Ryan Kennedy’s 2015 NHL draft rankings

Ryan Kennedy
Erie center Connor McDavid (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The excitement is palpable. Even before the 2014 draft had taken place, folks were already talking about 2015, when phenom centers Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel would be eligible for selection. But it goes far beyond those two pivots – there is also Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington on the back end to consider, plus a host of skilled forwards and burly power forwards. Here’s my initial take on the top 30 picks for 2015:

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Is Aaron Ekblad the next Nicklas Lidstrom?

Ken Campbell
Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Funny how Aaron Ekblad looks neither particularly dangerous nor lonely the afternoon before the 2014 draft. He’s sitting in his designated spot at the National Constitution Center, wearing an NHL-issued golf shirt, khakis and casual footwear (no socks), swatting aside questions with the same ease he does 16-year-old lightweights in the Ontario League. His hair has a blond streak and he’s well tanned, the result of having a little downtime after the season to spend on his family’s new Sea-Doo 21-foot Challenger boat on Lake St. Clair near Windsor. There’s a certain irony that Ekblad, the day before he’ll be consigned to an NHL team over which he has absolutely no choice, is doing this in the same city where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed.

Ekblad’s emancipation from junior hockey, though, is almost complete. He’ll soon be a part of the Barrie Colts alumni. At 6-foot-4 with a cannon from the blueline, NHL hockey sense and the makeup to log big-time minutes, he’ll be playing in the best league in the world this coming season. On this afternoon, the only question is where. The Florida Panthers are dangling the first-overall pick and they’re getting some action, particularly from the Flyers, who want to make a splash in front of their fans. They also want the player who’s the most NHL-ready among all the prospects. “He’s a man,” says Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who stays up all night stewing over trade offers before deciding to take Ekblad. “He’s 18 going on 30.”
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Scouting reports from Traverse City, part two

Dallas pick Julius Honka (LUDVIG THUNMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The championship game of the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan pitted Columbus against Dallas, with the Blue Jacket kids skating off to victory on an overtime goal scored by Josh Anderson during 3-on-3 play. Here’s part two of my filing on how the big games did, this time concentrating on Columbus, Dallas, Carolina and Detroit. I am not including Anthony Mantha of the Red Wings since he missed the last game with knee soreness and I only saw part of his prior game.

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St. Louis Blues pick Robby Fabbri defies his size

Ryan Kennedy
Guelph center Robby Fabbri (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

I’m eavesdropping on a couple of scouts here in Traverse City. The Columbus and St. Louis prospects are facing off and early on, Robby Fabbri is doing some nice things on a line with Ty Rattie and Yannick Veilleux for the Blues.

“Look at Fabbri,” said one scout to the other. “He knows where he’s going to pass it before the puck is even on his stick.”

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Traverse City: Carolina goes big with Haydn Fleury

Ryan Kennedy
Carolina pick Haydn Fleury (Photo by Ken Andersen/NHLPA via Getty Images)

The Carolina Hurricanes tend to go with forwards early in the draft and even when they did take a blueliner with their first selection in 2011, it was Ryan Murphy, the offensively inclined D-man. But when the seventh pick rolled around in 2014, the Canes tabbed 6-foot-3, 203-pound Haydn Fleury and they’re pretty happy with that selection.

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The best Russian goalie prospect in years is finally here

Ryan Kennedy
Tampa Bay's Andrey Vasilevskiy (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Once a team drafts a hot name in the prospect world, it only stands to reason that fans would want to see that player as soon as possible, even if it’s not with the NHL club right away. For Tampa Bay Lightning boosters, the wait was a little longer with netminder Andrey Vasilevskiy, but he’s finally here.

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Quebec League preview: Who will rule in 2014-15

Ryan Kennedy
Quebec's Anthony Duclair  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The Quebec League is the first of the CHL’s three circuits to enter regular season play and festivities officially kick off on Wednesday when Rouyn-Noranda visits the defending champions from Val-d’Or. But there is always a lot of turnover in junior and the Foreurs would be a big surprise to repeat. Who will represent the ‘Q’ at the Memorial Cup this year? One team will be the host Quebec Remparts, but another slot is up for grabs. I consulted with a crew of experts from the region to put together power rankings for the league, then added one name to know for each team:

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Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are great, but don’t sleep on Noah Hanifin

Ryan Kennedy
Noah Hanifin is heading to Boston College (Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey)

You’ve heard of top 2015 draft prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel already and while there’s little doubt those two phenomenal centers will be the first names called at the podium in Florida next summer, the prizes for poor teams don’t end there. The 2015 draft is looking incredibly stacked and the next name that needs to be stamped in your memory is defenseman Noah Hanifin.

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