Ranking the 10 Best Blueliners in the 2015 NHL Draft Class

Kelly FriesenFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2015

Ranking the 10 Best Blueliners in the 2015 NHL Draft Class

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    Noah Hanifin is regarded as the 2015 NHL draft's top blueliner.
    Noah Hanifin is regarded as the 2015 NHL draft's top blueliner.Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

    Even though the top two prospects—Connor McDavid and Jack Eichelare forwards, the 2015 NHL draft class is full of elite blueliners.

    Boston College star Noah Hanifin has established himself as the draft’s top defenseman, but Brandon Wheat Kings import Ivan Provorov and Michigan University freshman Zach Werenski are only half a step behind him. There are as many as 15 defenders in the running to have their names called in the first round.

    Here’s a look at the top 10 rearguards in the upcoming NHL draft. The rankings are based on where a player currently stands in his development and his long-term potential.

10. Noah Juulsen, Everett Silvertips (WHL)

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Overview: The 6'1", 181-pound Juulsen blossomed into a solid two-way defender in his sophomore season of major junior hockey this year. He used his vision, good hands and mobility to rack up nine goals and 52 points in 68 games. On top of being a physical presence, he used those same tools in his own zone to skate the puck out and hit accurate first passes.

    Draft status: As NHL Central Scouting’s 22nd-ranked North American skater, the Abbotsford, British Columbia, native is in the running to have his name called in the latter half of the first round. The majority of the other scouting services feel he will be chosen with a high second-round selection, though.

    NHL projection: He has the potential to develop into a solid second-pairing rearguard in the pros. His physicality combined with his offensive talent gives him the versatility to play in key situations at both ends of the ice.

9. Oliver Kylington, Farjestad (SHL)

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    Faerjestad Karlstad/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images

    Overview: The Stockholm, Sweden, native’s raw skill helps him stand out in a crowd. He reads the game well, has good puck skills and a strong slap shot and is a smooth skater. But his lack of strength and inconsistent play have scouts worried about how he will fare at the next level.

    Draft status: Kylington is arguably the biggest wild card in the entire draft class. On one hand, there’s an outside chance a team with a 10-15 pick could take a flier on him. On the other hand, he could slip into the second round. The latter outcome appears more likely than the former.

    NHL projection: It seems the 6'0", 181-pounder who scored two goals and five points in 18 games with Farjestad will be either a boom or a bust. He has the talent to blossom into a top-pairing blueliner if he gets stronger and polishes his game. If that doesn’t happen, though, it’s quite unlikely that he will play in the NHL.

8. Jacob Larsson, Frolunda (SweJE)

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    Tommy Holl/Frolunda Indians

    Oveview: Larsson has a deadly combination of a 6'2", 191-pound stature and a smooth-skating stride. The only thing is that he doesn’t have the offensive skill to quarterback a power play or win any scoring races. He thrives best in his own zone, as he has the ability to make a strong breakout pass and works hard to win puck battles in tough areas.

    Draft status: A testament to how Larsson’s draft stock rose this year is Central Scouting ranking him third among European skaters in its final projection. Partially based on that, it appears an NHL club will take a chance on Larsson, who netted eight goals and 19 points in 30 games with Frolunda, near the end of the first round or early in the second round.

    NHL projection: He doesn’t have the flash of an Erik Karlsson or as big of a stature as Victor Hedman, but Larsson has the all-around skill to be one of the better Swedish defensemen in the NHL when he hits his stride. His effective style of play leads scouts to project him as a future top-four defender.

7. Jeremy Roy, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Overview: Having notched five goals and 43 points in 46 matches, Roy was nearly a point-per-game rearguard this season. His stats are good, but his two-way game is better. His elite vision gives him the awareness to read his opponents and position himself in the right spot at the right time.

    Draft status: Roy, who is ranked 21st among North American skaters by Central Scouting, is regarded as a prospect who should be selected with a late first-round pick. There’s obviously a chance he could fall into the second round, but most scouts feel he’s worthy of a top-30 selection.

    NHL projection: Somewhat similar to Pittsburgh Penguins veteran Christian Ehrhoff, Roy has the potential to develop into a valuable two-way defender. He’s the type of player who doesn’t make many mistakes and creates a lot of offense.

6. Jakub Zboril, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

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    Saint John Sea Dogs

    Overview: Zboril is clearly the second best overseas-born defenseman in the draft behind Provorov. The Czech Republic native is a two-way defender who plays to his strengths while having few holes in his game. Moreover, he made a big offensive contribution in his rookie season with the Sea Dogs, scoring 13 goals and 33 points in 44 matches.

    Draft status: The 6'2", 185-pounder’s ranking varies among scouting services. For example, International Scouting Services projected him as the 20th-best prospect, while Central Scouting ranked him 12th among North American skaters.

    NHL projection: He has enough raw skill and intangibles to consider him as a potential top-pairing blueliner. It would be safer, however, to project him as a second-pairing defender.

5. Brandon Carlo, Tri-City Americans (WHL)

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Overview: With an imposing 6'5", 185-pound frame and an edge to his game, Carlo is a typical shutdown defenseman. He’s the type of player whom every coach wants in his arsenal to square off against an opposing star and play big minutes on the penalty kill. On top of that, having racked up four goals and 25 points in 63 contests, he has the skill to contribute here and there in the offensive zone.

    Draft status: He isn’t expected to be selected with a top-20 pick but should be a first-round selection on draft day. Central Scouting projected him as the 25th-best North American skater.

    NHL projection: Like the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Braydon Coburn, the Colorado Springs, Colorado, native has the tools to develop into a quality defensive defenseman. His limited offensive abilities give him a second-pairing ceiling, though.

4. Thomas Chabot, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

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    Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

    Overview: Chabot is a threat every time he steps on the ice because of his speed and offensive vision. It showed on the 6'2", 192-pounder’s stat sheet as he notched 12 goals and 41 points in 66 games this season. In addition, he transitions the puck out of his own zone smoothly and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in tough areas.

    Draft status: He is expected to be picked somewhere in between 15 and 25 on draft day. Central Scouting’s 16th overall ranking among North American skaters is on track with most scouting services.

    NHL projection: He has the tools, size and smarts to be a solid No. 2 defender if he fulfills his potential. His eagerness to improve leads most scouts to believe he has better odds of turning his potential into production than most of his draft peers.

3. Zach Werenski, University of Michigan (NCAA)

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Overview: By making Team USA’s world junior team and entering college a year early, Werenski showed he is clearly on the fast track to the pros. He has an enticing blend of 6'2", 214-pound stature, smooth skating ability, strong vision and elite offensive instincts (scored nine goals and 25 points in 35 games this year).

    Draft status: Werenski, who is ranked ninth among North American skaters by Central Scouting, is expected to don a jersey before the 11th selection; however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fall down five spots because of the elite talent in this draft.

    NHL projection: The Grosse Pointe, Michigan, native has the offensive skill and a strong enough all-around game to develop into a top-pairing blueliner. He likely will only need one more year in the NCAA before making the jump to The Show.

2. Ivan Provorov, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Overview: In his rookie season in Brandon, the Russia product looked like a grizzled veteran. On top of looking poised and confident in all three zones, he finished fourth in points among WHL defenders with 15 goals and 61 points in 60 contests. He was a big reason why the Wheat Kings won the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy (top regular-season team) in the WHL.

    Draft status: Ranked seventh among North American skaters by Central Scouting, he is regarded as one of the draft’s top 10 prospects. It would ultimately be shocking to see him fall beyond the 10th selection in Florida.

    NHL projection: With his elite offensive skill and complete game, he has top-pairing rearguard written all over him. In addition, based on his smooth transition to the WHL, it seems he could adapt more quickly to the pro game than most of his draft peers.

1. Noah Hanifin, Boston College (NCAA)

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    Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

    Overview: The 6'2", 205-pound Hanifin is without question the top blueliner of the draft class. He earned this high praise by thriving in his freshman season at Boston College, netting five goals and 23 points in 37 games along the way. The combination of his maturity, smooth skating ability and hockey sense has led scouts to believe he could be in the NHL as early as next season.

    Draft status: The Norwood, Massachusetts, native is the consensus third-best prospect in the draft behind McDavid and Eichel. There is, however, a chance he could slide a couple of spots on draft day because OHL forwards Dylan Strome and Mitchell Marner are neck-and-neck with him.

    NHL projection: Hanifin clearly has the tools to develop into a future No. 1 defenseman. He has the ability to be the best player on the ice at both ends of the rink, much like St. Louis Blues star Alex Pietrangelo.

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