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Noah Hanifin, Zachary Werenski among top defensemen for 2015 NHL Draft

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

For the first time in 24 years, two college defensemen could be drafted among the top 10 picks of the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft on June 26 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

The probable candidates are Noah Hanifin of Boston College and Zachary Werenski of the University of Michigan. The previous time it happened was 1991, when Boston University's Scott Lachance went No. 4 to the New York Islanders and the University of Michigan's Aaron Ward went one pick later to the Winnipeg Jets.

The last time as many as two college defensemen were selected at any point in the first round was 2002, when Boston University's Ryan Whitney went No. 5 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the University of Minnesota's Keith Ballard went No. 11 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Hanifin (6-foot-3, 203 pounds), No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 draft, has been projected as the best defenseman on the board since the start of the season. Werenski (6-2, 206), No. 9 on Central Scouting's final ranking, was named to the All-Big Ten Hockey First Team, and the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.

There are differences between the two college standouts.

"Hanifin is more dynamic offensively, for me," Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen said. "He's a bit more physically mature at present. I do believe that Werenski will go in the top 10 though; he's a smart, two-way defender."

Here are NHL.com's top 10 defensemen eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.

1. Noah Hanifin, Boston College (H-EAST): The player many consider the best defenseman in this year's draft class understands how excelling in the defensive zone will lead to offensive opportunities. He's rarely out of position and is an exceptional skater and puck distributor. The left-handed shot had five goals, 23 points and 52 blocked shots in 37 games as a freshman with the Eagles, and he represented the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Type of player: Two-way defenseman

2. Ivan Provorov, Brandon (WHL): There's plenty of upside in the 6-foot, 201-pound left-handed shot. He logs a lot of minutes, was good on specialty teams and likes to play the body. Central Scouting has him at No. 7 on its final ranking of North American skaters. He manned the blue line for silver medalist Russia at the 2015 WJC and as a rookie ranked fourth among Western Hockey League defensemen with 61 points (15 goals, 46 assists) in 60 games. "Provorov is probably one of the best passers in the Canadian Hockey League," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said. "He's the type of player who you think isn't skating hard but he has four or five gears."

Type of player: Two-way defenseman

3. Zachary Werenski, University of Michigan (BIG10): The left-handed shot was the youngest player in NCAA hockey in 2014-15 but showed the poise of a four-year letter winner. He easily can read situations as they come and can assess on the fly, has a big shot and exhibits confidence on the power play. He led Michigan defenders with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists), had 12 power-play points, a plus-9 rating and tied for the Michigan lead with 59 blocked shots.

Type of player: Two-way defenseman

4. Jacob Larsson, Frolunda Jr. (SWE-JR): In 30 games with Frolunda's team in the Swedish junior league he had eight goals and 19 points; in 20 games for Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League he had one goal and three points. The 6-2, 191-pound left-handed shot, No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of European skaters, is a good, mobile skater who reads the game well and is effective with the puck. "He will be even better when he gets more physical strength," NHL Director of European scouting Goran Stubb said.

Type of player: Two-way defenseman

5. Jakub Zboril, Saint John (QMJHL): Named to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Rookie All-Star Team this season, the 6-foot-1, 184-pound Czech Republic native had 13 goals and 33 points in 44 regular-season games. Zboril, No. 12 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, also had one goal and three points in five QMJHL playoff games. He'll represent Czech Republic in the under-20 Three Nations tournament in Calgary, which will be held July 28 to Aug. 10. "He's a real gamer and plays tough," Central Scouting's Troy Dumville said. "He brings a lot to the table. He's a good skater, has a great shot from the point, has good mobility and plays well at both ends."

Type of player: Two-way defenseman

6. Oliver Kylington, Farjestad (SWE): Kylington (6-foot, 185) was No. 1 on Central Scouting's midterm ranking of European skaters but dropped five slots on the final list following a disappointing end to his season. A close friend to Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya, Kylington remains a talented player with excellent mobility and vision. An injury in December kept him from representing Sweden at the 2015 WJC.

Type of player: Offensive-defenseman

7. Jeremy Roy, Sherbrooke (QMJHL): He ranked 11th among QMJHL defensemen with 43 points (five goals, 38 assists) in 46 games. Roy (6-foot, 188), No. 21 on Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 draft, is a right-handed shot who often played the left side in his second season for Sherbrooke. He had 26 assists on the power play, is creative and possesses good hockey sense.

Type of player: Offensive-defenseman

8. Gabriel Carlsson, Linkoping Jr. (SWE-JR): The 6-4, 183-pound left-handed shot moved up five spots from the midterm to No. 2 on Central Scouting's final ranking of European skaters. He is known to play a safe game, is very reliable and can use his size, strength and excellent reach in a smart way. He had seven points and a plus-21 rating in 39 games with Linkoping's under-20 team.

Type of player: Shut-down defenseman

9. Thomas Chabot, Saint John (QMJHL): Chabot led all Sea Dogs defenders in scoring with 41 points (12 goals, 29 assists) in 66 games in his second season with the team. The 6-1, 180-pound left-shot defender has high-end skill and great mobility. "He's a little more high-risk/high-reward, but a very good player," Dumville said.

Type of player: Two-way defenseman

10. Noah Juulsen, Everett (WHL): The right-shot defender went from a projected second-round pick on Central Scouting's midterm ranking (No. 38) to a first-round projection (No. 22) on the final list. Juulsen (6-1, 174) had nine goals, 52 points and a plus-22 rating in 68 regular-season games for Everett. "He's a legitimate contender, much like Travis Sanheim's game continued to grow last year [before being selected No. 17 by the Philadelphia Flyers]," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "We're taking the position with Juulsen that we had with Sanheim in that he's a viable first-round candidate."

Type of player: Two-way defenseman

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer

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