The Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League hope to make quite the impression in the early stages of the 2014 NHL Draft, which will be held June 27-28 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Three players from the team potentially could be picked in the first round -- left wing Samuel Bennett, right wing Spencer Watson and defenseman Roland McKeown.
All three were identified as "A" prospects, or potential first-round candidates, on NHL Central Scouting's 2013-14 preliminary players to watch list from the OHL. The PTW list is comprised of players Central Scouting feels have the best chance at hearing their names announced at some point during the two-day selection process.
"This is our hit list of prospects at the start of the season from all the major leagues throughout North America and then those from Europe," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "It'll change once our scouts have cycled through their league a few times."
Many scouts believe that the big three in Kingston could be picked among the top 29 picks at this year's draft. There will not be the usual 30 selections in the first round of the draft since the New Jersey Devils must forfeit a first-round pick as penalty for circumvention of the salary cap after the Ilya Kovalchuk signing in 2010.
"Kingston could be this season's Halifax [Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League]," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com.
McKeown had seven goals and 29 points in 61 games for Kingston in 2012-13. Watson had 23 goals and 43 points in 63 games, while Bennett had 18 goals and 40 points in 60 games.
Frontenacs general manager and Hockey Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour told NHL.com that Bennett will center the team's top line this season, flanked by left wing Henri Ikonen and right wing Watson, to start the season.
"It's a very explosive line," Gilmour said. "All three of them can score and make plays, so we're excited to see how they perform this year."
Central Scouting gave 10 OHL players an "A" rating, while one player from the QMJHL, seven from the Western Hockey League, three from the United States Hockey League and five from Europe also earned "A" rankings. "A"-ranked players are considered potential first-round picks, while those with "B" ratings are considered possible second- or third-round choices.
Moncton Wildcats left wing Ivan Barbashev (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) is regarded as the top player to watch in the QMJHL. The native of Moscow, Russia, had 18 goals, 62 points and a plus-9 rating in 68 games in his first QMJHL season in 2012-13.
"Of course every European has to make a North American adjustment, but the bottom line is talent is talent and Barbashev has it," Marr told NHL.com. "He's a dynamic player who plays with a presence and who looks to get involved and finish the hit. He's not shy and is a strong skater with good drive to the net. He's got very good hands and puck control and is able to set up nice plays going at top speed. He's got a good shot with a quick, accurate release, has a good work ethic and leads by example. We expect a lot from him and this year."
Of the top prospects in the WHL, center Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice is attracting the most attention right now.
"He's extremely responsible in any area of the ice surface, and as a result has excellent on-ice positioning," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "He has exceptional anticipation and is a very good opportunist, having the ability to make something out of nothing."
Reinhart led the Ice last season in goals (35), assists (50) and points (85). He not only captained Canada's team to a gold medal at the 2012 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament, but also wore the "C" for Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship that won the gold. At the World U-18s in Sochi, Russia, Reinhart had three goals, seven points and a plus-7 rating playing mostly on a line with Calgary Flames 2013 first-round pick Morgan Klimchuk and 2015 draft-eligible prodigy Connor McDavid.
"He's a smooth, deft puck-handler, and can dish effortlessly to both sides," MacDonald said of Reinhart. "He has a very high hockey IQ, is sneaky-good and dangerous on every shift."
Reinhart also has quite a hockey pedigree.
His oldest brother, Max Reinhart, 21, was taken by the Calgary Flames in the third round (No. 63) of the 2010 draft. Another brother, defenseman Griffin Reinhart, 19, was selected by the New York Islanders with the fourth pick in 2012. His father, Paul Reinhart was picked by the Atlanta Flames with the 12th pick of the 1979 draft, and had 559 points in 648 games with the Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
"All three brothers are different, but the youngest could turn out to be the best of the bunch," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said.
Two the top three players in the USHL to earn "A" rankings play for the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team: Center Dylan Larkin and left wing Sonny Milano.
"Dylan skates well and has great closing speed, uses his body well," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "He has skill to make plays but is not afraid of using his body and getting physical in an attempt to gain puck possession. He's got good vision and playmaking ability."
Larkin is committed to the University of Michigan while Milano signed with the University of Notre Dame. Nick Schmaltz, a center with the Green Bay Gamblers, is the only other "A"-rated player from the USHL. He's committed to the University of North Dakota.
All three players will participate in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Sept. 26 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
"Milano is a dynamic skater with good skill set; very good with the puck in traffic and can make a defenseman look silly," Gregory said. "Schmaltz has such quick hands; he can skate with it at full speed and then pull it away from you. He's very smart. If you're playing with him, get ready for a pass; he makes passes others aren't seeing. He skates very well laterally and has a good defensive game."
There are two "B" skaters in the U.S. high school ranks and both are from Massachusetts: Forward Ryan Donato of Dexter School and forward-turned-defenseman Miles Gendron of Rivers Academy.
Donato is the son of former NHL forward Ted Donato, who spent 13 seasons in the League with eight different teams.
"He has unreal hockey sense and is really good with the puck," Gregory said. "He plays in all situations and is one of those skilled offensive guys with good size. He can play physical in traffic and not be dominated."