With the 2015 NHL Draft just days away, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek breaks down where he thinks each player will go in the first round.
1. Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid, C, Erie Otters (OHL): Some say it’s not fair that Edmonton gets rewarded with another first overall pick. Others maintain that even with three of them on the roster (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov), the team has still been unlucky, missing out on franchise-changing players the likes of Steven Stamkos and John Tavares.
Well, now they get their franchise changer.
The only question the Oilers ask of McDavid is: “How quickly until he has a significant impact?” This pick allows the Oilers to focus on the two other areas of major concern going into the draft: goaltending and defence. The pick also may end up putting a player like Leon Draisaitl in play. If they hold on to their second first round pick they’ll almost certainly take a blueliner, or they could shock us all and take Russian netminder Ilya Samsonov — that is if he’s still available. Connor McDavid is not the last piece of the puzzle in Edmonton, but he’s certainly the biggest.
2. Buffalo Sabres Jack Eichel, C, Boston University (NCAA): One of the best ‘consolation’ prizes ever at the draft. Tim Murray said he was disappointed the Sabres didn’t win the draft lottery but this player will quickly dry the GM’s tears.
Buffalo has spent the last three drafts building the foundation of this team with blueliners like Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Jake McCabe; and forwards like Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart and Mikhail Grigorenko. Other prospects like Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux were used as trade pieces so the Sabres could acquire Evander Kane from Winnipeg.
Like McDavid, the Eichel selection doesn’t start or finish the team’s rebuild — but does push it forward quicker.
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3. Arizona Coyotes Dylan Strome, C, Erie Otters (OHL): Arizona needs help at every position, but they also know that if they have any chance of winning in the Western Conference, they can’t turn down a shot at a 6-foot-3 centre who can put up points. That’s where the Coyotes are at. They’d love to draft a stud blueliner like Noah Hanifin or Ivan Provorov to compliment Oliver Ekman-Larsson and help an undernourished back end but, Strome is too good and plays too crucial a position to pass up. With prospects like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair pushing for full time spots, Strome completes a line with the two former World Junior Championships standouts.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College (NCAA): The Leafs can’t pass up the huge, skilled defenceman who will eat big minutes and play in all situations. A Mike Babcock team works best with a solid blueline, and between Hanifin and Morgan Reilly the Leafs set up their backend for the next 10 seasons.
5. Carolina Hurricanes Mitch Marner, C, London Knights (OHL): While many question his size, none question the skillset. He has scored at every level he’s played.
6. New Jersey Devils Pavel Zacha, C, Sarnia (OHL): Someone will jump up and grab Zacha ahead of where many rank him, and considering the Devils’ success with Czech players, don’t be surprised if it’s them. Injuries and suspensions cost him plenty of games last season but he has an edge that goes along with a great skillset that is too tough to pass up. Don’t put a lot of stock in his points – he played on a line with rookie Jordan Kyrou (who is going to be a serious player one day) and highly inconsistent and frustrating Nikita Korostelev.
7. Philadelphia Flyers Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): A truly gifted player who does it all for the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Flyers’ blueline will be set for the next 10 years with Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): The Blue Jackets have spent the last two drafts loading up on skill at the forward position (Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, Marko Dano, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano) and now they go for size and grab the top-ranked power forward in the draft. Crouse could step in and play next season in the NHL.
9. San Jose Sharks Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL): Barzal dominated at the U18s and will carry that momentum into the draft where the Sharks make him a top 10 pick. Fought through a three month layoff with a knee injury, then came back and didn’t miss a beat.
10. Colorado Avalanche Zack Werenski, D, Michigan (NCAA): There was some concern that he may not get the minutes as a freshman at Michigan, but Red Berenson used him a ton and was rewarded with high-end play. Colorado is not deep on the blueline, and Werenski addresses that need.
11. Florida Panthers Timo Meier, LW, Halifax (QMJHL): Was a standout with the Halifax Mooseheads playing with Jets prospect Nikolaj Ehlers. The Panthers love this guy and are thrilled that he’s still there when they select. He’ll be ticketed to play with Aleksander Barkov.
12. Dallas Stars Mikko Rantanen, RW, TPS (Finland): The Stars went to a Finn last year in the first round and will do the same this year. Rantanen had turned in great performances on his world junior and Finnish League teams even though those squads underperformed. Played against men last season in Finland.
13. Los Angeles Kings Kyle Connor, LW, Youngstown (USHL): Had a great season playing with Youngstown of the USHL putting up 80 points in 56 games. This kid has speed to burn and his hands keep up with his feet.
14. Boston Bruins Colin White, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL): The closest player to Patrice Bergeron in the draft goes, appropriately, to the Bruins.
15. Calgary Flames Nick Merkley, RW, Kelowna (WHL): Merkley has one of the rarest skillsets in the draft – a playmaking winger. The Flames love the way Merkley moves on the ice and his pass-first mentality fits in with the young finishers this team has.
16. Edmonton Oilers (from Pittsburgh) Thomas Chabot, D, Saint John (QMJHL): Not exactly a secret where the Oilers need help, both now and in the future: the blueline. And to that end, they look to the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL and grab one of their many top-level defencemen. However, I’d be shocked if Edmonton doesn’t move this pick.
17. Winnipeg Jets Evgeny Svechnikov, RW, Cape Breton (QMJHL): Winnipeg grabs the Russian sniper who’s also a gifted skater. Terrifying one-on-one and can play centre in a pinch. Really came on strong as the season progressed. He was at times a one-man show in Cape Breton.
18. Ottawa Senators Travis Konecny, RW, Ottawa (OHL): Played on a line with Connor McDavid and Timo Meier at the CHL Top Prospects game, lit it up scoring two goals and was a force for the Ottawa 67s for the rest of the season. Not the biggest player out there, but there’s no denying his drive.
19. Detroit Red Wings Joel Eriksson Ek, C, Karlstad (Sweden): Detroit loves complete hockey players and this Swedish centreman has a strong grasp of play away from the puck. Not the most well known name in the draft but someone’s coming away with a steal — might as well be the Wings. That’s kinda what they do.
20. Minnesota Wild Ilya Samsonov, G Magnitogorsk 2 (Russian junior): With a dearth of goaltenders in the pipeline, what used to be a position of strength for the Wild has now come into question. GM Chuck Fletcher tries to remedy that by taking the best goalie available in the draft.
21. Buffalo Sabres (from NY Islanders) Jansen Harkins, C, Prince George (WHL):He’s the main reason why the Prince George Cougars made the playoffs in the WHL this season. Harkins is a second-generation skater (father Todd is an ex-NHLer) who plays a number of roles. Expect him to be a defensive specialist at the pro level.
22. Washington Capitals Jeremy Roy, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL): The Caps look to the back end and grab the steady two-way defenceman from the Sherbrooke Phoenix. He adds another right-hand shot D-man to go with fellow Capitals blueline prospect Madison Bowey.
23. Vancouver Canucks Jakub Zboril, D, Saint John (QMJHL): Vancouver hasn’t drafted a defenceman in the first round since the late Luc Bourdon in 2005, but expect that to change this year. It’s not exactly a secret the Canucks need help on the backend, and after using last year’s draft to take two forwards in the first round (Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann), Jim Benning uses the first round to snag some help on defence. Zboril is a safe, steady defenceman coming out of the blueline factory that is the Saint John Sea Dogs.
24. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Nashville) Jake DeBrusk, LW, Swift Current (WHL): The Leafs’ plan was to come out of the first round with a forward and a defenceman. With their second pick in the first round, Toronto goes for the second-generation player who skates at all three forward positions and knows how to find the back of the net (42 goals in the WHL last season). Played wing last year, will probably move to centre this year in Swift Current, but is probably best suited as a left-hand shot playing the right side.
25. Winnipeg Jets (From Buffalo, from St. Louis) Noah Juulsen, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL): Juulsen is a fantastic skater with a real heavy shot from the point. Winnipeg is looking for a mobile blueliner, and Juulsen addresses that need.
26. Montreal Canadiens Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown (QMJHL): With the Habs searching up and down the lineup and prospect pipeline for goals, they go for the young man whose main interest is scoring goals. Not much for the defensive side of the puck, Sprong has a shoot-first mentality and is hard to handle one-on-one. Has one of the best releases in the draft. Montreal needs that.
27. Anaheim Ducks Paul Bittner, LW, Portland (WHL): Bittner, who played on a Portland Winterhawks team loaded with talent up front, is the second highest-ranked power forward in the draft. He was able to hang with big dogs Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand. The Ducks like size — last year they took hulking Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds power forward Nick Ritchie in the first round, and this year the Minnesota native.
28. Tampa Bay Lightning (from NY Rangers) Denis Guryanov, LW/RW, Lada Togliatti (KHL/MHL): Tampa has had great success uncovering gems in later rounds, but this time they do it in the first and take the 6-foot-2 Russian winger with the uncanny ability to score goals. With Quebec Remparts power forward Adam Erne poised to turn pro next season, Guryanov gives Tampa more high-end scoring depth on the right side.
29. Philadelphia Flyers (from Tampa Bay) Brock Boeser, RW, Waterloo (USHL): The Flyers pick up the hardworking winger who put up big points in the USHL.
30. Arizona Coyotes (from Chicago) Brandon Carlo, D, Tri-City (WHL): Had a great world junior tournament. After taking a forward at pick no. 3, the Coyotes look to the WHL for help on their backend. Carlo is such a strong player in his own end and, at 6-foot-5, is an imposing figure out there. There’s not a lot of offence to his game but he still has time in junior to develop that.