Stock Watch for the Top Players Eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistDecember 24, 2014

Stock Watch for the Top Players Eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft

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    NHL teams have their amateur scouts out in force this season as the talent available for the 2015 draft is historic. Comparisons to the watershed 2003 edition appear to be reasonable, and the top end of the draft is incredible.

    All of that talent means a lot of movement among prospects, as some emerge and others fade during the season. A few overlooked talents are creeping into the top 10 overall, and several big names on the list seem to be plateauing. It's a fascinating year to watch the draft-eligible prospects.

    Here's a stock watch for the top players in 2015's NHL entry draft.

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

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs ranked No. 5 on Bob McKenzie's TSN Top 15 ranking in September.

    Where Is He Now? Craig Button's TSN December ranking—independent of McKenzie's list—has Crouse No. 18 overall.

    Stock Watch: The winger's stock is up and down, depending on who you're reading. Button's ranking of Crouse as a top-20 talent may seem unusual, but his offense this season hasn't spiked. On the other hand, Crouse's skill set—a power winger with offensive ability—is so unique he's likely a top-10 overall selection next summer.

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

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? Seattle Thunderbirds center Mathew Barzal ranked No. 7 on McKenzie's TSN Top 15 ranking in September.

    Where Is He Now? Button's TSN December ranking has Barzal No. 16 overall.

    Stock Watch: His stock is down, owing completely to an injury that has derailed his season. Mike Morreale of NHL.com reported that he had surgery November 13 and would be sidelined up to six weeks. He performed well early in the season and should recover his standing with a healthy second half. It is possible Barzal falls out of the top 10 overall at the draft.

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

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets was not rated by McKenzie in his September look at top prospects.

    Where Is He Now? Merkley is No. 9 on Button's TSN December ranking.

    Stock Watch: The young center sees his stock up due to a strong showing for Kelowna this fall. He leads the WHL in scoring and assists and has equaled last year's production in 30 fewer games. Merkley is a trending player and could find his way inside the top five overall by season's end.

7. Zach Werenski, D, Michigan (NCAA)

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? Zach Werenski of the Michigan Wolverines was not ranked in the September TSN Top 15 by McKenzie. 

    Where Is He Now? Button's TSN December ranking has Werenski at No. 7 overall after a strong fall campaign.

    Stock Watch: Werenski's stock is way up, and he is a rising prospect for the 2015 draft. His size and range of skills are strong selling points, and his offensive production at Michigan is an exciting development. It is unlikely—but not impossible—that Werenski becomes the top defenseman chosen in the draft next summer.

6. Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestad (SHL)

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? Oliver Kylington of Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League ranked No. 8 on McKenzie's TSN Top 15 ranking in September.

    Where Is He Now? Button's TSN December ranking has Kylington at No. 6 overall.

    Stock Watch: Kylington's stock is up and could be going higher in the second half of the season. He's playing in Sweden's top league and is posting offense, a rare item for such a young player. His skating and playmaking skills are exceptional, and he is likely to be taken in the top 10 overall.

5. Mitch Marner, C, London Knights (OHL)

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? Mitch Marner of the London Knights ranked No. 9 on McKenzie's TSN Top 15 ranking in September.

    Where Is He Now? Button's TSN December ranking shows Marner moving up. The No. 5 slotting by Button doesn't mean McKenzie's list will follow suit, but there is some impressive season-over-season improvement.

    Stock Watch: Marner's stock is up—with an explanation. On the positive side, his offense has gone supernova in 2014-15. He has passed last season's point total in half of the games and leads the league in points as a 17-year old. On the downside, he's still a smaller winger, and that may keep him outside the top 10 overall. On talent alone, he's a lock for the top 10 this year. 

4. Dylan Strome, C, Erie Otters (OHL)

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? Dylan Strome of the Erie Otters ranked No. 6 on McKenzie's TSN Top 15 ranking in September.

    Where Is He Now? Strome is No. 4 on Button's TSN December ranking.

    Stock Watch: This is a player who has seen his stock increase a great deal since the start of the season. Strome's offense is so good he's close to the point-scoring lead in the OHL and is the leader in assists for the year. It is highly unusual for a draft-eligible player to be pushing for the scoring championship, and most felt it would be teammate Connor McDavid doing it this season. Strome's impressive performance is helping his momentum for draft day.

3. Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? Noah Hanifin of the Boston College Eagles ranked No. 3 on McKenzie's TSN Top 15 ranking in September.

    Where Is He Now? Button's TSN December ranking shows Hanifin at No. 3 at the halfway point of the season.

    Stock Watch: Hanifin's stock is the same and may be slightly lower than in September. He has the complete range of skills, but his offensive output—seven points in 17 games—is not elite. There are other defensemen in the draft with stronger numbers. Hanifin remains No. 3 overall, but there's a chance he gets passed over by springtime in the rankings.

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

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? Jack Eichel of the Boston University Terriers ranked No. 2 on McKenzie's TSN Top 15 ranking in September.

    Where Is He Now? Button's TSN December ranking has Eichel and McDavid tied for No. 1 overall. Button cites exceptional reach and the ability to move laterally as reasons for Eichel's prominence.

    Stock Watch: Eichel's stock is up in a big way this year. It is a major surprise to see him ranked as a co-leader this late in the prospect season. He leads the NCAA in scoring—highly unusual for a freshman—and his size, speed and style make him an impact prospect. Eichel's leadership ability is reflected in his being named captain of Team USA for the world juniors over Christmas, per USA Hockey (via Ian McLaren of The Score).

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

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    Where Did He Rank Before The Season? McDavid of the Erie Otters ranked No. 1 on McKenzie's TSN Top 15 ranking in September.

    Where Is He Now? Button's TSN December ranking has McDavid tied for No. 1 overall.

    Stock Watch: McDavid's stock is up, despite the fact he is not the stand-alone No. 1 overall pick on Button's list. The young center's scoring numbers are so strong they are nearing Sidney Crosby levels. In his draft year, Crosby scored 2.71 points per game, as compared to McDavid's 2.83 points per game at this time. The comparison isn't perfect—these are different leagues, and the scoring levels are not the same—but it does indicate we are looking at a generational talent with McDavid.