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NHL-Draft eligible players to watch in medal round

by Mike G. Morreale /

TORONTO -- Now that the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship has reached the playoff round, most observers will view Denmark as the darlings of the tournament with slim odds of concocting a formula to eliminate Canada in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Still, that's why you play the games and Denmark earned its way to the knockout round of this year's tournament. One of the key players on the team has been 5-foot-10, 172-pound goaltender Georg Sorensen, who was No. 13 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top European goaltenders for the 2014 NHL Draft.

Sorensen, however, was not selected. He's hoping his play at this tournament will get him on some team's draft board for the 2015 draft.

A couple of higher profile skaters eligible for the draft in June are Connor McDavid of Canada and Jack Eichel of the United States. They have done their part in helping their countries reach the playoff round, but it will be interesting to see how each performs on an even bigger stage.

Here are 10 players eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft who will be targets of interest for scouts during the medal round, which starts Friday:

Sebastian Aho, Sweden: The 5-foot-9, 165-pound defenseman has fit well with the perennial WJC contender while playing a top-four role. He has been paired with William Lagesson (Edmonton Oilers) in most games and has one goal, two points, a plus-3 rating and 13 shots on goal. The unbeaten Swedes have allowed six goals in four games and Aho has played a big part.

Brandon Carlo, United States: At 6-5 and 195 pounds Carlo, who plays for the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League, is a tough, physical presence along the blue line. He was added to the roster to play that style of game and hasn't disappointed for the U.S. Paired with Will Butcher (Colorado Avalanche), Carlo has one assist, a plus-2 rating and three shots in four games.

Erik Cernak, Slovakia: While not exactly dominant in three games for the Slovaks, Cernak has done enough to serve in a top-four role along the blue line. At 6-3, 192 pounds, the B-rated prospect on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list can play with an edge while generating some offense. He was suspended one game for an illegal hit late in the third period of a victory against Finland but played a solid role in a victory against Germany to help Slovakia secure a playoff berth. Cernak has one assist, a plus-1 rating and eight shots on goal.

Jack Eichel, United States: When the captain for the United States is going, he's one of the best players on the ice. But Canada did an exceptional job of limiting him, and as a result was able to contain the U.S. offense for much of the game Wednesday in a 5-3 Canada victory. Eichel has one goal, three points and 17 shots on goal. But he was a minus-3 against Canada and is a minus-2 in four games. He struggled in the faceoff circle against Canada's Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres), going 3-for-17, but in other games he did well.

Noah Hanifin, United States: There's so much to like about the 6-3, 205-pound defenseman. He's been paired with Ian McCoshen (Florida Panthers) for much of the tournament and has two assists, a plus-2 rating and six shots. Hanifin has done nothing to diminish his lofty status that has him projected as the top defenseman available for the 2015 NHL Draft. Hanifin has been maintaining a blog for during the WJC.

Connor McDavid, Canada: McDavid has done his best to contribute, with one goal and four points while centering a line with Nick Ritchie and captain Curtis Lazar. He has 14 shots on goal and a plus-1 rating. He appears more comfortable in his second WJC -- at the 2014 WJC he became the sixth 16-year-old ever to play for Canada at the tournament -- but he doesn't seem completely at full strength after he missed five weeks with a hand injury. Still, he has made strong, smart moves to get to the net to create opportunities for his linemates.

"I feel all right," McDavid said after Canada's 5-3 victory against the United States on Wednesday. "I think it's tough to say. I'm comparing to how I felt in the [Ontario Hockey League] and this is a completely new step and new level. To say how I felt there compared to here is really hard to do."

Mikko Rantanen, Finland: Rantanen has been a major force for Finland, the gold medal winner at the 2014 WJC. NHL Central Scouting projects the 6-3, 211-pound left-shot wing to be taken in the first round of the draft and it's easy to see why. He is one of only three players to have at least one goal for Finland and he's done so while playing mentor to 16-year-old linemate Jesse Puljujarvi, a top 2016 draft prospect. Rantanen, who has three goals, a plus-2 rating and nine shots on goal, will look to continue his solid play against unbeaten Sweden in quarterfinal-round action.

Georg Sorensen, Denmark: Sorensen entered the 2015 WJC as a C-rated goaltender on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list. He played a big role in leading Denmark to its first win at the top level in the tournament after 15 straight defeats (six in 2008 and 2012 and three in 2015). With a good performance against Canada in the quarterfinals, perhaps he'll be given a chance to sharpen and develop his skills in North America, with an eye toward the NHL someday.

Zachary Werenski, United States: Another high-profile prospect from the United States that was given an A-rating by NHL Central Scouting on their players to watch list for the 2015 draft. The University of Michigan freshman, paired with offensive-minded defenseman Anthony DeAngelo (Tampa Bay Lightning) has one assist, a plus-2 rating and three shots on goal. He plays a stay-at-home, steady game and has earned the trust of coach Mark Osiecki in all situations.

Pavel Zacha, Czech Republic: The Czech Republic was thought to have a pretty formidable group entering the 2015 WJC but struggled out of the gate with losses to Sweden and Switzerland before defeating Denmark and Russia to qualify for the medal round. Zacha, a projected top-10 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, has showcased plenty of speed and creativity in open ice. He's played on a line with Jan Mandat and captain Dominik Kubalik (Los Angeles Kings) and has one goal, two points and a plus-1 rating. Zacha, who plays for the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League, has five shots on goal; perhaps more shots would benefit his team.


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