Alex Tuch brings a great combination of size and skill to the table. (Lindsay Kramer)
Welcome to the fourth segment of RotoRob.com’s 2014 NHL Draft Grades. Today, we’ll wrap up the Central Division.
A series of solid drafts has left Minnesota’s prospect pool in good shape, even with most of the cream of the crop already playing in St. Paul. A couple of playoff runs have forced the Wild to draft a little later than it’s become accustomed to (though that’s hardly a bad thing), but its scouting staff has still managed to get good results each year. This year, with the need for size and skill in the forward ranks, the headlining act was 6’3″ 215-pound right winger Alex Tuch of the USHL’s U.S. U-18 NTDP, who the Wild was quite thrilled to snatch up at 18th overall, even if he was a bit surprised to land there (see video below).
With his size alone, the 18-year old power forward is already physically ready to play in the NHL, but he’ll continue his development with Boston College starting this fall. In addition, Tuch will likely be a cornerstone on a very talented U-20 World Junior Hockey Championships squad projected to represent the red, white and blue over Christmas break. In 61 games with the U.S. U-18 team this season, he scored at over a point-per-game pace with 29 goals and 64 points while playing on a line with fellow 2014 first round pick Sonny Milano and 2015 draft eligible phenom Jack Eichel. Interestingly enough, Tuch could still jump to Canadian major juniors as the OHL’s Guelph Storm currently hold his rights.
Failing to trade up in time to get into the second round, the Wild selected Tuch’s teammate and U-18 team captain Louis Belpedio, a diminutive but talented young defender with the 80th overall pick. In 61 games, the Miami (Ohio) recruit scored seven goals and 23 points. Belpedio had a great showing at rookie camp and the Minnesota brass appears to be very high on this kid.
In the fourth round, Minnesota finally got its goaltender, a talented Finn by the lovely name of Kaapo Kahkonen. A highly touted European heading into his draft year, Kahkonen — who won’t turn 18 until August 16 — struggled mightily this season. However, there’s a lot to like with this kid and he’s got a lot of awards and hardware sitting in his corner to prove it. This is a slam dunk selection at 109th overall.
The Wild took a flier on big 6’3″, 211-pound WHL defender Tanner Faith in the fifth round. Despite the fact he was injured for all but 10 games in his draft season, Minnesota’s western Canadian scouts still came away impressed. It’s up to Faith to prove them right next season. Size, skill, strength and a right-shot made him too good to pass up.
With the club having three sixth round picks, Wild Assistant GM Brent Flahr went off the board with his first one, taking little known Swedish defenseman Pontus Sjalin from his home country’s Division-1 Ostersunds. Flahr followed it up with two intriguing WHL centres in Chase Lang and Reid Duke. Duke has already endeared himself to Minnesota with an impressive rookie camp showing. Finally, the Wild concluded its draft in the seventh round with Czech Pavel Jenys, a big pivot who will make the jump to North American major junior hockey with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves this fall.
For a weak draft year, Minnesota certainly seemed to make the most of it. The club added size, skill, goaltending and depth in general. Even without a pick in the second, there’s just a lot to like about the Wild’s draft, which is why we’ll give them a well-deserved A-.
After struggling the past few seasons, Nashville has clearly decided enough is enough. Not only did the team trade for goal scoring winger James Neal and sign dependable centre Olli Jokinen, it also welcomed some highly talented forward prospects to the fold with a trio taken in the top 62 picks of the draft.
The Predators got the show on the road with Swiss forward Kevin Fiala at 11th overall. The elite offensive catalyst Smashville needs, Fiala had a very good season playing for the Swedish Elite League’s HV71 and its junior club. However, his coming out party may have been with Switzerland’s U-20 team when he lit up the international stage with five goals and 14 points in nine games. Fiala will get a chance to play a starring role with HV71 this fall.
In the second round, Nashville added sizable Russian forward Vladislav Kamenev and USHL U-18 defenseman Jack Dougherty with the 42nd and 51st overall picks, respectively. Kamenev had two goals and seven points in five games as captain of Russia’s U-18 team last season. He’s big, talented and a competitor, and will take his talents to either the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk or the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts this fall. Dougherty is a talented defender, though not the fastest. Fortunately, he’ll have time to work on that at the University of Wisconsin the next few seasons starting this fall.
With the second pick in the third round, the Predators selected versatile WHL winger Justin Kirkland from the Kelowna Rockets. As a rookie, the 6’2″, 174-pound winger notched a respectable 17 goals, 48 points and a plus-23 rating. He’ll be expected to contribute even more this fall. Nashville added another versatile winger in the fourth round, taking small (5’9″) 21-year-old Swedish forward Viktor Arvidsson. A 16-goal, 40-point scorer in 50 games with the Swedish Elite League’s Skelleftea, he was even better in the playoffs, scoring 16 points in 14 games. Arvidsson is set to join Nashville’s top minor league affiliate this fall.
The Preds wrapped up the draft with a pair of defensemen, taking Finn Joonas Lyytinen and WHLer Aaron Irving with the 132nd and 162nd overall picks, respectively. Nashville added to its defensive depth and added some elite-level blue-chip talent to the prospect pool. This team is on the right track, and this effort is worthy of an A at the very least.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are bound and determined to win a Stanley Cup, but a surplus of defense and a lack of elite offensive talent have given them a good reason to struggle to get out of the first round of the playoffs year after year. Enough is enough, and the Blues made sure that was apparent to the rest of the league with the selection of Tasmanian devil Robby Fabbri from the OHL’s Guelph Storm with the 21st overall pick.
There’s nothing about Fabbri’s 5’10”, 170-pound frame that makes him stand out, but it’s what he does with it — amazing speed, a willingness to play physical and silky smooth mitts — that makes him a difference maker. In 58 regular season games last season, Fabbri put together an impressive 45 goals, 87 points and a plus-45 rating. He added 13 goals, 28 points and a plus-16 rating in 16 games in the process of leading the Storm all the way to the OHL championship. He’ll play another season or two of major junior hockey, but he’s not far from lighting up the NHL with his goal scoring ability.
With two second round picks, St. Louis didn’t mess around, welcoming Moncton (QMJHL) forward Ivan Barbashev and Youngstown (USHL) pivot Maxim Letunov to the fold with the 33rd and 52nd overall picks, respectively. Dynamic yet inconsistent, Barbashev scored 25 goals and 68 points in 48 games. He was particularly impressive with four goals and 10 points in six games during Moncton’s short-lived playoff run. Letunov is a talented, gritty forward who put together 19 goals and 43 points in 60 games. He’ll play another season of USHL puck before heading to Boston University in 2015.
The Blues added OJHL defenseman Jake Walman in the third round. He was impressive in 43 games with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens last season, notching seven goals and 33 points. Walman will continue his development with Providence College this fall.
St. Louis had two picks in the fourth round, taking Finnish goaltender Ville Husso and Tri-City (USHL) right wing Austin Poganski with the 94th and 110th overall picks. A big goalie at 6’3″ and 205 pounds, Husso played very well for the SM-Liiga’s HIFK, putting together a 1.99 goals against average and a .923 save percentage in 41 regular season games with a 1.25 goals against average and a .935 save percentage in two playoff appearances. Poganski is a big north-south forward who will continue his development with the University of North Dakota next fall.
It’s hard to get a much better fifth round pick than Kootenay Ice forward Jaedon Descheneau. A diminutive player at 5’9″ and 185 pounds, Descheneau dominated the WHL as an 18/19-year old last season, collecting 44 goals, 98 points and a plus-27 rating in 70 games. He added 10 goals and 20 points in 13 playoff games. It was an impressive season for someone his size, and the Blues are hoping that will eventually translate to the pro level.
St. Louis wrapped up its draft with a trio of wingers in the last two rounds, taking London (OHL) right winger C.J. Yakimowicz (172nd), Victoriaville (QMJHL) left winger Samuel Blais (176th) and big (6’4″) Indiana (USHL) right wing Dwyer Tschantz (202nd).
The Blues definitely added some valuable pieces to their organization with Fabbri, Barbashev and Husso among others. If St. Louis truly wants a Cup, it’s well on its way if it continues to draft this well. It would be hard to argue against anything less than an A+.
When any team can kick off a draft with the selection of Halifax Mooseheads winger Nikolaj Ehlers at ninth overall, everything else is just icing on the cake.
A 49-goal, 104-point scorer in 63 regular season games last season, Ehlers’ skill set as a high octane offensive dynamo was too much for the Jets to pass on. He’s an explosive speedster, a lefty that plays the off-wing and a player that will benefit from playing one or two more seasons of major junior before making the jump to the NHL.
Winnipeg waited until the third round to make its next selection, taking USHL U-18 defender Jack Glover — a big 6’3″, 190-pound skater — with the 69th overall pick. Very mobile and good in all three zones, Glover will continue his development with the University of Minnesota starting this fall.
In the fourth round, Winnipeg had two picks, selecting Portland Winterhawks centre Chase De Leo and Saskatoon Blades defenseman Nelson Nogier with the 99th and 101st overall picks, respectively. A small, but dynamic pivot, De Leo was impressive with 39 goals and 81 points in 72 games, adding 19 points in 21 games in the WHL playoffs.
A Minnesota State Mankato recruit, stud two-way forward C.J. Franklin was certainly a catch in the fifth round. Nearly a point-per-game player with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede last season, Franklin’s rugged dependability makes him a highly desirable asset, which is why the Jets snatched him up at 129th overall.
Winnipeg wrapped up its draft with a pair of hulking forwards in the sixth and seventh rounds, taking 6’4″ Russian pivot Pavel Kraskovsky and 6’5″ BCHL forward Matt Ustaski at 164th and 192nd overall, respectively. Size, skill and tenacity was the name of the game for the ‘Peg, and the selection of Ehlers alone is worthy of nothing less than an A.
That wraps up the Central Division… which only seems to get stronger by the minute. Yikes. Stay tuned, the Metropolitan Division is up next!
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below how you think your favourite Central Division did in the draft.
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