Perhaps the most anticipated NHL Draft in the past decade is now in the books. The 2015 draft class of 211 players, led by top talents Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, have found new homes in the NHL and will begin their journey to a pro career beginning with the coming summer development camps put on by the 30 NHL clubs.
The 2015 NHL Draft was hosted by the Florida Panthers at their home arena, the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL. The 2016 edition of this event heads back to the northeast, to the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY where the host Buffalo Sabres will have a difficult time in matching the buzz they created leading up to and during this year’s draft.
In addition to the usual breakdown of the country of origin for this draft class, there are some smaller stories from the NHL’s two-day restocking that provides a bit more context to the bigger picture that was and will be as these draftees make their way forward with their careers. The purpose of this article, then, is to provide those numbers and notes to help put a bow on this year’s NHL Draft.
Beginning with some numbers, here is a look at how the 2015 NHL Draft class breaks down by country of birth:
United States 55
Czech Republic 11
Compared with the 2014 class, there was a slight decline in picks for Canada (-2), and a bigger decline for U.S.-born players (-12) from last year’s totals. Sweden also produced a shallower draft pool (-8) in 2015. Countries experiencing an increase over their 2014 totals were Russia (+4), Finland (+5), the Czech Republic (+3), Slovakia (+4), Switzerland (+2), and Latvia (+1). Countries not appearing on this list in 2014 include Belarus, the Netherlands, and the Ukraine, along with China, who produced their first-ever NHL Draft pick (by way of the U.S.) in this year’s draft.
WHL the new OHL?
While the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) seemingly has had a perennial claim to the title of producer of the most NHL Draft prospects, that claim in 2015 can be made by the Western Hockey League (WHL). The WHL saw 34 of their players chosen in this year’s draft (down from 37 in 2014), followed by the OHL and United States Hockey League (USHL) with 31 apiece. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) had a good draft, as well, with 30 players being called up to the stage in 2015. All told, the three leagues that comprise the CHL produced a total of 95 of the 211 selections in this draft, the same number those leagues produced in 2014.
The OHL can still lay claim to being the league with the most prospects chosen in the first round of the draft, with seven players being selected on Friday night. That group was led by two Erie Otters players, the aforementioned McDavid and third pick overall Dylan Strome. And, for the seventh time in 10 years and the second consecutive year, the OHL produced the top pick in the draft, with McDavid carrying that honor in 2015 after 2015 Calder Trophy winner and former Barrie Colts defender Aaron Ekblad was the top pick in 2014.
The USHL totaled six first round picks, including players from the NTDP squad, while the QMJHL produced a nice crop of five first round selections.
What Russian Factor?
In addition to producing a larger group of draftees than in 2014, Russia also placed four countrymen in the first round of the NHL Draft, the most since that country produced four in the first round of the 2001 NHL Draft when Ilya Kovalchuk (#1 – ATL), Alexander Svitov (#3 – TBL), Stanislav Chistov (#5 – ANA), and Igor Knyazev (#15 – CAR) were chosen in the draft’s first stanza.
The four Russian-born player’s selected in 2015 were Ivan Provorov (#7 – PHI), Denis Gurianov (#12 – DAL), Evgeny Svechnikov (#19 – DET), and Ilya Samsonov (#22 – WSH).
NCAA Tops the Charts
Lost in some of the hoopla surrounding the McDavid/Eichel angle of this draft was the fact that three of the top eight players chosen came from NCAA programs, the first time this has happened in any NHL Draft. Aside from forward Jack Eichel (Boston University/Hockey East), the other two college players selected were defensemen Noah Hanifin (Boston College/Hockey East) and Zach Werenski (University of Michigan/Big Ten).
Of course, all three of those players also have ties to the USHL via the National Team Development Program (NTDP). When factoring in the players that have a past association with the USHL, a total of 37 players chosen at the 2015 NHL Draft have ties with that league, which is a bumper crop for the USHL.
No sleep till Beijing
The New York Islanders created some NHL history late in this draft when they selected Chinese-born defenseman Andong Song out of the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. Song has completed high school, but will attend Philips Academy next season in hopes of garnering some attention from an NCAA program.
Also, while not a first, it is certainly the first time in a long while that a player from the Netherlands has the potential to compete in the NHL. Charlottetown Islanders forward Daniel Sprong was chosen by the Pittsburgh Penguins in this draft, making him the first Dutch-born player with a shot at NHL action since the late Ed Kea played for the Atlanta Flames and St. Louis Blues in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Hockey Factories for 2015
The team or program to produce the most selections in the 2015 NHL Draft was the NTDP with 15 players being chosen from that program. In terms of junior teams built through league drafts, the top producer of NHL talent this year was the Saint John Sea Dogs, who had a team-record seven players chosen in this draft. Coming in with five selections were the Regina Pats of the WHL and the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. Several teams garnered four selections, including the Barrie Colts, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Seattle Thunderbirds, and Prince George Cougars from the CHL, and the Youngstown Phantoms and Omaha Lancers from the USHL.
In terms of NHL teams choosing players from these and other hockey factories, the Boston Bruins had the most picks in the 2015 NHL Draft with 10, followed by seven teams – the Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs – with nine selections each.