We are just 9 days from the 2014 NHL Draft, so it is time for me to come out of my shell and report about what I know best: the future stars of the NHL.
As most Islanders fans know, we have the fifth overall pick in the draft. As most devoted hockey fans know, there are four “can’t miss” prospects in the draft: Samuel Bennett, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, and Leon Draisaitl.
I’m going to assume that those four will be off the table by the time we make our selection. I’m also going to assume, for the sake of this argument, that we will keep our draft pick.
So I have come up with a list of eight players who the New York Islanders may select with the fifth pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, and the pros and cons of selecting each player. Note that if one of the top four teams shuns a member of the “Fantastic Four” (as TheHockeyNews dubs them), this article is void and we should and will select said player.
[Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.]
Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa (OHL)
Pros: Plays for the same junior team as John Tavares did. Has faced a lot of hardship in his life, something Garth Snow loves in players (see Travis Hamonic and Josh Bailey), forcing him to mature a lot earlier in life. On the hockey side of things, might be the first-line left wing we have lacked since the Thomas Vanek trade, and would cost a considerable amount less than, say, Ryan Callahan. Won’t require another year in junior. Can contribute on both special teams and chooses a good play over a good-looking play every time. Has been argued to be in the same class as the “Fantastic Four.”
Cons: Inconsistent defensively. Doesn’t know how to stand up for himself. Skates like a guy who made the NHL on fighting ability alone. 182 pounds at 6’2” won’t cut it on the NHL level.
Nicholas Ritchie, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
Pros: Great athlete, playing lacrosse as a kid. Has hockey pedigree, brother of Stars prospect Brett and son of former OHLer Paul. Friends with Tavares and Ryan Strome. Ready for the NHL immediately. Attacks the net well and looks for deflections. His size (same height as Dal Colle but 44 pounds heavier) makes him a natural power forward and net-front presence. Smart with the puck and knows when and how to shoot.
Cons: Disappears in big games. Won’t take charge of games when his teammates aren’t doing well. Frequently injured. Tries to go for the big hit rather than the smart defensive play. Wears the A, but leads by inspirational words rather than play.
Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
Pros: Also a great athlete (he played soccer with Denmark’s U14 team) with a hockey pedigree, the son of Rangers draft pick and Swiss league coach Heinz and brother of Sebastian, who plays in the Danish league. Trained in Switzerland, a better hockey country than his native Denmark, and played on a line with Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin during the lockout. Fluent in five languages, so he can communicate with any teammate. Adapted to the North American game quickly. Can get past any defender. Great stickhandler and even better passer.
Cons: Very much a product of Jonathan Drouin––there are concerns about what he can do on an NHL level, especially when he played in the comparatively weak Quebec league. Still seems uncomfortable with the fast pace of North American hockey. Plays most games like he’s trying to impress a female fan in the audience, eschewing a win for his own individual stats.
Jake Virtanen, RW, Calgary (WHL)
Pros: The kind of player scouts pay to see over and over, and against whom other players dread playing. Has Michael Grabner speed. Can fit in with any coaching system. Likes to go to the net and also throw the body around. Knows how to finish on the tough WHL defense and goaltending. Can play any position on the ice (minus goalie) with ease. Willing to do whatever it takes to improve. Leads by example à la Jonathan Toews.
Cons: Unreliable on his own side of the ice. Rarely used on Calgary’s exceptional penalty kill. Late to NHL scouts’ radar, which can be a problem (see Erik Johnson, Taylor Hall).
Kasperi Kapanen, RW, KalPa (Finland)
Pros: Has a hockey pedigree, the grandson of Finnish Olympian Hannu and the son of longtime NHLer Sami. Plays just like his father, for anyone who watched Sami play. Knows North American game well by virtue of playing almost all of his minor hockey here. Played almost all of this year in Finland’s top league, on a line with his dad. Confident in his own abilities playing against people significantly older. Can defend himself. Sees the ice better than any forward in this draft. Good at face-offs––something we desperately need to address. Can change a game with his passing. Not overly quick, but will wow you with his puckhandling.
Cons: His full year in the Liiga has cost him some valuable ice time he would be able to get in juniors. Unknown how well he will be able to handle the physicality of the league. By his own admission, doesn’t think he’s NHL-ready.
Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL)
Pros: Babysat by Brendan Morrow as a kid, so he’s been around NHL talent all his life. Played for the great School of Notre Dame, Canada’s version of Shattuck-St. Mary’s. NHL-ready right now. Very calm. Listens to his teammates. Knows when to stay back in his own end and when to join the rush. Plays the ice like a European––he can play both sides easily and knows how to move without the puck. He can hit anyone with a tape-to-tape pass. I have never once seen him get knocked down.
Cons: We don’t need a defenseman, that’s the big one. Other than that, his attitude is questionable––he frequently clashed with Conner Bleackley, Red Deer’s other top NHL prospect. Gets nervous in pressure situations. Lacks the stamina to play much more than 20 minutes per game.
Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara (OHL)
Pros: Played his minor hockey with Strome. Has a hockey pedigree––his dad Fred played 8 games for the Maple Leafs and his brother Brett is a Ducks prospect. Has a great attitude. Will be in the NHL next year. Almost never takes dumb penalties. Patient with the puck. Very good on the forecheck. Always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Has great hand-eye coordination. Powerful and accurate shooter. Understands where he needs to improve.
Cons: Spotty in his own end. Frequently gives away pucks. Still has a bunch of fat on him. Blames himself for every goal against. Gets frustrated with his teammates rather than helping to improve them.
William Nylander, RW, MODO (Sweden)
Pros: If you haven’t guessed by the last name, he is the son of Michael, who played 15 seasons of the NHL. Started off the season with his dad in the second division before moving up to the Swedish Hockey League mid-season, showing how high his ceiling is. Knows North American hockey very well, having lived from birth until age 15 in Canada or the US. Your prototypical offensive player. Knows where to put the puck at all times. Very creative as well as fundamentally sound. A must-have on the power play.
Cons: Like Kapanen, he didn’t log much ice time this year. Absolutely terrible on the defensive side of the ice. Very small for someone of his caliber––can he last against bigger NHLers? Doesn’t adapt well when he has to play second fiddle to an established player.
So there you have it. All of these guys are amazing players and we’d be lucky to have any of them on the New York Islanders, but if I were the GM and had no intention of selling the pick for the best price, I’d throw the blue-and-orange on Dal Colle. In terms of what we need for our club at this very moment, I think he would fit best in our system. Anyone who is in the same category as Bennett, Reinhart, and Draisaitl deserves serious consideration, and the fact that he is friendly with many current Islanders only seals the deal. If we strike out during free agency, we should try him out on our top line during the preseason and see what happens. Garth said he was going to right this ship. A player like Dal Colle is a great way to ensure that this team will be going in the right direction next season.
Fellow Isles fans, I want to hear from you! Do you go with one of these eight great players, or is there someone else you’d rather have?
You can follow Jake on Twitter here: @BaskinCase