A new season is upon us and with that a new group to continue scouting heading towards their selection day in June.
2015 has been a bookmarked class for a few years now as some high-end talent emerged three years ago that had us, and the industry as a whole, excited and looking forward to this season of scouting.
There’s plenty of excitement coming from the United States.
The top dog and only real challenger to Connor McDavid’s crown for the top selection in 2015 is Boston University freshman center Jack Eichel.
Eichel is that strong offensive forward who skates with effortless power and incorporates the finesse side to his game with excellent anticipation and instincts. He has an impressive shot selection and makes passes that can catch even his line mates off guard. Possesses franchise player upside.
Eichel’s BU teammate and sometimes winger, A.J. Greer, has also been seen as a top prospect for this draft for a few season now. A Quebec-born and raised kid moved to the U.S. Prep system three years ago and played with powerhouse Kimball Union Academy to retain NCAA eligibility.
The 6-foot-4 winger has the size and energy to create offensive chances in the same fashion pro-power wingers do at the highest level. While his skills are still raw and rounding out he has plenty of NHL upside to further develop.
Not far from the Boston University Terriers Agannis Arena is the Conte Forum where the arch-rival Boston College play their games. BC’s top draft eligible talent is also FC’s early pick for top defender for the 2015 NHL draft.
Noah Hanifin is a smooth yet powerful skating two-way blue liner who plays a strong puck moving game while also being defensively responsible. Blessed with impressive size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, good reach, and high-end instincts
Hanifin’s impressive play last season both with the NTDP and at the U18 IIHF World Championship has all but cemented himself as FC’s third overall prospect after the two big centre prospects McDavid and Eichel.
Michigan’s Zach Werenski, a kid who worked his tail off to accelerate his schooling over the summer just so he could join Red Berenson’s program at 17-years-old, is another top defender coming out of the U.S. this season.
He is not as offensive orientated as Hanifin but instead plays a safe, reliable defense first game and takes the offensive chances given to him. Now not to say he will not put up points for the Wolverines or later in the NHL but rather that part of his game is still developing and he is currently more focused on stopping the attack instead of leading it up ice.
He’s a smooth skater that handles the puck well, shows good composure when pressured by a forecheck and will make the simple, correct play more often than not. He is also a solid passer who shows both accurate, well-timed puck distribution and an impactful shot from the point.
Defensively, Werenski has the size but is not a big bruiser type. Instead, he uses his positioning and reach to disrupt the offensive attack. He is a good candidate to become a top four two-way fifteen-year NHL defenseman.
Moving from the College ranks to the NTDP U18 and the top end guys there, you need to start with the Kings Mike Richards type of forward in Colin White.
The strong two-way forward is always contributing, whether he is scoring goals, setting up his line mates or helping out his defense. His skating is underrated and he works his tail off. He might not have high NHL point totals in his future but he is a player that teams will look at as someone you win with.
Jordan Greenway, a big 6-foot-5 power winger that scouts really like, also is developing in Ann Arbor, MI, with the NTDP U18’s this season. He has had his inconsistencies over the years but when this kid is on he is almost unstoppable.
He moves very well for a huge specimen and is a real load to handle when he builds up speed. Strong along the boards and hard to contain even for College age opponents when he drives to the net. Has solid defensive abilities and instincts. He makes strong passes, nothing overly creative, getting the puck to his open teammates. Has a very heavy and dangerous shot.
Jeremy Bracco, Greenway’s teammate, is another potential high draft pick because of his quickness, slick puck skills, excellent on-ice vision and playmaking ability as well as the ability to puck the puck in the net. While the centre lacks ideal size and strength, he does not shy away from the greasy areas on the ice.
Over in the United States Hockey League and Youngstown is another talented prospect named Kyle Connor. Connor has decent size, although he could add some strength, is a smart two-way player and creates offensive chances whenever the get the puck on his stick. His blend of responsible defensive play and creative playmaking ability along with his high-end hockey sense has more than a few teams high on the young American centre.
Lastly, two teammates with Waterloo of the USHL also slide into our top group of prospects playing in the U.S. A. Both Tom Novak and Brock Boeser have been strong Minnesota high school performers before joining the USHL and dominating the Ivan Hlinka this past August.
Novak has impressive offensive sense and very skilled hands to carry the puck into the offensive zone and create scoring chances. He works hard, is dangerous on the forecheck and finds open space when he does not have the puck.
Boeser plays more of a power game, going to the net both with and without the puck. He has good hands and is dangerous in the crease as both a shot deflector, goalie screen and garbage goal scorer. His game is not limited to around the net either as he has a very heavy, accurate shot when coming down the ice. He too works hard and is strong on the PK, getting into lanes and giving up his body for a shot block.
In the NAHL lies a hidden gem of sorts, although everyone in the scouting industry already knows about him due to a show he put on at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine MN earlier this fall, Slovak goaltender Matej Tomek of the Topeka Roadrunner.
The stopper with picture perfect butterfly technique came over to North America this season to put him name on the NHL map and that is exactly what he has done. Tomek is naturally large at 6-foot-3 but also very quick and controlled in his crease movements.