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McDavid, Eichel top Central Scouting watch list

by Mike G. Morreale

If you didn't know by now, Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel will dominate the headlines leading up to the 2015 NHL Draft.

They are projected to be franchise-type players capable of having immediate impacts for the teams drafting them. They also have taken two different paths to this point, making their race to No. 1 that much more intriguing.

Both players were identified as A-rated prospects in their respective leagues on the NHL Central Scouting preliminary players to watch list for September that was released Tuesday.

McDavid has been a star since arriving in the Ontario Hockey League as a 15-year-old in 2012 with "exceptional player" status. Eichel, after two standout seasons with the United States National Team Development Program, will start play as a freshman in Hockey East this season.

"Anybody who wants to rate them one-two right now, go for it," said Chicago Blackhawks senior director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley. "I'm just going to enjoy watching it unfold and have the players determine who is No. 1 and who is No. 2. McDavid plays in the Canadian Hockey League and Eichel is in the NCAA, and we know there is rivalry there.

"We have one who's Canadian and one who's American, so there's another rivalry. Then, as if the hype couldn't get any more heated, bring it to Montreal and Toronto where we expect both to play prominent roles for their country at the World Junior Championship. Expectations are high for both, and deservedly so."

Eichel is in Buffalo for the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game, which will be played Thursday at First Niagara Center (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network). McDavid also will play at First Niagara Center this season, when Erie plays the Niagara IceDogs there Oct. 22.

Eichel (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) led the USNTDP Under-18 team last season with 38 goals and 87 points in 53 games despite being the youngest player on the team. He also had one goal and five points in five games for the U.S. at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"His speed and strength are uncommon in a player his age, and those attributes allow him to get separation on the ice offensively and excel defensively," USNTDP under-17 team coach Danton Cole said. "I would also add that his compete level is very high and he wants to win regardless of the situation, even at the end of practice. The bigger the moment, you can tell he wanted to end it."

McDavid (6-1, 195) was fourth in the OHL last season with 99 points (28 goals, 71 assists) in 56 regular-season games. He was OHL Rookie of the Year in 2013 and has 53 goals and 165 points in 119 OHL games in two seasons.

He also had one goal and four points in seven games for Canada at the 2014 WJC; he was the sixth 16-year-old to play for Canada at the WJC, joining Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester and Wayne Gretzky.

"McDavid never takes a shift off, and to be honest I believe may be the one to beat in the 2015 draft," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "He's stealth-like in finding open areas on the ice without the puck; he creates space for himself. He's gotten even better at that and he's continued to get stronger. I really believe he's going to dominate this year."

Jack Eichel led the USNTDP Under-18 team last season with 38 goals and 87 points in 53 games. (Photo: Getty Images)

The players to watch list is comprised of players Central Scouting considers to possess first-, second- or third-round potential.

"The focus with the 2015 draft is obviously on the two-prospect race for the No. 1 spot between McDavid and Eichel," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "It will be interesting and exciting for fans to watch and compare how these two high-character and competitive talents continue to improve and develop their game over the course of the season, and it will likely reach a crescendo pitch come the World Junior tournament."

Central Scouting gave six players in the OHL an A rating, five from the Western Hockey League, five from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, four from the United States Hockey League and nine from Europe. Players with an A rating are considered potential first-round picks. Players with a B rating are considered possible second- or third-round choices.

The first defenseman picked at the draft could be another collegian in 6-2, 201-pound Noah Hanifin of Boston College. Hanifin, who will be the youngest player ever to play for the Eagles this season, had eight goals, 32 points and 34 penalty minutes in 45 games for the USNTDP U-17 team last season, and one goal and eight points in four games with the U-18 team.

"He is really skilled on the back end, can get the puck out skating or passing," Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen said. "He can lug the puck up the ice and dish in neutral ice; he's an elite skater, passer, and he runs the power play. He makes great decisions and is creative with the puck; he has all the components."

Among the potential first-round international candidates, four play in Czech Republic: right wings Lukas Jasek of Trinec and Michael Spacek of Pardubice, center David Kase of Chomutov and goalie Daniel Vladar of Kladno.

Two other A-rated European players sure to be watched closely this season are defenseman Oliver Kylington (6-0, 180) of Farjestad in Sweden and right wing Mikko Rantanen (6-3, 211) of TPS in Finland.

Kylington earned a spot with Farjestad in the Swedish Hockey League last season after a solid start with the organization's junior team. He can quarterback a power play and enjoys joining the rush. Rantanen had a breakthrough season with TPS in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, with five goals and nine points in 37 games last season.


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