On Monday morning, the NHL's Central Scouting department released their annual midterm rankings, giving fans an early look at who some of the top prospects are ahead of this June's NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia.
Like last season, there are a few names at the top, but no clear cut player anointed as the sure-fire number one pick this year. Sam Reinhart of the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice, has had his name thrown around the most with regard to the top spot, even making his way on to Canada's World Junior Championship team.
After the jump, we'll explore who earned the top spot, and examine USA Hockey's stranglehold on the goaltender position in this year's draft class.
However, it was Sam Bennett from the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League that earned the top spot in the CSS North American Skater rankings. Bennett ranks fourth in the OHL in points with 26-40-66 in 40 games this season. His stats aren't that much different than Reinhart's (18-35-53 in 34 games), but Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr justified Bennett's ranking, touting him as a "a player that can play in all situations" and "the one that has the skills and intangibles to be a difference-maker."
One has to wonder if a subpar World Junior tournament for Reinhart and Canada–where he did have two goals and three assists but often made mistakes with the puck–hurt his ranking, rather than helped it. He's ranked fourth among all North American skaters.
Germany's Leon Draisaitl of the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders garnered the second spot, with a nearly identical stat line as Reinhart (19-35-54 in 35 games). You may remember Draisaitl from his illegal hit on USA's Andrew Copp (skip to 1:45) that earned him a five-minute major and automatic ejection.
Red, white and blue paint
While the 2014 NHL Draft class doesn't have many American skaters near the top of the list aside from Anthony DeAngelo, the youngest player in USHL history, the goaltender rankings are just the opposite. The top five North American goaltenders ranked hail from the United States, including Boston College star Thatcher Demko, who is ranked first.
Alex Nedeljkovic of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers slid down to fifth after being passed by both goaltenders on the USA Hockey U-18 team, Edwin Minney and Blake Wayrick. Chase Perry may also become the next American goaltender to come out of the North American Hockey League, a relatively new league that has produced players such as Anthony Stolarz and Keith Kinkaid of the New Jersey Devils.
Europe boasts sons of former NHLers
The European skaters offer a pair of familiar names atop their list that are sure to make you feel old. Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander, sons of former NHLers Sami and Michael, are the top two names on the European list. While neither player took part in the World Junior tournament that saw their countries battle it out in a memorable gold medal game, they both possess lethal offensive skills.
While Kapanen has more of a scoring touch, Nylander is an all-around playmaker, much like his father. However, questions remain about his defensive awareness.