2015 NHL Draft Preview: Eichel leads bumper crop from the NCAA ranks

By DJ Powers
Jack Eichel, A.J. Greer, and Brien Diffley - Boston University

Photo: Boston University players Jack Eichel (L), A.J. Greer (C), and Brien Diffley (L) could make it a hat trick of selections for the Terriers at the 2015 NHL Draft (all courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

Following a draft that saw no players chosen directly out of an NCAA program in the first round, the 2015 NHL Draft class from the collegiate ranks could well be one of the strongest classes ever. As many as three NCAA prospects could be chosen in the top 10 of the first round, quite a turnaround from last year’s quiet showing.

The excellent crop of collegians eligible for the this year’s draft is comprised of three defensemen and seven forwards. Eight of the 10 players are freshmen, while the others are sophomores. These players represent four of the six NCAA conferences. Hockey East leads with five players, followed by the Big Ten and NCHC with two apiece, and one from the ECAC. These rankings are based on overall development, season performance and pro potential.

1. Jack Eichel, Center
Boston University (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 6’2”/194 lbs.
DOB: 10/28/96
Shoots: Right
CSS final ranking: 2nd

No collegiate player was as dominant and consistent as Jack Eichel was this season. Even more impressive is the fact that he did so as a freshman. The North Chelmsford, MA native led the nation in points (71) and assists (45) in 40 games with Boston University. He also led the nation with an astounding +51 rating. Not surprisingly, Eichel was named the 2015 recipient of the Hobey Baker Award and also captured the National Rookie of the Year honor. He is just the second freshman to win college hockey’s top individual honor and the first to accomplish the feat since 1993, when former University of Maine standout and long-time NHL forward Paul Kariya took that award.

The attribute that separates Eichel from other collegiate players, freshmen or otherwise, is his extraordinary instincts. He thinks the game at an elite level. Eichel’s remarkable vision allows him to see plays not only as they develop but at times even before they do. His superb skating and acceleration makes him especially dangerous when moving with the puck or driving to the net. Eichel is blessed with terrific hands. He is equally good at making plays as he is at scoring goals. All of Eichel’s assets as well as his ability to make those around him better greatly benefited his Boston University team this season.

2. Noah Hanifin, Defenseman
Boston College (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 6’3”/205 lbs.
DOB: 1/25/97
Shoots: Left
CSS final ranking: 3rd

 

Freshman Noah Hanifin is the most coveted defenseman in this year’s draft, and it’s not hard to see why. His elite-level skills were displayed quite consistently throughout the season with Boston College and with Team USA during the 2015 World Junior Championship. The Norwood, MA native finished his sensational freshman campaign with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 37 games. His 23 points also ranked second nationally among all rookie defensemen. Hanifin capped the year with a selection to the Hockey East All-Second and All-Rookie teams.

Hanifin is a superb two-way defenseman who possesses great vision and makes remarkably smart reads. One of his greatest attributes is his skating; his strides are very fluid, and seem almost effortless. He has great feet and moves very well laterally. Hanafin’s skating makes him especially dangerous in transition. He moves with the puck exceedingly well and his passing is excellent. He also possesses a terrific shot and can effectively quarterback the power play. While Hanifin has tremendous offense-producing ability, it doesn’t come at the expense of his defensive responsibilities.

3. Zach Werenski, Defenseman
University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Ht./Wt: 6’2”/214 lbs.
DOB: 7/19/97
Shoots: Left
CSS final ranking: 9th

 

Zach Werenski may have been the youngest player in college hockey this season but he certainly didn’t play like it. The maturity and poise he showed throughout the season greatly benefited not only his Michigan team, but Team USA as well. The Grosse Pointe Woods, MI native led the Wolverines in scoring by a defenseman with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 35 games. His nine goals also led the nation among all rookie defensemen. In addition, Werenski also co-led Michigan with 59 blocked shots. His stellar freshman campaign earned him spots on the Big Ten’s All-First and All-Rookie teams.

Werenski is another mobile, two-way defenseman who is equally good offensively and defensively. His greatest asset is his skating. Werenski skates with fluid strides while generating terrific speed. He utilizes his skating advantageously, not only in moving with the puck, but also in playing in his own zone. One remarkable aspect of Werenski’s play this season was his lack of panic, particularly with the puck. He has great poise with the puck and possesses an excellent shot. Werenski plays a positionally sound defensive game. Furthermore, his decision-making continually improved as the season went along.

4. A.J. Greer, Left Wing
Boston University (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 6’3”/205 lbs.
DOB: 12/14/96
Shoots: Left
CSS final ranking: 69th

 

Freshman A.J. Greer is one of three Boston University players to make the NCAA top 10 this year. He was noticeable whenever he was on the ice this season, even though Greer saw duty on either the Terriers third or fourth lines. The Joliet, QC native posted just seven points (three goals, four assists) in 37 games. What Greer lacks in numbers, he makes up for with his sheer strength and the physical element he brings are. And it is these two characteristics, along with his potential, that has had scouts clamoring to get glimpses of Greer this season.

Greer is a power forward who excels in the grind game. He uses his size, athleticism, and sturdy 6’3” body exceedingly well both in the corners and in driving to the net. He is an excellent skater with good feet and powerful strides. Greer’s combination of size, physicality and skating makes him difficult to contain. He possesses some good offensive ability but isn’t likely to be an elite scorer at the next level. Greer is strong on the puck and possesses a heavy shot. He is particularly dangerous in tight areas and is willing to pay the price to both make and finish plays.

5. Brien Diffley, Defenseman
Boston University (Hockey East)
Ht./Wt: 6’2”/184 lbs.
DOB: 7/8/95
Shoots: Left
CSS final ranking: 136th

 

Although he hasn’t drawn as much attention as his aforementioned teammates, freshman Brien Diffley has quietly gotten on the NHL Draft radar this season. The Burlington, MA native saw significant ice time on the Terriers blueline as sophomore Doyle Somerby’s (NYI) defensive partner. During this time, Diffley put together an outstanding freshman campaign that didn’t go unnoticed. He finished third among defensemen on Boston University’s roster with 11 points (one goal, 10 assists) in 40 games. His first and only goal on the season came on Nov. 8th versus the University of Connecticut.

Diffley is a mobile defenseman who excels on the breakout. He has demonstrated that he can make consistently good outlet passes. Although Diffley is more of a defensive defenseman, he has also shown glimpses of his offensive skills. He can also be found jumping into plays when opportunities present themselves. He possesses outstanding puck-moving ability, and his shot is quite good. One of Diffley’s best assets is his skating – he skates with smooth, powerful strides and has very good speed. This is especially evident in his fine transition game.

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