11. Darnell Nurse, Defense, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Nurse had a considerable amount of hype at the beginning of the season, and he has exceeded all expectations. He is a gifted physical player who has all the natural tools a scout could want from a defenseman. He has slowly begun to emerge as a two-way player, but his value comes from his high-end work in his own end. Nurse is a tall defender with an aggressive edge and the strength to consistently push his checks off pucks. He has above-average mobility, especially considering his larger size. With his wingspan, he is able to make a multitude of plays in the defensive end. I have heard previous concerns from scouts about his offensive upside, but he took a step forward in that element this season. He will not be a dynamic offensive threat, but he can move the puck at an above-average level, and join the rush on occasion. He projects as a point man on a second power play unit, while logging the tough defensive minutes. Nurse's next level of progression will have to come from his below-average shot.
Ranking explanation: From a value standpoint, I see Ryan Pulock as comparable to Nurse, but they are different kinds of players. Pulock has better offensive hockey sense, a drastically better shot, and better hands. Nurse is a better skater with more imposing physicality and overall defensive ability. Nurse gets the edge because I see him as a safer choice. Scouts are divided on Pulock's skating and defensive ability, whereas reports on Nurse are unanimously glowing. It is also dangerous to overrate a player who derives a bulk of his value from his shot, such as Pulock, as there is more uncertainty when translating that skill to the next level.
12. Ryan Pulock, Defense, Brandon (WHL)
Finding the perfect spot for Pulock was difficult. Some scouts consider him to be a top-eight player in this draft, whereas others prefer him in the 11-15 range. Despite concerns, he has been one of the WHL's top offensive defensemen for the past three seasons. He tied for the points lead among all Wheat Kings this year. His best tool is his shot, which is elite, and NHL teams will utilize it atop the umbrella on their first power play unit. It has been clocked at over 100 miles per hour in skills competitions. His offensive game is well rounded, as he is a high-end thinker who has been described as a methodical puck mover. Pulock always seems to make the right decisions, whether it is to rush, pass, or shoot. Defensively, he is strong on his checks, controls his gaps well, and generally stays with his assignments. Still, he is prone to a breakdown at certain times. The biggest criticism of Pulock is his skating. Some scouts describe it as average, others as above average. Despite having solid mobility, he does not seem to have a blazing top gear. His game is more based on feel than dangling or pushing the pace.
Ranking explanation: The difference between Pulock and Andre Burakowsky is not one of upside, but one of risk. Burakowsky may have more potential than Pulock, but I approach Burakowsky with an above-average level of uncertainty. He was inconsistent this season, and there have been some concerns about his skill set. Pulock's record of success in the WHL for three years running makes him a more stable selection. Teams know what they will be getting with him. His flaws are evident, but not enough to push him out of this range. He projects as a top pairing defenseman without a moderate risk element. Burakowsky, and the prospects immediately after him, all have notable question marks either regarding risk factors or that bring their ultimate upsides into doubt.
13. Andre Burakowsky, Left Wing, Malmo (Allsvenskan)
Burakowsky struggled to get ice time in the second-tier Swedish pro league at the beginning of the season, but his fine form in international play has been encouraging. One NHL executive said that Burakowsky's skating is comparable to some of the top Swedes to come out of the draft recently. He gains efficient power from his stride, and he has a great top gear. His skill level allows him to regularly make above-average to high-end dekes and passes. He has the look of a skilled puck possessor with every shift. The extra element of his game is his grit, and one NHL source described his work ethic as equal to his skill level. He has the ability to impact the possession game with his skill and smarts, and he has a knack for pressuring the puck away from opponents. In order to fulfill his potential, Burakowsky will have to get stronger. There are also significant question marks around his decision making, as some scouts indicate he can be a bit of a puck hog. There are some kinks to correct, but his game has great upside, and he can be a top-line player at his peak.
Ranking explanation: Ranking Burakowsky against Bo Horvat came down to the ceilings of the two players. In the skill and speed department, Burakowsky gets the edge. At the top of his game, his hockey sense looks better as well. Horvat, however, is a more consistent player, with a better physical game and more defensive acumen. He also plays center, and could be a two-way, tough-minutes forward in the NHL. Still, Horvat's upside is merely that of an average to below-average top unit forward. Burakowsky's ceiling is a notch higher. Horvat is close in terms of talent, but the high-end tools of Burakowsky are too great to pass up at this ranking.
14. Bo Horvat, Center, London (OHL)
Horvat is one of the most complete forwards in this draft. He is tough, hard working, and defensively skilled, with enough offensive ability to project as a scoring line player. He was a top player for one of the best teams in the CHL. He is a good skater, with a technically sound stride, as he picks up speed quickly and easily. He is a strong, physical center who will lay the body, displaying the two-way work ethic NHL teams want to see. He is an aware penalty killer, good at faceoffs, and overall projects as a center who will start his shift in the defensive zone more often than not. His creativity progressed throughout this season, and his puck skills, hand-eye coordination, and playmaking vision all rank as above average; he can flash high-end offensive skill. It is difficult to find a weakness in his game.
Ranking explanation: Ranking Horvat against Alexander Wennberg was difficult. Wennberg is a well-rounded player. He is a better skater than Horvat, but not as physical. They project similarly in terms of potential and risk. I chose Horvat because of how much I was impressed with him in viewings this season.
15. Alexander Wennberg, Center, Djurgardens (Allsvenskan)
Wennberg's development has been trending upward over the past year. By midseason, he was playing significant minutes in the SEL-2 pro league, and did not appear out of place for an 18-year-old in that role. He is a versatile player, capable of lining up at all three forward positions. One NHL executive described him as really hard to knock. His skating is above average, and some scouts have classified it as high end because of his speed and elusiveness. His offensive instincts stand out; one NHL head scout told me his hockey sense and creativity were strong. He has the puck skills and vision to create scoring chances for himself and others. His defensiveness awareness enables him to kill penalties effectively. His game shows a unique power element, but to succeed in North America with that style, he will have to bulk up.
Ranking explanation: London blueliner Nikita Zadorov was one of the tougher first round ranking selections. He is a gifted player, with elite physicality, great skating, and nice offensive touch. That package of tools is a rare commodity. Still, Zadorov has several issues that place above-average risks on his projection. His overall offensive game is unrefined. He could be an elite defensive defenseman, but the finer parts of playing in his own end need a fair amount of attention. If he pans out, he could be a top pairing defenseman, but he has a long way to go, enough that I prefer slightly less talented players such as Horvat and Wennberg in these slots.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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