In the first of many future showdowns, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will square off on New Year’s Eve at the 2015 world junior championship. They are as good as it gets for 2015 draft talent, but the tournament’s high-end draft skill goes beyond the pair of snipers. At least 10 players in Toronto and Montreal have the potential to be selected with a first-round draft choice in June.
Without further ado, here is a look at BTN’s take on the top 10 draft prospects in the world junior tourney. This list was put together with the help of multiple scouts located all across the world.
1. Connor McDavid, centre, Canada (Erie Otters, OHL) – The Newmarket, Ont., native was simply sensational before suffering a hand injury in a fight on Nov. 11. Look no further than how he was averaging more points per game at 2.83 (16G-51P-18GP) than Sidney Crosby’s draft season (2.71) with the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic for proof of that. It showed that McDavid is indeed a type of talent that only comes around once a decade.
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, United States (Boston University, NCAA) – Some scouts believe Eichel would have been the No. 1 pick in the past two drafts, but since he’s up against McDavid in 2015, he is regarded as the draft’s second-best prospect. He took no time at all to assert himself as a star in the NCAA despite playing against mostly much-older opponents. His eight goals and 27 points in 16 games gives him a better point-per-game ratio at 1.69 than the draft year seasons of Minnesota Wild centre Zach Parise (1.56) and former No. 2 overall pick Dany Heatley (1.47).
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, United States (Boston College, NCAA) – At this point, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Hanifin, who turns 18 in January, is regarded as the top blueliner and the third best overall prospect of the draft. His maturity and high level of skill enabled him to join Boston College a year early after finishing his high school education in the summer. Like Eichel, he has made a smooth transition to college hockey with two goals and seven points in 17 contests.
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. Pavel Zacha, centre, Czech Republic (Sarnia Sting, OHL) – With a 6-foot-3, 203-pound frame and a chip on his shoulder, Zacha is one of the draft’s most enticing power forwards. He came over to North America this year following being selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 CHL import draft by the Sting. Throughout his first 21 games, where he has netted nine goals and 19 points while spending 41 minutes in the sin bin, he has solidified himself as a top 10 draft prospect.
Scout’s take: “Zacha is a high-end projectable pivot who combines size, strength, skating and an astute hockey sense to make an extremely dangerous player,” says Ross. “He’s a powerful and lightning quick player out of the gates and Zacha reaches top speed quickly and his lateral elusiveness is extremely impressive. In full north-south flight, he uses quick lateral cuts to avoid hits and then explodes back to top speed almost instantaneously from a dead stop. In possession, the Czech forward uses his lengthy reach and wide skating base to shield off pressure from checking defender blending in deceptive stick fakes (turns, glitches, etc.) to misdirect checkers, opening up time and space. Zacha can downright dominate the play and has a really good sense for finding the scoring areas – a spot where he can release his explosive snap/wrist shot.”
5. Lawson Crouse, wing, Canada (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL) – The London, Ont., native has scouts drooling over his upside as a future power-forward in the NHL.The combination of his 6-foot-4, 212-pound stature, edge to his game and offensive talent (12G-4A-24GP) has drawn comparisons to Philadelphia Flyers wing Wayne Simmonds, albeit some talent watchers believe Crouse has more upside. His complete game gives coaches the versatility to move him up and down the lineup either in a scoring role or as an energy player.
Scout's take: “Crouse is the type of player that every coach wants on his team because you can throw him out in every situation and know he’s going to make an impact,” says Ross. “He’s one of the smartest two-way forwards in the draft, has the size and strength that makes him a low-risk selection as he can play up and down in the lineup. He’s shown impressive gains in his offensive game and there’s no reason to think he won’t be a top-six winger at the next level. Every time he hits the ice, he does something – whether it’s dominating the cycle game or stripping an attacking player of possession – that makes you go, “wow, he’s going to be good.”
6. Zachary Werenski, defence, United States (University of Michigan, NCAA) – The hulking 6-foot-2, 214-pounder is in a battle with Sweden’s Oliver Kylington, who won’t play in the tourney because of an injury, as the second best defender in the draft. He has a reputation as a slick-skating blueliner with top-notch composure and vision. Just like Hanifin, Werenski has made a seamlessly smooth transition to the NCAA this year as an underage, netting three goals and 12 points in 15 games along the way.
7. Ivan Provorov, defence, Russia (Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL) – Provorov, who has 10 goals and 37 points in 35 games, quickly asserted himself as one of the top blueliners in the Dub in his rookie season with the Wheat Kings this year. He’s an offensive-minded rearguard, but his strong skating ability and hockey sense makes him a quality player in all three zones. All indications are that he will don a sweater in the first round, possibly in the first half, of the 2015 draft.
8. Mikko Rantanen, wing, Finland (TPS Turku, SM-liiga) – He is regarded as Finland’s top 2015 draft prospect and a potential first-round pick. In his second season in the SM-liiga, he has shown off his top-notch playmaking abilities and hockey sense while potting a goal and 10 points in 30 contests. The biggest knock on Rantanen is that he doesn’t’ take advantage of his 6-foot-3, 194-pound frame as he’s not a physical player.
9. Timo Meier, wing, Switzerland (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL) – The 6-foot, 200-pound Meier, whom NHL CSS peg as an A-list prospect, has been dynamite in his second season in Halifax. He has already topped his previous season’s point total (34) with 21 goals and 46 points in 33 games. He has seemed to elevate his game this year from last season through being more physical and appearing to be a half-a-step faster.
10. David Kase, forward, Czech Republic (KLH Chomutov, Czech2) – Kase is one of four players in the Czech Republic to earn an A-list ranking by NHL CSS. He’s earned high praise despite his smaller 5-foot-9, 159-pound stature because of the elite skill and high energy level that he brings to the ice. Alongside his brother, Anaheim Ducks pick Ondrej Kase, he has notched five goals and 10 points in 21 matches with the KLH Chomutov.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen