There was little need for debate on the projected top two players for the 2015 NHL Draft when NHL Central Scouting met to rank the top North American prospects earlier this month.
What seemed like a foregone conclusion became official Wednesday when NHL Central Scouting revealed that center Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League is No. 1, and center Jack Eichel of Boston University of Hockey East is No. 2 on its final list of the top 210 North American skaters eligible for the 2015 Draft, which will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
"At the start of the year McDavid and Eichel were considered Nos. 1-2," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "I don't know if it's a surprise that it ended up that way but I think a lot of credit has to go to Eichel in the way he was able to at least keep it interesting.
"But McDavid has clearly shown himself to be the No. 1 prospect."
McDavid, regarded as the top draft prospect since Sidney Crosby was picked first by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005, is regarded for his incredible speed and game-changing potential.
This season he was third in the OHL with 120 points in 47 games; he was nine points behind the league leader while playing 21 fewer games. His 44 goals were tied for fourth in the OHL.
McDavid also tied for the scoring lead at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship with 11 points in seven games while helping Canada win the gold medal.
"The fact there wasn't a lot of discussion was proof enough McDavid and Eichel really separated themselves and are elite generational-type players," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "It was great to be able to scout and watch these two players. But as a group I think we had McDavid rated a little bit ahead.
"Entering this year I thought his explosiveness could be better and now you look at him and he's the most explosive guy we're looking at."
Eichel did his best to make it interesting. He won Hockey East Rookie of the Year award, Hockey East Player of the Year award, and Hockey East Tournament MVP. He's one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey's best player; the winner will be announced Friday at Matthews Arena in Boston (5 p.m. ET, NHLN).
"The more I saw him the more I appreciated how strong a player he was and how he can dominate physically," Gregory said. "You knew he had to be strong being an 18-year-old in college. But I haven't seen a player, maybe never since I've been scouting, that has the strength to keep his feet on the ice while he's skating and using that long stride. And he doesn't lose speed or his ability to move laterally when he's on the move. That makes him so deceptive and able to create opportunities for himself."
Eichel's 67 points are the most scored by a Boston University freshman and the most by any college freshman since the Paul Kariya of the University of Maine had 100 points in 1992-93.
This season Eichel leads all NCAA players with 43 assists, 67 points, a plus-49 rating, 22 power-play points, a 1.13 assists-per-game average and a 1.76 points-per-game average. He's also won 51.4 percent of the 484 faceoffs he's taken.
Boston University freshman center Jack Eichel led all NCAA players with 67 points and a 1.76 points-per-game average, and was named Hockey East Player of the Year. (Photo: Steve McLaughlin/BU Athletics)
"At the start of the season Jack was hovering around 37 percent on faceoffs and it was a glaring hole in his game," Terriers coach David Quinn said. "But he's worked and has improved. Defensively and in 1-on-1 situations he never gets beat."
The real discussion at the final meetings began after ranking McDavid and Eichel.
"I think it was a lot closer than what we expected at the beginning of the year," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "Players have made a case for themselves and at [numbers] three, four, five and six. There's a good group of guys there. If you look at the top 10, it's a really good group compared to some other years. That's just the way it is sometimes and I think you can see it flipping back and forth from now until draft day for sure."
Rounding out the top six North American prospects on Central Scouting's final ranking release are defenseman Noah Hanifin of Boston College of Hockey East, Erie center Dylan Strome, left wing Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, and center Mitchell Marner of the London Knights of the OHL.
"I wasn't expecting that Hanifin would remain in that third spot and was thinking one of the forwards might take over, but I'm pleased that there was consensus there and strong support that Noah Hanifin is definitely the No. 3 player," Marr said. "When it came to talking about the three forwards, it's pick your prize. The team selecting there has a choice of a potential top-line center [Strome], power winger [Crouse] or highly skilled forward [Marner]."
Strome remained a force for Erie when McDavid missed eight weeks because of a hand injury and time spent representing Canada at the WJC. He led the OHL with 129 points in 68 games; in 20 games without McDavid he had 15 goals and 30 points.
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.
"You've got your choices to what's going to fit into the philosophy you have of an NHL player," Marr said. "If you want to argue who is going to be the best down the road, they're all equally going to be good in their roles based on their talent because all three are different-type forwards."
Earlier this season Hanifin appeared to be the clear-cut choice as the top-rated defender, but Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League and freshman Zachary Werenski of the University of Michigan in the Big 10 narrowed the gap.
Erie center Connor McDavid was third in the OHL with 120 points in 47 games. (Photo: Mark Bell)
Provorov, fourth among WHL defensemen with 61 points in 60 games, jumped three spots from the midterm rankings in January to No. 7 in the final rankings. Werenski, No. 9 in the final rankings, led Michigan defenders with 25 points, and had nine goals, 12 power-play points, a plus-9 rating and 59 blocked shots. He also played for the United States at the WJC.
"Provorov is probably one of the best passers in the Canadian Hockey League," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said. "He passes like a pro and can settle a game down. He's the type of player who you think isn't skating hard but he has four or five gears."
Center Travis Konecny of the Ottawa 67's of the OHL jumped 12 spots from the midterm to No. 14 on the final rankings. Konecny had 29 goals and 68 points in 60 regular-season games.
"There was a big discussion about Konecny at the midterm meetings, and not unlike other players he got off to a slow start after an injury that impacted his overall play," Marr said. "We wanted to wait and see him in the second half and find out if the real Konecny was going to surface again and he did. There was always a belief in him and he was one of the better under-18 players in the summer playing against the best in the world. Usually the best players there end up being the best players in the NHL.
"The good thing is Travis Konecny has done this all by himself. He's gone out, played his game and carried his team and has earned that higher position and ranking."
Everett Silvertips right-shot defenseman Noah Juulsen went from a projected second-round pick at the midterm (No. 38) to a first-round projection (No. 22) on the final list. Juulsen (6-foot-1, 174 pounds) had nine goals and 52 points in 68 games.
"Juulsen has taken his game to another level and has been consistent throughout the season," Marr said. "As a group we're very comfortable putting him up into that first round and saying that he is a legitimate contender, much like Travis Sanheim's game continued to grow last year [before being selected No. 17 at the 2014 draft by the Philadelphia Flyers]. We're taking the position with Juulsen that we had with Sanheim in that he's a viable first-round candidate."
Right wing Mikko Rantanen of TPS in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's ranking of the top international skaters eligible for the 2015 draft. In 56 games the 6-3, 211-pound power forward had nine goals and led all under-20 players in the league with 28 points.
The top North American goalie on Central Scouting's final ranking is Mackenzie Blackwood of the Barrie Colts of the OHL. He finished the regular season 33-14-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and two shutouts in 51 games. The No. 1-ranked international goalie is Ilya Samsonov, who plays for Magnitogorsk in the Russian junior league.
"What I see in Blackwood is NHL strength, NHL quickness and NHL battle," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "He has great size (6-4, 215) and is one of those goalies you could see four or five years down the road as a starter in the NHL. He's got those tools that separate him from the others. I like his power."