Compared to the much-anticipated 2013 NHL draft class -- a group that featured projected elite talents such as Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones -- this year's prospect pool has been flying a little under the radar. But when you start to put the 2014 crop under the microscope, it's clear that there is still plenty of talent to be harvested.
To put it in perspective, compared to last year's draft class (without our current hindsight), I'd have ranked Aaron Ekblad behind MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, with a tough debate about how close he was to Jones and Valeri Nichushkin. He'd have ranked ahead of Aleksander Barkov, however. I'd then have Sam Bennett and the rest of the top tier after Barkov.
Although the No. 1 and 2 prospects are below-average compared to the players who have fallen in that range historically, the middle of the top end -- the No. 5 to 10 range -- is somewhat above-average. This draft may not be one that produces superstars, but there are some very useful players here.
There is a slight drop-off after Ekblad, and the next tier runs three prospects deep, with another tier from No. 5 to 9. There's a good argument to fit any of the next seven prospects after the No. 9 slot into that group, but the rest of the draft is a gradual decline from there.
The OHL is represented well, with 10 players in the top 30. This is also a strong year for European leagues, particularly the Swedish ones, as for the first time those leagues emerged as the preferred alternative for top non-Swedish prospects overseas. Kevin Fiala (Switzerland) as well as David Pastrnak and Jakub Vrana (Czech Republic) played in Sweden's top leagues and developed well.
It's also a comparatively strong class in terms of netminders, led by Thatcher Demko. However, this is a poor year for defensemen. After my No. 1 overall prospect, Ekblad, it's a big drop to Haydn Fleury (No. 10), and on the whole, there are only four defensemen in my top 30 skaters.
Bear in mind that this is a personal ranking, and I am aware it does not necessarily reflect an industry consensus. For example, it is likely that both Leon Draisaitl (No. 7) and Michael Dal Colle (No. 8) go in the top five on June 27.
The following players make up numbers 51 through 100 on my list, and I've also included a handful that just missed:
51. Marcus Pettersson | D | Skelleftea (SHL)
DOB: 5/8/96 | 2013-14 stats: 10 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 2 PIM
Pettersson recently converted to defense from forward, and there are understandably raw elements in his game due to his transition, but he's also an intriguing player due to his upside and how he's tracking. Pettersson has quick feet, overall good range for a defender and skates very well for a big man (6-foot-3, 161 pounds). His skill and offensive instincts are still evident from his forward days, as he moves the puck well and can join the attack. His defensive sense and reads are a significant work in progress. Pettersson can struggle with gap control and containing the better forwards. Despite being a big guy, he's not the toughest on his checks and needs to work on his strength.
52. Alex Peters | D | Plymouth (OHL)
DOB: 7/2/96 | 2013-14 stats: 50 GP, 3 G, 6 A, 44 PIM
Alex is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Justin Peters, and has really grown into his role as a quality shutdown defenseman. Peters is a big defender, standing 6-4 and weighing 205 pounds. He uses his frame well, competing hard in battles and boxing forwards away from the high-percentage areas. Peters is an average skater but fine for his size. He's a pretty aware defensive player, who understands all the things he needs to do to get possession of the puck back. Peters positions himself well in the defensive zone, and doesn't get caught running around. His puck skills are poor, as he can struggle at times handling the puck or moving it up the ice. He shows some competence in that area at the Junior stage, but likely is a replacement-level offensive player as a pro.