Winter is almost over. Spring is looming. The World Juniors and the Top Prospects Game are firmly in our rear-view mirror, and both collegiate and major-junior clubs are preparing for playoff runs. It’s an ideal time to revisit the draft class for the upcoming 2015 NHL Draf.t
This is the latest edition of The Hockey Writers’ Alternate Draft Rankings. Designed as a complement to Chris Ralph’s The Next One rankings, the Alternate Rankings take a different bent: I rank players in the order that I would take them, based upon a hypothetical world where I both (a) own an NHL club and (b) have to draft a team from scratch.
The World Juniors saw the stock of several players solidify or improve: Lawson Crouse probably benefited the most, excelling at times as Canada won gold for the first time in a few years. In addition, any question marks regarding Connor McDavid’s injury and/or dominance were thrown firmly out the window. The only high-end draft prospect who was absent from the festivities was Oliver Kylington (due to an injury), which could diminish his chances a bit – well, both the injuries and the inability of scouts to see him in a big-game environment.
A disclaimer: I’m based in Calgary and see some WHL teams live, but typically see only a few college, junior and World Junior games on TV. That does limit my ability to judge a lot of things, so there’s some voodoo, guesswork and weighing of statistical stuff involved.
#1: F Connor McDavid – Erie Otters (OHL)
Since the beginning of the season, I’ve been a bit skeptical of McDavid. I’ve looked for reasons to drop him down the list. I haven’t found any yet. He was strong at the Top Prospect Game and got better as the World Juniors progressed. He’s the gold standard of this draft.
#2: F Jack Eichel – Boston University Terriers (NCAA)
If McDavid is the gold standard of the 2015 Draft, Eichel is a close silver. He’s torn up the NCAA’s Hockey East conference and was quietly productive for the Americans at the World Juniors.
#3: D Noah Hanifin – Boston College Eagles (NCAA)
I’ve bounced Hanifin all over the place this season. He was pretty decent at the World Juniors against older top players and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for his early missteps in college hockey because of that. Scouts and observers have written a lot about his potential, so I’m banking on some of that being correct.
#4: F Lawson Crouse – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Crouse has increasingly garnered attention throughout the season, particularly through his presence on the gold-medal-winning Canadian World Junior team. He continues to get better and more confident as the season progresses.
#5: F Dylan Strome – Erie Otters (OHL)
A teammate of Connor McDavid’s, but almost never a line-mate, the perception of Strome was arguably improved during McDavid’s absence – as Strome was definitely carrying the mail for the Otters.
#6: D Oliver Kylington – AIK (Allsvenskan)
Good news – he’s playing pro against grown men in a pretty good league as a teenager. Bad news – he missed the World Juniors due to an injury, so he has less scouting opportunities for NHL clubs to see him against his peer group.
#7: F Pavel Zacha – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Zacha was on a less-than-amazing Czech team at the World Juniors but still contributed well. He’s been strong for Sarnia this season, though just a smidge below being considered elite.
#8: F Matt Barzal – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Barzal has been injured a lot this season, which may scare off a few teams considering he’s not a massive player at just six feet tall. However, he’s a strong offensive contributor when healthy, and was really impressed at the Ivan Hlinka tournament over the summer.
#9: F Mitch Marner – London Knights (WHL)
Marner is really, really talented. He’s speedy and good with the puck, and he currently shares the OHL lead in scoring with Dylan Strome. But he’s not all that big. But he’s really good. But can he withstand the pros while maintaining his playing style in the proverbial land of the giants? A bit of doubt is why he’s ranked lower than Strome.
#10: D Ivan Provorov – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Provorov has gained momentum throughout the season. He was the best player on the ice in the game I saw him play in Calgary, including a gorgeous end-to-end rush goal through four defenders. He’s defensively sound, but his size and offensive potential is why scouts may fall for this Russian.
#11: D Zack Werenski – University of Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
He’s got size and strong defensive skills, but there may be minor concerns over his durability due to the NCAA’s shorter schedule. That said, he was decent in the World Juniors on a really young American blueline.
#12: F Timo Meier – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Meier has been one to watch at all the “showcase” events for draft eligibles, including strong showings at the World Juniors and Top Prospects Game. He’s got strong offensive numbers in the Q.
#13: F Travis Konecny – Ottawa 67s (OHL)
He’s not huge, but he’s been a point-per-game player playing a physical style of game.
#14: F Daniel Sprong – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
Good all-around player. Strong offensive orientation.
#15: D Jeremy Roy – Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Top right-handed defender in the draft.
#16: F Evgeni Svechnikov – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
This rugged Russian has strong offensive numbers and a big frame.
#17: F Miko Rantanen – TPS Turku (SM-Liiga)
Good performance at the World Juniors for Finland. Already a regular in a top pro league.
#18: D Brandon Carlo – Tri City Americans (WHL)
Was solid if unspectacular at World Juniors for Team USA, but has been a rock for his junior team this season.
#19: D Ryan Pilon – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
The yin to Ivan Provorov’s yang – more of a stay-at-home defender, unlikely to pinch, but a strong first pass from the back end.
#20: F Jansen Harkins – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Offensive leader on a pretty young, emerging team. He’d probably have even better offensive numbers had he better teammates, but he regularly and consistently elevates his teammates when he’s on his game.
#21: F Kyle Connor – Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
#22: F Filip Chlapik – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
#23: F Nick Merkley – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
A key contributor on an elite WHL squad.
#24: F Brock Boeser – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)
#25: D Jakub Zboril – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Slick defender. Ahead of Meloche, ever-so-slightly, due to slightly higher offensive ceiling.
#26: D Nicolas Meloche – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
#27: F Jens Looke – Brynas IF (SHL)
#28: F Jake DeBrusk – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
Good size and NHL bloodlines boost his draft chances.
#29: F Colin White – US National Development Team (USHL)
#30: F Nikita Korostelev – Sarnia Sting (OHL)