In addition to charting the progress of this year's top draft-eligible players throughout the season, NHL Central Scouting always is busy projecting those young players on the horizon for future drafts.
Such is the case with 2014 NHL Draft-eligible defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts and 2015 draft-eligible forward Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters.
Erie's Connor McDavid and Barrie's Aaron Ekblad have been awarded exceptional player status. (Photo: Terry Wilson/OHL Images)
They're the only players besides New York Islanders center John Tavares to be awarded exceptional player status over the past decade, meaning they were deemed eligible for the Ontario Hockey League draft as 15-year-olds -- a year younger than the standard of age 16.
McDavid leads all OHL rookies this season with 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) in 54 games for Erie. NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards, who specializes in Ontario-based prospects, has liked what he's seen in the 5-foot-11, 175-pound center.
"Connor has proven that the OHL made the right decision to grant him exceptional status," Edwards told NHL.com. "If he were eligible for the 2013 draft, he would be a high first-round pick because Connor reminds me of a veteran OHL player. His skill set is high-end, his puck handling and passing skill are also outstanding. He's creative and sees the ice well."
While McDavid is still two years away from reaching the NHL, Edwards said he believes he will be in the discussion with many of the premier players to ever be drafted.
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"Remember when Tavares' point totals dipped slightly in his second year [with the Oshawa Generals] and the question was asked, 'What's wrong? Is he bored of the league? Is he not as good as we thought?'" Edwards said. "I think John has shown he is a very good pro and nothing was wrong. Let's let Connor develop and become his own guy, and not get too high or low on him at this point."
Ekblad (6-4, 213) had 10 goals and 29 points in 63 games as a rookie in 2011-12 and has picked up where he left off this season with six goals, 27 points and a plus-19 rating in 46 games.
"Aaron has been used on the top defensive pair as well as both the power-play and penalty-killing units," Edwards said. "He's fit in very well and shown he deserves to be in the league as an underage player."
Ekblad was named captain of Team Ontario at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and finished as the second-highest scoring defenseman at the tournament with six points (two goals, four assists).
"He has a hard, accurate shot and shows a lot of poise and confidence," Edwards said. "He is physically strong and uses his size and strength very well. He will not back down when challenged and moves the puck well with hard accurate passes."