Be Bad for Ekblad. Death Rattle for Draisaitl. The early draft chants for 2014 aren’t exactly poetry, and the sheer number of them tells us there’s no clear cut favorite for the top spot this time. The new year does bring us some clarity, and the top 5 seem to be surrounded. Here’s a guess about the current lay of the land for the 2014 NHL entry draft.
Since 2010, Edmonton Oiler fans have received an education with the entry draft. At this point, NHL teams could probably hire a group of people at any area Oodle Noodle and get an in-depth summary of how the draft works, the value of taking a defenseman in the lottery picks, and how well you can answer “Taylor versus Tyler” four years later.
Here are the 7 best prospects for this year’s Entry draft:
- D Aaron Ekblad, Barrie (OHL) 41, 18-23-41 -4. Despite a tough outing this week, Ekblad remains the top man on the list at this time. 6.04, 216 and sporting a mature frame, Ekblad might be the most able plug-and-play defenseman in some time. If he’s on the board when the Oilers pick, expect a MacGregor sprint to the podium.
- C Sam Reinhart, Kootenay (WHL) 43, 27-49-76 +17. Reinhart is going to make this difficult if his offense continues to blossom. In his last 10 games, Reinhart is 11-15-26 and is rocking the dub. His NHL equivalency (82, 15-28-43) is clear of RNH’s in his draft year. Similar to Nuge in that he’s a cerebral player with a wide range of skills.
- C Sam Bennett, Kingston (OHL). 46, 29-50-79 +33. This player could end up jumping past Ekblad/Reinhart for a couple of reasons. His offense is on par with Reinhart, and his range of skills is also his equal. Bennett’s “kicker” is that he’s a physical center and that might tip the balance. The fact that he plays in superstar factory OHL may also benefit him. His equal strength goal totals and birthdate may also help.
- C Leon Draisaitl, Prince Albert (WHL). 46, 22-44-66 -1. Big center with playmaking skill was a contender for #1 overall until a disappointing World Junior tournament. Draisaitl is sometimes called “the German Gretzky” because of his excellent skills and anticipation. Scouts love the tool box inside his 6’1″, 209-pound frame, but would like him to use his size more often.
- L Michael Dal Colle, Oshawa (OHL). 53, 32-44-76 +9. In his last 18 games, Dal Colle is 9-11-20, so he’s down slightly from the fast train start to his season. 6.02, 171 he’s a very good skater and has plus skills. NHL teams would love Dal Colle to play a more physical style, but his offense probably gets him inside the top 5 anyway.
- L Jake Virtanen, Calgary (WHL). 55, 33-18-51 +14. A terrfic skater with great hands and a late birthday, Virtanen is 6.01, 210. His 85pims and playing style suggest he may have a future as a power forward in the NHL, making him the most attractive option of that player-type in this year’s draft.
- C Ivan Barbashev, Moncton (QMJHL). 40, 21-35-56 -7. The young Russian is trending courtesy a terrific recent run. In his last 11 games, Barbashev is 8-11-19 and ripping up the Q. Bob McKenzie had him number 13 but this recent run should get him well inside the top 10.
Since 2008 (and Stu MacGregor’s hiring) the Oilers have been “risk averse” with their first round selections. There have been no Jesse Niinimaki’s, nary a trade down for Pouliot and not one Schremp in the boat. First round selections since 2008: Eberle, Paajarvi, Hall, Nuge, Klefbom, Yakupov and Nurse. Risk. Averse. In fact, the McKenzie list is now an excellent guide for Oiler fans, a far cry from “there’s no picture of Alexei Mikhnov in the Hockey news, no stats online and he appears to have no passport to get out of upper Balticica.”
I expect that the Oilers will select Ekblad if he’s there, but if Buffalo selects first and they take the defender, the Oilers will either trade out (a very real possibility) or grab one of Reinhart or Bennett. Would they draft Sam Reinhart and trade for Griffin Reinhart same day? They could.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
This is going to be a tough draft to judge, because all of the prospects are so close. It’ll be years before we know, and the Oilers have a nice group to choose from if they keep their first round selection. Keep an eye on the defenseman.
We’ll look at this year’s class again before the end of the season, but this group of 7 has emerged from the pack.