Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day from April to June, I brought you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2014 NHL Draft. However the fun doesn’t stop now, be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical draft profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Draft”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2014 Draft Articles Click here.
The 2014 NHL Draft has come and gone, and most teams have already held their post-draft development camp, or are now in the process of holding it, getting an up close and personal look at the players they have selected in their new jerseys. However, scouting new talent never stops and with this in mind we turn our attention towards the talent that will be available in the 2015 NHL. It may be early and there is still a full year of hockey to be played, likely leading to a lot of movement between these rankings and where players end up at the end of next season, but still lets take a look and preview the 2015 NHL Draft, a draft that is currently looking like it has the potential to be one of the best drafts since the epic 2003 draft.
Pre-Season Top 10 for the 2015 NHL Draft
10) Mitchell Marner, C, London Knights, 64 GP 13 G 46 A 59 PTS, 5’10” 160 lbs
Marner took on a top 6 role with a very experienced London team this season that was gearing up to host the Memorial Cup. The minutes he played and the responsibilities given as a 16 year old on such a deep squad. He is a little undersized, but that doesn’t stop Marner from playing a gritty game and getting to the front of the net or battling in corners. He has great speed, and very slick hands and can go end to end at any time. Has a decent shot, but it is his vision and playmaking skill that sets Marner apart. Could have an ever bigger role this season as some of the Knights veterans move one.
9) Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown Islanders, 67 GP 30 G 38 A 68 PTS, 5’10” 160 lbs
Sprong is likely to be the highest drafted Dutch born player ever. He moved to Canada in 2005 to face stronger competition than what was available in the Netherlands. Sprong’s 30 goals was the most by any 1997 born player in the CHL this season. He’s got great speed off the wing, and a bullet wrister with a deadly release. Is dangerous every time he touches the puck, and loves to shoot. Has some great stick handling ability and can be a good passer as well. He must get stronger and be better at taking a hit. He is already good positionally.
8) Travis Konecny, C, Ottawa 67s, 63 GP 26 G 44 A 70 PTS, 5’9″ 172 lbs
The first overall pick in the 2013 OHL Draft, the OHL rookie of the Year, and part of the bronze medal winning team Canada squad at the Under 18s, it was a good rookie season for Konecny. He has excellent speed, and tremendous acceleration. He utilizes it both on the rush, and to be a cannonball on the forecheck. Add to this great vision and passing ability and Konecny is the type of player who can make his linemates better. He also has a strong wrist shot and a good release. Its not something he can control, but growing an extra inch or two this season could help him go higher in the draft.
7) Nicolas Roy, C/RW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, 63 GP 16 G 25 A 41 PTS, 6’3″ 168 lbs
Drafted first overall by Cape Breton, he was quickly traded to Chicoutimi when he announced that he would not report to any team outside the province of Quebec for schooling reasons. Put up decent numbers on a rebuilding Chicoutimi club. Has great height but really needs to add some muscle to his frame and that will be his task over the next year. Was fantastic with 9 points in 7 games for Team Quebec at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge. Roy has a very powerful stride, and excellent balance. He is already tough to knock off the puck, and good in board battles, and in the cycle game and this will only get better as he gets stronger. Has good passing skills and visions, he also goes to the net hard, and is willing to get to the dirty areas of the nice. A potential power forward in the making.
6) Colin White, C, US NTDP U17/U18, 55 GP 34 G 33 A 67 PTS, 6’0″ 179 lbs
Played a top line role for the U17 team at centre and was leading the squad in points before a late season callup to the Under 18 team where he played in a checking line wing spot. Was incredible at the U17 World Hockey Challenge with 10 goals and 18 points in just 6 games. He should be back with the U18 team this year and is expected to once again be the top line centre. Plays a great puck protection and cycle game, always keeping his feet moving and working down low. Is equally adept as a passer or as a shooter, and displays the ability to play in his own end as well. White is already a faceoff wizard as well.
5) Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestad (SHL), 32 GP 2 G 4 A 6 PTS, 6’0″ 181 lbs
Incredibly became a regular in the SHL, the top Men’s league in Sweden, at just 16 years old, and became the youngest player ever to score a goal in the league. Also played on Sweden’s U17 and U18 teams, and played for Farjestad in the AHL all-star game. Kylington is a strong skater who can rush the puck and get back into position defensively. He shows good passing skill and vision. Defensively his game relies on strong positioning, and a quick stick to take the puck off opponents and start the transition game.
4) Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle Thunderbirds, 59 GP 14 G 40 A 54 PTS; 5’11” 174 lbs
The first overall pick in the 2012 WHL Draft, Barzal showed why he was taken so high in his rookie season in the WHL, and helping Canada to a Bronze medal at the Under 18s. Barzal is an outstanding skater, with top notch speed, great acceleration and outstanding pivots and edge work. He also has incredibly soft hands, great stick handling, and incredible hockey sense and intelligence. These skills alone would make him a dynamic offensive threat, but when you add in his great shot and excellent vision and play-making ability he is the total package as an offensive player. He does need to use that shot more, and would score more goals if he was a little more selfish. He has shown the willingness to play in the dirty areas of the ice, and shows flashes of adding a power game to his offensive finesse and skill; and if he continues to grow and add that game, the sky is the limit for him both in the WHL and eventually the NHL.
3) Noah Hanifin, D, US-NTDP U17/U18; 59 GP 10 G 35 A 45 PTS; 6’2″ 201 lbs;
The best defenceman in the class, he spent most of the year with the US Under 17 team before being called up to the Under 18 team to finish out the season and play in the Under 18 World Championships where he helped the team to a gold medal. Hanifin is big, strong, and mobile. He is an excellent two way player, able to quarterback the power play with a hard shot, excellent vision, the ability to walk the line, and great passing skills; or to rush the puck with his good puck handling and skating skill. No slouch in his own end, he plays shut down defence, with excellent positioning, an active stick, and strong anticipation. When given the opportunity he can throw a hit with his big frame.
2) Jack Eichel, C, US-NTDP U18; 53 GP 38 G 49 A 87 PTS; 6’1″ 190 lbs
It was a dream season for Eichel. He played top line centre for the US NTDP and led them to a gold medal at the Under 18s. Along the way he also played at the World Juniors where he put up 5 points in what was a real coming out party for him, as the world began to take notice. Eichel is a late 96 birthday so he won’t be back with the US-NTDP and it remains to be seen if he will play for the Saint John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL or with Boston University in the NCAA. There were reports that Eichel would consider the CHL if he could jump to the OHL and go head-to-head with McDavid, but given CHL rules and the extreme difficulty to switch his rights between leagues (Eichel must be waived and not claimed by any QMJHL team before he could go to the OHL) this seems unlikely.
Eichel has a long and quick skating stride that gives him great speed, power, balance, and acceleration. He has the ability to blow by defenders whether it is walking out of the corner or taking them wide on the rush, once he gets a step on them, they are in trouble. Add to this top notch stickhandling, outstanding hockey sense, great vision and passing skill, and a hard wrist shot with a lightning quick release and you have a future top line centre in the NHL. While the US NTDP has produced numerous prospects in recent years, Eichel could be an NHL superstar, and the future top line centre that the Americans have lacked to pair with their top level wingers in the last two Olympics.
1) Connor McDavid, C, Erie Otters; 56 GP 28 G 71 A 99 PTS,; 6’0″, 185 lbs
Every so often a special player comes along and the NHL re-evaluates how they conduct the NHL Entry Draft. In the 1992 Draft Class it was Eric Lindros, and the NHL enacted a special rule to ensure that the expansion San Jose Sharks did not get the first overall pick (as most of their expansion cousins would), and instead were awarded the second overall, while the last place team (the Quebec Nordiques) would be allowed to draft Lindros. In 2005, following the NHL lockout, every team was put into a special one-time only lottery for the chance to draft Sidney Crosby. Now in 2015, we again see the NHL Board of Governors tinkering with the lottery rules, and the reason for that is Connor McDavid.
Quite simply at the age of 16/17 (which is what he was this season), McDavid is the best prospect I have seen since Sidney Crosby. Yes, better than Stamkos, better than Tavares, and better than MacKinnon all were at the same age. He is quite simply off the charts in terms of talent right now, and as much as I like Jack Eichel, the media hyping this into a two-horse race for first overall are way off. Don’t get me wrong, Eichel would be the sure fire first overall pick if taken in 2014, or in 2012… and would be neck and neck with MacKinnon in 2013, but he’s just not on McDavid’s level. This isn’t a slight against Eichel, just a look at how good this wonderkid is.
Lets start with looking at the offensive weapons here, and the kid has it all. Exceptional hands and stickhandling ability, he can dangle past a defender and does an excellent job of protecting the puck and maintaining possession. His hockey sense and decision making is already at an elite level. His decision making and vision are excellent, he reads the play very well and always seems to keep the puck moving in a smart and efficient manner. His passing is outstanding as the young centre has the ability to thread pucks through tight spaces and put passes tape to tape at high speeds. Connor McDavid also possesses an accurate shot, with a good release.
His ability to make all these plays at a high speed, and to never have to slow down his feet to control the puck is a huge asset. He has the ability to change gears quickly and effectively and this aids him in beating defenders. His top speed is good, but its the acceleration and the ability to vary his attacks, to slow the game down when necessary or to make the quick play that really sets him apart. The unpredictability can leave defenders flat footed as he quickly accelerates around them. Or he can look like he his going to beat his man wide and suddenly slow down, opening up space for a shot or quick play in front of the defender. His agility and edgework is also outstanding. He also has very good balance and is a lot stronger on his skates than most expect. As he continues to get bigger and stronger and add muscle to his frame he’s only going to get better, and he’s already extremely tough to knock off the puck. Expect a huge season from McDavid and the Otters, as they will definitely contend for the OHL title.
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