With the NHL Draft coming up this weekend, mock drafts and trade rumors are in full swing. Unlike most years, the 2014 NHL Draft holds a high degree of unpredictability. Besides the top five selections, almost every team has a different list of who is the best player in picks 6-210; players ranked in the 20-30 range could be interchangeable with players ranked in the 40-50 range. This fact, along with the numerous trade rumors surrounding big names such as Ryan Kesler, Jason Spezza, James Neal, and Joe Thornton, should make for an interesting two days at the draft.
The Carolina Hurricanes are in a good position with the seventh pick in the draft. This pick has given them good fortunes in the past, as just a few years ago, they selected Jeff Skinner, who turned out to be pretty good I guess.
Almost every Canes fan would tell you that the team is in need of a top four defenseman and some big, skilled, top six forwards-and they would be right. When you look at the players who could be available when the Canes pick, there are an abundance of guys who fit those exact roles. Haydn Fleury is the second best defenseman in the 2014 NHL Draft and has a very bright future ahead of him. Nick Ritchie, Jake Virtanen, and Brandon Perlini are all huge players with speed and good offensive instincts; players with size that the Hurricanes desperately need. When you bring up the words ‘small forwards’, almost every Canes fan will grimace and give multiple reasons on why the team should stay away from these players, especially in the first round of the draft.
However, with the seventh pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, I think the Hurricanes would be wise to choose forward Nikolaj Ehlers, left wing for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. The Denmark native is only 5’11 and weighs about 176 pounds, which is why scouts have him being picked in the 10-15 range of the draft (ranked 13 by central scouting). Last year, Ehlers notched 49 goals and 104 points for the Mooseheads in just 63 games. He also tagged on 11 goals and 28 points in 16 playoff games. And did I mention that this was his rookie season in the QMJHL? These are insane numbers, especially for a rookie.
Most scouts point to Ehlers playing time on a line with future superstar, Jonathan Drouin, as a major source for his scoring numbers. I completely disagree. It takes two players, never mind a whole line, to put up points. If you credit Jonathan Drouin for Ehlers’ scoring numbers then you might as well credit Nikolaj Ehlers for Jonathan Drouin’s scoring numbers. I understand that this is a potential concern, but it shouldn’t take away from the elite skill Ehlers possesses.
I do not believe that players with size trump small players with skill. Martin St. Louis, Brad Marchand, Patrick Kane, Brian Gionta, Claude Giroux, Pavel Datsyuk, and Sidney Crosby are all under six feet tall, and are some of the best players in the world. Yes, size is nice, but it is not needed to succeed in the NHL. When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, they had the second smallest team in the NHL.
Nikolaj Ehlers has an unbelievable shot, great vision, good playmaking skills, and is the fastest skater in the draft. His ability to shift and shoot at top speed is what separates him from the rest of the prospects. He has been compared by many to Patrick Kane, who as we all know, is also kind of good.
Yes, Ehlers needs to bulk up, gain at least 15-20 pounds, and prove that he can put up great numbers without the help of a player named Jonathan Drouin, but Nikolaj Ehlers is also the most dynamic player in the draft class and arguably has the highest ceiling in terms of potential. He will probably take two or three years to fully develop, but I am confident that he will be a future superstar in the NHL. For every Zach Boychuk, there is a Jeff Skinner. Although other names (previously mentioned) that could fill our immediate team needs will be tempting to pick, the Hurricanes should select the most skilled forward in Nikolaj Ehlers.