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Ranking the Potential Franchise Players in the 2014 NHL Draft

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2014

Ranking the Potential Franchise Players in the 2014 NHL Draft

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    NHL teams look forward to the draft each season to breathe new life into their organizations. An impact addition can excite the fan base, give the team a major building block and change the fortunes of the franchise for a decade.

    There are only a few potential franchise players every year, and this season offers fans an added twist: The best player in the group has not yet established himself.

    Here are the 10 potential impact players available in this year's draft.

10. Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough Petes (OHL)

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Nick Ritchie

    The Stats: 61GP, 39-35-74 with Peterborough Petes (OHL)

    The Story: Mike Davies of the Peterborough Examiner tell us about Ritchie's talents and quotes Dallas Stars scout J.J. Johnson on Ritchie. Johnston says Ritchie has all the tools for the pro game.

    What Makes Him Special? Ritchie is one of the best power-forward prospects in the draft. Dan Stewart, scouting director for future considerations, tells the story to OHL Prospects:

    I have been to games this season where he looks like the undisputed top prospect for this draft. A real bull in a china shop who can force his will on anyone physically as well as possessing the offensive skills to singlehandedly dominate the game and carry the Petes to victory, and then some games where he looks disinterested and played like a real dog. Partly due to improved health but lately his contributions and efforts have been more consistent which has his stock rising. Think physical dominance like Milan Lucic but with better offensive abilities (shot, hands, sense).

9. Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

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    Jake Virtanen

    The Stats: 71GP, 45-26-71 with the Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

    The Story: Virtanen posted eye-popping numbers in his draft season. His 45 goals are an exceptional total for a draft-eligible player, and he trailed only older players in the goal-scoring race.

    What Makes Him Special? Virtanen is a first-shot scorer who can beat goaltenders from outside the traditional scoring areas. Craig Button tells his story at TSN:

    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.

     

8. Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Kalpa (Sm-Liiga)

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    Kasperi Kapanen

    The Stats: 47GP, 7-7-14 with Kalpa (Sm-Liiga)

    The Story: There are two forwards with a wide range of skills near the top of the draft, and Kapanen is one of them. He's an intelligent player with speed and skill, and has already played a season against men in Finland's highest league.

    What Makes Him Special? Kapanen is a goal-scorer who also possesses excellent passing skills and an ability to think the game. Goran Stubb, NHL director of European scouting, tells us about Kapanen.

    He's a regular with Kalpa in the Finnish league and is off to a good start. He's a sniper who will play for Finland at the 2014 World Junior Championship. He possesses excellent vision and has great skills … he's a star in the making.

7. William Nylander, LW, MODO (SHL)

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    William Nylander

    The Stats: 22GP, 1-6-7 with MODO (SHL)

    The Story: Nylander's offense in Sweden's highest league (SHL) isn't impressive, but it doesn't tell the entire story. In the Allsvenskan, a lower league, Nylander has been outstanding for Rogle and Sodertalje. His 35GP, 15-12-27 totals for those two teams reflects a dominant player. Nylander backed it up at the U-18 IIHF championships in April, scoring 7GP, 6-10-16 for Sweden.

    What Makes Him Special? Nylander may be the most talented offensive player available in the 2014 Entry Draft. Craig Button tells TSN:

    William exudes confidence when he plays. Exceptional poise with the puck and is always looking to make threatening plays in the offensive zone. Excellent skater who is very difficult to check because of his agility and because he is always changing pace. Can make pinpoint passes in traffic and if you are his line mate, best be ready, as he will provide opportunities. Top line type player.

6. Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

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    Michael Dal Colle

    The Stats: 67GP, 39-56-95 with Oshawa Generals (OHL).

    The Story: Dal Colle is a quality winger who scored 47 goals this season. His 39 regular-season tallies were followed up by a prodigious postseason, as he went 12GP, 8-12-20 in the playoffs. 

    What Makes Him Special? Dal Colle appeals to NHL teams as a sniper and a potential power-forward. Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr had this to say to NHL.com about Dal Colle:

    Nobody would be surprised if we said five years down the road that Dal Colle would be the best player. He's actually in the mix for consideration over the second half. As far as consistency goes he might be the most consistent player among the top five. He's a power forward in the making.

5. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

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    Nikolaj Ehlers

    The Stats: 63GP, 49-55-104 with Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

    The Story: Ehlers may be the most exciting offensive player in the draft. His numbers are among the best in this group, and his style points are spectacular. He is an impact offensive prospect.

    What Makes Him Special? Ehlers is quick, intelligent and creative. Ryan Kennedy from the Hockey News puts it this way:

    An incredibly skilled forward, Ehlers makes plays at high speeds and doesn’t mind going to the tough areas in order to score. Scouts see him as an excellent complementary player and have even hesitantly brought up teammate Jonathan Drouin as a comparable, as lofty as that sounds.

4. Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

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    Leon Draisaitl

    The Stats: 64GP, 38-67-105 with Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

    The Story: Draisaitl is a big, skilled center with a high degree of creativity. His totals are well above average, and he played for an average offensive team.

    What Makes Him Special? Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal quotes an unnamed NHL amateur scout who describes Draisaitl:

    When Draisaitl touches the puck, he’s scoping out the play. He loves passing. If they say he looks like Thornton … that’s not a bad comparison. To me, there’s only two guys in the Western (Hockey) League who physically could step into the NHL next year. That’s Draisaitl and (Jake) Virtanen in Calgary. Now whether they’re mentally strong enough, that’s another story.

3. Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie Colts (OHL)

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    Aaron Ekblad

    The Stats: 58GP, 23-30-53 with Barrie Colts (OHL).

    The Story: Ekblad is a big defenseman with a complete skill set. He's mature physically despite his age, and may come right to the NHL in the fall as a teenager.

    What Makes Him Special? Ekblad is the complete package, including a monster impact on the power play. Tyler Parchem gives a fine description via Elite Prospects.

    Just the second player to be granted exceptional status in the OHL. Ekblad is a true "two-way" defenseman. He makes great passes, uses his size to his advantage, plays the body, quarterbacks the power play, can take over the game in any of the three zones and has great hockey sense. He is a sure fire top 3 pick in this summers NHL entry draft.

2. Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)

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    Sam Reinhart

    The Stats: 60GP, 36-69-105 with Kootenay Ice (WHL)

    The Story: Reinhart is the son of former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart. His brothers, Max and Griffin, are prospects of note, and Max has played in 19 NHL games. 

    What Makes Him Special? Reinhart is a quality talent who could end up being the best player in this year's draft. Kelly Friesen from Yahoo Sports quotes International Scouting Services head scout Ross MacLean on Reinhart:

    He's a great offensive thinker with great skills and a natural nose for scoring goals,” says ISS’s head scout Ross MacLean. “He's a very smart playmaker who can really control his time and space well around the puck. He's got a great release on his shot, a release that reminds me a lot of James Neal. He has a natural ability to adapt to his surroundings and seems to build chemistry quickly with whomever he lines up with. He's a quality individual with good character and leadership qualities as well, so not only is the skill there but he brings some very valuable intangibles.

1. Sam Bennett, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

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    Sam Bennett

    The Stats: 57GP, 36-55-91 with Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

    The Story: Bennett may be the most complete player in this year's draft. He possesses top-end skill, a motor that won't quit, aggressiveness and attention to detail. He's also younger than most in this year's Entry Draft.

    What Makes Him Special? Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, sums up the feeling on Bennett courtesy this article from Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star:

    There’s four of five guys who could conceivably go No. 1, it’s that tight a year. But the one difference maker for us is that in most games we go to, Sam shows that he can be the game changer. If you want a D-man who’ll be the cornerstone of your team, you’re going to take Aaron Ekblad. He’ll play the same minutes down the road as Shea Weber does in Nashville. Sam Reinhart has exceptional hockey sense — he just might not have ability to influence the outcome of the game as much as Bennett does. When the game is on the line in the third period, he’s the one who’s out there generating those opportunities. And I’ve seen him do that on multiple occasions.

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