Ranking the 2015 NHL draft class by top skills

Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are the likely No. 1 and No. 2 picks in this summer's draft. Getty Images

While fans understandably get caught up in the rankings of players on a “Big Board” in terms of their slotted position relative to other prospects, most scouting involves rating of a different kind. Rating and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of players in different sets of specific skills is the heart of scouting.

As such, heading into the NHL draft you will often see that teams will agree on the merits of a player’s abilities in different areas, but they value particular abilities differently. Some want fast players, others wants smart ones, and others want a guy who is going to win board battles. As a fun exercise, this column displays the top 2015 NHL draft prospects ranked by their abilities in six key areas.

Top 10 skaters

1. Connor McDavid, C

2. Noah Hanifin, D

3. Kyle Connor, LW

4. Travis Konecny, C

5. Jack Eichel, C

6. Mathew Barzal, C

7. Oliver Kylington, D

8. Zach Senyshyn, RW

9. Denis Guryanov, LW

10. Daniel Sprong, RW

McDavid is on a level of his own, as he usually is, in this area. He’s the only player I’ve seen that has caused a fellow scout I sat next to at a game yell “He gone” when he got a step on a defenseman. I don’t think Barzal has the pure speed of the rest of the players on this list, but his agility and edges are clearly the best; if he gets an inch of space from a standstill, you can’t check him. Guryanov is a power forward with his size and how well he skates north-south and challenges defenders to keep him in front. Sprong has an electric element to his game with how well he gets through the neutral zone.

Top 10 puck skills

1. Connor McDavid, C

2. Jack Eichel, C

3. Mitch Marner, C

4. Mathew Barzal, C

5. Evgeni Svechnikov, LW

6. Travis Konecny, C

7. Dylan Strome, C

8. Daniel Sprong, RW

9. Jeremy Bracco, RW

10. Nick Merkley, RW

The top four in this area are not too far apart, but there’s a slight-to-moderate gap between each of them before a drop to Svechnikov. McDavid, Eichel, Marner and Barzal can all dance circles around people. McDavid stands out because of how well he handles the puck at full speed. Svechnikov has a real smooth and easy puck handling style, and he makes a lot of difficult plays seem easy.

Top 10 passers

1. Connor McDavid, C

2. Jack Eichel, C

3. Dylan Strome, C

4. Mathew Barzal, C

5. Mitch Marner, C

6. Jeremy Bracco, RW

7. Oliver Kylington, D

8. Travis Konecny, C

9. Zach Werenski, D

10. Denis Malgin, C

The “big two forwards” are actually pushed in this area by Strome, and if you wanted to argue him higher it wouldn’t be considered unreasonable. Bracco’s vision is commonly referred to in glowing terms in the scouting industry. Kylington appearing this high among the top forwards in the class speaks to how gifted a puck mover he is, but this ranking also shows how much he needs to round out his game. Malgin, who probably won’t go in the top two rounds, is a big sleeper in this class, and a player I rate highly.

Top 10 hockey IQs

1. Connor McDavid, C

2. Jack Eichel , C

3. Dylan Strome, C

4. Mitch Marner, C

5. Mathew Barzal, C

6. Lawson Crouse, LW

7. Ivan Provorov, D

8. Travis Konecny, C

9. Anthony Beauvillier, LW

10. Colin White, C

Crouse is often dinged for his lack of production and being a “low upside” guy in discussions I see online, but frankly that’s just not true. He’s a very aware two-way player who makes a lot of good decisions and reads. If one wants to ding his puck skills, that’s a real discussion to have, but the guy can play, and knows how to make things happen. Provorov is such a smooth, quiet player who can flash high-end offensive moments too. His defensive play has shown to be quite advanced at times. White is along the same lines, albeit as a forward. I’ve never been “wowed” by him, but he’s the kind of player who will take tough assignments and end up on the score sheet every night.

Top 10 shots

1. Daniel Sprong, RW

2. Nikita Korostelev, LW

3. Pavel Zacha, C

4. Brock Boeser, RW

5. Paul Bittner, LW

6. Anthony Beauvillier, LW

7. Jack Eichel, C

8. Timo Meier, LW

9. Ryan Gropp, LW

10. Rasmus Andersson, D

Sprong, Korostelev, Zacha, Boeser and Bittner are a top tier for me in this category. They have absolute cannons for shots and can locate too. Sprong has been a real deadly goal scorer in the QMJHL the last two seasons and Korostelev sends goalies into a panic when he winds up a one-timer. Boeser is a big, strong man, and really leans into his shots, utilizing all his strength.

Top 10 physical games

1. Lawson Crouse, LW

2. Brock Boeser, RW

3. Brandon Carlo, D

4. Erik Cernak, D

5. Paul Bittner, LW

6. Pavel Zacha, C

7. Mitchell Stephens, C

8. Filip Ahl, LW

9. Kyle Connor, LW

10. Gabriel Carlsson, D

Crouse is a beast -- plain and simple. He’s so big and strong, and uses his frame to win battles, get in lanes and separate players from pucks. He’s a legitimate scoring power forward. Boeser is a different cloth in that he’s a great puck protector. Carlo and Cernak both win a number of battles, although Cernak is more inconsistent with his physicality in that he tries to hit too often and can whiff at times. Guys like Stephens and Connor don’t have the size of others mentioned here, but they work their tails off and get pucks due to their intangibles.