Heading into the 2015 NHL Draft, there was a feeling that this would be the draft class that defined the decade. Much like how Sidney Crosby was one of the seminal faces for hockey throughout the 2000s, the 2015 Draft had players that could define the sport throughout the 2010s and beyond.
Now with these players having a few seasons under their belts to establish themselves in the league, have the top 10 picks of the 2015 NHL Draft managed to live up to the hype?
Note: The 2015 NHL Draft was held on June 26-27 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.
#1: Connor McDavid
By winning the 2015 Draft Lottery, the Edmonton Oilers were given one more chance to hit the reset button after picking first-overall four times in the prior six seasons. Heading into the draft, there was no doubt that Connor McDavid would be the first overall pick, as he had the trappings to be a generational talent.
For his part, McDavid has lived up to his top billing. After struggling with injury throughout his rookie season, he posted three-straight 100-point seasons and is well on his way to his fourth in 2019-20.
There’s no doubt that McDavid is an elite, superstar talent that will bend the NHL to his will. The Oilers believe this, too, as they signed their star to an eight-year, $100-million extension in 2017 that made him the highest-paid player in the league.
After posting 105 points in just 56 games during the 2020-21 season, he reaffirmed just how special his talents are. While the franchise has yet to turn in a consistent on-ice performance in the postseason, McDavid still is one of the defining players in the NHL right now.
#2: Jack Eichel
While McDavid was seen as the cream of the crop in the 2015 Draft, Jack Eichel was still a highly talented forward who could have been the top pick in any other year. Even if he didn’t get selected first-overall, Eichel would get to hear his name called immediately after by the Buffalo Sabres.
For the Sabres, Eichel represented their second-straight chance to draft a game-breaking forward with the second-overall pick. With a combination of size, smarts, and unmatched scoring potential, the Massachusetts native looked to be the perfect player to take over Buffalo.
In the years since his draft, however, Eichel has been a consistently great player, but this hasn’t translated to team success. Due to injury and a franchise struggling to find their identity during a long and painful rebuild, he has yet to have that defining breakout season.
After another tough end to the 2020-21 season, where the Sabres finished dead last in the league and Eichel missed time with injury, it appears that things may be reaching a breaking point between player and franchise. Despite being a top-end talent that you build a franchise around, he appears to want out of Buffalo to get a fresh start with a new franchise.
#3: Dylan Strome
After McDavid and Eichel went off the board, the Arizona Coyotes took the stage with the third-overall selection. With this pick, they selected center Dylan Strome, a big-bodied forward who had all the trappings to be the top-line center Arizona desperately needed.
Despite his draft pedigree, Strome was unable to put it all together for the Coyotes. Less than four years after he was selected, he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks along with Brendan Perlini for their struggling 2014-first round selection, Nick Schmaltz.
Once he reached Chicago, Strome endeared himself to his teammates and the fanbase, and has spent the last three seasons with the franchise while experiencing solid success on the ice. For his part, Schmaltz has played well in Arizona, acting as a small but important piece in the franchise core over the last few seasons. So, while it may have not been perfect, the trade turned into a win-win for both franchises.
#4: Mitch Marner
With the fourth-overall selection, the Toronto Maple Leafs took Mitch Marner, a highly-skilled forward who averaged two-points a game while playing for the London Knights throughout the 2014-15 season. Marner’s raw offensive talent was easy to see, as said by Carl Maloney of THW in his draft profile:
There is not another player in this year’s draft that brings the type of dynamic, game-breaking offensive ability to the table than Marner, unless his name is Connor McDavid.
Since earning a starting role for Toronto in 2016-17, Marner has been one of the franchise’s best players. He has consistently scored 20-plus goals each season while racking up a career-high 94 points in the 2018-19 season.
The only real controversy surrounding Marner was a long restricted-free agent contract negotiation that lasted until the end of the 2019 offseason. While there was much talk about a potential holdout, he would go on to sign a six-year, $65-million extension that cemented him as one of the Maple Leafs’ core players.
For Toronto, Marner has been everything that they could have hoped for from a top-five pick. He is a superstar offensive talent that brings out the best in his linemates while racking up incredible point totals in his own right. However, due to a lack of success in the postseason, there are lingering questions about whether or not he can elevate his game and if he should still be part of the franchise’s core for the future.
#5: Noah Hanifin
With their fifth-overall pick, the Carolina Hurricanes took Noah Hanifin, making him the first defenseman selected in 2015. With this selection, the Hurricanes added defensemen using a top-10 pick in back-to-back drafts, seemingly setting their blue line for the future.
It didn’t take long for Hanifin to make his NHL debut, as he began playing for Carolina at the start of the 2015-16 season. That year, he posted a promising 4 goals and 22 points, showing that he had top-end offensive potential.
The issue, though, was his defensive play. While he reached the 2018 All-Star game on the back of his offensive game, his defense remained suspect, resulting in some poor statistics. For example, despite scoring 33 points, he also went minus-20 throughout the 2017-18 season.
So, while his value was high due to his scoring prowess, the Hurricanes traded Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to the Calgary Flames in 2018 for defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox.
By the end of the 2018-19 season, Hamilton had established himself as a top-pairing defenseman with the Hurricanes, where Hanifin was playing top-four minutes for Calgary. So, with this change of scenery, it seems that both players were able to take the next step in their careers.
#6: Pavel Zacha
Heading into the draft, no first-round prospect’s potential landing spot was more uncertain than Pavel Zacha. While he was expected to be a top-10 pick at the start of the season, injury slowed his play, causing his draft stock to fall into more of a mid-first round selection.
However, the new Jersey Devils defied this expectation, deciding to take the big-bodied center with the sixth-overall pick. While this may have been seen as a slight reach in the moment, New Jersey was rolling the dice on what could have been the biggest steal of the draft.
After playing six seasons with the Devils, however, it appears that Zacha may have been a bit overvalued at the draft. In his time with New Jersey, he’s averaged about 30 points a season, while struggling to take that next step in his career.
Despite his struggles, New Jersey still believes in their top-pick from 2015. They gave Zacha a three-year, $6.75-million extension in 2019 that will give him a few more seasons to prove that he can be a top-end talent in the NHL.
#7: Ivan Provorov
As one of the top-rated defensemen at the 2015 Draft, Ivan Provorov put together some gaudy scoring numbers while playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. After he was selected seventh overall by the Philadelphia Flyers, he would go on to lead the Wheat Kings to the 2016 Memorial Cup en route to earning the honor of CHL defenseman of the year.
With such an impressive final season in the WHL, it appeared that the Flyers made one of the best picks of the Draft with Provorov. By the start of the 2016-17 season, the Russian defender was more than ready to take on NHL ice time.
Since making the transition to the NHL, Provorov has become a key defenseman for the Flyers. As a 20-year-old, he averaged nearly 22 minutes a night, while scoring 30 points. The following season, he upped those totals to 24 minutes a night and 41 points.
Even though his scoring totals have been down slightly after that career-high in 2017-18, Provorov is, inarguably, a cornerstone of Philadelphia’s blue line. After locking up their young defender to a six-year, $40.5-million extension, the Flyers can only be happy with their top-selection at the 2015 draft.
#8: Zach Werenski
This isn’t the opinion of the majority, but I feel that Zach Werenski is the best defensemen available in the draft. That’s not a shot at Noah Hanifin, however, from what I’ve seen from Zach Werenski in the NCAA and at the World Juniors, for my money he’s your best bet in bolstering your blueline.
After showing some dominant play throughout his rookie season for the University of Michigan in 2014-15, Werenski was selected eighth overall by the Colombus Blue Jackets. He would return to Michigan for his sophomore season, where he would earn the Big Ten Defensive Player of the year.
With his dominant play in college, Werenski joined the Blue Jackets AHL affiliate for a playoff stint in 2015-16 before starting 78 games with Columbus throughout the 2016-17 season. Since joining Columbus, Werenski has been one of the NHL’s top young defensemen. He eats up 22-plus minutes of ice-time alongside Seth Jones on the Blue Jackets’ top-pair, all while consistently scoring 40-plus points each season.
Not only is he a franchise player, but the Blue Jackets locked Werenski up to a three-year, $15-million contract in 2019, making him one of the best overall values in the NHL as well.
#9: Timo Meier
Sometimes, a player just manages to impress from the minute he reaches the ice for the first time. This was the case for Timo Meier, who scored a goal in his first NHL game against the Montreal Canadians.
As the ninth overall pick by the San Jose Sharks, Timo Meier was selected to be an all-around offensive talent who could eventually replace an aging star like Joe Pavelski. While it took until 2017-18 for Meier to play a complete season with San Jose, he quickly proved that he could be the real deal, scoring 21 goals and posting 36 points.
He followed that up with a 30 goal, 66 point campaign in 2018-19 that established him as one of the top young scorers in the NHL. After that season, the Sharks worked quickly to lock down Meier, signing him to a four-year, $24-million contract in 2019.
If Meier can keep up his scoring ways, he will not only be one of the top goalscorers for the Sharks, but he could become one of the best all-around players in the NHL.
#10: Mikko Rantanen
Few players at the 2015 Draft had the natural build of Mikko Rantanen. At 6-foot-4, 209 pounds, he was an imposing force who had played hockey against grown men in Finland since he was 16-years old. While there were some questions about if he could translate his size to the ice, the raw talent was more than enough for the Colorado Avalanche to take a shot on him with the 10th overall pick.
Needless to say, this pick has been a pure win for Colorado. After posting 38 points in his rookie season, Rantanen scored 80-plus points in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.
His play alongside Nate MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog resurrected the Avalanche, who went from a pitiful 48 points in 2016-17 to the postseason just one year later. (from ‘Avalanche 2016-17 Season in Review: Colorado sinks to new low,’ Denver Post, 04/06/2017)
While Rantanen was been bitten by the injury bug throughout the 2019-20 season, he will continue to be one of the dominant forwards in the NHL as long as he can stay healthy. With a strong stable of young talent around him, he can be a leader on the ice to help push Colorado back into Stanley Cup contention once again.
Impressions of the 2015 Draft Top 10
To put it simply, the 2015 draft will go down in history as one of the best ever. Out of the top 10 picks alone, seven have established themselves as genuine stars with the teams that drafted them. The two players that were traded both brought needed returns that helped their franchise in an immediate way.
Check out the THW Prospects Page for the next great NHLDraft picks
Once you get by the top 10 picks, the list of superstar talent continues, with names like Mathew Barzal, Thomas Chabot, and Brock Boeser representing three all-star players selected in the first round alone.
So, while there may be some buyers remorse for a few franchises, the top 10 picks of the 2015 Draft can be seen as a success for almost all teams involved.
*All stats taken from Hockey-Reference.com
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.