The Top NHL Draft Prospects to Watch at the 2015 World Junior Championships

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistDecember 17, 2014

The Top NHL Draft Prospects to Watch at the 2015 World Junior Championships

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    This year's World Junior Hockey Championships will boast some of the best talent available in the 2015 entry draft. Most world junior tournaments have only two or three draft-eligible players, with most of the prime roster spots given to older, drafted players.

    The incredible quality and depth of the 2015 draft will force the issue this year, and the winners are the fans. If your NHL team has a high draft pick, the world juniors this year could be a preview of your summer.

    Here are the top prospects to watch this Christmas at the World Junior Championships.

8. Mikko Rantanen, RW, TPS Turku (SM-Liiga)

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    Where Is He Ranked? Mikko Rantanen is ranked No. 22 by Craig Button of TSN on his December list.

    What Kind of Player Is He? Curtis Joe of Elite Prospects tells all about Rantanen:

    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.

    What Will His Role Be at the World Juniors? Rantanen should be a feature player for Finland, who is looking to defend its championship from a year ago. Mike Morreale from NHL.com goes in depth in an article from early December.

7. Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

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    Where Is He Ranked? Lawson Crouse is ranked No. 18 by Craig Button of TSN on his December list.

    What Kind of Player Is He? In an article by Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press via the National Post, Crouse describes the reason he's a good bet for the Canadian roster: "It's a different experience for myself, but I think I'm making the most of it right now. Being a bigger body kind of helps. I'm bigger out there, so I kind of have a little bit more of an advantage to the smaller guys."

    What Will His Role Be at the World Juniors? Crouse plays a big man's game with something less than a power forward's skill. He isn't a lock for the roster, but if he makes the team, it will be in a secondary role.

6. Pavel Zacha, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

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    Martti Kainulainen/Associated Press

    Where Is He Ranked? Pavel Zacha is ranked No. 17 by Craig Button of TSN on his December list.

    What Kind of Player Is He? Mike Morreale from NHL.com wrote about Zacha in the fall. He quoted Central Scouting's Chris Edwards on the player: "He's got high-end skill and is an excellent competitor; he plays an excellent two-way game. In the game I saw him play he broke up a few rushes in his own end and transitioned up the ice really well. He's physical and solid on his skates and can separate guys from the puck."

    What Will His Role Be at the World Juniors? Zacha should have a big impact on the Czech Republic team at the tournament. His range of skills will be most beneficial in a checking role against the other team's best players.

5. Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

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    Where Is He Ranked? Ivan Provorov is ranked No. 8 by Craig Button of TSN on his December list.

    What Kind of Player Is He? Elite Prospects' Curtis Joe has a scouting report on Provorov:

    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 talented defenceman who knows how goals are scored and executes diligently.

    What Will His Role Be at the World Juniors? The young defenseman is an impressive offensive player and should have a large role for the Russian team at the world juniors.

4. Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestads (SHL)

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    Where Is He Ranked? Oliver Kylington is ranked No. 6 by Craig Button of TSN on his December list.

    What Kind of Player Is He? Elite Prospects tells us Kylington has a wide range of skills, including foot speed and offensive creativity.

    What Will His Role Be at the World Juniors? Sweden is once again loaded with talent and should contend for the gold medal at the tournament. Kylington will be a factor on the power play and in times when Sweden needs some offense. Mike Morreale of NHL.com talks about the Swedish team in an article from earlier in December.

3. Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College Eagles (NCAA)

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    Where Is He Ranked? Noah Hanifin is ranked No. 3 by Craig Button of TSN on his December list.

    What Kind of Player Is He? Hanifin has terrific speed, and Bob McKenzie of TSN compared that part of his game to Scott Niedermayer in a September article. He also has terrific skill, can run a power play and possesses the size NHL teams are looking for in defenders.

    What Will His Role Be at the World Juniors? His range of skills should mean Hanifin gets plenty of work at even strength and on the power play. He should be a major factor for Team USA.

2. Jack Eichel, C, Boston University Terriers (NCAA)

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    Where Is He Ranked? Jack Eichel is ranked No. 2 by Craig Button of TSN on his December list.

    What Kind of Player Is He? In an article for The Boston Globe by John Powers, NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr calls Eichel a complete package. He also describes him as a skilled power forward, one of the rarest items available to NHL teams. 

    What Will His Role Be at the World Juniors? Eichel will be one of the most important players in the tournament, as he attempts to guide Team USA to the gold medal.

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

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    Where Is He Ranked? Connor McDavid is ranked No. 1 by Craig Button of TSN on his December list.

    What Kind of Player Is He? Brendan Ross of TheScout.ca says McDavid's skills are elite in every area in a recent update at OHL Prospects: "McDavid has the hockey world drooling over his pro future. Poised, professional and humble throughout the process, McDavid continues to stick to playing his game. Elite in every skill, McDavid has proved to be not only 'exceptional' but extraordinary in the face of adversity."

    What Will His Role Be at the World Juniors? McDavid will be a major player in Team Canada's quest for the gold medal. Expect him to receive a lot of power-play time during the tournament.