Hockey has come a long way over the years, as the game is constantly growing and developing alongside its young players. These days prospects are always improving, becoming faster, stronger, smarter and more skilled. Prospects are a vital aspect in today's NHL as they give struggling franchises hope and mold the future of the NHL. In order to move forward, scouts are constantly looking for new stats and tools to help grade and assess a player’s talent or skill level. so that they can be sure of their selections in the draft..
If there is one player who really embodies the evolution hockey today, it’s Connor McDavid. As scouts will tell you, he is a “generational talent” that comes around very rarely. McDavid’s ability to operate the puck at such high speeds is truly remarkable. His name has already been mentioned right up there alongside Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky. However, McDavid is not the only player attracting attention from scouts, as besides McDavid, the 2015 NHL Entry Draft was notably deep.
So, with a new superstar on the rise and the 2015 draft completed, it seems to be the perfect time to review some of the top prospects in today's NHL.
25 Nikita Scherbak
Nikita Scherbak, 19, is a fast winger with an excellent shot and killer instincts in the offensive zone, who also displays a high level of knowledge for the game. Scherbak, drafted 26th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2014, might be one of the more underrated prospects this year. In only two seasons in the WHL, Scherbak recorded 160 points in 130 games played. Yet to crack the Habs roster for the first time, Scherbak had an impressive outing at rookie development camp this year and will likely break into the NHL next season. Despite his offensive excellence, Scherbak still needs to hone his defensive game before playing in the big league but his offense could really benefit the Canadiens, a team that doesn’t score all that often.
24 Haydn Fleury
Haydn Fleury, 19, of the Carolina Hurricanes was selected seventh overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The blue-liner has the potential to eat big minutes in the pros, as Fleury plays an excellent shutdown role and can still contribute offensively by putting points up on the board. His outstanding hockey sense and skating ability makes him great in transition but he is not good enough offensively to run the offense or a power play. His best season in the WHL was his 2013/14 campaign. He managed eight goals and 46 points while posting a plus/minus of 15. Fleury could be a big asset for the Hurricanes in the future and has all the makings of a number one defenseman in Carolina.
23 Lawson Crouse
The Florida Panthers took Lawson Crouse 11th overall at the 2015 NHL Draft. At six-foot-four, Crouse is a natural power forward. Like Milan Lucic in his prime, the Panthers prospect can score goals, impact any game physically and cause problems for defenders down low and in the corners. If Crouse can up his consistency and become more disciplined, he can have a big upside in the NHL. In 2013/14, he was named to the OHL Second All-Rookie Team and in 2014/15, he led the Kingston Frontenacs with 29 goals, 51 points. Crouse could really compliment the Panthers young roster moving forward.
22 Anthony Mantha
Anthony Mantha, a six-foot-five right-winger, is one of the Detroit Red Wings best assets moving forward. The 20-year-old was drafted 20th overall by the Red Wings in 2013 and has managed some impressive stats in the QMJHL, as he scored 129 goals and 260 points in 189 games. During his final season in the QMJHL, Mantha was named Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year and won the Jean Beliveau and Michel Briere trophies. For his size, Mantha is a good skater and is a natural goal-scoring talent. Mantha is another player young player that will contribute to the Red Wings on-the-fly rebuild.
21 Derrick Pouliot
Derrick Pouliot, 21, is a mobile offensive defenseman. Drafted 12th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012, Pouliot appeared in 34 NHL games with the Pens in the 2014/15 season and recorded only seven points. Before that, Pouliot played four seasons in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks where he racked up 204 points in 247 games. Pouliot is aggressive on both ends of the ice and can be very effective on the power play. Though he has to get stronger and better in the defensive zone before he’s completely ready for the NHL, he has the makings of a top offensive defenseman.
20 Josh Morrissey
Josh Morrissey was selected 13th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2013 and, according to Hockey’s Future, Morrissey is one of the elite defensemen in his age group. The young offensive defenseman excels in transition and he can pass or carry the puck up ice. Morrissey has 66 goals and 196 points so far in his WHL career. Scouts say Morrissey will have a game-changing impact at the NHL level and his strong puck moving abilities will work well with some of the more fast paced forwards on the Jets roster.
19 Zachary Werenski
The 18-year-old defenseman, Zachary Werenski, was drafted eighth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2015. Scouts say his six-foot-two frame is ideal for a blue-liner and he happens to be another offensive defenseman on this list, which demonstrates how much the league is changing. He needs to work on becoming more aggressive and mobile in the neutral zone but he is a natural puck handler nonetheless. In 2014/15, Werenski was the top scoring defenseman for the University of Michigan with 25 points in 35 games.
18 Kevin Fiala
Left-winger Kevin Fiala of the Nashville Predators, 19, is a gifted playmaker and puck handler. While Fiala stands at only five-foot-ten and needs to get a bit bigger, he still plays an aggressive game and competes for the puck at all times. Fiala was selected 11th overall by the Nashville Predators at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he has played one NHL game with the Preds, but also played 33 games with Nashville’s farm team, the Milwaukee Admirals. With the Admirals, Fiala scored 11 goals and 20 points, proving that he might be ready for the big stage.
17 Dylan Larkin
Dylan Larkin, standing at six-foot-one, manages the center position with aplomb. He was chosen 15th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 2014 and still hasn’t yet played an NHL game but scored 15 goals and 47 points in 35 games with the Michigan Wolverines. He also scored five goals and two assists in five games at the World Juniors playing for the USA. Larkin makes his presence felt in the offensive zone, as he puts a lot of pressure on defenders and loves to crash the net. The versatile center should have a big upside in the NHL.
16 Mikko Rantanen
Colorado Avalanche prospect Mikko Rantanen was drafted 10th overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Despite carrying a six-foot-four frame, the Finnish right-winger doesn’t lack any skill, as Rantanen has exceptionally smooth hands, playmaking abilities and plays at a consistent level. If he could improve his defensive game and take advantage of his size, Rantanen could really go far in the NHL especially if he can be paired up with Matt Duchene or Nathan Mackinnon in Colorado. Prior to being drafted, the 18-year-old scored 40 points in 108 games over in Finland.
15 Michael Dal Colle
Michael Dal Colle, of the Oshawa Generals, was drafted fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 2014. Moving forward, the offensive-minded winger could play an important role for the up and coming New York Islanders. Playing with the Generals in the OHL, Dal Colle managed to score 236 points in 186 regular season games. He is also a stud in the postseason scoring 18 goals and 56 points in only 42 playoff games. While he can create more offense than most wingers, Dal Colle could still improve in some areas and help out more defensively. All in all, he'd look really good playing on a line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
14 Darnell Nurse
Darnell Nurse, 20, has the opportunity to play big minutes for the Edmonton Oilers whose blue line is virtually wide open for the young d-man to crack this year. The Oilers drafted Nurse seventh overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Nurse has an aggressive nature defensively and uses every bit of his six-foot-four frame to his advantage. Because of that Nurse has the potential to play that rock-solid shutdown role that the Oilers so desperately need. In the OHL, Nurse spent four seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds tallying 134 points in 221 games to date, showing that he can also contribute going forward.
13 William Nylander
William Nylander, 19, could he next superstar to put on the Toronto Maple Leafs sweater. And a lot is riding on that happening. As far as prospects go in Toronto, Nylander is one of the few that the Leafs front office can rely on moving forward. Playing for Sweden at the World Juniors, he proved that he can step up to the plate and make big plays. At the tournament, Nylander tallied three goals and 10 points in just seven games. He put up respectable numbers playing for the Toronto Marlies in 2014/15 as well, scoring 32 points in 37 games in the AHL.
12 Ivan Provorov
Defenseman Ivan Provorov was the seventh overall pick taken by the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The Russian blue-liner is a heck of a skater who excels while in transition but all in all, he is pretty solid no matter where he is on the ice. Provorov is a natural point producer but sometimes he can get caught trying to do too much. The mobile defenseman had a pretty sweet run with the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2014/15, where he scored 61 points in 60 games while posting a plus/minus of 36.
11 Nikolaj Ehlers
The Winnipeg Jets walked away from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft with a highly skilled playmaker in Nikolaj Ehlers who they drafted ninth overall. Ehlers finds a way to make his line-mates better whenever he steps out onto the ice, but he also knows how to shoot the puck too. Ehlers served in the QMJHL for two years playing for the Halifax Mooseheads. In 2013, he was named the QMJHL Rookie of the Year scoring 49 goals and 104 points in just 63 outings. In his second season, he put up similar numbers, scoring 101 points in 51 games.
10 Max Domi
Max Domi could have the potential to become a franchise type player for the Arizona Coyotes. Although that might say more about the Coyotes as a franchise than it does about Domi as a player, he’s still a prospect that they can bank on.
Domi had an electrifying tournament at the World Juniors where he contributed to team Canada’s success with five goals and five assists. He’s also scored an impressive 331 points in 244 OHL games while suiting up for the London Knights. The 20-year-old is also the son of the infamous Tie Domi who spent 16 years in the NHL and played more than 1,000 games, so Max practically grew up in an NHL arena.
9 Andrei Vasilevskiy
Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightening is the first and only net-minder on this list. He has all of the makings to be an elite goalie in the NHL but he might not get the opportunity to start in Tampa, thanks to Ben Bishop. So Vasilevskiy may have to be traded before he can assume that role – unless the Lightning decide to stick with him over Ben Bishop.
Either way, Vasilevskiy covers the net well and makes tough stops look easy. He also patrols the paint quickly and his strong legs can hold his ground against bigger forwards.
8 Leon Draisaitl
Forward Leon Draisaitl is another Edmonton Oilers prospect with great potential, as Draisaitl is a great passer and can finish a play as well as he can create one. The Oilers at third overall drafted him in 2014 and he made his NHL debut 2014/15. He played 37 games managing only nine points, but he also played 32 games in the WHL where he scored 53 points. Despite an unattractive rookie season, Draisaitl’s transition into the NHL should be an easy one playing under Todd McLellan and alongside the likes of Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid.
7 Mitch Marner
While the aforementioned William Nylander is one of the best Toronto Maple Leafs prospects, Mitch Marner is THE best. The Leafs drafted him at fourth overall in a deep 2015 draft. Depending on how next season goes for Toronto – whether they tank and get a good pick or not – Marner could be the corner stone of the Leafs re-build. Marner is a dynamic center/right winger and, even at five-foot-eleven, he battles hard and is strong on his skates. The 18-year-old Markham native probably won’t be rushed into the Leafs main roster as they have lots of time before they’ll be competitive anyway.
6 Sam Reinhart
Much of the hype surrounding the Buffalo Sabres is focused around the arrival of Jack Eichel and other players, so it is easy to over look prospect Sam Reinhart. The former Kingston Frontenac has a high level of hockey IQ, as he always knows where to be on the ice and no matter where he is, he’s making his line-mates better. While the question of whether or not Reinhart will ever become a bona fide number one center is still up in the air, he should have no problem filling in that second-line role behind teammate Jack Eichel.
5 Noah Hanifin
To be honest, it's surprising that Noah Hanifin wasn’t drafted until the Carolina Hurricanes snatched him at fifth overall at the 2015 NHL Entry. Hanifin patrols the blue line with such confidence and fluidity, that there’s no doubt he is one of the best skaters among his draft class. Because of that, Hanifin is a natural point producer and can quarter back the power play. At six-foot-three, the American defenseman has near ideal size for the pros. Hanifin had a big season with Boston College and an impressive outing at the World Juniors. With some help, he may be able to turn the Canes around.
4 Sam Bennett
Calgary Flames prospect Sam Bennett is a highly regarded two-way player who competes with speed at both ends of the ice. The 19-year-old likely would have played the entire 2014/15 season with the Flames but a nagging shoulder injury held him back. Fortunately for Bennett and fans alike, he got a second chance to compete for his NHL club during the playoffs where he tallied four points in 11 games. While the stats don’t reflect it, Bennett had a strong post-season appearance. He should fit in nicely alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, while the Flames continue to emerge.
3 Dylan Strome
Dylan Strome, 18, spent two seasons playing with Connor McDavid for the Erie Otters. While McDavid was out with an injury for a good part of the season in 2014/15, Strome led the OHL with 129 points. Strome has great size at six-foot-three and is a great two-way player but it’s really his offensive skillset that makes him amazing. Drafted by Arizona at third overall behind McDavid and Jack Eichel, Strome will likely play a huge role for the Coyotes moving forward.
2 Jack Eichel
If it were not for Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel would have easily gone first overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. However, the Buffalo Sabres received the perfect consolation prize. In the near future, Eichel will be a top-line center in the NHL. He uses a combination of speed, strength and soft hands to score goals right in front of the net. At six-foot-two and roughly 195 pounds, he might physically be the most NHL ready prospect going into next season. He is used to battling for the puck down low and while playing in the NCAA he has honed his skills against bigger – NHL sized – bodies. Last season with the Boston Terriers, Eichel put up 71 points in 40 games.
1 Connor McDavid
Without a single NHL game under his belt, Connor McDavid has already been compared to the likes of Sydney Crosby, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. He is a generational talent for sure and may go down as one of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of skates.
After notching 44 goals and 120 points in only 47 contests with the Erie Otters last season, it is safe to say McDavid’s days in the OHL are behind him. In three seasons with the Otters, McDavid racked up 285 points in 166 regular season games and 68 points in 34 post-season outings.
No doubt, all eyes will look to McDavid at the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign.
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