NHL Comparisons for Top 5 Forwards in 2015 NHL Draft

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJune 13, 2015

NHL Comparisons for Top 5 Forwards in 2015 NHL Draft

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    NHL teams and fans are excited about the richness of the impending 2015 draft. There's genuine curiosity about the top talents available, which means there are questions about their qualities and styles.

    This leads to us comparing players from the league's recent or distant past with the future crop. It's problematic in that style doesn't address substance, so even if a prospect's performance reminds us of a current player, there's the matter of talent level.

    Here are NHL comparisons—past and present—for the top 5 forwards in this year's draft.

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

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    Who Is His Comparable? Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs combines size, speed and some skill to keep the opposition on its heels. In this way, he is similar to Benoit Pouliot of the Edmonton Oilers.

    How Are They Similar? Both men are difficult to defend against and contain because of their size and speed. Opposition defensemen are pressured to make plays quickly because of that, which often results in turnovers. Crouse and Pouliot also possess enough skill to play with talented forwards and not have to play die on their stick, meaning both have huge value to teams looking for size on their skill lines.

    Will He Be Better? The range of opinion on Crouse is enormous—Craig Button of TSN compared him to Winnipeg's Andrew Ladd. There's every chance Crouse will have a better career than Pouliot, but we'll need to see significant offensive progress before we use Ladd for comparisons.

4. Mitch Marner, RW, London Knights (OHL)

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    Who Is His Comparable? Mitch Marner of the London Knights is a wizard with the puck and an intoxicating offensive player. He is most comparable with Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, although Ales Hemsky of the Dallas Stars also possesses the same flashy skill set.

    How Are They Similar? Both men are dynamic with the puck on their stick and in attack mode, and the results are formidable.  Marner's performance with the Knights this season was nothing short of outstanding, as he averaged two points per game during the regular season. Kane scored 2.5 points per game in his draft season.

    Will He Be Better? The gap in performance in their draft seasons suggests there's a gap between the two players despite their being visually similar. Although Marner is unlikely to be a better player, 80 per cent of Patrick Kane is still a substantial talent.

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

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    Who Is His Comparable? Dylan Strome of the Erie Otters is a quality prospect for the 2015 draft, and his skill set is similar to John Tavares of the New York Islanders. 

    How Are They Similar? Strome's size—6'3", 187 pounds—combined with his passing and creativity, has inspired comparisons to Tavares. An April article in the Toronto Sun by Mike Zeisberger detailed the similarities between the two, including both players' speed issues at the time of their respective drafts. John Tavares' final junior season saw him post 1.86 points per game, which is very close to Strome's 1.90 per game.

    Will He Be Better? Tavares has blossomed as an impact NHL player and is one of the league's best centers. It's wildly unfair to burden Strome by expecting him to have that kind of spike in development. The two are similar in style, and they did have seasons that look close to identical in their draft year. Beyond that, though, it's best to give Strome a chance to establish himself as an NHL player before placing higher expectations on him.

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

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Who Is His Comparable? Jack Eichel of the Boston University Terriers is one of two truly exceptional players available in this year's draft. The closest comparable player in today's NHL is Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings. Craig Button of TSN suggests Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks is also a good match.

    How Are They Similar? In college, Eichel is a bull in a china shop, seemingly able to impact the game at will. He's effective at both ends of the ice and in all areas of the game. That's a perfect match for Kopitar, who plays that style successfully in the NHL.

    Will He Be Better? Eichel's pedigree and ridiculous scoring in college suggests he will be a better offensive player than Kopitar. As for the two-way portion of the game, it will take time and will depend on deployment, but Eichel appears to have the tool kit and desire.

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

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    Who Is His Comparable? The most closely related player to Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters in recent history is Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Older fans may be reminded of Buffalo Sabres great Gilbert Perreault, as suggested by Craig Button of TSN.

    How Are They Similar? The true indicator of an elite prospect is the scarcity of comparable players at the same age. McDavid's point-per-game total at junior level, 2.55, isn't far from Crosby's 2.71 at the same age. Visually, he duplicates Crosby's ability to make and successfully execute plays at high speed. He is a rare talent, so rare we have to go back a decade to find a similar junior player.

    Will He Be Better? Fans and media alike love to hype prospects, but it's unfair to suggest McDavid will be superior to Crosby. We can say that the young Erie Otters center has performed at a high enough level to be considered in the same range as Crosby was at a similar age. We'll have to wait and see how this turns out.