There were 37 WHL players selected at the 2014 NHL Draft, the most the league has pumped out since 2010. Starting with Kootenay’s Sam Reinhart going second overall to the Buffalo Sabres, and finishing with Lukas Sutter being drafted for the second time at 200th overall in the seventh round it was a banner class that the league won't soon forget. Here's some thoughts on some of the more intriguing storylines the draft produced from a WHL perspective.
Best pick (1st round): Sam Reinhart (Buffalo, 2nd overall)
All throughout the year, I made no bones about how much I like Sam Reinhart. It’s not surprising that he went second overall, but the consensus at the end of the year was that Sam Bennett may be the guy for Buffalo. For my money, Sam Reinhart was the right choice by the Sabres because he’s a guy that they can build around and rely on to be a player in all three zones. Nothing against Sam Bennett – but Reinhart could step into the NHL right away and be a difference maker for the Sabres. This is an excellent pick, a shrewd move that immediately gives the Sabres a 15 year player down the middle.
Honorable Mention: Conner Bleackley (Colorado, 23rd overall) … the perfect fit to play alongside any of their talented centers for the next decade. This guy will fit right in and will be part of a dominant uprising in Colorado.
Best pick (other rounds): Ryan Rehill (New Jersey, 131st overall)
I may be one of the only people around that will mention Ryan Rehill as an excellent pick, but I’m not afraid to do so. He is what you picture when you picture a WHL defenseman; big, strong, physical, and not afraid to drop the gloves. On a poor team, Rehill was a standout for the entire year, showcasing his defensive prowess and keeping opposing forwards honest. The reason this pick is a great pick, is because New Jersey has been notably thin on the blueline for the last few years, and Rehill fills a need in their system. I won’t insult anyone by calling him the next Scott Stevens, but I do think he plays the same style. Devils fans are going to love this guy.
Honorable Mention: Reid Duke (Minnesota, 169th overall) ... potential first rounder who fell because he played in a bad situation. Duke could turn out to be one of the best players in this draft.
Biggest surprise: The rise of Travis Sanheim (Philadelphia, 17th overall)
Not to say that Sanheim didn’t deserve to go as high as he did, but if you asked anyone prior to the season if he would go in the top 20, I don’t know how many yeses you would have gotten. Sanheim got better and better as the season wore on, and it’s obvious to see why the Flyers took a flyer on him (no pun intended). A smooth skater who plays a heady game, Sanheim may be the kind of guy that teams look back on in five years and wonder why they passed him up.
Honorable Mention: The fall of Brycen Martin (Buffalo, 74th overall) … Martin was on the wrong end of things for the Swift Current Broncos this year, as the revelation of Julius Honka meant Martin saw less powerplay time than he would have liked. Unable to showcase his (obvious) talents, Martin’s stock fell steadily as the year went on. As it stands, he’s a heck of a hockey player and should take this as motivation to become a dominant offensive defenseman.
Undrafted potential: C Reid Gardiner, Prince Albert Raiders
Not only was Reid Gardiner expected to hear his name called in Philadelphia – many expected to hear his name called in the top 60. Though not a huge player, Gardiner is a solid mid-sized forward with a solid skillset and good work ethic. Look for Gardiner to return a year older, hungrier, and ready to further make a name for himself in the WHL.
All in all, there is plenty to be excited about from these players, most of whom will be returning to the league next year. While we may not see the likes of Sam Reinhart or Leon Draisaitl again, it should be interesting to see how a guy like Jake Virtanen settles back into the league as one of its premier players
|1. C Sam Reinhart||Kootenay Ice|
|2. D Aaron Ekblad||Barrie Colts|
|3. C Michael Dal Colle||Oshawa Generals|
|4. C Leon Draisaitl||Prince Albert Raiders|
|5. C William Nylander||Rogle|
|6. LW Nick Ritchie||Peterborough Petes|
|7. D Haydn Fleury||Red Deer Rebels|
|8. D Roland McKeown||Kingston Frontenacs|
|9. LW Sam Bennett||Kingston Frontenacs|
|10. C Jared McCann||Soo Greyhounds|