With Central Scouting releasing its final rankings Wednesday, it seemed like a good time to weigh in on the 2015 draft again myself. But this will be the third installment of four for me. Not only do we still have championships to be decided in all North American development circuits, but there is also the world under-18s approaching this month, which often impact final rankings.
And finally, since THN's Draft Preview edition is closing in a month, I have been honing the magazine's top 100 list with the input of NHL scouts and executives, giving me some fascinating insights into their drafting philosophies.
So take this list as an estimation of what will happen on draft day, not a ranking of my personal faves or anything like that. I recognize that I'm courting peril here, since every team values players differently, but I feel it's the most educational approach for fans.
One of the biggest X-factors here is potential. Some players are universally loved, while others have qualities that give them a higher draft ceiling (size, for example), but also possess flaws that will warn off a number of NHL teams (such as compete level). So who goes first in the rankings? This is a challenge and the answer won't be known until the picks are made in Florida. But I will try nonetheless.
And since goalies get drafted later these days, I have included my top three, with the admission that the actual slot they get picked in is beyond me.
Here we go:
1. Connor McDavid, C – Erie Otters (OHL)
Potential NHL superstar thanks to his incredible vision and hockey IQ. Put up points at an amazing clip and helped Canada win gold at the world juniors.
2. Jack Eichel, C – Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Just a hair behind McDavid, Eichel will also give an NHL team its new No. 1 center. Size, speed and the ability to change the outcome of a game. Resurrected the Terriers.
3. Noah Hanifin, D – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Size, poise and "jersey-flapping" speed. Hanifin got better as the year went on and has excellent offensive upside from the blueline.
4. Dylan Strome, C – Erie Otters (OHL)
The big No. 1 center that NHL teams all dream about. Strome is smart, skilled and defensively aware, to go along with the cherished 6-foot-3 frame.
5. Mitch Marner, RW – London Knights (OHL)
Slight-framed offensive dynamo has the potential to be a special producer at the NHL level. Could slide a bit due to size, but will make a team very happy.
6. Ivan Provorov, D – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
He's whatever you need him to be. Provorov can play it fast, he can play it physical and he can put up points from the blueline. Finalist for WHL defenseman of the year.
7. Lawson Crouse, LW – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
He plays big, can do anything for a team and has a nice edge to his game. Surprise addition to Canada's world junior team earned his gold medal.
8. Mathew Barzal, C – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Whip-smart producer is stronger than he looks and tough to knock off the puck. Injury limited his exposure, but if you need a pivot, he's a great bet.
9. Zach Werenski, D – University of Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Michigan's best defenseman this season and he did it as a 17-year-old. Plays in all situations while bringing size, speed and calmness.
10. Pavel Zacha, C – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Scouts love the power forward's 200-foot game, which he matches with grit and competitiveness. Had a pretty good showing for Czechs at world juniors.
11. Kyle Connor, C – Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
12. Mikko Rantanen, RW – TPS Turku (Fin.)
13. Timo Meier, RW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
14. Brock Boeser, RW – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
15. Nick Merkley, C – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
16. Evgeny Svechnikov, LW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
17. Paul Bittner, LW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
18. Nicolas Roy, C – Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
19. Colin White, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
20. Oliver Kylington, D – Farjestad (Swe.)
21. Jansen Harkins, C – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
22. Thomas Chabot, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
23. Travis Konecny, C – Ottawa 67′s (OHL)
24. Daniel Sprong, RW – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
25. Jakub Zboril, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
26. Jeremy Roy, D – Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
27. Joel Ek Eriksson, C – Farjestad (Swe.)
28. Jake DeBrusk, LW – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
29. Gabriel Carlsson, D – Linkoping (Swe.)
30. Filip Chlapik, C – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
Top Goalies: Mackenzie Blackwood, Barrie (OHL), Ilya Samsonov, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Rus.), Samuel Montembeault, Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL)