Barrie Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad and Kootenay Ice centre Sam Reinhart have long been considered the top two players available for next summer's NHL draft.
But the league's Central Scouting staff disagrees -- at least for now.
Kingston Frontenacs centre Sam Bennett took over top spot in Central Scouting's mid-term draft rankings of North American skaters released Monday, dropping Canadian world junior teammates Ekblad and Reinhart to third and fourth, respectively. Prince Albert Raiders centre Leon Draisaitl, a native of Germany, was ranked second.
"At this stage, and from what we have seen with each of these frontrunners and their development, is that there is a fine line distinguishing them and in all likelihood it will remain that way until the first player is selected in Philadelphia," NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said on the league's website. "Bennett is there because, as a group, we feel he stood out to us in the first half of the season as the one that has the skills and intangibles to be a difference-maker. He's a player that can play in all situations, elevate his game and rise to the occasion."
Finnish forward Kasperi Kapanen, son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, is the top-ranked European skater while Canadian-born Swedish forward William Nylander, son of ex-NHLer Michael Nylander, is No. 2.
Thatcher Demko of Boston College is the top North American goalie. Finn Ville Husso is the top European netminder.
CLASSIC RAKES IN $20M
The 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium made a profit of $20 million for the NHL, according to the Sports Business Journal.
The report, using an unnamed league source, said the Jan. 1 outdoor game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs in Ann Arbor, Mich., brought in $30 million but cost $10 million to put on. Two-thirds of the revenue was from ticket sales -- the game drew a record crowd of 105,491.
"This game exceeded our expectations across every measurable medium," NHL chief marketing officer Brian Jennings said in the SBJ report. "The picturesque uniform designs of two Original Six teams, the transformation of the Big House, Mother Nature giving us an assist with the snow -- it all made for an amazing visual presentation of our brand."
The profit from the 2014 game surpassed that of the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, which wound up about $5 million in the black.
GRIGORENKO ACCEPTS DEMOTION
Buffalo Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko will report to his junior team after all.
Grigorenko, 19, initially refused to report to the Quebec Remparts when the Sabres sent him down Saturday. But his agent, Jay Grossman, told the Olean Times Herald the Russian forward had changed his mind and would go to the QMJHL team he played for the previous two seasons.
"He and I had talked about it quite a bit," Grossman told the Times Herald. "I think that it was fair to say there were some real serious concerns about the development process of this player. Going down to Quebec, he'll have played for his seventh coach in one calendar year. I certainly have not seen that or experienced that. I don't think that anybody would think that's ideal."
Grossman said Grigorenko, who had just two goals and one assist in 18 games with the Sabres, would report to Quebec early this week.
BLUES' STEEN SKATES
St. Louis Blues sniper Alex Steen fully took part in practice Monday after missing nine games due to a concussion.
Steen said he feels better -- he was able to take contact in the practice -- and was happy to be back on the ice with his teammates.
"With these kinds of injuries you tend to fall away from the team, spend time on your own," he said on the league's website. "That's usually the hardest part of having an injury like this. But I'm staying positive, taking steps forward, and enjoying my time with the team."
Despite his improvement, the Blues still aren't sure when Steen, who is fifth in the NHL with 24 goals, will return to the lineup. It likely won't be Tuesday when the Blues host the Phoenix Coyotes in the first of three straight home games.
"I don't think you want to read anything into it though until he's declared a player," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You could go through this for days; you could go through this for weeks. You don't really know. It's all kind of how he feels."
GIGUERE OUT WITH BAD BACK
Colorado Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere will be sidelined indefinitely due to back spasms.
The Avs didn't indicate how long Giguere is expected to be out, but Sami Aittokallio was called up from Lake Erie of the AHL to back-up Semyon Varlamov Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Giguere, 36, is 7-4-0 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season. He's been in coach Patrick Roy's doghouse lately after a strong start.
Meanwhile, forward Paul Stastny, who was hurt Saturday against the Minnesota Wild, is expected to play against the Blackhawks. Stastny's lower-body injury is not believed to be serious.
TAVARES TOPS OF WEEK
John Tavares' hot streak earned him the nod as the NHL's first star of the week.
The New York Islanders captain had four goals and six assists for a league-best 10 points to edge out Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the weekly award.
Hiller went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average to be named second star while Lundqvist was 3-0-1 with a 1.97 GAA.
With Ben Bishop set to return from injury, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent goaltender Cedrick Desjardins to Syracuse of the AHL. Desjardins backed up Anders Lindback for three games with Bishop on the shelf ... The 2015 NHL draft will be held in Sunrise, Fla., according to the Miami Herald. It will be the second time the Florida Panthers have hosted the draft, the first time being in 2001.