Sam Bennett

Teams that need centers will be in luck at the 2014 NHL draft because the top three forward prospects dominate the middle of the ice.

One common denominator among all Stanley Cup-winning teams is the presence of a two-way center who scores goals, creates scoring chances, wins faceoffs and shuts down opposing teams’ top forwards. Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings are the three best examples of this type of player.

Several of the centers in this year’s draft class already have a polished two-way skill set and display impressive effort in the defensive zone.

Without further ado, here are the top five centers in the 2014 class.

1) Sam Bennett

Height: 6’0″ Weight: 181 Shoots: Left

Team: Kingston (OHL)

2013-14 Stats: 57 GP, 36 G, 55 A

Bennett is trustworthy in all types of situations based on his high hockey IQ and poise with the puck. He doesn’t panic and makes the simple, smart play in all three zones. This makes him a very versatile player capable of playing on the penalty kill, power play and any even-strength scenario.

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The 18-year-old forward is a fantastic skater, has great speed and consistently scores goals with an accurate and heavy shot. Despite his inability to do a single pull-up at the draft combine in May, Bennett rarely loses puck battles along the boards and plays a physical game in all three zones.

From a defensive standpoint, he backchecks consistently, takes and wins important faceoffs and uses his good instincts to read plays as they develop and break up opponents’ scoring chances.

He’s the best all-around forward in this class.

2) Sam Reinhart

Height: 6-foot-1 Weight: 186 Shoots: Right

Team: Kootenay (WHL)

2013-14 Stats: 60 GP, 36 G, 69 A

Reinhart is the best playmaker in this class. He makes pinpoint passes in all three zones, displays great poise and patience with the puck, and has an incredible hockey IQ (Flames president Brian Burke says Reinhart is “Einstein on the ice”).

The 2013-14 WHL Player of the Year has improved greatly as a defensive player over the last year, and played a key role on Kootenay’s penalty kill. He’s capable of shutting down opposing teams’ top scorers while not sacrificing offensive production.

Reinhart has the potential to be an excellent two-way player — and possibly a captain — at the NHL level for a long time based on his all-around skill set and hockey smarts. Few players in this class work harder than Reinhart, and when the pressure mounts he wants the puck on the blade of his stick.

Sam’s brother Griffin was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft by the New York Islanders and his brother Max plays for the Flames.

3) Leon Draisaitl

Height: 6-foot-1 Weight: 209 Shoots: Left

Team: Prince Albert (WHL)

2013-14 Stats: 64 GP, 38 G, 67 A

Draisaitl has three of the most coveted attributes teams want in a No. 1 center: size, strength and skill. He protects the puck better than every player in this class, which has helped him draw comparisons to Jaromir Jagr. He’s got a powerful wrist shot, a quick release and the ability to create scoring chances for linemates with brilliant passing skills, excellent vision and the willingness to be patient in the offensive zone and let the play develop (something David Krejci does very well).

At the 2014 World Championships in Belarus, Draisaitl tallied four points (one goal, three assists) for Germany and handled himself well playing against professional players (including many NHL stars) for the first time.

Defense is still a work in progress for Draisaitl, but he did receive more responsibility in defensive situations for Prince Albert in 2013-14 by killing penalties. He’s shown a willingness to work hard and improve in his own zone, which is an encouraging sign for NHL teams.

4) Robby Fabbri

Height: 5-foot-10 Weight: 160 Shoots: Right

Team: Guelph (OHL)

2013-14 Stats: 58 GP, 45 G, 42 A

Fabbri doesn’t have great size or strength, but he makes up for it with good skating/speed, the ability to weave past defenders with great stick-handling and an accurate wrist shot.

He’s a player capable of excelling on both the power play and penalty kill based on his hockey IQ, impressive work ethic and ability to make smart decisions under pressure. When I watch highlights of his Guelph games, he reminds me a lot of Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner.

Fabbri needs to get stronger, work on his defensive game and improve on faceoffs, but there aren’t any significant concerns when you look at the totality of his skill set.

A strong Memorial Cup playoffs with Guelph boosted Fabbri’s draft stock, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was selected in the top 10. A team that needs a center such as the Anaheim Ducks might consider Fabbri if he’s still on the board.

5) Ivan Barbashev

Height: 6-foot-1 Weight: 190 Shoots: Left

Team: Moncton (QMJHL)

2013-14 Stats: 48 GP, 25 G, 43 A

Barbashev is the top center from the QMJHL and compliments an impressive two-way game with a incredible work ethic.

The Russian forward is excellent on the power play, either as a player unleashing a powerful slap shot from the faceoff circle or creating scoring chances as a playmaker at the point. He’s also an excellent skater, protects the puck well, plays physical in all three zones and brings a polished defensive skill set to the ice.

As a point-per-game player in the QMJHL and during international competitions (U-17, U-18 tournaments for Russia), Barbashev has the potential to be a second-line center for a long time.

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