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Sam Bennett tops Central Scouting’s final rankings for 2014 NHL Draft

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By Allan Muir

Central Scouting raised a few eyebrows when it named Kingston Frontenacs center Sam Bennett as the top prospect for this year’s draft in their midseason rankings.

No one is surprised to see him there again.

That’s not to say that the Toronto native, who scored 36 goals and 91 points for the Fronts, is universally regarded as the best choice, but the 6′-1″ pivot did nothing to sway his staunch supporters away from their position.

“There are guys who elevate their game when it matters most, and you’re looking to project which players will do that consistently at the next level,” NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. “The guys we have at the top all are in that mold, but when we look at Sam Bennett we see a guy who could potentially have a Jonathan Toews type of career.”

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  • Published On Apr 08, 2014
  • Aaron Ekblad tops NACS’s midseason NHL draft rankings

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    Aaron Ekblad of the OHL's Barrie Colts

    Aaron Ekblad is one of only three under-aged players who have been admitted early to the OHL. (Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    Central Scouting announced this week that it rates Kingston center Sam Bennett as the top prospect available for the 2014 NHL Draft. TSN draft expert Craig Button followed up by listing Kootenay center Sam Reinhart atop his list.

    And North American Central Scouting? They like Aaron Ekblad.

    “He’s so smart, very cerebral” Mark Seidel, chief scout for NACS, said of the 6′-5″, 205-pound defender for the OHL Barrie Colts. “He plays better in big games, [he has a] bomb from the point [and] is very mature. [He shows] tremendous poise, excellent leadership.”

    Ekblad, who will captain Team Orr at tonight’s CHL Top Prospects Game, is coming off a strong, but unspectacular under-aged turn at the World Junior Championship. He earned the faith of coach Brent Sutter and handled a much heavier workload than any 17-year-old defenseman has in years for Team Canada. He’s nowhere near as smooth as Seth Jones, the defender who topped last year’s midseason rankings, but he’s mobile, good with the puck, and capable of handling a shutdown role. That’s exactly the sort of player that most teams, outside of the defense-prospect heavy Buffalo Sabres, wouldn’t mind using a top pick to acquire.

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  • Published On Jan 15, 2014
  • Surprise for 2014 NHL Draft: Central Scouting moves Sam Bennett to No. 1

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    Sam Bennett is now projected as the top NHL draft pick for 2014.

    Sam Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs is now No. 1, but for how long? (Claus Anderson/Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    If you watched the 2014 World Junior Championship tournament, you probably came away with the impression that the top pick in the 2014 NHL Draft would come down to forward Sam Reinhart or defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Both excelled while playing significant roles for Team Canada, seemingly securing their places at the top of the draft board.

    But it turns out that the biggest prize of this year’s class might not have been in Malmo, Sweden, at all.

    Central Scouting raised that possibility this morning when it announced that Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett now holds the No. 1 spot in its midterm rankings.

    Bennett, a 17-year-old 6-foot, 178-pound center, has 26 goals and 66 points through 40 games, good for fourth overall in the Ontario Hockey League scoring race.

    “Bennett has not only been very noticeable but extremely effective every shift of every game so far this season,” Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards told NHL.com. “His puckhandling and playmaking are excellent and he has one of the best shots in this year’s draft class. He has scored several goals from the high slot and coming in off the wing and has been very effective on the power play. He’s a player that can play in all situations, elevate his game and rise to the occasion.”

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  • Published On Jan 13, 2014
  • Czechs join Canada in imposing foreign-born player roster restrictions

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    Milan Michalek

    Milan Michalek (No. 6, San Jose, 2003) is the highest-drafted Czech league player of the last 10 years. (Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    It turns out that Canada isn’t the only country suffering a crisis of hockey confidence.

    Just weeks after the Canadian Hockey League drew scorn for its decision to block European goaltenders from the circuit as a means of creating additional opportunities and, hopefully, developing the next generation of elite stoppers, the Czech Republic’s Extraliga is following suit.

    According to a piece on iihf.com, the Extraliga is ready to enact strict roster restrictions, starting with the 2013-14 season.

    All 14 teams will be limited to six “import licenses” that they can use throughout the season. As soon as a non-Czech player is added to the roster, he uses up a license whether or not he actually plays.

    If there’s a Czech version of Don Cherry, he’s probably smiling. At least in principle. The truth is, the Extraliga doesn’t draw a lot of foreign players. You’ll see the occasional Slovak or Russian, but this isn’t about repelling the infidels. This is about taking a stand.

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  • Published On Jul 29, 2013
  • NHL Draft grades: Dallas Stars get top marks in Western Conference

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    Valeri Nichushkin was the top pick of the Dallas Stars in the 2013 NHL Draft

    Winger Valeri Nichushkin could be the biggest impact pick not named MacKinnon. (Bill Wippert/Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    Let’s face it. Evaluating a draft class before the kids have even donned their new team sweaters for real is a fool’s errand. But it’s a game we all love to play … and we all want a winner declared.

    Obviously, we won’t know who really came out ahead for a few years, but we can make a fairly educated guess as to which teams did the most to better their fortunes with their choices at Sunday’s draft.

    The grades below are based on two primary criteria. Did the team maximize the value of each pick? Did it address obvious organizational needs? Both are highly subjective assessments, but hey, this is a subjective piece. Feel free to present your counter-arguments below.

    MUIR: Eastern grades | First round recap | HACKEL: Hidden draft heroes | Team-by-team picks

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  • Published On Jul 01, 2013
  • NHL Draft grades: Sabres, Blue Jackets get top marks in Eastern Conference

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    Rasmus Ristolainen was the first pick of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2013 NHL Draft.

    Head of the class: Rasmus Ristolainen (Bill Wippert/Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    Let’s face it. Evaluating a draft class before the kids have even donned their new team sweaters for real is a fool’s errand. But it’s a game we all love to play … and we all want to know the winners.

    Obviously, we won’t know the real answer for a few years, but we can make a fairly educated guess as to which teams did the most to better their fortunes with their choices at Sunday’s draft.

    The grades below are based on two primary criteria. Did the team maximize the value of each pick? Did it address obvious organizational needs? Both are highly subjective assessments, but hey, this is a subjective piece. Feel free to present your counter-arguments below.

    MUIR: First round breakdown | Western grades | HACKEL: Hidden heroes | Team by team picks

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  • Published On Jul 01, 2013
  • NHL Draft: Canadiens get Zach Fucale; Dave Bolland traded, more notes

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    Zach Fucale and top 2013 NHL Draft prospects

    Of all the top prospects, goalie Zach Furcale (third from right) fell into the second round. (Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    • I’m going to venture a guess that fans in Montreal will be split down the middle about the Canadiens’ Zach Fucale pick (36th). One side will suggest that goaltending is hardly a priority with Carey Price signed for the next five years, and that more immediate needs could have been addressed by taking sniper Valentin Zykov or big winger Justin Bailey. The other side won’t believe that the Memorial Cup-winning stopper, who many scouts had projected as a first rounder, was actually still there for the taking in the second.

    Count me with those guys, and not because I had Fucale going earlier.

    MUIR: Sizing up all 30 first round picks | My first round mock draft

    Bottom line, it takes several years for most goalies to mature from junior studs into NHL-ready stoppers. By the time Price is ready to move on (or re-sign), Fucale’s apprenticeship should be over. So he either takes over or moves on as an asset. And ultimately that’s what this comes down to: at pick 36, Fucale appears to stand a better chance of maturing into a viable asset than either of those scoring wingers. That makes this look like a big win for the Habs.

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  • Published On Jun 30, 2013
  • NHL Draft: Cory Schneider traded to Devils, Canucks commit to Luongo

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    Cory Schneider

    Cory Schneider now gets a chance to prove himself by succeeding the great Martin Brodeur. (Bob Frid/Icon SMI)

    By Sarah Kwak

    NEWARK, N.J. — The Devils fans gathered in the Prudential Center for the NHL Entry Draft on Sunday afternoon were relentless in their disapproval, booing every other team in the soon-to-be-defunct Atlantic Division, breaking out into a “Rangers suck” chant, and even reminding new Avalanche coach Patrick Roy that “Marty’s better.”

    But the most consistent object of their derision was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who heard a chorus of boos every single time he opened his mouth — from his opening remarks to introducing the next team to select.

    When he went up to the stage for the ninth pick of the draft — New Jersey’s — his words were drowned out by a cascade of scorn, but instead of powering through, he stopped and told the fans: “I think you’re going to want to hear this.”

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  • Published On Jun 30, 2013
  • Avalanche select MacKinnon at No. 1, Jones falls to Predators at No. 4

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    Seth Jones was chosen fourth overall by the Nashville Predators at the 2013 NHL Draft.

    Seth Jones should be a good fit on the Predators as one of their new cornerstone defensemen. (AP Photos)

    By Sarah Kwak

    NEWARK, N.J. — With a full 1:30 left on the three-minute countdown clock on the stage of the Prudential Center, the Colorado Avalanche weren’t trying to delay their new start any longer. With the first pick at Sunday’s 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Avs selected Nathan MacKinnon from the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

    HACKEL: Scouts are draft day’s hidden heroes

    The selection did not come as a total surprise. Colorado’s choice has been hotly discussed since Joe Sakic, the Avs’ vice president of hockey operations, began floating the idea that the team was keen on taking a forward over defenseman Seth Jones, the top-ranked prospect. In the days before the draft, Sakic and new Colorado coach Patrick Roy gushed about MacKinnon, believing the 5’-11”, 179-pound forward would end up being the best player in the draft. But it was a bit difficult to believe only because of the glaring hole that Colorado has on its back end and the unique qualities that Jones brings. Plenty of people believed it was posturing by the relatively new management team, perhaps to get trade talks moving, but in the end, they weren’t bluffing, and MacKinnon took the stage first.

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  • Published On Jun 30, 2013
  • NHL Draft buzz: Eastern Conference

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    Penguins defenseman Kris Letang

    Defenseman Kris Letang could be this year’s big draft day trade story. (Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)

    By Allan Muir

    A look at the buzz surrounding Eastern Conference teams heading into Sunday’s NHL Draft in New Jersey:

    Boston Bruins: Nothing like giving up a first rounder in the deepest draft in a decade for a player who goes the entire playoffs without scoring one lousy goal. Barring a trade, Boston’s first selection will be 60th overall. They’re unlikely to move up from that spot.

    Buffalo Sabres: GM Darcy Regier holds two first rounders (his own at 8 and Minnesota’s at 16) and is hoping to make a big splash on Sunday, but says it will be “extremely difficult, if not impossible for the Sabres to move up in the draft. There are some quiet whispers that they might consider Zachary Fucale at 16.

    Carolina Hurricanes: Amid rumors that the Canes might swap the fifth-overall pick comes talk that they are intrigued by Valeri Nichuschkin. “We will have a very good dialogue with the player,” GM Jim Rutherford said.

    Columbus Blue Jackets: Aaron Portzline calls it very unlikely that the Jackets will use all three of their first rounders on Sunday. He says Columbus would like to come out of the draft with at least one player who can help the team immediately, so trading one or two of their selections is a strong bet.

    Detroit Red Wings: Standing at 18, the Wings will be making their highest pick since 1991 (!). They’re looking for “a decent-size forward with skill,” according to director of amateur scouting, Joe McDonell.

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  • Published On Jun 28, 2013


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