Sam Bennett leads the way

Gus Katsaros
March 11, 2014
Sam Bennett leads the way
McKeen's Hockey's David Bursytn and Gus Katsaros preview the first round of the upcoming June Draft

Every year fans and analysts assess the prospect crop and hear about how this draft is going be deep, not deep enough, thin at the top, lacking stars after the first few picks or compared to previous years breadth of talent.

Yet, every season players find their way into the ranks of the NHL, regardless of where they are selected.

Becoming an NHL regular has less to do with draft selection and rather how they fare after that career door opening selection on their developmental path. Players develop their way into being ranked one way by NHL Central Scouting Services (CSS), and by 30 NHL teams and then by third party scouting services like us, McKeen’s Hockey.

Every single list can vary by a small degree or wide gaps based on criteria put together by proprietary information held by organizations constructing their lists.

There are always surprises, similar to the ranking of Seth Jones as an automatic lock as a #1 or #2 overall draft pick in 2013, yet dropped to fourth overall and selected by an elated Nashville Predators organization. Clearly, Florida had a ranking where Aleksander Barkov placed higher than Jones and Florida didn’t waiver in their rankings and selected the player they felt represented the best value and filled a need. Tampa Bay followed suit, opting for Jonathan Drouin, despite question marks surrounding their blue line at the time of the draft.

Every draft has its own dynamic that begins the moment the previous draft ended, followed by volumes upon volumes of notes based on multiple views fleshing out outlines of prospects potential, ranking them and putting team needs into focus while developing lists. The draft floor presents various challenges to team lists, including player availability due to dropping from the generalized open consensus from those on the outside, and fan/analyst opinions.

Do you remember in 2010 how high Cam Fowler was ranked? See how he dropped to 12th overall? Each team that lined up after the previous one passed on the blueliner had a decision to choose this player, or stay their course and pick the player they likely approved of more in that draft range.

The Ducks received a top-5 ranked defenseman almost midway through the first round, to their delight. Every other General Manager and Director of Amateur Scouting had to make an important decision, on the spot, assessing both the available player, value in their slot, and the extra element of having a player they likely didn’t feel would be available in that draft slot suddenly becoming a viable option.

Ottawa traded away a first round pick in 2009 (17th overall) bypassing selecting anyone in that range in order to take David Rundblad from the St. Louis Blues, drafted the previous year in around the same range and already one year ahead in the developmental curve.

New Jersey traded their first round pick in the draft they were hosting to shore up their goaltending situation for years down the road. They used the pick like a currency to buy a good goaltender.

Every draft has its own dynamic, drastically changing the outlook that can change with just one pick.

Drafting is a complicated equation of value in the draft slot, available players, positional implications and last but not least, risk assessment.

With this mock draft, McKeen’s Hockey Director of Amateur Scouting, David Burstyn had to combine all of those elements estimating prospects worth, team needs among other various elements to make a selection each team is likely to make on the draft floor in Philadelphia.

1) Sabres - Sam Bennett (C)

Bennett gives the Sabres a heart-and-soul player along the lines of a Rod Brind'Amour or a Jonathan Toews. He is pure character who skates extremely well and can make a difference in all three zones.

2) Oilers - Aaron Ekblad (D)

Criticized in the past for taking too many forwards, the Oilers' brass jump on man-child Ekblad whose booming shot and burgeoning physical play make him an ideal selection.

3) Flames - Sam Reinhart (C)

The third Reinhart to join the Flames, following Paul (father) and brother Max, and gives the club an explosive 1-2 punch down the middle with Sean Monahan developing so impressively. 

4) Panthers - Michael Dal Colle (LW)

Panthers need help up the middle and on the Wings, luckily Dal Colle can play both and also piles up the points as he is currently third in OHL scoring.

5) Sabres via Islanders (Isles have option to defer pick to 2015) - Leon Draisaitl (C)

Isles will likely forgo pick especially considering the strong 2015 draft class. Sabres wisely select Draisaitl, a player who plays a similar game to Mikko Koivu and has the potential to play in a top six while manufacturing strong offensive numbers.

6) Predators - Jared McCann (C)

Slick playmaking center hasn't put up points like his OHL counterparts but his game is much more in tune with the Predators style of play as he is a two-way threat with great speed and a blistering one timer scoring up front all round.

7) Hurricanes - Haydn Fleury (D)

Canes still need help on the backend and Fleury would be a potential strong candidate. An outstanding skater with attractive offensive tools, however he needs to play up to his size and develop his defensive decision making.

8) Ducks via Senators (re Bobby Ryan trade) - Nikolaj Ehlers (D)

Ehlers may be the best skater in the draft as he glides quicker than most accelerate. Add to the equation that he can score and this is exactly the type of player the Ducks system complements.

9) Canucks - Nick Ritchie (LW)

Ritchie already has pro size at six-foot-three and 225 pounds. A hulking power forward whose offensive abilities are nearer the top of this year's draft class highlighted by a lethal shot.

10) Coyotes - Jake Virtanen (LW)

Virtanen is hard-nosed, skilled, and lightning quick. He gives the Coyotes a strong-skating, physical forward who could boost the scoring depth up front with the potential to develop into a top-level sniper.

11) Jets - William Nylander (C)

The son of former NHLer Michael, William is a flashy player who can score highlight-reel goals. Overcame a poor start to make a big impact in the Swedish Allsvenskan (Div. 2) where he is averaging over a point per game.

12) Capitals - Brendan Perlini (LW)

Too often tentative to fully engage physically, however Perlini can really skate as well as score. He has slowed down over the second half yet continues to flash a Jeff Carter-like ability to manufacture offense.

13) Red Wings - Julius Honka (D)

Honka is a slick puck-moving defenseman who can generate offence in transition - and finish with a lethal shot. He is among the top 10 blueline scorers in the WHL and has represented Team Finland four times already in international play.

14) Stars - Jakub Vrana (LW)

Stealth-like in his approach, Vrana has struggled to get ice time this season in the Swedish Elitserien. There is no denying his skill set however, especially when measured against his own peer group where he produces in abundance.

15) Blue Jackets - Ivan Barbashev (RW)

Barbashev is not your typical Russian as he plays with grit and engages. He has understated vision as well as the requisite puck skills to play with better players and complement their games.

16) Rangers - Roland McKeown (D)

McKeown can skate and log the puck up ice. He could be a viable top four defenseman in the NHL, though still needs some work on his defensive game in spite of an impressive plus-38 rating.

17) Flyers - Kasperi Kapanen  (RW)

The son of former NHLer Sami who enjoyed five years as a Flyer. A smart offensive talent, however Kasperi has endured a trying season in the top Finnish league (SM-liiga) including a shoulder injury which likely cost him a WJC gold medal.

18) Maple Leafs - David Pastrnak (RW)

Produced some strong performances at the World Juniors for Team Czech, and has made significant progress as a 17 year-old playing in the Swedish Allsvenskan. Speedy, multi-purpose forward who showcases a penchant for timely offense

19) Lightning - Adrian Kempe (C)

The Lightning are delighted to add a sizeable forward with a fast north-south gear and an intriguing skill set. Kempe boasts a long, rangy body and a good shooting release, although goals have been hard to come by playing in Sweden's J20 league.

20) Canadiens - Alex Tuch (C/RW)

Montreal continues to address size issues up front with the addition of Tuch who brings a large body and a healthy compete level. Does play a physical 'power forward' style, albeit does tend to use his hands more than his frame.

21) Wild - Dylan Larkin (C)

A hard-working, multi-faceted forward who does everything well. Larkin blends speed and skill into a nice tidy package - and will benefit from adding muscle and bulk to a mid-sized frame.

22) Kings - Joshua Ho-Sang (RW)

One of the more entertaining forwards in this year's draft class, Ho-Sang appears to have the puck stapled to his blade at times when in possession. Despite having attractive NHL skills as an attacker, he will need to work on his defensive play.

23) Bruins - Jack Dougherty (D)

A physical defender who can also handle and make a play with the puck, Dougherty is at his best when he gets into a game early. Still raw, yet an attractive prospect given his long-term projection.

24) Avalanche - Nick Schmaltz (C)

More of a playmaker than a finisher, Schmaltz's hands work like a surgeon inside the offensive zone as he can administer passes with uncanny precision. NHL teams would like to see more fire and sacrifice from him.

25) Sharks - Jack Glover (D)

At six-foot-three, Glover has the size to play in the league but needs to fill out substantially. He has good agility and his puck skills have shown marked improvement since the beginning of the year.

26) Blackhawks - Robert Fabbri (C)

The Hawks have solid depth and therefore opt for the best player available. Fabbri is a dynamic, hard-working forward whose game has grown steadily this season. Plays a tough, 'in-your-face' style despite being undersized.

27) Penguins  - Marcus Pettersson (D)

A converted forward and still learning the nuances of being a defenceman. Pettersson will have plenty of time to fill out an expansive frame which is still largely under-developed physically. Budding puck skills make him an enticing pick.

28) Sabres via Blues (Conditional*) - Conner Bleackley (C)

Buffalo could move their third first-round pick - or continue to re-stock the cupboard up front. Red Deer captain at just 17, Bleackley is a scorer who has the ability to win pucks, drive the net and do the little things offensively.

29) Ducks - Kevin Fiala (LW)

The Swiss-born Fiala is an offensive weapon and has produced at every level - including big numbers this season in Sweden's J20 league. The package is tempered however by his lack of size - and immature defensive game.

30) Devils - Anton Karlsson (RW)

Karlsson has stumbled at times this season especially in international play. A gritty player who can execute and make plays at a high rate of speed, though there are concerns about his offensive ceiling.

* The conditions can be found here