(Photo Courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
After what I would describe as one of the most tumultuous NHL seasons to date, all the hype and excitement will culminate on one day, the 2015 NHL Draft.
Whether it was multiple teams openly admitting they were tanking, to other teams who at the halfway point realized their futures were best served at the top of the draft and bottomed out (or at least tried to), I highly doubt that we will ever be a part of a season like this again.
So, without any more distractions, here are my predictions for picks 1 through 10 for the 2015 NHL Draft.
1. Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Center, Erie Otters (OHL)
Congrats Edmonton. Whatever ritual sacrifices you made in your team offices to win the draft lottery for the fourth time in five years, please, share them with everyone.
While many claim that the NHL somehow rigged the process, my take is that this is the NHL’s worst nightmare. A potential generational player sent to a place that even TV crews won’t follow. If a fan thought McDavid playing in Arizona, where no one watches hockey, is bad, wait until they deal with limited national exposure for one of the league’s premier young players. And that is what McDavid is. Premier.
I don’t think I have ever seen a prospect like McDavid, and watching him operate on the ice is truly beautiful. His passing skill is top of the line, and his end-to-end speed is incredible. McDavid is able to do things that no other player in this draft can, and the way he uses his teammates will make his transition into the NHL a smooth one.
Many teams are already afraid of what McDavid will do with players like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, and for good reason. McDavid will take the ice in Edmonton on opening night, and unless he is traded to LA, he will be the face of that franchise for the next decade.
I can’t wait to watch him play in the NHL. Unfortunately, because he will be playing in Edmonton, that opportunity will likely only come once or twice a year.
2. Buffalo Sabres
Jack Eichel, Center, Boston University (NCAA)
Buffalo, who did everything they could to be in this situation, are probably the most misunderstood and criticized teams in the NHL.
Many argue that the tank was only to get McDavid, and since the Sabres are picking second, they failed. Completely false.
Jack Eichel is the true winner of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Buffalo has one of the brightest futures of any team in the NHL and Eichel will be the center of this. Eichel has, in my opinion, better shooting and physical skills than McDavid. However, where he falls short is his skating and his hockey sense. While neither of these are necessarily a weakness in Eichel’s game, compared to McDavid, he is undoubtedly the number two pick.
My favorite part about Eichel’s game is that he is a game-breaker in the sense that he has the intuition to step up when needed.
The Sabres are the most fortunate team in the NHL because it takes a special draft to have two generational talents available at the top, and the Sabres are the last team to ever be guaranteed a top-two pick.
3. Arizona Coyotes
Noah Hanifin, Defenseman, Boston College (NCAA)
Tough break for Arizona.
After doing all they could to beat the Sabres to last place, they end up with the third pick and a top defensive prospect in Noah Hanifin.
Hanifin is still a prized prospect, but he is definitely a tier below McDavid and Eichel. Hanifin is great with the puck and loves to join the rush. My favorite part about Hanifin is the fact that he can be on the ice in every situation. He is a force on the power play and his high hockey IQ makes him a top defender on the penalty kill.
Arizona is lucky to be getting Hanifin, and this pick makes the highly debated Keith Yandle trade more reasonable.
The hard part about this draft for Arizona is given the nature of their team, this is the first of many high picks. Arizona has depleted their farm system during their frequent playoff appearances, and without one of the prizes at the top of the draft, Arizona will remain stuck in square one.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
Dylan Strome, Center, Erie Otters (OHL)
Now that Toronto has harpooned their white whale, in regards to Coach Mike Babcock’s mega-deal, the next task is to have a team in Toronto that achieves something amazing: a winning season.
Whether it is the media hellfire, player egos, or heightened expectations, Toronto is becoming a toxic environment for their Leafs. This makes Dylan Strome’s life even more challenging.
Strome, who led the OHL in points this past season, played on the same team as McDavid, and his statistics reflected it. Strome is natural scorer and has great offensive presence. He has the potential to be a top-five forward, and with the right players surrounding him, he can dominate statistically. Strome has excellent speed and a great frame (6-foot-3, 187 pounds) for a center.
As long as Toronto’s management maintains a level of patience, he will develop into a top offensive player.
5. Carolina Hurricanes
Mitch Marner, Winger, London Knights (OHL)
Carolina is an interesting team at the fifth spot.
Possessing a surprisingly solid core of talented players in Eric Staal, Jordan Staal and rising star Jeff Skinner, this position leaves them with the option of a lucrative trade, or selecting additional offensive strength.
Carolina, as I believe, would love to be able to select Hanifin, but will take the uber-talented Marner with their first selection.
Marner is one of my favorite prospects in the draft this year, mostly because how overlooked he is. Marner is a menace in the offensive zone and has a relentless fore-checking habit that drives his opponents nuts. He has little hesitation when entering the dirty areas, and seems to thrive on working in the corners. The scariest part of Marner’s game is his speed, which he uses to create space for himself and his teammates on the ice.
As exhibited by his 44 goals and 82 assists this past season for the Knights, Marner has the offensive potential to be a top-five forward in the NHL.
6. New Jersey Devils
Mathew Barzal, Center, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
The Devils are very similar to the Coyotes in the sense that this is the beginning of the dark days in New Jersey. The Brodeur Era has ended, and the Devils are now looking at a depleted farm system. Picking Barzal would be a great start and quite an addition to the Devils’ system.
Physically, Barzal skates very well and uses his wide base to position himself in the offensive zone. The part of his game that makes him dynamic is how serious he takes his defensive assignments, and this in my opinion makes him a great fit for New Jersey.
Barzal will never take a shift off and when confident, he is nothing short of dominant.
Barzal won’t jump in to the NHL and excel initially, but in time, he will make every player around him better.
7. Philadelphia Flyers
Mikko Rantanen, Winger, TPS Turku (SM-Liiga)
Philadelphia, who will have you believe they are always one year away from greatness, find themselves back in the lottery, and with a very promising opportunity.
Mikko Rantanen is a name most won’t know, but he is a very interesting prospect and would benefit from patience from Philly’s management.
Given the state of Philadelphia’s roster, and last season’s injuries, Rantanen can be given time to develop with the Flyers. He is a magician below the circles and sees the ice as well as anyone in the draft. He has not had the numbers everyone would expect, but I attribute that to his competition and his age comparatively.
With a big frame (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), Rantanen is a flexible forward and is able to play any position.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
Ivan Provorov, Defenseman, Brandon Wheat-Kings (WHL)
Columbus, who I believe would trade Urban Meyer and Ryan Johansen for the 3rd overall pick to get Hanifin, will have to stay at eight and select Ivan Provorov.
Provorov is a very interesting, and also a very raw prospect. Having only one season in North America is definitely hurting his draft stock, but his credentials give him the highest upside for any defenseman in this draft.
Provorov would play the entire game if his coaches let him, and he logs serious minutes on special teams. By selecting him, Columbus knows that he will be back with Brandon next season, but in time, Provorov can develop into a top defender and be a perennial Norris Trophy candidate.
Hanifin will likely play immediately and reach relevancy faster, but Provorov has better intangibles and a more physical presence to his current game.
9. San Jose Sharks
Lawson Crouse, Winger, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
San Jose, like Philadelphia, are rather surprising residents in the lottery, but the good thing for San Jose is that they are going to get a good player with the ninth pick.
Crouse is a big body (6-foot-4, 212 pounds), and uses his frame to dictate play when he is on the ice. Crouse is a juggernaut that will run over anything in his path, and he is unquestionably the best power forward in the 2015 class. One of the most surprising and promising aspects of Crouse’s game is his shot and shot power. He will drive to the net and send the puck hard on goal when given the opportunity.
Scoring 51 points in 56 games shows he is an efficient player, and potentially placing him on a line with Joe Thornton will create one of the more intriguing power-forward lines in the NHL.
10. Colorado Avalanche
Zach Werenski, Defense, Michigan University (NCAA)
First, hooray for NCAA hockey getting three players into the top 10. Even more impressive that two of them are defensemen.
Werenski may be a reach for Colorado at this position, but after being arguably the most disappointing team in the NHL last season, it’s not hard finding where the Avalanche need help.
Werenski has a great offensive mind for a defenseman, and is very comfortable with the puck on his stick. Werenski may be at his best on the power-play, which makes a dynamic team like Colorado chomp at the bit to select him.
Unfortunately for the forwards in this draft, there is a lack of top 10 defensemen, and this will lead to Colorado leaving better prospects on the board. A trade at this position probably won’t yield a better return than selecting Werenski, and given the current state of the club’s defense, Werenski could be with the team day one.