Sunday, May 4, 2014
Sunday Top 10 - 2014 NHL Draft Re-Entries
2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. This is always one of the most read articles I put out each year. It's also the topic which I receive the most questions on, whether through email or blog comments. For whatever reason, the concept fascinates people. Of course, I'm referring to the concept of the "draft re-entry." A shift in drafting philosophy has seen an enormous rise of these players getting drafted in recent years. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the new CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Shaw is a great example from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.
Just to clarify yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.
Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2012 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.
Last year continued the trend with 8 overage (second and third year eligible) players selected from the OHL, including two third round picks (Connor Crisp and Kurtis Gabriel). I think this year represents a bit of a down year for re-entries from the OHL, but I'd still be shocked if 5-6 don't go somewhere in the 7 rounds.
Without further rambling, here's my list:
10. Brenden Miller - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Miller's had an absolutely fantastic OHL playoffs, which is obviously something scouts key in on. He has good size and plays in all situations for North Bay, including helping to quarterback their powerplay. He's also slowly developed into their premier puck rusher/mover, but has added more of a physical element to his game this year. At 6'1, 200lbs, Miller has the size to develop into a quality two-way player at the next level and has blossomed under the tutelage of Stan Butler.
9. Josh Sterk - Forward - Oshawa Generals
An offseason trade from Kitchener really allowed Sterk to blossom. His progression as a player allowed the team to move Cole Cassels to the wing and made them a much deeper team (one of the reasons they were able to take the regular season East crown). He's not the biggest guy, but he's quick and fearless. He works very well in high traffic areas and excels as a playmaker, especially off the boards and from behind the net. The biggest difference between this year and last year was the consistency of his effort away from the puck. He's always been a high energy player, but was able to put it all together this year. Could be the Generals first line center next year.
8. Erik Bradford - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Was always a strong role player for Barrie, a guy who can kill penalties or preserve a lead, but after a trade to Ottawa, his offensive game really exploded because he finally received top line minutes. He flat out dominated with the 67's and looked like a different player, quite frankly. He still possessed that strong two-way game, but was showing so much confidence with the puck and flashed a skill level and finishing ability that we never really saw in Barrie. He has a lot going for him, except for health right now. Teams may wait to see how that broken leg heals before using a draft pick on him (could be a solid overage signing candidate).
7. Brendan Bell - Forward - Ottawa 67's
The captain of the Ottawa 67's had a breakout season, thrust into an offensive role for the first time in his OHL career. He's got a lot of things going for him that NHL teams are going to find attractive. He's got great size and uses it with and without the puck. He's very effective in the slot and near the crease as a goal scorer, but is also a good forechecker and board player. He can kill penalties and is one of the team's top defensive forwards. And he's a very physical player who opens up a lot of space for his linemates. The skating is only average, but the rest of his game profiles him well as a potential NHL checking line forward.
6. Anthony DiFruscia - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
I felt like DiFruscia was good enough to be a late round selection last year and I think his stock has only gone up as a player. Last year he showed flashes of developing into a real pest-like, physical goal scorer, but his intensity without the puck wasn't consistent. This year, the consistency was there and he was a big factor on Niagara's top line with Brendan Perlini and Carter Verhaeghe, opening up space for the two of them to operate. He's not the biggest guy, but he's become quite strong and was a real factor on the forecheck, forcing turnovers this year. He also improved the quality of his shot and release and it allowed him to convert more of his scoring chances this year. He's not necessarily the type of guy who's going to create his own chances off the rush, but he's a hard working, physical complimentary scorer who could have success on a scoring line.
5. Marcus McIvor - Defense - North Bay Battalion
I will be absolutely shocked if McIvor goes undrafted this year (in fact, I'll be surprised if it's not LA who drafts him). McIvor is one of the top stay at home defenseman in the league and possesses all the qualities necessary to continue his defensive prowess at the NHL level. At 6'1, 235lbs, he's able to assert himself in front of the net, in the corners, and his solid skating ability allows him to be a factor on the open ice too. For as good as he is defensively, he's not terrible with the puck and makes smart decisions to avoid turnovers in his own end and was even quarterbacking the Battalion powerplay this year. He's the type of guy who could play 10+ years on a third pairing.
4. Max Iafrate - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
One of the only bright spots for Kitchener this year. After it appeared that his development had stalled last year, Iafrate was surprisingly good at both ends of the ice in 2014. He finally found ways to utilize his strong skating stride to "smartly" create offensive chances from the blueline, where as before he was forcing things and had become quite prone to turnovers. He's always had a cannon of a shot from the point, but did a better job of getting himself in position to use it this year, and was able to improve the accuracy of the shot too. Defensively, he chased the play less and asserted himself physically with more consistency. The Avs' AHL team, (Lake Erie), gave him a tryout at the end of the season, which can sometimes be a precursor to a selection in June.
3. Stephen Harper - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Harper was certainly one of the most hyped players from the OHL to go undrafted last year. He was eventually dealt from Erie to Belleville (in the Brendan Gaunce deal) and that really turned his season around. In Belleville he looked much better, and closer to the 16/17 year old rookie we saw score 24 once upon a time ago. He looked more confident carrying the puck than he ever did in Erie and George Burnett seems to have gotten the best out of his intensity level away from the puck. He remains a guy with a lot of potential, especially if he can continue to show promise as a center (as he did at times in Belleville this year). Interestingly enough, he played defense (partnered with Jordan Subban) to end the season and looked quite comfortable doing it. I'm curious to see where Belleville sees him moving forward (although I'd be surprised if he doesn't slide back to center/wing).
2. Hunter Garlent - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Garlent is like the little engine that could. A trade from Guelph to Peterborough really allowed him to take the spotlight as an offensive force. For as much skill Garlent has with the puck (and as a playmaker), he's a real battler without the puck. Despite his lack of size, he's a big time factor in the corners and in front of the net. His hockey sense is incredibly strong and his skating is certainly good enough to help him overcome his lack of size (at least from the perspective of NHL scouts). He and Nick Ritchie developed near instant chemistry in Peterborough and the two of them are likely to do some serious damage in the OHL next year (with Garlent being a darkhorse to end up as a top 5 scorer).
1. Hunter Smith - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Easily the top re-entry from the OHL this year, as Smith is the only player I see with a great shot at going inside the top 3 rounds. Smith was a non factor a year ago, and was perhaps even a candidate to lose his spot on Oshawa's roster going into this season. Instead, he does a complete 180 and ends up on a scoring line and the powerplay unit. His ability to disrupt goaltenders on the powerplay can be likened to the way the Bruins use Zdeno Chara with the man advantage in the NHL. He's so big and strong that OHL defenseman had a really tough time tying him up. And his hands are actually quite good, at least good enough to allow him to finish off plays in close or redirect shots. He's also a very physical player who can change the momentum of the game with a big hit on the forecheck, or with a fight. As the season went on, his ability to play in transition improved too and he shows flashes of being able to be a solid puck possession guy. There's too much to like for NHL scouts to pass him up again, especially after his terrific playoff performance. I think he's a 2nd rounder at this point.
There are three very talented goaltenders from the OHL who I could see getting selected. The first two are facing off in the OHL Championship right now; Justin Nichols and Jake Smith. They've both been fantastic this year for their teams (in the regular season and in the playoffs). Both play a similar game that relies on good positioning and athleticism to make up for a lack of elite size. The fact that both are undersized makes them less likely to get selected than the third netminder I'm going to mention; Owen Sound's Brandon Hope. Hope was actually excellent last year as Jordan Binnington's back up, and simply continued that strong play into the season when he took over the number one role. He's got good size, squares up to shooters well and has worked hard to improve his rebound control. All three could be solid professional goaltenders.
Ottawa's Nevin Guy exploded this year and emerged as the team's top powerplay quarterback, in his second year in the league. He's undersized and has some holes defensively, but he's a hard worker and oozes offensive talent from the blueline. You have to think he keeps getting better at both ends of the ice.
Peterborough's Brandon Devlin is worth mentioning here. He's a big kid with a cannon for a shot, and he's not afraid to use his size to push guys around in his own end. But he's still a bit of a project and can make his share of mistakes, both with the puck, and in his own end. He definitely has potential and should be one of the top overage defenseman in the league next year.
Last two guys are similar players, Niagara's Luke Mercer, and Barrie's Jonathan Laser. Both are averaged sized guys who eat up a ton of minutes for their junior teams. Mercer serves as Niagara's captain and is a very effective guy at both ends of the ice. Laser is Aaron Ekblad's defensive partner in Barrie and is just a really steady defensive player. Mercer is the more effective puck mover, while Laser is the more physical player.
The Sudbury duo of Nathan Pancel and Matthew Campagna continue to make an appearance on this list. Pancel is the trigger man, while Campagna is the playmaker. Neither player possesses terrific size and neither player is a terrific two-way player (although both players have worked to improve their play away from the puck). At one point, I had both of these players in the top 10 of this list, but the sour note that Sudbury left in scouts mouths down the stretch has to count for something. Pancel only had 8 goals in the final 29 games of the year and Campagna struggled in the club's opening round series. Both could still be solid pro prospects, but look more like potential overage free agents next year if they can finish the year stronger.
Owen Sound's Holden Cook was named the 2nd most underrated player in the Western Conference in this year's coaches poll. He actually led the Attack in scoring this year, a 34 point improvement over his totals last year. Not only was he the club's most consistent player this year, but he plays in all situations for the Attack and is a solid two-way center. Cook has goal scoring potential at the next level with a solid wrister and a knack at finding pucks near the crease.
Saulte Ste Marie's Bryan Moore, Oshawa's Bradley Latour, and London's Matt Rupert are three players cut from the same cloth. None of them possess elite size, but they're all fearless and effective offensive players who bring a ton of energy to the ice. They excel in driving to the net, with and without the puck, and are excellent players in the cycle due to their lower center of gravity. Worth mentioning is that Latour was one of the youngest players eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, missing out on being first time eligible in 2014 by only a few days.
Belleville's Jake Marchment is a really interesting player that I actually think has a great shot of being drafted this year. He played in his first OHL season this year (as a '95) and got better and better as the season went on. At 6'3, 200lbs, he's got alluring size for a center and has a lot of potential in the puck possession game. He can also drop the mitts and is certainly no stranger to the physical components of the game. My guess is he really takes off next year and a team may look to jump on him later in the draft.
Last guy I'll mention is North Bay's Vincent Praplan. The Swiss import is an exceptionally skilled offensive player with the puck on his stick and has terrific speed. Off the rush, he was able to create a lot of scoring chances for North Bay this year. But in the tighter checking games of the playoffs, he hasn't been nearly as much of a factor. That isn't too say that he's a perimeter player, just that he's not nearly as effective when the game slows down in the offensive end.