The week of the 2015 NHL Draft is here.
Teams are doing their final preparations for what promises to be an excellent draft with a first round that features great depth and skill at almost every position. In that regard, it’s pretty similar to the first round of the 2003 draft, in which 16 of 30 teams selected a future All-Star.
Here are NESN.com’s final first-round predictions before NHL commissioner Gary Bettman opens the draft Friday night in Florida.
1) Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid, 6-1, 195 pounds (Center, Erie Otters/OHL)
Stats: 47 GP, 44 G, 76 A, 120 P
Jeff Marek called Connor McDavid the best prospect he’s ever seen in one our recent NESN.com NHL/Bruins podcasts, and I agree. McDavid scores goals, racks up assists, thinks the game faster than everyone on the ice and is a high-character kid. He’s as close to a sure thing as you’ll ever find in the draft and should play at an elite level as a rookie.
2) Buffalo Sabres: Jack Eichel, 6-2, 196 (Center, Boston University/NCAA)
Stats: 40 GP, 26 G, 45 A, 71 P
Eichel has all of the tools to be a No. 1 center for at least a decade. He’s strong, skilled, unselfish and puts in the work defensively and on both special teams units. He’d be the unanimous No. 1 pick in just about any other draft and is ready for a top-six role with Buffalo from Day 1.
3) Arizona Coyotes: Dylan Strome, 6-3, 185 (Center, Erie Otters/OHL)
Stats: 65 GP, 45 G, 84 A, 129 P
The Coyotes have a few talented young wingers in the pipeline, but they lack a No. 1 center-type of prospect within their organization. Strome combines elite scoring skill with impressive size and hockey smarts. He’s the exact type of player Arizona needs.
4) Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner, 5-11, 160 (Center, London Knights/OHL)
Stats: 63 GP, 44 G, 82 A, 126 P
The Leafs could take a defenseman with this pick, but there should be some good blueliners toward the end of the first round when Toronto has another selecton. Marner combines high-end speed, playmaking skill and an incredible shot into one impressive offensive package. He’s also one of the most exciting players to watch in this class. The only concern about him is his size.
5) Carolina Hurricanes: Noah Hanifin, 6-2, 205 (Defenseman, Boston College/NCAA)
Stats: 37 GP, 5 G, 18 A, 23 P
Hanifin falling to the Hurricanes would be similar to Seth Jones unexpectedly dropping to the Nashville Predators in 2013. The Hurricanes need help on the blue line and Hanifin is the best D-man in this class. He has an excellent two-way skill set and the poise and maturity to play in the NHL this season.
6) New Jersey Devils: Ivan Provorov, 6-0, 200 (Defenseman, Brandon/WHL)
Stats: 60 GP, 15 G, 46 A, 61 P
The Devils already have several good, young defenseman at the NHL level, but it wouldn’t make sense to pass on a potential No. 1 D-man in Provorov. The Devils could always trade one of their young defensemen for scoring help before next season.
7) Philadelphia Flyers: Mikko Rantanen, 6-4, 211 (Right Wing, TPS/Finland)
Stats: 56 GP, 9 G, 19 A, 28 P
Rantanen would bring playmaking, speed and goal scoring to the Flyers, who had just two wingers tally more than 30 points last season.
8) Columbus Blue Jackets: Zach Werenski, 6-2, 215 (Defenseman, Michigan/NCAA)
Stats: 35 GP, 9 G, 16 A, 25 P
The Blue Jackets need a top-pairing defenseman and Werenski has the skill set to address that. He’s a smooth skating, puck-moving blueliner with a high hockey IQ and the playmaking skills to consistently generate scoring chances at even strength and on the power play.
9) San Jose Sharks: Lawson Crouse, 6-4, 215 (Left Wing, Kingston Frontenacs/OHL)
Stats: 56 GP, 29 G, 22 A, 51 P
Crouse is one of the most exciting prospects in this class with his rare blend of elite size and above-average skill. His ceiling is a Rick Nash-type of power forward, but he still has a lot of work to do in order to reach that level.
10) Colorado Avalanche: Jakub Zboril, 6-2, 185 (Defenseman, Saint John/QMJHL)
Stats: 44 GP, 13 G, 20, 33 P
The Avs need a top-four defenseman who can improve their transition game, drive possession and contribute offensively. Zboril can improve all of these concerns and more.
11) Florida Panthers: Pavel Zacha, 6-3, 210 (Center, Sarnia Sting/OHL)
Stats: 37 GP, 16 G, 18 A, 34 P
Most Stanley Cup champions feature great depth and skill down the middle, and that’s why the Panthers should add another top-six caliber center in Zacha to the mix. Drafting the Sarnia Sting center also could result in current Panthers center Nick Bjugstad moving to the wing, where he’s better suited.
12) Dallas Stars: Mathew Barzal, 5-11, 175 (Center, Seattle Thunderbirds/WHL)
Stats: 44 GP, 12 G, 45 A, 57 P
The Stars reportedly won’t be bringing back Shawn Horcoff next season, which creates an opening down the middle. Barzal is a playmaking center who could consistently create scoring chances for talented Dallas goal scorers Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin. Injuries affected Barzal’s 2014-15 campaign, but he still scored at more than a point-per-game pace.
13) Los Angeles Kings: Timo Meier, 6-1, 209 (Left Wing, Halifax Mooseheads/QMJHL)
Stats: 61 GP, 44 G, 46 A, 90 P
The Kings play a heavy style of hockey, but they could use more scoring. This makes Meier a perfect fit for L.A. as a highly skilled power forward who scores goals and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty in front of the net.
14) Boston Bruins: Kyle Connor 6-1, 177 (Center/Left Wing, Youngstown/USHL)
Stats: 56 GP, 34 G, 46 A, 80 P
Connor is a scoring machine with excellent hockey smarts and the willingness to battle for puck possession all over the ice. He also has game-breaking speed and the playmaking skill to make his linemates better from center or left wing, where the Bruins desperately need more speed and skill.
15) Calgary Flames: Travis Konecny, 5-10, 175 (Center/RW, Ottawa/OHL)
Stats: 60 GP, 29 G, 39 A, 68 P
Konecny has the potential to form a good 1-2 punch down the middle with Flames center and former sixth overall pick Sean Monahan.
16) Edmonton Oilers (via PIT): Jeremy Roy, 6-0, 185 (Defenseman, Sherbrooke/QMJHL)
Stats: 46 GP, 5 G, 43 A, 43 P
The Oilers need blue line help throughout their organization, so selecting a strong, two-way defenseman with good offensive upside in Roy makes a lot of sense for Edmonton general manager Peter Chiarelli.
17) Winnipeg Jets: Nick Merkley, 5-10, 191 (Center/RW, Kelowna Rockets/WHL)
Stats: 72 GP, 20 G, 70 A, 90 P
Despite being undersized, Merkley is a skilled forward who scores at a high rate and brings speed on each shift. He’s also a hard-working player who won’t shy away from physical confrontations or puck battles.
18) Ottawa Senators: Thomas Chabot, 6-2, 180 (Defenseman, Saint John/QMJHL)
Stats: 66 GP, 12 G, 29 A, 41 P
Chabot is a big, strong puck-moving defenseman with enough offensive skill to be a top-four D-man in the near future.
19) Detroit Red Wings: Oliver Kylington, 6-0, 185 (Defenseman, Farjestad/Sweden)
Stats: 35 GP, 6 G, 6 A, 12 P (between Farjestad and AIX)
Detroit received very little scoring from its defensemen last season. Kylington is a good skater, starts breakouts with quick, accurate passes and is aggressive in looking for his shot in the attacking zone. He’s a bit turnover prone, but his playmaking skill would bolster a Red Wings blue line that lacks creativity offensively.
20) Minnesota Wild: Colin White, 6-0, 183 (Center, USA-U18/USHL)
Stats: 45 GP, 16 G, 26 A, 42
The Western Conference’s elite are deep at center, and Minnesota’s shortcomings at the position are among the reasons it didn’t advance past Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs the last two seasons. White is a defensive-minded center who consistently wins faceoffs, kills penalties and drives puck possession. He doesn’t project to be an elite scorer, but his ability to be a shut-down forward is enticing.
21) Buffalo Sabres (via NYI): Evgeny Svechnikov, 6-2, 200 (Left Wing, Cape Breton/QMJHL)
Stats: 55 GP, 32 G, 46 A
Svechnikov needs to improve defensively, but there’s no doubting his speed and goal-scoring ability.
22) Washington Capitals: Jake DeBrusk, 6-0, 176 (Left Wing, Swift Current/WHL)
Stats: 72 GP, 42 G, 39 A, 81 P
DeBrusk is a gifted goal scorer with above average playmaking skill. He’s also a good skater and has the ability to consistently create scoring chances on the power play. He’d be a good fit on a Capitals team with a lot of creative forwards.
23) Vancouver Canucks: Joel Eriksson Ek, 6-2, 180 (Center, Farjestad/Sweden)
Stats: 34 GP, 4 G, 2 A, 6 P
Eriksson-Ek is an exciting player with his puck-handling skill, soft hands and high-end speed. He also has an accurate wrist shot with a quick release. He’d be an excellent addition to a Canucks roster that needs more skill on the wings.
24) Toronto Maple Leafs (via NSH): Jansen Harkins, 6-1, 182 (Center, Prince George Cougars/WHL)
Stats: 70 GP, 20 G 59, 79 P
The Leafs could opt for a defenseman, but passing on a two-way center with very good defensive awareness and faceoff skill would be difficult. Harkins has enough offensive skill to score at the rate expected of a No. 2 center in the NHL.
25) Winnipeg Jets (from STL via BUF): Ryan Pilon, 6-2, 206 (Defenseman, Brandon/WHL)
Stats: 68 GP, 11 G, 41 A, 52 P
Pilon would add strength, playmaking and depth to a Jets team whose blue line was ravaged by injuries this season. Winnipeg also can afford to take a defenseman with this pick given the talented forward prospects it has drafted and acquired through trades the past two years.
26) Montreal Canadiens: Jacob Larsson, 6-2, 191 (Defenseman, Frolunda-JR/Sweden-JR)
Stats: 30 GP, 8 G, 11 A, 19 P
Larsson is an effective puck-moving defenseman, a good skater and uses his vision to find open teammates for scoring chances. He’d also add valuable size and hockey smarts to the Montreal blue line.
27) Anaheim Ducks: Paul Bittner, 6-4, 204 (Left Wing, Portland/WHL)
Stats: 66 GP, 34 G, 37 A, 71 P
Bittner is a power forward with excellent size and an above-average offensive skill set. His goal scoring and heavy style of play would be quality additions to the Ducks’ prospect pool if veteran winger and unrestricted free agent Matt Beleskey is not re-signed this summer.
28) Tampa Bay Lightning (via NYR): Daniel Sprong, 6-0, 180 (Center, Charlottetown/QMJHL)
Stats: 68 GP, 39 G, 49 A, 88 P
Sprong doesn’t have ideal strength, but he has the skill and speed required to thrive in the fast-paced style of hockey that was so effective for the Lightning this season.
29) Philadelphia Flyers (via TBL): Brandon Carlo, 6-5, 196 (Defenseman, Tri-City/WHL)
Stats: 63 GP, 4 G, 21 A, 25 P
The Flyers have done a good job re-stocking their prospect pool with talented defensemen, and that process should continue with Carlo. He’s a big, strong defenseman with good defensive awareness, the ability to kill penalties and the poise to make the smart, simple plays in his own end.
30) Arizona Coyotes (via CHI): Denis Gurianov, 6-3, 192 (Right Wing, Togliatti/Russia-JR)
Stats: 23 GP, 15 G, 10 A, 25 P
Gurianov might be the best player available at this stage of the first round, and his offensive skill and impressive size would bolster a Coyotes team that ranked 29th in goals scored.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images