NHL Combine 2015: Dates, Schedule, Format and Top Prospects

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2015

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 04:  Artyom Anisimov (L) of Russia and Jack Eichel (R) of USA battle for the puck during the IIHF World Championship group B match between Russia and USA at CEZ Arena on May 4, 2015 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
Matej Divizna/Getty Images

The NHL's draft process has continued to evolve and improve over the years, and one of the greatest examples of that is the evolution of the NHL Scouting Combine.

Although it has taken some time, the combine has emerged as important tool in the evaluation of draft prospects. While the NFL Scouting Combine is still at the forefront in that regard, there is no question that the NHL's version is starting to catch up.

The 2015 edition promises to be among the biggest combines ever, as it will take place in Buffalo, New York, for the first time and feature some new drills that are aimed to more accurately reflect how a player performs on the ice, according to Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com.

Here is a full rundown of the 2015 combine and its schedule, including a look at the top prospects who are expected to take part.

Where: First Niagara Center and HarborCenter in Buffalo, New York

When: June 1-6

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NHL Combine Schedule and Format

NHL Combine Schedule
June 1One-on-one interviewsFirst Niagara Center
June 2One-on-one interviewsFirst Niagara Center
June 3One-on-one interviewsFirst Niagara Center
June 4One-on-one interviews and medical examsFirst Niagara Center
June 5One-on-one interviews and fitness testingFirst Niagara Center
June 6Fitness testingHarborCenter

Top Prospects to Watch

Connor McDavid

ST CATHARINES, ON - JANUARY 22:  Connor McDavid #97 of Team Orr skates during the 2015 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game against Team Cherry at the Meridian Centre on January 22, 2015 in St Catharines, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Hockey fans have awaited Connor McDavid's entry into the NHL for the past couple years, and many have heralded him as the next Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky. Those are lofty expectations to meet, but he will have a chance to show off his physical ability at the combine.

Regardless of how he performs, it seems as though the Erie Otters star is a lock to be selected No. 1 overall by the Edmonton Oilers.

That is bolstered by the fact that new head coach Todd McLellan has already picked Crosby's brain about what McDavid will encounter once he reaches the NHL, according to Jason Gregor of TSN 1260:

Jason Gregor @JasonGregor

"I spent time with Sidney (at WC) and asked him what it was like coming up as an 18 year old like that (pressure on McDavid)." McLellan

Most figure that McDavid will step in right away and be a superstar. Gretzky is apparently among them, as he rates McDavid as one of the top talents entering the draft over the past three decades, per Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal:

"He's as good as I've seen in the last 30 years, the best player to come into the league in the last 30 years, the best to come along since (Mario) Lemieux and Crosby. He can definitely change a franchise's fortunes," Gretzky said.

If McDavid comes anywhere close to making a similar impact to Gretzky or Crosby, then Edmonton is undoubtedly heading in the right direction. According to Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press, everything is coming together for the Oilers:

Stephen Whyno @SWhyno

#Oilers in last 32 days: Win lottery to get Connor McDavid, put Bob Nicholson in charge, hire Peter Chiarelli as GM, Todd McLellan as coach.

McDavid is a spectacle due to his dominance in the OHL, so there is no question that most of those in attendance at the combine will have their eyes on him.

Add in the fact that Buffalo is a short ride from where he played junior hockey in Erie, Pennsylvania, and McDavid's combine participation certainly can't get much more compelling.

Jack Eichel

Most of the hype entering the NHL combine and draft is focused on McDavid, but Boston University star Jack Eichel is an elite prospect in his own right, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him outshine McDavid in the combine workouts.

While McDavid may be a more talented all-around player, it can be argued that Eichel is stronger and more physically gifted. "Winning" the combine won't miraculously vault him past McDavid on draft boards, but it will set the stage for what promises to be an epic rivalry for many years to come.

Another intriguing storyline with regard to the combine is the fact that it takes place in Buffalo, and it just so happens that the Buffalo Sabres are a virtual lock to select the American-born star with the second-overall pick.

According to John Vogl of the Buffalo News, Sabres general manager Tim Murray is excited about the opportunity to select the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner as the best player in college hockey:

John Vogl @BuffNewsVogl

Murray on WGR about Eichel and draft: "Deciding on who we're picking at 2, that's probably the easiest call I'll have in my career."

Eichel dominated much older players as a freshman with the Terriers, which suggests he is ready right now to make the leap to the next level.

That was evident in the IIHF World Championships, too, as Eichel was among Team USA's best players and helped lead the Americans to a surprising bronze medal.

Dan Bylsma was one of the assistant coaches on that team, and it just so happens that he was recently hired by the Sabres to be their new head coach.

When asked about Eichel, the former Pittsburgh Penguins bench boss discussed his readiness to be a star at the NHL level, per Craig Custance of ESPN The Magazine:

Craig Custance @CraigCustance

Dan Bylsma on coaching Jack Eichel in Worlds: "He stacked right up there with his skill, size & ability to play the game."

Bylsma also projected that Eichel will develop into one of the very best players the NHL has to offer, according to WGR 550:

WGR 550 @WGR550

Bylsma: "Having coached Jack Eichel at the world championships, you have a chance to see a guy that's going to be an elite player."

Since Bylsma coached top young players like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, his opinions regarding Eichel carry more weight than most.

There is a ton of buzz surrounding hockey in Buffalo right now, and if Eichel impresses at the combine as expected, then it will only continue to grow.

Noah Hanifin

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 26:  Noah Hanifin #2 of Team United States passes the puck near Otto Rauhala #29 of Team Finland during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship game at the Bell Centre on December 26, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Phot
Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

There is no arguing against the notion that McDavid and Eichel are the biggest prizes to be had in the 2015 NHL draft, but they are far from the only potential stars available. Defenseman Noah Hanifin is a prime example of that, as the Boston College defenseman has the tools to be something special in his own right.

While Hanifin was nowhere near as dominant as Eichel in his freshman season of college, he played a remarkably poised and intelligent game, which is something that will serve him well as a blueliner in the NHL.

According to the International Scouting Services on Twitter, the Norwood, Massachusetts, native is as complete as a rearguard can possibly be:

ISS Hockey @ISShockey

http://t.co/XjymQcv3NG #5 Noah Hanifin @NHanifin Complete two-way defender with huge upside. Remains calm & confident at all times -E Petit

Per Kirk Luedeke of Red Line Report, there is a belief among talent evaluators that Hanifin is ready to join the NHL in 2015:

Kirk Luedeke @kluedeke29

1 NHL scout I talked to thinks Noah Hanifin will be in NHL next year (if that's what he wants): "He already thinks the game like an NHL D."

It isn't easy for a defenseman to go straight to the NHL out of the draft, although guys like Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers and Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators have managed to do it quite effectively over the past couple seasons.

Provided Hanifin is close to their level, the team that lands him will be getting the best defenseman in the draft and a potential perennial All Star.

Hanifin s very likely to be the first defenseman off the board no matter what he does at the combine, but if he is especially good, then the No. 3 pick certainly isn't out of the question.

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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