We’re about six weeks into the 2014-15 hockey season, and while a lot of the attention of the hockey world is focused on the here and now of the National Hockey League, quite a bit has been also directed towards the future – and the 2015 NHL Entry Draft in June.
The 2015 NHL Draft class has a bit of everything. Most importantly, it has two key qualities – it’s considered a deep draft in terms of the talent level not dropping of a cliff after the first handful of players (like last year’s) and there’s also a few truly elite talents at the tippity-top end of the draft pool.
Past seasons have seen debates of Taylor (Hall) vs. Tyler (Seguin) and Seth Jones vs. Nathan MacKinnon, along with last year’s question of who was the best between Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl and Sam Bennett. In 2015, there’s some debate regarding the two high-end talents – Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel – and the two top defenders – Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington. All that’s clear right now is that teams picking in the top five or six positions come June 26 will have some tough decisions to make.
In the interest of providing some clarity, this is the first 2015 edition of The Hockey Writers’ Alternate Draft Rankings. Meant to be a counterpoint to Chris Ralph’s seminal Next Ones rankings (and Eldon McDonald’s own rankings), the Alternate Rankings are merely who I would choose if I were an NHL general manager or head scouting piecing together a team from scratch. I’m based in Western Canada, so I see those players more live.
Your mileage may vary.
#1: F Connor McDavid – Eric Otters (OHL)
I’m very much of the mindset of McDavid and Jack Eichel being really close together, in terms of being 1A and 1B picks. However, McDavid’s a few months younger than Eichel and has not just survived the rigors of a lengthy OHL schedule as a youngster, but has thrived in the major juniors.
#2: F Jack Eichel – Boston University Terriers (NCAA)
He’s an October birthday, so he’s one of the older players at the top end of the draft class. But Eichel is a stud, and his arrival at BU has accelerated the entire hockey program’s development. He’s got skill, he’s got size, and he’s able to thrive in arguably college hockey’s top conference. The big question is whether he can withstand the long haul of a longer season (such as he’ll have to face in the NHL in the near-future).
#3: D Oliver Kylington – AIK (SHL)
Kylington and fellow defensive prospect Noah Hanifin are quite good. Two factors separate them for me. First, Kylington is younger (by four months). And he’s already playing high-end professional hockey in Sweden. He’ll have a full season as a pro under his belt before his 18th birthday, which is huge for his development. He’s also been compared by some scouts to Erik Karlsson, and I lean slightly towards that style of play, as it seems to be harder to find in the draft and translates more readily to the NHL game. He recently moved to AIK from Farjestads.
#4: D Noah Hanifin – Boston College Eagles (NCAA)
Hanifin is a bit older than Kylington, and given that he’s 17 and isn’t dominating college hockey, he may be a longer-term project. That said, he’s got good size, good wheels and he could be a force once he acclimates to the NCAA game. He’s drawn comparisons to Alex Pietrangelo in terms of playing style.
#5: F Dylan Strome – Erie Otters (OHL)
The second Otter in this year’s draft, Strome has received quite a bit of attention as Connor McDavid’s running buddy, but he’s an excellent player in his own right. The younger brother of Islanders prospect Ryan Strome is a dynamic player. He’s not quite super-elite like McDavid, though. He’s merely “very good.”
#6: F Matt Barzal – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
An offensive leader on an up-and-coming team, Barzal is the best player in the WHL in terms of draft eligibles.
#7: F Daniel Sprong – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
The Islanders aren’t an amazing club and Sprong’s numbers are suffering because of that, but the scouting reports out of PEI are almost raves.
#8: F Evgeni Svechnikov – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
A Russian import, Svechnikov has strong offensive numbers in an offensively-slanted league.
#9: F Pavel Zacha – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
A good player on an okay team. Czech import.
#10: F Travis Konecny – Ottawa 67s (OHL)
Another well-rounded forward from the guys that found and developed Sean Monahan.
#11: F Lawson Crouse – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
No Sam Bennett? No problem for Kingston. Crouse has stepped up to fill the void left by last year’s 4th overall pick.
#12: D Jeremy Roy – Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Sherbrooke has been great so far this year, but Roy has been a great contributor to their success.
#13: F Jansen Harkins – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
An absolute points machine and a late birthday (May 1997), this youngster has helped drive Prince George’s resurgence.
#14: F Kyle Connor – Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Strong in the USHL, he’s headed to the University of Michigan next season.
#15: D Zack Werenski – University of Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
A July birthday – he’s 17 all season – Werenski has acclimated quite well early-on to the NCAA.
#16: F Mitch Marner – London Knights (WHL)
#17: D Ivan Provorov – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
In his first year in North America, Provorov has emerged as a strong contributor on a good Wheat Kings team.
#18: D Ryan Pilon – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
He’s been quite good, but slightly behind Provorov due to a recent injury. By a hair.
#19: F Brock Boeser – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)
#20: F Miko Rantanen – TPS Turku (SM-Liiga)
Doesn’t have amazing offensive numbers, but he’s playing regular minutes against men in a high-end league.
#21: F Nick Merkley – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Great offensive output early-on, but some small quibbles about consistency.
#22: D Nicolas Meloche – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
A July birthday and already a strong QMJHL defender.
#23: F Colin White – US National Development Team (USHL)
Headed to Boston College next season.
#24: F Thomas Novak – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)
#25: F Graham Knott – Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)
#26: D Jakub Zboril – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
#27: F Jordan Greenway – US National Development Team (USHL)
Committed to Boston University for next season.
#28: D Matt Spencer – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
#29: D Guillaume Brisebois – Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
Another July birthday.
#30: F Paul Bittner – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
He’s not huge, but he’s developed quite well as a contributor for the Winterhawks.
On The Cusp: F Adam Musil (Red Deer – WHL), D Ethan Bear (Seattle – WHL)
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.