With the Oilers picking 8th overall at the upcoming NHL Draft, I figured I would take a trip down memory lane to look at the players selected between 6-10 over the past five years to see if we can try to figure out what kind of player might land in our laps. Today, we’re looking back at the 2014 NHL Draft.
Now, before we get this show on the road, I feel like I should add a disclaimer to say that I know posting these draft profiles from past years won’t mean anything at all when it comes to who the Oilers pick on Friday night. I know that writing about Jake Virtanen going at #6 is irrelevant to what happens with this year’s draft class, but I still think it’s interesting to go back in time and see what kind of players are landing in the slots around where the Oilers are picking. To me, this exercise simply gives us an idea of what type of skillset the Oilers might be adding to their depth chart and nothing more. When you’re picking at #8, you assume that you’re going to get a good player but you never really know how good, so I wanted to dig into past classes a little bit to try and figure it out. With that out of the way, let’s get to the list.
#6 – Jake Virtanen – LW – Vancouver Canucks
Rookie Season (2015-16) – 55GP: 7G, 6A = 13 points
2018-19 Season w/ Vancouver: 70GP: 15G, 10A = 25 assists
A formidable adversary for any challenger, Jake Virtanen is an imposing power forward in the truest sense. Possesses a non-stopping motor and creates an abundance of on-ice energy when throwing his weight around and establishing his physical presence. Exhibits world-class skating ability, and can blow by defenders just as easily as he can go through them. Stands up for his teammates and never backs down from a challenge. Displays a wicked, NHL-level release that challenges goaltenders of all skill levels. Becoming a recognizable asset when playing a more defensive role as well. All-in-all, a physical power forward that has the character traits, work ethic, and individual skills to pose a threat to whoever stands in his way.
Jake Virtanen is an interesting cat because he came into the league with plenty of hype, at least from Vancouver fans, but it’s certainly taken him some time to figure things out at the NHL level. In a way, he kind of reminds me of Jesse Puljujarvi in that he’s been up and down from the minors and has struggled to gain traction, but you have to give the Canucks credit for sticking it out with him to see if he can finally round into the player they thought he would be.
#7 – Haydn Fleury – D – Carolina Hurricanes
Rookie Season (2017-18) – 67GP: 0G, 8A = 8 points
2018-19 Season w/ Carolina & Charlotte: (AHL) 28GP: 2G, 8A = 10 assists, (NHL) 20GP: 0G, 1A = 1 point
Red Deer Rebels defenseman Haydn Fleury is trending upwards heading into the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. In a draft class thin at the top for defensemen, Fleury will be highly coveted due to his ability to serve as an effective shutdown defenseman. Fleury is a big mobile physical defenseman who is extremely intelligent reading the play accurately. He won’t blow anyone away with his offensive package but his ability to move up and down the ice and lead the rush with crisp breakout passes cannot be understated. Fleury was ranked 6th by TSN’s Bob McKenzie in his 2014 NHL Draft Mid-Term Rankings.
Never a big producer at any level, I wonder how much longer we’ll see shutdown defenceman like Haydn Fleury getting picked this high in the draft. As you can see from his pre-draft scouting report, Fleury was coveted for his shutdown abilities in a draft year that was thin on defenceman, but he has yet to be able to turn that into consistent NHL employment.
#8 – William Nylander – RW – Toronto Maple Leafs
Rookie Season (2015-16) – 22GP: 6G, 7A = 13 points
2018-19 Season w/ Toronto: 54GP – 7G, 20A = 27 points
A highly skilled player offensively. Nylander skates very well, has impressive hands and is excellent at handling the puck at high speeds. Hockey sense is very impressive and he likes to shoot the puck a lot, but is also capable of delivering perfect passes. A very agile player that protects the puck well and skates hard in the offensive zone. Has improved his defensive game a lot. Has the tools and skills to lead his team in all offensive aspects.
Ignoring the holdout and resulting gong show that turned out to be William Nylander’s 2018-19 season, there’s no doubt that the kid has some major skill that would be a welcomed addition to the Oilers’ top six. At 22 years old, Nylander already has a pair of 20-goal seasons under his belt and I would expect him to get back to that pace next year when he actually shows up to training camp and the pre-season.
#9 – Nikolaj Ehlers – LW – Winnipeg Jets
Rookie Season (2015-16) – 72GP: 15G, 23A = 38 points
2018-19 Season w/ Winnipeg: 62GP: 21G, 16A = 37 points
Blessed with dynamic speed and sniper’s hands, Ehlers did not have to adapt to the QMJHL so much as the league needed to readjust and try to stop the blazing Dane. Able to dance through defenders and fire his laser-precise wrister home, he will only get better as he continues to get stronger and more capable of breaking through physical pressure. Creative with the puck, Ehlers is working hard to round out his game.
I’ve always liked Nikolaj Ehlers and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with him this offseason. Rumours have been circulating for a while now that Ehlers could become available depending on how much the Jets have to dish out for guys like Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. Either way, Ehlers has the ability to put the puck in the net and grabbing a guy with his skillset at #8 would be a welcomed addition to the Oilers’ depth chart.
#10 – Nick Ritchie – LW – Anaheim Ducks
Rookie Season (2015-16) – 33GP: 2G, 2A = 4 points
2018-19 Season w/ Anaheim: 60GP: 9G, 22A = 31 points
Ritchie has all the makings of a prototypical, Eric Lindros-type power forward. A big bodied winger with smooth hands and a shooting touch, he is not overly aggressive to make the big hit, but when he does make contact he’s probably one of the smoothest hitters in the game. As with any player his size, his agility and flexibility are two areas that could improve. But he dominated at the junior level and should be effective as he continues to develop.
Nick Ritchie is one of those guys that probably won’t ever live up to the expectations from his draft year, but that’s not exactly uncommon either. I mean, look at this pre-draft scouting report, which compares him to an Eric Lindros-type of power forward. That’s not to say that Ritchie isn’t a solid player, he certainly can be an effective player on your third line, but I would assume that Anaheim expected more out of him when he was picked at #10 back in 2014.
As I’m sure we’ll see in every review in this series, there are hits and misses in every draft class and it’ll be up to the scouting department to make sure that doesn’t happen. I look at a guy like Haydn Fleury and how well respected he was/is leading up to the draft for his defensive prowess, but he just can’t seem to turn that into anything concrete. How can a guy that was highly touted not be able to make it work? Were the scouts wrong? Was he a trickless magician? And I don’t mean to turn this Wrap into picking on Fleury, that’s not the point, but it does show us that just because a guy is a highly ranked prospect leading up to draft night doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate into professional success. Looking at this list as a whole, four of five guys have turned into NHL players and that bodes well for the Oilers depth chart in the years to come.
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