2014 NHL Draft Preview
by Taylor Lewis/CHN Reporter
As College Hockey Inc.’s recent findings demonstrate, the stock of NCAA players is rising at the professional level. Many of the college players that made up 31 percent of the NHL last season arrived via free agency, but with eight general managers having college backgrounds themselves, those choosing on the 2014 draft floor will have a better understanding of the advantages of the NCAA route.
College hockey enjoyed a peak period at the draft in the early-to-mid 2000s, but has seen the number of first-round picks dwindle in recent years. That may be the case again this year, with perhaps only two or three college or college-bound players expected to go. Still, the overall numbers throughout the draft remain strong.
Though the hype over next year’s draft often overshadows the one in Philadelphia, there are at least two reasons to pay attention on Friday. The college-bound wingers that helped Jack Eichel rise as a contender to Connor McDavid are set for a showdown as this year’s top American pick. Added to that mix is a World Under-18 Championships teammate who may beat out them both due to his personality.
While the defensive prospects are not as touted as their forward counterparts, one netminder from this year’s Frozen Four tournament looks poised to accomplish something not seen in four years.
Thatcher Demko (Boston College)
Netminders tend to go lower in the draft, so the late first-round/early second-round projections for Thatcher Demko are more compliment than insult. An American goaltender has not been chosen in the first round since Jack Campbell in 2010. He was headed to Michigan before deciding on a major junior path instead. But considering that the Boston College Eagle went from backup to Frozen Four starter in his freshman year, the expectations comes as no surprise. The California native went 16-5-3 with a 2.24 goals-against-average and .919 save percentage on the year. His size and agility have not gone unnoticed—NHL Central Scouting ranked him as the best North American goaltender in this year’s draft.
Dylan Larkin, LW (Michigan commit)
Larkin is one of the top American picks for many reasons—his responsible play, his physicality, his speed—but what stands out is his heart. He communicates well on the ice and is an intense player. Many see him wearing a letter on his sweater in his career. The Detroit native has already shown he can handle the pressure at the World Under-18 Championships, where he collected four points in six games as the assistant captain for the gold medal American team. Larkin has worked on his conditioning and positioning, a good sign in terms of development.
Alex Tuch, RW (Boston College)
Playing with the biggest threat to Connor McDavid’s top spot in next year’s draft is sure to improve one’s stock and so it has with Alex Tuch. While some might worry that being on a line with Jack Eichel might have bumped up the New York native’s stats too much, there is no denying that his large frame and hard shot contributed to the success of his line. With Eichel providing speed and Sonny Milano’s skill, Tuch accumulated 32 points in 26 games with the NTDP team. Combined with the World Under-18 Championships and the Five Nations tournament, the 6-foot-3, 213-pound winger had 64 pints in 61 games. As a Buffalo Sabres fan, Tuch has said he would not mind going to the rebuilding team, but he will probably be taken by Philadelphia or Columbus towards the middle of the first round.
Sonny Milano, LW (Boston College)
After sharing a line with Alex Tuch in 2013-14, Sonny Milano is set to play with the his fellow winger at the collegiate level. Milano was the skill to Tuch’s size, as demonstrated in both his basement and at the NHL Scouting Combine. Under Jerry York, the New Yorker will have time to develop his defensive game and learn to effectively channel his puck-handling skills without allowing too many turnovers. Seen as a mid- to late first-round pick, his quick release and ability to maneuver around defenders earned him 85 points in 55 games with Team USA. At the World Under-18 Championships, Milano tied for third in scoring with Eichel and the Czech Republic’s Jakub Vrana.
Nick Schmaltz, RW (North Dakota)
Schmaltz will join his brother, Jordan, at North Dakota and possibly be under the watch of the same scouts should St. Louis take Nick. The younger Schmaltz has made a name with his playmaking ability and skill, though he acknowledges he could improve defensively. Another concern is his relaxed demeanor, which can aggravate coaches. But Nick also led the USHL’s 1996 group in scoring in 2012-13, his rookie year with the Green Bay Gamblers. His offensive ceiling is high, with 18 goals and 63 points in 2013-14, but what how he develops at North Dakota will determine his professional potential.
Ryan Donato, C (Harvard)
Donato still has a year before he plays for the Crimson, during which he could finish out his high school career with Dexter School in Brookline or move on to the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. Either way, in 2015-16, the Massachusetts native is set to follow in his father’s footsteps and formally be under his tutelage. Donato is the son of Harvard coach Ted Donato, from whom he might have inherited his hockey instincts. Though the younger Donato is not the fastest player, he is good on both ends of the ice and keeps a level head under pressure. Whether he moves to the USHL this upcoming season and how he does after that will say a lot about his development at the collegiate and professional levels.
Jack Dougherty (Wisconsin)
As with many young prospects, Dougherty needs to work on his defense. But the future Badger has keen offensive instincts. With 34 points 78 games with the NTDP and U18 squad Dougherty has shown he can contribute to a team’s scoring. Team USA’s first goal of the U18-WJC gold medal game demonstrated that Dougherty knows how to place a shot. The Minnesota native was originally committed to the Ohio State Buckeyes, but switched to Wisconsin following the firing of coach Mark Osiecki. The Badgers will benefit from Dougherty’s consistency and sound decision-making.
Johnathan MacLeod (Boston University)
MacLeod’s offensive numbers are not anything impressive, as a defensive defenseman’s usually are. In 19 games with the NTDP team and seven at the World Under-18 Championships tournament, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenseman only collected eight points. But it is worth noting that in two USHL seasons, MacLeod racked up 107 penalty minutes in 52 games. That excludes the 18 he received in last year’s World Under-17 Championships in all of six games. As a seventh defenseman at this year’s World Under-18 Championships, MacLeod did not take any penalties and halved his time in the box with in the USHL. His presence is not just notable by his frame, the former captain of the U17-WJC team plays a simple game and is able to slow down play. MacLeod is a probable early second-round pick with potential to make that selection worth any team’s while.
Jack Glover (Minnesota)
Glover is another defenseman with good offensive instincts. While he could work on his slapshot, he has a good release and is a good skater. Tying for second in blueline scoring at the U18 tournament in Finland and finishing the year with 38 points in 83 games is a decent showing, but probably not enough to get him out of the second round. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, the Minnesota native is an attractive physical specimen, especially with the weight he could put on. But his inconsistency leaves something to be desired, as well as a defensive game that could use improvement. Glover’s high hockey IQ should help in his development with the Gophers, making him a solid second-round choice.
Ryan Collins (Minnesota)
At 6-foot-5, Collins is one of the bigger prospects at this year’s draft. But like most tall defensemen before him, the Minneapolis native needs time to grow into his size. Typified as a defensive defenseman, many of Collins strengths do not show up on the stat sheet, though going from a -15 plus/minus with the USNTDP team in 2012-13 to +12 this past season is a good sign. He skates well for his size, but could see improvement. Accompanied by a long reach, Collins’s ability to drive forwards to the outside makes him a decent second round pick.