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NHL Draft 2015 – Predictions on the Top Five Picks

The 2015 NHL Draft may turn out to be deep, but we already know that it’s loaded at the top.

The Erie Otters’ Connor McDavid is universally believed to be the best draft-eligible player since Sidney Crosby. Barring something massive happening in the OHL playoffs, McDavid is going to be the top pick next June.

But – astonishingly – that wasn’t a certainty for much of the year, as Boston University’s Jack Eichel was breathing down his neck for the title of top prospect. That isn’t in anyway a knock on McDavid, only a testament to how good Eichel already is and is projected to be. Both players would have likely gone first overall in any draft dating back to 2005 (when Crosby was taken first by the Pens).

After the bona fide superstars at 1 and 2, things get a bit murkier, as there are a host of other solid prospects that could go 3-5.

Below is my mock draft for the current bottom-five teams in the NHL.

(Note that the NHL has a draft lottery system. All the teams that miss the playoffs have a shot at the first pick. The full system is explained here. But we’ll assume, for the time being, that the standings and odds will hold and Buffalo will be up to the mic first. Also, if you need another example of just how good McDavid is, the lottery system was amended this season to discourage teams from tanking.)

(1) Buffalo SabresConnor McDavid (Erie Otters)

Team needs don’t even factor into the first two picks. That’s how much better the top two prospects are than the remainder of the draft class. McDavid is going to be drafted first and he should be, no matter who owns this pick.

The 6’1” center has dominated the OHL as a 17-year-old. He scored 44 goals and tallied 120 points in just 47 games. He has a high IQ, plays in all three zones, has excellent size, outstanding puck skills, and skates beautifully. He is the best draft-eligible player in a decade. Multiple scouts have called him a generational talent. He could do for the Sabres what Crosby has done for the Penguins.

(Though they play completely different styles, last year’s No. 2 overall pick Sam Reinhart could be the Malkin to McDavid’s Crosby in the years to come. Throw in at least a few years with Evander Kane on the wing and Buffalo is starting to look downright terrifying!)

(2) Arizona Coyotes – Jack Eichel (Boston University)

McDavid is going to get most of the attention, and rightfully so, but Eichel is a tremendous consolation prize. At 6’2”, Eichel is a scoring center that makes everybody around him better. The pace of the game jumps when he’s on the ice.

As a freshman at BU, he was named Hockey East Player of the Year, scoring 24 goals and adding 42 assists in 36 games (1.8 PPG). Those stats don’t pop like McDavid’s, but keep in mind that NCAA hockey is lower scoring than the OHL, and Eichel is playing against even older competition.

He is by a large margin the second best prospect in the draft, and most years would be number one.

(3) Edmonton Oilers – Noah Hanifin (Boston College)

After the top two, team needs start to play a role. There will be a couple very talented offensive prospects left when the No. 3 pick rolls around, but the Oilers need defense. In Noah Hanifin, they’ll get the top defenseman available.

As a freshman at Boston College this year, the 6’2” blueliner had five goals and 18 assists in 36 games. He blocked 46 shots and proved to be reliable at both ends of the ice. He is an above average skater and can be a team’s number one defenseman down the road.

(4) Toronto Maple Leafs – Dylan Strome (Erie Otters)

If the Oilers do the unthinkable at No. 3 and take another forward, the Leafs should snag Hanifin to bolster their lamentable blueline. But, assuming that doesn’t happen, the Leafs will go with a center, either Mitch Marner of the London Knights or Dylan Strome, McDavid’s teammate in Erie.

In my view, Marner is too reminiscent of the Leafs’ first pick last year, William Nylander. Both are dynamic playmaking centers, but are also a bit undersized. Strome, on the other hand, is already 6’3″ and would pair nicely with Nylander as a one-two punch down the middle in years to come.

And the Leafs wouldn’t be losing much offensive firepower by taking Strome over Marner. Strome actually scored more points than McDavid this season (129 points), taking home the OHL scoring title in the process. (Though he had about 20 more games in which to do so.)

(5) Carolina Hurricanes – Mitch Marner (London Knights)

With Strome and Hanifin off the board, the Hurricanes will go with London’s Mitch Marner. Marner was primed to win the OHL scoring title this year (126 points in 63 games), but had it ripped away by Strome’s six-point performance in the last game of the season.

Marner has great vision, supple hands, skates well, and is very unselfish. Like all good first-line centers, he makes his linemates better. Marner isn’t just an offensive dynamo, though; the 5’11”, 163 pound center plays a solid two-way game that will translate well at the next level (if size doesn’t hold him back).

 

Agree? Disagree? Think the likes of Lawson Crouse or Ivan Provorov are going to go in the top five? Let us know in the comments!

(Photo credit: Alexander Laney [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped and edited.)

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