Sam Bennett is the top North American prospect for the NHL Draft according to the league's Central Scouting Services which released its final rankings for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft Tuesday. The Kingston Frontenacs forward posted 91 points in 57 games in the Ontario Hockey League this year.
He beat out Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Kootenay Ice forward Sam Reinhart for top billing, as the other two are also widely considered threats to be taken with the No. 1 overall pick come June.
Bennett's season ended surprisingly early as Kingston was knocked out of the OHL playoffs, but he is likely to suit up for Canada at the upcoming World Under-18 Championship in Finland to solidify his lofty position. Bennett was also Central Scouting's top choice at the mid-term.
No. 2-ranked Ekblad, a man-child on defense at 6-3, 207, put up 53 points for the Colts in the OHL this season. He also has the special distinction of having been granted exceptional player status two years ago to enter the OHL early. The first player to ever be granted that status was current New York Islanders captain John Tavares, but Ekblad was the first blueliner to ever get it.
Reinhart, who came in at No. 3, had a career year with the Ice in the Western Hockey League with 105 points in 60 games including 36 goals this season. The 6-1, 183-pound center also has 17 points in eight postseason contests to date.
Both Ekblad and Reinhart played significant roles on Canada's entry at the 2014 World Junior Championship in January.
Central Scouting breaks its rankings into four categories. First it is by skaters in North America, then by European skaters and then they do the same for North American and European goaltenders. Those geographical distinctions are decided by where a player is playing, not where he is from.
Finnish sensation Kasperi Kapanen was named the top European skater by Central Scouting. The son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen played alongside his dad with KalPa in the top Finnish pro league. The younger Kapanen only had 14 points, but his skills are exceptional.
Swedish forward William Nylander is No. 2 on Central Scouting's list of European skaters and he also is the son of a former NHL player, Michael Nylander. William's draft stock has really fluctuated throughout the year as he bounced from a few different teams, having started with MODO in the top Swedish pro league. He finished the year with Sodertalje in the second division and had 19 points in 17 games. He'll represent Sweden at the Under-18 Worlds in April.
The top North American goalie as ranked by CSS is Boston College freshman netminder Thatcher Demko. The young netminder accelerated a year in high school to attend BC this fall and has become the team's primary starter in net. He'll lead the Eagles into the Frozen Four Thursday night with a .920 save percentage in 23 appearances this season. The 18-year-old San Diego native is a former product of the National Team Development Program which has developed top U.S. goaltending prospects like Dallas Stars first-rounder Jack Campbell and Anaheim Ducks prospect John Gibson .
These rankings won't change before the draft, but the way players move up and down the boards for each NHL team probably will. With all junior leagues still in the playoffs and the Under-18 World Championship left to play in April, on top of the draft combine in May, a lot can happen.
This still offers a really good look at where things stand now and whose names are probably going to be called fairly early at the draft.
The 2014 NHL Entry Draft will be held in Philadelphia June 27-28.
NHL Central Scouting's complete lists can be seen here.