The 2015 NHL Draft was one of the most talked about drafts in recent memory, as there was a noticeable buzz surrounding the top of the draft. While the question as to who would be selected with the first selections was not as intriguing as the race to the top in previous seasons (Ekblad vs. Reinhart, Mackinnon vs. Jones), the top-end talent selected Friday night is expected to make a far larger impact on the NHL than the rookie crop of recent seasons.With the 2015 Draft in the books, here is a list, from the 20th prospect down to the 11th, of the top prospects currently affiliated with an NHL club. While certain players may not hold their rookie eligibility for long and are expected to make an impact on their respective NHL clubs in the fall, this list attempts to rank the prospects currently possessing rookie eligibility, which is explained in greater detail on NHL.com.
Part 2 (11-20)
20. Anthony Mantha
Selected in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, Mantha entered the pro ranks with much fanfare after dominating the QMJHL the previous season to the tune of 57 goals and 120 points in just 57 games. However, in his debut AHL season he experienced an up-and-down campaign that ended in a disappointing review from the Detroit management. However, Mantha’s elite scoring instincts and intimidating 6’5″, 200 pound frame still make him one of Detroit’s most intriguing and talented prospects, and could result in him making the leap from Grand Rapids to the NHL at some point next year.
19. Matt Barzal
While Barzal slipped to the 16th pick in Friday’s draft, his skill set and work ethic made him a prospect to go much higher than his modest draft placement. He missed more than 20 games due to injury this past season, and while that may have negatively affected his draft stock, it didn’t affect his play once he came back. He averaged more than an assist per game, and led Team Canada to a bronze medal at the World Under-18 Championships with 12 points in just seven games. The Islanders are pretty set at centre with John Tavares in tow, but adding Barzal to the mix with Ryan Strome could make the Islanders an offensive force.
18. Shea Theodore
A member of Canada’s gold medal-winning squad at the World Junior Championships in January, Theodore led all defensemen at the tournament with an astounding +12 plus/minus rating, showcasing his defensive ability. He also shone on the offensive side of things, as he tallied 48 points in just 43 regular-season games as the captain of the Seattle Thunderbirds. While his squad was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, that allowed Theodore to get into 9 AHL games, where he opened eyes by posting 4 goals and 11 points for a weak Norfolk Admirals team. Theodore’s strong two-way game should complement the impressive young stockpile of blueline talent that the Ducks have assembled nicely in the near future.
17. Kevin Fiala
While slightly undersized at 5’10”, 185 pounds, Kevin Fiala’s elite skill set resulted in him playing in three different professional leagues last season, culminating in a playoff appearance with the Nashville Predators. The season prior, Fiala became the first player to ever participate in the World Under-18 Championship, World Junior Championship, and World Championship tournaments in the same year. With the Nashville Predators looking to become more offensively-focused, expect to see Fiala as a big part of the team moving forward.
16. Griffin Reinhart
The last top five pick from the 2012 Draft to reach the NHL, the wait could well be worth it for Griffin Reinhart. While he appeared in a short eight game cameo for the Islanders this season, Reinhart spent the bulk of his season with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. There, he showcased the two-way ability and all-situations talent that made him a star with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. Reinhart was dealt on draft night to the Oilers, and his strong defensive game could look great as part of a young defensive core that includes Darnell Nurse.
15. Mitch Marner
The newest member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marner has an elite skill set that really solidifies the Leafs’ new skill-focused approach. While he needs to develop a bit as he is just 163 pounds, Marner could turn out to be one of the best players from the 2015 Draft. He put up the second-highest points per game average only behind Connor McDavid, and added a+36 plus/minus rating to showcase his improving defensive game. While he may not pan out as an impact centre due to his offensively-focused game and slight frame, his elite skill set will help the Leafs accelerate their rebuild.
14. Michael Dal Colle
A fellow New York Islanders prospect, Michael Dal Colle was tabbed by the team with a top five pick two years after they selected Reinhart. An OHL star as the leading scorer of the Memorial Cup-winning Oshawa Generals, Dal Colle has put up back to back 90 points seasons for the notoriously low-scoring Generals, also showcasing a strong two-way game by adding a +40 plus/minus rating over that time. With the Islanders searching for a strong scoring winger for star John Tavares, Dal Colle looks like he could be a prime candidate to fill that role in the not-too-distant future.
13. Darnell Nurse
While it’s no secret the Edmonton Oilers have been a mess defensively in recent seasons, there looks to be help on the way in the form of 6’4″ blueliner Darnell Nurse. Nurse, another gold medal winner from the Canadian World Junior squad, is a menacing two-way force that looks in the same mold as the last elite defender the Oilers had, Chris Pronger. Nurse has nothing left to prove at the OHL level and looks to make the jump to the pro ranks next season. He could be a huge part of Edmonton’s blueline for years to come.
12. Dylan Larkin
Larkin was just the 15th player selected last year, but he has far outperformed his modest draft status thus far after a huge freshman season at the University of Michigan. After putting up 47 points in 35 games and 5 goals in 5 games for USA at the World Junior Championships, Larkin topped off his season by participating against men in the World Championships. Possessing good size at 6’1″, 190 pounds, Larkin’s strong two-way game and creative offensive ability makes him a perfect successor to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk as Detroit’s top centre of the future.
11. John Gibson
Taken with a pick acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs, John Gibson has since outperformed his modest 2nd round draft selection by developing into one of the top goaltending prospects in the NHL. Gibson is a big goaltender (6’3″, 220 pounds), who moves very well and has shown the ability to elevate his game in big games. While Frederik Andersen is the de facto starter in Anaheim, Gibson is still very young and looks to be the future in the blue paint for Anaheim.
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11