On June 22nd and 23rd the NHL holds its annual amateur draft in Pittsburgh. These are two of my favorite days of the years and it's also the time where 210 young men are one step closer to reaching their ultimate goal. I have watched probably close to a thousand hours of junior and international hockey this year and here in my list of my top 50 prospects for the draft. It's not an easy list to formulate and I may have a slight western bias as I've seen these kids play more often because of accessibility. This may be a weaker draft as far as top end talent goes but there are some good players in this draft and probably a couple homeruns if clubs are willing to take the risk. Next week I will list my mock draft which will look a little different.
1.Ryan Murray D Everett WHL- I've had Murray as the #1 player for this draft for the past two seasons and although it's close I still see him as the best player. Murray is as complete of a defenseman as you're going to see in this draft. There is a reason Team Canada, at the World Championships, took him on to play with the men. Murray's hockey IQ and his skating are his best features and there are no real weaknesses in his game. He may not be overly physical but he has no problem removing the puck from the opposition's sticks. He reminds me of a little bit of Duncan Keith and a little bit of Nicklas Lidstrom. Has the making of a #1 defenseman that logs 25 plus minutes a game.
2. Nail Yakupov RW Sarnia OHL- Yakupov is the best offensive player in this draft class by far. Yakupov will probably be more of a goal scorer in the NHL who can be a game breaker. Speed and stickhandling with a quick release are his best features. He is simply a dynamic offensive player that will probably score 30-35 goals per year in the NHL. Yakupov reminds me of a smaller Ilya Kovalchuk.
3. Filip Forsberg RW Leksand Swe- Forsberg has no relation to Peter but he is already playing against men in Sweden and is playing well. Filip is blessed with good size and a fairly strong skill set. A skill set I was very impressed with at the World Juniors even though he only showed it in spurts. He plays a complete game and can be trusted in all situations. He has world-class hands that could make him a top line forward.
4. Morgan Reilly D Moose Jaw WHL- Reilly can flat out fly on the ice and controls the pace of the game. Reilly is an excellent puck-moving defenseman whose first pass is almost always perfect. Had early season knee surgery which may have held his back a bit but it sounds like he is healthy now without lingering issues. He also is a very smart player at both ends of the ice. Reminds me a little bit of Erik Karlsson the way he control the game.
5. Alex Galchenyuk C Sarnia OHL- Galchenyuk is another player coming off major knee surgery but all signs point to he is healthy now. Galcheyuk probably has the best hands in the draft and should be a very good playmaker at the NHL level. He works hard at both ends of the ice which will pay dividends as a pro. If Galcheyuk would have played all year he could have been in the conversation to go #1 overall.
6.Jacob Trouba U.S NTDP- Like Ryan Murray I think Trouba's offensive skills are slightly underrated as they have both been asked to play more defensive roles at the World Juniors. Trouba is a defenseman who likes to play a physical role and is difficult to play against. He is also a very strong skater. He could be a similar player to Brooks Orpik with a little more offense.
7. Griffin Reinhart Edmonton WHL- No player helped themselves more than Reinhart did in the playoffs. Reinhart is big defenseman who is starting to find his offensive stride. Reinhart makes an excellent first pass and has NHL mobility. The problem with Reinhart is he doesn't use his massive 6'4 frame to lean on the opposing players. If he learns to use his frame to clear the front of the net he could be a steal in this draft. Right now I have concerns with that aspect of his game. Has top two defensive pairing potential. Reminds me a little of Ryan Whitney.
8. Mikhail Grigorenko C Quebec QMJHL- Grigorenko is the biggest question mark in this draft. There is no doubt that he is one of the most gifted players in this draft when he wants to be. Which plays into the Russian card as Grigorenko had an abysmal playoff season in the QMJHL where he looked disinterested. What you can't dismiss is he has the frame and skill set to be a very good #1 centre in the NHL. The kid is a magician with the puck and makes amazing plays. If he wants to work he is in the top three talent wise if he doesn't he might end up in the KHL. Regardless there is too much upside to pass on this player.
9. Radek Faksa C Kitchener OHL- A power forward coming out of Kitchener, who would have thought? Following the footsteps of Gabriel Landeskog and Mike Richards Radek Faksa is another sure fire 1st round pick that plays a big man's game. Blessed with a 6'3 frame Faksa is also a good skater that has a knack for the net. He made the adjustment to North American hockey very easily.
10. Matt Dumba D Red Deer WHL- It probably would have been better for me to only see Matt Dumba play a couple times this year but I've seen him a lot. Sometimes he impressed me and other times he has me scratching my head. Dumba plays like a rover on defense and I found he is out of position more often than in position. As a pro he will need to be coached extensively. Regardless of that Dumba is a smooth explosive skater that hits like a truck. Even with his smaller stature he runs guys over. He is always very capable of running a power play. He reminds me a lot of Nicklas Kronwall.
11. Teuvo Teravainen LW Jokerit Fin- One of the most skilled players in this draft. He is very shifty and creative with the puck. He can create pure offense with his creativity and hands. Problem is Teravainen is smaller and quite slender at only 165 pounds. Good news is he has already shown he can handle playing against men in Finland's top league. There is a lot of upside with this kid.
12. Hampus Lindholm D Rogle Swe- It seems every year there is a defenseman from Sweden that rockets up the draft charts (Ekman-Larsson, Brodin) and this year it's Lindholm. Lindholm had more production in the playoffs than he did in the entire regular season. Lindholm is a bigger defenseman at 6'3 that is starting to find some offense in his game. General consensus is that Lindholm has a high ceiling and could be a top pairing defenseman. Like many defensemen in this draft he isn't overly physical but understands the game well.
13. Derrick Pouliot D Portland WHL- The top prospects game was very good for Pouliot as he looked to be one of the best players on the ice. Pouliot is a puck moving defenseman with some bite to his game. The problem with that bite is he is less than six feet so I'm not sure he will be able to be as physical at the professional level. He should be able to work a power play, skate, and pass at an NHL level although. Has Brian Campbell like skill level.
- 14. Brendan Gaunce C Belleville OHL- Gaunce is a fairly safe pick in this year's draft but I like what he brings to the table. Gaunce is a big body that drives the net hard. Prototypical NHL power forward that potentially could be a 2nd line centre as a pro. I think some team will regret passing on Gaunce in 3 or 4 years. It's not often a 6'2 215 pound centreman with finish comes around. Not sure he has enough offense but he has a David Backes type package.
- 15. Sebastien Collberg RW Frolunda Swe- Another player who used the World Juniors to push himself into the spotlight scoring 4 goals in a tournament meant for 19 year olds. Collberg is a natural goal scorer with a lighting quick release. He is slightly undersized but probably not enough to keep him away from the NHL.
- 16. Cody Ceci D Ottawa OHL- Ceci is a pure offensive defenseman who excels on the power play. Ceci already has NHL size at 6'2 207 but his play on the defensive side of the puck is lacking. He has an absolute rocket of a shot which should translate well to the NHL. If he could clean up his play on the defensive side of the puck and play less of a gambling style of hockey he would surely be a top 10 pick. Right now he is a little of a wildcard to judge his professional potential.
- 17. Olli Maata D London OHL- An impressive display throughout the OHL playoffs and Memorial Cup brought Maata back into the top 20. Maata's offensive upside has been questioned throughout the year but his play on the defensive side of the puck is his bread and butter. He is an effective puck-mover and plays with a lot of poise when handling the puck in his own end. Maata is a safe pick and should be played on a middle defensive pairing in the NHL.
- 18. Andrei Vasilevski G UFA Rus- Vasilevski is the top ranked goaltender in this draft probably because of his play at the World Junior and his sparkling .953 save percentage. He is a little bit of a risky pick as being a Russian and bound for the KHL next year. Vasilevski is a goaltender who battles for loose pucks and rebounds and is blessed with a 6'3 frame. Has the appearance of a future #1 goaltender if a team is willing to be patient.
- 19. Matt Finn D Guelph OHL- Finn is a complete defenseman with an offensive upside. He seems capable to run a power play and likes to join the rush at times but he is also good on the defensive side of the puck. He uses his strong hockey IQ to make smart decisions on whether to go for the hit or make a stick check. He is a leader and much like Olli Maata looks to be a strong mid pairing NHL defenseman.
- 20. Pontus Aberg LW Djurgarden Swe- An injury before the World Juniors derailed Aberg's chance of being able to display himself on the world's stage. Aberg is a speedy skilled forward with good hands and a good shot that he isn`t afraid to use especially off the rush. He was higher ranked earlier in the season but his play fell off significantly after his injury. There is some upside to his game so a team may take a chance on him in the middle of the 1st round.
- 21. Malcolm Subban G Belleville OHL- Anyone who watched the NHL combine seen what a sublime athlete Subban is. He is laser quick which helps him make amazing saves when he is caught out of position. He is head and shoulders the best North American goaltender in this draft and may be the first goaltender selected in the draft. With his athleticism he probably has the most room to grow. Has the potential to be a superstar goaltender when he learns to use his intangibles.
- 22. Ludwig Bystrom D Modo Swe- Bystrom is a mobile defenseman who had a strong Under 18 tournament. Seen as another faster riser coming into the draft he plays a positionally strong game. He plays a little bit of a risk vs. reward type of game when the puck is on his stick which can cause problems. Although in his own end is quite solid as he has very good gap control. He is a little bit of a project that is years away for NHL duty.
- 23. Brady Skjei D U.S NTDP- When I watch Skeji play he reminds me so much of John Moore at the same age. Problem is John Moore hasn't made an impact in the NHL yet. Skjei is an effortless skater which is rare considering he is 6'3 and over 200 pounds. Despite his size he isn't a physical player which is somewhat concerning. His speed and size is what makes him an attractive prospect.
- 24. Slater Koekkoek D Peterborough OHL- If it wasn't for his shoulder injury and playing for a bad team Koekkoek would be ranked higher. I really liked what I'd seen in Koekkoek before his injury. He is a player that doesn't really have any significant weaknesses. He skates well, moves the puck well, competes hard, can quarterback a power play and was improving his defensive play. It will be interesting to see what he is capable of when he is healthy and playing with better players. Looks to be a solid NHL defenseman in the future.
- 25. Oscar Dansk G Brynas Swe-Dansk is probably the most technically sound goaltender in this draft. He knows how to use his 6'3 frame to cover the net and has the speed to cover the net if he is ever out of position. He isn't as athletic as Subban or Vasiliev but he is a safer goaltender. He has also played well in big games which speaks volumes of his composure.
- 26. Tom Wilson RW Plymouth OHL- Wilson is a one of a kind player ranked this early in the draft because he is downright nasty. Wilson is a big bodied player that loves to play the physical game. His offensive upside appears to be limited but he can chip in. He game creates open ice for skilled players and isn't afraid to protect them when the opposition takes liberties. His top end is probably a 2nd line winger but he looks to be a solid 3rd line player that is vital on championship teams.
- 27. Tomas Hertl C Slava Cze- I really liked Hertl at the World Juniors this past winter. He is really poised with the puck in the offensive zone and can make something out of nothing. He is a big kid at 6'2 and nearly 200 pounds which makes him hard to move of the puck. He is a smart player that may be better suited on the wing in the NHL.
- 28. Mark Jankowski C Stanstead HS- Jankowski is the biggest unknown in this draft because he spent last year playing High School hockey in Quebec instead of major junior. Kind of reminiscent of Nick Bjudstad two years ago as the talent is there but the competition is weak. Whoever drafts Jankowski will have to wait awhile as his development is nearly as progressed as his peers. One thing is for sure Jankowski is skilled with the puck and knows how to create offense.
- 29. Dalton Thrower D Saskatoon WHL- I absolutely love the way that Thrower competes. He may not be the biggest defenseman in the league but he plays big. He hits hard, will fight and had a remarkably strong year offensively. I don't think his offense will translate well at the NHL level but his heart will. He will probably be a 5th or 6th defenseman when he makes it to the NHL. He has strong leadership qualities as well. Could end up being a Willie Mitchell type player.
- 30. Gemel Smith C Owen Sound OHL- Smith is another player that can flat out fly but he is small and slender. He is a gifted athlete that plays better than his size implicates. He played very well at the Under 18's this past season for Canada. Smith competes hard which helps compensate for his physical short coming.
- 31. Jarrod Maidens C Owen Sound OHL- Maidens is one of those fairly safe picks. He doesn't possess the high end talent others do but he has good size and skates well. He looks to develop into a checking line center at the NHL level. He is reliable in his own end and can chip in offensively. Injuries limited Maidens to only 28 games this season.
- 32. Michael Matheson D Dubuque USHL- Much like many other defensemen in this draft he isn't an overly physical defenseman but is effective in the defensive zone. He is skilled with the puck and has some offensive upsides but he can also make some bad decisions and has to learn to be more consistent. Project player who is probably a minimum of three years away from pro hockey.
- 33. Philip De Giuseppe LW Michigan CCHA- Was very impressive at the Canada's World Junior Camp before being eventually cut. Di Giuseppe is a hard working player that looked good playing college against players much older than him. He skates well, has decent hands, and is a smart player away from the puck.
- 34. Brady Vail LW Windsor OHL- Vail is a player that is so important in today's NHL. Vail is a player who kills penalties, blocks shots, and plays against other team's top lines. He does have good offensive awareness but won't be a big scorer in the professional ranks but will chip in from time to time.
- 35. Cristoval "Boo" Nieves C Kent USHS- Nieves is an explosive skater that has a wide array of offensive skills. It's a little hard to judge if these skill are elite or just good because he played High School hockey last season where the competition is weaker. He is a project but there is a high ceiling for this kid who is also 6'3. He is very strong on the fore-check and has a strong hockey IQ. Needs to play a little more in physical areas as he is a little of a perimeter player.
- 36. Colton Scissons C/RW Kelowna WHL- If a team is looking for a future captain that will do anything to win then Scissons is their guy. He is a right handed shot that is very good on face-offs which a lot of teams would like. He is a physical player that is tireless on the fore-check and has a very quick release. He is a smart player that skates quite well. He is a little weak on the defensive side of the puck but with his work ethic I'm sure he will figure it out. Perfect 3rd line player in the future. Reminds me a little bit of David Bolland.
- 37. Zemgus Girgensons C Dubuque USHL- Girgensons was one player I expected a lot more out of at the World Juniors this past winter. He was playing on a weak Latvian team but I didn't see the player scouts were raving about. He is a strong kid who protects the puck well but I didn't see a lot in offensive upside. Probably a 3rd or 4th line centre in the NHL. He is strong at killing penalties and on face-offs.
- 38. Mike Winther C Prince Albert WHL- Winther is the player I'm most familiar with in this year's draft as I've probably seen him play 30 games this year. Winther is a dynamic offensive player with an explosive first stride. He can be a little timid in the physical game but he did improve that part throughout the season. He is very inconsistent as well but that may come with maturity. He has a good shot and is very good at finding open ice in the slot especially in the power play. Excels with a good playmaker on his line. Reminds me a little bit of Simon Gagne.
- 39. Matt Murray G S.S.M OHL- Murray is a huge goaltender but he remains slender at 6'4 170 pounds. Murray acquitted himself well as the starter for Canada at the Under 18's last month. He spent most of the year as Jack Campbell's backup who he should learn a lot from. Murray didn't see as much playing time as the other goalies ranked above him. His numbers were also quite concerning with an .876 save percentage in league play. Murray's skill set is still quite raw but with his massive frame and the chance of filling out he is an enticing prospect.
- 40. Damon Severson D Kelowna WHL- Another draft eligible defenseman from the defense factory in Kelowna. Severson is a smart, solid, all-around defenseman that will probably best suited as a shut-down defender in the NHL. With his size and skating skill he should be an NHL defenseman someday. Plays a similar game to Nick Schultz
- 41. Tanner Pearson C Barrie OHL- Pearson was an afterthought in the last 2 NHL drafts but this season he burst onto the scene showing an offensive acumen that no one seen coming. I don't think Pearson has top end offensive talent but it appears he may be able to be a player at the next level. He is more of a playmaker than a scorer and he has improved his defensive game substantially. Question is because he is two years past his original draft year how much room is there to grow in his game? Did he hit lighting in a bottle this season or is he going to continue to improve?
- 42. Scott Laughton C Oshawa OHL- Laughton is another of those types of players that NHL teams love. He is a responsible two-way player that works extremely hard. He is never going to lead the team in scoring but he will keep the other team's top players frustrated and off the score sheet.
- 43. Patrick Sieloff D U.S NTDP- Sieloff is a rarity in this year's draft among defensemen as he'd rather run you through the boards than make a simple stick check. Simply put this kid loves to hit and at times takes himself out of position to do so. He is your meat and potatoes type of defenseman. He will never run a power play and his first pass is just ok but he plays hard and is really intense.
- 44. Martin Frk RW Halifax QMJHL- Before the season started I had Frk as a lock for the 1st round but injuries have really hurt his ranking. There is also the concern that his development has stalled as he was a better player last season and his skating isn't very strong. One thing Frk has is amazing hands around the net and is seen more as a goal scorer. He left more questions than answers about himself this season which is why he is ranked lower.
- 45. Stefan Matteau LW U.S NTDP- Matteau is a player that likes to play the game on the edge. He is a physical player that at times likes to cross the line. This isn't entirely a bad thing if he is attempting to throw an opposing player off his game. His offensive upside isn't that great but he could be an effective NHL player with his two way game and his size. He is a player that can create energy and momentum with his style of play.
- 46. Nicolas Kerdiles LW U.S NTDP- Kerdiles is a prototypical grinder that wins more loose-puck battles than he loses. He has good speed for his size and has a fairly strong nose for the net. He plays a north-south game and enjoys physical play. His potential is a 3rd line grinder that can score the garbage goals.
- 47. Ville Pokka D Karpat Fin- Pokka is another defenseman in this draft that has really strong puck moving skill but is average sized. What puts Pokka below other defensemen in this draft is he doesn't skate as well as the others in this draft. He is strong on the power play and has a good shot that finds its way through traffic.
- 48. Mikko Vainonen HIFK JR. Fin- Vainonen is one of those safe picks in this year's draft. A safe reliable defenseman that moves the puck quite well. He has good size at 6'3 207 pounds and can provide a small amount of offense from the blue line.
- 49. Jordan Schmaltz D Green Bay USHL- Schmaltz was the top offensive defenseman in the USHL last season. This year his offensive numbers weren't as good which is cause for minimal concern. He isn't a physical player and would rather play a stick check than a solid body check. He is very poised when the puck is on his stick and is one of the best players in this draft at running the power play.
- 50. Henrik Samuelsson C Edmonton WHL- A lot of people have Samuelsson shooting up the ranks going into the draft but I can't. His skating is a huge concern for me. It may not be a problem in juniors but I believe it will be at the professional level. Samuelsson is a smart player with good size and he also has a mean streak. He had a very strong Memorial Cup improving his profile and many see him as a power forward. If he was a better skater he would be a first round talent. He reminds me a little of Bobby Holik.
Here is a list of player that just fell short of my top 50 list: Andreas Athanasiou C London OHL, Lukas Sutter C Saskatoon WHL, Tim Bozon LW Kamloops WHL, Danill Zharkov LW Belleville OHL, Brandon Whitney G Victoriaville QMJHL, Tomas Hyka RW Gatineau QMJHL, Matia Marcantuoni C Kitchener OHL, Ludwig Nilsson Timra Jr Swe, Devin Shore C Whitby Jr.A, Coda Gordon LW Swift Current WHL