My first rant for this week is more of a prediction. Since the draft order for Friday’s draft has been made available, I have work tirelessly to try and come up with the most accurate prediction of how the draft is going to go down. Keep in mind, these picks are baring any trades that may or may not happen. The Arizona Coyotes have already been fielding a few legitimate offers for their 3rd overall pick, so that pick might be going elsewhere. With that said, the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry draft will be….
1) Edmonton Oilers: CONNOR MACDAVID. (F)
Connor MacDavid has been talked about ever since he arrived on the OHL scene at age 15. The kid is an absolute wizard with the puck and can see the ice better than most current NHL stars. Even in a year where he sustained a pretty severe hand injury that put him out of action for months, MacDavid came back to the OHL (after a gold medal at the world juniors) to produce 3.5 points per game and still captured third in the OHL scoring race with 120pts. There is no doubt in any person’s mind that McDavid is going to be the next mega star in the NHL, that’s if the Oilers don’t screw him over like they have the last couple of 1st overall picks they have gotten.
2) Buffalo Sabres: JACK EICHEL. (F)
Eichel is starting to develop an ego to match his incredible talent, as he has stated that whoever pick him must commit to playing him for the full NHL season or he won’t sign with the team. The Boston College standout has been going head-to-head with McDavid for the last year to see who goes number 1 overall. Eichel had a mediocre world juniors, which made the gap between the two star insurmountable. Scout and analysts alike have said that they would put Eichel 1st overall in any other draft in the past, ahead of the likes of Steven Stamkos and John Tavares. Buffalo is in desperate need of a playmaking center to accompany their newest star acquisition: Evander Kane.
3) Arizona Coyotes: NOAH HANIFIN. (D)
Also hailing from Boston College, Hanifin has been rising up the rankings throughout the year. Some scouts had him going as low as 10th overall, but his play in the later part of the NCAA regular season and playoffs, coupled with a stalwart performance as team USA’s anchor on defense, Arizona can ill afford to pass on this stud d-man who I would liken to a Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues. With so many great forward prospects, the Coyotes need some help on the back end if they have any chance of becoming a contender years down the road.
4) Toronto Maple Leafs: DYLAN STROME. (F)
The Maple Leafs need a lot of help everywhere, but the most important position is right down the middle. The Leafs are likely trading away their star sniper in Phil Kessel, thus need a player that can fill in for Kessel in the near future. Despite being somewhat of a product of McDavid’s immense talent, Strome proved critics wrong as he kept up his stellar play when his teammate was injured getting 29points in 20 games. The extra bonus with Strome is that he won’t get wowed by the bright lights of the NHL because he has already gone through the process with his older brother Ryan, who is a star player for the Islanders. The only problem is that if he doesn’t get help, he cannot carry a team on his back, especially early on in his career. Dylan Strome is a player that the Leafs need, but should also pay careful attention in developing properly.
5) Carolina Hurricanes: MIKKO RANTANEN (F)
With the Hurricanes shopping around Jeff Skinner in the offseason, they are in desperate need of scoring at the top end of their lineup. Rantanen is a huge body at 6”3 and 211lbs, which he could use to make room for himself to be open for a beauty of a pass from Stall and company. Even though there are forwards considered better in the draft, the Hurricanes need to understand their need in scoring and have a player that is ready to step into the NHL right now.
6) New Jersey Devils: MITCH MARNER (F)
The London Knights playmaking forward is the perfect fit for the Devil’s if he slips down to number 6. The Devil’s struggled finding anybody to fill the 2nd line center role to help the likes of Patrick Elias and relieve the pressure of Travis Zajac, who other teams have targeted on every shift he plays. Marner complied 82 assists for the Knights last year. Scouts have likened him to a Patrick Knae, but I would lean towards a Patrice Bergeron.
7) Philadelphia Flyers: LAWSON CROUSE (F)
Despite having a very German last name, this Canadian is all red and white heart. At 6”4 and 215lbs, Crouse can give Flyers fans a taste of the orange and black of old, but his playmaking hands and nose for the net will be a huge compliment for Claude Giroux and company. Crouse will be developing alongside a plethora of young prospects that the Flyers are bringing up in their organization. Imagine him on a line with Giroux and Brayden Schenn? Scary!
8) Columbus Blue Jackets: IVAN PROVOROV (D)
From the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, Provorov has been one of the main reasons that his team was so dominant throughout the regular season. Constantly giving the likes of the Prince George Cougars a headache the moment they crossed the red line, Provorov is the perfect addition to the weak Jackets blueline. I ask you this, name another defenseman after Jack Johnson? Exactly. Sergei Bobrovski can only do so much with before the onslaught of forwards swarm his crease. Ivan Provorov can be the start of a blueline rebuild that most believe is way overdue for an upgrade.
9) San Jose Sharks: OLIVER KYLINGTON (D)
Going slightly off the board with this pick, Kylington was considered to be the cream of the crop in the beginning of the season, but he struggled down the stretch and pushed him down most rankings. I believe the size and mobility will be clear to the Sharks and they will have another cornerstone d-man alongside Mirco Mueller.
10) Colorado Avalanche: ZACH WERENSKI (D)
Another top end talent coming out of the NCAA this season, Werenski is a big body presence on the back end, but also has the hands to put up some major points against other team’s top threats. 25 points in 35 games is pretty darn good for a defenseman, especially considered he was one of the youngest players in the league. Colorado needs another big time offensive defensemen on a core that is getting ancient by the minute.
11) Florida Panthers: TIMO MEIER (F)
After drafting Aaron Ekblad 1st overall last year, the Panthers are looking to bulk up on the offence. No one fits the bill better than Halifax Mooseheads leading score Timo Meier. At 6”2 and over 200lbs, Meier possesses the raw talent to take games over down low. Not only is he a strong offensive force, he is also responsible offensively, which is a trait that is rare in such a young player. Alongside Nick Bjugstad and Alex Barkov, the Panthers could be building up one of the best young offences in the league.
12) Dallas Stars: JAKUB ZBORIL (D)
From the QMJHL Saint John’s Sea Dogs, Zboril is a fast puck moving defenseman, whose talents would fit perfectly into the style of play that the Stars have developed under coach Lindy Ruff. In his rookie campaign, Zboril tallied 33 points in 44 games. The stars are looking to make their d-core younger and faster if they are wanting to keep up with the likes of the Blackhawks and Blues. Zboril will not be on the opening day roster for the Stars, but expect him to put on a few more pounds onto his frame and be ready to make a big impact in a couple of years.
13) LA Kings: JACOB LARSSON (D)
Larsson is a stay-at-home d-man, who has had the chance to play with men in the Swedish Elite League. At 6”2 and just shy of 200lbs, Larsson’s style of play will help the Kings in one of the only areas that they are weak (in their own zone). For too long the Kings have relied on Johnathan Quick to bail them out, problem is, he only plays well if he gets into the playoffs. Larsson should signify a movement by Kings management to stop loading up talent for an all-out attack, and focus more on the times that the puck is in their own zone.
14) Boston Bruins: MATHEW BARZAL (F)
The young phenome ran into a bit of injury trouble, which took him out of action for over three months. Widely considered to be a top end forward talent in this year’s draft, his stock has dropped a bit. The Bruins are in desperate need of replenishing the offensive well in their organization. Barzal will not be available to play for the Bruins this year, no should he. Another year with the Seattle Thunderbirds under his belt will give him the confidence to try and crack the lineup for the 2016/2017 season.
15) Calgary Flames: Thomas Chabot (D)
With a wealth of young talent up front with the likes of Gudreau, Monahan, and Ferland, the Flames are in need up help on the blueline. With the best prospect being Tyler Wotherspoon, the Flames need to create a balance of young prospects in their system. Chabot is considered more of an offensive threat than other d-men in the draft, which is useful when you need to break out of the zone and feed your young teammates the put. Mark Giordano will be a great mentor for Chabot to make him a better-rounded player, but there is no denying his upside will make the Flames winners at the 15th position.
16) Edmonton Oilers: GABRIEL CARLSSON (D)
Carlsson is a must for the Oilers! They have more than enough high end talent in the forward position, they need to get more defensively responsible. While playing with Linkoping’s junior team, Carlsson put up a very modest 7 points, but managed an astounding +21 rating in 39 games. He has managed to be selected for every national team that he can and excels when put in crucial situations. He says that his favorite player is Nicklas Lidstrom, the Oilers are just hoping that he can help save Scrivens (or Talbot) from drowning in a pile of pucks.
17) Winnipeg Jets: KYLE CONNOR (F)
Even though the Jets made the playoffs and was everyone’s Rudy for the 2014/2015 season, the Jets need to face reality; the Jets overachieved. With the likes of Evander Kane gone to Buffalo and Drew Stafford likely testing free agency, the Jets need some help up front. Mark Sheifele is the only player of note so far that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can hang his hat on. Kyle Connor is the next answer to their offensive woes. The Jets had an awful time of not being able to get the next goal to put some games out of reach. Connor’s stellar play in the USHL was something that, no doubt caught the eye of Jets scouts as well as many others around the league. If Connor is still on the board, the Jets will not pass on him.
18) Ottawa Senators: PAVEL ZACHA (F)
The Sarnia Sting center is an absolute giant at 6”3 210lbs already. His rankings have been very consistent over the whole year at the 8th spot in North America. His transition from the Czech Republic has been very smooth compared to other Europeans that have made the trek in years past, I guess it helps when your mentor if former NHL great Petr Nedved. With 34 points in 37 games, Zacha’s nose for the net will be a great asset for the Sens if he falls lower in the draft than other experts believe.
19) Detroit Red Wings: JEREMY ROY (D)
Ever since the retirement of Nick Lidsrom a few years ago, the Red Wings have been trying to fill the void at defense. Jeremy Roy fits the bill in the future. In Sherbrooke of the QMJHL, Roy had 43 points in 46 games, which still lead the team in defenseman scoring. Winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award last year and following it with a very strong performance in his shortened season this year, the Red Wings are looking at a player that can be a rock on the blue line for years to come.
20) Minnesota Wild: TRAVIS KONECNY (F)
The wild have always struggled with scoring, whether it is because they have had the most boring of playing styles, or if it’s because they trade away all their offensive talent. If the wild want to find someone to skate alongside Zac Parise in a year or two from now, Konecny has the balanced attack to light the lamp as well as be defensively responsible. With more than a point a game, the Wild need to have an offensive talent like Konecny in their system if they ever want to get passed the second round of the playoffs without relying solely on their goaltending.
21) Buffalo Sabres: NOAH JUULSEN (D)
The Sabres already have their forward of the future with Eichel, now it’s time for them to focus on their own zone. While Noah Juulsen did not have the greatest of starts, his play in the second half of the season showed scouts and experts alike that he is just getting started. With a 6”2 frame, Juulsen is another kid that needs to fill out more. Put, 20lbs of muscle on him and he becomes a dangerous weapon on a team that’s about as lethal as a ham sandwich. Stylizing himself after Canuck fan favorite Kevin Bieksa, Juulsen possesses a great eye for offense while still maintaining a great +/-. He won’t wow you with amazing goals, but Buffalo just needs him to help get rid of the red light sun burn that Sabres goalies are used to these days.
22) Washington Capitals: NICK MERKLEY (F)
The Capitals will be thanking their lucky stars if the Kelowna Rockets standout is still on the board at the 22nd spot. He is a dynamic forward that can beat you with speed and get the best out of his fellow linemates with beauty passing and great vision. Merkley and Rourke Charttier tore apart the WHL this past season with a berth in the Memorial Cup as their prize. Despite being an undersized player, the eastern conference is a perfect place for the right winger to thrive. Seeing him beside the likes of Ovechkin and Backstrom will be the envy of the rest of the league. This could be the steal of the first round.
23) Vancouver Canucks: RYAN PILON (D)
Coming off a season that saw his team dominate the WHL until hitting the roadblock known as the Kelowna Rockets, this puck moving offensive d-man is exactly what the Canucks need in their system. Since the likelihood of Bieksa being a Canuck next season, Benning and company need to be looking at replacing him with a younger version. Even though fans might think that a stay-at-home guy like Brandon Carlo of the Tri-City Americans would be a better fit, I have to believe that the speed of Pilon is a great counter to the sluggish problem that the Flames capitalized on in this past season’s playoffs.
24) Toronto Maple Leafs: BRANDON CARLO (D)
The Leafs will be thanking the Canucks that they didn’t lose out on Carlo a pick before. Having already acquiring the services of Dylan Strome earlier, Shanahan’s management group will be looking to give the goaltenders a little help. Carlo is a huge 6’5 and 200lbs, with a mobility of a guy much smaller. Even though he is not known for his shooting ability, the Leafs will get a solid d-man that won’t disappoint (I’m looking at you Luke Schenn).
25) Winnipeg Jets: JANSEN HARKINS (F)
There is a gut feeling that the Prince George star forward will be called to the stage to put on a Jets jersey come Friday. With their second pick in the first round, the Jets will be looking to stockpile an already impressive forward core. Harkins is not likely going to be ready for the bright lights of the NHL for a few years at least, but when he does, you can look forward to hearing a lot of “ Harkins down the wing, shovels it to Sheifele aaaaand scores top self baby; what a beauty!”.
26) Montreal Canadiens: SEBASTIAN AHO (D)
Coming from Umea, just south of the arctic circle, Aho has been playing with men for the majority of the season. His small stature can be a bit of a problem, but the Canadiens have had some pretty good success with smaller talent. Despite his size, Aho has incredible speed and vision for the ice. The fact that he is an accomplished young two-way d-man, in a couple of years, he might even be Andrei Markov’s replacement.
27) Anaheim Ducks: EVGENY SVECHNIKOV (F)
This fast Russian winger used his speed in Cape Breton to launch himself to 78 points in 55 games. Evgeny also fits in with the Ducks size as he is 6”2 and 200lbs. Like Zacha, he has made a seamless transition from mother Russia to the CHL. He can create havoc for Perry and Getzlaf in front of the net, while still having the touch to tap in the dirty rebound. The knock on this player is that he might need a little work on the 200 foot game instead of concentrating on the offensive side of the puck.
28) Tampa Bay Lightning: PAUL BITTNER (F)
The Lightning showed in the playoffs that they need a little bit more size on forward. Bittner is a monster from the Portland Winterhawks at 6”4 with aggression to match. The Lightning are a speedy team but need a third line winger that gives John Copper a little more options when trying to use his minutes well and let some pressure off Stamkos and Tyler Johnson.
29) Philadelphia Flyers: DANIEL SPRONG (F)
Sprong gives the Flyers some much needed speed in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers have long been the victim of faster teams like the Canadiens and Lightning. He could be likened to Joe Sackic with his release. Sprong also shoots in bunches as he notched 270 pucks at the net, which could help create rebounds and other scoring chances.
30) Arizona Coyotes: COLIN WHITE (F)
With the last pick in the first round, the Coyotes will go back to the forward position for their second pick with Colin White. White has fallen down the ranks due to injury and a poor performance at he 5 nations tournament in Czech Republic. , but when he was on the ice, he tallied a point per game and has shown to be a playmaker with 26 assists in 45 games. He is also a clutch performer scoring the gold-medal winning goal in the world under-18 championship.
And with that, we the picks are locked in. If you disagree with the picks, please feel free to leave your comments below. As always, I am Smoke Stark. Thank you for reading, and with great power comes great responsibility.