Ranking the Top 50 NHL Prospects

Kelly FriesenFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2015

Ranking the Top 50 NHL Prospects

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    With the 2015 NHL draft in the books, it is a perfect time to reevaluate the league’s top young players. We have compiled a list of the top 50 prospects with many of the recent draftees cracking the ranking.

    To qualify for the list, a player must be under the age of 23 and have played no more than 39 games in the NHL. Most players in the ranking have yet to play a single NHL game, but there are some exceptions, such as Edmonton Oilers prized pick Leon Draisaitl and Pittsburgh Penguins defensive prospect Derrick Pouliot.

    Our rankings are based on a combination of many factors, including long-term upside, raw skill and what the prospect has accomplished thus far in his career.

    Read on for our view of the best prospects in hockey, including our projection of when they will hit the NHL stage.

Prospects 50-46

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    50. Brendan Perlini, W, Arizona Coyotes – The Coyotes drafted the 6’3”, 205-pound Perlini 12th overall in 2014 because of his enticing blend of size, speed, puck skills and hockey sense. He projects as a future top-six forward who thrives in a puck-possession style.

    49. Denis Guryanov, W, Dallas Stars – The Russian native was a surprise pick on the 2015 draft floor, as the Stars picked him 12th overall even though most scouting services ranked him in the 20-25 range. He possesses an appealing combination of a large 6’2”, 190-pound frame, strength, a heavy shot and good speed.

    48. Samuel Morin, D, Philadelphia Flyers – Morin, the 11th overall selection of the 2013 draft, is a towering 6’7”, 225-pound defenseman with immense shutdown abilities. He played a vital role in helping the Rimouski Oceanic win the President Cup in the QMJHL this past year.

    47. Thomas Chabot, D, Ottawa Senators – Chabot was one of the first rearguards picked in the 2015 draft largely because of his elite offensive abilities. He brings an enticing package of mobility, speed, good puck skills and a high hockey IQ to the table.

    46. Anthony Duclair, W, Arizona Coyotes – The Pointe-Claire, Quebec, native garnered the hockey world’s attention early in the year when he notched seven points in 18 games with the New York Rangers as a 19-year-old. He went on to become a key piece in the deal that landed the Rangers veteran blueliner Keith Yandle.

Prospects 45-41

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    45. Thatcher Demko, G, Vancouver Canucks – The San Diego, California, native is a classic butterfly goalie with an imposing 6’4”, 194-pound build. He was outstanding in his sophomore year with the Boston College Eagles, posting a 2.19 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 35 contests.

    44. Kasperi Kapanen, W, Toronto Maple Leafs – The Finnish sniper, whom the Pittsburgh Penguins selected 22ndoverall in 2014, was one of the main pieces the Pens gave up for Phil Kessel. He’s a slippery forward who possesses creative hands, a quality shot and quick feet.

    43. Nikita Scherbak, W, Montreal Canadiens – Scherbak is a dynamic offensive forward who approaches the game with a bit of an edge. With a late 1995 birthday, he’s set to move on to the pros next year after tallying 27 goals and 82 points in 65 games this past season with the WHL's Everett Silvertips.

    42. Travis Konecny, C, Philadelphia Flyers – He is undersized at 5’10”, 176 pounds but not under-skilled. He possesses an appealing blend of a dynamic skating ability, top-notch hockey sense, superb puck-handling abilities, a quick release and a determination to win battles.

    41. Ilya Samsonov, G, Washington Capitals – As the 22ndoverall selection, Samsonov was the first goalie picked in the 2015 draft. He has the makings of a future No. 1 netminder because of his 6’3”, 201-pound frame, athletic abilities and elite competitiveness.

Prospects 40-36

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    40. Travis Sanheim, D, Philadelphia Flyers – Sanheim took major strides forward as a puck-moving defenseman in his second season with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. As the club’s No. 1 rearguard, he racked up 15 goals and 65 points in 67 matches following netting 29 points the year before.

    39. Ryan Pulock, D, New York Islanders – The Dauphin, Manitoba, native netted 17 markers and 29 points in 54 games with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers in his first year of pro hockey this past season. His stats are a testament to his superb offensive talents and ability to elevate his game.

    38. Jakub Zboril, D, Boston Bruins – Zboril, who was drafted 13th overall in 2015, is a smart two-way defenseman who possesses good hands, top-notch hockey sense and an edge to his game. He thrived in his rookie season with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs this past year, scoring 13 goals and 33 points in 44 games.

    37. Ivan Barbashev, W, St. Louis Blues – The Russia product showed off his immense vision, slick shot and raw talent while potting 45 goals and 95 points in 67 games this past year with the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats. He’s poised to play pro hockey next year because of his late 1995 birthday.

    36. Sonny Milano, W, Columbus Blue Jackets – Milano has the ability to fly down the ice and elude defenders because of his speed, agility and soft hands. He transitioned smoothly from the U.S. National Team Development Program to the OHL last year, tallying 22 markers and 68 points in 50 contests with the Plymouth Whalers.

Prospects 35-31

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    35. Robby Fabbri, C, St. Louis Blues – The Mississauga, Ontario, native is described by Future Considerations (via EliteProspects.com) as a “below-average-sized buzz-saw who works hard and has some of the best feet in the entire (2014) draft class.” He managed to rack up 25 goals and 51 points with the OHL’s Guelph Storm this past year despite only playing 30 games because of injuries.

    34. Julius Honka, D, Dallas Stars – The Finnish rearguard made a seamlessly smooth transition to the pro ranks as an 18-year-old, notching eight goals and 31 points in 68 games with the AHL’s Texas Stars. He possesses elite offensive skills, great agility and elusive abilities.

    33. Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton Oilers – The Oilers acquired the North Vancouver, British Columbia, native at the 2015 draft for a first-round pick from the Islanders. With a 6’4”, 205-pound stature and an edge to his game, Reinhart projects to blossom into a shutdown defenseman.

    32. Alex Tuch, W, Minnesota Wild – Tuch, whom the Wild drafted 18th overall in 2014, is a meat-and-potatoes type with a 6’4”, 220-pound build, strong balance and an impressive forechecking ability. He put up respectable numbers as a freshman with Boston College last season, potting 14 goals and 28 points in 37 games.

    31. Kyle Connor, C/W, Winnipeg Jets – Named the USHL Player of the Year this past season after tallying 34 goals and 80 points in 56 contests with the Youngstown Phantoms, Connor is a dynamic two-way center the Jets were lucky to snag 17th overall on the 2015 draft floor.

Prospects 30-26

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    30. Shea Theodore, D, Anaheim Ducks – Theodore is a skilled two-way defender who possesses elite playmaking abilities and a top-notch shot. Based on how he stood tall in a late-season stint with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals this past season, he doesn’t appear to be that far away from joining the Ducks.

    29. Nick Ritchie, W, Anaheim Ducks – With a 6’3”, 229-pound build and hard-nosed style of play, the Ducks chose Ritchie 10th overall in 2014 because he has the tools to blossom into a high-end power forward. The biggest question surrounding him is whether he has the offensive tools to play a top-six role in the NHL.

    28. Anthony Mantha, W, Detroit Red Wings – There are plenty who believe the 6’5”, 204-pound Mantha is one of the top prospects in hockey after tallying 57 markers and 120 points in 57 matches with the QMJHL’s Val D’or Foreurs during the 2013-14 season. His prospect stock, however, fell significantly this past season because he struggled to adapt to the pro game with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins.

    27. Jake Virtanen, W, Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks chose the right-handed winger sixth overall in 2014, and he has the tools to develop into a solid two-way forward. Virtanen plays hard at both ends of the ice, hits everything in sight and possesses an NHL-quality shot and a high-end skating ability.

    26. Madison Bowey, D, Washington Capitals – Bowey captained the Kelowna Rockets to a WHL championship and a spot in the CHL’s Memorial Cup tournament this past season. He is an exceptionally skilled puck-moving blueliner who has an appealing 6’2”, 209-pound frame.

25. Derrick Pouliot, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Pouliot and Finnish product Olli Maatta are the Penguins’ defensemen of the future. The two young studs are poised to help Kris Letang anchor the back end in Pittsburgh for years to come.

    The Weyburn, Saskatchewan, native, whom the Pens chose eighth overall in 2012, is an offensive-minded defender who possesses elite puck skills, a strong shot and excellent vision. His 2014-15 season showed he’s clearly ready to make his mark in the pros. In addition to notching seven points in 34 games with the Penguins, he racked up 24 points in 31 games with their AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

    NHL ETA: 2015-16

24. Timo Meier, W, San Jose Sharks

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    The Sharks chose the 6’1”, 209-pound Meier ninth overall in the past draft largely because of his versatile style of play. His blend of offensive skill, physicality and work ethic allows him to play up and down a lineup, from a checking role to a scoring role.

    Nonetheless, as a top-10 pick, it goes without saying that San Jose is hoping he will develop into more of a scoring threat than a bottom-six grinder. The 44 markers and 90 points he scored in 61 contests with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads last season is evidence that he has the potential to do exactly that. He possesses an accurate shot, high-end playmaking abilities and good hockey sense.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

23. Haydn Fleury, D, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Next to Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk, Fleury doesn’t have to worry about not having a solid entourage in Carolina. The Hurricanes have enough elite talent in their cupboard to have one of the better back ends in the NHL within the next five years.

    Evident in his points-per-game ratio dropping from .66 to .44, Fleury had a bit of setback this past year in his third season with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. But with a 6’3”, 203-pound frame, physical style of play and top-notch skating ability, there’s no need to hit the panic button just yet. He projects to develop into a future top-pairing defenseman.

    NHL ETA: 2017-18

22. Josh Morrissey, D, Winnipeg Jets

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    The Jets picked the Calgary, Alberta, native 13th overall in 2013. A slick puck-moving rearguard, Morrissey possesses a solid shot, elite playmaking abilities and a smooth skating stride. In addition, as a player who plays with an edge, he thrives at both ends of the rink.

    It appears Morrissey will need to hone his talent in the AHL for the year, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him crack the Jets lineup in 2015-16. He was dominant in the WHL last season, potting 11 goals and 38 points in 47 games between the Kelowna Rockets and Prince Albert Raiders, and was one of Canada’s top defenders at the World Junior Championship.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

21. Mathew Barzal, C, New York Islanders

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    When Islanders general manager Garth Snow saw Barzal had dropped to the 16th overall selection in the 2015 draft, he traded top defensive prospect Griffin Reinhart to the Oilers in order to draft him. It was a testament to how high the hockey world is on the Seattle Thunderbird.

    Barzal missed a chunk of action in 2014-15 because of a major knee injury, but he thrived in the WHL when he was healthy. While showcasing his high-end vision and playmaking and puck-handling abilities, he lit the lamp 12 times and added 45 assists in 44 contests.

    NHL ETA: 2017-18

20. Lawson Crouse, W, Florida Panthers

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    Crouse, whom the Panthers selected 11th overall in 2015, is a big-bodied (6’4”, 212 pounds) forward who dominates physically, possesses a lethal shot and is a solid skater. His skill set has garnered comparisons to Philadelphia Flyers veteran Wayne Simmonds.

    It seems it will take Crouse at least three or four years to hit his stride offensively in the pros, but his physical presence should help him earn an NHL spot as early as 2016-17. He has the ability to make an impact in any role because of his versatile style of play.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

19. Zachary Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Werenski has the makings of a future top-pairing blueliner who will be counted on in the offensive zone, especially on the power play. He will fit in nicely next to White City, Saskatchewan, native Ryan Murray on the Blue Jackets’ back end.

    The 6’2”, 214-pound Werenski thrived as a freshman at the University of Michigan last season. He used his smooth skating ability, good instincts and calm demeanor to produce nine goals and 25 points in 35 games.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

18. Kevin Fiala, W, Nashville Predators

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    Next to Swedish sniper Filip Forsberg, Fiala could give the Predators a solid one-two scoring punch. He projects as a future top-six scorer because of his elite speed, soft hands, good puck control and slick offensive instincts.

    Fiala finished the latter half of last season playing with Nashville’s farm team, the Milwaukee Admirals, after starting out the year in Switzerland. He managed to muster 11 markers and 20 points in 33 matches. He’s expected to play another year in the AHL before joining the Predators on a full-time basis.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

17. Pavel Zacha, C/W, New Jersey Devils

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    The Devils took a bit of chance selecting Zacha sixth overall this past June in Florida. He only played 37 games in 2014-15 with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting because of various injuries. He did thrive as a rookie, scoring 16 markers and 34 points, but it was a small sample size.

    With a 6’3”, 212-pound build, a physical style of play, speed and high-end offensive abilities, the Czech Republic native has the tools to develop into a first-line power forward. His gritty style gives him the versatility to start out in a sandpaper role in the NHL before he develops his offensive tools at that level.

    NHL ETA: 2017-18

16. Michael Dal Colle, W, New York Islanders

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    Dal Colle, whom the Isles picked fifth overall in 2014, has the potential to become John Tavares’ go-to winger of the future. He has the makings of a solid power forward with a 6’2”, 190-pound frame, great balance, a rocket of a shot and good instincts.

    The Richmond Hill, Ontario, native has been one of the OHL’s top scorers with the Oshawa Generals the past two years. He racked up 42 goals and 93 points in 56 games this past season after notching 95 points in 2013-14.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

15. Mikko Rantanen, W, Colorado Avalanche

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    Selected 10th overall by the Avalanche this past June, Rantanen is expected to help replace the offensive void left by Ryan O’Reilly, whom Colorado recently traded to Buffalo. He should give the Avalanche a solid quartet up front next to Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog.

    The Finnish playmaker possesses soft hands, good hockey sense and an appealing 6’4”, 212-pound build, though he doesn’t take much advantage of his size because of his lack of physicality. He seems to be a year or two away from cracking the Avalanche roster but will gain experience playing in Finland’s top pro league.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

14. Dylan Larkin, W, Detroit Red Wings

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    With hindsight vision, there’s no way Larkin would have slipped to the Red Wings at 15th overall in the 2014 draft. He showed with Team USA at the World Junior Championship and in his freshman season with the University of Michigan that he’s on the fast track to becoming a solid pro.

    The Waterford, Michigan, native has the deadly combination of high-end speed, good puck skills and a big frame at 6’1”, 192 pounds. He projects as a top six power forward who could make an impact in the NHL within the next couple of seasons.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

13. Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers

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    Nurse has what it takes to develop into a solid No. 2 or 3 rearguard. He has an imposing stature (6’4”, 205 pounds), mobility, good positioning and quality offensive tools. In addition, he has thick athletic bloodlines, as he’s the son of former CFL wide receiver Richard Nurse and nephew of former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.

    The Hamilton, Ontario, native is a key prospect in Edmonton’s cupboard. The Oilers are counting on him and 2011 first-round pick Oscar Klefbom to pan out as top-four defenders in order to support their high-end talent up front.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

12. William Nylander, W, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    No one is denying Nylander possesses elite offensive abilities. He sees the ice extremely well, has soft hands, good speed and has the ability to make uncanny tape-to-tape passes. His skill makes him a promising prospect.

    Nonetheless, it’s the Sweden native’s defensive game and play away from the puck that is a concern. He has a tendency of letting his foot off that gas when he’s not in an offensive situation. It’s this part of his game that will determine whether he’s good or great at the next level.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

11. Max Domi, W, Arizona Coyotes

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    Much like his father, Tie Domi, the 5’10”, 198-pounder is a thick, pugnacious winger who plays a hard-nosed style. But unlike his old man, Domi, whom the Coyotes chose with the 12th overall pick in 2013, has the skill set to play a top-six role, as he possesses good puck-handling skills, quick acceleration, high-end skating ability and a solid shot.

    Domi’s most memorable performance last year was his showing with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. He asserted himself as one of his country’s top forwards by playing a high-tempo game and netting five goals and 10 points in seven contests.

    NHL ETA: 2015-16.

10. Ivan Provorov, D, Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Flyers didn’t hesitate to draft Provorov seventh overall on the 2015 draft floor—even though they invested their previous two first-round picks on blueliners because of his high ceiling. He has the tools and composure to develop into a future No. 1 defenseman.

    He looked anything but a rookie in his first season with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings this past year. He led all WHL freshmen in points with the 15 goals and 61 points in 60 contests while playing a defensively sound game. He showed he has the ability to be the best player on the ice in all three zones.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

9. Nikolaj Ehlers, W, Winnipeg Jets

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    The Denmark product is an extremely explosive forward. He has the ability to fly past defenders with his blazing speed, fire off a rocket of a shot and puck-handle as though the puck were on a string.

    Following scoring 37 goals and 104 points in 63 games with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads last year, Ehlers has nothing left to prove in the junior ranks. He’s ready for The Show and has the skill set to make an offensive impact right away. He projects as a future first-line winger who could produce 70-85 points a season in his prime.

    NHL ETA: 2015-16

8. Sam Reinhart, C, Buffalo Sabres

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    The North Vancouver, British Columbia, native is somewhat flying under the radar in Buffalo because of the Jack Eichel hype. But make no mistake about it: He is a high-end blue-chip prospect who has the makings of a future top-six forward and someone who can be depended on at both ends of the ice.

    As evident with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, Reinhart’s vision and hockey IQ is off the charts. He knows where to be and when to be in all three zones, making his linemates better because of his positionaly sound play. He also possesses the ability to make slick tape-to-tape passes and release a solid shot.

    NHL ETA: 2015-16

7. Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers

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    McDavid is the centerpiece, but Draisaitl is an important piece in Edmonton’s rebuild. His big 6’1”, 209-pound frame and puck-protection skills make him a valuable player down low, especially when cycling the puck in the offensive zone.

    There’s the odd voice saying he should play in the AHL next season; however, it seems more likely he’ll stick with the Oilers since he did spend 37 games with them for the 2014-15 campaign. Moreover, he showed when he was with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, especially in the Memorial Cup, that he’s ready to make an impact at the next level.

    NHL ETA: 2015-16

6. Noah Hanifin, D, Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Norwood, Massachusetts, native is believed to be a future No. 1 defenseman. He’s an exceptionally strong skater, has a poised demeanor, a high hockey IQ and top-notch offensive abilities. His skill set is similar to that of St. Louis Blues star Alex Pietrangelo.

    The safer move for Hanifin would be to play a year in the AHL; however, he seems to be ready for the NHL. He looked anything but a freshman with Boston College last year and has the complete game to play in Carolina for the upcoming season.

    NHL ETA: 2015-16

5. Sam Bennett, C, Calgary Flames

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    Bennett may have cracked the Flames lineup at the start of the 2014-15 campaign, but a shoulder injury sidelined him for most of the season. He appears to be a lock the second time around after a strong showing with Calgary in the postseason.

    The 19-year-old forward has the makings of a future top-six forward who plays with a lot of energy, possesses great speed and competes hard at both ends of the ice. He will fit in nicely next to Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary’s young offensive core.

    NHL ETA: 2015-16

4. Mitchell Marner, C/W, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Marner, whom the Leafs picked fourth overall in 2015, is one of Toronto’s main building blocks in the club's rebuild. He has the potential to develop into a future 70-90 point scorer, much like former London Knight and current Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.

    The 5’11”, 161-pound Marner finished three points behind Dylan Strome in the OHL scoring race last year, netting 44 goals and 126 points in 63 games. He used elite speed, soft hands and great hockey sense to elude opponents and help the Knights maintain puck possession.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

3. Dylan Strome, C, Arizona Coyotes

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    Drafted third overall in June, Strome was one of the top talents in the 2015 draft class behind McDavid and Eichel. He projects as a future No. 1 center with an imposing 6’3”, 185-pound frame, impeccable playmaking abilities and elite hockey sense.

    Even though he led the OHL in scoring last season with 45 markers and 129 points in 68 matches with the Erie Otters, the Mississauga, Ontario, native seems like he could use another year of major junior hockey before joining the Coyotes. It would be a good experience for him to lead the Otters without McDavid and represent Canada at the World Junior Championship.

    NHL ETA: 2016-17

2. Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres

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    Eichel was a great consolation prize for the Sabres after the organization lost the draft lottery to the Oilers. According to Buzzing the Nets Kelly Friesen, Sean Lafortune of McKeen’s Hockey feels he would have went ahead of Florida Panthers blueliner Aaron Ekblad in 2014 and Colorado Avalanche playmaker Nathan MacKinnon in 2013.

    The 6’2”, 196-pound center seems to have what it takes to play in Buffalo’s top six this season. He has an elite-level hockey IQ, dynamic offensive abilities and an uncanny work ethic. Moreover, he has nothing left to prove in the NCAA following a season in which he notched 26 goals and 71 points in 40 contests and led the Boston Terriers to the Frozen Four.

    NHL ETA: 2015-16

1. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

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    Believe the Connor McDavid hype. He’s regarded as a generational talent who has the potential to go down as one of the top players to ever play the game.

    "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 [Sidney] Crosby," Wayne Gretzky told NHL.com. "He can definitely change a franchise's fortunes."

    After posting 44 goals and 120 points in 47 games with the OHL’s Erie Otters, the Newmarket, Ontario, native should hit the ground running with the Copper and Blue this upcoming season. He seems poised to slot in behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as Edmonton’s second-line center. It’s tough to say how many points he will produce, but it appears that his rookie season stats will play out somewhere in between Sidney Crosby (102 points in 2005-06) and Nathan MacKinnon (63 points in 2013-14).

    NHL ETA: 2015-16