The View From The Top
You say that this season of Sabres hockey has robbed you of your sanity. You’ve likely felt rage, sadness, despair, and worst of all…indifference. In exchange for your “suffering” you’re going to get one of the best 18-year-old hockey players in the world. Here’s a primer on this year's crop.
Chances are if you’ve been following the Sabres this year, you have a good handle on the top players in this year’s NHL Draft pool. On the off chance that you’re just coming around now, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the top talent. Consider this a who’s who in the crop of kids that the Sabres will be picking from.
The Sabres have the 2nd pick, and they could also have the 5th pick from the Islanders. I’ll be going much more in depth on each prospect as we get closer, but for now… here’s your top ten:
1. Sam Bennett - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Ranked as the #1 North American skater by NHL Central Scouting at both the mid-term and in the final rankings Bennett often draws comparisons to Doug Gilmour. A relentless player who plays a complete game. Don’t let the talk of “two-way” or “penalty killer” scare you away. He’s a do everything forward, and that includes elite offensive skill. He’s a blazingly fast, powerful skater with great hands and a wicked shot. I’ve liked the idea of Bennett since I heard him referred to as a “Warrior on the wing”. You can read my write-up on him here.
2. Aaron Ekblad - Defenseman - Barrie Colts
A huge defenseman for the Barrie Colts, he’s the total package on the blue line. Ekblad was named the OHL East’s best offensive defenseman, and best defensive defenseman. He was voted to have the best shot, and hardest shot, and named the second best penalty killer as well. Frequently talked about as a man-child and most likely to step into the NHL immediately, you can count on Ekblad going in the Top 3.
3. Sam Reinhart - Forward - Kootenay Ice
Sabres GM Tim Murray calls Sam Reinhart a smart hockey player. Murray says that every time he’s seen him play, he’s the smartest guy on the ice. He’s been a point machine for the Kootenay Ice, currently playing in the WHL playoffs he’s picked up 23 points in 12 playoff games. Reinhart’s name brings a legacy of hockey players all over the family tree, and he’s known to play a complete game and dictate the pace. The one knock on his play - skating. He’s not an elite skater, but outside of that, it’s a total package.
4. Leon Draisatl - Forward - Prince Albert Raiders
Draisatl plays with Prince Albert of the WHL, and fell a bit flat on the grand stage of the World Juniors. He’s German, so playing for Team Germany means that you’re severely overmatched when it comes to games against top competition. That said, there’s a lot to like about Draisatl. He’s a very big forward, strong on the puck, who possesses it as well as anyone in the draft. Draisatl’s… “ass”… is what Sabres GM Tim Murray has referred to. He has the strength to bounce off opponents and top hockey smarts to match his offensive ability.
5. Michael Dal Colle - Forward - Oshawa Generals
The best power forward in the draft is likely Michael Dal Colle of the Oshawa Generals. Dal Colle is a bull. He’s a powerful player, and much like Sabres prospect Hudson Fasching, it’s his story off the ice that might interest you the most.
6. Jake Virtanen - Forward - Calgary Hitmen
A Finnish forward, Virtanen is another dynamic offensive player available on the second tier of players in this draft. Most say there’s a big four (or five with Dal Colle and Draisatl flopping spots in those discussions). Virtanen has the tools. TSN’s Craig Button says, “Jake has undeniable skill. Excellent skater who has speed, quickness and power. Can beat defenders with his skating and when he gets an advantage, his size makes it almost impossible for a defender to get back on equal footing. Very strong shot and can beat goaltenders from out but also has the quickness in his hands to score in tight. Has the potential to be a dynamic scoring winger.”
7. Brendan Perlini - Forward - Niagara Ice Dogs
A long and lanky power skater with the Niagara Ice Dogs, Brendan Perlini is a riser in this year’s draft. Named the OHL’s most improved player he’s climbed up the draft ranking boards in the last 12 months to snag a spot in the Top 10. I’ve seen him play twice now with Niagara and there’s just something that I really like. His frame is huge, and if he grows into it….watch out.
8. Nichoals Ritchie - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Ritchie scored 5 goals in one game back in February. He’s a big bodied forward (6’3’’) who plays a physical game as you might expect. His skill set is very attractive and when factoring in the size that comes with it, you’re talking about an early first round grade.
9. Kasperi Kapanen
Son of Sami Kapanen, EliteProspects.com describes Kapanen as a small and slippery forward with plenty of razzle-dazzle to his game. You can see some of that here, with a woman screaming in the background.
10. William Nylander
Thought of as a very high pick, Nylander’s stock has fallen a bit. The son of Michael Nylander he brings a lot to the table offensively, but you aren’t finding too many to talk about his 200 foot game. Solid highlight reel of Nylander.
I tossed a pair of European skaters at the bottom of the list, even though they may not be considered top 10 players. International Scouting Services (which mashes together North American and European skaters into one big list) has a heavy tilt to the N.A. skaters at the top of the draft. I also shied away from naming more than just Ekblad on defense. If the Sabres are picking twice in the Top 6, there’s likely only one defenseman that they’re thinking about.
Other names to keep an ear out for:
And so many more….Happy NHL Draft season. We’re just getting started.