Big Three provide franchise upside

Dan Stewart2015 Draft Center

The typical trend of November in the scouting world is that by this time scouts are getting a good general idea of where everyone in their respective leagues shake out in the overall draft picture.

Some surprises are found and move up our draft rankings while some prospects disappoint on pre-season expectations, showing a lack of growth or development as their stock stumbles.

This November, however, the real story is the kid that everyone is talking about. And with good reason. The next face of the game is developing right in front of our eyes with the Erie Otters. Connor McDavid has looked so impressive early this season before his injury that it was making all the other top end draft talent in the OHL look somewhat pedestrian.

“He’s an offensive threat with tremendous speed,” one talent evaluator from Future Considerations noted. “McDavid is lethal in transition … using his speed to get to open ice and create a passing lane for his teammates. Hands of gold make for creative plays and perfect passes consistently over the course of a game. His hockey IQ is top notch and he uses it to his advantage on zone entries as he looks for options while slowing down the pace, ultimately passing it off or driving hard to the net.”

It’s not like guys like Dylan Strome, Pavel Zacha, Nikita Korostelev and Mitch Marner lack talent by any stretch of the imagination. It is just that McDavid is so far beyond his Ontario Hockey League peers in the way he thinks the game so quickly and consistently makes plays he is in a class of his own and I believe would be a top NHL scorer if he were in the league today.

The thing with McDavid is he causes defenders to panic when he gets the puck because they know he can make them look silly.

“He has a quick first step and uses his speed and strength to leave opponents in the dust,” the evaluator said. “McDavid elevates his play over the course of the game, something that seems impossible based on his first impressions. He uses his edges to explode in every direction and can change speed, faster or slower, in no time at all, fooling opponents in the process.”

He wasn’t alone in his evaluation.

“What a talent,” another scout said. “McDavid is the best player I have seen at this level since John Tavares. His skating is superb, he has hands that could make Datsyuk jealous, and reads and reacts to the game like a 15-year NHL vet.”

He may be in a class of his own in the OHL, but one challenger outside the Canadian Hockey League is set to push McDavid.

Jack Eichel of Boston University is an incredible talent in his own right, but not one who we believe has a chance to unseat McDavid as the drafts top prospect, barring any drastic developments.

Eichel, in his own right will be a franchise player. He has one lethal wrist-shot as well and when he decides to take the puck to a high percentage scoring area himself he is tough to contain because of his skating, strength and reach. He demonstrates elite playmaking skill and the ability to create scoring chances with his slick, deceptive passing skills and his ability to find seams quicker than anyone else on the ice.

“He has a wicked release that has a ton of power behind it,” a US-based Future Considerations scout said. “He is feisty after the whistle and isn’t one to shy away and not stick up for himself. He pounces on loose pucks and dishes perfect passes all over the ice. He has phenomenal hands and great puck skills. Man among boys at times.”

Trailing Eichel and McDavid is Boston College freshman defenseman Noah Hanifin, who in his own right is considered a franchise-type prospect.

Hanifin is a puck moving defender who has the impressive reach, total vision and tremendous skating ability to really take over a game. His intelligence is off the charts for a young defender as he seemingly makes all the right decisions, playing with confidence and looking calm and poised while doing so. Possesses the upside of a true #1 defender at the next level.

“Hanifin exudes confidence and uses his frame to shield attackers away from the puck,” the scout said. “The definition of a possession type player, thrives with the puck on his stick and makes the game look like a piece of cake. Patient and waits for the perfect play to develop before making a pass or committing.”

The fact of the matter is that for any NHL organization lucky enough to get their hands on one of these prospects come June 2015, they will undoubtedly be adding a cornerstone player to their roster for years to come.