The middle of the first round has proven instrumental in the building of recent Stanley Cup Champions Los Angeles Kings (2003 #13 RW Dustin Brown, 2005 #11 C Anze Kopitar), Chicago Blackhawks (2003 #14 D Brent Seabrook), and Pittsburgh Penguins (2000 #20 D Brooks Orpik). More recently the middle of the first round has produced Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators (drafted #15 in 2008) and super sophomore Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues (#16 in 2010).
Many players ranked in this range have jumped into the top 10 as well. From my previous rankings in 2012 Matthew Dumba (ranked 11, drafted 7), Slater Koekkoek (ranked 18, drafted 10), Hampus Lindholm (ranked 19, drafted 6) and in 2013 Darnell Nurse (ranked 18, drafted 7).
Many more potential Winnipeg Jets draft picks enter into the equation in this range. Last year's #13 Jets pick Josh Morrissey was ranked #17 on my list, above players picked earlier like Darnell Nurse (ranked by me #18, drafted #7) Max Domi (ranked by me #22, drafted #12), and Bo Horvat (ranked by me #24, drafted #10).
With the lack of consensus in this draft it should be expected that many players will go higher or lower than these rankings indicate. That lack of consensus also suggest that every player in this range is a potential Jets draft pick.
Part 1, Ranked 46-60 can be seen here
Part 2, Ranked 31-45 can be seen here
Part 3, Ranked 21-30 can be seen here
20. D Julius Honka (Swift Current, WHL) - Honka is the prototypical puck moving defenseman. The Finnish defender came over from Finland last year and didn't miss a beat stepping in with Swift Current. He led the Broncos defense in scoring with 56 points. Honka has a naturally powerful skating stride combined with very quick feet. He moves the puck extremely well, using his great vision to create plays. He can turn the play from defense to offense extremely quick. His lack of size is a concern as he can sometimes be overwhelmed in puck battles against stronger opponents. His hockey smarts can overcome that to a degree. His defensive positioning still needs refinement as well, but all the natural tools are there.
Birthdate: December 3, 1995. Height: 5'11''. Weight: 174lbs.
NHL Projection: Undersized, puckmoving, 1st/2nd pairing defenseman
Comparable: Mark Streit
19. LW Nikita Scherbak (Saskatoon, WHL) - Scherbak is a late riser on the draft boards. After a poor season in the MHL at 17 years old, he came over to Saskatoon where he made noise in his rookie year in WHL. He has a good size and really rounded his game out in Saskatoon this year. A strong, powerful stride combined with a good vision and a hard shot means he is always a threat off the rush. He works the corners really well and can use his size effectively. Scherbak still has work to do on rounding out his game defensively and finding consistent performances, but his rapid progression throughout the year bodes really well for that development.
Birthdate: December 30, 1995. Height: 6'2''. Weight: 174lbs.
NHL Projection: Fast, all around, 1st/2nd line winger
Comparable: Jakub Voracek
18. G Thatcher Demko (Boston College, H-EAST) - Demko is far and away the best netminder in this draft. He has ideal pro size for a goaltender. He has quickly developed over the past few years into the top netminder for his age in the US. He sets up well and has the size to block well. He combines this with very fluid movement post to post and solid anticipation. He took over the starting role at Boston College (alma mater of New Jersey Devils netminder and former first round pick Cory Schneider) in his freshman year. Any team looking for a goalie should look at him in middle of the first round.
Birthdate: December 8, 1995. Height: 6'3''. Weight: 192lbs.
NHL Projection: Butterfly, blocking, starting netminder
Comparable: Sergei Bobrovsky
17. LW Jakub Vrana (Linkoping, SHL) - Vrana was dominant at the U-18's with the Czech Republic. He led the tournament in goals with 8 in 7 games. With 14 goals in 16 games for the Czech's at the U-18 level, his goal scoring prowess is not really in question. He has a great, quick shot with deceptive speed. His is also a solid skater. He struggled for stretches in the SHL this year, but it isn't uncommon for a young player to battle with consistency as they break into a men's league. He has the offensive instincts to become a dangerous goal scoring forward. He still needs to work on his defensive game and his vision is sometimes very disappointing, but his offensive instincts are solid.
Birthdate: February 28, 1996. Height: 6'0''. Weight: 176lbs.
NHL Projection: Sniper, 1st/2nd line forward
Comparable: Gustav Nyquist
16. C Nick Schmaltz (Green Bay, USHL) - Schmaltz continued on with the family tradition of playing for the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL). He spent two great seasons there. Nick's brother Jordan was a first round pick a year ago going 25th overall to the St. Louis Blues. Few had him ranked in the first round though (I did /gloat). Nick stands out on his own merit, and IMO much higher than Jordan after his great play in USHL. He is committed to join his brother at University of North Dakota next year. He is a very intriguing centre in this draft with elusiveness and high hockey IQ. He plays a strong two-way game and makes some great decisions in both ends of the rink. While he does not have any spectacular skill like some other prospects; he makes the most of his skills.
Birthdate: February 23, 1996. Height: 6'0''. Weight: 172lbs.
NHL Projection: Smart, hardworking, two-way 1st/2nd line center
Comparable: Joe Pavelski
15. C Jared McCann (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) - McCann has long been considered a top prospect, but he has not shown the type of high end upside you would hope for. He plays a really strong two-way game combined with some solid if unspectacular talent. He has solid set of hands and can makes some very good plays. He has shown strong leadership skills at all levels. He has a solid hockey IQ combined with a solid work ethic. That combines in his really strong two-way game. The question becomes how high is his offensive upside?
Birthdate: May 3, 1996. Height: 6'1''. Weight: 176lbs.
NHL Projection: Hardworking, two-way, 1st/2nd line centerman
Comparable: Ryan Kesler
14. LW Kevin Fiala (HV71, SHL) - The Swiss national Fiala has been playing international games with Swizterland and with HV71 in SHL. In national games, Fiala was a superstar in U-18's, a star in U-20's, and a quality player in World Championships for Swizterland. In Sweden, the success has been mostly positive, with a decent showing in SuperElit and great success in SHL. Fiala showed his superior offensive IQ, hands and playmaking abilities at both levels. He is a smart offensive player. His elusiveness and hands contribute immensely to his offensive success. He also has a deceptive shot and a knack for identifying weaknesses in defenses. He does struggle at times with his defensive awareness and effort level. His ability to rise to the occasion helps off-set that concern a bit.
Birthdate: August 22, 1996. Height: 5'11''. Weight: 194lbs.
NHL Projection: Shifty, playmaking 1st line forward
Comparable: Patrick Kane
13. RW David Pastrnak (Sodertalje, ALK) - After debuting in the Allsvenkan at just 16 years of age, the Czech native Pastrnak continued to build upon the success this year. He led the team in scoring (ahead of former Jets prospect Jason Gregoire, who played more games) in his rookie year. Pastrnak uses his elite quickness and speed to avoid bigger opponents and to make some great plays in both ends, although most notably in the offensive zone. He has a great sense of the ice in the offensive zone and can make plays out of nothing. He does not lack offensive creativity by any means His slight build can lead to difficulty in winning board battles. He struggles at times in the defensive and neutral zone. He will need to work on his two-way game, but Pastrnak has great offensive potential to make plays from the wing.
Birthdate: May 25, 1996. Height: 6'0''. Weight: 168lbs.
NHL Projection: Shifty, playmaking 1st/2nd line winger
Comparable: Jordan Eberle
12. LW Nikolaj Ehlers (Halifax, QMJHL) - Ehlers came from almost nowhere; from a solid player in the Swiss junior leagues to absolutely tearing apart the QMJHL. Ehlers has speed to burn and he uses that to his full advantage. He combines that with a quick, hard shot off the rush and nice vision to make him a threat every time he goes up the ice. Even once established in the offensive zone, Ehlers uses his skills very well He finds soft areas and is creative in the offensive zone. That's not to say Ehlers is bad defensively as he uses his speed and smarts pretty well in the defensive zone. His really slight build does leads to struggles in the corners and in front of the net. but his frame will allow him to add muscle. His elusiveness also allows him to avoid physical play effectively. He has top end potential.
Birthdate: February 14, 1996. Height: 6'0''. Weight: 163lbs.
NHL Projection: Speedy, slick 1st/2nd line winger
Comparable: Matt Duchene
11. RW Jake Virtanen (Calgary, WHL) - Virtanen is one of the youngest players in the draft, but he is also one of the heaviest and strongest. After being #1 overall pick in the WHL draft in 2011, he has continued to progress well with the Calgary Hitmen. He was 6th in the WHL in goals. A large part of that was Virtanen's great speed and shot. He is incredibly dangerous off the rush. Virtanen is also willing to drive the net and get his hands dirty in the hard areas of the ice. He likes to mix it up out front of the net, in the corners, and finishing his checks. He does work hard at both ends of the ice, although he does make some perplexing decisions in the defensive zone. His main drawback is that he sometimes struggles to use his teammates and playing with in his team's system. He can be a very "individual" player that makes plenty happen all on his own. He needs work on reading the play defensively.
Birthdate: August 17, 1996. Height: 6'1''. Weight: 212lbs.
NHL Projection: Speedy, goalscoring 1st/2nd line winger
Comparable: Evander Kane