It was five months ago that three players from the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League were making waves at the 2013 NHL Draft.
Nathan MacKinnon was the center of attention as the No. 1 pick by the Colorado Avalanche. The dynamic Jonathan Drouin was chosen two picks later by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Zachary Fucale was the first goalie selected when he was taken in the second round (No. 36) by the Montreal Canadiens.
According to NHL Central Scouting, another prominent forward is making news for the Mooseheads this season -- left wing Nikolaj Ehlers. Born in Aalborg, Denmark, the 5-foot-11.5, 162-pound left-handed shot perfected his game in Switzerland for Biel the past six seasons before joining Halifax this season.
He was one of three players upgraded to an A rating on Central Scouting's November Players to Watch list for the 2014 draft, which will be June 27-28 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Central Scouting released its new list to NHL scouts and general managers on Thursday.
Any player with an A or B rating on the PTW list are those Central Scouting considers to possess first-, second- or third-round potential. Any player with a C rating indicates a possible fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round candidate.
"Releasing a Players to Watch versus a numerical ranking is what our primary audience, the NHL teams and scouts, would like to receive from Central at this stage of the season," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "The PTW provides NHL teams and fans with an early glimpse of some of the top-end prospects available for the 2014 draft and allows Central to expose a larger group of prospects than the former top-25 ranking provided at this stage in previous years."
Marr noted the PTW is constantly evolving as many first-year players still are finding their niche within their respective leagues. The customary midseason ratings, which will include a numerical ranking report for top North American and international players, will be released in January.
Central Scouting tabbed 13 players with an A rating from the Ontario Hockey League on its November list, along with two from the QMJHL, eight from the Western Hockey League, three from the United States Hockey League, one from the collegiate ranks and five from Europe.
In addition to Ehlers, center Robert Fabbri (10 goals, 24 points) of the Guelph Storm of the OHL and left wing Arkhip Nekolenko (five goals, six points) of Spartak 2 in Russia were the only players upgraded from a B to A rating this month.
"Robert has been very noticeable and extremely productive," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He is an excellent playmaker and has good puckhandling ability. He's very effective on the power play, elusive and quick."
Ehlers was chosen by the Mooseheads with the sixth pick of the 2013 CHL Import Draft and has been outstanding working alongside Drouin. He ranks seventh in the league with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) and is second with a plus-19 rating in 24 games.
"He's come over here and living up to the reputation that preceded him," Marr told NHL.com. "The big question was how he would handle the durability of playing in the [QMJHL] and playing more games. But he's proven to be a skilled forward who can work some magic with Drouin. He's got that quickness where he can separate from a check and get to the net. He's got soft hands and passes with authority, is a clever playmaker and very unselfish. Most teams are viewing him as a first-round candidate."
Ehlers joins left wing Ivan Barbashev (10 goals, 29 points) of the Moncton Wildcats as the two A-rated prospects from the QMJHL.
Three players from the Kingstown Frontenacs of the OHL continued to earn A ratings -- left wing Samuel Bennett (11 goals, 24 points), right wing Spencer Watson (eight goals, 15 points) and defenseman Roland McKeown (two goals, 11 points, plus-15 rating). Of the top prospects in the WHL, center Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice is attracting the most attention. The 6-0.75, 185-pound right-handed shot is sixth in the league with 34 points in 21 games.
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Two of the three A-rated players from the USHL play for the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team: center Dylan Larkin (11 goals, 16 points) and left wing Sonny Milano (seven goals, 25 points). The other, center Nick Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers (five goals, 12 points) recently was named most valuable player of the World Junior A Challenge after totaling a tournament-record 12 points (four goals, eight assists) for the gold medal-winning United States.
Larkin is committed to the University of Michigan, Milano to the University of Notre Dame and Schmaltz to the University of North Dakota.
Among the five players identified as A prospects from the international leagues, three play in Sweden -- center Jakub Vrana of Linkoping, center/right wing William Nylander of Modo and right wing David Pastrnak of Sodertalje. The 6-foot-2, 176-pound Nekolenko earned the highest rating in Russia, but the skater who might be the best among the European contingent is starring in Finland, right wing Kasperi Kapanen of Kalpa.
Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko, the youngest player in the NCAA ranks, is one of two players at his position to earn an A rating on the November PTW list. Alex Nedeljkovic of the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL is the other.
Demko, a native of San Diego, Calif., could be the first American-born goalie drafted in the first round since Jack Campbell by the Dallas Stars in 2010. In four starts this season Demko is 3-0-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
"He's a huge, strong goalie with excellent net coverage; he has that NHL presence in the net," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said of Demko. "He is more of a positional-style goalie, relying on his angles and size. He plays big in his stance and when he drops in the butterfly gets his body in front of a lot of shots. He's smart at reading the play and gets set quickly."
In 19 games with Plymouth, Nedeljkovic, a native of Parma, Ohio, is 7-10-1 with a 3.51 GAA and .907 save percentage. He and Demko took part in the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Top Prospects Game in Pittsburgh in September.
"Alex is another very quick and athletic goalie; I like his drive and determination," Jensen said. "He battles and has good strength in his crease area, has excellent recovery and lateral quickness. He's got quick reactions, flaring out his pads to make low corner stops. He's very smart and is capable of playing big games consistently."