per-game pace is considered a great start for many players, it’s falling below the expectations for Halifax’s Nikolaj Ehlers, who posted 104 last season. What is more alarming is Ehlers’ minus-8 rating, one of the worst on his team. Chalk this “slow” start up to a transition period after spending several weeks amongst NHLers. It’s not rare to see star players take a while to acclimate themselves back into junior hockey after spending so much time away at NHL camp.
8th – William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs) – Thousands of Blue and White critical eyes are following the progress of Toronto’s top 2014 pick, William Nylander. While they are likely never to be 100% satisfied, I think it would be fair to suggest that Leafs fans and management should be thrilled with the young Swede’s start after Nylander sits with two goals and seven points in just a handful of games. He is averaging nearly 20 minutes per game and sits with Modo’s best point-per-game production. Ice time and an ability to maintain of consistent player (points in every game so far…) are just two elements that the Leafs would like to see with Nylander playing in the SHL. He is within one point of his team’s scoring lead and played 10 less games than his teammates.
7th Haydn Fleury (Carolina Hurricanes) – One goal and four points with a minus-two rating isn’t anything to get too excited about but Haydn Fleury has helped his team to two straight wins and is coming off 2nd Star game honours from Saturday’s win. Fleury is hoping to use his experience from the time with the Hurricanes to fine tune his game.
“I need to be very trustworthy for the coaches this year,” said the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder. “I just need to keep getting stronger, keep maturing my game and avoid making the big mistakes when I’m trying to skate the puck. (The Hurricanes) told me to just keep it simple, manage the game better and be ready to make their team full-time next year.”
6th Jake Virtanen (Vancouver Canucks) – After sitting out nine games with a shoulder injury, Virtanen returned to action this past weekend and played in all three games with the Hitmen. The fleet-footed, sharp shooter found the back of the net twice and added five points in three games shaking off any rust he had. Virtanen is returning at a good time as he will look to show Hockey Canada that he could serve as Canada’s offensive threats for the 2015 World Junior Championships. Virtanen was also named to Team WHL’s roster for the Subway Super Series.
5th Michael Dal Colle (New York Islanders) – Putting in his time with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, Michael Dal Colle continues to go to work knowing that his return to juniors is just part of the process. Picking up where he left off from last season’s 94 point season, Dal Colle remains a threat with his ability to set up as a slick playmaker or strike with his collection of dangerous shots. As I mentioned last week, Dal Colle doesn’t wear #71 by accident and while I cannot confirm that Evgeny Malkin is among his favourite players, he certainly plays a similar style as the big rangy NHL superstar. Dal Colle really sets the pace of the Generals offense as he gains the zone using tremendous possession and puck skills then acts as the team’s prime distributor. Expect big things from Dal Colle when he arrives in the NHL.
4th Sam Bennett (Calgary Flames) – Sidelined after undergoing “successful” shoulder surgery, it was disappointing not to watch Sam Bennett start his young NHL career…especially since I used a high draft pick to pick him in my keeper pool. I was forced to drop the young star as we carry only active players but I knew that he was likely heading back to Junior hockey regardless of his injury. I was just hoping to catch lightning in a bottle had he started on fire. His time under the spotlight will come but we may have to wait longer than expected after this season is basically a season of lost development. He would’ve looked great on Canada’s WJC roster alongside former Marlboros teammate Connor McDavid.
3rd Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers) – The Oilers continue to play Leon Draisaitl and the young German forward sits with one goal and three points through eight games. Edmonton will have a tough decision with Draisaitl once he laces up in his ninth NHL game tonight versus Montreal. Is he headed back to Prince Albert (WHL)? I think it’s where I would send him. Remember, they can scratch him for as many games but once he plays that 10th game, his ELC kicks in.
Oh ya, it’s Leon Draisaitl’s birthday today too! Happy 19th Birthday!
Check out Draisaitl’s 1st career NHL goal from this past weekend:
2nd Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres) –
Reinhart picked up his first career point (see below) when he registered an assist in San Jose on Saturday (October 25th). The 2nd overall pick isn’t quite lighting up the game sheet but he does sit with a respectable minus-1 rating on a Sabres team with a league-worst -18 goal differential. Reinhart is hovering below 10 minutes per game and with seven games played, look for him to be returned to the WHL’s Kootenay Ice anytime now.
1st Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers) – Looking like a seasoned-veteran just seven games into his NHL career, Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad is averaging 21:54 minutes per game (just three seconds shy of the rookie leader – Damon Severson). He’s picked up two helpers but don’t expect him to provide much fantasy relevance this season. The 18-year-old is averaging over 2 minutes with the man advantage but with the Panthers generating an NHL-worst 10 goals-for, points just aren’t there to be had.
Returning from a fractured jaw, Sonny Milano’s first OHL weekend of action went very well as he scored his first OHL goal and added five assists for six points in two games. I am waiting to see him in live OHL action but I fully expect him to be one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players for the remainder of the season.
Leafs reassigned Stuart Percy to the AHL. Smart move. We’ve got a taste of what Stuart Percy may become – a potential 30-35 point defenseman.
St. Louis Blues’ first rounder Robby Fabbri shatters the glass [video] in overtime this past weekend.
One of the 2014 late round picks, LAKings’ prospect Spencer Watson enjoyed a solid week with eight points in three contests and sits with 16P through 11 games as the offensive leader on Kingston.
Through three rehab stints with the AHL’s Utica Comets, Canucks prospect Bo Horvat is pointless but is showing signs of becoming more comfortable with the speed of the game. Horvat won’t be in Utica too much longer and the Canucks will have a decision on whether he will stick with the Canucks or be sent back to London (OHL). In my opinion, Horvat isn’t quite ready for NHL action and I’d like to see him head back to the Knights and attempt to work on becoming a more consistent offensive threat. I fully expect him to return to London.
Flames Morgan Klimchuk returned to action last weekend and in six games, he has registered three goals and six points. He’s coming off a three-point effort Sunday versus the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Some 2015 NHL Draft prospect updates …
Connor McDavid posted two 4-point games and nine points in three weekly games finishing plus-7 on the week and continues to lead the OHL in scoring with 34 points in a dozen games.
McDavid’s teammate, Dylan Strome, added three goals and eight points (3GP) on the week and currently ranks second in OHL scoring (31P, 12 games)
Video of their four point games:
One of my favourite blueliners for the 2015 NHL Draft, Mitch Vande Sompel posted two goals and seven points in three games last week jumping to 1st in OHL defensive scoring (18P in 14) ahead of Canucks prospect Jordan Subban (15P in 12). I’ve been watching Vande Sompel since his OHL draft year and this converted forward has always been one of the smartest players every time he hits the ice.
We can’t mention McDavid without mentioning Boston University’s Jack Eichel. The skilled freshman is America’s first “can’t miss” prospect since Bobby Carpenter was dubbed that in in 1981 [article and video]. The young skilled power forward leads the BU Terriers in scoring with three goals and six points through three wins. Eichel picked up a goal as BU defeated University of Michigan 3-2 this past weekend.
In the same game, UofM’s defenseman Zach Werenski, picked up a goal and assist, both on the powerplay, on the Wolverines only two goals. Werenski is a potential Top 10 selection for this upcoming draft and owns great two-way upside.
Sticking in Hockey East, Boston College blueliner Noah Hanifin has posted points in back-to-back games after going scoreless in his opening two contests. The 6-foot-3 defenseman is a projected Top 3 pick for the upcoming 2015 draft and owns great fantasy upside. Hanifin sits with one goal and three points through four collegiate games.
With the noteworthy 9-game mark approaching for many NHL rookies, here are my thoughts on whether a few prospects will be sent down to their junior clubs:
Aaron Ekblad – Destination: 100% remains in Florida
Jonathan Drouin – Destination: 100% remains in Tampa Bay
Sam Reinhart – Despite owning one of the top hockey minds in the prospect world, Sam Reinhart has been receiving limited minutes and hasn’t shown the ability to keep up to the NHL play to be a consistent contributor. He needs to add some strength and continue to work on his foot speed to better prepare him for the NHL pace.
Destination: 5% remains in Buffalo
Andre Burakovsky – He’s still a bit of an experiment at the center position but the young slick forward continues to put up points. He’s eligible to play in the AHL and that remains a viable option but for now, he’s been too good to send down.
Destination: 90% remains in Washington
Mirco Mueller – The rangy defender hasn’t looked out of place at the NHL level and looks every-bit the top four defenseman that the San Jose Sharks drafted him to be but with room to grow offensively, he may be better off returning to Everett (WHL) and preparing for a great WJC tournament.
Destination: 40% remains in San Jose.
Anthony Duclair – His birthday puts him in a unique situation where the 9-game mark isn’t a factor but considering his junior squad is hosting the CHL Memorial Cup and he is eligible for the Canadian World Junior team, he won’t be hurt by being returned to junior. He’s a future top-sixer in the NHL and should be owned in most keeper leagues.
Destination: 30% remains in New York.
Curtis Lazar – No one expected him to light it up offensively (5GP-0G-1A-1P) but his versatility, hockey sense and ability to play throughout the bottom-six will likely keep him in Ottawa.
Destination: 80% remains in Ottawa.
Thanks for reading,
@RossyYoungblood (Brendan Ross)
As always, feel free to converse, comment or rambling in the comment section below.
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