If you watched the 2014 World Junior Championship tournament, you probably came away with the impression that the top pick in the 2014 NHL Draft would come down to forward Sam Reinhart or defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Both excelled while playing significant roles for Team Canada, seemingly securing their places at the top of the draft board.
But it turns out that the biggest prize of this year's class might not have been in Malmo, Sweden, at all.
Central Scouting raised that possibility this morning when it announced that Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett now holds the No. 1 spot in its midterm rankings.
Bennett, a 17-year-old 6-foot, 178-pound center, has 26 goals and 66 points through 40 games, good for fourth overall in the Ontario Hockey League scoring race.
"Bennett has not only been very noticeable but extremely effective every shift of every game so far this season," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "His puckhandling and playmaking are excellent and he has one of the best shots in this year's draft class. He has scored several goals from the high slot and coming in off the wing and has been very effective on the power play. He's a player that can play in all situations, elevate his game and rise to the occasion."
One Western Conference scout I contacted this morning called Bennett "a legitimate, high-end player," with "a 200-foot game and off-the-chart intangibles," but said he still preferred Ekblad and Reinhart over Central Scouting's choice.
"Different eyes see different things," the scout said. "[Central Scouting] does a great job, but we don't always agree with their take.
"That's not a knock on [Bennett]," he continued. "He's a quality kid and he could go first overall. A lot can happen in six months, but … Reinhart showed a lot playing a top-six role at the World Juniors. There's a little Logan Couture in his game. Just a smart, smart kid who makes very few mistakes."
German-born forward Leon Draisatl was ranked second by Central Scouting--surprising considering how poorly his play at the WJC was regarded--with Ekblad the top defenseman at No. 3 and Reinhart coming in at No. 4.
"We chose Draisaitl based on his play in the first half of the season for Prince Albert," Marr told NHL.com. "At the WJC he isn't with his team, his coach, his system. We're judging him on his play with his team; that carries the most weight. All season long he's continued to develop as a prospect. You noticed him all the time last year and he's gone out there and become a dominant player for Prince Albert this year."
Rounding out the top-10 North American skaters:
5. Michael Dal Colle, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
6. Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
7. Nick Ritchie, RW, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
8. Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
9. Jake Virtanen, F, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
10. Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
DeAngelo is the only American-born skater ranked in the top-10. The leading scorer among defensemen in the OHL, he was one of the last cuts from Team USA for the World Juniors. "He's a gifted puck-mover who is great on the power play," our scout said. "A really heady player. Really dangerous in transition."
While Canadians dominate the skater rankings, America boasts the top-five goaltenders. Thatcher Demko of Boston College is No. 1, with USA Under-18 teammates Edwin Minney and Blake Weyrick ranked second and third. Chase Perry of the Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) and Alex Nedeljkovic of the Plymouth Whalers round out the top-five.
None of these goalies are viewed as likely first rounders, but their ranking continues the perception of American hockey as a goaltending factory. "It's a cyclical thing," our scout said. "A lot of top athletes are gravitating toward [playing goal] in the States right now."
Here's a look at the complete Central Scouting midterm lists: