While NHL Central Scouting's mid-term draft ranking has Kingston Frontenacs centre Sam Bennett topping the list of North American skaters, TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button is standing pat with the other Sam.
His January edition of 'Craig's List' has Kootenay Ice centre Sam Reinhart at No. 1 for the fourth straight month. Reinhart represented Canada at the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship, and tied for fourth in team scoring with two goals and five points in seven games.
"Sam Reinhart will never wow you with flash and dash and may never even end up on TSN's 'HON' but if you are looking for a player who can make a difference to winning, then look no further," explains Button.
"He has exceptional hockey sense but more than his understanding is his adaptability. That trait allows him to play different positions, all situations in the game and combined with a high skill level, affords him the opportunity to excel. He makes teammates better by helping them play to their strengths. He make teams better with a selfless approach that is focused on overall success, not personal accolades.
"Because his mind is so quick and so fast at processing, he is able to play two and three steps ahead of the competition. When I watch Sam, I think, 'still waters run deep' and his ability to quietly control a game doesn't create waves but it certainly leads to winning."
Aaron Ekblad, who also played for Canada at the world, continues to be a mainstay in the second spot. He grabbed headlines in the Ontario Hockey League this past weekend, scoring four goals (three on the power play and one shorthanded) as the Barrie Colts hammered Bennett's Frontenacs 8-5 on Saturday.
"Ekblad is a pillar-type defenceman," says Button. "To be this type of a defenceman, one needs to possess an on-ice maturity. That maturity is reflected in understanding how to excel when playing 25 minutes or more versus the opponents' best players in critical and important situations.
"Aaron combines that maturity with an excellent understanding of what needs to be accomplished at any particular point of the game. He has an outstanding ability to 'play in the moment' and that can manifest itself defensively, offensively and physically. He takes the initiative and is unwavering in his approach to being a catalyst for making things happen in the game that help his team win."
Bennett is also holding strong on the list, rounding out the Top 3 for the third straight month.
The biggest riser on the list for January is Czech-born forward David Pastrnak, who jumped 16 spots from No. 26 to tenth. He has scored seven goals and 21 points in 29 games with Sodertalje in Sweden this season and tallied three points in five games with the Czech Republic at the world juniors.
"When I first saw David Pastrnak play more than two years ago, I was impressed by a willingness to try and make things happen with the puck from an offensive point of view," explains Button.
"While at times coming a little short, he never was short on determination or being a player in the middle of the competitive action. He has confidence with the puck, excellent sense and feel and his skating allows him to play the game with speed and with a quick and darting ability that makes him very difficult to keep in check.
"As he has physically matured, he doesn't 'fall short' very much any longer and he shows the ability and potential to be a player who can impact the game offensively in multiple ways and be the threat opponents have to be aware of."
Craig Button's monthly 'Craig's List' ranking is released each month from September through June. TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie's mid-term draft ranking - a consensus list from several NHL scouts – will be released on TSN.ca on Jan. 23.