The 2013 NHL Draft was deemed the deepest draft since the iconic 2003 draft. Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Seth Jones could have all been first overall picks had they been eligible for separate drafts. MacKinnon went on to have an explosive rookie season as an eighteen year-old, just seven points below the team-leading scorer (twenty-three year-old Matt Duchene). And though defensemen usually take longer than forwards to develop, Jones was one of the rare blueliners to make his NHL debut in his draft year, and he handled his rookie season like a seasoned veteran. Jonathan Drouin didn’t stick with the Tampa Bay Lightning for long, but he took the QMJHL by storm in what will most likely have been his last junior season, as he will probably play for the Lightning this year.
But there’s another top three of prospects eligible to be drafted next summer at the 2015 NHL Draft who may very well trump 2013’s group. The best part is that rather than the conventional method of draft placement (based on where teams are in the league standings), this time around a lottery drawing will determine who will be selecting in the top three in Sunrise, Florida next summer. And the lottery will include all thirty teams in the NHL.
If you have not yet heard of Connor McDavid, you must be new to hockey. The most talked about prospect since Sidney Crosby, McDavid was granted exceptional status by the OHL in 2012 which allowed him to start his major junior career a year earlier than his fellow 2015 draft peers. The dynamic, dominant center from Newmarket, Ontario scored 99 points in his sophomore 2013-2014 OHL campaign while the rest of the 2015 prospects were rookies in the CHL. He will be returning to the Erie Otters this season where he is all but guaranteed to emerge as the OHL’s leading scorer, and possibly even the leading scorer of the entire CHL. There is no way that Connor won’t be in the NHL next fall, and he is the type of player who no GM or scouting staff would pass up on at the draft. He will be the face of whatever franchise drafts him. Possible destinations: Buffalo, Calgary, and Toronto (seems out of place, but don’t be surprised if the Greater Toronto Area native makes a homecoming at the draft, since the lottery will be based on past season rankings/playoff appearances).
Then there’s Jack Eichel, the power forward center out of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Eichel’s dominance in the United States Development Program this past season (87 points in 53 games) has earned him much positive reception from scouts, and he has been considered a schoo-in as a top two pick in his draft. Though nearly impossible, Eichel is the only player remotely capable of being selected before the “Next One,” McDavid. Eichel presents a challenge to McDavid and he knows that he and McDavid will likely always be paired together for their whole careers a la Crosby and Ovechkin. This “consolation prize” is anything but, since he would be the clear-cut first overall pick if McDavid was not in the same draft, and he will absolutely be a force to reckon with in the NHL. Eichel will most likely be the best player at Boston University this fall in his freshman season, and he is poised to be the next best American player since Patrick Kane entered the NHL. Possible destinations: Calgary, Buffalo, Carolina
Noah Hanifin, another Massachusetts native, is poised to be the number three overall pick at the draft. The left-handed two-way defenseman may not have had the same hype as Seth Jones and Aaron Ekblad in the years leading up to his draft, but you never know with defensemen – Shea Weber and PK Subban weren’t exactly the most coveted prospects, but they have become two of the best (and highest-paid) blueliners in the NHL. Hanifin will be a freshman at Boston College this fall, and it is not unreasonable to believe that it may be his only season in the NCAA before he earns himself a spot on whichever team he belongs to come next fall. Though he may not be a future franchise player like McDavid and Eichel, he will definitely be a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL. Possible destinations: Carolina, Ottawa, Buffalo (via NY Islanders)
However the top three shapes up at the draft, there is much more to be excited about for teams who miss out on McDavid, Eichel, and Hanifin. Centers Mathew Barzal, Travis Konecny, Colin White, Pavel Zacha, Dylan Strome, and Mitch Marner all have the potential to be top-six centers in the NHL. As far as defensemen are concerned, Oliver Kylington is the next best blueliner, followed by Rasmus Andersson and Matthew Spencer. The 2015 draft may seem far away, but for league-changing guys like McDavid, Eichel, and Hanifin, it will come quickly. They each hope to have another successful season under their belts at the draft next June, as do the teams that will be selecting in the top three.