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Wheeler’s 2015 NHL Mock Draft

With the NHL season come to a close, the Blackhawks crowned champions, and the NHL draft order in place, it’s time for an age-old sports tradition, the mock draft.

Each year, I put together a mock draft, balancing my rankings against team needs and briefly breaking down each player.

This year, it is being published online with McKeen’s Hockey for the first time. As a fan, it should give you some idea of who your team might look to target on June 26.

1. Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid

There’s nothing that needs to be said or explained when it comes to the Oilers taking McDavid. McDavid is the unquestioned first overall pick, and the Oilers won’t flinch in taking him. The budding superstar will join fellow U22 centres Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl. 

2. Buffalo Sabres: Jack Eichel

Just like McDavid is a lock to go first overall, it is a foregone conclusion that Eichel will be a Sabre. And just like McDavid solidifies the Oilers down the middle with two young top centres, Eichel will bring a dominant presence to a lineup that will soon boast 19-year-old centre Sam Reinhart fulltime as well.

3. Arizona Coyotes: Dylan Strome 

The draft will really get interesting at third overall. It looks like the Coyotes will choose either Strome or defensemen Noah Hanifin. I lean towards Strome (they’re really close) if only because he’d add another potential top offensive option to a system in need of some firepower. Strome would join Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Brendan Perlini and Christian Dvorak as the emerging young core up front.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner 

The Leafs and Marner seem destined for each other. The recent hiring of amateur scout Lindsay Hofford (Marner’s former AAA coach and Director of Scouting with the London Knights) and Mark Hunter (Marner’s GM in London) point to Marner as the frontrunner at fourth overall. The Leafs have made it clear size isn’t going to affect their selection either, which bodes well for the diminutive forward.

5. Carolina Hurricanes: Noah Hanifin

Due to the way the draft order has shaken up, it looks like Hanifin – my third ranked prospect – could slip on draft day. I doubt he falls past the Hurricanes though. Hanifin would join top prospect Haydn Fleury as the future core on the left side on the backend on a team that already has righties Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy as options long term. 

6. New Jersey Devils: Mathew Barzal

The Devils were the oldest team in the NHL last season and their system is starved for top-end prospects. Adam Larsson is starting to come into his own on the backend and they could swing for the fences with Barzalup the middle. Adam Henrique is a good young player, but he’s not a top pivot on a competitive team.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: Mikko Rantanen

The Flyers have a wealth young talent coming on the backend, including Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg. If they don’t deal the pick, it wouldn’t be surprising to pass on the top defensemen in the class in favour of Rantanen, a hulking power forward in the Jakub Voracek mould. Rantanen met with the Flyers at the Scouting Combine.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: Zach Werenski 

The Blue Jackets have a ton of young talent up front with the likes of Ryan Johansen, and more on the way in Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano, Alexnader Wennberg and Kerby Reichel. Werenski, a potential top-end defensemen who models his game after the Jackets own Jack Johnson seems like the perfect fit.

9. San Jose Sharks: Ivan Provorov

Regardless of need, Provorov becomes clearly the best player available (BPA) if he’s left at ninth overall. The Sharks would be foolish not to add him to a prospect pool that needs help in all areas. Provorov has the potential to be a physical, dynamic defender in the Western Conference.

10. Colorado Avalanche: Pavel Zacha

In an interview prior to the combine, Zacha said that his agent had told him the Avalanche had inquired about him and that they were “talking a lot about me.” And Colorodo seems like a good fit for the big, strong centre. While they’re rife with young talent down the middle, their system lacks top-end centres and the perpetual Ryan O’Reilly trade rumours are ongoing. 

11. Florida Panthers: Kyle Connor

The Panthers are one of the few teams whose embarrassment of riches with young talent doesn’t have any holes in the system. Drafting Connor, the USHL’s leading scorer, adds another top young talent an already impressive core up front. The Panthers are on their way to being scary-good.

12. Dallas Stars: Lawson Crouse

The Stars system has strength on the backend and Crouse suits the Western Conference’s style of play well. Brett Ritchie is really the only viable young talent the Stars have on the rights side heading into the draft, so Crouse would be a welcome addition.

13. Los Angeles Kings: Timo Meier

Who builds a team around big, skilled, possession-driving players? The Kings do. They could really use a top prospect up front too. After Adrian Kempe, there are some holes. Ring it up.

14. Boston Bruins: Nick Merkley

The Bruins interviewed Merkley at the combine and his combination of skill and skating make him a good fit for a Boston team that is in desperate need of some young talent up front, with plenty to go by on the backend. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are about to enter their 30s.

15. Calgary Flames: Jakub Zboril

As the Flames continue to build a young, able team, Zboril fits into the blueprint perfectly. Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett give the Flames top options up front, and Zboril would do the same for the future of the team’s defensive core with T.J. Brodie. Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano aren’t getting any younger.

16. Edmonton Oilers: Jeremy Roy

After adding the class’ top forward at first overall, the Oilers are well suited to add one of its top defenders. A young core of McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl, Hall, Yakupov, Schultz, Lander, Nurse, Roy and Klefbom can’t stay bad forever. Right?

17. Winnipeg Jets: Travis Konecny

The Jets probably already have the league’s deepest pool of prospects. Adding Konecny gives them another character guy with a ton of upside. It’s a good time to be a Winnipeg Jets prospect. 

18. Ottawa Senators: Oliver Kylington

The Sens have taken a risk with high-flying, uber-talented defensemen with questionable decision-making before and it paid off. Kylington is that risk worth taking and he’s found a mentor in a longtime NHL defensemen Johnny Oduya, who plays a more controlled game. 

19. Detroit Red Wings: Thomas Chabot

Joe Hicketts, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul are solid NHL prospects on the backend, but Chabot strengthens Detroit’s system. The young defender carries intelligence in his game that the Red Wings desire in all of their players.

20. Minnesota Wild: Colin White

The Wild have grown to like drafting Nation Training Development Program (NTDP) players over the years. White is a strong two-way centre committed to Boston College for the 2015-2016 academic year. The Wild can afford to be patient with him.

21. Buffalo Sabres: Brock Boeser

The Sabres have a constant flow of prospects taking next steps and much like the Wild they can afford to wait on Boeser, who is committed to the University of North Dakota. Boeser proved he’s a dynamic scorer as a rookie in the USHL, outscoring his next closest teammate by 20 goals this season, and he continued to perform internationally. 

22. Washington Capitals: Evgeny Svechnikov

Every year it seems like players bred in the QMJHL or Russia drop further than they should in their respective class. Svechnikov has the misfortune of both. I can’t image a player of his size and skill falling past the Caps though. Washington has proven labels don’t bother them.

23. Vancouver Canucks: Jansen Harkins

Harkins grew up playing his minor hockey in North Vancouver and has reportedly been linked to Canucks GM Jim Benning. The Prince George Cougars centre plays a two-way, reliable style and has top-six upside down the middle. 

24. Toronto Maple Leafs: Daniel Sprong

The Leafs insistence on drafting skill should put Sprong, a QMJHL winger with elite offensive tools who has been polarizing among scouts this season, at the top of their list of targets at 24th overall. Sprong’s a risk worth taking and a potential homerun for a team in need of kick starting their delayed rebuild.

25. Winnipeg Jets: Jake DeBrusk 

As if Konecny wasn’t already a sufficient addition to a stacked pool of prospects, the Jets will have a chance to pick up another top prospect. The Jets love character, driven players. Nobody outworks DeBrusk. It doesn’t hurt that he scored 42 goals either.

26. Montreal Canadiens: Anthony Beauvillier

He’s small. He’s skilled. He’s French-Canadian. Need I say more?

27. Anaheim Ducks: Joel Eriksson Ek

There isn’t a team that thrives off of big, skilled, power forwards quite like the Ducks do. The Ducks have a strong pool of prospects, but no real high-end centres on the way. Once he fills out some more, Eriksson Ek’s got the tools to be an effective centre in the Western Conference.

28. Tampa Bay Lightning: Jeremy Bracco

The Lightning have done a good job of identifying skilled players in recent drafts and Bracco, despite being one of the smaller players in the class (by height, not strength), has loads of it. Tampa has enough young talent that there’s no rush with the future Boston College forward.

29. Philadelphia Flyers: Ilya Samsonov

As good as Steve Mason has become, the Flyers are one of the few teams that could be in search of the draft’s top goalie in the first round. Samsonov has the potential to be a top-end starter, something that Anthony Stolarz is unlikely to become.

30. Arizona Coyotes: Denis Guryanov

Guryanov is signed for two more years with the KHL’s Lada Togliatti and that may push some teams away but the budding power forward is a risk worth taking for a team whose prospect pool is thinner on the right side than it is on down the middle and on left wing.