Pieces of a Man: Top Ten 2014 NHL Draft Eligible Players

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1. Sam Bennett

Team: Kingston Frontenacs, OHL. 3rd in Eastern Conference.

84 Points, 0.618 Winning Percentage (6th in the OHL)

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Birthdate: June 20, 1996 (Early)

Vitals: 6’0″; 181 –– Position: Center

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Sam Bennett is the best player available in this year’s draft. While I don’t see him as leaps and bounds better than either Leon Draisaitl, or Sam Reinhart, I think he gets clearance from both on a couple of points.

Perhaps Bennett’s greatest strength is his age. The Rhys J piece linked to above (also here) adjusts scoring by age and finds Bennet on top of the heap of available players. Perhaps more impressive, however, is even without adjusting for age, Bennett is the highest even strength scorer available in the draft. His 1.04 ES PPG tops the list of available CHL players. Moreover, his NHLE of 39* is very good and projects as an impact player at the NHL level.

If we look at team and linemate effects, we see Bennett benefits somewhat by playing on a strong team. Kingston was a very strong team (scoring 56% of the even strength goals). However, Bennett outperformed his team by some 10% (when Bennett was on the ice at evens, Kingston’s GF% was c. 66%). This is a good indication, that even on a strong team Bennett separated himself. However, it should be noted that his linemates shared in the burden of scoring somewhat evenly (Bennett’s IPP is a lowish 73.7%, which is on par with his linemates).

Bennett is projected to play center at the NHL and is described as a skilled, two-way player with grit and determination to win puck battles. Red Line Report notes he is “an effortless skater with exceptional quickness and speed… Strong on the puck… Tremendous vision and playmaking ability.” Brock Otten of OHL Prospects files this report on him: “He’s incredibly shifty one on one and does a great job at using his skating ability (his agility and ability to turn is exceptional) in conjunction with his terrific puck skill, to create lanes for him to shoot.”

*note: Desjardins ranks the OHL and the WHL on par and dings the Q marginally, whereas Vollman ranks the OHL higher than the other two CHL leagues, which he ranks on par.

2. Leon Draisaitl

Team: Prince Albert Raiders, WHL. 8th in Eastern Conference.

75 points. 0.521 Winning percentage (T-13th in the WHL)

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Birthdate: October 27, 1995 (Late)

Vitals: 6’1″; 209 –– Position: Center

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Draisaitl is within a hair’s breadth of the top spot. What keeps him from claiming first is his age (he’s one of the older prospects) and failure to match Bennett’s even strength scoring.

What speaks in Draisaitl’s favor, however, is a great deal. He’s tied with Reinhart for the lead of all CHL draft eligible scorers (105 points). His nearly a point per game of even strength scoring (0.92) is also very impressive. And, his NHLE of 40 (35 by Vollman) suggests an impact NHL forward.

Additionally, what helps Draisaitl’s case is the towering presence he projects over his team. The Raiders, while not horrible, were not a very good team this year. At even strength, the Raiders scored only 47% of the goals. However, with Draisaitl on the ice at even strength they were not only in the black, but managed 55% (+8%). Moreover, Draisaitl was largely without elite junior scoring options on his wings in Prince Albert. The next highest regular scoring forward on the Raiders scored 44 less points than Draisaitl (Colin Valcourt, traded to the Raiders mid-season scored 73 points over the course of the season with two teams). This is reflected in Draisaitl’s monster IPP of c. 92% (for more on this see my article here). He was largely made to carry the offensive load and one wonders if he were on a stronger team whether he wouldn’t make a stronger case for top spot.

Draisaitl is projected to play center at the NHL and is described as a puck manager of sorts, able to possess and distribute it to maximal effect. Bruce McCurdy has written eloquently about his puck management, noting, “his A game is clearly one of controlling the play rather than pushing it… When the puck is on Draisaitl’s stick, he owns it. Even if there’s a guy in his kitchen he’s in full control… Very calm with the puck on his stick.” This kind of report is echoed nearly everywhere. Indeed, this report from 2012, when Draisaitl was just 16, mentions “he also protects the puck well.”

He’s had question marks about his character and competitiveness. I roundly dismiss these. See him address this himself here.

3. Sam Reinhart

Team: Kootenay Ice, WHL. 6th in Eastern Conference.

83 points. 0.576 Winning percentage (12th in the WHL)

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Birthdate: November 6, 1995 (Late)

Vitals: 6’1″; 183 –– Position: Center

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Often ranked as high as 1st over-all, Reinhart belongs among the class of the top flight centers jostling for position. While I think a reasonable person could make an argument for any of the three over the others, Reinhart falls just short of Bennett and Draisaitl.

Like Draisaitl, Reinhart is one of the older members of the 2014 draft class. Even so, he managed to tie with Draisaitl for the CHL eligible prospect scoring title (105 points). And, by virtue of playing 4 less games than Draisaitl, Reinhart owns the best point per game production (all disciplines) of the draft class. On this basis, Rhys J, in another interesting article, has made a convincing case for the appeal of Reinhart. While his even strength scoring is a shade above Draisaitl’s (0.03 PPG higher), extraskater estimates that he played roughly 3.5 minutes more per game (all disciplines).

Looking at Reinhart’s NHLE (43 for Desjardins and 37 for Vollman), we see a strong candidate for impact NHL forward status.

Reinhart also had a positive impact on his team, giving them a +8% goals for percentage when on the ice. His value to the team also shines through in his (like Draisaitl) monstrous IPP. The offence ran through Reinhart in Kootenay.

Reinhart is projected to play center in the NHL, though there is some sense that he may end up on the wing. He is described as a creative play-maker with with “tremendous stickhandling ability” (Red Line). More than anything, his ability to read and react to on-ice situations is praised.

4. William Nylander

Team: Modo, SHL

Birthdate: May 1, 1996 (Mid-Early)

Vitals: 5’11”; 184 –– Position: Center/Wing

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After the top 3 (which belong together as a tier all their own IMO), the players form a bit more of a hodge-podge. Any of these players could, in the course of time, emerge as the best talent of the draft class. Nylander has been on everyone’s radar for a long time (he was ranked 3rd OV on Bob McKenzie’s September 2013 rankings).

With the exception of 3 games in the Swedish junior league (SuperElit; last year in this league he scored an impressive 43 points in 27 games), Nylander has spent the regular season between Sweden’s top men’s leagues (the premier league, the SHL, and the second tier league, Allsvenskan). That in itself is an impressive feat for the young man–even more impressive considering Nylander is one of the younger players in this year’s draft (he has a mid-early birthday).

In 22 games with Modo of the SHL, Nylander only put up 7 points (which only translates to a NHLE of 20 — small sample size alert!). However, we can see that his TOI was quite limited (only 13.16 per game). More impressive, however, is Nylander’s stay in the Allsvenskan. In 17 games with Södertälje, Nylander managed 19 points. And, he exploded at this year’s World Under-18 Championships for 16 points in 7 games.

Nylander projects as a highly skilled (some suggest he has the most pure skill in the draft) forward (it is unclear if he’ll play at center or on the wing in the NHL). Elite Prospects writes,

Nylander is an extremely skilled, dynamic player who has quick hands and feet that make him dangerous offensively. He has great top-end speed, a strong burst and elite vision. He can distribute the puck like few other his age. An intelligent player, he out-thinks opponents regularly.

There are some unfortunate question marks about Nylander that I largely ignore. For example, Red Line writes, “Has more pure offensive skill than any player in the entire draft, but slips due to question marks about his size and attitude.”

5. Robby Fabbri

Team: Guelph Storm, OHL. 1st in Western Conference.

108 Points, 0.794 Winning Percentage (1st in the OHL)

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Birthdate: January 22, 1996 (Late-Mid)

Vitals: 5’10”; 165 –– Position: Center

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Fabbri is an exceptional even strength scorer. After Bennett, he’s the best even strength scorer in the draft class (0.97 PPG). His NHLE projects an impact forward for the NHL (37). He scored his points in what extraskater estimates is a full minute less time than did Bennett (all disciplines).

So, why is he typically ranked as a late first rounder? Size. Fabbri is a slight 5’10” 165.

I don’t care. This kid can score and that’s what matters.

Moreover, his scouting reports repeatedly suggest excellent skating and play without the puck to go with creativity. Brock Otten of OHL Prospects writes, “He excels without the puck and is a real puck hound. If he doesn’t have the puck, he’s going to fight to get it and is great at forcing turnovers in the neutral zone, using his smarts and an active stick.” Elite Prospects writes, “He uses his speed and mobility to be shifty and elusive but is also willing to play physical. His hands are skilled, he shows some creativity on the ice and has a quick shot release.” These sentiments are echoed here and here.

If I have a concern about Fabbri, it is that he plays on such a dominant team. The Storm were 1st in the OHL this season. Fabbri’s lowish IPP (c. 72%) suggests his team wasn’t overly reliant on him to generate offence. That said, he improved his team’s impressive 66% even strength goal share by +6%.

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