Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Stars. Over the next few days we will be previewing the 2014 NHL Draft by ranking our top 30 prospects and honourable mentions. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
With the CHL season a good 6 weeks old, a month or so of NCAA hockey, plenty of games for the USNTDP and the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the books since we last updated our draft rankings, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the draft are doing this year. That said, myself and the rest of the LWOS staff haven’t seen everyone yet… its quite simply not possible at this point in the season, so if there is someone you feel is an obvious name that has been left out, we’ll do our best to get a look before our final ranks come out in April, May, and June. At this point the group we haven’t seen a lot of are those European prospects who for whatever reason haven’t had much exposure on the international stage. With the Four Nations, Subway Series, World Juniors, Five Nations, and the Under 18 all to come later in the year, we should get a better look at most. For now, this is what we have, we hope you enjoy the early preview.
2015 NHL Draft November Rankings Top 10
1) Connor McDavid, Centre, Erie Otters (6’1″ 190 lbs): McDavid has been hyped as one of the best up and coming young hockey players for several years now. There have even been some who have said he’s been overhyped. Well, given his performance so far this season, that quite simply isn’t true, if anything he’s been underhyped. In his first 14 games of the OHL season McDavid has had seven games with four points or more. Overall he has 42 points, an average of three per game.
Quite simply at the age of 17, 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, this is not the two-horse race that many are trying to make it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, Eichel would fight to be the first overall pick if taken in any of the last five NHL drafts, but this year, its McDavid a clear #1, Eichel a clear #2, and then everyone else.
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. McDavid’s 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. He added some strength to his frame this off-season and has become extremely hard to knock off the puck. He is a generational talent.
2) Jack Eichel, Centre, Boston University Terriers (6’1″ 190 lbs): Jack Eichel has started strong with 9 points in his first 5 games for the Boston University Terriers. He is adjusting well to the NCAA game, and is cementing his spot at second overall. Its rare to see draft eligible players in the NCAA because most are finishing their last year of high school. However as a late-96 birthday, Eichel is one of the few who was able to start prior to being draft eligible. I really like Eichel, and he can be a franchise level talent. There really is no shame in being the second best player in this draft, and Eichel has what it takes to be an NHL star.
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 elite 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.
3) Noah Hanifin, Defence, Boston College Eagles (6’2″ 205 lbs): Whereas Eichel as a late-96 birthdate is a freshman in college due to that birthdate, Hanifin has started Boston College a year early by accelerating his education this past summer, and is the youngest player in college hockey. With 3 points in 6 games to start the year, he’s showing that he was ready to leave the US NTDP and take the leap.
The best defenceman in this draft, 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.
4) Oliver Kylington, Defence, Farjestad (6’0″ 181 lbs): Kylington is a super Swede who will challenge Hanifin to be the best defenceman in the draft over the next several months. Playing for Farjestad in the SHL, the highest level of Swedish hockey, this 17-year-old has put up 5 points in 17 games this year. These would be good numbers for a 17-year-old forward in that league, so for a defenceman they are exceptional. Even more inredible is the fact that he was a regular with Farjestad down the stretch last season, at just 16 years old.
An outstanding two-way defenceman, Kylington is a strong skater who can rush the puck and get back into position defensively. He has an excellent stride, which gives him great speed and acceleration in both directions. Excellent agility, edge work, and pivots give him the mobility to cover all areas of the ice. Kylington shows good passing skills and excellent vision. Defensively his game relies on strong positioning, and a quick stick to take the puck off opponents and start the transition game.
5) Dylan Strome, Centre, Erie Otters (6’3, 187 lbs): Dylan Strome is used to being in the shadows. First he was in the shadow of older brother Ryan Strome, a fifth overall pick of the New York Islanders in 2011 who is now making an impact in the NHL. Now, it is in the shadow of McDavid. Strome though is showing that he has talent too and has put up 12 goals and 33 points in 14 games. In the summer, he scored 5 goals and 6 points in 5 games for Team Canada in the Ivan Hlinka, helping Team Canada to another gold medal at the event.
A versatile forward, Strome spent some time at all three forward spots over the last two seasons. He gives the Otters the versatility to load up a top line with McDavid when they really need a goal or on a powerplay, or to be a 1-2 punch down the middle to provide a second strong scoring line. Strome has an outstanding wrist shot, and a great release. He also has good hands and can be a real sniper. Strome has the ability to be a playmaker with great vision and passing skills. He has good size and uses it to protect the puck, and is very good on the cycle. He has high-end hockey IQ, and seems to make the right play with the puck, or can find openings in the defense. Strome shows a smooth skating stride, and good top end speed, but his acceleration could use some improvement. Stome’s defensive game is also good for his age.
6) Pavel Zacha, Centre, Sarnia Sting (6’3 203 lbs): The first overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, the Sting convinced the Czech star to join the team in Sarnia. Zacha has been a star at the international level playing in the Under 18s two years in a row, as well in the Ivan Hlinka. He also played at the 2014 World Juniors. Zacha has the skills to be a power forward at the NHL level. He is a good skater with a powerful stride that can help him to drive the net and has the soft hands to finish in close. His wrist shot has great power and a hair trigger release. His vision and passing skill is also decent, but Zacha is very much a shoot first kind of player. He has 6 goals and 12 points in 13 games for the Sting this season.
7) Mathew Barzal, Centre, Seattle Thunderbirds (6’0″ 181 lbs): With 7 goals in 17 games, Barzal is following up on nice performance in the Ivan Hlinka tournament (7 points in 5 games, gold medal), with a strong start to the WHL season. The first overall pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam draft, 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 after adding some weight this off-season.If he continues to grow and add that game, the sky is the limit for him both in the WHL and eventually the NHL.
8) Mitchell Marner, Forward, London Knights (5’11” 164 lbs): Following back to back hat-tricks on the weekend, Marner now has 10 goals and 22 points in 16 games for the Knights this season. He is yet another member of the strong Canadian team that dominated at the Ivan Hlinka. Marner had 7 points in the 5 game tournament. 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 make Marner a potential top 10 pick in the 2015 NHL draft.
9) Yevgeni Svechnikov, Right Wing, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (6’3″ 205 lbs): Svechnikov is a late-96 birthday who had an excellent tournament for Russia at this spring’s under 18s. He was also part of Russia’s 2013 Silver medal winning U17 squad, and the silver medal winning team at the 2013 World Junior “A” Championships. In his first season in North America, Svechnikov is opening eyes with his offensive ability, putting up 10 goals and 24 points in 18 games so far. He has good size at 6’3″ and an outstanding wrist shot and release. He is a strong skater, who loves to drive the net and can finish in close when he gets there. He has the speed to take a defender wide and the power to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. Svechnikov also has excellent vision and passing ability. He could fall below this due to the Russian factor, but basing purely on skill Svechnikov is a top 10 pick.
10) Lawson Crouse, Left Wing, Kingston Frontenacs (6’4″ 212 lbs): Was part of Team Canada’s Ivan Hlinka winning squad this summer leading the team with 6 goals in 5 games. He has followed that up with a strong start in Kingston putting up 7 goals and 10 points in 14 games to start the year. At 6’4″ and 212 pounds Crouse is a budding power forward. He has a powerful skating stride, but could work on his first step and acceleration. That good power allows him to fight through checks and get to the net. He loves to get in the forecheck, and finishes his hits along the boards. He is very good in protecting the puck in the cycle and has the soft hands to bang in goals from the front of the net. Lawson Crouse is also a good penalty killer, and defensive player. Is taking on a bigger role with the Frontenacs this season and seems to be thriving.
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