This season has been one of the most successful rookie seasons in recent history, with almost a dozen players enjoying seasons that would normally be considered for Calder trophy nomination. That, mixed with the continued success of second year players like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin has given the reins of the NHL to the youth of the game.
2014 was another solid draft class, headlined by the NHL-ready Aaron Ekblad at first overall. While many of the players in the first round have taken slower routes than those from the 2015 and 2016 groups, they found their footings this season all around the league. Some of the success stories from this year include Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton (3rd overall), William Nylander in Toronto (8th overall), Nikolaj Ehlers in Winnipeg (9th overall) and David Pastrnak in Boston (25th overall).
These are just a few of the very successful young players, but what about those that haven’t made it just yet? Should they be considered busts, just a few short years after their draft? Here are updates on the four players from the 2014 first round who have yet to make their NHL debut.
Conner Bleackley, 23rd overall, Colorado Avalanche
In perhaps the most interesting story of the four, Bleackley never did sign with the Avalanche and was traded to the Arizona Coyotes last February. With his rights in tow, the Coyotes decided to take the supplemental second-round pick that would be compensation for him re-entering the draft. When Bleackley did put his name into the draft again, he fell all the way to the fifth round where the St. Louis Blues selected him 144th overall. Injuries decimated much of Bleackley’s junior career, and he split this season between the Chicago Wolves of the AHL and the Missouri Mavericks of the ECHL. He’s still a long way from an NHL game.
Travis Sanheim, 17th overall, Philadelphia Flyers
Sanheim returned to the Calgary Hitmen for two additional seasons after being selected in the first round and exploded offensively, recording 65 and 68 points from the blue line. His playmaking ability allowed him to dominate the junior league, and has transferred quite well to the AHL this season. With 37 points in 76 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Sanheim is set for his first taste of playoff hockey at the professional ranks. Though he’s not a perfect prospect, he’ll easily get a chance sooner than later in Philadelphia,
Haydn Fleury, 7th overall, Carolina Hurricanes
While Fleury has continued to progress as a solid two-way defender in the Hurricanes’ system, you can be sure they regret not taking Nylander or Ehlers after seeing them debut so strongly. With Carolina now apparently dangling some of their young defenders to try and acquire more scoring, they could have saved themselves the trouble in the draft. That’s not to take anything away from Fleury though, who put up a solid rookie season in the AHL with 26 points in 69 games. If Carolina does in fact move one of their NHL pieces, Fleury will be sure to get a look in the next year or so. He’s still just 20, and is starting to fill out nicely into his 6’3″ frame.
Michael Dal Colle, 5th overall, New York Islanders
Everything looked good in the first year after the Islanders picked Dal Colle, as he put up 93 points in 56 games for the Oshawa Generals and dominated the playoffs with 31 more points. The next season though saw a step backwards, with only 25 points in 30 games before being traded to the Kingston Frontenacs mid-season. Rebounding with his new team, Dal Colle has still given Islanders’ fans slight worry that he’ll never become the elite goal-scoring winger he was projected as.
In his first season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL Dal Colle put up a solid 41 points in 75 games, but was overshadowed by Josh Ho-Sang, the Islanders other first-round pick from 2014. The Sound Tigers didn’t make the playoffs despite a 44-28-4 record, and now we’ll have to wait to see what adjustments the former fifth-overall pick makes in the summer. He’ll be 21 next season, and will push hard in camp to make the Islanders and prove that they didn’t waste a top pick on him. His skill should shine through eventually, making him a natural compliment to some of the good young forwards in New York.