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McDavid, Eichel could challenge top draft tandems

by Mike G. Morreale

Erie Otters captain Connor McDavid and Boston University freshman Jack Eichel will forever be linked whenever conversation shifts to the 2015 NHL Draft class.

Many believe McDavid and Eichel are generational talents in the making; they might even finish neck and neck in the voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year in 2015-16. Perhaps an even bigger topic is where the McDavid-Eichel tandem will ultimately stand in NHL history.

The most heralded one-two punch drafted might be Guy Lafleur to the Montreal Canadiens and Marcel Dionne to the Detroit Red Wings in 1971. Lafleur, a six-time NHL All-Star, won two Hart Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy and has five Stanley Cup championship rings. Dionne, who ranks sixth all-time in points, won the Art Ross Trophy and was a two-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy.

Lafleur and Dionne are the only players to be drafted 1-2 who are also enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

An argument could be made that McDavid-Eichel rivals that of Taylor Hall (No. 1, Edmonton Oilers) and Tyler Seguin (No. 2, Boston Bruins) in the 2010 draft. The 2004 draft gave us quite a combination in Alex Ovechkin (No. 1, Washington Capitals) and Evgeni Malkin (No. 2, Pittsburgh Penguins). Ovechkin already has three Hart Trophies and a Calder Trophy. Malkin has a Calder Trophy, Hart Trophy and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name.

"I think you can go back to Ovechkin and Malkin for a fair comparison," Calgary Flames director of scouting Tod Button said. "As a scout you know it's special when you look forward to watching them play. I want to go to the game because I wasn't just evaluating but watching as a fan, because you want to see them do something. You know they both have the ability to do something that you have never seen before. We have a good idea what fans will see at the next level and it will be excitement."

The 2008 draft produced No. 1 Steven Stamkos to the Tampa Bay Lightning and No. 2 Drew Doughty to the Los Angeles Kings.

Now it's up to the Edmonton Oilers, winners of the NHL Draft Lottery and owners of the No. 1 pick for the fourth time in six years, to determine whether McDavid or Eichel will be part of their future. The Buffalo Sabres, who finished last in the NHL in 2014-15, will have the No. 2 choice.

McDavid, selected as the Canadian Hockey League Sportsnet player of the year, is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 draft. Eichel is ranked No. 2.

McDavid is regarded the best skilled player in the draft. He finished third in the league scoring race with 120 points (44 goals, 76 assists) this season, in addition to exceling at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship for gold medalist Canada.

In three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, he had 97 goals and 285 points in 166 games.

"With McDavid, everything about his game revolves around speed and quickness," Marr said. "Not only he is an outstanding skater, he processes the game and reacts so quickly on the ice that he often is making a difference on every shift he plays. The NHL speed, hockey sense and skill set he possesses are a strong blend of Joe Sakic and Sidney Crosby."

Eichel's 71 points are the most by any college freshman since Paul Kariya scored 100 points at the University of Maine in 1992-93. He won Hockey East Player of the Year, Hockey East Rookie of the Year, Hockey East Tournament MVP and became the first freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player since Kariya in 1993.

The right-handed shot led the nation with 45 assists, 71 points, a plus-51 rating, 23 power-play points, 1.12 assists per game and 1.77 points per game. He won 504 faceoffs this season and had a 51 percent efficiency on draws.

"He proved to be such an amazing game-breaker; relentless and driven on the play and has the smarts, speed and skills to deliver a needed scoring drive to tie up or win a game," Marr said. "He has many Jonathan Toews-type traits in his game."

While McDavid and Eichel headline this year's draft class, there are plenty of other top prospects to choose from at all positions.

"It's an absolutely strong draft class and I don't see why it wouldn't one day compare with some of the best drafts in history," New Jersey Devils director of amateur scouting David 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, this draft might be even better than most drafts."

Rounding out the top 10 North American prospects on Central Scouting's final ranking release in April were No. 3 defenseman Noah Hanifin of Boston College (Hockey East), No. 4 center Dylan Strome of Erie, No. 5 left wing Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL), No. 6 center Mitchell Marner of the London Knights (OHL), No. 7 defenseman Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL), No. 8 center Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting (OHL), No. 9 defenseman Zachary Werenski of the University of Michigan, and No. 10 right wing Timo Meier of the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL).

Strome remained a force in McDavid's absence, leading the OHL with 129 points (45 goals, 84 assists) in 68 games. Crouse led Kingston with 29 goals and 51 points in 56 games. He also had seven power-play goals, two shorthanded goals and a plus-10 rating. Marner finished second in the OHL with 126 points (44 goals, 82 assists).

Right wing Mikko Rantanen of TPS in Finland was No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's ranking of the top European skaters eligible for the draft. Rantanen, who had nine goals and 28 points in 56 games as alternate captain with TSP in Finland's top professional league, is a strong, mature, mobile two-way power forward capable of protecting the puck and battling in the corners.

Rantanen is followed on Central Scouting's European list by No. 2 defenseman Gabriel Carlsson of Linkoping Jr. (SWE), No. 3 defenseman Jacob Larsson of Frolunda Jr. (SWE), No. 4 center Joel Eriksson Ek of Farjestad Jr. (SWE), No. 5 right wing Michael Spacek of Pardubice (CZE), and No. 6 defenseman Oliver Kylington of AIK (SWE).

The top North American goalie on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking was Mackenzie Blackwood of the Barrie Colts (OHL). He finished the regular season 33-14-2 with a 3.09 GAA, .906 save percentage and two shutouts in 51 games. The No. 1-ranked international goalie was Ilya Samsonov of Magnitogorsk in Russia.


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