Ranking the Top 5 Prospects at Every Position in the 2015 NHL Draft

Kelly FriesenFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2015

Ranking the Top 5 Prospects at Every Position in the 2015 NHL Draft

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    From the top goaltenders to centers, we have broken down the best 2015 NHL draft talents in each position.

    It goes without saying that Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel give the draft its fair share of skill down the middle. But with elite blueliners like Noah Hanifin and Ivan Provorov and high-end wingers like Mitchell Marner and Lawson Crouse, the talent is spread out in this class. The weakest point in the draft seems to be in net, although Ilya Samsonov is considered a phenomenal goalie prospect.

    We lay out the rankings in the following order: goalies, defensemen, wingers and centers. We ranked the players based on what they have accomplished thus far in his careers, valuable skills such as skating and vision, and overall potential.

No. 5 Goalie: Callum Booth, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

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    Booth started the season as Quebec’s starting netminder, but became the backup when the Memorial Cup hosts acquired Montreal Canadiens prospect Zachary Fucale from the Halifax Mooseheads. He did battle Fucale, however, for the No. 1 job as he did get some early playoff spots. It is a testament to how high the Remparts were on him, as Fucale joined the club with a 2015 world junior medal and 2013 Memorial Cup title on his resume.

    NHL Central Scouting ranks the 6’3”, 199-pound netminder as the second-best North American goalie in the draft mainly because he is confident and poised. In addition, he cuts down angles well and reacts to plays quickly.

No. 4 Goalie: Adin Hill, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

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    Portland Winterhawks

    Opinions on Hill vary among scouts. ISS lists him as the top North American goalie, but Central Scouting pegs him fourth. Regardless of where he’s ranked, scouts agree that he has the rare combination of an imposing frame (6'4", 198 lbs) and quickness in the crease. On top of that, he solidified himself as one of the top goalies in the WHL this past year after posting a .921 save percentage and 2.81 GAA throughout 46 matches.

    International Scouting Services head scout Phil Myre pointed to his enticing blend of attributes for why ISS ranked him No. 1: "His has size, excellent rebound control, quickness and control of movement. He also has great anticipation and good skills."

No. 3 Goalie: Daniel Vladar, Kladno (Czrep-2)

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    Vladar’s large 6’5”, 185-pound frame isn’t the only reason why he stands out in the draft class. He has superb rebound control, is quick in the crease and displays great reflexes. His elite talent showed up on his stat sheet, as he maintained a .926 save percentage and 2.78 GAA in 29 games this past year.

    Myre of ISS believes the Czech Republic product has a high ceiling: "Daniel Vladar may be the best goalie in the long run in this draft. He's athletic, very competitive and never quits on a shot."

No. 2 Goalie: Mackenzie Blackwood, Barrie Colts (OHL)

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    The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native is regarded as the top North American goalie in the draft by Central Scouting. He stands out in the crowd because he has a calm and cool composure and covers the net well with his 6’4”, 216-pound stature. Moreover, Blackwood, who posted a .906 save percentage and 3.09 GAA in 51 matches, plays the puck well.

    Central Scouting’s Al Jensen points to Blackwood’s net coverage as one of his most notable strengths, per NHL.com: "Mackenzie's overall net coverage is excellent. His size and explosive leg power pushes is a great asset in his lateral ability. He is able to get across laterally with ease and very quickly, always being in control."

No. 1 Goalie: Ilya Samsonov, Magnitogorsk 2 (Russia-JR)

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    Samsonov, who posted a .918 save percentage and 2.66 GAA in 18 games this past year in Russia’s junior league, is the only goalie considered to be in the running to don a jersey in the first round. He’s earned such high praise because of the enticing blend of his imposing 6’3”, 200-pound stature, athleticism, fast hands and good instincts.

    TSN director of scouting Craig Button describes Samsonov:

    Combines essential elements of size and athletic ability to be imposing in the net and make scoring difficult. He is very aware and reads the play well and is quick to close down the net. An ultra competitor who never gives up on a play. With normal technical refinement, he can become a star.

    Of all the scouts, Button seems to be the highest on Samsonov, ranking him 14th overall in his latest mock draft. Other notable rankings peg him between 17 and 21.

No. 5 Defenseman: Brandon Carlo, Tri-City Americans (WHL)

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    With a 6’5”, 196-pound build, a poised demeanor and an edge to his game, the Colorado Springs, Colorado, native is a typical shutdown defenseman. He compares well to NHLers such as Ottawa Senators rearguard Jared Cowen and Tampa Bay Lightning veteran Braydon Coburn.

    Carlo, who is ranked 21st overall by ISS, showed he’s ahead of the curve among draft eligible blueliners when he cracked Team USA’s world junior squad this past year. It was a testament to how valuable of a stay-at-home defender he has proved to be in Tri-City.

No. 4 Defenseman: Thomas Chabot, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

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    The 6’2”, 181-pound Chabot, who is ranked 16th overall by ISS, took the next step forward in his game this year in Saint John. While making smart decisions with the puck and moving around the ice quickly, he racked up 12 goals and 41 points in 66 contests after notching just 22 points last year.

    The 18-year-old is a smart two-way defender who has the potential to blossom into a player similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Christian Ehrhoff. His mobility and hockey sense give him the skill set needed to make a notable impact at both ends of the rink.

No. 3 Defenseman: Zachary Werenski, Michigan University (NCAA)

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    Werenski made the jump up to the NCAA ranks a year early in his 17-year-old season. It’s a testament to his maturity, elite skill and desire to be on the fast track to the NHL. He did anything but disappoint in Michigan, racking up nine goals and 25 points in 35 games from the back end.

    The 6’2”, 207-pound blueliner is known for his smooth skating ability, high hockey IQ and elite composure. He projects as a future power-play quarterback who has the abilities to excel in all three zones on the ice.

No. 2 Defenseman: Ivan Provorov, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

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    Provorov made a smooth transition to the WHL from the USHL this year. While using his agility, accurate release and dynamic passing abilities, he led all WHL rookies in points with 61 points (15 goals) in 60 matches.

    TSN’s Craig Button points out that there’s a lot more to the Russia product’s game than his offensive abilities:

    While the debate will rage, I see Ivan as the best and most complete defenceman in the draft. His command of all the situations in the game allows him to contribute and make an impact regardless of what's confronting him. Ivan can make the game look effortless with a brilliant understanding of what's unfolding in front of him either from a defensive or offensive standpoint. His skating, quickness and balance, pinpoint passing, poise under pressure and a great competitive determination align to make him a defenceman who can influence the play and the outcomes in a consistent and positive manner.

    It's worth noting that Button is so high on Provorov that he ranks him ahead of Boston College's Noah Hanifin. 

No. 1 Defenseman: Noah Hanifin, Boston College (NCAA)

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    Just like Werenski, Hanifin made the jump to the college ranks a year early. His strong two-way game, skating ability, elite hockey sense and raw skill paved the way for him to look like a seasoned veteran in his rookie season. He netted five goals and 23 points in 37 contests while being Boston College’s go-to defender in all situations.

    Future Considerations describes Hanifin:

    The 2015 draft’s top defenseman…a smart and powerful two-way force… big, but very mobile... moves well with good speed and agility…uses his strength and reach very well when he rushes the puck, and he is tough to contain when he gets going…is skilled and confident with the puck and has the ability to take it end-to-end…used his size and body well to contain players and box them out on the walls…is smart and makes great defensive decisions…has an instinctive knack for knowing where his teammates are on the ice…supremely skilled quarterbacking the power play.

    As the scouting service elucidates, Hanifin has everything going for him. He has the ability to be the best player on the ice in all three zones.

No. 5 Winger: Kyle Connor, LW, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)

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    Connor, who has played center as well, is one of the more intriguing prospects of the draft because of the various opinions on him. TSN’s Craig Button pegged him sixth overall in his final ranking, while Central Scouting ranked him 13th among North American skaters.

    The 6’1”, 183-pound Connor, who potted 34 goals and 80 points in 56 USHL games, has the speed, vision and creativity to make opponents look silly. Moreover, his high compete level makes him dangerous in all three zones, as he rushes to take away opponents’ space and causes his share of turnovers.

No. 4 Winger: Timo Meier, RW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

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    The Switzerland native asserted himself as a QMJHL superstar in his second season in the league. While using his top-notch playmaking skills and hard shot, he followed up his 34-point rookie season with 44 markers and 90 points in 61 matches.

    Meier, who is ranked 14th overall by ISS, stands out in the draft for his versatility. His complete and edgy game gives him the ability to play up and down a lineup, whether it’s in a shutdown or scoring role. This is quite appealing to most scouts, as it makes him a safer prospect than a talent who is only capable of playing a certain role.

No. 3 Winger: Mikko Rantanen, RW, TPS Turku (SM-Ligga)

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    The 6’4”, 212-pound Rantanen is regarded as the top European player in the draft who spent this past season playing overseas. He earns such high praise because of the enticing combination of his soft hands, high-end hockey sense and excellent wrister.

    Central Scouting’s Goran Stubb describes the Finland product: "He’s a physically strong power forward with very good playmaking abilities, smart, active and involved on every shift. He has very good speed and quickness for a big man and plays with authority. He’s difficult to check, protects the puck well and has good hands."

No. 2 Winger: Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

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    With a 6’4”, 215-pound build, a mean streak, good hands and a lethal shot, Crouse has the makings of the next star power-forward. His skill set has elicited comparisons to many NHLers, but the most accurate one seems to be to Philadelphia Flyers star Wayne Simmonds.

    Ultimately, he appears to be one of the most NHL-ready prospects in the draft. He already has a man’s body, plays a two-way game and can thrive in any situation on the ice. He hasn’t, however, dominated offensively at the OHL level yet, scoring 29 goals and 51 points in 56 games this past year.

No. 1 Winger: Mitchell Marner, RW, London Knights (OHL)

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    Marner doesn’t let his smaller 5’11”, 164-pound stature hold him back on the ice. He drives hard to the net and uses his uncanny goal-scoring abilities and superb playmaking skills to create a flurry of offense. Look no further than the 44 goals and 126 points he tallied in 63 contests this past season for proof of that.

    The Thornhill, Ontario, native has received a lot of praise, but none was more flattering than the words Central Scouting’s Dan Marr used to describe him in an interview with Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star:

    He’s got a little bit of Doug Gilmour in him. Nothing you do is going to stop him from going out there to do what he can do.

    After Connor (McDavid), Mitch might be the most skilled player in the draft. Similar to Connor, it’s just the quickness in which he can process the game and execute plays. That really stands out in his favour.

    With Toronto holding the fourth pick, Leafs fans must be drooling over the Gilmour comparison. It's not every day a prospect draws a comparison to the Kingston, Ontario, native. 

No. 5 Center: Pavel Zacha, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

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    The Czech Republic native battled injuries but made his presence known when healthy in his rookie season of major junior puck. He scored 16 markers and 34 points in 37 matches while playing a physical game full of speed and tenacity.

    Ranked 10th overall by ISS, Zacha is expected to don a jersey early on in the draft because of the combination of his 6’3”, 212-pound frame, dynamic offensive abilities and toughness. He has the makings of a hard-nosed power-forward with first-line talent.

No. 4 Center: Mathew Barzal, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

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    Barzal, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 WHL bantam draft, registered 12 goals and 57 points in 44 games in a year when he missed a chunk of action because of a knee injury. As his stats allude to, he’s a pass-first type player who possesses phenomenal vision and hockey sense.

    Central Scouting’s John Williams points to Barzal’s skating as one of his most appealing skills: "He's the best skater I've seen in the WHL in terms of his east-west game while creating time and space with his feet. He has great vision and puck skills."

No. 3 Center: Dylan Strome, Erie Otters (OHL)

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    With a 6’3”, 187-pound stature, incredible vision and soft hands, Strome is a rare breed. It will be tough for the Arizona Coyotes to pass on him with the No. 3 selection. He has the potential to blossom into a future first-line center who compares to San Jose Sharks veteran Joe Thornton.

    He put up the biggest numbers in the draft, as he led the OHL in scoring with 45 goals and 129 points in 68 games. He’s the first draft-eligible player to win the award since Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin tied each other (106 points each) for the award in 2010.

No. 2 Center: Jack Eichel, Boston University (NCAA)

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    Eichel will go down as one of the top freshmen in the history of the NCAA. His 1.77 points-per-game (26 goals and 71 points in 40 matches) topped the college rookie seasons of Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel (1.31) and Minnesota Wild star Zach Parise (1.56). Moreover, he was named Hockey East Player of the Year and Hockey East Rookie of the Year and was the only unanimous first-team Hockey East All-star selection.

    Central Scouting's Dan Marr describes Eichel as a “game-breaker." He drives relentless to the net while using his speed, elite hockey IQ and raw talent to create scoring chances. Moreover, with his skill, strength and size (6'2", 196 lbs), he's hard to contain.

No. 1 Center: Connor McDavid, Erie Otters (OHL)

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    McDavid has been the most hyped draft prospect since Sidney Crosby for a reason. His skill, vision and speed are off the charts, much like Crosby. The 44 goals and 120 points he scored in 47 games this past season back up the hype that surrounds him.

    There’s not a shadow of a doubt that the Edmonton Oilers will select him first overall in Florida. The only question is how long will it take the Newmarket, Ontario, native to hit his stride in The Show. It took Crosby no time at all with a 102-point rookie season. Other elite talents like John Tavares and Steven Stamkos needed a year or two to adapt to the NHL.

    Unless otherwise noted, quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

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