The 2014 NHL Draft is already looking like one of the deepest of the past decade. Sure it may not be as top-heavy as the 2015 class was (Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel) but three years later, we’re starting to see whose futures look bright and whose look bleak. Numerous players, from top pick Aaron Ekblad to mid-first round pick Dylan Larkin, are already budding superstars. Other skaters like Leon Draisaitl and David Pasternak have become key pieces in the young cores of their respective teams.
At the same time, there are some first round picks from that draft who haven’t panned out in the NHL as of yet. To be fair, three years is nowhere near long enough to evaluate a top prospect. Calling these players “failures” is not fair. They can still develop into solid NHL players and live up to their pre-draft hype. All we have to go by is three years though, so here’s hoping that the ones on the “failing” side of this list prove us wrong.
However, now that we’re three seasons from that 2014 draft, we can look back on which players have panned out so far and those who still have some work to do.
15. Failing: Nikolay Goldobin
The Sharks took Nikolay Goldobin late in the first round, one pick before Josh Ho-Sang. The Russian winger played well for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, putting up 44 points in 60 games and earning his first call-up during the 2015-16 season. Goldobin played 11 total games in San Jose, and scored one goal and one assist.
Goldobin didn’t take too kindly to the trade that sent him from San Jose to Vancouver in February 2017. “Maybe it’s inside, but I’m not going to show it,” Goldobin told the San Jose Mercury News before facing his former team in April 2017. “I’ll play hard against that team. Try to show that I deserve to play on this level.”
Goldobin ended up scoring three goals in 12 games with the Canucks. He possesses great offensive potential, but needs to improve his defensive play if he wants to stay with the Canucks on a consistent basis. Then-Canucks coach Willie Desjardins told the Vancouver Province in 2017 that Goldobin “needs to prove he is going to go hard at this level.” Hopefully he finds his two-way game soon enough.
14. Superstar: Josh Ho-Sang
The Islanders were fortunate to have two first-round picks in 2014. They took Michael Dal Colle fifth overall, and chose Josh Ho-Sang 28th overall. Surprisingly enough, Ho-Sang has shown greater NHL potential thus far than Dal Colle.
Ho-Sang earned his first call-up to the Islanders in March of 2017, and scored ten points over the final 21 games of the season. He didn’t light up the league but showed he had the skill set to succeed alongside linemates such as Josh Bailey and Andrew Ladd. Ho-Sang’s production would almost certainly increase if he were to be paired on a line with team captain John Tavares.
13. Failing: Nikita Scherbak
Alex Radulov was a pleasant surprise for the Montreal Canadiens this past season. Another Russian winger the Canadiens hoped would make an impact on the NHL level was 2014 first-round pick Nikita Scherbak.
The Canadiens selected Scherbak with the 26th overall pick in the 2014 draft after he put together a 28-goal, 78-point season for the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. By 2016-2017, he began his professional career with the St. John’s Ice Caps of the AHL. The Canadiens called him up in January of 2017, and he scored one goal in three games before being sent back down.
Scherbak still faces questions about his commitment on the defensive side of the puck, as evidenced by his combined -28 plus/minus rating in two seasons with the Ice Caps.
Even with those uncertainties, Scherbak still has time to blossom into a reliable NHL scorer. He has shown flashes of potential in the AHL, and has worked more towards improving his physical play in the AHL playoffs this past season and becoming a more complete player. The Habs hope his efforts will pan out.
12. Superstar: Nikolaj Ehlers
Mark Scheifele and Patrick Laine may be the talk of the town in Winnipeg but Nikolaj Ehlers is quickly making his case to join the party. The 21-year-old Danish forward has become one of the Jets’ most promising young scorers just two seasons into his NHL career.
The Jets selected Ehlers ninth overall from the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2014. He was a star in the OMJHL, notching back-to-back 100-point seasons for the Mooseheads.
Ehlers put up a respectable 15 goals and 38 points in 72 games during his rookie season in 2015-2016. Ehlers nearly doubled those totals last season, notching 25 goals and 64 points in 82 games. In fact, by January 2017, Ehlers had already eclipsed his rookie-season point total.
Playing with the likes of Patrick Laine may have helped Ehlers, as Laine draws defenders away from other players and opens up the ice for them. At the same time, it’s hard to deny Ehlers’ marked improvement this past season and not marvel at his future potential.
11. Failing: Kasperi Kapanen
Kapanen gained immense notoriety in the 2017 NHL playoffs as the double overtime hero for the Maple Leafs in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. He scored the game-winning goal for the Leafs to even the series against the Washington Capitals at one game apiece.
The Penguins initially selected Kapanen with the 22nd pick in the first round in 2014. The Leafs then acquired Kapanen in the 2015 trade that sent Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh.
So far in his young career, Kapanen has scored one goal in 17 NHL games with the Maple Leafs. To be fair, Kapanen is playing on the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Matt Martin. In that respect, he should not be considered a failure, but rather a valuable role player.
The only way one could judge him as a “failure” so far in his career is if they compare his NHL production to his pre-draft status as the top Finnish prospect available (according to hockeysfuture.com). Kapanen was also ranked the top European skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings in 2014. His stats so far don’t justify that ranking, but there is still time for Kapanen to reach his full potential.
10. Superstar: William Nylander
The Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs for the first time in several years this past season. This success was fueled in part by the rookie trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. While Matthews may have gotten the accolades, his 40-goal rookie year wouldn’t have been possible without the playmaking abilities of Nylander.
The Leafs selected Nylander with the eighth overall pick in 2014, and the 21-year-old is already paying dividends in Toronto. In his first full NHL season, Nylander put up 22 goals and 61 points in 81 games, and added another four points in six playoff games. Nylander seems to be well on his way to following in the footsteps of his father, Michael, in succeeding at the NHL level.
9. Failing: Conner Bleackley
Conner Bleackley is an interesting case on this list, since he was selected in both the 2014 AND 2016 NHL drafts.
Well, the Colorado Avalanche originally selected him in the first round (23rd overall) back in 2014, but never signed him to an entry-level contract. The team was reportedly unimpressed with his physical conditioning during training camp in both 2014 and 2015. In 2016, the Avalanche traded Bleackley’s rights to the Coyotes, who opted not to sign him either. Without a contract, Bleackley re-entered the draft in 2016, this time going in the fifth round to the St. Louis Blues.
8. Superstar: David Pastrnak
David Pastrnak emerged as an offensive force for the Boston Bruins this past season. The 21-year-old Czech forward scored 34 goals and 70 points in 75 games, good for second in team scoring behind Brad Marchand. Pastrnak is just three years removed from his 25th overall draft selection in 2014, and is already looked at as a vital piece to the Bruins’ young core. The Bruins are trying, quite wisely, to sign Pastrnak to a long-term contract extension. General manager Don Sweeney offered an update on these contract talks in early June, saying negotiations were “moving in the right direction.”
Pastrnak’s extension would certainly move the team in the right direction. The winger has built on his goal totals in every season since entering the league as mid-season call-up in 2014-2015. He could blossom into a perennial 30-goal, 70-point center if he continues on this path.
7. Failing: Sonny Milano
Sonny Milano first gained notoriety as a promising forward in the USA Hockey Development Program in 2013. He put up 10 points in six games during the U-17 World Junior Championship while guiding Team USA to a bronze medal. He also scored 39 points in 25 games for the United States Development Team that season.
The Columbus Blue Jackets selected Milano with the 16th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Milano, perhaps motivated by his first-round pick, scored 22 goals and 68 points in his first OHL season with the Plymouth Whalers in 2014-15. He made his professional debut in the AHL at the end of that season. He made his NHL debut during the 2015-16 season, and registered one assist in three games.
Milano had another solid AHL season for the Cleveland Monsters this past year, but went scoreless in four NHL games with the Blue Jackets. Milano has shown potential at the AHL level, so expect him to get another shot with the big club this coming season.
6. Superstar: Leon Draisaitl
Leon Draisaitl has enjoyed the privilege of playing on a line with Connor McDavid. Some fans might say that any player could turn into a star playing with a generational talent such as McDavid. Yet, Draisaitl is emerging as a star in his own right.
The young German forward scored an otherworldly 105 points in the WHL during the 2013-14 season, prompting the Oilers to take him third overall that June.
Draisaitl got off to somewhat of a slow start during the 2013-2014 season. He scored just nine points in 37 games before being returned to the WHL for further development.
He took a huge step forward in 2015-16, scoring 19 goals and 51 points in 72 games for the Oilers. Draisaitl fared even better in 2016-17, notching 29 goals and 77 points in 82 games. He proved his value in the 2017 playoffs, scoring 16 points in 13 games. Draisaitl’s hat trick against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals helped force a Game 7 in the series.
5. Failing: Jared McCann
The Vancouver Canucks named Jared McCann to the starting roster for the 2015-16 season, one year after taking him 24th overall in the 2014 draft. Perhaps he deserved another year of OHL development, as he scored nine goals and 18 points in 69 games during his rookie OHL season. The Canucks gave up on McCann early, trading him to the Florida Panthers at season’s end.
Unfortunately, McCann failed to make much of an impression for the Panthers during his first season in Sunrise, scoring one goal and seven points in 29 games. He played well towards the end of the season for the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds.
McCann averaged 11:38 of ice time with the Panthers last season playing mostly on the team’s third line. McCann has proven himself to be an elite scorer at the junior level. This coming season he will need to prove whether his skills can transfer to the NHL enough for him to become a regular in the Panthers lineup.
4. Superstar: Dylan Larkin
The 2016-17 season marked the first time in 25 years that the Detroit Red Wings did not make the playoffs. Dylan Larkin labored through a rough season himself, as his point totals dropped from 45 in 2015-16 to 32 in 2016-17.
Larkin may have suffered the proverbial “sophomore slump” but the Red Wings should not be discouraged by their 2014 first-round pick. Larkin is the most promising young player on the Red Wings’ roster, having led the team in goals (23) during his rookie season en route to being named the team’s Rookie of the Year.
He rebounded from his underwhelming second season by excelling during the 2017 IIHF World Championships. Larkin ranked second in scoring for Team USA and won 62.3 percent of his faceoffs.
3. Failing: Michael Dal Colle
Josh Ho-Sang may turn out to be the Islanders’ home run pick of the 2014 first round. Yet, he wasn’t their only pick that round. The Islanders took the Oshawa Generals sniper with the fifth overall pick, three ahead of William Nylander and ten ahead of Dylan Larkin.
Despite his pre-draft status as a top prospect, Dal Colle has yet to play an NHL regular season game. He scored 15 goals and 45 points in 71 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the AHL this past season, and seems to have slipped down the Islanders prospect depth chart.
“The rate of play is a lot faster here,” Dal Colle said of AHL competition. “It’s a little bit of an adjustment, but I think I’m adjusting pretty well.”
2. Superstar: Aaron Ekblad
Aaron Ekblad is a mere three seasons into his NHL career, yet he is already mentioned among the top offensive defensemen in the league. The Panthers took Ekblad with the top pick in 2014, and he is living up to the hype so far. His Calder-winning rookie season saw him lead all first-year players in goals, power play points, and shots. Ekblad has had a few concussion scares since his 39-point rookie campaign. The latest concussion came during a March 2017 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which caused him to miss four games.
His production dipped to just 21 points in 68 games in 2016-17. While it’s uncertain how much of a role injuries played in his drop-off, the Panthers need to do their best to protect their star defenseman.
Ekblad is already a two-time All-Star and, at 21 years old, has only begun to scratch the surface of his NHL skill set. If he can stay healthy, he has the potential to be a perennial Norris Trophy candidate
1. Failing: Haydn Fleury
Fleury put up a career-high 46 points in 70 games with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels during the 2013-14 season, prompting the Hurricanes to select him seventh overall in the 2014 draft.
The talented puck-moving defenseman was expected to fill in as the Hurricanes’ powerplay quarterback of the future, but has yet to play an NHL game. He spent the 2016-17 season with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, and scored 26 points in 69 games, while going scoreless during the Checkers’ five-game playoff run.
In hindsight, the Hurricanes probably would’ve been better off selecting a defenseman like Julius Honka or Brandon Montour, who went 14th and 55th overall, respectively.
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