2015 NHL Draft: Eichel the best of a good NCAA crop

By DJ Powers
Jack Eichel - Boston University

Photo: Boston University forward and 2015 prospect Jack Eichel leads the nation in scoring but will step away from NCAA action to take part in the 2015 World Junior Championship with Team USA (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

2015 is shaping up to be the best draft year for the NCAA in nearly a decade. Among the current crop of collegians are three potential first round picks. Hockey Future takes a closer look at five of the NCAA’s top draft-eligible players (all freshmen), representing two of the six conferences. Hockey East has three players and the Big Ten has two. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of Dec. 18th.

Jack Eichel, C
Boston University (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 6’2”/194 lbs.
DOB: 10/28/96
Shoots: Right
ISS Hockey Top 30 ranking: 2nd

Jack Eichel came into college hockey as the most highly touted newcomer and he has certainly exceeded those expectations. The freshman phenom has been a driving force behind the Terriers’ resurgence this season. Eichel currently leads the nation in points (27), assists (19) and plus/minus (+21) playing in all 16 of Boston University’s games to date. He is the front-runner for both the Hockey East and National Rookie of the Year awards as well as an early candidate for the 2015 Hobey Baker Award.

The biggest question heading into the draft is whether it will be Eichel or Connor McDavid that will be taken first overall. Should Eichel go as the top pick, he would become the first current collegian to accomplish the feat since 2000 when former Boston University goaltender Rick DiPietro went first overall to the New York Islanders.

The North Chelmsford, MA native is simply the complete package. He has size and pro-level skills. But what sets Eichel apart from other collegians, freshmen or otherwise, is his extraordinary instincts. He thinks the game and anticipates exceptionally well. He can also make others around him better. One of Eichel’s greatest assets is his skating. His blend of speed, power and mobility makes him a difficult player to not only defend against but keep up with, as well.

The big question surrounding Eichel isn’t if he’ll play in the NHL, but when.

Noah Hanifin, D
Boston College (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 6’3”/205 lbs.
DOB: 1/25/97
Shoots: Left
ISS Hockey Top 30 ranking: 3rd

Noah Hanifin is the top-ranked defenseman for the 2015 NHL Draft and it’s not hard to see why. He is an excellent two-way defenseman with size. He possesses great vision and makes smart reads. One of Hanifin’s greatest attributes is his skating; his strides are very fluid and seem almost effortless. He also possesses great feet and moves well laterally.

Although Hanifin is noted for his superb offensive skills and poise with the puck, he is equally good defensively. He uses his large frame and reach effectively in stifling opposing players and taking away shooting lanes. And as he continues to get stronger, those attributes will become more pronounced.

To date, Hanifin has played in all of Boston College’s 17 games, posting seven points (two goals, five assists). He began the season as sophomore Steve Santini’s (NJD) defensive partner before being paired with sophomore Ian McCoshen (FLA).

If Hanifin is taken within the first four selections, as expected, he will become the highest drafted player in Boston College’s illustrious history.

Zach Werenski, D
University of Michigan (Big 10)
Ht./Wt: 6’2”/214 lbs.
DOB: 7/19/97
Shoots: Left
ISS Hockey Top 30 ranking: 5th

Another collegiate defenseman that is expected to go very high in the upcoming draft is Zach Werenski. He fast-tracked his schooling to play at Michigan this season and he hasn’t disappointed.

The Grosse Point, MI native currently leads the Wolverines’ defensemen in scoring with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in all 15 games to date. His 12 points also leads the nation among rookie defensemen.

Werenski is an offensive-minded defenseman blessed with terrific hands and mobility. He’s crafty with the puck and possesses great patience with it. Werenski can often be found jumping into plays and has the ability to lead the rush. He possesses an excellent shot and can get pucks to the net. Although Werenski doesn’t have blazing speed, he can get up the ice quickly.

Werenski plays a simple, effective defensive game. He uses his 6’2” frame quite well in one-on-one situations and in taking away space. Werenski’s most glaring weakness is his ability to play at a quicker pace, but that should come with maturity and experience.

A.J. Greer, LW
Boston University (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 6’3”/205 lbs.
DOB: 12/14/96
Shoots: Left

While most of the scouting focus with regard to Boston University has been on Jack Eichel, another Terrier being closely watched is winger A.J. Greer.

The Joliette, QC native had originally committed to Penn State before opting for Boston University. He has posted three points (one goal, two assists) in 15 games to date. Greer’s lone goal on the season came back on Oct. 10th versus UMass. He currently plays on the Terriers’ third line alongside junior Matt Lane and sophomore Nick Roberto.

Greer is a power forward who really excels in the grind game. He uses his size and remarkable strength exceedingly well in the corners and in driving to the net. Greer is an excellent skater with powerful strides and possesses some good speed. He’s also shown glimpses of being able to make plays without breaking stride. Greer possesses a very good shot and is strong on the puck.

With continued development and a great upside, Greer has the potential to be a dominant force in college hockey and beyond.

Cameron Hughes, C
University of Wisconsin (Big 10)
Ht./Wt: 6’0”/165 lbs.
DOB: 10/9/96
Shoots: Left

Cameron Hughes is the youngest member of Wisconsin’s large freshman class this season. Although he hasn’t garnered as much attention as other top draft-eligible collegians, Hughes is a player that’s well worth keeping an eye on.

The Edmonton, AB native has posted four assists in 12 games to date. Hughes centers the Badgers’ second line, most recently playing alongside senior Brad Navin (BUF) and sophomore Jedd Soleway (ARZ).

Hughes is a superb playmaking center who is really fun to watch. He is versatile in that he can also play wing effectively. What Hughes lacks in size, he makes up for with his speed and energy. He plays with a bit of an edge and doesn’t shy away from playing the body. He is an excellent skater with a good burst of speed. One of Hughes’ greatest attributes is his hands; he is creative with the puck and his passes are quite good. Hughes possesses outstanding vision and can make smart plays.

With further development and added size and strength, Hughes has the potential to be a top-flight center, not only at the collegiate level, but at the pro level as well.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF