As has been whispered for upwards of two years, the 2015 draft classis expected t be one for the ages. Not only is the top of the draft populated by two franchise altering talents in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, but the second, third and fourth tiers are also full of enough high end talent that very few teams are expected to be willing to part with early round draft picks in trade.
But where to begin sorting through the young men who will make up the class of 2015? There are top talents across the globe, with assumed first rounders honing their respective crafts in the three leagues of the CHL, in the USHL, in the NCAA, in Sweden, Finland and Russia. For the 210 players who will eventually be drafted, Central Scouting Services, the service run by the NHL to identify the likely targets of hockey scouts, ranked 425 players to watch. Their lists will change over the course of the season, but that is good for a start.
As the Hockey Prospectus scouting team begins to take shape, we are faced with the question of how shape our own draft boards. With so many payers, there is no way we could get to them all at once to even create a general impression, much less rank them honestly.
And then Toronto and Montreal hosted the 2015 World Junior Championships, and offered yours truly the opportunity to view a small but significant portion of those players in action and facing stiffer competition than any of them are normally given the opportunity to play against, no matter where they play. From the ten countries represented at the WJC, there were 36 players who met our inclusive criteria of being either listed on CSS’ initial 2015 watch list, or a first time draft eligible player otherwise ignored by CSS. We also added in two other players who are second year eligible who were ignored by CSS, but whose exploits at the WJC have put them in the radar of NHL scouts.
With those criteria established, Hockey Prospectus’ initial 2015 draft review and list will include 38 players who were present at this year’s WJC. A grouping that includes players expected to be at the top of the draft and a number who are long, long shots to be drafted at all.
At this early stage, even with a limited pool of only 37 prospects, we have divided them up into six tiers. The approximate draft positioning associated with each tier is laid out below
Tier # Draft slot range
1) Connor McDavid, C, Canada (Erie Otters, OHL) (7 games, 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points) – Before the tournament, McDavid was the odds-on favorite for the first pick in the draft, although there were some voices who placed him a close second. Now he is a clear-cut choice for number one and the dissenting voices have begun to quieten. McDavid displayed tremendous speed, stickhandling and offensive vision in helping team Canada win the tournament. In spite of being one of the youngest players there, he was among the most dynamic.
2) Jack Eichel, C USA (Boston University, HE) (5 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points) – While McDavid publically reached a new level at the WJC, Eichel held his ground with a good, but not commanding performance. His tournament highlight was a wrap-around goal against Germany in which he demonstrated excellent balance and strong edgework.
3) Noah Hanifin, D, USA (Boston College, HE) (5 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points) – Hanifin is best known for his plus plus mobility, and that tool was displayed prominently in his game. Hanifin underwhelmed at times, but not enough to drop below the middle of the top tier of players.
4) Mikko Rantanen, RW, (TPS, Liiga) (5 games, 4 goals, 0 assists, 4 points) – No other player saw his stock go up as much as Rantanen in this tournament. While the defending champions struggled to score in the preliminary round, Rantanen was their only player who could consistently light the lamps. He has size, soft hands, plus shot, skating and stickhandling and presence in the offensive end. To solidify a top ten spot come June, he will have to show more ability to put up numbers playing against men in Finland.
5) Zach Werenski, D, USA (University of Michigan, Big-10) (5 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points) – Still a bit risk reward here as Werenski can give up in his own end what he brings to the table as a puck mover. He may ultimately slip into the second tier, but in a game buying more and more into the concept of puck possession, Werenski has the upside as an offensive defenseman to still provide good value at the back end of the first tier.
6) Ivan Provorov, D, Russia (Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL) (7 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point) – While the offensive game in which he shines for Brandon was not present in a great deal for team Russia, Provorov displayed a confident game in his own end, with high speed reactions and smart positioning
7) Lawson Crouse, LW, Canada (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL) (7 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points)– a traditional “Canadian” power forward. Showed some latent offensive touch as well, as demonstrated with a gorgeous goal in the quarterfinal against Denmark, where he toe-dragged the puck to evade a defender and then unleashed a hard wrist shot that left the netminder with no chance to make the save. He was also very involved in the physical side of the game and showed defensive responsibility playing on Canada’s energy line.
8) Pavel Zacha, C, Czech Republic (Sarnia Sting, OHL) (5 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points) – Not a great showing at the tournament for a Czech squad that disappointed in general, but Zacha still has the type of tool set that will appeal to many scouts picking around the meaty middle of the draft. Like everyone else in this tier, a strong second half of his junior season could move him up or down as many as 6-7 spots on a final draft board.
9) Brandon Carlo, D, USA (Tri City Americans, WHL) (5 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point) – Not an offensive defenseman like his Tier I team USA blueline mates, Carlo is nevertheless a very attractive prospect primarily for his size, fluid skating and plus decision making abilities in his own end. His ceiling is lower, but his floor is rather high.
10) Alexander Dergachyov, RW, Russia (MKA-1946 St. Petersburg, MHL) (7 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points) – Uses large frame very well when carrying puck to protect it from defenders. Also utilizes frame on PK, as he shields the entire goal area when covering the point man at the top of the slot. Strong, but not elite, skater. Hasan above-average wrist-shot.
11) Timo Meier, RW, Switzerland (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL) (6 games, 2 goals, 4 assists, 6 points) – A bull of a winger, Meier has a very mature frame which he can use, in conjunction with strong puck skills and a good shot to wreak havoc in the offensive end. In spite of tremendous point production in the ‘Q’ and for Switzerland, many are unjustly sleeping on Meier.
12) Daniel Vladar, G, Czech Republic (Kladno, Czech2) (Did not play) – Vladar was the third string goalie for the Czech Republic, but few draft eligible netminders did feature. Still one of the top ranked goalies available this June.
13) Vyacheslav Leschenko, RW, Russia (Atlant Mytischi, KHL) (7 games, 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points) – not highly acclaimed prior to the tournament, Leschenko was passed over in the 2014 draft, but a strong tournament should see him selected in 2015. He has good acceleration and the full suite of offensive tools, including puck handling, passing and a strong shot.
14) Dmitri Yudin, D, Russia (SKA St. Petersburg, KHL) (7 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 1 point) – Solid all around defenseman who owns a very good slap shot that makes him a potential power play weapon.
15) Sebastian Aho, RW, Finland (Karpat, Liiga) (5 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points) – Not a good tournament for Aho or most of the other Finnish forwards, but his strong showing in the men’s league in Finland will prevent him from dropping too far on draft day, if at all.
16) Jens Lööke, RW, Sweden (Brynas, SHL) (7 games, 3 goals, 0 assists, 3 points) – High energy forward whose persistence led to most of his production.
17) David Kase, C Czech Republic (Chomutov, Czech2) (4 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point) – Not very productive at the tournament, but is under consideration due to his above average hands and playmaking skills.
18) Michael Spacek, RW, Czech Republic (Pardubice, Czech) (5 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point) – A smart player with a reputation for good decision making and general quickness.
19) Ziyat Paigin, D, Russia (Ak Bars Kazan, KHL) (7 games, 1 goal, 2 assist, 3 points) – A big, big man with a bullet point shot. Another Russian who was passed over in previous drafts but will likely be selected in 2015.
20) Pius Suter, C, Switzerland (Guelph Storm, OHL) (6 games, 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 points) – A strong defensive forward who is growing into a more offensive role this year in the OHL. Very fast and strong on the PK.
21) Erik Cernak, D, Slovakia (Kosice, Slovakia) (6 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points) – Big and strong, Cernak was actually suspended for one game during the tournament for a head shot.
22) Denis Malgin, C, Switzerland (ZSC, Switzerland) (6 games, 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points) – His plus playmaking and puckhandling skills should be enough to have a few teams overlook his diminutive size in the middle rounds of the draft.
23) Denis Godla, G, Slovakia (Slovakia U20, Slovakia) (7 games, 2.76 GAA, .926 SV%) – The top goaltender of the tournament. Godla is undersized by modern standards, but his performance was eye opening throughout the tournament. Even when Slovakia was outmanned, Godla kept many additional pucks from crossing the line with his sprawling, unconventional style. Great athleticism and anticipation.
24) Roope Hintz, LW, Finland (Ilves, Liiga) (5 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points) – Good decision making in all zones with enough offensive flair to move up a tier with a strong spring in Finland.
25) Ivan Fishchenko, C/RW, Russia (Avangard Omsk, KHL) (7 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point) – Hasa good combination of strength and quickness. Can be difficult to play against.
26) Radovan Bondra, RW, Slovakia (Slovakia U18, Slovakia2) (7 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points) – Huge project winger. Has enough offensive instinct to be more than just a size-based gamble.
27) Jonas Siegenthaler, D Switzerland (ZSC, Switzerland) (6 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point) – Strong and responsible in his own end, but without much in the way of an offensive game.
28) Sebastian Aho, D, Sweden (Skelleftea, SHL) (7 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points) – In spite of the gaudy point totals, Aho had a very rough tournament defensively, as he was prone to high stakes errors and was absolutely turnstiled in the quarterfinals by Penguins’ prospect Kasperi Kapanen. Hurt by lack of size as well.
29) Sami Niku, D, Finland (JYP-Akatemia, Mestis) (5 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points) – Offensive defenseman with ability to distribute puck in offensive end and pick up minutes on the power play.
30) Adam Brodecki, LW, Sweden (Brynas, SHL) (6 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points) – plays with energy and has moderate offensive instincts.
31) Luca Hischier, C, Switzerland (Visp, Switzerland B) (6 games, 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points) – Can impose himself on game with strength and energy and owns a strong wrist shot.
32) Dominik Kahun, C/LW, Germany (EHC Munchen, Germany) (6 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point) – Has quick hands and plays a responsible two-way game, but lacks the strength to impact.
33) Alexander True, C, Denmark (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL) (5 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points) – Tall and lanky, True is one of the few Danes to be playing in North America. That, and being a cousin of Winnipeg first rounder Nikola Ehlers may get him a rookie camp invite.
34) Kay Schweri, RW, Switzerland (Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL) (6 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point) – Excellent playmaker in the ‘Q’, diminutive winger was largely ineffective at the WJC.
35) Kai Wissmann, D, Germany (Dresdner Eislöwen, Germany 2) (6 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points) – Good frame, struggled with penalties during WJC.
36) Antti Kalapudas, C, Finland (Hokki, Mestis) (5 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points) – Skinny forward already scoring at a good clip in the second highest men’s league in Finland.
37) Maximillian Kammerer, LW, Germany (EC Salzburg II, MHL) (6 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points) – Playing for an Austrian junior team that belongs to the Russian junior league, Kammerer has had moderate success. Like most his age, needs to fill out.
38) Manuel Wiederer, C/RW, Germany (Straubing Tigers, Germany) (5 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points) – A very prolific scorer at the German under 18 level, Wiederer is getting his feet wet in the top German men’s league this year.