Haydn Fleury is a bruising defender. (Eliteprospects.com)
We’re halfway through our 2014 NHL Draft Grades series. With the Atlantic and Central Divisions down, there’s only the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division and the Western Conference’s Pacific Division to go. Today, we’ll start with the Metropolitan.
For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, you’d think Carolina would have a better group of youngsters than it currently has. Unfortunately, 2010 seventh overall pick Jeff Skinner appears to be the best of the team’s limited youth movement, and he’s long since graduated to the big show. The Hurricanes have a skilled group of centres spearheaded by Elias Lindholm, and a deep group of defenders, but lack general forward depth and goaltending depth in general.
This year, Carolina added to its defensive depth and acquired a top notch young back-stopper, but didn’t do much to address the forward corps as just one of the three selected forwards was a winger. Headlining the draft class was Red Deer Rebels (WHL) assistant captain Haydn Fleury, a bruising 6′2″ 203-pound defender who put up an impressive eight goals and 46 points in 70 games during his second full season. A strong, physical player with great offensive ability — he models his game after Jay Bouwmeester (see video below) — Fleury is the ideal candidate as the next franchise defenseman in Raleigh.
In the second round, the ‘Canes added another potential franchise player in Plymouth Whalers (OHL) goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. At 6′0″ and 190 pounds, he doesn’t have the size considered ideal for the modern NHL netminder, but he’s athletic, quick and reads the play in front of him exceptionally well. In 61 regular season games, Nedeljkovic notched a 2.88 goals against average and a .925 save percentage.
With the 67th overall pick, Carolina added an intriguing young left winger in St. Andrew’s College (High-ON) forward Warren Foegele. It’s not Canadian major juniors or North American Junior “A,” but Foegele thoroughly thrashed his competition with an over a point-per-game average at all three levels of play St. Andrew’s offered. Only time will tell if he can sustain those levels with the University of New Hampshire this fall.
The Hurricanes had back-to-back picks in the fourth round, tabbing Whalers (OHL) defenseman Josh Wesley and Lulea (Sweden) centre Lucas Wallmark with the 96th and 97th overall picks, respectively. Wesley had a rough first season in the OHL, while Wallmark is a very solid two-way player with good offensive ability, though his skating reportedly is a weakness.
In the fifth round, Carolina nabbed Clark Bishop — a heart-and-soul QMJHL grinder that provides little else — before wrapping up the draft with Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defender Kyle Jenkins in the seventh round. A talented yet highly inconsistent player, Jenkins will need to add strength and learn to focus if he’s to make the NHL in any capacity.
The Hurricanes had a solid draft, but it didn’t quite meet every need. Our take? B.
Columbus Blue Jackets
It’s hard to argue there’s a better up-and-coming team in the league than the Blue Jackets. It’s easy to see why Columbus is quickly becoming so scary when the team keeps drafting as well it has the past few seasons. With their top three picks, the Jackets added a top forward prospect, a monstrous young defender and bolstered goaltending depth with a talented young Latvian.
Hands down, the cream of the crop was U.S. U-18 NTDP (USHL) left winger Sonny Milano. A speedy winger with smooth mitts and a dangler’s touch, the Boston College-bound forward put together an impressive draft season with 29 goals and 86 points in 58 games while playing on the same line as fellow 2014 first round pick Alex Tuch (Minnesota, 18th overall) and 2015 phenom Jack Eichel. Milano is just the latest elite young forward to enter the Jackets’ fold.
With the 47th overall pick, Columbus added an imposing young defender in Milano’s 6′5″, 203-pound U-18 teammate Ryan Collins. An intriguing right-handed defenseman, Collins notched a goal and seven points in 59 games. He’ll be a fun to watch play college puck at the University of Minnesota this fall.
As mentioned above, the Blue Jackets welcomed a young Latvian netminder to the fold in Elvis Merzlikins. His country’s go-to goaltender when it comes to U-20 international competitions, Merzlikins (76th overall) had a solid season playing for Lugano in Switzerland, collecting a 2.13 goals against average and a .924 save percentage in 22 games. The very next pick also belonged to the Jackets, who were happy to select Niagara IceDogs defender Blake Siebenaler at 77th overall. An offensive-minded blueliner, Siebenaler needs to work on his defensive game, but he did manage six goals and 30 points in 68 games as an OHL rookie.
Columbus picked up an intriguing young forward with the 107th overall pick, snagging Cape Breton Screaming Eagle Julien Pelletier, who collected 25 goals and 50 points in 67 games in his first full QMJHL season. An impressively creative playmaker, Pelletier will need to focus more on his skating and overall game before making the leap to the pro ranks.
The Jackets wrapped up their draft with Kimball Union Academy (USHS) forward Tyler Bird and Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL) defenseman Olivier LeBlanc with the 137th and 197th overall picks. A good-sized forward at 6′1″ and 201 pounds, Bird dominated the high school ranks with 33 goals and 60 points in 37 regular season games. He’ll look to take that success with him to the NCAA when he suits up for Brown University this fall. LeBlanc has proven to be a defensive talent in the “Q,” but that doesn’t say much in a league so offensively-oriented.
It was a great draft for Columbus, as it added depth at every position in addition to a standout prospect or two. We’ll give the Jackets a very solid A on this one.
New Jersey Devils
New Jersey may have finished with the 11th worst record in the 2013-14 NHL regular season, but thanks to the whole Ilya Kovalchuk fiasco, found itself drafting dead last in the first round. All things considered, the Devils are lucky it wasn’t worse — they could have (and should have) forfeited their first round pick entirely.
With said pick, the Devils made Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) centre John Quenneville the last pick in the opening round with the 30th overall selection. A versatile forward with decent size at 6′0″ and 183 pounds, the Edmonton native had a very respectable sophomore campaign in the “W” with 25 goals and 58 points in 61 games. However, his impressive performance in the postseason was what elevated his draft stock. Five goals, 13 points and a plus-4 rating in nine games will do that for you. He’ll be a solid two-way option for New Jersey after a couple more seasons of development in Canadian major juniors.
With the 41st pick in the draft, the Devils added Indiana Ice (USHL) rear guard Joshua Jacobs. A big (6′2″, 194 pounds) right-handed defender, Jacobs established himself as one of the top defensemen in Tier-1 United States hockey. In 56 regular season games, the Michigan native tallied five goals, 23 points and an impressive plus-36 rating, adding three goals and five points in 12 playoff games. Jacobs is very solid in all three zones and uses his body and skating efficiently, but can both over-think and under-think the game at times. A few seasons with Michigan State University should help him develop quite nicely.
New Jersey needed right wing depth, so it addressed it with the selection of Connor Chatham in the third round. Another big kid at 6′2″ and 223 pounds, Chatham was looking to take his game to the next level with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers after a season with Omaha (USHL). In 54 regular season games, the sturdy winger collected 13 goals, 31 points and a negative-17 rating with three additional goals in five postseason games. We’re looking at a third/fourth line grinder here, folks.
The Devils added another hulking righty defender in the fifth round, taking Kamloops Blazers (WHL) assistant captain Ryan Rehill. The 6′2″ 209-pounder had four goals, 20 points, a negative-4 rating and a massive number of penalty minutes (182) in 72 regular season games.
New Jersey wrapped up its draft with two forwards in the sixth round, taking Kimball Union (High-NH) centre Joey Dudek and big Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) left winger Brandon Baddock with the 152nd and 161st overall picks, respectively. Dudek will make the leap to the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints this fall after dominating the high school ranks. Baddock, on the other hand, has the makings of a journeyman grinder, which is good, because he’ll never make the NHL as a scorer.
Not a single player taken by New Jersey in this draft has the makings of a game-changing impact player. The Devils did add depth and size, but that’s about it — a C will suffice for this effort.
New York Islanders
Well, there may be a considerable lack of depth in prospect pool wingers on Long Island, but the few they have are pretty darn good, and this summer’s draft is a big reason why.
The Isles had two selections in the opening round, snatching up OHL wingers Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang with the fifth and 28th overall picks, respectively. A two-way battler with a good frame and obvious natural talent, Dal Colle piled up 39 goals, 95 points and a plus-8 rating in 67 regular season games with the Oshawa Generals. He concluded his impressive season with eight goals and 20 points in 12 playoff games. Dal Colle is expected to return to Oshawa next season, but isn’t far away from plying his trade in the pros.
While Dal Colle is considered to be a pretty good bet, Ho-Sang is somewhat of a wild card. Quick, agile and wielding silky smooth mitts with elite offensive prowess, Ho-Sang’s play on the opposite side of the puck — as well as attitude problems — is what made most NHL GMs hesitant to pull the trigger on him in the first round. However, 32 goals, 85 points and a plus-26 rating in 67 regular season games are hard numbers to knock, though his season was cut short thanks to a suspension, four games, three points and a negative-10 rating into Windsor’s postseason. He’s got a lot to learn and work on, but it may be well worth the wait for the fans and brass on the Island.
Minus a second round pick, the Islanders selected a pair of goaltenders next, taking Russian Ilya Sorokin and Swede Linus Soderstrom with the 78th and 95th overall picks. Sorokin put together a 2.90 goals against average and a .911 save percentage in 27 games with the KHL’s Metallurg Novokuznetsk, while Soderstrom posted a 2.61 goals against average and a .915 save percentage in 23 games with the SuperElit’s Djurgarden J20 club.
With the 18th pick of the fourth round, New York took its first and only defenseman of the draft in Quinnipiac’s (ECAC) Devon Toews. As an older freshman, Toews collected a goal, 17 points and a plus-10 rating in 37 games last season.
The Islanders wrapped up their draft with two centres, taking Ferris State (WCHA) pivot Kyle Schempp and Red Deer Rebels assistant captain Lukas Sutter with the 155th and 200th overall picks. Schempp had a solid freshman campaign, scoring 10 goals, 25 points and a plus-10 rating in 43 games after scoring 13 goals, 41 points and a plus-26 rating in 64 regular season games in 2012-13 in his first and only season with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede. An overage player, Sutter is certainly not known as a scorer, but he may already be prepared to make the jump to pro hockey as a bottom-six grinder or role player.
The Islanders had a great draft in our humble opinion. Not only did the club add two top-tier forward prospects, but it also added a pair of legitimate young goaltending options, forward depth and at least one player that may be ready to make the pros a lot sooner than anticipated. Isles fans have a lot to be happy about with this draft, it’s not often GM Garth Snow gets an A+.
Stay tuned, our coverage of the second half of the Metropolitan Division will be up soon.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below how you think your favourite Metropolitan Division team did in its draft effort.
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