Director’s Cut: Race for No. 1 wide open

Dan Stewart2014 Draft Center

Will it be Sam Reinhart? Aaron Ekblad perhaps? Will another step up and grab the title?

Normally, each draft class’ top-end talent has shown itself by November and it comes down to a race between just a few top prospects over the next few months.

At least that has been the case for the past few years where the elite top end of the draft has been more defined and pretty much set-in-stone by this time of the year. That is not the case this time around, though, as our opinion is those who we thought would step up to lock down a top spot so far have not done so.

Sure, some might take a look at the scoring summary and see the inflated stats of Reinhart and automatically figure that he is the de facto top guy. Or they might look at the exceptional player status given to Ekblad three years ago, his imposing vital stats coupled with his ability to put up points and give him the nod for No. 1.

Future Considerations has yet to see a definitive top group really step forward and draw that line as this year’s elite group.

Zenon Herasymiuk, our Western Canada Head Scout, summed it up best after viewing Reinhart early this season. These were games where he hit the score sheet multiple times but still left us with questions.

“I have my fair share of concerns on how Reinhart’s game will translate at the next level,” Herasymiuk said. “He is nowhere near ready to skate at the NHL level. Yes his smarts are all world, but he will not have the same amount of time and space to make things happen when facing tougher competition.

“It is hard for me to sit here and have Reinhart as the top guy when I see other guys like Jake Virtanen, Conner Bleackley, Hayden Fleury and many others improving and I see the same things out of Sam every time I watch him.

“He paints his name all over the score sheet but he has glaring holes in his game that can no longer be overlooked. Yes I think he has the potential to be one of the best players out of this draft class, but I am just not loving his development, and right now he is not my No. 1.”

Herasymiuk is not alone. Many of our scouts and these concerns cover other top talents such as William Nylander, Jakub Vrana and Nick Ritchie.

And with that, the guys who were thought to be secondary tier guys in the summer have closed the gap between the others previously seen at the head of the class — a sign that this draft truly lacks that high-end superstar power but also a sign that the depth of potential serviceable future NHLers is growing by the week. There are many who are making their bid to push to the top of the first round.

Future Considerations early view on this 2014 draft crop is that the race for top spot is as wide open a race as it has been since 2007.

And that makes for an exciting year.

Here are a few rising names to keep an eye on early in the year.

LW Sam Bennett, Kingston (OHL)
As complete a package as you will find in the draft, Bennett has all but caught up to Reinhart in this category of all-round talents. His vision, smarts, skating and high compete level have all boosted his ranking. He’s a complete 200-foot player that every NHL GM would love to add to their organization because he brings so much more than just offense to the table. At this point Bennett should not be counted out as a suitor for first overall.

D Anthony DeAngelo, Sarnia (OHL)
One of the few bright spots for a struggling Sarnia team this season, DeAngelo’s overall game has improved from last season as has his attitude. He seems more patient and calculated on when to go with the puck and is not forcing as many bad passes up ice. His defensive game has also improved thanks to better positioning and overall effort.

D Alexis Vanier, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
The big, mean Vanier has really caught the eye of QMJHL guys early this season with the improvements his game has shown in his skating, offensive confidence this season. He still has room to grow defensively and in his mobility, but this project is looking like he could be the real thing.

RW Nikita Scherbak, Saskatoon (WHL)
All the rookie Russian import does is continue to score. That is the reason Scherbak is working his way up our draft rankings this season. Scherbak has used his speed, creative hands and solid shot selection to open our eyes despite needing work on other facets of his game.

RW Nicholas Jones, Sherwood Park (AJHL), 5-10, 170
Lately, Jones’ performances have been better and he has a good chance to hear his name called come June. His impressive speed and hardworking puck pursuit have us thinking a bottom-six NHL role is within his reach.

RW Pavel Jenys, HC Kometa Brno (Czech), 6-2, 195
Jenys has been strong in the Extraliga so far. He has been able to make a contribution by bringing his physical play and even contributing on the score sheet which in turn has seen his stock rising, especially since we previously considered him a late-round prospect at best.

For a more detailed early season look at draft eligible prospects subscribe to FC’s Monthly Newsletter.

Join me again next month as ‘Directors Cut’ continues to take a look at more NHL draft prospects and news. Until next month, see you at the rink.

Dan Stewart
Director of Scouting
Future Considerations

As always if you have any questions regarding the draft or its prospects, feel free to reach me on Twitter: @StewartFC