by Jordan Lambe, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine NHL_2015Draft_PrimaryMarkEnglish BAIE VERTE, NL — As many hockey followers know, the NHL draft is the most important part of building a winning team. Whether it be through drafting in the top five for a number of years in a row (a la the Pittsburgh Penguins), or through finding late round gems (a la the Detroit Red Wings), finding players who lead their team to success is not an easy task.

NHL teams have a number of scouts employed to help draft a player that will help their team in the future, and as we all know, this doesn’t always work out. This is where my interest is sparked, not only is it hard to predict which player a team will pick in the draft, it is much harder to predict an 18 year old’s (or older in some cases) career path. The 2015 NHL draft has been termed “The McDavid Draft” and many refer to it as the best since 2003.

(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The 2003 NHL draft was one of the best all time and included many household names, such as: Dustin Byfuglien, Joe Pavelski, David Backes, Shea Weber, Patrice Bergeron, Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Brent Burns, and Zach Parise. With names like these, the 2015 NHL draft has very large shoes to fill to be considered in the same class as the 2003 NHL draft.

As for “The McDavid Draft” part, I am guilty of following the norm and thinking that Connor McDavid will become a legend in the NHL and dominate for years to come. He completely dominated the OHL this year, in a way that hasn’t been done in a long time, averaging 2.55 points per game. McDavid finished the year nine points behind teammate Dylan Strome for the OHL point lead, while playing 21 less games! As good as McDavid has been, it would be inconsiderate of me to write an article about the 2015 NHL draft and not include a piece about Jack Eichel. The reining Hobey Baker Award (Top Collegiate Player in the NCAA), would be a slam dunk for first overall had McDavid not been included in this draft. While playing against players up to four years older than him, Eichel made NCAA opponents look like Novice house league teams. Although many believed his performance at the World Juniors this year left something to be desired, these people fail to see that he was the face of that USA team and carried them on his shoulders, as an 18 year old!

(Jack Eichel by Brian Babineau, Connor McDavid by Adam D’Oliveira)

McDavid or Eichel may well become “The Next Crosby”, but there is also a chance, albeit low, that another player taken outside of the top two will outperform these two “can’t miss” prospects. For example, looking at the 2008 NHL draft, in which the players are now 25 years old, we can gather a better picture of where the various pick stand compared to their peers. Stamkos, Doughty and Pietrangelo (all taken in the first five spots of the 2008 draft), would remain top 5 picks if the draft was redone today. Outside of the these picks, the rest of the draft would look VERY different. Jeff Spurgeon, drafted in the 6th round, has a firm handle on a top four position on the Wild defense corp. Gustav Nyqvist was a late pick in the fourth round and is now a huge part of the young offense in Detroit. Canadien Dale Weise, aka Dutch Gretzky, was also taken in the 4th round. Derek Stepan, Roman Josi and T. J. Brodie all had break-out seasons this year and none of them were even taken in the first round. This further reinforces my point that nothing is guarantee at the NHL draft, and for me, the unknown is the most intriguing.

I have been making my own Mock Drafts since 2009, but this is the first time that I have posted my opinions online. Below I will outline which player I think will be drafted at each slot, a small analysis of my reasoning, and I will include my pick for the “steal of the draft” (which has included Quinton Howden, Boone Jenner, Andreas Athansiou, Kerby Rychel and Ivan Barbashev in the past).

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Edmonton Oilers – Connor McDavid

Speed, hands, hockey sense, shot and passing; there isn’t an element to McDavid’s game that is weak. As outlined above, this is the chance for the Oilers to finally break out of their lottery winning ways. With a team that already boasts the offense of Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Schultz, Nurse and Yakupov; McDavid  has a  better chance than anyone else in the 2015 NHL Draft put up huge numbers in his first season (I’m predicting 70+ points).

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Buffalo Sabres – Jack Eichel

Eichel has yet to make the decision to turn pro, but the Sabres will not let this deter them from taking the first freshman Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner since Paul Kariya in 1992. While playing against current NHLers in the World Championship this year, the American showed that he will dominate whatever league he plays in next year.

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Arizona Coyotes – Dylan Strome

Although getting to see the Duclair-McDavid-Domi line again (this was Canada’s top line in the 2015 WJC), made almost any hockey fan drool, having reining OHL scoring champion as a substitute really does make the Coyotes prospect pool scary good. Strome may not make a huge immediate impact on this team, whose offense is as dry as the weather surrounding them, but he has some serious skills that will make him a force in the future.

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Toronto Maple Leafs – Mitch Marner

With Strome off the board, the Leafs will go with the best player available at this point. Marner is considered “small” in many scouts’ eyes, but he will have ample time to add to his 5-11, 161 pound frame. Toronto seems to be having a little more patience with their prospects recently, so I doubt that he plays in the NHL next year; which means that the London Knights will get one of the most potent offenses in the draft back again (not to mention he will likely play on the 2016 Canadian WJC team).

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Carolina Hurricanes – Noah Hanifin

Not many young 18-year old defensemen have the ability to jump into College hockey and almost immediately become one of the best players on the team. Hanifen also showed the world his offensive abilities and quick foot-speed at the 2015 WJC for the Americans (and will most likely display these qualities again at the 2016 WJC) . It may take a year or two before he plays in the NHL, but the sky is the limit for Hanifin.

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New Jersey Devils – Lawson Crouse

This big-bodied winger was a force for Kingston Frontenacs this season, scoring at a point per game, and continued to use his big frame for the Canadians at the WJC. In watching Crouse play, Milan Lucic with a tad more offense and less of a mean streak is my comparable. If Crouse lives up to his potential, the Devils will be quite happy with this selection (and Habs fans will be happy the Devils aren’t in their division).

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Philadelphia Flyers – Matthew Barzal

With a wealth of prospects on the blue line (including Morin, Gostisbehere, Sanheim, Alt and Hagg), the Flyers will take the best forward available in Barzal. Slightly undersized at 6-0 and 183 pounds, Barzal will get the opportunity to play another season in junior (as this one was cut short due to a knee injury) and further develop his great playmaking

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Columbus Blue Jackets – Ivan Provorov

Fun Fact: Provorov shares a birthday with another top ten pick this year, who you may have already heard about, Connor McDavid. This pick will be a straight “best player available” pick, and the Blue Jackets may end up with the eventual best defenseman in the 2015 draft. A rookie in the WHL this year, Provorov just straight dominated his opponents on offense, defense and physically.

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San Jose Sharks – Pavel Zacha

With their last three first round picks, the Sharks have selected a LW (Hertl in 2012), a defenseman (Mueller in 2013), and a RW (Goldobin in 2014). This year the Sharks complete the roster by drafting a big centerman in Zacha.

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Colorado Avalanche – Zach Werenski

Another draft eligible defenseman  leading his College team in Michigan this year. But, of the three defensemen already drafted, Werenski is over 6 months younger than the two of them. As much as the Avalanche could use him, they will most likely allow him to grow his game a little more with Michigan and the USA WJC team.

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Florida Panthers – Mikko Rantanen

After losing their top RW prospect in Zach Hyman, the Panthers are only glad that Rantanen dropped to them at number 11. With Jimmy Hayes, Nick Bjugstad, and Alex Barkov as forwards who are 6-3 and over 210 pounds, Rantanen will join what is soon to be a very formidable Panthers Forward corp.

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Dallas Stars – Timo Meier

The Stars get the QMJHL standout Timo Meier at number 12. Meier joins Ehlers, Drouin and Mackinnon as the fourth Halifax Moosehead alum to be drafted in the top half of the first round in the last three years. Meier has the size and skill to become one of the only prospects in Dallas’ prospect pool with game breaking ability.

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Los Angeles Kings – Kyle Connor

The Kings snag a player with great speed and skill in Kyle Connor. Connor is committed to play for his hometown collegiate team next year, the Michigan Wolverines. With the Kings suffering a hiccup in their playoff dominance this year, Connor will have the opportunity to help them gain back their rein 2-3 years down the road should he choose to turn pro.

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Boston Bruins – Nick Merkley

Merkley has an uncanny ability for finding the open man at the perfect time. 70 assists this past season in the WHL is evidence enough for this. With the vision and passing ability Merkley has, the Bruins shouldn’t have an issue overlooking the fact that he is slightly undersized at 5-10 and 187 pounds.

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Calgary Flames – Evgeny Svechnikov

Svechnikov is grossly underrated by a lot of draft pundits, his combination of size and skill is just appalling. The so-called “Russian Factor” has next to no impact on the draft this year as it is rumored that the KHL is not as financially stable as it once was, and is less enticing for young prospects.

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Edmonton Oilers – Colin White

The Oilers have already added possibly the best offensive player of the draft, so they choose to go with the safe two-way forward Colin White with their second, first round selection. White has been praised for his defensive play, which is something the Oilers could use after their disastrous defensive performance last season (or last six seasons if you want to get picky).

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Winnipeg Jets – Travis Konecny

Winnipeg has a young core that other teams can only dream of, and adding Konecny turns those dreams into nightmares for opposing teams. Although he may be undersized, his combines great skill, skating and shot along with a grittiness and determined play. He will most likely remain in the OHL for at least another year, as Winnipeg has no issues allowing their prospects to return to junior after drafting them.

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Ottawa Senators – Jansen Harkins

The Senators have had success at picking around the middle of the first round in recent history (minus 2014 when they didn’t have a first round pick), snagging Ceci and Lazar in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Harkins is a playmaking center who may eventually end up on the wing in the NHL, but this shouldn’t hinder his ability to find the open man.

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Detroit Red Wings – Oliver Kylington

I’ve seen Kylington play the AHL All-Stars in St. John’s last year and he was electrifying. Although he was sent down to the second tier Allsvenskan this year (and this hurt his draft stock), he has game breaking abilities. This is a high risk-high reward pick, and Kylington will have plenty of time to hone his skills because Detroit almost never bring up players the year after they are drafted.

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Minnesota Wild – Paul Bittner

The Wild will have a had time passing up on hometown boy Paul Bittner. Although he has been playing on a stacked Portland Winterhawks team, he was a first liner and contributed regularly to their offense. Next year will be a key year in his development as both of his high scoring linemates, Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, are graduating from the WHL.

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Buffalo Sabres – Thomas Chabot

The Sabres add the quick skating, offensive defenseman Chabot, to what is already one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. As with most defensemen drafted, expect him to return to junior this season, as it may take 2-3 years before he is ready for full-time NHL action.

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Washington Capitals – Jakub Zboril

While playing for the same team, and being a similar size to Thomas Chabot, Zboril is a much different player. Zboril is a hard hitting defenseman who also possesses an slight offensive side. He may not put up huge numbers in the NHL when he arrives, but you can expect him to throw his weight around and become a feared opponent.

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Vancouver Canucks – Brock Boesner

A North Dakota commit, Boesner dominated the USHL this past year. He already has a rocket of a shot and can play in both ends of the ice. Scouts are also very high on his work ethic and the fact that he protects the puck very well will also help him in his adjustment to college hockey next year.

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Toronto Maple Leafs – Brandon Carlo

Carlo may never become a top power-play producer, but he may become the player who stops the opposing team’s top power play producers. He is 6-5, and this has helped him develop into the defensive juggernaut that he has become. Being a right-handed shot makes him even more coveted.

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Winnipeg Jets – Jeremy Roy

The Jets snag the Quebec native one spot before the Canadiens have the chance. Roy is said to have great hockey vision and offensive skills. His strengths may be in the offensive zone, but that doesn’t mean that he is defensively irresponsible, as he also takes care of his own end. Being a right-handed shot also helped his stock rise.

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Montreal Canadiens – Jake Debrusk

Although Debrusk doesn’t have the size of Micheal McCarron, he isn’t small either (6-0 even and 176 pounds). With an average frame Debrusk makes up for it with his overall game. He scored 42 goals in the WHL this year and has also been praised by scouts for his defensive responsibilities. Many would have liked to draft the coveted “first line center”, that the Habs have been without for so long, but I don’t believe anyone available will become such a player. In the meantime, Debrusk is the best available at this position of the draft. He should be a shoe-in to play for the Canadian WJC team this year and further showcase his skillset.

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Anaheim Ducks –  Daniel Sprong

Sprong hails from Amsterdam and his family moved to Canada to pursue his hockey dream, so needless to say, he has pressure to succeed. Sprong has a massive amount of skill and speed and has scored over a point per game in his two season of the QMJHL. Although his defensive game is lacking, he already has an NHL level shot, and he could end up becoming a steal at this position in the draft.

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Tampa Bay Lightning – Denis Guryanov

With Tampa’s roster, no prospect will be rushed to the NHL (see Jonathan Drouin), so Guryanov will have lots of time to work on the defensive part of his game. He is very explosive on offense and is considered a pure goal scorer. This is a high risk pick, but if it works out, this could make the NHL GM of the year, look even better.

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Philadelphia Flyers – Ilya Samsonov

Having already drafted a center earlier this round, The Flyers draft who they hope will be their starting goalie in 4-5 years down the road. Samsonov garnered his first game in the KHL this year, though he predominately played in Russia’s junior league. He has been very good internationally for Russia this past year and is the top ranked goalie of the 2015 NHL draft. The Flyers grab him here due to the fact that he may not be around when they pick next at number 59.

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Arizona Coyotes – Joel Eriksson Ek

With pick number 32 coming up in the second round, and a number of high rolling undersized offensive defensemen available, the Coyotes pick centerman Eriksson Ek, and wait until the second round to choose their defenseman. Eriksson Ek is very responsible defensively and if his offensive game doesn’t develop as the Coyotes hope, he could make a great bottom six, penalty killing forward. His strength isn’t at the NHL level yet, but it could be 3-4 years before he becomes a regular on what could be a very good Coyotes team.

Steal of the Draft: Jeremy Bracco and Anthony Beauvillier

It was a difficult choice for my “steal of the draft”, so I decided to list both of my finalists. The offensive ability of both these players is tremendous but have dropped in the ranking for various reasons. Surely Bracco or Beauvillier won’t be available once the Hab’s 3rd round selection comes along, so chances are they may have to trade up to get a shot at either of these players.

Bracco was the shortest player as the draft combine at 5-9, and this was a huge deterrent for draft pundits such as myself. Bracco’s hands and speed rival those of anyone else in the 2015 draft (minus McDavid and Eichel) and had he been over 6 feet tall, he would be an easy top 10 pick.  Bracco is also a Boston College commit. The ultimate Boom-Bust pick of the draft.

Beauvillier is also considered a small forward, measuring only an inch taller than Bracco at 5-10, but his skills are also top notch. The french Canadian could be very intriguing to the Canadien’s front office, but this is a high risk-high reward pick and I think the Canadiens will go with a safer pick. Beauvillier ranked 8th in the QMJHL in points this past season, and top 10 in all offensive categories. He is an explosive player who has also been credited with great leadership skills.

 

Check out another great article about the 2015 NHL Draft right hereMichael Ham-Fan clearly outlines the Canadiens’ best options at their current position (26th overall).  Corey Desormeaux also outlines the options available for the Canadiens’ at the 26th position and goes into a brief history of the Canadiens’ draft over the last 10 years right here.