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First-round talent goes well beyond McDavid, Eichel

by Mike G. Morreale

SUNRISE, Fla. -- If the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft proved anything, it was that general managers weren't afraid to pull the trigger on deals, offering their scouts an opportunity to select anywhere among the top 30 choices.

The scouting operations of the 30 NHL teams knew entering the season that this would be a special draft just by the fact Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel were part of it. But it became apparent even before NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the Edmonton Oilers were on the clock with the No. 1 selection Friday at BB&T Center that the 2015 draft was much more than the two projected stars at the top.

"We thought there would be 50-60 players that were of real genuine draft interest; players that teams would want to acquire," said Dan Marr, NHL director of Central Scouting.

On a day filled with plenty of movement, the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders each added two first-round picks, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators each added one, and the Philadelphia Flyers moved up five spots to make certain they got the player they coveted.

"We usually start looking at the drafts a year ahead of time so we can give [general manager] Steve Yzerman some direction and idea of whether we need to add picks or release picks," said Al Murray, the Tampa Bay Lightning's director of amateur scouting. "What we felt, well over a year ago, was that this was going to be an elite draft.

"You look for raw materials in a player more so than for a finished product, and this year there were two star players and then another 10 or 12 pretty good prospects that were almost finished products that aren't going to be that far from playing in the NHL."

The Lightning traded the No. 28 pick to the Islanders for second- and third-round picks, giving the Stanley Cup finalist 10 selections on the second day of the draft.

"Our intention was to add as many picks as we could, and that's what happened on [Friday] near the end of the first round," Murray said. "We had a number of players we thought were comparable, and [we] felt we'd get good value by moving back five spots [and] get a similar if not identical player that we could have gotten late in the first round. So we were able to add another pick in the process."

The Bruins became the first team since the NHL instituted the universal draft in 1969 to make three consecutive selections in the first round. They chose defenseman Jakub Zboril (Saint John, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), left wing Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current, Western Hockey League) and right wing Zachary Senyshyn (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Hockey League) with the 13th, 14th and 15th picks.

"Zachary, in some peoples' eyes, might be a bit of a jump," Bruins GM Don Sweeney said. "Our guys had really gone to work on this player. We felt that was the one point we thought about moving back, but there were a couple of teams that had been doing the same type of due diligence."

The Bruins traded defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for the 15th, 45th and 52nd picks. They also traded left wing Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings for the No. 13 pick, goaltender Martin Jones and minor-league defenseman Colin Miller.

"It's unique that we had three in a row," Sweeney said. "We certainly identified three players that we wanted to take, and that's why I didn't move back and collect more picks later in the draft. We worked awful hard as a group to get those three selections, and we feel good."

Florida Panthers director of scouting Scott Luce said he could sense an excitement in his scouting team during the meetings leading up to the draft. The Panthers selected power forward Lawson Crouse with the No. 11 pick. It was a bit of a surprise that the left wing from the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL fell to the Panthers because he was No. 5 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for the draft.

"Once everyone completed their scouting seasons, I think there was probably around a 10 percent increase of names in regards to the guys in the first round that became guys of significance," Luce said. "I think the drop-off point was five or six names deeper than maybe a lot of guys thought at the midseason meetings.

"So in the second half of the season, five or six guys jumped up in the rankings, enough to become high-end guys in this class. So, yes, this could become a very deep draft."

New Jersey Devils director of amateur scouting David Conte believes the 2015 draft class might one day compare to the benchmark class of 2003, when the Devils selected Zach Parise with the No. 17 pick.

"It's an absolutely strong draft class, and I don't see why it wouldn't one day compare with 2003," Conte said. "I think this year's class is deep all the way through and at different levels. There's a unique nature to the players, and by that I mean that once you get by the generational guys [McDavid and Eichel], this draft might be even better than most drafts."

NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory, who does much of his scouting along the East Coast and in the OHL, said he and his colleagues had a good inclination that the talent available this year might be something special.

"I think it started when we got to the end of our scouting season, which is earlier than the NHL teams. But even then you could see there was not a lot of consensus on some what everyone considered to be good players," Gregory said. "You started to look at our board and say, 'Boy, if somebody gets that player that late, that's pretty good.'

"I think you began seeing teams trade down because someone they knew would be available, and then someone wants to trade up because there's a player they never thought they could get. That indicates to me it's a deeper draft because teams are confident to move assets to get something they want."


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