With 15 games left in the 2014-15 season, the Buffalo Sabres sit in last place in the NHL standings, just three points behind the 29th place Edmonton Oilers. Buffalo has gone 19-42-6 through 67 games, where the Sabres last season went 19-40-8 in that span. Not much has changed right?
Last year, the prize players at the NHL Draft were Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart. The Florida Panthers won the Draft Lottery and chose Ekblad, while the Sabres chose Reinhart with the second choice.
This year, the prize player at the NHL Draft is Connor McDavid. The 18-year old center for the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League has been known to be compared to the likes of Sidney Crosby: a player who can change the face of a franchise by himself. In the 2014-15 season with the Otters, McDavid has 40 goals and 69 assists in just 43 games played. That’s an astounding 2.53 points per game average this season in the OHL. McDavid missed a portion of the season after breaking his hand in a fight on November 11 in Erie. However, he returned in December to help Team Canada capture the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships. McDavid is best known for his speed and his unique stick handling ability with a great knowledge and skill for the game of hockey.
Cannot draft McDavid with the first overall pick? Have the second overall pick? Simple: draft Jack Eichel. The 18-year old center for the Boston University Terriers of the NCAA plays a different game to McDavid, but is similar in how he could impact a franchise for years to come. Eichel has been compared to players like Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler, and is the future face of USA Hockey. In 32 games played with the Terriers, Eichel has 18 goals and 37 assists as a freshman. Eichel is the favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award as the Collegiate Hockey Player of the Year, and could be the first freshman to possibly win the award since Paul Kariya won the award in 1993. Eichel is known for his power game and his incredible hockey-IQ along with his incredible skill set.
To have two franchise-changing players in the NHL Draft in one season does not happen too often. Both players could certainly play on their team and make an immediate impact on the turn-around of a franchise. But who will have the chance to draft these two superstar talents?
I took the opportunity to pan-out the rest of the 2014-15 season for all 30 NHL teams, then projected the NHL playoffs and place all 30 teams in their projected selecting positions for the 2015 NHL Draft in June. Then, based on the percentages of teams winning the Draft Lottery, I picked a team out of a hat to see who “wins” the draft lottery. Then I proceeded to complete my first mock draft for the 2015 NHL Draft. This is what I came up with:
1.) Buffalo Sabres ***DRAFT LOTTERY WINNER***
Projected Finish: 22-51-9, 53 points
Selection: Connor McDavid – Center – Erie Otters (OHL)
The Buffalo Sabres happened to be the team that was chosen to win the Draft Lottery, and what better player than McDavid to help accelerate the rebuild in Buffalo? McDavid can be inserted into the lineup immediately in Buffalo, and could play alongside newly acquired Evander Kane on the team’s top line. McDavid may need some time to be accustomed to the pace of the NHL game, but he will quickly adapt and become one of the best players in the league for years to come.
2.) Arizona Coyotes
Projected Finish: 25-48-9, 59 points
Selection: Jack Eichel – Center – Boston University (NCAA)
The Arizona Coyotes will be thrilled to take Jack Eichel with the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. A franchise that could use a player of Eichel’s caliber, the Coyotes will have Eichel as its center point of its rebuild. Eichel will have a young crop of talent to play alongside with including Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Christian Dvorak, while learning from a veteran like Shane Doan how to grow and improve as a player in the NHL. Eichel has been playing with players who are bigger and older in the NCAA this season, so Eichel may have the easiest time transitioning to the NHL game. Eichel will thrive in Arizona, as the future of the Coyotes may be just as promising as the future as the Sabres.
3.) Edmonton Oilers
Projected Finish: 25-45-12, 62 points
Selection: Noah Hanifin – Defense – Boston College (NCAA)
The Edmonton Oilers have been in the top 10 of the NHL Draft for the past six year now, and will yet again have another high pick in the 2015 Draft. Defense has been a lacking position for the Oilers over the past few years, and who better to draft than the best available defenseman in the Draft. Noah Hanifin has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman in the league, and would be a good fit with the Oilers. The 6′ 2″, 200-pound defender from Boston College has 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists) in 33 games this season, and has been a great two-way defender for the Eagles. Just imagine a top defensive pairing of Hanifin and 2013 first rounder Darnell Nurse in Edmonton. That’s potentially scary, if the Oilers can figure out everything else out to help the team down the road.
Projected Finish: 31-44-7, 69 points
Selection: Mitchell Marner – Center – London Knights (OHL)
Mitch Marner is currently the leading scorer in the OHL with 123 points (44 goals, 79 assists) in 58 games played this season. Marner may only be 5 ‘ 11″ and 163-pounds, but his playmaking abilities are very good. Marner is also from Markham, Ontario, which is part of the Greater Toronto Area. The people of Toronto would love to welcome home Marner and have him as a young part of the rebuild that is expected to begin in Toronto as soon as the 2014-15 season is over. But the Leafs will not rush Marner, but will let him flourish and develop his game even further with the hopes of becoming a top forward in the near future.
Projected Finish: 29-40-13, 71 points
Selection: Dylan Strome – Center – Erie Otters (OHL)
Dylan Strome, the younger brother of New York Islanders forward Ryan, has been overshadowed this season with the play of his teammate Connor McDavid. Strome is currently the Otters leader in points with 116 (39 goals, 77 points) as the team’s second line center. Strome is 6′ 3″, and 187-pounds, and still has plenty of room to grow in his game and size. Another year in Erie would do him some good, as next year he will most likely take over the role as leader and first line center as McDavid makes his debut in the big league. Carolina would love to have Strome, and will not rush him into the league. But a few years down the road, we could see a brotherly rivalry with Ryan in the same division as Dylan.
Projected Finish: 33-40-9, 75 points
Selection: Lawson Crouse – Left Wing – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
The Blue Jackets once had a kid very similar to Lawson Crouse on its roster once; that was Rick Nash. The 6′ 4″, 212-pound Crouse is a big, powerful forward with the ability to take over a game with his size alone. Crouse can protect the puck extremely well, and he loves to drive hard to the net with the puck and score goals right in front of the net. Crouse has 27 goals and 18 assists in 51 games this season with Kingston, and has the potential to be drafted even higher with a strong finish to the season. Crouse also has his line mates in Spencer Watson and Sam Bennett back, which means Kingston could be a dark horse come time for the OHL Playoffs.
Projected Finish: 35-33-14, 84 points
Selection: Zach Werenski – Defense – University of Michigan (NCAA)
Zach Werenski’s stock has been on the rise ever since the World Junior Championships with Team USA. Since the World Juniors, Werenski has carried his play over to his college game at Michigan. Werenski has developed into a solid two-way defender, has improved on his skating and also his puck moving abilities. In 30 games with the Wolverines this year, Werenski has eight goals and 15 assists, and has only taken four penalties. Werenski would be a nice young addition to an aging New Jersey Devils team who needs youth.
Projected Finish: 37-32-13, 87 points
Selection: Ivan Provorov – Defense – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Maybe the best offensive defender in the draft, Ivan Provorov can certainly control the way a game pans out when he has the puck. With 57 points (14 goals, 43 assists) in 55 games with the Wheat Kings, there is no doubt that Provorov will be sought after to a team who needs some offensive help on he bleuline.
9.) Ottawa Senators
Projected Finish: 36-30-16, 88 points, 32 ROW
Selection: Mathew Barzal – Center – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Barzal was hurt for half the season in Seattle with a knee injury, but his potential is certainly there. Brazil has 12 goals and 36 assists in 38 games with the Thunderbirds this year, and will develop into a good set up center with a scoring touch in the NHL. Without a doubt a top 15 talent in the draft, but more time in juniors would benefit Barzal greatly.
10.) Dallas Stars
Projected Finish: 37-31-14, 88 points, 33 ROW
Selection: Mikko Rantanen – Right Wing – TPS (Liiga)
Rantanen is the top rated European forward available in the 2015 NHL Draft according to NHL’s Central Scouting. What’s not to like about Rantanen? The big bodied Finn (6′ 4″, 209-pounds) is a smooth-sailing forward who’s potential is through the roof. Rantanen increased his draft stock at the World Juniors by scoring four goals in five games for Team Finland. Rantanen will be a project as he has room to improve on his physical play, but could be one of the premiere European talents in the NHL within the next few years. A team like Dallas would really appreciate a talent like Rantanen in their system.
11.) San Jose Sharks
Projected Finish: 40-32-10, 90 points
Selection: Timo Meier – Right Wing – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Meier may be the one player who’s draft stock has risen the most since the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Meier has vaulted himself from a second round value player to a top 20 value in the draft. Meier has had an excellent year in Halifax playing on a line with Jets prospect Nikolaj Ehlers where he has 42 goals and 86 points in 56 games played. Meier also had an impressive World Junior tournament with two goals and four assists, even though team Switzerland was nearly relegated in the tournament. Meier is 6′ 1″, 209-pounds and plays the physical game of an NHLer. Meier will certainly be an excellent addition to whoever drafts him, and is a prime example of what Swiss hockey has become over the years.
12.) Philadelphia Flyers
Projected Finish: 38-29-15, 91 points, 33 ROW
Selection: Oliver Kylington – Defense – AIK (Allsvenskan)
It has been a rough season for Kylington in Sweden as he has battled injury and demotion as a 17-year old. With all that, Kylington still remains the top-rated European prospect according to NHL’s Central Scouting. Kylington is a playmaker and can skate very well with the puck. Kylington, at one point, was projected to go third or fourth overall in the draft ahead of Noah Hanifin, but has since fallen in stock. Nonetheless, Kylington will still go in the first round, most likely top 15, but will need some time in Sweden to allow for improvement and to recover his game. A team like the Flyers would not mind waiting for a player like Kylington if he can recapture his game.
13.) Calgary Flames
Projected Finish: 41-32-9, 91 points, 37 ROW
Selection: Travis Konecny – Center – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
After a slow start to the season, Konecny lit a fire under his game and has been on fire leading his 67’s team towards a playoff push. Konecny may be hurt now. but could return come the first game of the OHL playoffs. Konecny may only be 5′ 10″, but his leadership, versatility as both a center and winger, and his great hockey sense makes him a valuable asset in the 2015 NHL Draft.
14.) Florida Panthers
Projected Finish: 39-27-16, 94 points
Selection: Pavel Zacha – Center – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
At one point, Zacha was projected to go in the top ten of the NHL Draft, but has since dropped out of the top ten. Zacha has had an underwhelming season in Sarnia, and has had a series of discipline issues that has raised some questions. His skill set and energy has been compared to the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, but Zacha needs to work on his consistency and being a more complete player. Zacha could be an elite talent when he enters the NHL, but he needs the extra time to mature and grow into his role.
15.) Winnipeg Jets (Wild Card – Team 2 in West)
Projected Finish: 40-27-15, 95 points
Selection: Nick Merkley – Center – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Smaller built player, but is an intelligent set up center who can feed players the puck. Merkley has 67 assists in 66 games in Kelowna this season, and could be a valuable future asset to a team who needs center depth and playmaking ability.
16.) Boston Bruins (Wild Card – Team 2 in East)
Projected Finish: 42-28-12, 96 points
Selection: Kyle Connor – Center – Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Good two-way center who could develop into a Ryan Kesler-esque player. Connor currently leads the USHL in scoring with 61 points (25 goals, 36 assists), and is committed to play at the University of Michigan in the fall. May not play for years, but college hockey could do much good for Connor.
17.) Washington Capitals (Wild Card – Team 1 in East)
Projected Finish: 44-26-12, 100 points
Selection: Evgeny Svechnikov – Left Wing – Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL)
Svechnikov has been electric in his first season in North America with Cape Breton. The big, 6′ 3″ 205-pound winger has 66 points in 50 games this season, and has shown how he can be used as an offensive weapon. Svechnikov may take another year to further develop his game, and maybe can be a scoring machine in the “Q” next season.
18.) Vancouver Canucks (Pacific Division – 3rd seed)
Projected Finish: 45-29-8, 98 points
Selection: Brandon Carlo – Defense – Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Brandon Carlo is arguably the best defensive defender available in this year’s NHL Draft. Carlo towers at 6′ 5″, but only weighs in at 185-pounds. If Carlo can bulk up a bit and add some additional weight, no one is going to want to mess with Carlo anywhere near the net. Carlo was part of Team USA at the World Junior Championships, and played pretty well on the defensive side of the puck. Carlo will be a valued asset for a team down the road, just let him get bigger and meaner.
19.) Carolina Hurricanes – via Los Angeles Kings (Pacific Division – 2nd seed)
Kings Projected Finish: 43-26-14, 100 points
Selection: Jakub Zboril – Defense – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
20.) Minnesota Wild (Wild Card – Team 1 in West)
Projected Finish: 46-26-10, 102 points
Selection: Colin White – Center – US-18 (USHL)
21.) Buffalo Sabres – via New York Islanders (Metropolitan Division – 3rd seed)
Islanders Projected Finish: 50-27-5, 105 points
Selection: Paul Bittner – Left Wing – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Paul Bittner is a big body who loves to utilize his size. The 6′ 4″, 194-pound Bittner also has good speed and skill to combat with his size. He could use another year or two to further develop his game in the WHL, so there is no rush on Bittner. Tim Murray would love to add a big body like Bittner to an already deep Sabres prospect pool.
22.) Edmonton Oilers – via Pittsburgh Penguins (Metropolitan Division – 2nd seed)
Penguins Projected Finish: 47-23-12, 106 points
Selection: Brock Boeser – Right Wing – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
23.) Detroit Red Wings (Atlantic Division – 3rd seed)
Projected Finish: 48-21-13, 109 points
Selection: Thomas Chabot – Defense – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
24.) Winnipeg Jets – via Buffalo Sabres (via St. Louis Blues)(Central Division – 2nd seed)
Blues Projected Finish: 51-23-8, 110 points, 43 ROW
Selection: Jeremy Roy – Defense – Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
25.) Montreal Canadiens (Atlantic Division – 2nd seed)
Projected Finish: 51-23-8, 110 points, 45 ROW
Selection: Filip Chlapik – Center – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
26.) Toronto Maple Leafs – via Nashville Predators (Central Division – 1st seed)
Predators Projected Finish: 51-21-10, 112 points
Selection: Daniel Sprong – Right Wing – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
27.) Philadelphia Flyers – via Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic Division – 1st seed)
Lightning Projected Finish: 51-22-9, 111 points
Selection: Jordan Greenway – Left Wing – US-18 (USHL)
28.) Anaheim Ducks (Pacific Division – 1st seed)
Projected Finish: 53-21-8, 114 points, President’s Trophy Winner
Selection: Nikita Korostelev – Right Wing – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
29.) Tampa Bay Lightning – via New York Rangers (Metropolitan Division – 1st seed)
Rangers Projected Finish: 51-22-9, 111 points, Eastern Conference Champions
Selection: Jansen Harkins – Center – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
30.) Arizona Coyotes – via Chicago Blackhawks (Central Division – 3rd seed)
Blackhawks Projected Finish: 51-24-7, 109 points, Stanley Cup Champions
Selection: Jake DeBrusk – Left Wing – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)