First up, the first overall.
A brief survey of NHL execs suggests that the Florida Panthers might get off the No. 1 pick in the draft, but they won’t get off it for anything along the lines of a much-floated rumour out there: the Leafs’ No. 8 pick, plus defenceman Jake Gardiner and centre Nazem Kadri. The way the scenario goes (at least in the imagination of Leafs’ brass and ardent fans), Toronto would use the pick on Barrie defenceman Aaron Ekblad and thus have a first-pair right-hand shot at the point for a generation.
Said one senior exec: “I get the sense that [the No. 1 pick] is out there. [Pathers GM] Dale Tallon has all kinds of young players in the organization and wants to make the playoffs sooner rather than later. Still, Kadri in the package won’t get it done. JVR [LW James van Riemsdyk] might if he’s with the pick and Gardiner… or he might not. Tallon will wait it out to see what the best offer is. It’s a big one to sit tight and close on the floor but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Next up, the most contentious pick on Sportsnet magazine’s prospects list.
Okay. We here at Magazine Command Central took a lot of static from our loyal (or less so) fanbase regarding the designation of Peterborough's massive winger Nick Ritchie as the No. 3 draft-eligible prospect when the NHL Central Scouting Service has him as the No. 7-ranked North American skater. I can't speak for my partner on the project and fellow draftologist, Jeff Marek, but I can report that my wounds have healed. (Marek's might not have, but they can cover up a lot with make-up.)
The most common theme of complaints tied Ritchie's slotting and that of Oshawa's Michael Dal Colle, the No. 5-ranked North American skater. The outrage was out-sized considering that we're talking about a fairly small flopping of slots—you'd have thought that we had dropped Dal Colle out of the top 100 and anointed Ritchie the heir to Crosby and the rest.
I was asked by some readers if the list is built on a consensus opinion of NHL scouts or personal opinion. I'd say that both weigh in the rankings, though we would lean much more heavily on the NHL scouts.
That said, there was a wider variance of opinion on Ritchie than almost anybody—at least that was the case with a couple of teams' rankings.
As Marek noted, he knows of one scout who had pronounced Ritchie No. 1 overall. I know another who, if trusting his gut rather than heeding his GM, would do the same. I also know two other scouts who had Ritchie at No. 2.
But insert the asterisk here: It is making the rounds that one team has Ritchie 18th on its list. As bad as it sounds, it's worse than you think—most scouts consider this a shallow draft, maybe only 16-deep.
I'm willing to go with No. 18 as an outlier—and I'll be fascinated to see exactly what that team's draft looks like.
I suggested to one scouting director this week that Ritchie might be a reboot of Milan Lucic. He took me to task. "In junior, Lucic was never as tough and mean as Ritchie and even now his hands aren't as good. We took a close look at him at the combine—here is a kid who has 'worked out' but not 'trained.' His strength was respectable but not so much in his lower body. What will he look like if you get him to buy into the program? Some teams wonder about his attitude based on inconsistent performance and will score him down, but to his credit he was in a bad situation in Peterborough and never asked to get out of it."
Next up, a prospect who didn't make our top 30.
Many asked about the exclusion of Sarnia defenceman Anthony DeAngelo from our list. This one I'll admit is probably half consensus, half personal opinion on my part. DeAngelo was No. 10 on North American skaters on CSS's mid-term list, No. 14 at season's end. If you trusted the latter you'd put him in the 20-to-30 range in the first round. I couldn't see it panning out that way when I saw him a couple of times in person early in the season and nothing on video did it for me either.
My reading was and remains thus: For a defenceman at five-foot-10 and 170 lb. he doesn't skate well enough to defend his position. He might be hell on wheels with the puck but without it he's at sea. I didn't envision him as a first-rounder before I talked to any scouts about him—and this was before his name took a hit with some disciplinary stuff.
I've heard from a couple of scouts who see him as a fringe first-rounder but nobody who felt strongly enough about him to use a top-15 pick.
As one scout told me this week: "He always wants to go with the puck like he's Erik Karlsson, and he skates better with the puck than he does without it. But he's not as smart as Erik Karlsson and not even close in skating. He brings no physical part to the game either. He might slash you or give you a facewash after the whistle or something like that but to me that's not toughness. That's a negative not a positive."
I suggested that former Windsor Spitfire Ryan Ellis was a comparable package (albeit a much superior player) coming out of his draft year and the scout concurred. "Ellis was smart with the puck, much better than DeAngelo without it and sneaky physical. Coming out of junior Ellis was never what you'd call a great skater for speed but he was solid on his skates. In front of the net he could push back and not be pushed around. I don't see that in DeAngelo at all."
Another comparable D-man that this scout threw in was Swift Current's Julius Honka, who passed DeAngelo on CSS's list, landing at No. 11 on the North American list.
"He's the same size as DeAngelo, skates better and makes better decisions with the puck. He's not a me-first kid in any way. When he talked to us at the combine we were really impressed by the way that he broke his game down. He had a good sense of his game and what he'll be expected to do at the next level. I can see [Honka] as a top 20, maybe there in the early 20s. But it's really not a deep year on the blueline, so that might nudge him up a bit."
I asked the scout where he would slot DeAngelo. Would he take him in the 30s? The 40s?
"I wouldn't take him. Just not interested."