Ranking the Most Underrated Prospects in the 2014 NHL Draft

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2014

Ranking the Most Underrated Prospects in the 2014 NHL Draft

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    LUDVIG THUNMAN/Associated Press

    Each NHL draft has a group of players who end up being taken below their actual value. Scouts punish prospects due to size, speed or skill worries, and if they lack something called hockey sense, they could fall a long way.

    Looking for undervalued players in any NHL draft year looks easy, but the truth of the matter is that NHL scouts pick each draft clean by selection No. 100.

    Here are the underrated players—based on current draft ranking—in the 2014 Entry Draft.

10. Rinat Valiev, D, Kootenay Ice (WHL)

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    His Skills: Rinat Valiev should be considered a very deep sleeper selection. Eligible for the 2013 Entry Draft, things didn't go well, as reflected in this Kyle Woodlief Red Line Report courtesy of USA Today from December 2012:

    [Valiev] has loads of offensive talent but was lacking in discipline and made an example of by the coaches. Has new lease on life with last week's coaching change. Let's see if he can turn his season around.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? Valiev's move to the WHL from Russia gave his career new life. He has size and skill, but is a 1995 birthday so is among the older players available in the draft.

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? Valiev's being passed over wasn't about skill, it was about execution. He is a legitimate, if once overlooked, NHL prospect.

9. Lucas Wallmark, LW, Lulea (SHL)

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    His Skills: Lukas Wallmark is a quality forward prospect with a wide range of skills. Here's a scouting report from Elite Prospects:


    Wallmark has first-class hockey sense and vision. Very smart player and a highly skilled playmaker. Has good puck control and will also battle hard for the puck. Good defensive game and face-off skills. Major concern is his skating ability, as he lacks speed and acceleration.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? As noted in the scouting report, Wallmark's weakness involves foot speed, and that's a major issue for scouts.

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? Wallmark has overcome a lot to play at a high level. He had a 41GP, 3-7-10 line for Lulea in Sweden's top league. That's good production for a teenager, and he was a major factor at the World Junior Championships. 

8. Elvis Merzlikins, G, Lugano (Swiss Jr)

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    His Skills: Elvis Merzlikins is an unusual character and a crowd favorite. Rafik Soliman has an excellent scouting report via Elite Prospects:


    Elvis Merzlikins is a very athletic, butterfly goaltender, who is well sized and covers a lot of the net. He loves to challenge shooters and never gives up on a shot. Despite his decent reflexes, he is a goaltender who lets the puck hit him and control the rebounds. Needs to play a more composed game, as he tends to overplay certain situations. Handles the puck very well.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? In 2013, NHL teams drafted only 20 goalies—less than one per team. From that group of 20, only five came from European leagues, and none came from Switzerland. Merzlikins is the sixth ranked goalie among Europeans at Central Scouting. 

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? Merzlikins had an enormous playoff performance, posting a .976 save percentage in the postseason. That's a great number in any league.

7. William Lagesson, D, Frolunda (Swe Jr)

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    Martti Kainulainen/Associated Press

    His Skills: William Lagesson is a young giant who patrols the blue line for Frolunda in the Swedish Junior League. He's a quality defender who can also jump into the play.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? European kids don't get as much exposure during the season, so the Ivan Hlinka tournament each summer and the U-18 tournament every spring become major events.

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? Lagesson is 6'2" and 194 pounds, and that alone will attract interest from scouts. His ability to defend will make him a sure-fire draft pick and after that it's a matter of development and avoiding injury. 

6. Travis Sanheim, D, Calgary (WHL)

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    His Skills: Travis Sanheim is a trending player for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report gives a scouting update via USA Today:

    Huge, rangy blue-liner's confidence has been soaring, and we love his combination of size, skating, puck skills and shot.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? Sanheim's stock was so low at the beginning of the season that he was basically off the NHL radar. His Central Scouting rank jumped from No. 167 at the mid-term to No. 53 in the final rankings.

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? Kirk Penton of the Winnipeg Sun details Sanheim's impressive performance at the U-18 World Championships in Finland. He appears to have gone from unknown, to hidden gem, to front-page news over the past nine months.

5. Chase De Leo, C, Portland (WHL)

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    His Skills: Chase De Leo is a skill player who brings energy to every shift. As Kelly Friesen of Buzzing the Net explains in an interview with De Leo, the player patterns himself after men like Tyler Ennis and Brendan Gallagher.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? Hailing from La Mirada, California, De Leo came from off the beaten track in hockey terms. He's also undersized, and scouts may feel his outstanding season comes from playing with the dominant Winterhawks. 

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? De Leo has made excellent progress in each WHL season, and arrives at his draft day as a big part of an exceptional junior club. The NHL team drafting him will get a quality offensive player with a lot of determination.

4. Alex Nedeljkovic , G, Plymouth (OHL)

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    His Skills: Alex Nedeljkovic enjoyed a brilliant OHL season, finishing second overall in save percentage. He did it while playing for Plymouth, not generally regarded as a strong team.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? Nedeljkovic has first-round talent, but is ranked No. 4 among North American goaltenders on the final Central Scouting list. He is No. 42 on Bob McKenzie's mid-term rankings, and he should be considered a bargain if selected there.

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? Goaltenders are a difficult group to project. However, Nedeljkovic has been very consistent through two seasons in Plymouth and is a good bet for an NHL team.

3. Eric Cornel, RW, Peterborough (OHL)

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    His Skills: Eric Cornel is a skill forward with good size. He is regarded as a quality playmaker, and he also scored 25 goals this season.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? Entering the 2013-14 season, Cornel was considered as a disappointment. A high pick in the OHL selection, Eric didn't show much in his first season, as described here by Brock Otten of OHL Prospects. His performance during this term has improved his standing as an NHL prospect, but there are still question marks.

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? Cornel is a skill player who should grow into an NHL-sized forward. His combination of size, speed and skill are very attractive to NHL teams, and he should have a career in the league. His early OHL showing will probably work against him, making Cornel a draft bargain when he's taken.

2. Robby Fabbri, C, Guelph (OHL)

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    His Skills: In this article by Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star, Robby Fabbri is compared to Carolina's Jeff Skinner by Mark Seidel, chief scout with North American Central Scouting. His offensive output during the 2013-14 season is among the very best in the draft.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? The OHL site has him listed at 5' 10" and 165 pounds, and that's a small forward for today's NHL. Bob McKenzie's TSN Top 30 list in 2010 had Jeff Skinner listed at 5' 10", 187 lbs. so Fabbri is smaller than his comparable.

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? Fabbri has an NHL future. He may not come directly to the NHL, instead spending two more seasons in junior, but his skill level is one of the best available in the draft. If he goes outside the top 15 overall, some NHL team will be getting terrific value.

1. Julius Honka, D, Swift Current (WHL)

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    His Skills: Julius Honka is a skilled defenseman who impacts the game in a big way. His coach in Swift Current, Mark Lamb, had this to say to Adam Kimelman of NHL.com via flames.nhl.com:

    He's been as good as advertised. He was just so good in training camp. His skating and his puck handling and his shot, he was way ahead of everybody … You wonder, can he take it into the regular season and do it, but the biggest thing is how he practices and what he can do in practice, that's where you really get a good look at this kid. He's got some God-given talent that a lot of kids don't have. He's very high end.

     

    Why Is He Underrated? Honka is listed as 5'11" and 175 pounds, and scouts prefer defensemen who are taller and have more size. Honka's WHL season in 2013-14, in which he scored 62GP, 16-40-56, turned some heads and changed some minds.

     

    Does He Have an NHL Future? The team selecting Honka will get exceptional value. He is about the same size as Matt Dumba and Morgan Rielly were in 2012 and offers similar offense. One of the criticisms of this draft by NHL teams pertains to the lack of high-end defensemen. Beyond Aaron Ekblad and Haydn Fleury, it's unlikely any defenseman is taken in the top half of the first round.