NHL Draft

Bennett, Ekblad, Lead Pack of 2014 NHL Prospects

aaron_ekblad_barrie_colts[1]Aaron Ekblad is expected to be the #1 pick in the NHL Amateur Draft (photo courtsy of fansided)

by Alli Baker

The 2014 NHL draft is upon us ( 7 pm EDT).  And while this year’s group of prospects may not look as dynamic or exciting as last year’s crop, this annual event always seems to have an impact in some way.

These prospects now have the chance to change the 2014-2015 season for their new teams. Take the Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, for example. MacKinnon, who was the first overall pick last year, provided a huge presence for Colorado this year, and won the Calder Trophy in the process. While this is the goal of all draft prospects, only a few succeed in truly having a dramatically positive effect.

This year’s draft prospects are not projected to have this same sort of influence. “I don’t recall a year recently when there were as many question marks.” an NHL scout recently commented on this year’s prospects. “Skilled kids who lack size; players who might have issues with attitude or commitment. It seems to be a really volatile draft.” 1 Nonetheless, these top prospect like Samuel Bennett, Aaron Ekblad, and Sam Reinhart who are expected to go near the top of the draft, are still projected to provide some kind of an impact.

Here’s a closer look at the projected Top Ten prospects of the 2014 NHL draft:

10. Jake Virtanen: Known for his scoring ability, Virtanen would provide any team with extra offense and aggressiveness. The Calgary Hitman scored 45 goals last year in the WHL.  He also accumulated 100 penalty minutes, demonstrating that he has both goal-scoring talent and a mean streak. Although he possesses obvious talent, it has been said that he lacks “great vision or hockey sense,” which puts Virtanen at the bottom of our top 10. 2

9. Haydn Fleury: Considered the second-best defenseman available in this year’s draft, Fleury is quite the package. The 6’3″, 201 lb. Canadian possesses size, speed, and good hockey sense. However, unlike defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Fleury doesn’t display the same offensive knack. Although he scored 46 points last year in the WHL, Fleury lacks offensive explosiveness.

8: Nikolaj Ehlers: A speedy player with good puck-handling skills, Ehlers would provide any team with some explosive offense. The Dane scored over 100 points while playing in Halifax, however, he played alongside Jonathan Drouin, who was also a very talented goal scorer. This leads one to wonder whether Ehlers has goal-scoaring talent, or he just had an extremely talented line mate. Ehlers’ size is also somewhat of a concern. At 5’11”, 162 lbs, he may end up getting pushed around in the NHL.

7: William Nylander: Son of veteran NHL player Michael Nylander, William has inherited his father’s hockey skills and is known for his impressive agility, quickness, and great hands. Nylander scored an insane 16 points in seven games during last year’s under-18 games, proving he has offensive talent. However, at 5’11”, 175 lbs.,the left wing is small in size and he has some strength to gain. He has also been said to be “sometimes selfish, always a diva.” Although he definitely has talent, his attitude problems have lowered his draft value. <sup>2<sup>

6: Nick Ritchie: This big forward possesses both formidable size and scoring talent. Ritchie scored 39 goals for the Peterborough Petes, showing his goal-scoring talent. On top of that, Ritchie isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. At 6’3″, 236 pounds, this combination of size and offensive talent lands Ritchie at number six on the list.

5: Leon Draisaitl: Draisaitl appears to be the total package; he has size, speed, and he has been a consistent goal scorer. Nicknamed “The German Gretzky,” Draisaitl is set to become the highest-drafted German player. This center for the Prince Albert Raiders scored 38 goals in 64 games during the 2013-14 season, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down offensively. Yet, he has been said to lack hockey instincts and therefore he likely won’t be draft higher than number five.

4: Michael Dal Colle: Dal Colle is a talented goal-scorer with a solid two-way game. The left wing has been compared to Ryan Getzlaf and has the ability to provide a real offensive impact wherever he plays. However, his lanky frame and lack of weight are a possible concern at the NHL level. If Dal Colle bulks up, he really doesn’t have many other flaws. 3

3: Sam Reinhardt: Reinhardt has intelligence on the ice and the ability to handle the puck, yet his size is nothing extraordinary and his speed has caused him to be described as “barely an average skater.” However, it’s possible for his smart play and exceptional puck-handling to make up for his lack of speed and size. With a little more time to develop, Reinhardt has the potential to develop into a solid NHL forward.

2: Sam Bennett: Bennett’s character and play on the ice have been given rave reviews by almost everyone out there, and there’s no doubt he has offensive skill. However, Bennett failed to do even a single pull-up at the draft combine, leading some to wonder about his strength. Even so, Bennett is still a solid goal scorer and his NHL future is most likely not going to be impacted much by the fact that he couldn’t do a pull-up. “He’s a fantastic player and a highly skilled guy,” according to Matt Nichol, a former strength coach for the Maple Leafs. With that being said, Bennett is projected to be taken within the top three. 4

1. Aaron Ekblad: Ekblad, a defenseman for Barrie Colt, has been projected to go within the top three by every scout that has surveyed him. The 18-year-old from Winsdor, Canada, stands at 6’4″ and weighs 213 pounds, making him a physical force as well as a talented puck handler. He leads the OHL in goals scored by a defenseman (23), and he has been compared to Shea Weber and Chris Pronger. A scout recently told the Toronto Sun that “He’s an NHL passer already. He’s the most flawless of the top players and he’s the most NHL-ready.” Ekblad has a little bit of everything and is by far the best defenseman of the 2014 draft, making him the top pick on this list. 1

1 – TSN CA

2 – Bleacher Report

3 – Pro Hockey Talk (Colle)

4 – Pro Hockey Talk (Bennett)

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23

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Hartnell and Umberger Switch Places As Draft Nears

scott-hartnellHartnell says he was forced out of Philadelphia (photo courtesy of rantsports.com)

by Drew Sarver

It’s been only 11 days since the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup, but the front offices of the National Hockey League teams are in full swing in preparation for the amateur draft (June 27-28) and the free agent period, which begins on July 1.

The week started out yesterday with a trade between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The two exchanged veterans with Scott Hartnell sent from Philly to Ohio for R.J. Umberger, a 4th round pick in next year’s draft.

Will this be the beginning of another shakeup for the Flyers, who have not won the Stanley Cup since 1975? It’s hard to tell so far. For once, they finally have a quality goalie in Steve Mason, but they finished third in the division, not far above the two wild card teams.

Hartnell, 32, shook off some early injuries to have a decent year – 20 goals (9 on the power play), 103 penalty minutes, and +11 in 78 games played – but he was pretty much invisible in a seven-game, first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers. He will have a $4.75MM impact on the Blue Jackets’ salary cap and he has five years remaining on his current contract.

Hartnell plays with a rough-and-tumble style that should give the Blue Jackets a more physical presence on the ice. The former 1st round draft pick, sixth overall in 2000, Hartnell spent the last seven years in Philadelphia after six seasons with Nashville. The Predators dealt the left wing along with current Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timmonen for a first round pick after the 2006-2007 season. Hartnell scored a career-high 37 goals and 60 points for the Flyers three seasons ago.

Though he produced five 20-plus goal seasons, Umberger has never been a big point producer. This past season, he posted the second-worst total of his career, with 34 points in 74 games. Also 32-years of age, Umberger played for the Flyers for the first three seasons of his career before he was dealt to Columbus after the 2007-2008 season. He received one vote for the Selke Trophy, for best defensive forward, in his first year with the Blue Jackets. His last year in Philly was arguably his best season when he scored 10 goals and added five assists in 17 postseason games. (The Flyers lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.)

Umberger doesn’t represent much of a savings on the cap, (his cap hit is $4.6MM),  but his contract is two years shorter than Hartnell’s.

Hartnell spoke with reporters on Monday and said he was forced out of Philadelphia. “A few days ago … four or five days ago now … my agent got the call from Hexy (new Flyers GM Ron Hextall) and said there were a couple of teams that inquired about me. He hummed (sic) and hawed about my role and my position in Philadelphia, and he decided it was best for me to move on from the Flyers”.1 Hartnell had to waive his no-trade clause to make the deal happen.

Part of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was to grant each team two amnesty buyouts. The move allows team to take two salaries off their books without a hit to the salary cap. The team cannot renegotiate a new deal with the bought-out players. Just three players, listed below, have been bought out so far by their current teams.  Teams have until June 30 to give players the boot. The salary cap for next season is expected to be about $71MM.

Dallas Stars – D Aaron Rome
Rome represented just a $1.5MM hit to the cap in what would have been the final year of his contract. He averaged just over 13 minutes of ice time per game. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman, who has been criticized for not using his size (6’1″, 218 lbs) enough.2

New York Rangers – C/LW Brad Richards
This was a no-brainer for Rangers’ GM Glen Sather. Richards’ time in New York has been underwhelming to say the least. While he had a much better season under first-year coach Alain Vigneault than he did  in his two years under John Tortorella, Richards was invisible in the Stanley Cup finals, except when he made a mistake. Last season, he managed just one point in 10 playoff games. Even if the Rangers had won the cup, his fate was likely sealed, since the 34-year old stood to make $6.67MM for each of the next six years.

Vancouver Canucks – LW David Booth
Booth scored 60 points in 72 games in the 2008-2009 season, but it has been all downhill from there. The speedy winger, with a history of concussions, tallied just 9 goals and 10 assists in this past season.

 

1 – Puck Daddy

2 – The Hockey News – Aaron Rome

3 – The Hockey News – David Booth

Cap statistics courtesy of Capgeek.com

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.