Beyond Tomorrow: McDavid, Eichel head Class of 2015

By Chau Vo

Connor McDavid - Erie Otters

Photo: Erie Otters forward and 2015 prospect Connor McDavid finished fourth in OHL scoring during the 2013-14 regular season and 10th in the 2014 OHL playoffs (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

The 2014 NHL Draft prospects enjoyed a great weekend in Philadelphia late last month as they passed another milestone on their journey to the NHL. The Class of 2015 now gets its turn in the spotlight, and it is also time for Beyond Tomorrow to shift the focus to the 2016 prospects.

 

But before this feature shifts to the 2016 prospects, here is one last look at some of the top prospects for the 2015 draft.

 

The 2015 class is an exciting group, with NHL scouts salivating at the mouth to get their hands on a player who could become their team’s next franchise star. Many of the players eligible for the 2015 draft, born in late 1996 or 1997, have experienced plenty of success and heartbreak on their junior teams with some slated to go in the first or second round of the draft having already had extensive international experience.

 

The Best of the Best

 

The 2015 draft class features two standout players. Although one has been heralded as the first overall pick since his bantam year, the other has been making a strong case to challenge for that coveted spot. Both players have all of the tools needed to become the next NHL star.

 

Connor McDavid, C, Erie Otters (OHL)

 

“He looks like he’s got it all,” said Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby about Connor McDavid.

 

McDavid was the third player to be granted Exceptional Player status by the Ontario Hockey Federation. The status gave the Toronto native the opportunity to enter the 2012 OHL Priority Selection where he was selected first overall by the Erie Otters.

 

The 6’0”, 185-pound center earned the OHL’s top rookie award by scoring 66 points in 63 games in his first year of juniors. He followed that with 99 points in 56 games in the 2013-14 season. Big things are expected of McDavid in not only junior hockey but on the international stage for Team Canada, as well.

 

While few 17-year old’s can handle all of the media attention and the criticism that goes with it, McDavid has yet to let it get to his head; his humble attitude and professional demeanor are great intangibles to go with his elite hockey skills.

 

McDavid models his game after his idol, Crosby. He is a threat anytime he has the puck and his vision allows him to make highlight reel passes. He has quick hands and quick feet to help maneuver in and out of the high traffic areas.

 

All that remains to be seen of McDavid at this point is if he can add strength and size as well as increase his defensive awareness, but he is projected to make the immediate jump from juniors to the NHL as soon as he is drafted next June.

 

Jack Eichel, F, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

 

Jack Eichel could become the next big thing in American hockey. At the age of 17, he already has three international medals – a bronze at the 2013 World U17 Hockey Challenge, silver at the 2013 U18 World Championship, and gold at the 2014 U18 World Championship. He was also Team USA’s youngest member at the 2014 U20 WJC.

 

Eichel started playing junior hockey at the age of 14, first playing for the Boston Jr. Bruins, a Tier 3 team, for two years before making the jump to the USHL for the 2012-13 season. In Ann Arbor, Eichel played for the U.S. NTDP squad that competed in the USHL, the top tier junior league in America. His first season in Ann Arbor, he scored 27 points in 35 games and quickly gained the trust of the coaching staff to play tough minutes and in key situations. The next season, he improved to 45 points in 24 games.

 

Prior to joining the U.S. NTDP, Eichel made the commitment to join Boston University in the Fall of 2014.

 

The 87 points Eichel put up in 2013-14 for the U18 squad is the fourth-best in the history of the team behind Andy Hilbert and current NHL stars Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel. A noted difference from when Kane and Kessel played compared to Eichel’s season with the program is that Kane and Kessel put up their points competing against teams in the NAHL, a Tier 2 league, while Eichel’s point total included games against tougher competition in the USHL.

 

What makes Eichel a standout prospect is his speed and world class shot as well as his patience with the puck. His vision and hockey IQ allows him to see plays before they happen and very rarely will he make the wrong play in the offensive zone, a trait junior coaches covet.

 

When the 2015 draft comes, Eichel will have already played a full season of college hockey in the tough Hockey East conference. His success or failures will quickly determine his draft ranking, but all signs point to Eichel giving McDavid some competition for that number one overall spot.

 

The Rest of the Top 10

 

In what could be the deepest NHL Draft since 2003, these eight are the remaining players that could round out the top 10 of the draft. With another full hockey season to go, some of these players could drop out of the group with others stepping up to take their place, but hockey fans would be wise to know these names as they are fairly certain to go in the first round.

 

Kyle Connor, F, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)

 

Kyle Connor grew up playing minor hockey in Michigan before moving to Ohio to play for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. Once his junior career is over, Connor will move back to Michigan and play for the storied University of Michigan hockey program.

 

At just 15 years of age, Connor had already committed to being a Wolverine having cheered for the school since he was a child. When offered a scholarship, it was hard for Connor to say no.

 

Connor was a top-10 talent in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection but fell to the 14th round due to his commitment to the University of Michigan. In order to maintain his college eligibility, he had to forgo the spotlight of playing major junior in Canada. Instead, he accepted an offer from the Phantoms in 2012 and joined them for their 2012-13 season.

 

In his first season of juniors, Connor scored 41 points in 62 games. His sophomore season saw him jump in the scoring race where he scored 74 points in 56 games, good for second overall in the entire league.

 

In addition to his junior success, Connor has also made a name for himself internationally. Very recently, he helped Team USA capture the gold at the 2014 U18 World Championship.

 

Dylan Strome, F, Erie Otters (OHL)

 

Dylan Strome plays a quiet but effective game for the Erie Otters. His teammate, Connor McDavid, might be getting all of the attention in the small, Pennsylvania city, but Strome’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. His vision and hockey IQ ranks at the top of the draft class and, combined with his Toronto Marlboros affiliation, has many calling him the “poor man’s John Tavares.”

 

In his last year of Midget AAA, Strome had 143 points in 60 games for the Marlboros. The following year, his first with the Otters, he scored 39 points in 60 games and nine points in 14 playoff games. Strome is poised for a breakout season next year, especially if he can get more special teams playing time.

 

Mitch Marner, C, London Knights (OHL)

 

There was a lot of doubt whether Mitch Marner could overcome his small stature and contribute in the OHL but Marner quickly put all doubts to rest in his first season for the London Knights. With 59 points in 64 games he quickly climbed the draft charts just as fast as he grew in size. Prior to his OHL draft year, Marner was only 5’7” and 135 pounds but he quickly grew an additional three inches in height and over 30 pounds of weight over the course of the season.

 

Marner is a premier playmaker who sometimes is criticized for making passing plays when he should have instead used his shot. He is an offensive threat whenever he is on the ice but that does not come at the expense of his defensive game. He is known as a responsible player at both ends of the ice. The former Don Mills Flyer will have a lot of years to continue to further improve his size and strength, but there will be a lot of teams who could use an infusion of elite offensive talent like Marner in their prospect pool.

 

Noah Hanifin, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

 

Noah Hanifin is another great American prospect to watch in this draft. The 6’2”, 200-pound defenseman could be one of the first defensemen picked because of his can’t-miss combination of size and skills. Currently, he plays a high-risk/high-reward game that can be reined in with time and proper coaching.

 

Hanifin spent three years with St Sebastian’s School in Needham, MA before moving to Ann Arbor to play for the U.S. NTDP in the USHL. There, he established himself as a two-way defenseman and a power play threat.

 

Hanifin will play another year of juniors before attending Boston College in the Fall of 2015.

 

Travis Konecny, C, Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

 

The Ottawa 67’s made Travis Konecny the first overall pick in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection and for good reason. Konecny brings a mix of high-end offensive talent with an unrivaled level of competitiveness, a deadly combination that is envied by many coaches.

 

Konecny made an immediate contribution to the 67’s, scoring a team-leading 70 points in 63 games. His play caught the attention of Dynamo Riga in the KHL and they used their first round selection on him in the 2014 KHL Draft. While it is unlikely Konecny will travel to Russia to play hockey in the near future, Riga’s use of their first round pick on Konecny shows just how rare of a talent he is.

 

Colin White, F, Noble & Greenough School (HS-MA)

 

Colin White’s climb to the top of the draft board is another ode to the great talent the U.S. NTDP has been pumping out of its hockey factory in Ann Arbor. The 6’0”, 180-pound forward enjoyed an impressive first year for the program, scoring 28 points in 35 USHL games and 64 points in 47 games for the U17 team.

 

White is committed to attend Boston College in the Fall of 2016. He is also property of the Quebec Remparts after being selected 148th overall in the 2014 QMJHL Entry Draft.

 

Mikko Rantanen, C, TPS Turku (Liiga)

 

Mikko Rantanen is the top Finnish prospect in the 2015 draft and could be one of the first Europeans chosen. He is 6’4” and will be over 200 pounds by the time his name is announced. He played in 37 games for the top TPS club in Liiga as a 17-year-old where he put up nine points against much older competition, some as old as twice his age.

 

While his size is a tremendous asset, Rantanen enjoyed a growth spurt at the expense of his skating. He will need to work on his skating if he wishes to find success in the NHL one day, but once he combines that with his elite offensive talents he will be an unstoppable player with top-six upside.

 

Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestads BK (SHL)

 

Stockholm native Oliver Kylington was a boy amongst men this year in the SHL, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he played. The two-way defenseman played 32 games for Farjestads’ SHL team and contributed six points while playing sheltered minutes.

 

Kylington already possesses high level skating abilities to go with good offensive instincts but will need to ramp up his physicality if he wants to make the transition to North America.

 

At the age of 16, he was the youngest player to ever suit up for the top Farjestads club and in his first game scored a goal to become the youngest player to score a SHL goal.

 

Follow Chau Vo on Twitter via @chowdersoop