2014 NHL Draft Preview: Ekblad heads another solid OHL class

By Jason Menard

Aaron Ekblad - Barrie Colts

Photo: Barrie Colts defenseman and 2014 prospect Aaron Ekblad is said to be the most NHL-ready player in this year’s NHL Draft class (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

While it may not be the slam-dunk consensus that previous years have provided, either Sam Bennett or Aaron Ekblad are the odds-on favorites to be the sixth first-overall NHL Draft selection in the past nine years to come from the OHL.

So, do you pick the potential cornerstone blueliner or the two-way pivot? Come June 27th, we’ll know — and the thinking here is that the Florida Panthers’ first selection is going to be summed up in one word:

Exceptional.

1. Aaron Ekblad (CSS – 2NA; ISS – 2) D, Barrie Colts

Ever since he entered the league as a 15-year-old exceptional player, Ekblad has made an impact — a big one.

Now 6’5" and 216 pounds, Ekblad has an NHL-ready body, an NHL-ready game, and is the prototypical big, mobile, two-way defender that NHL teams would love to plug into their defense for 12 years.

But what sets Ekblad apart from the competition is that he has a maturity and poise that far exceeds his 18 years. He has dealt with the stress of all the added attention of being an exceptional player and a team leader, and he has excelled.

Ekblad is poised for superstardom and should be the sure-fire number one selection this year.

2. Sam Bennett (CSS – 1NA; ISS – 4) C, Kingston Frontenacs

Bennett is one of two Sams (along with the WHL’s Reinhart) who sit atop the rankings and could go first overall, dependent upon the drafting team’s needs. Bennett put up 91 points in 58 games with Kingston and is one of the elite, two-way players in the draft.

Bennett isn’t overly large at six feet, but possesses good quickness, solid hands, and a commitment to being in the right place at the right time. He’s been compared to players like Matt Duchene and, at the high end, Steve Yzerman. While his upside may not be that great, he does project to be a top-line center with solid punch.

3. Michael Dal Colle (CSS – 5NA; ISS – 3) LW, Oshawa Generals

Dal Colle brings size, speed, and great hands to the table. In 67 games this year, he scored 39 goals and added 56 assists. He still needs to bulk up — though at 6’2" and 180 pounds, he has plenty of room to fill out. And combined with his skating ability, agility, and deftness with the puck, he’ll be an intriguing prospect to watch develop.

Simply put, he’s not a power forward in the traditional sense, but represents the next evolution in the position. With size, stability, and strength, he’ll be able to fend off attackers, but with elite hands, skill, and shiftiness, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the offensive zone.

4. Nick Ritchie (CSS – 7NA; ISS – 10) LW, Peterborough Petes

If Dal Colle is a non-prototypical power forward, Ritchie fits the traditional power forward mold perfectly.

He’s the same size as Dal Colle, but at 220 pounds, he’s got NHL-ready size already. And, with his brother Brett, he’s got an NHL pedigree.

Ritchie brings a bull-in-a-china-shop mentality to his game. There’s not a lot of daintiness or refinement to how he plays — he puts his head down, powers his way through the opposition, and has the hands to finish once he sets up shop in front of the net.

5. Josh Ho-Sang (CSS – 22NA; ISS – 18) C, Windsor Spitfires

Josh Ho-Sang is one of the more intriguing talents on the draft board. Some would call him mercurial; others will see him as enigmatic. It’s hard to find a consensus on where Ho-Sang will fall on the draft board as he is this year’s boom-or-bust prospect.

Ho-Sang has elite offensive talent and can do things with the puck that just can’t be taught. He sees the ice well, has creative vision, and is a dynamic offensive force. But Ho-Sang has developed a bit of a reputation for being a me-first player, whether it’s attempting an ill-advised pass or hogging the puck. But as the year progressed, he settled his game down and became more of a facilitator for the Spitfires. Ho-Sang has shown growth and refinement in his game and has the potential to be an elite offensive talent at the next level.

6. Robby Fabbri (CSS – 21NA; ISS – 8) C, Guelph Storm

Fabbri’s detractors will focus on his 5’10", 170-pound frame and suggest that it’s a risk taking him too high in the draft. But those who have seen him play know that his physical talents may pale in comparison to his effort, dedication, and grit.

Fabbri is fast and is a wizard on his skates. He sets the tempo for the Storm every time he’s on the ice and knows how to finish once he gets to the net. Fabbri scored 45 goals in 58 regular season game and managed to pick up the pace in the playoffs, adding 12 in 14 post-season games.

The right team, valuing speed, quickness, and deft hands, will get a potential steal in Fabbri as his skill set is well aligned with the changing face of the NHL game.

7. Brendan Perlini (CSS – 8NA; ISS – 9), LW, Niagara IceDogs

Perlini’s an interesting prospect because he doesn’t play up to his 6’3", 200-plus pound frame. This year, he scored 34 goals and accounted for 71 points in 58 games. But for a guy built like a power forward, he plays a less-than-imposing game, only spending 36 minutes in the penalty box.

Perlini has the size and physical attributes that can make scouts drool — he’s got good hands, is a solid skater, and can use his body to control the puck. If he can develop a bit more of an edge, he has the potential to be dominant.

8. Jared McCann (CSS – 10NA; ISS – 17 ) C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

McCann is another solid two-way prospect who brings elite speed to the table. He took on a leadership role with the Greyhounds and is a high character player who brings value to the team in a number of roles.

The six-foot McCann projects to be a solid third-line forward, with solid penalty killing skills, two-way focus, and defensive responsibility. He scored 27 goals this year and is on track to be a valuable third-liner with a little bit of offensive pop.

9. Nikolay Goldobin (CSS – 24NA; ISS – 28) RW, Sarnia Sting

If there was a cherry picker position in the NHL, Goldobin might be the number-one overall draft pick. After all, he’s lethal in the offensive end, has embarrassed more than his fair share of OHL defenders, and possesses vision and creativity in spades. Unfortunately, it’s when you get into the other two zones that Goldobin tends to fall short.

In 67 games, Goldobin amassed 94 points, including 38 goals. Unfortunately, he was a -30 on the year. That’s hard to do.

If Goldobin can develop even a passable defensive game, he’ll be a lethal pick. He is exciting to watch and has the talent and ability to bring fans out of their seats every time he touches the puck. Goldobin has a great shot and combines that with elite passing ability.

10. Anthony DeAngelo (CSS – 14NA; ISS – 32 ) D, Sarnia Sting

The right-shooting blueliner is an intriguing prospect with plenty of offensive upside. At 5’10", he’s got below-average size for a defenseman, but he’s got excellent skating abilities, has solid vision with the puck, and is great at making that smart first pass out of the offensive zone.

DeAngelo finished this season with 15 goals and added 56 assists. He doesn’t have a cannon from the point, but makes great passes and is a solid contributor to the power play.

The defender needs to bulk up a bit and play a bit stronger on his skates, but he poses an intriguing dilemma to teams who want to gain some puck-moving prowess on the back end. Added to that dilemma is DeAngelo's well documented suspensions this past season, which might be a deal-breaker for some teams.

Honourable Mentions
Forwards
Ryan MacInnis (CSS 20; ISS 25), C, Kitchener Rangers
Eric Cornel (CSS 25; ), C, Peterborough Petes
Brendan Lemieux (CSS 28; ), LW, Barrie Colts
Nick Magyar (CSS 32; ), RW, Kitchener Rangers
Dylan Sadowy (CSS 33; ), LW, Saginaw Spirit

Defense
Roland McKeown (CSS 27; ), D, Kingston Frontenacs
Aaron Haydon (CSS 54; ), D, Niagara IceDogs
Blake Siebenaler (CSS 55; ), D, Niagara IceDogs
Alex Peters (CSS 56; ), D, Plymouth Whalers
Kyle Jenkins (CSS 69; ), D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Goaltenders
Brent Moran (CSS Goalie Rank 3), Niagara IceDogs
Alex Nedeljkovic (CSS Goalie Rank 4), Plymouth Whalers
Brandon Halverson (CSS Goalie Rank 6), Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard

 

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