With less than 10 days to go before 30 new players graduate into pro hockey, here is my final mock draft projecting where I think the top young guns may go. As I did with my last mock draft, I'll include honourable mentions for the Top 10.
1. Edmonton Oilers - Connor McDavid, C
Why pass on the number one talent in the draft? McDavid has decent size, an insane amount of speed, and a great shot with high scoring capabilities.
Eliteprospects.com: "A generational talent, Connor McDavid is a catalyst for positive plays in all three zones. Thinks the game analytically and recognizes scoring chances before they have even happened. Blessed with good size and an elite-level skillset, which includes nimble skating and deft puckhandling. All-in-all, a dominant center with all of the will, power, and intangibles to become a successful hockey luminary."
Hockeysfuture.com: "McDavid is considered to be one of the best players available for the NHL Draft since Sidney Crosby was chosen first overall back in 2005. His skating, shot and hockey IQ are all at an advanced level, and he has the ability to make other players around him better. Although more noted for his offensive skills, McDavid can be used in any situation. He is certainly the most NHL-ready prospect from the 2015 class."
Honourable Mention: Jack Eichel, C
2. Buffalo Sabres - Jack Eichel, C
To further their rebuild, a 1-2-3 punch of Eichel, Reinhart, and Girgensons will be extremely tough to beat over the next several years. There is the concern that Eichel may return to college, but he's still the #2 consensus pick nonetheless.
Eliteprospects.com: "When Jack Eichel is on the ice, the pace of the play shifts; if players can't keep up, they are left behind. A consistent scoring threat on the ice, Eichel possesses next-level hockey-IQ, an elite-level skillset, and the natural size and work ethic to let him play his role as a scoring power center. All-in-all, Jack Eichel is that uncontainable, dynamic center that can make other players look out of place in his wake."
Hockeysfuture.com: "While Eichel may not be quite the high-end talent that Connor McDavid is, he is very close. Eichel has the ability to control the game with a high hockey IQ, a good, powerful skating stride, and offensive skills that are second to none among American prospects for the 2015 draft. Eichel has good strength, allowing him to win battles for the puck and control it in space. He may be guilty of trying to do too much at times, but there is little doubt that he will be a top player once he arrives in the NHL."
Honourable Mention: Dylan Strome, C
3. Arizona Coyotes - Mikko Rantanen, R
While some may have picked Marner or Strome here, I think the 'Yotes will go with the top Euro skater in the draft. He's said to be NHL-ready and could help Arizona out with scoring difficulties as soon as the 2015-16 season.
Eliteprospects.com: "An exceptionally talented playmaker and always a consistent threat on the ice; Rantanen is a combination of elite-level hockey sense, silky smooth hands, and nimble skating. Needs to improve his shot and physical play, as he doesn't take advantage of his size in many situations. All-in-all, an intelligent, big-bodied forward that oozes skill."
Hockeysfuture.com: "Rantanen has the size of a power forward, but plays like an energetic and enigmatic skilled winger. He has incredible hands for his size, darting in-and-out of traffic with ease. Rantanen has been regarded as potentially ready for NHL action right away, a testament to his superb skill and complete game."
Honourable Mention: Mitch Marner, C
4. Toronto Maple Leafs - Dylan Strome, C
Another center that's tough to pass on, let alone a homegrown one. The Mississauga, ON native was the top scorer in the OHL this past season, and looks like he could be one in the NHL one day soon as well.
Eliteprospects.com: "It's hard not to think of someone like Ryan Getzlaf when you watch Dylan Strome. His large frame, industrious work ethic, erratic shot, and powerful skating ability are all characteristics shared with the Anaheim Ducks captain. While it remains to see if he ever reaches such a level, Dylan Strome certainly has the potential to be a cornerstone-type player."
Hockeysfuture.com: "At 6’3” and 185 pounds, the Mississauga, ON native is capable of using his body to maneuver into good scoring position. And once he’s there, he knows what to do with the puck as he finished the year with 45 goals and a league-leading 129 points in 68 games. His performance waned a bit in the playoffs (if you can call a mere PPG performance as waning), but Strome’s an intriguing mix of size and skill."
Honourable Mention: Mitch Marner, C
5. Carolina Hurricanes - Noah Hanifin, D
As the top-ranked d-man in this draft by many people, it should come as no surprise that he doesn't leave the top 5 spots. While Carolina does need scoring, Hanifin is a prospect that is tough to pass on.
Eliteprospects.com: "Noah Hanifin is a star in the making. A true two-way player that coaches want to leave on the ice as long as they have juice left. His game is reminiscent to that of the NHL player Drew Doughty: a truly versatile defenseman and a catalyst for positive happenings at both ends of the ice."
Hockeysfuture.com: "Hanifin is a smooth-skating defender with good size and acceleration who can generate some offense from the blueline but is also solid defensively. Although not a truly physical defenseman, he does not shy away form contact and will initiate it when necessary. Hanifin also has leadership qualities that could make NHL captain material down the road. Overall, he is an elite defender with few holes in his game."
Honourable Mention: Mitch Marner, C
6. New Jersey Devils - Mitch Marner, C
Marner has the potential to be a top-line center, something that New Jersey needs desperately. While small, Marner still has excellent scoring capabilities, and is a future 1C who may be put into the Devils lineup as soon as October. However, if Arizona or Toronto pick Marner, I fully expect to see NJD pick Strome.
Eliteprospects.com: "A dynamic offensive forward that backchecks hard and establishes his presence through playing smart, puck-possession hockey. A very quick skater gifted with great hands and hockey sense. Battles hard in all three zones and shows a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the puck to the back of the net; an unselfish player. Embodies the definition of a dynamic number-generating machine who makes the players around him better."
Hockeysfuture.com: "Marner has other-worldly vision and offensive gifts that just can’t be taught."
Honourable Mention: Pavel Zacha, C
7. Philadelphia Flyers - Lawson Crouse, L
Crouse is this year's Jake Virtanen. While the prospect has size and speed, he's not scored maybe as much as was expected and looks to translate into a strong power forward at the major league level.
Eliteprospects.com: "A big-bodied power winger with the ability to physically dominate, making him a prominent forechecking presence every night. Possesses good hands that can be used to make crisp passes or to let loose accurate, NHL-level shots; paired with his strength and skating ability, his skill set allows him to contribute offensively, as well as create space for teammates."
Hockeysfuture.com: "At 6’4” and 215 pounds, Crouse has an NHL-ready body right now. And he’s shown a willingness to play whatever role it takes to get him to the next level. His work with Team Canada as a fourth-liner was an important part of the team’s gold-medal performance...He’s not a finished product yet, but if that size and talent can be effectively harnessed, he’s going to be a solid power forward prospect for some NHL club."
Honourable Mention: Timo Meier, L
8. Columbus Blue Jackets - Ivan Provorov, D
Many, many, many teams are coveting Ivan Provorov, and for good reason: He is likely the top offensive defenseman in this draft. He has NHL size, and, depending on the roster, could likely step in right away.
Eliteprospects.com: "An offensively gifted defenceman who can direct the game's pace when the puck is on his stick. Provorov is a quick and agile skater with an accurate release on his shot, which he can get off anywhere below the blue line; creates many chances on the power play and can even create offense during the penalty kill. Is an adroit and creative passer who knows how to use his teammates well. All-in-all, a complete defenceman who knows how goals are scored and executes accordingly."
Hockeysfuture.com: "Provorov demonstrates composure at both ends of the ice. He can find teammates effectively with outlet passes, but is confident and capable when carrying the puck out of his own end. He is physically capable of delivering punishment, but often tends to use smarts and positioning to separate opponents from the puck."
Honourable Mention: Zach Werenski, D
9. San Jose Sharks - Timo Meier, L
Meier is a big, young forward who could potentially take over for Joe Thornton once he retires or moves on. Meier has both size and scoring capability, something the Sharks are looking for.
Eliteprospects.com: "A physically dominant winger with the ability to play in a skill or character role. In the offensive end, Meier is very aware and gets himself into spaces where he can easily make seeing eye passes or snap hard, accurate shots. Can impact the game in a number of different ways, and is very consistent in his efforts. All-in-all, the kind of versatile player that you can put on a skill line, and trust to create dangerous chances, or on a shutdown line, and trust to help stop pucks from going into your net."
Hockeysfuture.com: "Unlike any player currently in the system, Timo Meier offers a unique blend of size, skill, and smarts that make him a worthy first round pick. Among the heavier forwards available in the draft, Meier puts his 6’1”, 210 pound frame to good use, often finishing checks and engaging in physical battles in all three zones."
Honourable Mention: Matthew Barzal, C
10. Colorado Avalanche - Zach Werenski, D
With all the forwards Colorado has taken early in recent years, it may be time to draft a great defenseman. Werenski is regarded by some to be the most NHL-ready defenseman in the draft. He's got good size, too.
Eliteprospects.com: "A smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman that has a strong understanding of the game. Excels in key situations and is able to execute under pressure. Possesses good vision and awareness on the ice; uses his abilities to put offensive and defensive pressure on the opposition. All-in-all, a very strong all-around defenceman that consistently brings his game every night."
Hockeysfuture.com: "While the Eagles have had a more difficult season than is normally the case, the play of Hanifin has not contributed to this down season. The Norwood, MA native has played as advertised, showing few holes in his game while taking care of business at both ends of the ice."
Honourable Mention: Evgeny Svechnikov, L
11. Florida Panthers - Evgeny Svechnikov, L
12. Dallas Stars - Matthew Barzal, C
13. Los Angeles Kings - Kyle Connor, C
14. Boston Bruins - Pavel Zacha, C
15. Calgary Flames - Jake DeBrusk, L
16. Edmonton Oilers - Matej Tomek, G
17. Winnipeg Jets - Travis Konecny, C
18. Ottawa Senators - Nick Merkley, R
19. Detroit Red Wings - Denis Guryanov, C
20. Minnesota Wild - Jansen Harkins, C
21. Buffalo Sabres - Thomas Chabot, D
22. Washington Capitals - Paul Bittner, L
23. Vancouver Canucks - Jeremy Roy, D
24. Toronto Maple Leafs - Oliver Kylington, D
25. Winnipeg Jets - Jakub Zboril, D
26. Montreal Canadiens - Joel Eriksson Ek, C
27. Anaheim Ducks - Brock Boeser, R
28. Tampa Bay Lightning - Noah Juulsen, D
29. Philadelphia Flyers - Daniel Sprong, R
30. Arizona Coyotes - Alexander Dergachev, C
Now, to address some things:
#3 - I took Rantanen over Strome, Marner, and Hanifin because he fits into the bona fide player category. In reality, they all do, but I think Rantanen has the best opportunity to jump to ARZ out of anyone, with CAR taking the next spot.
#11 - Svechnikov goes a bit early because the big 3 D-men are all taken (in my previous mock draft I had the Panthers selecting Provorov) and he will be able to replace Jagr's scoring when the Czech retires or moves on.
#14 - Can you imagine Zacha and Pastrnak playing on a line together one day? Zacha could replace Krejci on the second line in the nearish future.
#15 - DeBrusk goes a little bit high, as Calgary doesn't really have any pressing positional needs at the moment. DeBrusk isn't a terrible pick, and he'll fit right into Calgary's style.
#16 - Matej Tomek over Mackenzie Blackwood and Ilya Samsonov. It's been rumoured for a while that the Oilers will pick a goalie with their mid-round pick. While Blackwood and Samsonov should both transition quite well, it's Tomek that stood out to me, thus why I put him here. He seems to have more game-breaker potential than the other two.
#23-#25 - Roy vs Kylington vs Zboril. While none are bad picks, and any one of these three could go at any of these positions, I feel Jeremy Roy suits Benning's style more. Kylington will suit Babcock's system of processing prospects, and Zboril will look good in a Jets jersey.