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 10th prospect down to the 1st, 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 1 (1-10)
10. Nikolaj EhlersA Winnipeg Jets 2014 draftee, Ehlers’ domination of the QMJHL this season has made him a candidate to crack the Jets’ roster earlier than expected. Despite missing 17 games, Ehlers still led the QMJHL in points per game with 100 points in 51 games. While slightly undersized at 175 pounds, Ehlers high-end offensive talent could give the upstart Jets a boost to begin next season, if not the year after.
9. William Nylander
A fellow 2014 draftee, Nylander was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the 8th overall pick. While concerns over his small frame led to the sublimely talented Nylander falling to the Leafs, his 2014-2015 season proved his lack of elite size would not hold him back against older and bigger players, posting nearly a point per game in the SHL before moving to the AHL and adding 32 points in 37 games. With the Leafs about to enter a rebuilding phase, expect Nylander to develop in the AHL for the forseeable future before making the leap to the NHL.
8. Noah Hanifin
The first defenseman selected on Friday, Ron Francis and the Hurricanes ran to the podium to select him, and for good reason. One of the youngest players in the NCAA last year, Hanifin played top-pairing minutes for Boston College and for the USA team at the World Junior Championships. Possessing great size at 6’3″, 200 pounds, Hanifin appears to have the skating ability, hockey sense, and two-way ability to play all situations as a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL. While he may not make the leap to the NHL next fall, Hanifin could make the Hurricanes defense formidable next to Justin Faulk in the very near future.
7. Dylan Strome
The 3rd overall pick in 2015, Strome is the big centre that all NHL teams look for. Standing 6’3″, Strome makes a perfect complement to Max Domi, the Coyotes’ top prospect. Playing in a division with star centres Anze Kopitar and Ryan Getzlaf, Strome’s strong two-way play and big frame make him look like a strong selection for the Coyotes at this point. After winning the OHL scoring championship, Strome looks to have mastered the CHL and looks ready to compete for an NHL job in the fall.
6. Max Domi
In his final OHL season, Max Domi exploded as a two-way force with 102 points in 57 games and a +24 plus/minus rating that resulted in him capturing a World Junior gold medal with Canada and even some consideration as OHL MVP. With the Arizona Coyotes adding another high-end talent to their squad on Friday in Dylan Strome, Domi could join the Coyotes and attempt to lead Arizona back to the playoffs.
5. Sam Reinhart
The first player selected behind Aaron Ekblad last year, Reinhart was the leading scorer for the gold medal-winning Team Canada at the World Juniors. He also put up 65 points in 47 games and led his Kootenay Ice team to the playoffs. With Buffalo taking fellow centre Jack Eichel on Friday and adding a versatile forward in Ryan O’Reilly, expect Reinhart to join a burgeoning young core in Buffalo and lead them back to respectability.
4. Andrei Vasilevskiy
Andrei Vasilevskiy just made the cut for this list, as he already earned a 16-game cameo in the NHL and played in 4 Stanley Cup playoff games. This comes after he has proven at every level he’s played, including the KHL and AHL, that he can put up gaudy numbers and drop jaws with athletic stops and highlight-reel saves. With Ben Bishop entering the final year of his contract, Tampa Bay can rest east knowing they have a stud goalkeeper like Vasilevskiy waiting in the wings.
3. Sam Bennett
The 4th overall pick just last year, Sam Bennett missed most of the season after suffering an injury in preseason. However, he came back with a vengeance, posting 11 goals and 24 points in just 11 games before making his NHL debut in the playoffs with the Calgary Flames. While Calgary was eliminated in the second round, Bennett proved he has the skill and tenacity to stick in the NHL. When the 2015-2016 season rolls around in October, Bennett could form one of the best 1-2 centre combos with young star Sean Monahan in the NHL for years to come.
2. Jack Eichel
Jack Eichel was the first player selected behind the generational Connor McDavid, but the consensus was that he was talented enough to be the first overall selection in many other draft years. Eichel put up a dominant season in his freshman college year as one of the youngest player for NCAA Championship finalist Boston University, winning the Hobey Baker award on the heels of 26 goals, 71 points, and a +51 plus/minus rating in just 40 games. Eichel looks to have outgrown the competition that the NCAA has to offer, and likely has the stuff to stick with the Sabres in October as they look to make the leap to competitiveness next season.
1. Connor McDavid
What more could be said about McDavid that you haven’t heard already? Many are running out of positive adjectives to say about the guy, due to his explosive skating ability and otherworldy hockey sense. He has posted gaudy point totals at every level he’s played, often against players older and bigger than him. There’s no reason to expect anything other than his continued dominance at the next level, and there’s little doubt we’ll see McDavid donning an Oilers sweater and putting up points next to former number one picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the fall.
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