Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Final Rankings - 2014 NHL Entry Draft

Well, it's been 9 months between posts on this blog.  In that time, some things have changed.  Not only have I quit using this blog and associated Twitter account (btw, I can still be found on there via @Avs_Tweets), but I have also changed the way I will be doing my final rankings this season.

I decided to dedicate my time and energy into a "WHL Eastern Conference only" approach to these rankings.  This was done because I spent the vast majority of my time watching Eastern Conference teams this year, having only watched each of the Western teams live once all season. I feel that this change will allow me to feel more comfortable in my rankings and not as if I am favoring players who I simply have seen more of (nature of the beast when you see some guys 8-10 times more live than their counterparts).  Oddly enough, this seems like a good year to have made that switch.  The WHL prospects seem to be extremely heavily weighted to favor players playing in the league's Eastern Conference for the 2014 NHL Draft.

Now, onto the more important stuff.  These rankings follow the same formula as in the past.  I include a brief report of the player, along with an NHL player comparison, a top-end potential prediction and a pick location prediction.  The comparison is more style-based as opposed to how successful the player might become.  Comparisons are a tough thing, so try not to get too hung up on them, even though I do feel comfortable with them.  Also keep in mind that the top-end NHL potential comparison is to be viewed at as an absolute peak for the player, plain and simple.

So with all of that being said, here are my final rankings from the WHL's Eastern Conference in advance of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

#1 - Sam Reinhart - Kootenay Ice - C - R - 6'1 - 183 

Reinhart excels due to having unparalleled hockey sense in relation to the rest of the 2014 NHL Draft class.  Has the innate ability to both speed up the game and slow it down.  Vision is his next best asset, as he plays with what seems like 360-degree vision and the ability to execute perfect passes through traffic, under pressure.  Foot speed and skating is still an area that can be improved upon, with it taking some decent strides already over the last two seasons.  He doesn't shoot the puck overly hard but has a quick release and very good accuracy.  Still much more of a passer than finisher, but his shot is another area that has slowly improved as time has gone on.  He commands respect both on and off the ice and is extremely disciplined on the ice.  He has the tools to be a leader at the next level, maybe even a future NHL captain.  I don't think he matches up extremely well when compared with your "typical" 1st overall calibre prospects over the last few years, but he's still a legit talent due to his unparalleled ability to think his way around the ice and then put those smarts into action in the form of both offensive and defensive production.

NHL Style Comparison:  Right-handed Henrik Sedin

Top End NHL Potential:  #1 Centre, near a point per game, captain, NHL All-Star

Pick Prediction: 2nd overall to Buffalo

#2 - Leon Draisaitl - Prince Albert Raiders - C - L - 6'1 - 209

Draisaitl has arguably the most raw talent of any WHL prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft.  From my viewings, his best asset is his vision.  He has a great ability to slow the play down and set up linemates with super feeds on either the forehand or backhand, with his backhand sauce being something to sit back and marvel at.  That ability to slow down the play has been seen as a knock by some, as he tends to attempt to slow the pace down constantly, instead of showing an ability to play in a faster environment.  His skating is also another area of concern as he's got a choppy, ugly stride. I think that's definitely an area of concern, but has been an area that many players have improved upon in the past.  He really had a great second half of the season, putting the Raiders on his back and shrugging off a sub-par appearance at the World Juniors for team Germany.  He also put together a strong performance for Germany at the World Championships, proving that he can look pretty good on the ice against some NHL talent, despite his skating concerns.  Overall I think he might have the most potential of any WHL player in the draft and I wouldn't be shocked if a team took him in the top 3 picks.

NHL Style Comparison: Anze Kopitar

Top End NHL Potential:  #1 Centre

Pick Prediction: 3rd overall to Edmonton

#3 - Nikita Scherbak - Saskatoon Blades - RW - L - 6'2 - 174

Scherbak is a gifted Russian winger that led the Saskatoon Blades and WHL rookies in scoring this past season.  He's got a full arsenal of offensive tools at his disposal including a "heavy" wrist shot with a quick release and some very adept vision and passing ability.  He excelled all season at making the players around him better despite not having a ton of help offensively in Saskatoon, especially in the 2nd half of the year.  His skating isn't a strength, but it's not a huge weakness either.  His top gear is just fine, but he does tend to be a bit slow out of the gate due to having a low and long stride.  He has shown the ability to play physical, whether it being taking a hit to make a play or finishing his check when needed, although that part of his game does come with some inconsistency.  He's got a high hockey IQ and shows the ability to arrive at the right place at the right time in offensive situations.   He comes from an athletic background as his father is a former soccer player, his mother a basketball player, while his sister plays tennis.  Throughout the year I heard many rumblings that NHL teams liked him more than Draisaitl, but that was before Leon turned things up in a big way in the second half of the year.  There's still many things to like about this player and my jaw wouldn't hit the floor if a team took a shot at him in the top 15 selections.

NHL Style Comparison: Evgeni Malkin

Top End NHL Potential:  Top 6 winger

Pick Prediction: 15-25 overall

#4 - Jake Virtanen - Calgary Hitmen - LW - R - 6'1 - 210

Virtanen is the top "power forward" that the WHL has to offer for the 2014 NHL Draft.  He's got good size, is a powerful skater, can play physical and has one of the best shots in the draft.  He's got a heavy shot, it's accurate and he has a great release.  He's a former 1st overall pick in the Bantam Draft by the Hitmen and has developed nicely since that time.  But, he does come with a few flaws.  I've noticed some major consistency issues in his game over the last few seasons.  He can go through stretches of games where he is easily the best player on the ice and also go through stretches where he goes completely off the radar.  His willingness to engage physically has also been a noted area of inconsistency for me.  His overall compete and things like his on-ice body language would be areas that I would point to when justifying my ranking of him, which is somewhat lower than where some others would have him.  But, when he wants to he can dominate, and that type of skillset will surely attract many NHL teams.  He scored 45 goals this season for Calgary while also being a complete standout at the Under-18's for Canada this spring.  He battled through injury late in the year before going under the knife to fix a shoulder problem.  That issue will be weighed by NHL clubs come draft time, but likely won't hurt his stock too much.

NHL Style Comparison: Right-handed Evander Kane

Top End NHL Potential:  First line winger, top 15 NHL goal scoring candidate each season

Pick Prediction: 6-10 overall

#5 - Haydn Fleury - Red Deer Rebels - D - L - 6'3 - 198

Fleury is an extremely smooth-skating blueliner for the Red Deer Rebels.  He's got great size and as mentioned, his skating stride is easily his best asset.  He's got great balance and power in his stride, making his mobility around the ice seem absolutely effortless.  He passes the puck well, powerfully and accurately.  He's got a solid shot from the point, although this would be an area that a player in his offensive mold can always improve.  His defensive game did improve over the course of this season and that culminated in a solid two-way performance for Team Canada at the World Under-18's this spring.  He's not an overly physical player, but he's fairly smart in his positioning, benefits from having a long reach and also has the skating ability to stay with faster and smaller players while in his defensive zone.  Next year he should be among WHL defensive leaders in points per game and will also compete for a spot on the Canadian World Junior team.  He's one of the top defencemen available in the 2014 NHL Draft and I fully expect him to be taken in the 10th overall range.

NHL Style Comparison:  Jay Bouwmeester

Top End NHL Potential:  #2 defenceman, first unit PP guy

Pick Prediction: 8-12 overall

#6 - Conner Bleackley - Red Deer Rebels - C - R - 6'1 - 195

Bleackley is the extremely well-rounded and talented captain of the Red Deer Rebels.  He's a very smart player with a high-end level of hockey IQ, poise and leadership.  His offensive game really developed this year, going from 18 points last year to 68 in 2013-14, including 29 goals.  His offensive game is highlighted by both the ability to create plays and finish them, with his wrist shot release being extremely good.  He plays like a true captain with a physical, rugged and gritty edge to his game.  The main weakness that I have seen in his game has been his skating, which actually isn't that bad.  He's not the most fleet of foot but doesn't show many flaws in his stride, making it an area that should improve with hard work and instruction.  There might be some more concerns regarding his overall offensive potential, which is the main reason why I would have him behind Virtanen, although I wouldn't be shocked to see Bleackley end up as the better pro in 7-10 years.  Depending on which team takes him, he might actually end up being a guy that can be converted to the right-wing if necessary.

NHL Style Comparison:  Right-handed Gabriel Landeskog

Top End NHL Potential:  Top 6 forward, NHL captain

Pick Prediction:  20-25 overall

#7 - Travis Sanheim - Calgary Hitmen - D - L - 6'3 - 189

Sanheim burst onto the scene this season with Calgary and steadily improved as the year went on.  He went from being a "who is this guy?", as a 9th round WHL bantam pick, to a player that has a chance at being taken in the 1st round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.  Truly impressive growth for a player.  Sanheim seems to be the total package.  He's got the size, the skating ability, the hands, the shot, the hockey smarts and the willingness to engage physically and defensively.  There's a lot to like.  He steadily rose on my board as the season went on, really opening my eyes when I finally got to see him live a few times in February where he was aggressive, making great pinches and creating all over the ice.  He might be the player in this draft who has shown the strongest development in the second half of the season, capping it off with a great showing at the World Under-18's, where he put up 6 assists in 7 games while playing hard minutes in all situations.   I would rank him as a kid who slots into the 30-45th overall range, but he's a prime candidate to go earlier than that.  The fact that this draft is light on top-end defencemen should further cement him as a surefire top 40 pick come the end of June.  

NHL Style Comparison:  Ryan McDonagh

Top End NHL Potential:  #2 defenceman who plays PP and PK

Pick Prediction:  25-35 overall

#8 - Julius Honka - Swift Current Broncos - D - R - 5'11 - 175

Honka might have the highest offensive ceiling of any defenceman in the draft, let alone just prospects from the WHL's Eastern Conference.  To me, his best asset is his skating.  He's extremely quick and explosive for such a small blueliner.  His edgework is impeccable as he's able to shift his angles on a dime, cutting through traffic or using that explosive ability to transition into backwards skating.  His skating allows him to lead and the join the rush, giving him the ability to show off his puck skills and shot.  I like his willingness to engage and compete defensively as that's an area that will need to continue to show growth as he enters his second season in North America in 2014-15.  To me, he seems like a lite version of Erik Karlsson and I'm sure some NHL teams have talked about him as a potential top 20 pick this year.  Overall I think there are just too many guys I like a bit more than him right now to justify calling him a 1st rounder on my own board, but I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up having his name called on the first day of the NHL draft.

NHL Style Comparison:  Erik Karlsson

Top End NHL Potential:  #3 defenceman who is among NHL leaders in offensive powerplay production

Pick Prediction:  20-35 overall

#9 - Dysin Mayo - Edmonton Oil Kings - D - R - 6'1 - 180

Mayo is a smooth and effective two-way defenceman from the Oil Kings.  I use the word smooth, because that's the way he operates.  He's got a nice stride, strong, powerful and efficient.  He is not afraid to join the rush or start it with a good breakout pass.  His offensive skills are solid but could use more improvement, which will come with increased ice time in junior the next two years.  In his own zone, he's got a very good stick, solid body positioning with good footwork and is extremely underrated at lowering the boom with a sneaky hip check.  He doesn't panic with the puck and doesn't get intimidated by an aggressive forecheck.  He's a guy that helps set the tone of a game and isn't afraid to change the temperature of the game with his actions on the ice.  He had a very good playoff run with the Oil Kings, capped off with an absolutely fantastic performance at the Memorial Cup, which Edmonton captured.  I wouldn't be surprised if some NHL teams have him ranked as a 1st rounder in 2014.  While I won't go quite that far, I will say that he's one of my favorite prospects of the draft and a guy who should be a no-brainer to be off the board by the time the 2nd round is complete.

NHL Style Comparison:  Right-handed TJ Brodie

Top End NHL Potential:  #3 defenceman who is a cornerstone for a consistent contender

Pick Prediction:  25-45 overall

#10 - Brycen Martin - Swift Current Broncos - D - L - 6'2 - 185

Brycen Martin is a big, smooth-skating two way defenceman from the ever-growing D factory in Swift Current.  Their program has helped churn out some nice talent lately including the likes of Reece Scarlett, Richard Nedomlel and Dillon Heatherington in recent years and likely three more in 2014 with Martin joining the skilled Finn Julius Honka and the rugged Brett Lernout.  Martin's two biggest skills are his size and ability to execute a first pass.  He's not an overly complicated player, who does his best to keep things simple.  I had high hopes for him at the start of the season and his play didn't quite elevate it to the level I had hoped, but he's still got a nice toolbox to develop into a good player at the NHL level.  His defensive positioning and reads could be cleaned up a bit more, while his assortment of offensive tools could also use some refining.  I think his top end potential would see him being a borderline number 3 or a very solid number 4 defenceman at the NHL level.  He'll be part of a Broncos defensive group in 2014-15 that should return their entire personnel from last year and that will allow him to stay comfortable and continue playing in all situations.  

NHL Style Comparison:  Marc Staal

Top End NHL Potential:  #3 or 4 defenceman who can play in all situations

Pick Prediction:  35-50 overall

#11 - Jayce Hawryluk - Brandon Wheat Kings - C - R - 5'10 - 190

Hawryluk is a player who plays like a bull in a china shop.  He's got a low, powerful skating stride and is tough to knock off the puck.  He likes to hang around the net, creating havoc and generating offence.  He possesses very good offensive instincts, a heavy shot and will be the cornerstone for a powerhouse team in Brandon for the next couple of seasons, giving him plenty of opportunities to further expand his offensive arsenal.  I see him making some team extremely happy in the 2nd round of the 2014 NHL Draft.  Is he a true C at the next level?  That would be one question I have with his style of game.

NHL Style Comparison:  TJ Oshie

Top End NHL Potential:  Top 6 forward 

Pick Prediction:  45th overall

#12 - John Quenneville - Brandon Wheat Kings - C - L - 6'1 - 186

Quenneville is a big-bodied forward for the Wheat Kings.  He has a very intriguing amount of skill to go with his frame and has shown the ability to play physical when he needs to.  His skating is strong and he has a nice level of hockey IQ.  He was near a point per game this season, further elevating that offence with 13 points in 9 playoff games.  I know many people have him rated higher than I do, but I have some noted concerns about his compete level.  I wrote that he can be physical when he needs to be, but that part of his game was extremely inconsistent in my eyes this season.  I noticed him frequently turning away from finishing checks and taking shifts off.  This type of play is the main reason why I have him down on my list in comparison to where some scouts and NHL teams would have him.

NHL Style Comparison:  Lars Eller

Top End NHL Potential:  Borderline top 6 forward

Pick Prediction:  25-35 overall

#13 - Brett Pollock - Edmonton Oil Kings - C - L - 6'2 - 183

Pollock is a big rangy forward for Edmonton. He's shown the ability to move around the lineup, playing on a variety of different lines while lining up as both a winger and centre at times.  He's a very solid offensive player with good hockey sense and ok skating ability along with a good shot with a quick release.  He's not afraid to get dirty to score goals but could definitely benefit from adding another layer of "mean" in his game, as he's got the frame to do it.  

NHL Style Comparison:  Max Pacioretty

Top End NHL Potential:  Top 6 forward

Pick Prediction:  50-75 overall

#14 - Nelson Nogier - Saskatoon Blades - D - R - 6'2 - 193

Nogier is a cerebral and smooth-skating defensive defenceman.  He possesses a powerful and effortless skating stride that allows him to maintain great body positioning all over the ice, transitioning extremely well into his backwards skating.  He makes a strong first pass but doesn't appear to have a terribly high ceiling for offensive potential, with his shot being a noted weak point.  While being a defensive blueliner he doesn't have a natural "mean" edge to his game, but isn't afraid to play physical when needed.  As mentioned, his positioning and reads are extremely good, while he also benefits from having a great stick while defending.  He missed most of the season after injuring his shoulder during a fight, but was playing near 30 minutes a night against top WHL competition pre-injury.  If not for the injury, I think he would have played his way into the top 75 quite comfortably.  Also worth noting he was the WHL's top scholastic player with an average of over 96%.  Playing under new Saskatoon head coach Bob Woods, who has helped guide young defencemen in the pro game, should help his development immensely. 

NHL Style Comparison:  Nicklas Lidstrom (defence only)

Top End NHL Potential:  #3 defenceman, top pairing PK, captain material

Pick Prediction:  Mid 3rd to late 4th round

#15 - Brayden Point - Moose Jaw Warriors - C - R - 5'9 - 160

Point is a small and dynamic offensive player from the Moose Jaw Warriors.  He's an explosive player who works extremely hard, isn't afraid to get dirty and has great skills with the puck and at distributing the puck.  His offensive skills are right at the top of this draft class from the WHL and he did his best to carry the Warriors this season, putting up 36 goals and 91 points, despite not having a ton of help to work with offensively.  The biggest downfall with his game is his size.  Not only his height, but his weight and body composition.  He's tiny, there's no other way to put it.  If he was 5'11 and 180 pounds, he would be a legit contender to be taken in the top 30 picks, if not higher.  

NHL Style Comparison:  Jiri Hudler

Top End NHL Potential:  2nd line forward

Pick Prediction:  Late 3rd round

#16 - Rinat Valiev - Kootenay Ice - D - L - 6'1 - 190

Valiev is a two-way blueliner for the Kootenay Ice.  He's got good size and strength and displays a strong ability to get around the ice.  He showed me some nice hockey IQ in my viewings, with an ability to create plays offensively or to read and react defensively.  He's got a nice rugged edge to him and plays a very pro-ready style of hockey.  Has flown under the radar for much of this year, but I'm a big fan. 

Top End NHL Potential:  Middle pairing defenceman

Pick Prediction:  4th round

#17 - Aaron Irving - Edmonton Oil Kings - D - R - 6'1 - 190

Irving is a rugged and physical defenceman for the Edmonton Oil Kings.  He's got only an ok skating stride, although he is a powerful skater.  His first pass isn't a huge strength, but it's not a noted weakness either.  He has a strong shot from the point and should be a guy that continues to grow his offensive numbers at the junior level.  His calling as a pro will be his willingness to engage physically.  He's a strong kid who hits hard and takes no prisoners and will need to round out his defensive play to take that next step in his career.  His game does remind me of Kevin Bieksa.  Overall I think NHL teams will be fairly split on him as a player.  I know RLR had mentioned they had him as a 1st round talent at one point this season, but that was before his play tailed off late in the season, playoffs and into the Memorial Cup.  

Top End NHL Potential:  #4 defenceman, top pairing PK

Pick Prediction:  Late 3rd, early 4th round

#18 - Ben Thomas - Calgary Hitmen - D - R - 6'2 - 193 

Thomas is a solid two-way defenceman for Calgary.  He's a smart and calculated player with an ability to move the puck.  Defensively he has his bumps and bruises but showed the ability to grow and learn the position more as the season went on.  Likes to play physical.  He is a smooth skater with good foot work and agility. He plays an aggressive game in regards to joining the rush and did display some questionable decision making at times in this part of his game, but I like his desire to want to make an impact.  He could be another one of these players that several NHL teams rate much higher than I do. 

Top End NHL Potential:  #4 defenceman who can find a role in all situations

Pick Prediction:  3rd round

#19 - Reid Duke - Lethbridge Hurricanes - C - R - 6'0 - 188

Duke is a dynamic offensive player for the Hurricanes.  He possesses a strong and powerful skating stride, with a slightly hunched over posture.  He's extremely quick and agile.  He has a very dangerous ability to shoot the puck both off the rush and in the form of a one-timer.  His effort level and compete was inconsistent in my viewings, but did appear to elevate the more the year went on.  His play away from the puck is another area of concern for him going forward.  He would be another guy that I think NHL teams would be fairly split on but there would be very good value on him if he slips into the back half of the 4th round or later.

Top End NHL Potential:  Borderline top 6 forward

Pick Prediction:  5th round

#20 - Richard Nejezchleb - Brandon Wheat Kings - RW - L - 6'2 - 210

Nejezchleb is a big strong forward from the Czech Republic.  This will be the third time through the draft for him.  He was passed over for a second time last year after his first year in North America, suffering injuries and only playing in 35 games.  Nejezchleb is a powerful  and fast skater who likes to be involved in the offensive side of the game, taking the puck to the net and creating off the cycle.  He's got an extremely hard shot and isn't afraid to bang bodies to create space for linemates.  Suffers a bit from tunnel vision but has the skills to produce and be effective as a pro player.  

Top End NHL Potential:  3rd line forward

Pick Prediction:  4th round

#21 - Edgars Kulda - Edmonton Oil Kings - LW - L - 6'0 - 178

Kulda is a gritty forward who really saw his offensive game blossom this year for Edmonton.  He's extremely hard-working and disciplined, not taking any short cuts in any area of his game.  He's got a nose for the net, can score in transition or generate chances by hard work and creating bounces for himself and his linemates.  I like his pro potential because he's an even better checker than offensive player and should make a seamless transition to pro when that time comes.  Was the Memorial Cup MVP and should reap the rewards of that, even if I consider him more of a 5th round player as opposed to a 3rd round player.

Top End NHL Potential:  3rd line forward

Pick Prediction:  Late 3rd round

#22 - Luke Philp - Kootenay Ice - C - R - 5'10 - 177

Philp is an extremely skilled forward for the Ice.  Philp spent parts of the year on a line with Sam Reinhart, but also showed the ability to be a strong secondary piece to Kootenay's 1-2 punch.  He's not overly big or strong, but he has a good hockey IQ and very slick hands.  While being more of a distributor of the puck, he's also shown the ability to finish plays.  Skating could use some work, as could his ability to round out his play away from the puck.  

Top End NHL Potential:  Bordlerine top 6 forward

Pick Prediction:  5th round

#23 - Reid Gardiner - Prince Albert Raiders - C - R - 5'11 - 185

Gardiner is an attacking forward for the Prince Albert Raiders.  He often led the charge on the Raiders second line, playing behind Leon Draisaitl.  He's listed as a C, but has shown the versatility to play the wing (I think he transitions better as a winger as a pro player).  He's got a low and powerful stride and has a great shot.  He had a very chilly second half where his goals dried up, and he was also quiet in the 1st round of the postseason.  He's a big wildcard for me as I've been a bit scared off by his disappearing act in the second half.  I wouldn't be shocked to see him going in the late 2nd round, but would be even less shocked if he started to slide into the 4th or 5th round.

Top End NHL Potential:  3rd line forward

Pick Prediction:  4th round

#24 - Alexey Sleptsov - Moose Jaw Warriors - D - R - 6'0 - 165

Sleptsov is a raw but talented blueliner for the Moose Jaw Warriors.  He's a slight kid, playing the year at under 170 pounds, but he's got all the skills to grow and really mature as a dangerous defenceman.  He skates well, he moves the puck well, he makes good decisions offensively.  He's not overly physical and doesn't possess a great defensive toolbox, but I like his offensive upside.  His style of play reminds me of fellow Russsian Slava Voynov of the LA Kings.  

Top End NHL Potential:  Middle pairing defenceman, 2nd unit PP

Pick Prediction:  5th round

#25 - Rihards Bukarts - Brandon Wheat Kings - LW - R - 5'9 - 189

Bukarts is another dangerous offensive member of the Brandon Wheat Kings.  He's a small but extremely sturdy Latvian.  He's very smart in his offensive positioning and possesses an extremely hard shot with a quick release.  His skating is slightly above average, it could be better given his size.  He has a mean streak and has laid some massive hits, I really like his compete level.  I will be very interested to see how teams value him.  I won't be surprised if he doesn't get drafted.

Top End NHL Potential:  Top 6 forward

Pick Prediction:  7th round

#26 - Colby Cave - Swift Current Broncos - C - L - 6'0 - 187

A gritty forward, captain of the Broncos.  Plays heavy and really showed an increase in offensive ability this season.  Not a dynamic player by any stretch but he just plays a good Canadian game.  Should have some value late in the draft, if he gets picked at all.  I had him ranked 40th overall on my 2013 NHL Draft ranking for the WHL.  He obviously didn't get picked.

#27 - Brett Lernout - Swift Current Broncos - D - R - 6'4 - 205

A raw and powerful human.  Doesn't do anything that will wow you, just very solid all around.  Skating has improved, but still not too much above average.  He's very rugged and mean.  Makes an ok first pass.  Has a hard shot.  I know some teams really, really like him, enough for him to earn an invite to the draft combine.  Probably ends up as a 4th or 5th round pick.

#28 - Jaedon Descheneau - Kootenay Ice - RW - R - 5'9 - 186

He just missed the cut for me on my 2013 draft rankings and many of my same thoughts still linger.  He's extremely shifty and dynamic, he's just really small.  I love is hands and he was an excellent running-mate alongside Reinhart all season in Kootenay.  I think he has some value as a potential late pick but we'll see how hard NHL teams consider him.

#29 - Ryan Graham - Saskatoon Blades - LW - L - 6'2 - 198

A big powerful kid who had a strong second half for Saskatoon.  Was arguably their best forward in many games from mid-December on.  Big frame, extremely strong skater, and showed a willingness to finish checks.  Offensive tools are there, despite the production not being there.  I think he gets passed over in 2014 but has a shot at going in the top 4 rounds in 2015 as an overage.  Lots to like here.

#30 - Dryden Hunt - Regina Pats - C - L - 5'11 - 195

Hard working kid with nice instincts around the net and a good shot.  Had a fabulous second half of the year, continuing on into the playoffs.  Has suffered major concussion issues in the past, so hopefully that's behind him.  I don't see him getting drafted, but he could be a strong overage pick next year if he can maintain his health and grow his offensive skillset further.

#31 - Tim McGauley - Brandon Wheat Kings - C - L - 6'0 - 182

Another overage guy who I continue to like.  Clocked in at #37 on my list in 2013.  He's extremely smart, continues to get stronger and plays a good 200 foot game.  Offensive tools are there, including solid vision.  Not sure I see him getting picked, but he has the tools to be a good pro player.

#32 - Jordan Thomson - Saskatoon Blades - D - R - 5'11 - 174

Didn't play a ton of hockey this season as his rights were traded from Kamloops to Saskatoon.  When he played with the Blades, he made an impact.  A very good shot and a willingness to create offensively.  I like his chances of having a big year offensively next season and possibly parlaying that into a draft selection in 2015.  Was a former 4th overall pick in the WHL Bantam Draft.  Another Blades blueliner that should excel under Bob Woods.

#33 - Mads Eller - Edmonton Oil Kings - LW - L - 6'1 - 196

A good two-way forward for the WHL and Memorial Cup Champions, also the brother of Canadiens forward Lars Eller. He skates hard is a good checker, but I just don't see the offensive skills to consider him to be much higher on my list.  Might get drafted, with help from his bloodlines.  He should see a massively increased role in Edmonton next year so that's another reason why some teams might want to snag him in the 6th or 7th round.  Hopefully he proves me wrong.

#34 - Dallas Valentine - Moose Jaw Warriors - D - R - 6'3 - 195

A big and raw defensive defender for the Warriors, Valentine had a strong second half of the season.  He's big and rangy and likes to play physical.  His skating is a work in progress, as his ability to move the puck up the ice.  I think some teams will definitely jump on board given his progress in the last couple months of the year.  

#35 - Tomas Andrlik - Prince Albert Raiders - D - L - 6'0 - 185

An import who took some time to get comfortable, but really started to catch my eye more in the second half of the year.  He skates fairly well and moves the puck.  His confidence was clearly climbing as he became more involved on the rush and started to assert himself more off the puck in the last few months of the year.  Don't see him getting drafted, but I could see him being a big cornerstone in PA next year.

Some Other Eastern Conference Notables

Jordan Papirny - Brandon Wheat Kings - G - L - 6'0 - 170

Average sized goalie who really had a strong rookie year, all things considered.  Also had a very good postseason for Brandon.  If he was 6'2, I bet he would go in the middle rounds of this draft.  

Taylor Cooper - Lethbridge Hurricanes - LW - L - 6'0 - 186

A true burner with pretty good size and skill.  I'm expecting a big year next year with a hopefully improved Hurricanes club.  

Ashton Sautner - Edmonton Oil Kings - D - L - 6'1 - 193

Had a strong season and playoffs for Edmonton.  Showed more confidence with and without the puck, although hockey sense continues to hold him back.  Don't see him being picked as it's his 3rd time through the draft in 2014.

Jordan Harris - Swift Current Broncos - D - L - 6'0 - 196

Lots of tools for this depth defenceman on the Broncos.  Expecting a big year in 2014-15, but still has some work to do to get to a level where you consider him a draftable player.

Tyler Coulter - Brandon Wheat Kings - LW - L - 5'11 - 206

Smart and hard-working.  Should be a nice mix of sandpaper and skill for a Brandon team that should crush much of the WHL for the next several seasons.

Not Enough Views To Rank

Chase Lang - Calgary Hitmen - RW - R - 6'1 - 182

Radel Fazleev - Calgary Hitmen - LW - L - 6'0 - 178

Western Conference Notes

Chase De Leo - Portland Winterhawks 

An extremely talented player who plays with heart and compete.  He's not the biggest player but has proven to be a big-time talent.  Has been sheltered a bit in Portland, but that has also allowed him to learn from some great young players in Leipsic and Petan, while also giving him chances to succeed.  He's a kid I think is an easy 2nd round pick for some team out there.

Alex Schoenborn - Portland Winterhawks

Speedy, hard-working and gritty.  He's got some really nice offensive tools, too.  Should see a nice increase in role next season with Portland.  Not the biggest kid, but he's sturdy and loves to compete.   Have no doubt that there would be some teams who rate him as a 2nd or 3rd round player.  He'll be one I follow closely come draft time.

Keegan Iverson - Portland Winterhawks

A big, strong and powerful kid for the Winterhawks.  Has some nice offensive tools including a heavy shot and a willingness to go to the net.  Was once talked about as a potential 1st round talent, but now likely finds himself somewhere in the 3rd or 4th round.  

Joe Hicketts - Victoria Royals

A small but talented defenceman for the Victoria Royals.  He's not big but he skates well, moves the puck well, can provide offence from the blueline and also has shown a want to play physical.  There's not much of a need for 5'8 defencemen in the NHL so he better hope he has some growth left in his body.  Considering he didn't grow between his 16 and 17 year old WHL seasons, I don't expect that to happen.

Matt Revel - Kamloops Blazers

A very cerebral offensive player who was traded to Kamloops from Saskatoon.  Has very good vision and smarts but hasn't always shown a strong level of compete and drive.  He might be a guy that becomes a 90+ point junior player, but will need to show some added effort to prove he can have a successful pro career.

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