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NHL Draft: Unpredictability surrounds draft after first two picks

by Adam Kimelman / Columbus Blue Jackets


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It's almost a certainty that when the 2015 NHL Draft starts Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) that Erie Otters center Connor McDavid will be the No. 1 pick by the Edmonton Oilers and Boston University center Jack Eichel will go No. 2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

The drama will start with the No. 3 pick, held by the Arizona Coyotes, and the player selected in that spot will steer the direction of the rest of the selection process, all the way through rounds two through seven on Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, TVA Sports).

For the players involved, they're doing their best to tune out all the rumors.

"You always hear stuff," Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin said.

Hanifin is No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters after No. 1 McDavid and No. 2 Eichel.

"You see so much stuff going on, you hear things. You can't really pay attention to it."

One of NHL.com's mock drafts has Hanifin going No. 3 to the Coyotes, while the other has Erie center Dylan Strome going third. Strome is No. 4 on Central Scouting's final ranking.

McDavid and Eichel to this point have proven to be worth the hype that surrounds them.

"Those guys are pretty good," right wing Mikko Rantanen of TPS in Finland, Central Scouting's top-ranked European skater, said. "They are the top two guys. Edmonton and Buffalo, if there's not trades coming, they are getting excellent players. After that it's hard to say anything. It's a good daft and there's lot of good players."

After Arizona, the Toronto Maple Leafs have the fourth pick. One option could be Strome while another could be London Knights center Mitchell Marner, No. 6 on Central Scouting's final North American skater ranking.

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They finished 1-2, respectively, in scoring in the Ontario Hockey League this season, but Marner could have an edge with the Maple Leafs. Toronto director of player personnel Mark Hunter, who will oversee the draft, was the general manager in London who selected Marner with the 19th pick of the 2013 OHL draft.

"That's up to him to make the decision," Marner said. "I just have to sit in that chair now and let the scouts do what they want. Can't control anything now. It's up to them, and whatever happens, happens."

The Carolina Hurricanes have the fifth pick, followed by the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche to round out the top 10.

One player who could sneak into the first round is Barrie Colts goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, Central Scouting's top-rated North American goalie. There hasn't been a goalie picked in the first round since 2012, but with all the unpredictability affecting this year's draft anything is possible.

"It would be an honor to go Friday but I'm not going to be heartbroken if it doesn't happen," he said.

Teams still are meeting with players, and will continue meeting with them right through Friday afternoon. Rantanen said he'll meet with the Florida Panthers, and also has met with the Sharks and two other teams since arriving in Florida. Hanifin said he's spoken with the Hurricanes and Maple Leafs, and Blackwood said he's met with three teams in Florida.

Marner also said he's talked to teams. He believes that as much as the players don't know what could happen, the teams are facing the same level of unpredictability. But for players and teams, the excitement of that unpredictability could make the 2015 draft one of the most entertaining of recent memory.

"It's as fun for them as it is for us," Marner said. "They get to pick a guy who in a few years could be a franchise player for them."

Added Hanifin, "There’s been so many examples of crazy things happening in the past. It makes it really exciting not knowing what could happen. Whatever happens I'll be proud to represent that team and that city."

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