The 2015 draft is looking like the foundation of hockey’s “next era”.
From the 2005 through 2010 drafts, we had players like Crosby, Toews, Stamkos, Kane, Doughty, Karlsson, Seguin, and Tavares emerge as solidified stars in the league. Kids nowadays would look at them the same way I saw Steve Yzerman or Scott Niedermayer as a kid in the ’90s. The stars of the game; year in and year out.
Many of the stars of the early 2020s, however, will come from this 2015 draft.
The 2015 draft started, well, exceptionally. Connor McDavid was one of the most hyped players since Sidney Crosby, and has more than lived up to it. Jack Eichel – who some say would have competed with Kane, Stamkos, or Tavares for first overall had he been born a half-decade earlier – is a point-per game 20 year old center with 40 goals and 95 points as his upside.
So starting with the first two picks, this draft is already one of the very best over the last decade. Remember when Nail Yakupov and Ryan Murray went first and second in 2012? Yikes.
It doesn’t stop at the top, though.
There are already 15 teams who I’d say could bet on the fact they’ve added a top line forward or top pairing defenseman from that draft – Philadelphia and Carolina might even have two.
So we’re going to decipher this draft early, and follow it relentlessly as these young men mature from 20-year olds, to 22-year olds, to the next (current?) generation of hockey stars.
But before we get going, you should know each player will have two ratings: a Current rating, and Potential rating separated by a comma.
For example: Mitch Marner: F, F+
That means he’s currently a franchise player, but may develop into an elite superstar.
For quick reference:
F++ = among the best in the world (Sidney Crosby)
F+ = elite superstar (Patrick Kane)
F = franchise player (Blake Wheeler)
1 = top line/ top pairing player (Derek Stepan)
2 = top six forward / top 4 defenseman (Artem Anisimov)
Let’s take a look at this 2015 draft that is looking mighty promising.
The peak of the mountain
These players come around every 3,650 days, or once every decade.
Center, Connor McDavid: F++, F++
1st overall to Edmonton
Edmonton and McDavid stand alone in this draft because McDavid will finish his career as the greatest of all time. And by greatest of all time, I actually mean most electric, most entertaining, most blow-your-mind how-did-he-do-that of all time. So you can relax. Wayne is still safe.
McDavid is the best in the world at a few things: top speed, acceleration, and stickhandling are easy claims to make. Combined with that stickhandling and breakneck speed though, is the uncanny ability to processes everything while relentlessly barreling down on opponents. His wrist shot looks great – just not used enough – and I’d expect him to push for high goal scoring numbers over time just as Crosby did.
Remarkably, McDavid is built exactly for the direction the National Hockey League has gone. If you can skate, you can play. If you can create, you can become elite. And McDavid brings those to the table like no one else.
I’ve been old enough to watch one phenom’s career unfold in my life; a fine chap by the name of Sidney.
Pretty excited to watch the second.
The proven elite
These players played in the NHL, excelled in the NHL, and have established a very high floor for their capabilities.
Center, Jack Eichel: F+, F+
2nd overall to Buffalo
Mister Eichel comes in as a franchise pillar for the Buffalo Sabres, and a player capable of scoring 40 goals and 95 points. His skating stride looks effortless, he has incredible reach, and owns a deceptive, accurate shot. Yes, Buffalo got ripped off when the Oilers won McDavid. But Arizona might have gotten it even worse; finishing second last but losing out on can’t-miss teenage prospects.
Eichel is an interesting character, noticeably sick of the “McDavid rivalry”, and accused of driving former head coach Dan Bylsma out of town.
But you know what, this guy was considered “almost equal” with McDavid in September 2014 when the media circus was beginning. That likely was a bit ambitious, but I have to say I’m pretty excited to see what this kid can do over an 82-game season.
Bring it on.
Right wing, Mitch Marner: F, F+
4th overall to Toronto
Mitch Marner falls in rather elite company based on his 61-point season while finishing the year as a teenager. Seven players since 2005 have outperformed him at that age:
Sidney Crosby (102, 121), Steven Stamkos (95), Patrick Kane (72), Auston Matthews (69), Patrik Laine (64), and Nathan MacKinnon/Jeff Skinner (63 each). It’s pretty nice company.
Marner has incredible vision and shiftiness combined with an underrated shot. 25 goals and 80 points seems a realistic ceiling, but.. there’s room for more. Marner will have stupendous talent surrounding him over the next decade, and I’m curious as to what his goal scoring abilities will look like when he’s 23 or 24. It may be foolish to underestimate them.
Defenseman, Zach Werenski: F, F+
8th overall to Columbus
Using the same criteria as Marner, but filtering for defensemen, you’ll find two players who have outperformed Werenski while just 2 years removed from their draft year. Drew Doughty with 59 points, and Tyler Myers with 49.
Safe to say Werenski might be blazing a bit of a trail here.
The man from Michigan seemingly has it all: he’s 6’2”, an excellent skater, has a great first pass and strong intuition in both offensive and defense zones.
He and Seth Jones will be one of the top defensive duos for the next decade.
Defense, Ivan Provorov: 1, F+?
7th overall to Philadelphia
Provorov seemingly entered the league with the ability to do it all, then ended the season with the ability to do it all. He averaged just under 3 minutes of PK per game, added 1:40 of PP time, and showed all Flyers fans that he is indeed Mr. Everything. He’s 6’1”, finished top-30 in shots per game with 1.98, and projects very simply as a franchise two-way defender strong in all areas. He’ll be chewing up 25 minutes for the foreseeable future.
Nice pick, Philly.
These players played in the NHL, looked good in the NHL, and will now battle the almighty sophomore slump.
Right wing, Mikko Rantanen: 1, F+?
10th overall, Colorado
Six-foot-four, 211 pounds. Skates like the wind, shoots like an ogre. Rantanen is one of the players I’ve seen most from this draft as I took pleasure watching my Jets stomp on the Avs this past season. But every game, heck, every period, I couldn’t help but notice Mikko Rantanen. He might be more valuable than MacKinnon at this point. This is a player I’m hesitant to put a ceiling on – he’s a goal scorer, for sure, but where does he cap out? 30? 35? 40? 90? I’ll check back in 2025.
Until then, feel free to fantasize about Tyson Jost panning out perfectly and setting up Rantanen for a decade.
Defenseman, Noah Hanifin: 2, F
5th overall to Carolina
It’s far too early to say, as I don’t see the ‘Canes much, and I can’t say I watched this young man play his singular year at Boston College. But thus far, Provorov and Werenski have impressed me more. At the same time, Hanifin is 6’3”, also skates fantastically, and will develop as a strong defender in both ends of the rink.
The third year is often an explosive year for many players. Will Hanifin follow up his 30-point season with 40 or 45 in 2018? It’s possible. But it’ll also depend where he ranks among Carolina’s excellent young core of defensemen.
Winger, Sebastian Aho: 1, F?
35th overall to Carolina
Aho represents the first of the 2nd-round picks to show a seriously high ceiling. Given the player directly above is also a member of the Hurricanes, this could prove to be a monumental draft for them.
Perhaps Aho was a 2nd rounder because he stands at just 5’10”, but to Carolina, that didn’t matter. He posted 20 goals and 45 points in 45 games in Finland’s top league as a 19-year old, and wasted no time scoring 24 goals and 25 assists in Planet Earth’s top league as a 20-year old.
A floor has been established for Aho as a top-6 forward. What’s at the top of the mountain?
Right wing, Travis Konecny: 2, F?
24th overall to Philadelphia
In 2016, Konecny was traded to the Sarnia Sting mid-season where he finished 2nd on the team in points with 56.
Oh, it only took 31 games.
Many, I’m sure, were enamoured with his high skill level and quick pace of play, though some may have been concerned about size (5’10), or perhaps about compete level. Regardless, as a 19-year old he scored 11 goals and 28 points in the NHL, and stood out because of his sky-high skill level.
Similar to Carolina, the Flyers cashed in on a top defender early (Provorov), and drafted an undersized forward later on.
So far it looks to have been a fantastic strategy.
I believe you, now show me
These players have had incredible junior/college careers, perhaps followed it up in the AHL or with a taste of the big leagues, and we’re now waiting to see what all the fuss was about.
Left wing Kyle Connor: 3+, F+?
17th overall to Wininpeg
After watching Kyle Connor attempt to make the Winnipeg Jets two words came to mind: raw and dynamic.
Connor’s skillset – break neck speed, crazy shiftiness, a quick release, and a knack for getting open – came to the forefront every so often with the Jets, but not often enough. So the Jets told him to go play in the AHL where he could be a star, not struggle.
So he did. Connor’s first-glance AHL numbers are excellent; 25 goals and 44 points in 52 games – a near 40 goal pace.
But it gets even better if you split his statistics, highlighting obvious improvement:
First chunk: 8 goals in 32 games
Second chunk: 17 goals in 20 games
Me oh my.
Center, Dylan Strome: 4, F
3rd overall to Arizona
Dylan Strome is a 6’3″ center who scored 315 points in 159 games over 3 years in junior hockey. Incredible.
Yet for some reason if I were a ‘Yotes fan I might be wishing they took Mitch Marner at 3rd overall instead, why is that? Is it because Marner already has a 60-point campaign in the NHL under his belt?
I guess it’s that darn thing called professional proof. Dylan, I believe your statistics; they’re pretty insane, and you’re likely going to develop into a top caliber center that the Coyotes will be thrilled to have for a long time.
But it’s going to take a year or two to get rid of this nagging feeling I can’t seem to shake. So the sooner you go score 25 goals and 55 points, the better.
Right Wing, Brock Boeser: 3+, F
23rd overall to Vancouver
I already think that Brock Boeser is the real deal. But with just 9-games of professional experience and a whole lot of career left, I’ll wait and see what the hockey gods send my way.
Boeser, after an impressive two seasons of college jumped in last year and showed everyone exactly why his stock has only risen since being drafted 23rd overall. He is an excellent skater, gets hard to the net, has a great shot and vision, and is dedicated to the game.
It might take some time, but the skills he showed last year are undeniable. Those goals weren’t flukes.
For this year, 20 goals and 20 assists would be an excellent first season. But if he performs a under that, I wouldn’t hit the panic button, either.
Right wing, Evgeny Svechnikov: 4, 1
19th overall to Detroit
I don’t know what it is about big Russian wingers that gets me goin’, but they do. Maybe it’s from being a Kovalchuk fan. Or having Tarasenko in my fantasy league.
Regardless, Svechnikov was a powerhouse over two years in the QMJHL, posting 78 and 79-point seasons, and followed it with a solid season after turning pro. Very plainly, Svechnikov’s 51 points in 74 AHL games looks like a solid start to any 20-year old’s professional career. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a nice little tidbit of extra encouragement.
First half: 38 games, 16 points.
Second half: 36 games, 35 points.
That’s development, baby. Now show me what’s next.
Defense, Thomas Chabot: 3, F?
19th overall to Ottawa
Many defensemen in junior hockey score a point-per-game as a 20 year old, yet struggle to find success at the professional level. Few defensemen, however, score a point-per-game as a 17 or 18 year old.
Thomas Chabot has done precisely that, scoring 11 goals and 45 points in 47 games. Last year he upped the ante, with 10 goals and 45 points in just 35 games.
When I watch highlights of this kid, he looks like a polished defenseman. His lateral skating and crossovers are powerful, his head is always up with the puck on his stick, and he launches laser tape-to-tape passes. He’s crafty in the offensive zone and appears to have good vision.
Safe to say, Thomas Chabot has been an elite defenseman at the junior level.
How long until that translates until the NHL?
Center, Joel Eriksson-Ek: 4, 1
20th overall to Minnesota
Eriksson-Ek’s 2016-17 was a bit hard to read. He started in the NHL and posted 5 points in 9 games. Then he played a singular game in the AHL, scoring a goal, before heading back to Sweden. At the conclusion of the Swedish season, he came back to Minnesota and finished the season with 2 points in 6 games, also dressing in a few playoff games.
Back across the pond, he scored 8 goals and 8 assists in 26 games playing in Sweden’s top league with Farjestads.
It can be hard to decipher the code of teenagers playing in Sweden against men, as their numbers can be underwhelming. Is there raw ability the scouts saw that will surface at 22? Or is he just in over his head? It’s hard to say.
Watching Eriksson-Ek’s highlights though gives me the following description: a slippery playmaking center with a capable wrist shot. He’s a bit lanky, but as he develops I think the Wild are getting an excellent addition up the middle.
30 goals and 40 assists would seem a nice career ceiling for this gentleman, though maybe 25 goals and 45 assists would be more reflective of his playmaking nature.
In the mean time, 15 goals and 40 points would be great progress for the Swede.
Part two will be coming soon, featuring:
The head scratchers: Players with tricky numbers to read
Pavel Zacha (NJD), Lawson Crouse (ARZ), Denis Gurianov (DAL), Timo Meier (SJS)
Don’t sleep on em: Sneaky good post-15th overall picks
Anthony Beauvillier (NYI), Brandon Carlo (BOS), Jack Roslovic (WPG), Matthew Barzal (NYI)
The Boston trio: These kids better be stars
Zach Senyshyn (BOS), Jakub Zboril (BOS), Jake Debrusk (BOS)
Pop in your email below, or follow us on facebook for part two.