I’m a believer that this year’s NHL draft is one of the deeper ones in recent memory. It might not compare to the vaunted 2003 crop, but word around the league is that there are upwards of 50 players that have first round grades on individual team boards. Obviously this makes mocking the draft tough, but I’ll give it the old college try here with my first ever mock draft on East Coast Egos.
- Edmonton Oilers – Connor McDavid C Erie (OHL)
Just a formality at this point, Connor McDavid is worth the hype and then some. It all starts with his skating. McDavid will step into the league and immediately be up there with the likes of Matt Duchene and Carl Hagelin as one of the fastest guys in the league. What makes McDavid so special though is his ability to combine that speed with his elite hockey sense and make plays without slowing down. McDavid is in my opinion the best prospect to come into the NHL since Crosby, and I’d put him a step above where Crosby was as a prospect due to his previously mentioned skating ability. McDavid will step into the lineup and being propelling Edmonton back to the glory days.
- Buffalo Sabres – Jack Eichel C Boston University (NCAA)
Also no suspense here as Eichel is the consensus #2 player in this draft. Eichel put an assault on the college hockey ranks this year that was unseen by a draft eligible player since Paul Kariya in 1993. Eichel combines size, skating, and puck skills into a rarely seen package. His puck handling in tight areas is impressive especially for a player of his size, and he packs a punch with his shot in space. You would like to see him engage a little more physically, but that’s nit picking as he is a very good defensive forward as well. Eichel is NHL ready, and Buffalo will hand the keys to the franchise to the “best American since Modanao.”
- Arizona Coyotes – Dylan Strome C Erie (OHL)
The draft really starts at pick 3, where Don Maloney has been adamant about weighing his options and even taking calls from teams trying to move up. This pick is a tossup between Noah Hanifin, Mitch Marner, and Dylan Strome. If you poll around the league, Hanifin would get the nod as the #3 player in this draft. However, Arizona has a real dearth of talent down the middle, and the best place to fix that is the NHL Draft. Dylan Strome is an intriguing prospect, as a cerebral 6-3 center with fantastic puck skills. The biggest knock on Strome is his average skating, but it’s an area that he’s improved since entering the OHL. When he’s on his game, Strome just makes plays happen. If Arizona takes him here, they hope he fills out his frame and become the #1 center they’ve truly lacked over the years.
- Toronto Maple Leafs – Mitch Marner C/RW London (OHL)
Back in 2013, Mark Hunter was the GM of the London Knights when they took a chance on a 5’7” scrawny 16 year old at the end of round 1 of the OHL Priority Selection. That small kid would progress into the current version of Mitch Marner we see, the dynamic offensive threat drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane. Why does this matter? Mark Hunter is now with the Maple Leafs and with the firing of their head amateur scout, he’s now tasked with running the draft this year. This shouldn’t take away from Marner though, as he is a dynamic talent more than worthy of the top 5 selection. Combining speed with puck skills always makes for a dangerous player at the junior level, but when you combine it with hockey IQ you get an NHL prospect. I believe Marner projects best as a winger making plays off the walls on the rush, but I wouldn’t rule out trying him at center. Marner and William Nylander could become a dynamic 1-2 punch for Mike Babcock’s Maple Leafs down the line.
- Carolina Hurricanes – Noah Hanifin D Boston College (NCAA)
If the left handed Hanifin is on the board at 5, Carolina GM Ron Francis should sprint up to the podium to make the pick. Hanifin accelerated in order to enter college this year as a 17 year old freshman. He took up a spot on BC’s top pairing and never looked back. Hanifin is a rare breed, a dynamic skater in a large developing frame. He has the upside and the skills to develop into the coveted true two-way defenseman in the mold of Duncan Keith. Like most young players, he needs to get physically stronger to handle the rigors of the NHL and you would also like to see him engage a little more during puck battles. If it all goes right, Carolina could have one of the NHL’s top duos in a Hanifin-Justin Faulk pairing down the line.
- New Jersey Devils – Mathew Barzal C Seattle (WHL)
New Jersey enters this draft at a crossroads, with what’s left of their glory days core on the brink of retirement mixed with a new coach, a new GM, and a crop of younger players pushing their way up the organizational depth chart. Enter Mathew Barzal. It’s not long ago that Barzal was considered the consensus #2 player behind Connor McDavid in this 2015 draft class. He was incredibly hyped as the #1 pick in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft and has lived up to it… when healthy. That has been the knock on Barzal thus far in his career, as an injury wiped out a chunk of his draft season. His stock trended back upwards with his performance at the U18s, where he showed off his vision and creativity on Canada’s top line. Barzal does hold #1 center upside and is a 200 foot player, something always valued by the Devils brass. He makes a lot of sense here as the Devils move into a new era.
- Philadelphia Flyers – Lawson Crouse LW Kingston (OHL)
The popular whipping boy among armchair GMs this season appears to be Crouse. We’ll start with the bad – Crouse’s production in his draft eligible season left a lot to be desired. He struggled to create for himself offensively, especially with teammates Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson missing portions of the year. On the bright side, Crouse’s game is so much more complex and advanced than being a scorer. Bringing a 6-4 200+ pound frame, Crouse is a punishing player in the corners and on the walls. He’s a coach’s dream, as he can play in any situation, from up one with a minute left in the game to down a pair of goals going on the power play. The Flyers have stated they’d prefer a forward this year with all things being equal, and Crouse is the type of player that seems as if he was born to wear orange and black.
- Columbus Blue Jackets – Ivan Provorov D Brandon (WHL)
What an incredible rise for Provorov, going from a known but not super highly touted defenseman in the USHL to challenging for the top defenseman available in the 2015 draft. Provorov’s hockey IQ is incredible, as he is so calm and so poised on the ice. He rarely gets caught out of position or makes mistakes, which is why his stock has rose so high. He’s a kid in that Oliver Ekman-Larsson mold, a guy that can skate, QB your PP, and anchor you PK. Jarmo Kekalainen would be thrilled to add the arguably pro ready prospect to the fold.
- San Jose Sharks – Pavel Zacha C Sarnia (OHL)
The Joe Thronton-Patrick Marleau era in San Jose is well on its way to an inevitable disastrous end, and it’s time for San Jose to begin stockpiling young forwards with top 6 potential. Zacha is going to be a controversial player in the draft. He came across the pond to play in the OHL this year after a public battle between his former agent and the Sarnia Sting over his selection in the CHL Import Draft. Zacha then came over and had issues staying healthy, limiting his impact on a young Sarnia team. When in the lineup, Zacha is a big mobile center that plays mean, but borderline dirty. The puck comes off his stick hard when he shoots, and he uses his size and strength to power his way to the net. His commitment to the defensive side of the puck needs improvement. San Jose did well with their last Czech first rounder, Mr. Hertl, and will attempt to strike gold again as the revamp their forward corps.
- Colorado Avalanche – Zach Werenski D Michigan (NCAA)
Noah Hanifin’s defensive partner with the NTDP followed his friends lead and joined the NCAA as a 17 year old freshman last year. Like the aforementioned Hanifin, Werenski also stepped into the top pair as a freshman and was his team’s best defender all year. Werenski is mobile and his game tilts more towards the offensive side of the puck at this point. The knock on him among scouts is he seems a little too passive if not disinterested at times, leading to mental mistakes and turnovers. He’ll need to improve on his intensity and attention to detail, and Colorado would be wise to slow cook him. They currently have the worst defensive corps in the NHL, and adding a talent like Werenski to the prospect pool is a step in the right direction to correct that.
- Florida Panthers – Mikko Rantanen RW TPS (Finland)
Rantanen becomes the first European based prospect off the board as the host team nabs him at #11. Rantanen’s biggest strength is his shot coupled with his puck protection skills. Rantanen is an animal in the cycle came, and if you give him space to shoot you’re going to pay, as he might have the best shot in the class. The problem with him is he is almost unselfish to a fault, playing as more as a facilitator instead of utilizing his rocket of a wrister. The Panthers are lacking size and skill on the wings and it’s not farfetched to imagine Rantanen developing chemistry with his fellow countryman Aleksander Barkov down the line.
- Dallas Stars – Kyle Connor C/LW Youngstown (USHL)
The Stars prospect pool currently lacks offensive fire power and creativity. Kyle Connor is a step towards correcting this shortcoming. Connor tore up the USHL again this year, taking home the league’s MVP award. His blazing speed pops out at you, as he was too fast for a large chunk of defenders in the league. He’s ticketed to head to the University of Michigan next year, and will need to pack some weight on a very light 170 pound frame. With development and a gain of functional strength, Connor could find himself firmly entrenched on a top line in Texas in the future.
- Los Angeles Kings – Travis Konecny C/RW Ottawa (OHL)
It’s rare to see a team with a roster like Los Angeles possesses picking this high, but it gives them the advantage of truly going with the best player available. In this case it would likely be Travis Konecny on their board. Coming into the OHL with much fanfare as the 1st overall pick in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection, Konecny lived up to expectations… when healthy. Injuries were the only thing to slow down the undersized Konecny during the season, as he was very productive when healthy. The one thing Konecny shows in spades is heart, as he will skate through a wall if it meant winning the game. Los Angeles would tab him here and give him plenty of time to add muscle to his frame.
- Boston Bruins – Timo Meier RW Halifax (QMJHL)
It wouldn’t surprise me if Meier went as high as the top 10, but I’ll put a disclaimer on here by saying I believe he is vastly overrated. We’ll start with the good, as Meier worked his tail off to go from an afterthought on the Jonathan Drouin train last season to a top scorer playing with Nikolaj Ehlers on the Mooseheads top line. Meier projects as a complimentary player, combining high hockey IQ with a hard accurate shot. The questions come with his foot speed, although improved dramatically from the season before, it’s still borderline average for the NHL level. Boston is one of those teams that doesn’t play at an extremely fast pace, and will likely go BPA here. Meier could find a niche as a Chris Kunitz type of maybe Bergeron or Krejci’s wing down the line.
- Calgary Flames – Nick Merkley C/RW Kelowna (WHL)
The WHL draft eligible scoring leader comes off the board here to Calgary. Playing for the WHL champs, Merkley was an impact player on the first line all year, and he produced whether playing with Rourke Chartier or Leon Draitsaitl down the middle. Merkley is opportunistic, combing hands and creativity with a nose for the net. He’s especially dangerous on the power player when given space. Merkley has the offensive skillset for the NHL, but he needs to get stronger and commit to the defensive side of the game. Calgary has young talent coming up the pipe, so they can take a flier on Merkley and hope his talent and production translates to a top 6 contributor.
- Edmonton Oilers – Thomas Chabot D Saint John (QMJHL)
Let’s call this the first “shocker” of the draft, as Edmonton by passes the likes of Jakob Zboril and Yevgeni Svechnikov to select the smooth skating Chabot. The first thing that sticks out when watching Chabot is his skating ability, as he is fluid and mobile in all 4 directions. He makes a crisp first pass out of the zone and knows when to jump into the play off the rush. You’d like to see him be more physical, but he’s positionally sound in his own zone and has an active stick. Chabot has been a riser throughout the year, to the point where I have him as the top defenseman behind the big 3 of Hanifin, Provorov, and Werenski. In this mock the Oilers agree with me, and add Chabot to a rising defensive prospect pool.
- Winnipeg Jets – Yevgeni Svechnikov RW Cape Brenton (QMJHL)
Winnipeg adds to a burgeoning prospect pool with the addition of the big Russian Svechnikov. Svechnikov combines a large frame with soft hands and a quick release. He was incredibly productive in the Q this year, carrying his team at time. The problems came with consistency, as there were some games where it seemed like Svechnikov missed the bus and didn’t show up. When he’s on though, he’s a strong possession forward and a load to handle. Winnipeg would be smart not to rush him, letting him grow into his body and hope he develops a mean streak to add to his offensive gifts.
- Ottawa Senators – Oliver Kylington D Farjestad (Sweden)
Let’s set the scene. It’s the 2008 NHL Draft and the hometown Senators step up to the podium and take an undersized, smooth skating Swedish defenseman with the 15th overall selection. Draft pundits questioned the pick, calling it a reach. The player selected at 15? His name is Erik Karlsson. The thinking behind this pick is stepping up to the plate and swinging for another grand slam. No player has a larger range in this draft than Kylington. The Swedish defenseman is a top 5 skater in this draft and was once regarded as a top 10 pick. Then this year happened. Kylington had a nightmare year, performing horribly on the international stage and having questions come out about his hockey sense and character. He was a turnover machine and looked flat out lost at times. It was a strange turn for a kid who came over at 17 years old last winter and didn’t look out of place in an exhibition against the best the AHL had to offer. In Ottawa, there’s no rush. The Senators will have the option to bring him over to North America next season and get him acclimated to the physicality and pace of the NHL team under the guidance of the player development staff.
- Detroit Red Wings – Joel Eriksson Ek C Farjestad (SHL)
Every year Detroit is expected to take the best Swede available, and this year it’s Joel Eriksson Ek, the hardworking sniper out of Sweden. I haven’t seen him much this year, but he’s said to have a quick release, great vision, and a strong work ethic. His weaknesses come on the defensive side, as his game tilts more towards offense at this point in his career. Detroit goes back to the well and will slowly bring Erikkson Ek along.
- Minnesota Wild – Jeremy Roy D Sherbrooke (QMJHL)
Minnesota adds some more mobility on the back end with the addition of Jeremy Roy. Coming into the QMJHL loaded with a ton of hype behind him, Roy has developed nicely into a responsible two way defenseman. Roy is very hockey smart, rarely being caught out of position and making smart crisp passes to spring his forwards. He could stand to improve his quickness and foot speed, but it shouldn’t be a problem at the NHL level. Roy doesn’t stick out as elite in any particular area, but his top 4 upside warrants a selection here. Minnesota continues to build up their back end with this selection.
- Ottawa Senators – Collin White C USNTDP (USHL)
The NTDP is on the board, as the Senators use the recently acquired pick to select the big pivot Collin White. White’s two-way game is incredibly mature for an 18 year old. His hockey sense has him labeled as a future shut down center with offensive abilities, even drawing Patrice Bergeron comparisons. That’s lofty praise, but it’s not unwarranted. White will take the NCAA route and head to Boston College next year, and Ottawa will keep a close eye on a kid who probably should’ve been off the board long before this selection.
- Washington Capitals – Dennis Guryanov RW Togliatti (MHL)
Back to back Russians here as Washington brings in the high skilled Guryanov. Guryanov is a big skilled winger with quick hands and a solid burst of speed. He’s a flashy player, and possesses a natural goal scoring touch. He needs a ton of work on the defensive side of the puck, as he quite frankly doesn’t show any effort at time. Washington has a history of taking high skilled forward prospects in the opening round, and selecting Guryanov would add to that trend.
- Vancouver Canucks – Jakub Zboril Saint John (QMJHL)
Vancouver’s prospect line is weak on the back end, and the fall of the Czech Zboril stops here. Zboril is a compact stay at home defenseman with above average mobility. He’s not the biggest guy, but he can be very physical. Nobody in the Q looked forward to having to play Saint John with Zboril manning the blue line this year. He needs to be more consistent like most young defenseman, and Vancouver has the time to wait on him. He would immediately become the top defenseman in the Canucks pipeline.
- Toronto Maple Leafs – Zach Senyshyn RW Soo (OHL)
Toronto goes off the board and grabs the speedy Senyshyn towards the end of round 1. Senyshyn is a sleeper candidate for the end of the first round, as he was buried in the bottom 6 of a loaded Soo roster for most of the year. The first thing that pops out when you watch Senyshyn is his speed. An incredible North-South skater, Senyshyn gets one step on a defender and he’s gone. He shows strong instincts on both ends of the ice, and can handle the puck and shoot at his top speed. He needs to improve his compete level and play a little more physically in order to reach his full potential. Senyshyn is a boom or bust pick, as the OHL contingent in Toronto rolls the dice at 24.
- Winnipeg Jets – Brock Boeser RW Waterloo (USHL)
One of the risers on the year, Boeser had a breakout year in the USHL. A good sized forward with a hard shot, Boeser was a two-way force at the USHL level. He combines very good hockey sense with a high compete level, at points outworking his opponents to create chances for himself and his team. He needs to find another gear with his stride and play more physical to succeed at the NHL level. Winnipeg continues to add forwards to the pipeline.
- Montreal Canadiens – Daniel Sprong RW Charlottetown (QMJHL)
On talent alone, Sprong should be long gone by the top half of the first round. However, character concerns drop Sprong in a similar fashion to Josh Ho-Sang last year. The thinking here is Montreal should know more about Sprong than any other team, being as he is right in their backyard. On the ice, Sprong is a highlight waiting to him, combining speed with soft hands and a rocket shot. When he was on his game, he was flat out unstoppable at time. He does have work to do, as he’s inconsistent and doesn’t always compete on the defensive side of the puck. Montreal swings for the fences on this pick.
- Anaheim Ducks –Jeremy Bracco RW USNTDP (USHL)
Anaheim has a deep prospect base and the ability to swing for the fences here, going with the undersized Bracco. Opinions on Bracco vary depending on who you ask. His fans see an extremely smart and creative winger that competes on the defensive side on the puck. His critics see an undersized kid with an attitude problem. Bracco will always be a wildcard due to his size, but having organizational depth like Anaheim allows them to take a shot with this pick.
- Tampa Bay Lightning – Jake DeBrusk LW Swift Current (WHL)
The 40 goal scorer heads down to the Eastern Conference Champs. DeBrusk is a scoring machine, popping 42 goals in the WHL this year. DeBrusk is an explosive skater with a scorer’s touch in tight. He has excellent hockey IQ, and while his defensive play isn’t exceptional, it’s solid at this point in his development. DeBrusk needs to add some strength to his frame, and Tampa’s loaded organization will allow him the time to do that. He has potential to play in the top 6 down the road.
- Philadelphia Flyers –Ilya Samsonov G Magnitogorsk (MHL)
There’s been talk of the Flyers taking a goalie early, and Samsonov being here this late should give the team a lot to think about. Samsonov has all the physical tools to be an NHL starter. He’s big and fast, and was fantastic at the U18s this year. He’s going to need some time, but with Steve Mason holding down the crease for the big league club, the Flyers organization can afford to be patient with the young Russian.
- Arizona Coyotes – Paul Bittner LW Portland (WHL)
The power forward Bittner ends the first round and heads to the desert. Bittner is a load, coming in at 6-4 and over 200 pounds. He has a hard shot, and he powers his way up and down the ice with good speed for a big man. You would like to see better defensive zone play with a kid of his physical gifts, but that can be taught. Arizona needs forwards now, but rushing Bittner could be a disaster. He’s going to need another year in Portland and a year or two to add strength and round out his game. There’s upside to be a coveted goal scoring power forward here.
Brandon Carlo D Tri-City (WHL)
Carlo is a tall stay-at-home defenseman with above average mobility. He uses his long reach in the defensive zone to stop opponents in their tracks. The questions come on the offensive side, and there’s a more likely chance than not that it never comes around. Worst case, he can become a bottom 6 defensive defenseman, and there’s no shame in that. He could very well sneak into the latter half of round 1.
Jansen Harkins C Prince George (WHL)
Harkins is a no frills two-way forward out of the WHL. It’s very likely a team does nab Harkins in round 1, but the way this mock draft worked out he ended up falling out. Harkins plays a mature game, very responsible and smart in his own end while showing smarts on all 200 feet of the ice. Expect him to go early in the 2nd if he falls out of round 1.
Noah Juulsen D Everett (WHL)
The smooth skating Juulsen was a riser on the season. His skating pops when you watch him, as his stride is smooth and explosive. He also brings a heavy shot and physicality to the backend. However, he is still raw. His frame is very thin right now, and he needs to cut down on the mental mistakes. He has top 4 potential if he fills out.
Gabriel Carlsson D Linkopoeng (SHL)
There’s no flash in Carlsson’s game, as he’s a shutdown defenseman in the mold of Niklas Hjalmarsson. I didn’t catch Carlsson much this year, and when I did I thought he was inconsistent. He’s strong, mobile, and very smart. I don’t think the offense will ever come, but I expect him to man a bottom pair for somebody’s team down the line.
Jack Roslovic C/RW USNTP (USHL)
Roslovic really got his name out there as first round candidate after his U18 performance. A North-South type of player, Roslovic is a hard worker and a consistent performer. He’s versatile, as you can trust him in your top 6 or your bottom 6 and expect him to contribute. Headed to Miami (OH) next season, Roslovic will be one of the top freshman in college hockey next season.
Mitchell Stevens C Saginaw (OHL)
Playing on a young Saginaw team, Stephens was inconsistent as he didn’t have much to work with in terms of teammates. He really shined at the CHL Top Prospects game as well as the U18s when playing with more skilled linemate. Stephens hockey sense is excellent. He’s a couple steps ahead of everyone else on the ice. He plays a strong two-way game, and has the ability to play on your PP or your PK. He needs to get faster and stronger, and could be an intriguing option for a team at the bottom of round 1.