Early Ranking of the Top 10 Prospects in the 2015 NHL Draft

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistAugust 15, 2014

Early Ranking of the Top 10 Prospects in the 2015 NHL Draft

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    The Ivan Hlinka Tournament signals the beginning of another year of scouting the next generation of NHL prospects. This year's tournament did not boast the top-ranked players, but the cream of the crop is rising throughout the hockey world.

    We are told the 2015 draft is the strongest in years, and it offers at least two generational talents in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. This is going to be a draft worth following, and the race for No. 1 overall begins now.

    Here's an early ranking of the 10 best prospects available in the 2015 NHL draft.

10. Nick Merkley, C, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 66 GP, 25 G, 33 A for the Kelowna Rockets (WHL).


    What They're Saying

    Nick Merkley had an immediate impact in his first full WHL season, and he finished third among rookie scorers in 2013-14. His 25 goals and 58 points led all 16-year-old players in the league and gave an indication of his skill level. He's scored well at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.


    Where He'll Be Taken

    Merkley is a candidate for a top-10 selection, but the competition is heavy, and the season is just underway. He'll need a strong performance in the WHL this year to be a top-10 selection.

9. Travis Konecny, C, Ottawa 67's (OHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 63 GP, 26 G, 44 A for the Ottawa 67's (OHL).


    What They're Saying

    Brock Otten of OHL Prospects raves about Travis Konecny:

    There are so many things about his game that are extremely noticeable for all the right reasons. Firstly, he's an absolutely dynamic skater who is able to explode up ice and across the blueline. Secondly, even when he's at top speed, he handles the puck incredibly well. Thirdly, his shot, in particular his release, his fantastic. Lastly, his compete level is incredibly high. When he doesn't have the puck, he's still one of the hardest working players on the ice trying to get it.


    Where He'll Be Taken

    His performance last season for a struggling Ottawa club was impressive, but he'll need to boast much better numbers to become a top-10 selection. The betting here is that Konecny delivers a strong offensive season in 2014-15.

8. Kyle Connor, C, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 56 GP, 31 G, 43 A for the Youngstown Phantoms (USHL).


    What They're Saying

    Leslie Treff of Hockey Prospectus talks about emerging talent Kyle Connor:

    Although he’s not in the same stratosphere as the other two top young stars, this Connor should be considered a potential first round selection in next year’s draft. A late 1996, Connor played well in both the Ivan Hlinka and the World Junior A Challenge tournaments in 2013. In addition, he is one of the leading scorers in the USHL in his sophomore season in the league. 


    Where He'll Be Taken

    Connor scored at a point-per-game pace at the U-18 World Juniors. If he can take a step forward from a year ago in Youngstown, he'll be a top-10 selection.

7. Mikko Rantanen, C, TPS Turku (SML)

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    2013-14 Stats: 37 GP, 5 G, 4 A for TPS Turku (SM-Liiga).


    What They're Saying

    Mikko Rantanen is a huge teenage winger playing in a very good pro league. He is found inside most top-10 projections for the 2015 draft. He dominated the lower junior leagues and was impressive at the U-18 World Juniors.


    Where He'll Be Taken

    The SM-Liiga is Finland's top league, and if Rantanen can post offense in 2014-15, he'll be a top-10 overall selection. If the offense isn't there, he could slide into the middle portion of Round 1.

6. Pavel Zacha, LW, Liberec White Tigers (CZE)

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    2013-14 Stats: 38 GP, 4 G, 4 A for the Liberic White Tigers (CZE).


    What They're Saying

    Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News wrote about Pavel Zacha and his skill set in April. He describes Zacha as a big power winger with speed and a good shot. He will play for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL in 2014-15, and scouts will get a very good look at an emerging talent.


    Where He'll Be Taken

    Zacha could push into the top five overall with a big season in the OHL. It's more likely he lands inside the top 10 overall.

5. Colin White, C, USNTDP (USHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 35 GP, 14 G, 14 A for USNTDP (USHL).


    What They're Saying

    The Scouting Report gave a positive review on Colin White in January 2014:

    White is a solid all-around player who blends tremendous speed with good puck-skills. He gets to the right spots on the ice to make a play and he does a great job getting back and supporting on defense. He works hard in all three zones and has a lot of similarities to current U18 forward, Dylan Larkin. The Boston College commit is shaping up as a potential top five pick in 2015.


    Where He'll Be Taken

    White displays a range of skills, and a spike in offense this winter could vault him all the way to No. 3 overall. With average offensive numbers, he's still likely to land inside the top five overall.

4. Noah Hanifin, D, USNTDP (USHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 31 GP, 6 G, 14 A for USNTDP (USHL).


    What They're Saying

    Jim Matheson of The Edmonton Journal quoted an NHL scout about Noah Hanifin in January 2014:

    He’s better than Seth Jones at the same age. He’s 16 and six-foot-four and close to 200 pounds already. I think he can be as good as that Jake Eichel (U.S. world junior team forward), but Hanifin will go third in the 2015 draft with (Canada’s Connor) McDavid and (Jack) Eichel.


    Where He'll Be Taken

    The Scouting Report gives us a clear view of a dominant defenseman who can also handle the puck well. Hanifin is likely to go inside the top five overall, but he might fall a little if some forwards post outstanding offense this winter.

3. Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 59 GP, 14 G, 40 A for the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL).


    What They're Saying

    Andrew Chong of Hockey Now wrote a story on Mathew Barzal in October 2013. In the article, he quoted Thunderbirds coach Steve Konowalchuk:

    It's pretty impressive the amount of offence he generates. He's just a smart player who makes good plays and good decisions with the puck. There are a lot of guys who have the talent to play in the NHL, but to do that you have to play a complete hockey game, be a good defensive hockey player and win battles to get the puck. He's improved and is more consistent in all of those areas.


    Where He'll Be Taken

    In a normal draft year, Barzal's resume might be good enough for the No. 1 overall spot. In 2015, he'll be in a group vying for No. 3 overall.

2. Jack Eichel, C, USNTDP (USHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 24 GP, 20 G, 25 A for USNTDP (USHL).


    What They're Saying

    Adam Kimelman, Deputy Managing Editor of NHL.com, quotes 2014 draft pick and teammate Sonny Milano on top prospect Eichel:

    He's an all-around player. Offensively, defensively, he's got it all, hands, speed, size. It was a tremendous year playing with him. He makes guys around him better. ... You think he's the oldest guy out there the way he plays. I know he's younger but you don't look at him as a younger guy. You look up to a guy like that. He's real mature out there. He's physical, doesn't shy away from anything.


    Where He'll Be Taken

    Eichel is the only threat to McDavid for No. 1 overall at the 2015 draft. His range of skills and elite offense make Eichel a franchise player, and Kimelman's article discusses his biggest asset—his skating ability—at length.

1. Connor McDavid, C, Erie Otters (OHL)

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    2013-14 Stats: 56 GP, 28 G, 71 A for the Erie Otters (OHL).


    What They're Saying

    Television icon and hockey legend Don Cherry was quoted in an article by Leo Roth of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle as saying:

    He's had the touch from Day 1, you could just tell. Good skater, good shot, hockey sense. I'm the expert and I guarantee he'll be a star in the National Hockey League. He's one of those that come along every five to 10 years. You hear the term 'can't-miss guy.' Well he's a can't-can't miss guy. He's special. That's all I can say, he's special.


    Where He'll Be Taken

    Even at this early stage, McDavid is an overwhelming candidate for No. 1 overall. It's impossible to put an exact number on it, but suffice it to say, the only player capable of passing him is Eichel.