The 2014 NHL draft class is deepest on the wings, where general managers will have their choice of power forwards, pure goal scorers and reliable two-way players.
Not many of these players can be expected to make an immediate impact during the 2014-15 NHL season, but the potential is present in all of them.
Let’s take a look at the best wingers in this year’s draft.
1) Nikolaj Ehlers
Height: 5’11″ Weight: 163 Shoots: Left
Team: Halifax (QMJHL)
2013-14 stats: 63 GP, 49 G, 55 A
Ehlers finished fourth in scoring and won the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year award last season. He doesn’t have tremendous size or strength, but he’s an incredible offensive talent with game-changing speed, a heavy shot and the ability to make linemates more productive with his fantastic playmaking skills. In fact, few players in junior hockey were more exciting to watch than Ehlers last season, and he’s definitely the type of player capable of selling tickets in a non-traditional market that needs a star forward.
His international experience includes two gold medals at Under-18 and Under-20 tournaments with Denmark, where he displayed great poise and decision making under pressure.
When ranking the best pure goal scorers in this draft class, Ehlers is at or very close to the top of the list.
2) William Nylander
Height: 5’11″ Weight: 174 Shoots: Right
Team: Modo (Sweden)
2013-14 stats: 22 GP, 1 G, 6 A
Nylander, the son of a former NHL center, is the best playmaking winger in this class. His vision is excellent, he passes the puck accurately in all areas, and his hockey IQ is off the charts.
His 27 points in 35 games against professional players in Sweden was quite impressive when you consider he’s just 18 years old, and as he gets stronger it’s very possible that he becomes a 60-to-80 point player at the NHL level. Nylander also would significantly improve an NHL team’s power play with his goal-scoring ability and creativity in the attacking zone.
From a defensive standpoint there’s lots of room for improvement, but there’s no question that his offensive talent is NHL-ready right now. Nylander will be a top-10 pick as one of the safest prospects in this draft.
3) Jake Virtanen
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 210 Shoots: Right
Team: Calgary (WHL)
2013-14 stats: 71 GP, 45 G, 26 A
Virtanen is among the best goal scorers in this class and combines a powerful and accurate shot with elite speed. He’s a dynamic offensive player who creates scoring chances for himself and linemates with good vision, a high hockey IQ and great patience with the puck.
What separates Virtanen from other wingers in this class is his defensive skills. He back checks consistently, plays physical in all three zones, battles hard for puck possession in his own end and is willing to block shots. Don’t be surprised if he receives ice time on the power play and penalty kill during his rookie season. Coaches will be able to trust him in any situation.
4) Kevin Fiala
Height: 5’10″ Weight: 181 Shoots: Left
Team: HV71 (Sweden)
2013-14 stats: 17 GP, 3 G, 8 A
Fiala is younger than many of the top prospects in this class and still needs two-to-three years of junior/AHL development before becoming a full-time NHLer, but it will be tough for teams to pass on a player with his incredible offensive talent.
He’s a great skater, a solid playmaker and has the speed/puck-handling skills necessary to create offense for himself and linemates. In fact, he’s one of the finest scorers the SEL has seen in recent years:
Kevin Fiala has the highest points-per-game of any 1st round pick since 2006 who spent their draft year in the SEL (inc. Backstrom) #THW—
Bill (@Bill_Yards) June 21, 2014
It’s obvious that his defense needs work, and he won’t win many puck battles at the pro level until he bulks up. With that said, Fiala is an electrifying player with a very high ceiling from an offensive standpoint and projects to be a top-six player. He’s a bit of a high-risk/high-reward prospect, so it will be interesting to see where he’s picked (likely top 10).
5) Kasperi Kapanen
Height: 5’10″ Weight: 171 Shoots: Right
Team: KalPa (Finland)
2013-14 stats: 47 GP, 7 G, 7 A
Kapanen, son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, is a gifted offensive player with impressive goal-scoring ability (heavy shot, great puck-handling) and impressive speed. He’s one of the best skaters in this class and really improved as a playmaker in Finland last season.
Kapanen is a tough player to defend 1-on-1, and his high hockey IQ helps him decide when it’s OK to take risks offensively and when to play it safe.
Like many of the top forwards in this draft, he needs to add upper-body strength and become a more polished defensive player, but there’s no question he’s a future top-six NHL forward with a high ceiling.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@PR_NHL