2014 NHL Draft: A Look At Some Potential Sleeper Prospects

Richard Wolowicz

A look at some potential sleepers in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Every year there are players who are drafted in the later rounds who go on to become some of the top NHL players in the league.

I'm going to be looking at a few players who might go in the later rounds who could turn into nice surprises in a few years.

Antti Kalapudas, C, 6'0", 160lbs, Karpat U20, Jr. A SM-Liiga

Antti Kalapudas is a highly skilled offensive centerman whose been playing in Finland. He has top end offensive potential but it needs a lot of refining and developing over the next few years. He is a very smart player who has the ability to make the players around him better. He'd be a project but one that could bring a huge reward at the end of the day.

His main weakness is that he's very lean and if he wants to progress to the next level he will have to become bigger and stronger. His defensive game is also lacking. His skating could do with a bit of work as well but it is good enough for the moment.

Maxim Letunov, C, 6'2", 155lbs, Youngstown Phantoms, USHL

Letunov is an interesting prospect and someone who followed a similar path to Dmitry Sinistyn. He was part of the Dallas Stars U16 before heading to the USHL to play with the Youngstown Phantoms.

He's a tall lanky center with lots of potential. He has a lot of offensive awareness and is a very good playmaker. He was centering the top line for Youngstown and had a lot of success there. He is guilty of sometimes trying to make too smart a play and losing possession. Overall he has some very raw and intriguing offensive potential that will require time to refine.

The obvious area that Letunov needs to improve is his size. He needs to put on some serious muscle and strength if he wants to make it at a high level. He's committed to Boston University for next season and with a few years of development there he could turn into a top six forward.

Oskar Lindblom, LW/RW, 6'1", 191lbs, Brynas J20, SuperElit

Oskar Lindblom is a slightly strange Swedish forward. Essentially he's one of those rare Swedish power forwards, see Johan Franzen. He's a big strong forward who can get into the dirty areas and be a real force. He can crash and bang with the best of them and is a very strong presence in front of the net.

His defensive game is probably better than his offensive one. He's a good physical two-way forward who can defend well in his own zone. He works hard and does what is needed of him.

His weakness? His speed is lacking to say the least. It's not terrible but its okay. If he was a little faster he could be much more effective than he currently is offensively. His offensive skills appear to be best utilised in the slot and in the face of the goaltender. Compared to many other potential draftees his hands aren't as soft but alright.

He has the tools to be a top six power forward if he can get his speed up. If not he has a chance as a serviceable bottom six grinder.

Alexander Sharov, LW, 6'2", 192lbs, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva, MHL

Sharov is a skilled goal scoring forward who has done quite well in the MHL this season with 34 points in 41 games. He's got excellent hands and is creative with the puck. Sharov has some good speed on him even if sometimes it doesn't look like he should be going that quickly.

Despite his size he isn't the most physical forward. He can play physically but its not a strong point in his game. His defensive skills and commitment have also been questioned by several scouts. Whether this is accurate I don't know because I've never seen him play but it could be down to the 'Russian Factor'.

Raw potential wise he could be a good second line winger. If he were to be a bottom six option he would have to solve his defensive issues and become more physical. He strikes me as a high risk high reward player.

Joni Tuulola, LD, 6'2", 172lbs, HPK U20, Jr A SM-Liiga

Tuulola has been climbing up the rankings this season after he had an excellent year in Finland. He's a good all around defenseman who can do every well and is remarkably reliable for someone of his age. He is a very smart player who knows where he has to be and what he has to do. His positioning and reading of the play has impressed a lot of scouts.

He performed well for the U18 Finnish team and was their most reliable defender in the various tournaments they played in. He also played two games in the SM-Liiga. It wouldn't be completely outrageous to think he could do some longer stints in the SM-Liiga next season.

There are two predominant weaknesses in his game currently. Firstly his skating needs some work, its not terrible but its just not that good. With some effort and work put into it his skating could improve. Offensively his talents have been slower developing than his defensive and positional play. With more time his offensive tools could be refined to be effective in North America but it would take time. The talent is there, its just time and development he needs.

Alexis Vanier, LD, 6'5", 214lbs, Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL

At 6'5" Vanier is one player that is particularly hard to miss. He's taken a huge step forward this season in the QMJHL and was the only defenseman from the Q to get invited to the top prospects game. He's a huge physically punishing defenseman who is very defensively responsible. His maturity is obvious, he knows when to take the body and when taking the body would put him out of position. This is an area of his game that has improved a lot over the past year.

The big improvement in his game has been his offensive skills. He has a very impressive hard low slapshot which when used on the powerplay can rack up the points. He's grown more confident in the past year and put up 36 points in 61 games, up from the 8 points he had in his previous season.

His weakness is his skating and mobility. It's just about passable for someone of his size but its an area that if he improved upon could definitely push him up towards a potential top four role. I'm not sure if Vanier truly counts as a sleeper, I've seen at least one mock draft getting him picked in the second round, but he's someone that should be watched out for on draft day.

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