Sam Bennett is our man. The Kingston Frontenacs left winger is our No. 1 rated prospect for the 2014 NHL draft. But it wasn’t a slam dunk decision. In fact, Bennett isn’t alone on the cover of The Hockey News Draft Preview. He shares that space under the headline ‘Fantastic Four’ with Sam Reinhart, Leon Drasaitl and Aaron Ekblad. The four are considered a cut above the rest of the draft prospects and will almost assuredly be selected in some order in the top four. Here’s how we came by our decision to make Bennett No. 1.
We again enlisted the services of independent scout Grant McCagg in determining our Hot 100 list for the June 27-28 draft in Philadelphia. In addition to his own opinion, McCagg consulted with four other scouts and came up with an order of 1. Bennett, 2. Ekblad, 3. Reinhart and 4. Drasaitl. Our two chief writers for the Draft Preview project, Ryan Kennedy and Ken Campbell, also consulted with a cadre of their own scouts. For a while, we considered moving Ekblad into the No. 1 spot ahead of Bennett, but after more discussion and a consideration of all the scouting opinions we received, we kept Bennett at the head of the class. It should be noted this order is based on our (and the scouts who helped us) projections on who’s going to become the best NHL player. It is not a mock draft. We’re not saying the Florida Panthers will pick Bennett, the Buffalo Sabres will pick Ekblad, the Edmonton Olers will pick Reinhart and the Calgary Flames will pick Leon Drasaitl. In fact, we’d be surprised if that came to pass. Each of those teams obviously have their own preferences and order. The 2014 draft class certainly isn’t the best we’ve seen. Most scouts rate it as mediocre at best. It isn’t nearly as strong as 2013 was and will pale in comparison to the 2015 draft class, in which Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are considered budding franchise superstars. But there are many compelling prospects in the five to 50 range. Many of those will max out as bottom six forwards or 5-6 defensemen, but rest assured there will be a prospect or two taken in the second round who becomes an NHL all-star, worthy enough to rank alongside Bennett, Ekblad, Reinhart or Drasaitl. One of my favorite features in this year’s Draft Preview include Ken Campbell’s look at the 2020 vision of the Buffalo Sabres. With so many young prospects, recent high draft picks and up to six picks in the top 61 selections, this is a franchise that will be dominant by 2020. And Uffe Bodin takes a look back 25 years ago when the first European player was selected first overall. That was a fresh-faced Mats Sundin in 1989. Draft Preview is arriving to subscribers this week and is available on newsstands now.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN