There is no shortage of hype surrounding the 2015 NHL draft class. It’s regarded as having the potential to be the best draft since the incredibly strong 2003 crop.
For the most part, the draft has garnered a lot of attention because of Erie Otters centre Connor McDavid and Boston University commit Jack Eichel. But make no mistake about it, there's elite talent beyond the two phenoms.
Without further ado, here is an early look at the top 10 prospects of the draft class with the help of some astute scouts.
1. Connor McDavid, centre, Erie Otters (OHL) – McDavid is touted as the best forward to hit the draft floor since New York Islanders star John Tavares in 2009. He will make whichever team snags the first overall pick happy they went through a long 2014-15 season.
The 6-foot, 185-pound McDavid, who scored 28 goals and 99 points in 56 games last year, will not only lead his OHL club, the Otters, this year, but he’ll also be the backbone of Canada’s world junior club. Hockey Canada is counting on him to help them break their five-year gold medal drought at home in Toronto and Montreal.
Scout’s take: “As an individual, McDavid is neither flashy or arrogant, but it’s his elite hockey sense, attention to detail and team-first approach that makes him and his teammates a constant threat,” says Mckeen’s Hockey scout Brendan Ross. “McDavid has an innate ability to read his opponents and exploit their smallest of errors. Besides being average-sized, he excels in every other possible area of the game. He’s surprisingly strong and is downright fearless in his attacks, never holding back against larger defenders. His calm, cool and collective demeanor radiates confidence throughout the lineup and the ease at how he accomplishes everything on the ice is astonishing. Skating is considered lethal not because of blazing speed but rather a well-balanced stride and strong edge work, used to cut in and out of traffic.”
2. Jack Eichel, centre, Boston University (NCAA) – Eichel would be the clear-cut top forward in most draft classes, but since he’s in the same draft year as McDavid, he comes in a close second. He ultimately has the skill set and drive to develop into a franchise player in the NHL.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Eichel will play at Boston University this year following dominating the United States Development Program, where he scored 38 goals and 87 points in 53 games. The expectations are for him to jump straight into the NHL after one year of NCAA hockey.
Scout’s take: “Eichel has some elite speed and quickness to go along with his explosive skating stride, but the thing I really enjoy watching is his shot selection and accuracy,” says International Scouting Services scout Matt Grainda. “He has the skill to put the puck anywhere he wants. He can score in tight or from distance and his ability to navigate around the opposition in order to create excellent scoring opportunities is tremendous. He absolutely has upside on both the offensive and defensive sides of the game. USA U-18 coach Danton Cole's compares him to the Anaheim Duck's Ryan Getzlaf and Los Angeles King's Jeff Carter is very accurate. He has bits and pieces of those two in his own game to go along with his own unique talents.”
3. Noah Hanifin, defence, NTDP U18 (USHL) – The 6-foot-2, 201-pounder is currently regarded as the top blueliner of the draft. The combination of his size, strength and mobility has elicited comparisons between Hanifin and St. Louis Blues defender Alexander Pietrangelo.
Hanifin spent this past season with the NTDP Juniors, where he scored six goals and 20 points in 31 matches. He’s committed to joining Boston College in 2015-16 in his first year of college eligibility.
Scout’s take: "Hanifin is a smart, very powerful offensive/two-way defenseman with tons of potential on both the offensive and defensive sides of the game,” says Grainda. “He is an extremely strong skater in all directions with great mobility while controlling the puck. His supreme confidence and ability to rush the puck from end to end was prevalent each time he touched the ice. The fact that he can move like he does with such massive size and strength makes him all the more special. He is a constant threat to shoot from the point on the power play and has excellent hand-eye coordination to keep plays alive. His playmaking ability for a defenseman is very, very good. Defensively, he is a beast in front of the net and is difficult to pass one-on-one.”
4. Oliver Kylington, defence, Farjestads BK (SHL) – At just 16-years-old, Kylington became a regular in the top men’s league in Sweden in 2013-14. The 6-foot, 181-pound Sweden native was able to make the early jump because of his top-notch skating ability and playmaking skills.
Kylington is in a battle with Hanifin to be the first defenceman selected in the draft. He is currently head and shoulders the top overseas-based player.
Scout’s take: “Kylington is an outstanding prospect for the 2015 Draft,” says NHL Central Scouting Service scout Göran Stubb. “He’s a player with tons of talent as a fluid, smooth skater who plays an effective two-way game. He has excellent vision and likes to join the offensive rush. He’s also a very good passer and playmaker. He’s more of a finesse type of player, but he does not shy away from tight situations.”
5. Travis Konecny, centre, Ottawa 67’s (OHL) – The Clachan, Ont., native hit the ground running in his rookie season of major junior action. He ran away with the 2014 OHL Rookie of the Year award after potting 26 goals and 70 points in 63 games.
Despite his strong stats sheet, Konecny is a bit of a wildcard in the draft. He has been ranked outside of some top 10 lists largely because of his smaller 5-foot-10, 166-pound frame. But like Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Jonathan Drouin, no one can deny his elite skill set.
Scout’s take: “Konecny is a standout player in many aspects, but it's his dynamic skating ability and lethal shooting arsenal that draws the most attention,” says Ross. “His first few steps generate powerful bursts offering him the separation gear he needs to flank out wide and unleash a shot packed with one of the best releases I’ve witnessed in recent years. Even with his smaller stature, he wields a dynamic snapshot that explodes off the blade generating elite velocity that finds the net with great accuracy.”
6. Colin White, centre, NTDP (USHL) – The Boston College commit asserted himself as a top 2015 draft prospect at the U17 World Hockey Challenge, where he notched 10 goals and 18 points in six games. The 6-foot, 179-pound White showed off his strong two-way game, good puck protection and ability to dominate in the faceoff circle. He has the potential to establish himself as the third best centre in the draft behind McDavid and Eichel.
7. Mathew Barzal, centre, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) – The Vancouver native has an incredibly high hockey IQ and makes the players around him better with his top-notch vision and slick tape-to-tape passes. The 6-foot, 179-pound Barzal put it on display in his rookie WHL season as he almost scored at a point-per-game pace with 14 goals and 54 points in 59 contests.
8. Pavel Zacha, wing, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – Even though his agent, Allan Walsh, threw a temper tantrum when they drafted him first overall in the 2014 CHL import draft, the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Zacha is poised to join the Sting this season. The Czech Republic native is expected to make a smooth transition to the league because he spent most of last season playing against men in his home country. He has made a reputation for himself as a strong power forward with a lethal shot.
9. Daniel Sprong, wing, Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL) – He was a force with Islanders straight out of the gate as a rookie. The 6-foot-2, 192-pounder finished only behind Winnipeg Jets first-rounder Nikolaj Ehlers last year in the QMJHL’s rookie scoring race with 30 goals and 68 points in 67 matches. His strength, speed and elusiveness with the puck on his stick in open ice and quick shot stand out about him the most.
10. Dylan Strome, centre, Erie Otters (OHL) – The 6-foot-2, 178-pound Strome, who’s the younger brother to New York Islanders first-rounder Ryan Strome, has turned heads with his outstanding vision and ability to slow the pace of a game down. He made notable strides in his game throughout his rookie season in the OHL. The proof is in the pudding in how he ended the year with two goals and 10 points in his last seven games following notching eight goals and 29 points in his first 50 contests.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen
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