NHL scouts have logged thousands of hard winter miles, slugged back hundreds of cups of arena coffee, and weighed the athletic merits of hundreds of teenaged hopefuls, all in the name of mining the talent that will power Stanley Cup dreams.
Nobody understands the prospect game better than they do. And yet here we are, the 2014 NHL Draft upon us, and they'll tell you the whole thing is still up in the air.
“Honestly, I wouldn't hazard a guess how this will all play out,” one scout said of this year's event, which gets underway on Friday night in Philadelphia at 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN). “There's always a degree of volatility, but this year is something else.”
If there's any consensus, that's probably it. Compare two top-30 lists and maybe 20 names will appear on both. Compare three and you'll wonder if these guys were watching the same kids.
Most agree that it's an off-year for talent, but that doesn't make it a bad year. While it lacks the MacKinnon/Drouin/Jones sizzle of 2013 or the franchise-altering potential of the Connor MacDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes of 2015, this year's crop features some good players...maybe even some very good players.
But it's also a group that leaves a lot of questions to be answered. Does Aaron Ekblad, the season-long favorite to go first overall, have the offensive upside to mature into a legitimate No. 1 defenseman? Can Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart overcome their lack of size to become front-line centers? Will Leon Draisaitl and Nick Ritchie grow out of the inconsistency that dogged them this season? Can the physical gifts of Josh Ho-Sang or Anthony DeAngelo convince a team to overlook their nagging character issues?
And is there even one of these good kids who can emerge as someone great?
There are so many variables in play that while there's a general agreement on the top-four picks -- Ekblad, Bennett, Reinhart and Draisaitl -- the order in which their names will be called remains up in the air. And once you get past that group, what happens next is anybody's guess.
One scout asked to peruse this final list said there were 27 names consistent with his team's top-30. Another said I was "in for a surprise" and said there were 10 players on his list that don't appear here. He wouldn't name names, but going by his team's history I'd guess Brandon center John Quenneville, Kitchener center Ryan MacInnis and St. Andrew's College winger Warren Foegele could sneak in. So could Swedish defender Marcus Petterson, Plymouth goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic and Moose Jaw forward Brayden Point.
“We'll look back at this group of kids in five years after everything has shaken out and wonder how we missed so badly on this guy or the other guy,” that scout said. “All we can do now, though, is go with what our guts are telling us and hope we're not the ones who screw it up.”
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To try to make sense of things, we tapped into our network of bird dogs to give you the lowdown on each of the 30 players we think will get the call in the first round. Their insights range from glowing to damning and if they seem contradictory at times, that's a perfect reflection of the difficult debates that will shape the selection process.
As with all mock drafts, this is strictly opinion. No wagering, please.
SAM BENNETT, CENTER
KINGSTON | 6-0, 178
36-55-91 in 57 games
The Skinny: A Doug Gilmour starter kit.
Why him? Positional bias. Aaron Ekblad would be a fine choice, but the Panthers need help right away, and Bennett is more likely to make an impact within the next two years...hopefully in time to save Dale Tallon's job.
Scouts say: “He's the kind of player you win championships with. Tremendous character, high-end skill and a motor that never idles. He's the ultimate competitor. He has that fire in his belly. Other players talk about winning, but it really is everything to him. You talk about tools, he's stocked. Soft, soft hands, quick feet, good balance, reads the play like a champ, makes his teammates better. He does it all. All the talk about tenacity and grit kind of overshadows everything else he brings to the table. He's very quick, with a very good first stride. He anticipates the play, he's creative. He's relentless on defense. I won't say he has the ceiling of a Jonathan Toews, but he's the same type of player. He can put a team on his back. Obviously people will talk about the strength thing [he failed to complete a single pull-up at the draft combine], but that's something you can build. He's a proud kid, you know he'll address it. He'll use that moment as motivation.”
leon draisaitl, center
prince albert | 6-2, 208
38-67-105 in 64 games
The Skinny: NHL-sized center torched the WHL for 1.6 points per game this past season.
Why him? The Sabres are loaded for bear on the blueline, so a pivot with size who can play in their top-six makes the most sense.
Scouts say: “Size and hockey sense. You like those, you'll love Draisatl. He's a natural playmaker. On-ice awareness and anticipation are his strongest suits. He has that vision and he can thread the needle to get the puck where it needs to go. Makes his teammates better. He's a player who can drive possession. Good, not great, shot. Gets to the right areas to finish his chances. He's a big enough kid—I'd like to see him be more physical. I think the biggest mistake here is to fall in love with his size. We all want size, but you can't overlook [his inconsistency] in the second half. And don't overlook his skating. Sorry, I'm just not that high on him. His skating is a real concern for me. He's not sluggish, but it's a problem. I would not be inclined to take him in the top-five.”
aaron ekblad, defenseman
barrie | 6-4, 216
23-30-53 in 58 games
The Skinny: The best defenseman, and perhaps the best player overall, in this year's draft. Could be the first player taken.
Why him? A center with size might be their preference, but if Ekblad drops, he'd be a perfect piece for Edmonton's young defense.
Scouts say: “He's the best player available. He's ready to step in and contribute next season. Has an NHL-ready body. You had to laugh when he walked in [at the combine] and saw him up against all these other kids. Plays a smart, physical game. I was surprised how far his offensive game came this season. He's not your next power play QB, but he can make a good first pass, he reads the play well and he can get his shot through to the net. He's the safest pick in the draft. He has all the intangibles you could hope for. You know he's going to play, but how good will he be? He dominates [in juniors], but is that simply because of his size? What does he do when everyone is big and strong? What's his upside? He doesn't look like he has the offensive awareness to be a top-pairing guy to me, but then again Shea Weber didn't have that going for him when he was drafted, either. I worry that he tops out as a safe second-pair guy, which isn't a bad thing to have, but when you're using a pick this high you want to feel better about his upside. Maybe we're guilty of looking for reasons to pick him apart because we've been watching him so long, but it might be a case of what you see is what you get with him.”
nick ritchie, left wing
peterborough | 6-2, 218
39-35-74 in 61 games
The Skinny: Best combination of size and skill in the draft, but questions about effort could see him slide...maybe all the way out of the top-10.
Why him? He's Brian Burke's dream come true.
Scouts say: “He's a beast. Most nights it's man against the boys. Plays a heavy game. Might have the best shot in the draft. Absolute bomb of a shot. Might be tougher than Milan Lucic at this age. There's some Rick Nash in his game. Not quite the same skill level, but elite just the same. Can be the best player on the ice when he wants to be, but there are too many nights when he doesn't want to be. I worry about his intensity. Has it easy [in juniors] because of his size. Can he ramp it up when everybody is as big as him? I think the concerns are legitimate, but he's such a unique talent you can't afford to pass him up. I'd take a chance later [in the first] but if someone wants him top-10, be my guest.”
michael dal colle, left wing
oshawa | 6-2, 183
39-56-95 in 67 games
The Skinny: Tall, lean sniper draws comparisons to Jeff Carter.
Why him? Garth Snow kept this pick with an eye on grabbing a potential top-six winger to skate alongside John Tavares or Ryan Strome.
Scouts say: “Pro size and elite skill. Deadly with the puck in tight and from a distance. One of the best shooters in this draft. Has a heavy, heavy shot. Above-average playmaker. Makes the most of his teammates. High-end puck skills. Has the poise and confidence to make things happen in traffic. Dangerous one-on-one [player]. He can beat you from anywhere, but he's especially dangerous down low. Great character-type player. I'd like to see him use his size more effectively and make a more serious commitment to defense, but those are things you can develop. Pretty much a no-risk pick.”
sam reinhart, center
kootenay | 6-1, 185
36-69-105 in 60 games
The Skinny: Could be the first-overall pick...or could drop as teams make trades or focus on other players who better fit their needs.
Why him? GM Jim Benning could legitimately say “We couldn't believe he was still there for us to draft” when he does his post-pick interview.
Scouts say: “Does everything the right way. A hockey player's hockey player. What he lacks in physical ability he more than compensates for with his hockey sense. Reads and reacts better than anyone. He's hockey's version of “A Beautiful Mind.” For my money, he's the best playmaker in the class. Knows where everybody is and finds a way to get them the puck. He's so calm and poised under pressure and that translates to his teammates. We've been watching him for years, but the only thing people can find to tear him down with is that maybe he lacks the sizzle you'd like with a first-overall pick. If we had the top pick, I'd push to take him first. There's not a lot of glamor to him, but you know he's going to be a good player. You can probably pencil him into [an NHL] lineup next year.”
william nylander, left wing
modo (Sweden) | 5-11, 169
1-6-7 in 22 games
The Skinny: Puck wizard has top-six potential.
Why him? The 'Canes usually take a forward with their first pick, and he's the best on the board.
Scouts say: “When it's all said and done, he may end up being the best player in this class. If he was a little bigger, he'd challenge for first overall. He's instant offense. Get him the puck and watch him make something happen. Shifty skater with scary acceleration. Changes pace to baffle defenders and keep himself out of harm's way. Cool under pressure. Maybe the best playmaker in the draft. He can be tough to play with because of the way he thinks the game. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do with smarter players. I'm not worried about [his size]. He'll be okay. I've heard the stories about his attitude problems, but we haven't seen anything first hand. His old man [former NHLer Michael] was a bit of a head case. You hope this apple fell well clear of the tree.”
DNikolaj ehlers, right wing
halifax | 5-11, 162
49-55-104 in 63 games
The Skinny: Maybe the best pure goal scorer in the draft. Some team might surprise by taking him top-five.
Why him? Toronto's No. 1 need is high-end skill. This guy is all that.
Scouts say: “He's a human highlight reel. He doesn't just score, he embarrasses you. You give him a moment and the puck is in the back of the net. Best hands in the draft for my money. Tremendous skater. Great acceleration. One of the top-three skaters in this class. It's just fun watching him fly down the wing. He can dictate the pace of the game with his speed. Great vision. Sometimes it's like he has eyes in the back of his head. Knows instinctively where his teammates are. I don't think he gets the credit for his playmaking that he deserves. Works hard on his defense. Really thin frame. Not ever going to be the most physical guy out there, but he'll need to get stronger. If you can catch him, you can push him off the puck. Low-risk, high-ceiling player.”
kasperi kapanen, right wing
Kalpa (finland) | 5-11, 172
7-7-14 in 47 games
The Skinny: Top-rated Euro is the Finnish Joe Pavelski.
Why him? Kevin Cheveldayoff says he's looking for high IQ players. Kapanen is all that.
Scouts say: “Send him over the boards and watch him go. He does it all, in all three zones. One of the most trustworthy players available. High-ceiling tools, but smarts and determination make him special. His hockey sense is off the charts. Right place, right time, all the time. Quick, agile skater with the ability to change gears on a dime. Solid puck skills. Makes good decisions with the puck. He's just selfish enough. Love his attitude. Kept his chin up despite playing on a lousy team this year. You have to respect his bloodlines (his father was longtime NHLer Sami Kapanen). Usually a bad performance [at the U-18 tournament] would be a red flag, but our guys are willing to write it off. He's a scrawny little kid, but his dad wasn't all that big, either. I could see the whole size issue leading some teams to let him slide.”
jake virtanen, left wing
calgary | 6-0, 213
45-26-71 in 71 games
The Skinny: (Pick from Ottawa.) Natural finisher but questions about his compete level could see him slide further.
Why him? Ducks may have to move a few assets in a trade for a No.2 center this summer. Adding another high-skill forward here helps preserve their organizational depth.
Scouts say: “You can't teach goal scoring. Plenty of players can take the smallest opening and turn it into a scoring chance. He can turn it into a goal. Blessed with an abundance of natural ability. Built to succeed at the pro level. Wide body, strong on his feet. Excellent skater. I have him as the fastest skater this year. Tremendous acceleration. Uses his speed to back defenders up and then picks his spot on the fly. Can beat you with a wrister or a slapper. Has that quick release you want to see. I like that he did most of his damage at even strength (32 goals). Hustles to be a presence in his own zone. He's not afraid to drop the gloves. Love the tools, but not sold on his hockey sense. Is he a top-six guy? I don't think so, but he could be a nice complementary player. ”
brendan perlini, left wing
niagara | 6-3, 205
34-37-71 in 58 games
The Skinny: Big, strong winger was voted OHL's most improved player in 2013-14
Why him? The Preds haven't drafted and developed a high-end offensive talent since Alex Radulov in 2004. Probably time to try again.
Scouts say: “Size, skill, skating and finishing touch. There's a lot to like. Pure sniper with a quick release. You don't want to get in front of his shot. It's one of the heaviest in the draft. There are pros who dream of having a one-timer like his. Puck is on and off his stick in a hurry. Plays the game at top speed and can get his shot off in full flight. Good size, but lacks a real physical edge. Big, strong kid, but you'd like to see him use it more. He's got some growing up to do but he could be a good pro. You have to question his desire sometimes. The tools are there, but I always leave wondering why he didn't do more. He's someone I can see sliding down in the first round. I've said it before and I'll say it again—I don't buy the hype. There's a real high probability that [he's a bust.]”
alex tuch, right wing
usntdp | 6-4, 213
13-19-32 in 26 games
The Skinny: Arguably the best power forward in the draft. Second-line upside.
Why Him? Haydn Fleury is the BPA here, but an abundance of D throughout the system suggests he won't be their guy. Coyotes need size and strength on the wing
Scouts say: “Best American-born player this year. Big, NHL-ready body and he's only going to get stronger. Prototypical power forward. Can go into beast-mode and dominate a game physically. Strong skater for a big man. Can take a defender to the inside, but would just as soon run him over. Relentless on the forecheck. Impossible to knock off the puck. Drives the net fearlessly. Absolute load to move when he gets out front. Doesn't dazzle with his puck skills, but he knows what to do with it when he gets it. He'll be a force on the power play. Solid two-way game. How much will he score at the NHL level? Not sure he's more than a 20-goal guy.”
hayden fleury, defenseman
red deer | 6-3, 207
8-38-46 in 70 games
The Skinny: Stay-at-home defender with size.
Why him? Caps have a clear organizational need for solid blueliners.
Scouts say: “You know exactly what you're getting here. Solid, not spectacular. Reliable but not an impact player. Good size, good feet. Strong skater. His mobility is probably his most appealing asset. Makes good decisions with the puck. Keeps it simple so he makes the right play more often than not. Good first pass in transition. Offensive game is starting to come together, but it's a work-in-progress. I see some upside [to his offensive game] but he's not someone who you're going to want on your power play. Good in his own end, but you always leave wishing he had more of a physical edge to his game. He can frustrate you that way. More safe than exciting. You need guys like this on your team, but he's not going to sell a lot of tickets. Such a weak draft for defensemen I could see someone with a real organizational need trading up to get him.”
jared mccann, center
sault st. marie | 6-0, 179
The Skinny: He's the classic 200-foot center.
Why him? Stars need to add some skill up front to the organization.
Scouts say: “Solid in every aspect of the game. Player you can use in every situation. Thinks the game as well as anyone. Real strength is his hockey sense. His family's been through a lot and it's given him a mental toughness you don't usually see in someone his age. Leads by example. His teammates love him. High-end character. Phenomenal hands in tight. He can make the highlight reel plays. Dynamic individual skills, but he's not selfish. I'd like him a lot more if he were two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. Size is a concern. Can he be more than a role player in the NHL? I don't like him as much as I did earlier in the season. Easy kid to like, but I don't see him maturing into that top-six forward.”
kevin fiala, center
hv71 (sweden) | 5-10, 180
3-8-11 in 17 games
The Skinny: Swiss sensation was standout in international tournaments.
Why him? High-end skill and hockey sense makes him a perfect fit for the Wings
Scouts say: “Forced you to pay attention every time he was on the ice. Was a point-a-game guy in Swedish juniors, and didn't blink when he was promoted to play against the men. Thinks as fast as he skates. Has that ability to make a play when it looks like he's out of options. Great vision. He's magic when the puck's on his stick. High-end offensive instincts. High-ceiling player. Some guys lack size and you worry about them. I'm not worried about Fiala. He's a project. Needs to live in the gym for awhile before he can come over here. Not the most focused player away from the puck, but that's something you can teach. You can't teach this kind of skill.”
dylan larkin, center
usntdp | 6-1, 190
17-9-26 in 26 games
The Skinny: Fiery competitor. Second-line upside.
Why him? Jarmo Kekalainen loves his forwards big and hard to play against. Larkin fits the bill.
Scouts say: “He's the Kool-Aid Man. He'll go through a brick wall to help his team win. Doesn't take a shift off. Loves to compete. Highly motivated player. One of the fastest skaters this year. Breakaway speed. Creates chances off the rush. USA used him extensively on both special teams. Already a defensively mature player. Will sacrifice his stats for the benefit of the team. [His numbers look lopsided] because of his role. He can finish but he can be the playmaker if that's what he's asked to be. Maybe lacks the high-end skill you'd like, but everything about this kid says he'll be a player.”
adrian kempe, left wing
modo (sweden) | 6-2, 187
5-6-11 in 45 games
The Skinny: Aggressive power forward with second-line potential.
Why him? Philly has some solid defensive prospects (Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg) and could use a boost to its talent pool up front.
Scouts say: “I'd be thrilled if he slipped down to us [in the bottom-third of the draft] but I don't think that happens. Lot of quiet buzz building around him. I could see someone trading up to grab him. I love the way he competes. Terrific speed. Really strong on his feet. Skating is his strength. Tough to knock off the puck. Has an NHL-ready body. Going to be a big man when he's done growing. Very effective on the forecheck. High-end but not elite hockey sense. Strong offensive instincts with above-average finish. Reliable away from the puck but could use some work there. Safe pick. Not a huge upside, but he's a good bet to play.”
sonny milano, left wing
usntdp | 6-0, 183
14-25-39 in 25 games
The Skinny: High-end puck skills make him a game-breaking offensive threat. Could be the “how'd he drop that far?” player from this draft.
Why him? The Wild could really use a top-flight goaltending prospect, but they won't risk this pick on a long-term project. Milano fills a need for elite scoring talent.
Scouts say: “Love watching this kid play. A dynamic offensive talent. Blazing speed. Has that extra gear that makes him so dangerous. Shifty, snakey, slithery...whatever you call him, he's a nightmare to defend. Has that knack for finding the dead spots in the coverage. One of the best pure offensive players in the draft. He's magic when he gets the puck on his stick. World-class playmaker, unselfish player. I'd like to see him shoot more. Quick release and a great eye for the net. He's a chirper. Loves getting under an opponent's skin. Needs to commit to playing harder when he doesn't have the puck. Needs to get stronger on his feet. Just kills against his own [age group] but can he be as effective against bigger, stronger, more experienced defenders?”
robby fabbri, center
guelph | 5-10, 166
45-42-87 in 58 games
The Skinny: OHL playoff MVP is a highly skilled but undersized pivot.
Why him? Terrific value at this point in the draft
Scouts say: “Can blow you right out of your boots with his speed. You have to respect his speed or he'll make you look silly. Fast, but not all that strong on his feet. Natural goal scorer. As good a playmaker as he is a goal scorer. Not afraid to pay the price. He'll go into the dirty areas to score. Doesn't shy away from contact. Maybe the most exciting player in this draft. He draws a lot of attention to himself and that creates time and space for his linemates. Obviously, the big question mark is his size. Not the biggest frame. How much weight can you really expect him to pack on? At some point his skill overrides the risk, but there's a real gamble in calling his name. I'm not sure I'd use a first [round pick] on him.”
julius honka, defenseman
Swift current | 5-11, 178
16-40-56 in 62 games
The Skinny: Undersized puck-moving defender who could ignite a power play.
Why him? Sharks always seem to take high-skill Europeans with their first pick
Scouts say: “Lacks ideal size, but that didn't seem to bother him [in juniors]. He's got a bit of Torey Krug in him. Reads the play so well. Understands when to take chances. Makes things happen in transition. Tremendous poise. You can't rattle this kid. Quick and strong on his feet. Plays a smart, reliable game in his own end. I'm not worried about his size, although he could slip because of it. You'd like him to be bigger but honestly he does a really nice job in his own end. Size isn't ideal but he knows how to work within his limitations and still play an intense game without the puck. You want your D to make things happen with the puck. He does that as well as anybody in this draft.”
ivan barbashev, center
moncton | 6-0, 185
25-43-68 in 48 games
The Skinny: (Pick conditional to Buffalo.) Offensive-minded winger who plays a gritty, North American-style game.
Why him? Both teams who could use this pick are looking for a dynamic scoring forward. Barbashev brings the offense
Scouts say: “Doesn't play like the stereotypical Russian. He's hard to play against. Some guys don't mind physical play—he actively looks for it. Accepted the switch from wing to center without a fuss and embraced the defensive responsibility that came with it. Developed a nice two-way game over the course of the season. He put the work in to improve his play away from the puck. Plays the game at a high speed. Takes the puck to the net. Impressed with his character—that's a tough transition he made this year. Consistency isn't where it needs to be, but I'll chalk that up to immaturity. Talented kid, but there's the Russian factor. We wouldn't use a first on him.”
nikita scherbak, left wing
saskatoon | 6-0, 172
28-50-78 in 65 games
The Skinny: High IQ player with great hands who could provide reliable secondary scoring.
Why him? The Pens are desperate to add some skill on the wings and Scherbak, one of the oldest players in this class at 19, isn't that far off from being NHL-ready.
Scouts say: “He could be a riser on draft day. Good size, smart, strong. Pretty much had to do it all by himself with Saskatoon rebuilding. Took on a lot of responsibility after a couple of veterans were moved out. Hurt his point production, but showed what he's made of. Lots of battle in his game. Strong skater with above-average acceleration. Good but not great tools. Has some edge to his game. Plays a bit soft away from the puck. He's someone we need to talk to, find out where his heart is. You always worry when it comes to Russians, even the ones that played over here. There were some red flags when he missed the combine over visa issues. That shouldn't happen. Just makes you wonder.” (Note: Scherbak had his visa approved Tuesday and will be at the draft.)
dominik masin, defense
slava praha (Czech) | 6-2, 189
2-19-21 in 39 games
The Skinny: Big strong two-way defender with top-four potential.
Why him? The Avs have some promising defensive prospects in their system and would probably prefer to grab a forward here, but Masin provides the best value at this point.
Scouts say: “The [talent] well's pretty much run dry [in the Czech Republic], but this kid is the real deal. He's a horse. You can use him in any situation. Was one of the top players at the U-18 tournament. A born leader. Not great at any one thing, but really solid across the board. Does all the little things right. High hockey IQ. Controls his gaps, good with his stick. Not a classic bruiser, but he players the body well. He'll get physical to clear out the crease. Wins his fair share of puck battles. Needs to work on his skating. Offensive game has come around over the past year, but not sure he'll bring much to the table that way in the NHL. No-frills shutdown defenseman.”
Josh ho-sang, center
windsor | 5-11, 166
32-53-85 in 67 games
The Skinny: Possibly the most dynamic offensive weapon in the draft, but dogged by character questions. Could easily fall well past the first round.
Why him? He's the ultimate flyer in the draft, but with a safer pick already in their pocket the Ducks can afford to take a chance.
Scouts say: “I have him on the no-draft list. Not interested. We won't be drafting him, I can promise you that. Genuine talent, but I can't ignore all the red flags. Kid lives in his own world. Thinks he knows it all. Selfish, me-first player. Wants to do it all by himself. I don't know if he'll ever buy into the team concept. He's been hearing he needs to make better use of his teammates for years and it's still not happening. For all the knocks he takes for selfish play, he was top-10 [in the CHL] for assists at even strength. Breathtaking individual talent. Best dangler I've seen [in the OHL] since Patrick Kane. He's magic with the puck. Great shot. Loves to score. Probably has the highest ceiling but he's also the biggest bust potential.”
travis sanheim, defense
calgary | 6-3, 181
5-24-29 in 67 games
The Skinny: Rapid riser after strong performance in second half/world U-18 tournament.
Why him? B's have lots of blueline talent in the system, but Zdeno Chara's not getting any younger and you can't pass on a kid this good at this point.
Scouts say: “I like him a lot better than [Central Scouting] does, I'll tell you that. Has made as much progress over the past year as any player in this draft. He's put on some good weight this year. He's going to be a beast when he's done growing. Plays a smart, two-way game. Plays an active role in all three zones. Strong skater, jumps into the rush with confidence, but he's not likely to lead it. Genuinely mobile for his size. Above-average first step and acceleration. A good puck-moving defenseman. Good in his own end, but he's more about positioning than physical play. Would like to see him be more physical. Needs to be more assertive physically.”
david pastrnak, right wing
sodertalje (Sweden) | 6-0 167
8-16-24 in 36 games
The Skinny: Electrifying winger who creates chances with his speed.
Why him? Look for the Habs to try to trade up to grab a forward with some size, but if it doesn't happen, Pastrnak will suit them just fine. Their playoff run proved you can never have too much giddy 'up.
Scouts say: “I'm not worried about the injury [that cut his season short—rumored to be a back issue]. Beautiful skater. He's a waterbug out there, the way he dashes and darts around the ice. Creates a lot of space for himself with his speed. High-end skill. Gifted stickhandler. Relies heavily on his wrister. It's a rocket. Has a plus-release. Not the biggest kid, but he's not afraid of traffic. Love his skill, but that small frame worries me. His size makes him a project. He's too easy to knock off the puck. As smart as he is with the puck, I wonder sometimes what he's thinking when he doesn't have it. Defensive awareness is a long way from being NHL ready.”
thatcher demko, goaltender
boston college | 6-3, 192
16-4-3, 2.16 gaa, 920 save pct.
The Skinny: A future No. 1 goalie.
Why him? The Hawks are set in net for the present with Corey Crawford, but Demko would give them a legitimate heir to the position five or six years down the road.
Scouts say: “He was born to be a goalie. Great size, natural athlete. Dominated NCAA as a freshman and he was the youngest player in the league. Really mature kid. An impressive individual. Every goalie competes, but he takes it to another level. Never loses his focus. I see a lot of John Gibson in his game. Has the potential to be more than a really good stopper. He could be a star. I wouldn't risk [a first] on him. He passed on the [physical testing at the combine], and that has everyone wondering about his hips. Lots of talk he might need surgery to repair both. He's damaged goods.”
nick schmaltz, center
green bay | 6-0, 170
18-45-63 in 57 games
The Skinny: (Pick from NY Rangers.) Smart, two-way center with second line upside
Why him? Schmaltz's work ethic and reliability would make him a solid fit within the Lightning system.
Scouts say: “Love his hockey sense. Excellent on-ice vision. Pinpoint passer with a high panic threshold. Always seems to do the right thing. One of those players who makes everyone around him better. Great team player. His teammates rave about him. Loves to compete. He's a long-term project. I have concerns about his strength. The kid's a gamer but I have serious doubts about his [offensive upside]. Probably not going to be a big scorer at the next level.”
Jakub vrana, right wing
Linkoping (sweden) | 5-11, 185
2-1-3 in 24 games
The Skinny: Speedy top-six winger with a terrific shot
Why him? High-risk, high-reward pick could add considerable skill to the organization. At this point in the draft, he'd be hard to pass up.
Scouts say: “He's magic with the puck. Very creative. He's someone who can turn a nothing moment into a scoring chance just like that. Really impressed at the Under-18 [tournament]. Can really dangle. He's an entertainer. Needs to use his teammates better. He can get caught up in doing what he's trying to do and overlook a smarter, easier play. He'll have to get a lot stronger to play in the NHL. Not sure he has the frame to do that. Has a tendency to disappear from games. Expect some inconsistency at this age, but it's a real worry with this kid.”
Brendan lemieux, left wing
barrie | 6-1, 209
26-27-53 in 65 games
The Skinny: Agitating power forward with second-line potential.
Why Him? Lou Lamoriello respects the predictive power of bloodlines (hello, Stefan Matteau) and he remembers exactly what Lemieux's father, Claude, brought to the Devils during his five-year stint with the club.
Scouts say: “It's not fair to compare the kid to his father, but that's what people expect, right? He doesn't have the hockey sense his dad did, but the burner's always on high with this kid. He competes hard and can be a miserable cuss to play against. Skates just like his dad. Goes to the hard areas. Can take over a shift with his physical play. Won't score like his dad, but his shot is improving. Really turned up his game in the second half. You like to see that progress.”