The NHL draft doesn't garner nearly as much attention as its NFL or NBA counterparts, because there aren't nearly as many prospects ready to make a quick impact. But that doesn't mean this year's class doesn't feature any star power.
At least five players should be able to make their presence felt in the NHL sooner rather than later. What the class doesn't feature is a ton of depth, which means some teams could be looking to trade up. The 2015 group is expected to be stronger as a whole.
Ultimately, most of the prospects selected outside of the top 10 of the opening round are looking at several more years of development before they can crack a lineup. It's something to keep in mind while looking through a mock draft of Round 1.
1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)
Drew Doughty illustrated the importance of a puck-moving defenseman who can log a ton of minutes during the Los Angeles Kings' run to their second Stanley Cup in three years. Ekblad comes from the same mold and would provide the two-way presence Florida needs.
2. Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)
The Sabres are in the process of rebuilding. The biggest area of concern right now is top-six forwards. They finished with 39 fewer goals than any other team last season, a fact that showcases exactly how much work there is to do before they return to contention. Reinhart will certainly help.
Known for his enormous offensive upside, the center told Mike Morreale of NHL.com that his hockey sense helps him stand out from the crowd.
"At the end of the day, it's quick reaction time and thinking quickly what's on the ice that help you succeed," he said. "You can never plan what's actually going to happen, so I think it comes naturally. It's something nice to have."
It's very difficult to find a hole in Reinhart's game. He isn't going to answer all of the many questions Buffalo has up front, but he'd finally be the building block the franchise has been waiting for since the retooling of the roster began.
3. Edmonton Oilers: Sam Bennett, C, Kingston (OHL)
Bennett took a major step forward offensively in his second season with the Kingston Frontenacs. The key is he was able to do it without losing his physical approach. He's a hard-working player with very little bust potential, as he can make an impact without scoring.
4. Calgary Flames: Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert (WHL)
The Prince Albert product is a dynamic offensive talent with great vision and playmaking ability. He's the type of player who's going to produce a lot of highlight-reel goals but must become more reliable in the defensive zone.
5. New York Islanders: Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa (OHL)
Probably the last of what would be considered the upper-echelon prospects, Dal Colle is a power forward capable of moving to center. He wins a lot of battles in the corners, has shown the ability to play in any situation and is making positive strides offensively.
6. Vancouver Canucks: Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax (MJAHL)
The first thing that stands out about Ehlers is his natural speed on the wing. He's still a bit raw and needs to gain experience against top competition to understand the physical nature of the next level, but once he settles in, he should become a 25-goal scorer.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: Jake Virtanen, RW, Calgary (WHL)
Virtanen is an interesting case. In some games, he looks like a superstar in the making; in others, he struggles to get into the game. His natural offensive talent is off the charts, which means he should land somewhere in the top 10.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: William Nylander, C, Modo (SHL)
The Maple Leafs should be looking to add more offensive talent to the system throughout the draft. Nylander is a player who bounced around teams over the past year, leading to mundane overall numbers, but his distribution ability is among the best in the class.
9. Winnipeg Jets: Kevin Fiala, RW, Malmo (Allsvenskan)
An undersized forward with some work to do physically before he's ready for the NHL grind, Fiala relies heavily on his terrific offensive skill. He will need to bulk up and improve his defensive effort in order to truly shine at the NHL level.
10. Anaheim Ducks (from OTT): Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
Ritchie has a well-rounded game that should bode well for a quick progression toward the NHL with the Ducks. He probably won't become a top-line forward, but his ability to help on special teams should lead to a pretty big role eventually.
11. Nashville Predators: Kasperi Kapanen, LW, KalPa (SM-Liiga)
Kapanen is still early in the development process, but the early signs are positive. He's quick to the puck and has shown a scorer's instinct with the ability to get into scoring areas. He'll be worth the wait once he's ready to make the jump to the NHL.
12. Arizona Coyotes: Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL)
Fleury has all the tools to become a top-pairing defenseman within the next handful of years. He's a physical defender with good size and has showcased improved offensive contributions over the past couple of seasons.
Boomer and Rhett of Sportsnet 960 provided analysis from longtime NHL star and former head coach Brent Sutter on the Red Deer defenseman:
Having a mean streak is something teams are always looking for along the blue line. Fleury might not be ready to make an immediate jump to the NHL, but he's far enough advanced to believe his debut isn't too far off in the distance.
13. Washington Capitals: Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton (QMJHL)
Barbashev seems like a player who would be a nice complement to Alex Ovechkin, either at center or on the opposite wing. He's a speedy forward with no shortage of skill around the net. His defensive game leaves a lot to be desired, though.
14. Dallas Stars: Julius Honka, D, Swift Current (WHL)
Teams are always looking for defensemen who can join the rush and provide a noticeable boost to the power play. Honka is exactly that. He just needs to gain more experience to learn when to take a risk and when to sit back defensively.
15. Detroit Red Wings: Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
McCann seems like a player who will develop into a perfect third-line center. He probably won't lead the team in scoring, but he'll chip in some goals and assists while playing strong in his own zone. He's the type of player who will work hard for three periods and get rewarded by scoring the overtime winner.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets: Dylan Larkin, C, USNTDP (USHL)
Larkin is a strong forward who does good work both in front of net and in the corners. It would be nice to see him develop more of a passing mentality while playing in the middle of the ice, but he has a strong enough all-around game to have confidence that his upward trend will continue.
17. Philadelphia Flyers: Alex Tuch, RW, U.S. U-18 (USAH)
Tuch is the type of player a center loves to play alongside. Not only does he have a solid scoring touch, but he also doesn't mind playing a physical brand of hockey to protect his linemates. He's not the most talented prospect, but he's a good pick at this stage of the round.
18. Minnesota Wild: Robbie Fabbri, C, Guelph (OHL)
Something clicked for Fabbri in his second season with the Guelph Storm. He increased his scoring output by 54 points over the previous season, which was enough to boost his draft stock. He lacks size but makes up for it with speed and a quick release.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning: Adrian Kempe, LW, Modo U-20 (Sweden)
There have been flashes of an improved offensive game from Kempe, but he's made a name for himself by playing physical while being smart in his own end. If those scoring skills improve over time, he will provide tremendous value this deep in Round 1.
20. San Jose Sharks: Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara (OHL)
Perlini is another prospect on the rise after a strong junior campaign. He made a negligible impact during his first OHL season before breaking out for Niagara this past season. He's certainly worth taking a chance on at this stage.
21. St. Louis Blues: Sonny Milano, LW, USNTDP (USHL)
A good puck-handling forward who should rate well in the emerging world of advanced statistics in hockey, most of which rely heavily on possession. He needs to continue working on his finishing ability to make those hard-working shifts pay off.
22. Pittsburgh Penguins: Nikolay Goldobin, RW, Sarnia (OHL)
There are two stats from Goldobin's season with Sarnia that basically tell the whole story. The intriguing winger scored 94 points, including 38 goals, in just 67 games. Alas, he still managed to register a minus-30 rating. He must improve defensively.
23. Colorado Avalanche: Roland McKeown, D, Kingston (OHL)
McKeown is one of the most interesting prospects projected to go in the bottom half of the first round. His defensive skills have been a little inconsistent so far, but his combination of size, strength and awareness is impressive.
The only reason he isn't at least mentioned in the same group as Fleury and Honka is the lack of reliability in his own end. It's something that comes with time, and he did show signs of progress in his most recent junior season.
If McKeown does take a step forward defensively to pair with his offensive contributions, he will become one of the most valuable selections of the round. While it's not a lock, there are more reasons than not to be bullish about his future.
24. Anaheim Ducks: Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia (OHL)
DeAngelo is great at jump-starting a rush for his own end, and his passing ability makes him a perfect choice to quarterback a power play. He doesn't have enough size to hold up against top competition yet, so that's one thing he'll need to work on as his development continues over the next few years.
25. Boston Bruins: Josh Ho-Sang, RW, Windsor (OHL)
Ho-Sang did exactly what he needed to do with Windsor this season. He made strides in his own zone to complement his offensive skill. It should be enough to push him into the back end of the first round, if not higher.
26. Montreal Canadiens: Nikita Scherbak, LW, Saskatoon (WHL)
Slowly but surely, Scherbak is starting to show the competition level necessary to succeed in the NHL. If whichever organization ends up with him can develop him into a player who battles every shift, his talent will take care of the rest.
27. Chicago Blackhawks: Aaron Irving, D, Edmonton (WHL)
While the defensemen taken earlier in the round are known for their ability to join the rush, Irving is a more traditional stay-at-home blueliner. In turn, he hasn't generated as much hype, but he should provide plenty of long-term value for Chicago.
28. Tampa Bay Lightning (from NYR): Jack Dougherty, D, USNTDP (USHL)
Dougherty is a lanky defenseman who uses his reach to protect the front of the net. He's not a dynamic offensive threat, but that part of his game could improve over time, as he does feature a heavy shot from the point. A developmental project.
29. Los Angeles Kings: Brendan Lemieux, LW, Barrie (OHL)
Lemieux turned up his level of aggressiveness with Barrie this season, and he improved in virtually every area as a result. He doesn't have elite skill, but he is a solid all-around performer. He must learn to avoid untimely penalties, though.
30. New Jersey Devils: Ryan MacInnis, LW, Kitchener (OHL)
At this point in the round, it's all about upside. There's nobody left who's ready to play a key role for New Jersey right away. MacInnis needs some time to develop, but his potential was on full display during his first season with Kitchener.
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