Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel have met and even exceed expectations this season as the top two players eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.
As expected, McDavid and Eichel were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings of the top North American players available for the 2015 draft, which will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
"During the meetings there were no negative components brought forward on Eichel or McDavid since both are recognized as truly outstanding, gifted young hockey players," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "They play different styles yet both bring the exceptional skills, character and intangibles to be a franchise-type player for an NHL club."
Marr explained why the 6-foot-1, 195-pound McDavid was ranked No. 1.
"Central Scouting has a philosophy for ranking players which is very subjective and it's not always easy to reach a consensus especially when discussing such elite caliber [players], but our consensus vote at midterm is that Connor McDavid is ranked ahead of Jack Eichel," he said. "McDavid possesses a natural quickness, an ultra-quickness if you will, in all areas of his game that sets him apart from the pack. Whether it's skating quickness, speed and agility or his hands, passing and shooting, or his anticipation, awareness and reaction time; all these components of his game are performed with a quickness that at times is truly amazing, and that ability places him in the company of [Wayne] Gretzky and [Sidney] Crosby.
"The club with the first overall selection will ultimately have the tremendous opportunity to select one of these two super prospects and both clubs will come out winners for years to come."
Despite missing six weeks with a broken finger on his right hand sustained in a fight Nov. 11, McDavid still ranks among the leading scorers in the Ontario Hockey League with 60 points (21 goals, 39 assists). He played a key role in helping Canada win the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, with his 11 points in seven games tying for the most in the tournament. He also was named to the WJC All-Star team.
"I saw on television he was tied for the tournament scoring lead so doing that as an underage player is pretty impressive," Islanders captain John Tavares said of McDavid. "Certainly his speed and the way he makes plays is at a level not many players are at. He's certainly going to make an impact in this League when he gets here."
McDavid has 74 goals and 225 points in 142 games spanning three OHL seasons. Like Tavares in 2005, McDavid was granted exceptional-player status from Hockey Canada in 2012 to start his OHL career at age 15, one year earlier than normal; Erie selected him with the first pick of the 2012 OHL draft.
Kylington rated top international prospect
By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
Swedish defenseman Oliver Kylington, who plays for Farjestad in the Swedish Hockey League, is No. 1 on NHL CSS's midterm ranking of international prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft. READ MORE ›
As a freshman in Hockey East, Eichel (6-2, 196) is leading the NCAA in scoring with 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists). His 1.70 points-per-game average would rank as the most by a draft-eligible freshman since Paul Kariya averaged 2.56 points as a freshman at the University of Maine in 1992-93. Eichel also served as captain for the United States at the 2015 WJC; he had one goal and four points in five games on one of the youngest teams at the tournament.
While McDavid gets from Point A to Point B with speed and finesse, Eichel uses speed and power.
"Eichel is proving to be an amazing game breaker; relentless and driven on the play, and he 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."
Boston College coach Jerry York, who has played Eichel and Boston University twice this season, spoke highly of Eichel.
"The closest comparison is Mike Modano at a similar age; he's that type of player," York said.
The top defenseman on the midterm list is Boston College freshman Noah Hanifin, who is No. 3 overall. Hanifin (6-3, 203), who has three goals and 13 points in 22 games for the Eagles, also played for the U.S. at the WJC; he had two assists, a plus-3 rating and eight shots on goal in five games.
"His personality is to be very active; pressure everything. He has a little bit of Duncan Keith, who is very active, and Drew Doughty," United States National Team Development Program under-18 team coach Don Granato said. "Noah will beat guys by blowing by them. He can assess the situation right away and figure out if he can beat a guy even when he's 15 feet away."
York already sees NHL potential in Hanifin, projected to be the first defenseman drafted.
"Cleary his skating ability is at the NHL level right now," York said. "His puckhandling and skills are excellent, and he shoots and passes well. He just needs to be a little more assertive in the defensive zone."
Last season Granato coached Hanifin and University of Michigan freshman defenseman Zachary Werenski, who is ranked No. 6 on Central Scouting's midterm list. He feels Werenski is not far behind Hanifin in terms of talent and potential.
"Zach's personality is different than Noah's and he reminds me of a Nicklas Lidstrom in some ways," Granato said. "Zach dominated our practice last year. The guys wanted him to switch hands because they felt he had an unfair advantage. He would gracefully skate right through everybody. He's able to read plays as he's moving incredibly well to the point where it looks effortless."
After the top three of McDavid, Eichel and Hanifin, next on the North American top 10 list are No. 4 left wing Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL); No. 5 center Dylan Strome of the Erie Otters; No. 6 Werenski; No. 7 center Mitchell Marner of the London Knights (OHL); No. 8 center Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting (OHL); No. 9 center Mathew Barzal of the Seattle Thunderbirds (Western Hockey League); and No. 10 defenseman Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL).
Crouse (6-4, 211) played a big role on Canada's fourth line at the WJC; he had one goal, three points, 14 shots on goal and earned plaudits for his physical play. He has 16 goals, 23 points and 55 penalty minutes in 29 games, but he excels in other parts of the game beyond producing offense.
"Every time he was out there you knew what you were getting and you knew what he was bringing," Canada WJC coach Benoit Groulx said. "He's a big body and likes to get involved; a smart player and solid with the puck. He also was good on the penalty kill."
Strome, the younger brother of New York Islanders forward Ryan Strome, ranks second in the OHL with 80 points (28 goals, 52 assists). In 20 games without McDavid, Strome had 14 goals and 29 points and helped the Otters go 11-9-0.
"He wanted to be at World Juniors but it was a good opportunity for him at Erie," Ryan Strome said of his brother. "He wasn't too concerned about the points and was more worried about the wins. But that's the kind of guy he is. He's a team-first guy, and obviously having that success [without McDavid] was great for him."
Central Scouting's international midterm ranking also features high-end talent. Ranked No. 1 is Swedish defenseman Oliver Kylington (6-foot, 183) of AIK in the Swedish Hockey League. Mikko Rantanen, who plays in his native Finland for TPS in Liiga, is No. 2.
The top North American goalie is Mackenzie Blackwood of the Barrie Colts (OHL). Blackwood is 20-7-1 with a 2.81 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and one shutout in 29 games. The 6-4, 215-pound left-handed catching goalie from Thunder Bay, Ontario, is playing his second full season in the OHL.
"Mackenzie is calm and relaxed and has excellent positional play," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "His butterfly style provides great low net coverage and he has controlled lateral movements."