Ah, it’s that time of year again. The Stanley Cup has been handed out, and focus shifts to an off-season full of roster moves as teams prepare for the 2014-15 NHL campaign. Nothing looms closer than the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, which will be held on June 27-28 in Philadelphia. As we are just 10 days away from the Draft, we count down our first-round predictions, in our Blackhawk Up Mock Draft.
#30: New Jersey Devils: D Brycen Martin
Martin is a member of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos, where he racked up 37 points from the blue-line in 72 games. He takes on the game of his current hockey idol, Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues, and is a puck-moving defenseman that rarely makes mistakes, according to Dan Marr of NHL Central Scouting. With most teams likely to search for forwards in this year’s draft, the Devils can add to an already-impressive blue-line prospect pool that could be NHL-bound as early as next season.
#29: Los Angeles Kings: D Jack Dougherty
Dougherty could be the defending Stanley Cup Champs’ bona-fide defensive prospect as soon as he puts the sweater on. With a stacked prospect pool with forwards such as Linden Vey, the Kings are another team that will look for defensive talent in the first round of this years’ Draft. Dougherty resembles current King Drew Doughty with the ability to quarterback a power-play, paired with a strong game at both ends of the ice, according to Greg Rajanen of Central Scouting.
#28: Tampa Bay Lightning: D Jack Glover
With the Lightning able to pick from a plethora of forwards with their 19th overall pick, adding to their defensive prospect pool will be a likely goal with their pick from the New York Rangers. His large dimensions fit on a Lightning blue-line that already includes monsters in Keith Aulie and Radko Gudas, and he could be NHL-ready very soon, after finding success in nearly every level he has played at to this point.
#27: Chicago Blackhawks: C John Quenneville
Quenneville would be a perfect fit in a Blackhawks’ system loaded with talent on the wings, and a definite need for pivots at the NHL level. His breakout season with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings helped him climb up the rankings, finishing 23rd in their Final Rankings after a rank of 34 mid-term. If the name sounds familiar, it should be; he is second cousin to Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. On a Blackhawks system that has had family affairs in the past (Hayes/Toews brothers), the sentiment will only be a coincidence, while Blackhawks’ scouts and management will love the hockey sense and pure skill he brings to the table.
#26: Montreal Canadiens: RW Hunter Smith
There may be higher-ranked prospects left on the table when it becomes the Montreal Canadiens’ turn to make their first-round pick, but Hunter Smith seems to be a perfect fit both in the system, and with the NHL club. After dropping a role-player style for a player that put up 64 points in 2013-14 with the Oshawa Generals, his well-rounded game could be a huge asset for a Canadiens team that is just a few pieces away from a true Stanley Cup contender in the coming years.
#25: Boston Bruins: D Roland McKeown
The Bruins are slowly preparing to pass the torch on defense, as one of the league’s best blue-liners, Zdeno Chara, is nearing the twilight of his career. With prospects like Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug already under the Bruins’ eye, McKeown could easily solidify the Bruins’ defense in a second-pairing role as early as 2014-15, although a year back with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL is more likely.
#24: Anaheim Ducks: RW Nikolay Goldobin
Goldobin’s stock fell between Central Scouting’s mid-term and final rankings, and the Ducks could potentially steal some top-end talent in the latter half of the first round. Goldobin’s 94 points in 67 games is certainly top-six worthy, but size could be an issue, at only 5-foot-9. If the Ducks are prepared to take the time to develop this prospect, Goldobin could easily turn into one of the ‘steals’ at this year’s Draft.
#23: Colorado Avalanche: LW/C Joshua Ho-Sang
The Avalanche already have top-level talent at the forward position, but a quality first-round pick could be enough to solidify a dangerous top-six in the coming years. Ho-Sang has the durability to play either Center or Left Wing, something that could pay dividends at special-teams positions. Ho-Sang is another example of a smaller-than-average forward with a lot of offensive firepower, and like the Ducks, the Avalanche could benefit immensely from a year or more of development with this prospect.
#22: Pittsburgh Penguins: C Robert Fabbiri
The Penguins have loads of defensive talent in their system (Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta), and a quality first-round pick at forward is the likely choice for the club. Fabbiri seems to fit the Pens’ style perfectly, playing a skilled role at the center position. Fabbiri has top-six potential, and could very well be centering the Penguins’ second line behind Sidney Crosby in a short period of time, and could even be NHL-ready for the 2014-15 season.
#21: St. Louis Blues: LW Brendan Lemieux
Lemieux is one of this year’s NHL-ready prospects, after a solid season with the OHL’s Barrie Colts. His power-forward style is exactly what the Blues are looking for, and at 6-foot-0, 206 pounds, it won’t be easy to knock the 18-year old around. Although he was ranked 28th by Central Scouting, his assets certainly give him the ability to jump up the ranks on Draft day.
#20: San Jose Sharks: C Nick Schmaltz
Schmaltz was one of the USHL’s top forwards in 2013-14, and he could be a perfect fit on a Sharks team that seems destined to lose some of their top guns in the coming seasons. Quick hands and blistering speed is Schmaltz’s bread-and-butter, and on a Sharks team with snipers like Logan Couture, a setup man could be exactly what they need.
#19: Tampa Bay Lightning: LW Ivan Barbashev
The Lightning will make their first of two first-round picks at #19, and it seems like plenty of offensive talent will be left for the picking. Ivan Barbashev was originally thought to be a top-10 prospect, but his rankings fell by Central Scouting’s Final Rankings, where he was placed 18th. Barbashev’s skill gives him the ‘game-breaker’ tag easily, according to Marr, and he could easily be found on the Lightning’s top line along with Steven Stamkos in a matter of years.
#18: Minnesota Wild: C Ryan MacInnis
MacInnis has the National Hockey League in his blood, as he is the son of former great Al MacInnis, and the Wild could find a fit with one of the biggest forwards in the draft. With Minnesota set to lose some firepower in the offseason (Dany Heatley), and some of their stars growing old, MacInnis could be one of the clubs’ biggest contributors by 2015. At 6-foot-3, the skill MacInnis possesses is hard to come by in players with his size, and this could be very appealing to teams like the Wild.
#17: Philadelphia Flyers: LW/C Reid Gardiner
One team always makes a splash at the draft with a surprise pick, and this year, my prediction is that the hosts will do just that. Reid Gardiner was ranked 29th by Central Scouting, but the Flyers will take him overall at #17 with the trememdous possibility to develop into one of the league’s greatest two-way forwards. Gardiner has been a leader at both the junior and international levels, and with a few years of development, the Flyers could easily see a huge return on what many would call a gamble at Draft time.
#16: Columbus Blue Jackets: LW Sonny Milano
Sonny Milano is a player that the Columbus Blue Jackets have been looking for, ever since trading franchise player Rick Nash. His dynamic game and great shot are traits found in the current New York Rangers forward, and Milano certainly has the potential to develop into that level of player. His good dimensions and tough playing style are something very valuable at the forward position, especially with the undersized top six that the Blue Jackets have.
#15: Detroit Red Wings: C Dylan Larkin
The Red Wings continue to succeed despite growing older as a team, and solid drafting in the next few years will be what ensures success for the club. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have years left in the tank, but they are no spring chickens any more. Finding a centerman that can be NHL-ready in two years or less is huge for the club, and Larkin fits the bill. His well-rounded game is only bested by his size, which will be a huge asset, contrasting the pure skill that some of the Wings’ up-and-coming forwards possess.
#14: Dallas Stars: D Anthony DeAngelo
The Dallas Stars found success in the 2013-14 season without a standout defenseman, and Anthony DeAngelo could be just that in a few years’ time. Although undersized compared to most NHL blue-liners (5-foot-10, 170 lb), DeAngelo’s pure offensive game is exactly what the club has been missing on the blue-line for the past few seasons. With the ability to run a power-play, and take the puck up into the zone all by himself, DeAngelo can take care of the Stars’ offense, while current players like Brendan Dillon hold down the fort in their own end. Although his defensive game is not stellar, he could very well develop a two-way game that makes him among the most dangerous defenseman league-wide.
#13: Washington Capitals: D Julius Honka
Julius Honka is another example of a pure offensive defenseman, and his grace and power in the opponent’s end is a stock all to valuable for a team such as the Capitals. With Washington set to undergo a shakeup in the off-season, new management and coaching may want to solidify a back-end that could lose their best player this summer in Mike Green. Honka has the offensive smarts to make the NHL in 2014-15, but at a generous 5-foot-9, his size could hold him back for at least one season.
#12: Phoenix Coyotes: LW/C Alex Tuch
The Coyotes will look to draft some high-end skill in the first round of this year’s draft, and Alex Tuch’s added grit will be too good to pass up for the club. Tuch’s ability to move quickly in a huge 6-foot-4 frame is a rarity among current NHL’ers, with Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins being a lone high-end example. Tuch certainly has the ability to develop into a player at the level of Malkin and his peers, and the Coyotes will be grateful he can play a gritty game, as franchise player Shane Doan enters what may be his final year with the team.
#11: Nashville Predators: LW Nikolaj Ehlers
With a competent defense on the horizon, the Predators will also look to add a top-six level forward early in this year’s draft, and Nikolaj Ehlers is just what the team needs. Another skilled European forward, Ehlers’ ability with the puck is similar to that of Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane. Like the Blackhawks forward, Ehlers will have to rely on speed and agility to keep out of the physical areas of the game, and although some peg the Denmark native as undersized, he can easily develop into a offensive powerhouse with time in the Predators’ system down the road, as well as another year with Halifax in the QMJHL.
#10: Anaheim Ducks: LW Brendan Perlini
The Ducks may be looking for immediate help at the center position, but another solid prospect on the wing will be a great card for the team to hold moving forward. Perlini is another example of a player who packs skill into a bigger frame, and with the potential to play at the NHL level as soon as this fall, the Ducks will be glad to have him aboard a team full of speedy, skilled wingers. Perlini’s play could remind some of current Duck Corey Perry, and with the potential to grow exponentially, he could very well be equal or better to #10 in a few short years.
#9: Winnipeg Jets: D Haydn Fleury
The Jets also selected a defenseman with the 9th overall pick in last years draft in Jacob Trouba, and one more young blue-liner could be all the team needs to push them through a tough Central Division. Fleury’s game reminds Jets’ fans of Trouba’s own, with a strong puck sense, the ability to play a physical game, and offensive skills to boot. Fleury certainly has the ability to make the NHL club at age 19, and his size will get him through the tough transition to the pro game.
#8: Toronto Maple Leafs: C Jared McCann
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a great future ahead of them defensively, and a complete player such as Jared McCann could be all they need to solidify their forward group. McCann plays a huge two-way game, and his skill and mindset in the offensive zone is easily equaled by that in his own end. McCann’s ability will give him a shot at Leafs camp this fall. His potential is nearly limitless, and with time, he could be the Leafs’ ticket to long-term success.
#7: Carolina Hurricanes: C Leon Draisaitl
The Hurricanes will take advantage of a player that fell from grace since the mid-term rankings, and instantly solidify their top-six in the process. Draisaitl was originally ranked 2nd overall when Central Scouting released their mid-term rankings, but his stock fell to fourth by Final Rankings time, and a similar pattern could be in store come draft day. His great size and playmaking ability make him a must-have on a Carolina team that already has snipers in Eric Stall and brother Jordan Stall, and another strong centerman can go a long way at developing depth for the club.
#6: Vancouver Canucks: LW Jake Virtanen
The Canucks have plenty of options with the sixth overall pick in the draft, including 3 high-end left wings, but Jake Virtanen seems to have the potential for the brightest future with their club. He possesses top-six skill, and a power forward mindset that takes after current Canuck Ryan Kesler. His potential to play top-six in his 19-year old season seems pretty high given the Canucks’ current roster conditions, and the experience he could gain at the NHL level will pay off in future seasons.
#5: New York Islanders: LW Nicholas Ritchie
The Islanders are in desperate need of some help up-front, and Ritchie can answer the call immediately for the team. The Peterborough Pete’s great size and killer shot are huge assets for a team, which is one step away from completing a dangerous top line alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Ritchie is clutch in big games, scoring 10 playoff points this season, and that will translate well to the NHL level, where he can easily contribute.
#4: Calgary Flames: LW Michael Dal Colle
Like the Islanders, the Flames are looking for immediate help, and Dal Colle could be the extra piece a young Flames team needs. 95 points in 67 games makes the Oshawa General forward an offensive weapon to behold, and one that Flames would love to have in their system. Alongside tough young prospects such as Kris Russel, Dal Colle will fit right in, and will have the ability to make an impact alongside veteran forwards in the Flames’ top six this fall.
#3: Edmonton Oilers: C Sam Bennett
Although he was scouted by many to go first overall in this year’s draft, Sam Bennett will wind up with the Edmonton Oilers due to a variety of circumstances, and never look back. The thought of the Kingston Frontenacs forward alongside other young stars in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is tantalizing for Edmonton fans, and that very well could be a dream come true for both teams. Bennett’s all-world ability will be a great asset on a team that is searching for better two-way play, and just like Hall and Eberle before him, he will make a huge impact in his first year.
#2: Buffalo Sabres: C Sam Reinhart
Sam Reinhart has been out to prove himself all season, and that work will finally pay off with the second overall selection at this year’s Draft. 109 points in the regular season, added to 23 in 13 playoff games makes Reinhart desirable to all 30 teams, but the Panthers’ need for defense will leave him ripe for the Sabres’ picking. Reinhart’s performance at the Combine this season may very well be what tips him over the scales of Bennett, who failed to do a single pull-up at that event. His playmaking ability will be a huge asset for the Sabres as they search to add high-end talent from the trade and Free Agent markets.
#1: Florida Panthers: D Aaron Ekblad
It hasn’t been as ‘set in stone’ as previous years, but all signs point to Aaron Ekblad as the first overall pick to the Florida Panthers at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Ekblad’s ability with and without the puck is undeniable; his knack for leading a team will be a huge plus for the Panthers in the coming years, as they look to throw the torch to a newer batch of talented youngsters; and playing in front of a solid goaltending tandem will instantly boost the Panthers’ odds for making another run at the post-season, just as they did in 2013.
Please note that this list was created using North American Skaters only.
A little more than a week remains until the speculation can be put to rest, and all 30 teams (and their fans) can look forward to the future with these young players.
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