I thought it was a bit unfair that some news outlets were already running stories on the 2015 draft class before the 2014s had even strolled up to the podium in Philadelphia, but now that NHL Central Scouting has released its watch list, it’s time to weigh in.
In terms of hype, 2015 is going to be a big year. If the prospects at the top develop on the path I expect them to, you’re looking at three or four franchise-changing talents, followed by some more excellent players after that. In terms of potential, it blows 2014 out of the water.
Right away you have two dominant centers in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. McDavid is the Erie Otters wunderkind who will be the face of Canada’s world junior team (where the medal round will be played in his home market of Toronto) and an easy pick to lead the Ontario League in scoring. Eichel is a slightly bigger pivot who will join the Boston University Terriers as a true freshman and be Team USA’s main pivot at the world juniors. He was one of the Americans’ best players last year.
Then come two excellent defensemen in Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington. Hanifin, like Eichel, played for the U.S. National Team Development Program and is expected to join Boston College in the fall, setting up an amazing Beanpot rivalry with Eichel. He’s big, poised and can do it all from the blueline. Another rearguard with star potential is Sweden’s Kylington (which is actually pronounced “Shee-lington” in Swedish). This kid can flat-out burn on skates. He has already played in the Swedish League and when his Farjestad club played against the American League all-stars, he won the fastest skater competition.
From there, you can look for Seattle’s Mathew Barzal, a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins type of playmaker, power forwards Pavel Zacha and Colin White, plus offensive defenseman Zach Werenski, among others.
Werenski is expected to commit to the University of Michigan, where he would end up teammates with the best United States League (non-NTDP category) prospect for 2015, Kyle Connor. The Youngstown Phantoms star is a gifted scorer with size who played for the U.S. at the under-18s and helped the squad win gold.
Over in Quebec, the ‘Q’ will rebound after a 2014 class that saw just one player – Denmark’s Nikolaj Ehlers – go in the first round. In fact, the first Quebec-raised product to go was Nicolas Aube-Kubel, selected 48th overall by Philadelphia. That will change this time, with Chicoutimi scorer Nicolas Roy being a potential top-10 pick. The ‘Q’ also has dazzling offensive talents Nathan Noel and Daniel Sprong, among others.
In the OHL, McDavid will likely be joined by teammate Dylan Strome in the top-10, while I would keep an eye out on defenseman Travis Dermott, as well. Size will be interesting to watch in the case of Ottawa’s Travis Konecny and London’s Mitch Marner. Both are smaller players, but pack a huge offensive wallop.
Out West, the ‘Dub’ boasts Barzal and teammate Ryan Gropp, plus skilled defenseman Ryan Pilon of the Brandon Wheat Kings. Two other big kids to look out for are Tri-City’s Brandon Carlo on defense and Portland’s Paul Bittner up front.
From the prep ranks, Montreal-born A.J. Greer is a name to remember. He played on a line at Kimball Union Academy this past season with Tyler Bird (Columbus) and J.D. Dudek (New Jersey) and has great size. Greer is expected to join Boston University for the upcoming season.
In Europe, Kylington and Zacha aren’t the only names to watch for. Finland boasts big winger Mikko Rantanen and the smaller but deftly skilled Aleksi Saarela. Russia offers up Kirill Pilipenko and his deadly shot on the wing. Rasmus Andersson of Sweden already played against men in the second-tier Allsvenskan this past season and had admirable numbers from the blueline. Another rearguard to watch is big Slovakian kid Erik Cernak, who played for his country at the world juniors as a 16-year-old.
These aren’t the only names that will catch your eye in 2014-15 but as you can see, there’s a lot to be excited about already.