With only a pair of players remaining in action through the conference championships of their respective junior leagues, we focus all of our attention to those two, and those two alone. To see how the others stacked up in the first couple of rounds, check the pre-playoff check-in, the first round update, the second round look, or the u18 World Championship review.
Michael Dal Colle - Dal Colle and the Oshawa Generals finally ran into a brick wall, as they were swept by the North Bay Battalion after going 8-0 through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Dal Colle had 4 points in the series, (3-1-4) and was -4, bringing his OHL playoff totals to 8-12-20 in 12 games, which isn't necessarily bad. Unfortunately for Dal Colle, he ran into the same effective penalty kill that Aaron Ekblad did a round earlier, as North Bay held him off the scoresheet in the first two games and limited his overall power play production over the course of the series. Through the first two rounds, Dal Colle had a total of 9 points on the power play, over 1 per game. Against North Bay, he only had 2 power-play points in the 4 games, or a .5 ppg average. The knock on Dal Colle, then, isn't necessarily huge. North Bay has just been extremely effective at slowing down power-play scoring in the playoffs, operating at around a 90% success rate in killing penalties. Of the 7 goals scored by Oshawa in the series, Dal Colle had 3 of them, and assisted on another. That means he contributed to more than half of his team's goal total. Oshawa as a team was shut down by North Bay; so it's totally understandable that their leading scorer see a drop in production too. There is no real reason for Dal Colle's draft stock decline.
Nikolaj Ehlers - After soaring up draft boards with his prolific scoring in the first two rounds, Ehlers hit a bit of a rut against Val-d'Or, as did Halifax goaltender Zach Fucale, and the Mooseheads fell in 7 games to the Foreurs. Ehlers dropped from 1.67 to 1.14 ppg, as he totaled 8 points (3-5-8) in the series against Val-d'Or, which brought his QMJHL playoff totals to 11-17-28 in 16 games, while going +3 with 18 PIM. Ehlers shooting percentage dropped from 15-20% in the earlier rounds to about 11% in this round, so even though he got off more shots in this round than the previous ones, his goal production was still a tad lower than he could have hoped for. Offense, however, wasn't the trouble for Halifax, as starting goaltender Zach Fucale was pulled in three of the games, and the Mooseheads forfeited a total number of 31 goals in the 7 tilts, which is over 4 per game. Even so, with Halifax coming so close in many of the games to being able to tie the game late and push for overtime, Ehlers just wasn't able to produce at the same rate he had been. Unfortunately for the young, explosive Dane, what he managed to contribute to the team should have been enough, but just wasn't. His draft stock shouldn't necessarily fall, but don't be surprised if it does, and it most likely won't be increasing.
With all of the top 10 junior prospects eliminated, we look at a number of draft eligible players still involved in their respective leagues, and how they've done so far, plus whether or not to be on the look out for the Florida Panthers to call their names in June.
Louick Marcotte, Val-d'Or - Overage winger who has shown his offensive upside this season, putting up 100 points in 67 regular season games and 29 (10-19-29) in 17 playoff games so far. Though this will be Marcotte's third year in the draft, he's shown this season that he can score at the junior level, and may have a chance at transferring that success to the NHL level. Marcotte fits into what the Panthers need, though they probably won't take a chance on him until at least the 5th round, due to his age.
Nicolas Aubé-Kuebel, Val-d'Or - Draft year winger who looks to be a nice scoring compliment to a top two line, if he pans out and reaches his potential. Had 53 points in 65 regular season games, and is currently 4-8-12 in 17 playoff games. Could be a potential 2nd-3rd round draft pick.
Zack Mitchell, Guelph - An extreme overage player, Mitchell will be a free agent next season. He put up 83 points in 67 regular season games, and currently leads the OHL with 23 points in 15 playoff games.
Taking into account the European prospects for the 2014 NHL Draft, performances across playoffs, and performances at the u18 World Championships, here are my personal top 10 draft picks in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
1) Aaron Ekblad
2) Sam Reinhart
3) Michael Dal Colle
4) William Nylander
5) Sam Bennett
6) Nikolaj Ehlers
7) Leon Draisaitl
8) Haydn Fleury
9) Nick Ritchie
10) Jake Virtanen
Honorable Mention: Kevin Fiala
Notes: Fiala probably shouldn't be on the list but in an ideal (though unrealistic) world he becomes a Patrick Kane type scorer at the NHL level, which would make him fit in there. Nylander has been offensively impressive, though he isn't ready to play in the NHL next year, and his defensive play definitely needs work. Fleury's performance at the u18 Worlds puts him over Virtanen and Ritchie, while Perlini fell off of the list. As draft day grows closer and closer; we draw nearer to the end of scouting time and the beginning of decision time, as teams decide which young players will become a part of their future. Always exciting times, especially for teams that are only looking forward to the future, like the Panthers. Hopefully, Dale Tallon Inc. knows what they're doing come draft day, that's for sure.