Ranking the Toughest Prospects in the 2015 NHL Draft

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistMay 17, 2015

Ranking the Toughest Prospects in the 2015 NHL Draft

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    NHL teams are always on the lookout for players who display the ability to intimidate physically. Most scouts are looking for prospects who can fill a role but also bring the physical elements that remain a big part of the game.

    If a defenseman or forward can play a feature role—like a top-four defenseman or top six-forward—that player will have enormous value. Even in a complementary offensive role, a physical winger is valuable to an NHL team.

    Here are the 10 most physical prospects for the 2015 draft who are also skilled enough to play important moments in the game.

8. Andrew Nielsen, D, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)

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    The Statistics: Andrew Nielsen of the Lethbridge Hurricanes drew 101 minutes in penalties during 59 WHL game this season.

    The Skill: Nielsen is a tough, physical defenseman whose offensive ability includes strong passing and a good shot. If he makes it as a pro, he will be known as a shutdown defender.

    The Toughness: He is 6'3", 209 pounds and plays with an edge. Nielsen intimidates with size and aggression, and a big part of his game is winning battles in front of the net and along the boards. In this way he is a throwback player, and the number of jobs available to this player type decreases every year.

7. Erik Foley, LW, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL)

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    The Statistics: Erik Foley of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders drew 80 minutes worth of penalties in 55 USHL games this season.

    The Skill: Foley is a good skater and skilled winger, scoring 27 goals in 2014-15. He's not a big player—5'11", 172 pounds—and plays an agitating style.

    The Toughness: His range of skills has value to NHL teams. Foley's willingness to go to tough areas despite a lack of size and the fact he's difficult to play against give teams a player with added dimension. His size is a concern, but he may grow some before maturation. 

6. Jordan Greenway, LW, U.S. National Development Team (USHL)

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    The Statistics: Jordan Greenway played in 44 games for the U.S. National Development Team this season, piling up 42 minutes in penalties. In 2013-14, that penalty total was over 100 minutes. 

    The Skill: Greenway is a monster—6'5", 222 pounds—and has the kind of speed scouts love in a big player. Shawn Reznik of The Hockey Writers compares his skill set to Milan Lucic's and lists physicality and winning board battles among his strengths.

    The Toughness: He is a developing player, as reflected in this NHL.com article by Mike Morreale. Greenway has all the tools to be an impact power forward, but the intimidation factor—which he may one day bring—doesn't come naturally to him. There's no doubt NHL teams will be lining up to teach him to be more aggressive.

5. Nicolas Meloche, D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

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    The Statistics: Nicolas Meloche of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar was whistled for 99 penalty minutes in 44 games during the 2014-15 season. 

    The Skill: He has a range of skills, including a plus shot that earned him enough power-play time to post 34 points in 44 games. His skating is less than top level, but that aside he offers teams a quality game.

    The Toughness: Meloche is an agitator and a punishing defender. At 6'2", 204 pounds he's physically big enough to take on all comers. His range of skills means that Meloche is on the ice a lot, further distracting opposition players.

4. Brandon Carlo, D, Tri-City Americans (WHL)

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    The Statistics: Brandon Carlo of the Tri-City Americans was penalized for 90 penalty minutes in 63 games this season. 

    The Skill: He won't get drafted because of puck skills, as his 25 points in 63 games is one of the least impressive totals among the top 90 players in this season's draft. He has good foot speed for a big man—as described by Elite Prospects—and NHL teams will value that size and speed combination.

    The Toughness: Carlo is 6'5", 185 pounds and is a bit of an old-style player in terms of style. Most modern defensemen play with an edge when required, but Carlo is a willing participant in the physical side of the game. NHL teams will love his size and demeanor on the ice. 

3. Jakub Zboril, D, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

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    The Statistics: Jakub Zboril of the Saint John Sea Dogs played in 44 games and collected 73 penalty minutes this season. 

    The Skill: Zboril delivered 34 points in 44 games, including an outstanding 10 power-play goals. He's smart and fast and boasts a terrific shot from the point.

    The Toughness: He is 6'2", 185 pounds and plays a rugged style. Zboril isn't afraid of contact and can win battles along the wall and in front of the net. His range of skills suggests that he could be a 20-minute-per-night defenseman in the NHL someday.

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

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    The Statistics: Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting had 56 penalty minutes in 37 games during the 2014-15 season. 

    The Skill: He posted 34 points in 37 games this year, displaying a range of skills and playing in all situations. He was a useful scorer at even strength and on the power play this year. 

    The Toughness: Zacha is physical, as described by Chris Edwards of Central Scouting, via NHL.com. At 6'3", 210 pounds he can dominate junior players and retrieve pucks at will. At the next level, his aggressive style and size should make him a productive player.

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

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    The Statistics: Lawson Crouse posted 70 penalty minutes in 56 games for the Kingston Frontenacs this season.

    The Skill: He scored 29 goals in 56 games and scored 28 points in his final 23 games of the season. Crouse is unlikely to be an impact scorer on his own, but many in hockey feel he'll be able to play with skilled men and serve as an enforcer while helping score goals. He's also a quality penalty-killer for Kingston.

    The Toughness: Crouse is a big winger—6'3", 212 pounds—and is a very physical player. He checks hard, is aggressive on the forecheck and punishes opponents with his hard hitting. Combined with his puck skills, Crouse is the most attractive power-forward prospect available in this year's draft.