Tuesday July 8th, 2014

The scouting cycle never ends.

Less than two weeks after the drama of the NHL draft, the league began the official ramp-up to the 2015 draft -- which will feature the most anticipated class since ’03 -- with the release of its annual futures list. Headlined by Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, next year's crop of prospects is regarded as having franchise-altering potential.

"McDavid is an exceptional talent and he's been on display now for the world to see for two years [in the OHL] and he's lived up to all the expectations that were kind of placed on his shoulders," Dan Marr, the league's director of Central Scouting, told NHL.com. "That's not an easy burden for a young man. This year just happens to be his draft year and the expectation is he'll continue to be the frontrunner for the No. 1 spot. But Jack Eichel has already made known that this is a two-horse race."

The NHL's top five farm systems

Both players are viewed as future first-line forwards with the potential to be top-10 scorers. McDavid, 17, is already a legend. In 2012, the 6-foot, 185-pound center was granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada, clearing the way for Erie to take him with the top pick in the OHL draft even though he was underage. In two full seasons with the Otters McDavid has scored 53 goals, with 112 assists, in 119 OHL games. Last Christmas he became just the sixth 16-year-old to play for Canada at the World Juniors, following in the footsteps of Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros and Sidney Crosby.

The Next Next Next One: Heir to Orr, Gretzky, Crosby (SI, 5.20.13)

Eichel, a 6-1, 191-pound pivot, skated for the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team last season, leading the club in scoring with 32 goals and 39 assists in just 43 games. He also scored five points in five games for the Americans at the World Juniors.

McDavid and Eichel seem destined to go 1-2, but the rest of the first round is also loaded with high-end potential. Travis Konecny, the No. 1 pick in last summer's OHL draft, is an undersized, dynamic forward capable of carrying a team offensively. Dylan Strome scored only 10 goals for Erie as an OHL rookie last season, but his size (6-2, 180) and bloodlines (he's the brother of top Islanders prospect Ryan Strome) have scouts projecting a breakthrough season. Kingston forward Lawson Crouse already has NHL size (6-3, 198) and plays a complete, 200-foot game.

Noah Hanifan of the USNTDP is the early favorite to be the first defenseman selected. He is big (6-2, 200) and has the all-around game to be taken with one of the draft's first three picks. Callum Booth (6-2, 196) of the Quebec Remparts and Mackenzie Blackwood (6-2, 205) of the Barrie Colts look like the best goalies available in a fairly deep group.

The top European prospect is expected to be Pavel Zacha, a 6-3, 200-pound power forward who played last season in the top Czech league as a 16-year-old. Sarnia took him with the No. 1 pick in the CHL Import Draft, but it's not yet certain whether he'll come to North America or stay at home.

The complete North American watch list can be found here.

The international list is here.



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