2015 NHL Draft Preview: Team Depth Picks 1-10


2015 NHL Draft Preview: Team Depth Picks 1-10

As part of our continuing coverage of the 2015 NHL Draft, we now break down eachindividual pick in the draft, who owns it, what their roster looks like and what prospects are on the way, before giving a rough idea of whoshould be taken by each team. This first post will cover the first ten picks of the draft.

No. 1 Overall – Edmonton Oilers

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While it feels like the Edmonton Oilers should have been relegated to the AHL by now, they win when it counts – at the draft lottery. They’re still a young team, with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and a host of other forwards that saw roster time all under 25.

It does feel like the rebuild has been going on forever, don’t look now but Jordan Eberle is already 25, but this may finally be the year that Edmonton can at least crawl out of the basement.

On defence Justin Schultz, Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin look like they’ll be solid NHL defenders, but none of them have top pair talent. While Ben Scrivens is not the guy in goal, several higher level veterans like Antti Niemi, Michal Neuvirth and wait for it, Devan Dubnyk, are all UFA’s while goalies like Corey Crawford, Cam Ward, Kari Lehtonen and Jimmy Howard may all be available due to the cap.

Since the first pick is a lock, we’ll cover the Oilers prospects with their second pick at 16.

DRAFT – Connor McDavid (C)

No. 2 Overall – Buffalo Sabres

Like most of the bad teams in the draft, this is the first of Buffalo’s two first-round picks. The Sabres were built to be bad for one reason, to grab either McDavid or Eichel. They may have lost out on McDavid but got a heck of a consolation prize in Jack Eichel. He’ll join a Sabres team that has some nice pieces up front and could start building into a contender quicker than some people realize. Right off the bat Eichel will have a dynamic scoring winger in Evander Kane.

Jan 13, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane (9) plays with the puck prior to the game against the Florida Panthers at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

That frees up Tyler Ennis, Sam Reinhart and Matt Moulson to do some damage on a second line. With other young guns like Zemgus Girgensons, Cody Hodgson, Johan Larsson and Marcus Foligno able to round out the bottom six, and some veterans like Brian Gionta, the forwards aren’t a complete mess.

Defence however is a different story. Zach Bogosian is still a good young defender and Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov are a pair of promising 20-year-olds, but Josh Gorges and Mike Weber just aren’t the talent level you need to have a solid top four. Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk are also promising defenders in the AHL that may land time with the Sabres next season, but if your top-seven defencemen feature two 20 year olds and two rookies, it’s going to be a long season.

DRAFT – Jack Eichel (C)

No. 3 Overall – Arizona Coyotes

All is not well in the desert, on or off the ice. After a brutal season that saw the Coyotes trade the majority of their top-tier talent for picks and prospects, the news hit last week that Glendale wants them out. While we won’t look at that here we will look at a team that’s in trouble.

Up front the Coyotes have some veterans like Shane Doan and Sam Gagner but not a lot around them. Tobias Rieder looks like he could be a gamer and Mikkel Boedker is a former 50 point player, but other than that there’s not much game breaking talent up front. The Coyotes are rebuilding and Shane Doan could be moved out in the off-season.

On defence the best defender they have is Oliver Ekman-Larsson and it’s not even close. The great news is that Ekman-Larsson is only 23 and will be around for any rebuild, but the rest of the defence lacks offensive talent. This is a team brutally in need of some veteran defencemen to help the youngsters along.

In goal Mike Smith is a below average to way below average goaltender signed for four more years at big money, so like it or not, they’re stuck with him. They helped resurrect Devan Dubnyk last year so a similar out-of-place goalie could fill the backup role and push for playing time.

In terms of prospects the Coyotes have a good system, especially up front.

Max Domi, Brendan Perlini, Anthony Duclair and Christian Dvorak all looked good in junior and next year will push to jump straight to the big club. Lucas Lessio and Henrik Samuelsson may be ready after spending last year in the AHL as well. In terms of defence the best prospects have already graduated to the big club, leaving the pipeline dry. That may lean them towards Noah Hanifin at the number three pick, though Marner played with Domi and Dvorak last year in London. Their best prospects are generally all seen as winger, so Strome has a shot at going No. 3 too. This pick will be the first truly interesting one of the draft.

DRAFT – Dylan Strome (C), Mitch Marner (C/RW), Noah Hanifin (D)

No. 4 Overall – Toronto Maple Leafs

To say the Toronto Maple Leafs are a team in transition is a bit of an understatement. The majority of their players are available for the right price and some may be available for almost no price, so to even judge who is returning next season may be difficult. The Leafs have a lot of salary cap room to sign restricted free agents Nazem Kadri, Richard Panik and Jonathan Bernier.

Apr 5, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) passes the puck as Ottawa Senators forward

Clarke MacArthur

(16) defends at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Ottawa 3-2 in an overtime shootout. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

They’ll still have room left to add onto whatever is left of their core as well. The likely returning pieces include Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri, who despite not so stellar seasons are still only 27, 26 and 24 respectively. The bottom six seems likely to be filled out by Peter Holland, Leo Komarov and Richard Panik, who have all shown flashes of being able to move up in the lineup. On defence only Morgan Rielly and Stephane Robidas are guaranteed to be back, mostly because no other team would possibly take Robidas. Dion Phaneuf, Roman Polak and Jake Gardiner could all be back or could all see themselves on new teams next year. In net there may be some trade options for either Bernier or James Reimer, but both are likely to return.

While we’ll cover prospects more in-depth for the Leafs at No. 24 where they have their second pick, they do have some good forward depth and have a plethora of defenders, but none on the back-end look like difference makers and possibly all max out as bottom pairing guys.

In goal Antoine Bibeau is the best prospect, but is probably a few years away. They do have some depth there as well with Christopher Gibson who is more NHL ready. The Leafs are obviously going for whoever of the second tier big three they view to be the best player available. They could possibly trade down a few spots if it picks up some good prospects or picks, but that would be very aggressive.

DRAFT – Dylan Strome (C), Mitch Marner (C/RW), Noah Hanifin (D)

No. 5 Overall – Carolina Hurricanes

While the Hurricanes were bad last year, they looked better in the second half and with depth down the middle and some good prospects the future isn’t completely bleak. With Eric and Jordan Staal down the middle, the Hurricanes posses a strong one two punch, but Eric is in the last year of his deal and may be traded. After them Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask showed they are legit and ready to play and Jay McClement anchors them teams fourth line.

On the wing there’s problems, with Jeff Skinner having his lowest point total in a full season since joining the NHL. Alexander Semin has an unmovable contract, scoring 19 points in 57 games at $7 million per. While they don’t have the money to spend on big name free agents, especially with Lindholm and Rask needing new contracts next year, inexpensive wingers will be the need.

On defence a solid mix of veterans and youngsters has them sitting in an okay spot, though they’ll miss Andrej Sekera next year. In goal Cam Ward is in the last year of his terrible deal but is still pretty unmovable and Anton Khudobin has struggled. Their best prospect in goal is years away so Khudobin can still steal the starters role with good play.

The Hurricanes are in the interesting position of getting whoever is left of the second tier of Marner, Strome and Hanifin, but they’ll be happy with whoever they get. The prospect pool is well spread out for the Hurricanes, with wingers, defenders, centres and goalies all represented. Whoever they get will shore up the prospect pool in that position, which means if Eric Staal is moved it will likely be for prospects in the opposite position of whoever they get.

DRAFT – Dylan Strome (C), Mitch Marner (C/RW), Noah Hanifin (D)

No. 6 Overall – New Jersey Devils

The Devils are kind of a mess right now. The top scoring forward is Adam Henrique, a dynamic young player, but he only had 43 points. Along with Henrique, Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri and Ryane Clowe are all signed long-term, but unlike Henrique every one of them is on the wrong side of 30. It should be noted that Clowe only played in 13 games last year due to concussions and there has been talk his career may be over.

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The only other player besides Henrique under 30 that played significant time last year was Jacob Josefson, who projects as at best a third liner. The defence is in better condition with four early to mid-twenties defenders anchored by veteran Andy Greene. The news gets even better in goal, where Cory Schneider was excellent despite playing on a very poor team. Schneider is in his prime and after splitting time early in his career has less wear and tear than most 29-year-old goaltenders.

For a team that’s incredibly old, the Devils have a very low prospect pool. They have two wingers that looked good in the AHL in Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau, but neither are game breakers. The rest of their higher end forward prospects are all still in junior. The Devils do have a plethora of young defenders in the AHL and do have some goaltending depth, which means they really need to take high upside forwards whenever possible. I’m listing Lawson Crouse as a possible draft choice for the Devils, but he’s the exact kind of player they need to avoid.

DRAFT – Matthew Barzal (C), Mikko Rantanen (RW), Lawson Crouse (LW)

No. 7 Overall – Philadelphia Flyers

While the Flyers were the seventh worst team in the NHL last season, this isn’t a roster going through a full rebuild. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek both have years left in their prime and are two of the best players in the game. Throw in depth like Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds — all 26 or younger — and you’ve got a young forward core with punch. They’ve got under achieving veterans in R.J. Umberger and Vincent Lecavalier and if either of those two can be moved, or improve next season, the Flyers offense will look solid.

Defence is another story, though. While Mark Streit is a very good offensive defenceman, he’s 37 years old and signed for two more years at big money. After that it’s a logjam of middle tier defenders. Luke Schenn is overpaid for what he contributes and with only a year left on his deal may have to be traded for very little in return. Andrew MacDonald’s contract is a massive albatross the Flyers would be hard to get out of outside of a buyout. Nicklas Grossmann is also overpaid for a third pairing defender. The only good news is they have a few younger cheap defenders like Radko Gudas, but they’ve got too many defenders for too few spots. Steve Mason has been solid for the Flyers in goal, though he was well below average in Columbus for years so there’s always the possibility he could slip.

We’ll look at their prospects more in-depth with their later draft pick, No. 30 overall, but for now the Flyers have a fairly balanced prospect pool and will take the best player available here. There’s also a chance the Flyers could move up with their late first rounder to dangle, with Arizona or Toronto the teams needing as many assets as possible that could conceiveably move down if they feel strongly enough about Barzal, Provorov and Crouse.

DRAFT – Matthew Barzal (C), Mikko Rantanen (RW), Lawson Crouse (LW), Zach Werenski (D), Ivan Provorov (D)

No. 8 Overall – Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets had one of the worst starts of the season last year because pretty much everybody missed time due to injury. They really competed and were one of the few teams to start climbing the standings late, which should prove the kind of players this team has. They’ve got the depth to challenge for a playoff spot next year and shouldn’t be overlooked. Scott Hartnell looked good in his first season for the Jackets, while Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen had career years.

March 18, 2015; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens (30) cannot block a shot from Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen (19) during the shootout period at Rexall Place. The Blue Jackets won the shootout 2-1 Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz- USA TODAY Sports

With Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Cam Atkinson rounding out the forward core while youngsters Marko Dano, Boone Jenner and Alexander Wennberg are pushing themselves into the conversation, the Blue Jackets are solid up front. On the back-end everybody is on the right side of 30 except 31-year-old Fedor Tyutin. Jack Johnson, David Savard and Kevin Connauton round out the top four with Ryan Murray looking good in limited action last year due to injury as a sophomore. They still need help on the back-end and should be in on the plethora of free agents available. Between the pipes Sergei Bobrovsky had a down year last year, falling to above average after two years in the conversation for the Vezina (which he won in 2013). If he’s healthy the Blue Jackets are scary.

The Jackets have so much high tier depth coming at forward in Sonny Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Kerby Rychel. The most exciting part of the trio is that they all offer something different to their game. They have some good defence, headed by Dillon Heatherington, but lost their best defence prospect Mike Reilly to unrestricted free agency after de-registering from the University of Minnesota. While he could still land with the Blue Jackets, it seems far more likely he’s going to be moved. The Blue Jackets depth at defence was hurting before they lost him, and now is so low that Kerby Rychel’s name has been thrown around in trade rumours for a defender. If Rychel isn’t moved, the Blue Jackets are picking Werenski or Provorov. If he is moved there’s still a good chance they go for a defender, but opens up other options.

DRAFT – Zach Werenski (D), Ivan Provorov (D), Matthew Barzal (C), Mikko Rantanen (RW), Lawson Crouse (LW)

No. 9 Overall – San Jose Sharks

After an ugly season the Sharks are right back where they started, albeit in a slightly better situation. After trying to get younger and tougher, they’re slightly younger and may prove to be tougher in the bottom six, but how big a difference does that make? The Sharks have spent the better part of a year trying to put together a tough bottom six headlined by Raffi Torres (missed all of last year) and Mike Brown (played only 12 games), but since when are they game breakers who can change the direction of the Sharks?

Thornton and Marleau still have no trade clauses so they’re not going anywhere, which actually gives the Sharks a window to still be able to challenge for the cup. As such this is more of a retool, especially when Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski still round out the top six leaving Tommy Wingels, Melker Karlsson and Tomas Hertl to do damage from further down the lineup.

The Sharks defence is pretty well put together, with Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon form the core with the young Mirco Mueller working his way into a consistent role. They may be able to spend on a free agent defenceman if they feel he can make the difference. The real question marks are in goal. Antti Niemi is a free agent and Alex Stalock hasn’t exactly won the job. With limited free agents that puts the Sharks in a position to have to trade, and while there’s plenty of options, from big priced guys like Jimmy Howard and Corey Crawford, to cheaper alternatives like Brian Elliott, Robin Lehner or either Reimer or Bernier, the Sharks don’t have a ton of prospects to move for a goalie.

The Sharks picked up Nikolay Goldobin in the first round last year and he looks like a real keeper, but the majority of the best Sharks’ prospects are in junior and nowhere near NHL ready. They’re looking at an interesting mix to pick at No. 9 overall, and if he’s still available, Lawson Crouse may be the exact player they’re looking for.

DRAFT – Lawson Crouse (LW), Matthew Barzal (C), Mikko Rantanen (RW), Zach Werenski (D), Ivan Provorov (D), Evgeny Svechnikov (LW)

No. 10 Overall – Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are a team in transition, as their good young core mixed with able-bodied veterans weren’t able to deliver this past season and as a non cap team have limited funds to upgrade. While Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon are all 24 or under, the Avs may be hard pressed to retain O’Reilly as he’s got one year left on his deal at the same time MacKinnon’s rookie deal will run out. He’s the big trade chip they have and plenty of teams should be interested. They were a very top six reliant team, with the aforementioned four joined by veterans Alex Tanguay and Jerome Iginla at the top of the score sheet. After O’Reilly, Tanguay and Duchene, who all tied for third on the team in scoring at 55 points, it drops to 38 to MacKinnon and then 26 to John Mitchell. If the Avs move O’Reilly, adding third line depth that can contribute will be paramount.

Defensively the Avs are okay, with Tyson Barrie leading the pack and combined with veterans like Erik Johnson, Brad Stuart and Nick Holden. They need more defensive depth, particularly young depth they can cost control. Varlamov had another solid season in net and Reto Berra is a trade chip as a backup, as their top goalie prospect is ready to go.

Outside of goal the Avs prospects are generally projected as bottom pair defenders or bottom six forwards. They’ll go high upside with the tenth pick and may lean to wing, with Duchene, O’Reilly and MacKinnon (who has been playing wing) all centres.

DRAFT – Mikko Rantanen (RW), Lawson Crouse (LW), Zach Werenski (D), Ivan Provorov (D), Evgeny Svechnikov (LW)

Who do you think the Leafs should pick? Part Two featuring picks 11-20 will post tomorrow. 

Next: 2015 NHL Draft Preview: Top Prospects 1-10