2014 NHL Draft Midseason Top 5: Who Will The Flames Land?

Christian Roatis
January 15 2014 07:18AM

 

                                                                    pic via: TheWorldOfJuniorHockey

The saying "it's been tough sledding" has been all too true in Calgary over the past few weeks. For one, the National Hockey League team rebuilding in the StampedeCity has been having trouble scoring goals, forget winning games, which can really begin to get frustrating. Also, it's been warmer outside of late which has made the snow heavier and stickier making sledding more tough.

The cause for these struggles is obvious - the roster stinks, thanks to the rebuild, which also stinks. There's lots of losing and frustration and yelling "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST SCORE!!". The one positive afforded by a rebuild however, is that the team undergoing it is gifted with a nice and early selection in that years Entry Draft. This luxury is no different for the Flames, who are poised to make the earliest selection in franchise history this June in Philadelphia. Currently slotted at the 3rd overall pick (without taking the Draft Lottery into consideration), the Flames' selection would be the highest ever, with four 6th overall selections (including Sean Monahan this past draft) currently holding down that title.

The 2014 Draft has been pegged by some experts as "poor", which in my honest opinion is not true. 2014 does lack the incredible depth of exceptional talent at the top of it's prospect pool that the 2013 Draft had, however the depth of quality players is still very much there. To sprinkle in some positivity and sunshine into your Flames fan life, here's a look at who the Flames could bag come June, ranked in the order I have them on my list:

1. Aaron Ekblad, D, OHL

He is in my opinion, the only player in this draft class that has star potential and the clear cut number one. There's an argument to be had for Sam Reinhart, but I see the youngest Reinhart settling in as a good second line center, while Ekblad posses top pairing potential. Also ranked first over at Future Considerations, scouts have raved about this kid long before his draft season. He - like John Tavares before him - received exceptional status to enter the OHL draft as a 15 year old, and went 1st overall to the Barrie Colts in said draft. He impressed right away, holding his own extremely well against men nearly four years his senior and came away with 10 goals and 29 points in 63 games. His numbers have steadily and healthily improved with 34 points in 54 games last season and a remarkable 14 goals and 31 points in 31 games in 2013/14. In addition to this, he wears the "C" in Barrie - a leadership role he also held down for Canada at the recent Ivan Hlinka U18 Tournament. To top off a tremendous first half of the season, Ekblad was selected to Canada's U20 World Junior Championship team this winter as an underage defenseman - also a rare feat.

The man-sized 6-foot-4, 216 pound Ekblad has been compared to the top defenseman selected in last years draft, Seth Jones, with some scouts saying they'd prefer Ekblad over Jones. I wouldn't necessarily go that far with Ekblad, but he's a tremendous prospect nonetheless. Ekblad thrives in all zones as his tremendous size and strength in combination with elite hockey sense permit him to shut down opponents equally as well as scores on them. Along side his booming slapshot, Ekblad is a crisp passer and can quarterback a powerplay with ease. He's absent any glaring weaknesses, although some scouts suggest his skating could use a little refinement. If you're the Calgary Flames, you'd be giddy to snatch up this incredible talent.

Potential: Number One Defenseman

NHL Comparable: Victor Hedman

2. Sam Reinhart, C, WHL

Without a doubt, the best eyes and brain in the draft. No one thinks the game at higher level than Sam Reinhart and his vision is off the charts. He gave fans a glimpse of that in the World Juniors - which he also played as an underager - and does so on a regular basis with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL. In 176 career WHL games Reinhart has a remarkable 199 points, including 50 points in 33 games this year, 16 of those being goals. The issue with Reinhart remains for me however, his ability to translate this high scoring offensive to the pro ranks. He will undoubtedly score, but I don't see him being an elite scorer. A strong two-way center that contributes here and there seems a more likely outcome for the youngest of Paul Reinhart's kids.

Reinhart's ability to slow down the game is truly incredible, as he affords himself enough time to execute whatever he has in mind on nearly every rush. The 6-foot-1, 183 pound center's keen offensive instincts and quick hands allow him to weave into scoring areas with regularity and a solid shot can bury the puck more often than not. The foot speed is also excellent, as you'd expect. Safe to say he'll have no issue getting up and down the ice in the bigs. Would be a solid pick for the Flames, especially if Sean Monahan turns into the top line center he's looking to be. Having a one-two punch up the middle of Monahan and Reinhart would stymie opponents as both take care of their zone but can bury the puck if given the opportunity.

Potential: TopLineCenter, although I think he settles into a 2nd center role

NHL Comparable: Mike Richards

3. Sam Bennett, C/LW, OHL

The 17 year old has made waves this year, in a big way. His 26 goals and 66 points in 40 games leads the Kingston Frontenacs by a 20 point margin. He was also ranked the Top North American Skater by NHL Central Scouting. I'm clearly on a different wave length than NHL CS on the Bennett ranking, but nonetheless, the ranking speaks volumes about the kid. Scouts rave about how his ability to improve his game night after night, possibly part of the reasoning behind NHL CS ranking him tops. If he keeps improving at the pace he is, he could very well overtake Ekblad and Reinhart, but at this point he's a step behind the two.

Bennett is a pure offensive talent with an excellent shot and deceptive speed. He gets his goals through hard work and determination most of the time rather than flashiness. Bennett's primary weakness was identified as being his lack of strength, but he's bulked up considerably of late, tipping the scales at 181-pounds, a respectable number for a 6-foot, 17 year old. Bennett would be another solid, skilled addition to the Flames' prospect core and would continue to solidify that left wing position that already features a wealth of blue-chip prospects including Sven Baertschi, Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuck.

Potential: Top 6 Forward, could be top line forward.  

NHL Comparable: Chris Kunitz

4. Leon Draisaitl, C/LW, WHL

Draisaitl didn't explode out of the gates this season and lost some attention in the West to Reinhart, who did come out firing on all cylinders. The 6-foot-1, 209 pound Draisaitl however kept steady, piling up points consistently and started gaining some serious attention in the second quarter of the year. He rose to 3rd on Future Considerations' rankings by December - one behind Reinhart - and NHL Central Scouting recently ranked him ahead of both Reinhart and Ekblad, as the 2nd overall North American Skater. Like the Bennett ranking, I disagree with it but nonetheless it speaks volumes of the player. Draisaitl leads the Prince Albert Raiders in scoring by a wide margin with 18 goals and 51 points in 33 games. 

His style of play mimics that of Pavel Datysuk almost to a T, although Datsyuk is obviously a much better player. Draisaitl can have the puck on a string on multiple occasions during a shift and his quick hands and shifty movements allow this lingering with the puck to occur without issue. Also like Datysuk, Draisaitl posses a tremendous ability to locate his teammates in obscure areas on the ice and feed them the puck through traffic, making him a valuable weapon on the power play. My only real concern with Draisaitl lies in his foot speed. He has a solid stride and good edge work, but doesn't seem to posses that elite gear where he can blow past a defender. He'd be a valuable addition to a Flames group screaming for skill and could do wonders for an ailing powerplay. 

Potential: Top 6 Forward, could be a top line forward.

NHL Comparable: Pavel Datsyuk

5. William Nylander C/RW

One of the biggest fallers from the beginning of the season, Nylander was talked up to be a contender for the 1st overall spot to start the year and has now fallen out of most Top 5's. Plauged by inconsistency, Nylander didn't get off to a strong statistical start this year in the SHL, posting just two helpers in 11 games before being loaned to teams in the AllSVENskan, where he rediscovered his stride. Currently, he has 9 goals and 16 points in 24 Allsvenskan games with two different teams this year.

The 5-foot-10, 170 pound forward can be as dynamic player as there is in the draft when he's own, as he posses incredible skill and offensive ability. Lightning quick hands partner up with his equally quick feet to bolt on defenders and create scoring opportunities. His goal scoring savvy is undeniable but he may be even better suited as a playmaker with elite vision and puck distributing abilities. The only problem is obviously stringing it all together on a consistent basis. With guys like Ekblad and Reinhart who bring it every night, Nylander becomes more of a liability as a top pick in this draft. He is born in Calgary - father Michael used to frustrate locals as a roster player - and like Draisaitl, would be a great skill upgrade for this team. He reminds me a lot of Sven Baertschi and it makes me wonder if Nylander will have similar growing pains as Sven has had, revolving around consistency and play outside the offensive zone. Wouldn't it be great if Hartley had two of the same guy to bench?

Potential: Top Line Forward, although there is considerable risk.

NHL Comparable: Sven Baertschi, Jiri Hudler

Wild Card: Jake Virtanen, LW, WHL

Without a doubt the biggest Wild Card in the 2014 Draft class. Some nights, he's a man among boys, dominating opponents every which way, imposing his will, while others, you find yourself checking the roster sheet to make sure he's even playing. This inconsistency has been the driving factor behind his erratic rise and fall in draft rankings. One month he's ranked inside the top 10 and then the next he almost plummets out of the Top 30. He had a brutal stretch from the middle of November to early December, which lead to a free fall in the rankings, but has since switched into another gear and is flying full steam. NHL Central Scouting ranked him the 9th overall North American skater, and I would go as far as saying he's a Top 10 overall prospect in this draft. His scoring has also picked up significantly recently and now sits at 26 genos and 42 points in 43 games this year. Some scouts have said it, and having watched him a lot this year I've come to agree, when he's on, Jake Virtanen is the best and most dominant player in this draft. Unfortunately he's not always on and has struggled at times with attitude and work ethic issues, which can be addressed, but are problematic nonetheless.

At 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, Virtanen is one of the fastest skaters in the draft - both forwards and backwards. He proved just that at the CHL Top Prospects combine yesterday finishing as the fastest skater, both forwards and backwards. For a forward of his size, that skating ability is extremely impressive. Virtanen posses good hands and vision but when talking about his offensive tools, it's his shot that is the crown jewel of his arsenal. It seems at times his wrister travels just as fast as his slapper - and that's no knock on his slapshot. Both are rockets. He can deliver bone crushing bodychecks and won't back down from scrapping anyone. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Jarome Iginla. If the Flames don't get a shot at either Ekblad or Reinhart, I think they'll a long look at Jake Virtanen before they make their up to the podium. He brings a ton to the table, the table just isn't very tidy yet. Sort out any commitment and attitude issues that may exist, and you've got yourself a hell of a player.

Potential: Top Line Forward, considerable risk.

NHL Comparable: Bobby Ryan

Conclusion

The 2014 NHL Draft may not yield as many All-Stars as its predecessor did, but there's no shortage of quality players, even outside the six I listed. Short a miraculous run, the Flames will get to select one of these players in June and will no doubt come away with someone who will impact the organization going forward.

 

 

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Christian Roatis is a European by birth, Calgarian by heart. Other than writing at FlamesNation, he writes about and scouts NHL Draft Prospects at Future Considerations. Follow him on Twitter @CRoatis!
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#51 Kevin R
January 15 2014, 10:48PM
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ChinookArch wrote:

I think you need to read the thread again. Until tonight I had never even seen Ekblad play, and still have no real opinion of what he'll become in the NHL.

I was kidding at the Oilers expense.

Ohhhh. Ok. Sorry. I was confused, not hard some days to confuse me. I there was something out there that was flagging a big flag saying runaway as fast as you can from picking Ekblad. I liked the kid when I watched him at the WJC. Sorry dude.

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#52 SVENSANITY
January 16 2014, 12:45AM
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All the good scouts will tell you that you should never judge your analysis of a player on the WJC alone. Given the nature of the tournament and the competition and everything else it's not the best time to evaluate talent. Certainly, you might see a player come forward and stand out and emerge as a potential talent at the draft via the WJC. However, the best time to evaluate players is in their day-to-day routine with the CHL or MHL/KHL whatever clubs they play for.

I've seen Ekblad about a dozen games this year outside of the WJC in the OHL. And I'm stubbornly not convinced. but that's my opinion. I'm not an expert and I am glad I am not the GM that would have to make a decision about passing up on him. Because at this point it's what I'd do. But either way i think with a player like him you're damned if you do damned if you don't. If he turns into a top elite talent which he has the smallest probability of doing you win. Otherwise, anything less than top 2 D pairing guy and you're screwed. If you don't draft him and the kid you draft instead busts fans will crucify you. If you don't draft him and the kid you draft instead does okay but Ekblad goes on to be that top 2 guy you're dead in the water with the fans as well.

There really is only one scenario that can play out there in my opinion with Ekblad. That's that he turns into your STUD D Seth Jones type. And I just don't think he's anywhere close to that. He's maybe a 3 guy (in the NHL) with a team that has good depth on D for me (if that).

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#53 the-wolf
January 16 2014, 02:28PM
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Baalzamon wrote:

I wasn't very impressed with Dal Colle at all, actually. He has a crazy shot and picked off some passes, but aside from shooting he seemed to have no idea whatsoever what to do with the puck whenever he had it.

I agree with this.

Also, I didn't think Reinhart was shut down at all. The guy made something happen almost every shift. You noticed him every shift and he had several moments of brilliance. Plus, he needed that game to improve his draft ranking like he needs another hole in his head. He was probably playing at 80% and still domninated his peers.

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#55 Baalzamon
January 16 2014, 05:20PM
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@Christian Roatis

Chances, yes. I don't disagree with that. You did see I mentioned his shot, right?

Who was his center/set-up man? Oh yeah...

Reinhart.

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