It starts at three.
We know the 2015 NHL draft begins with Connor McDavid to the Edmonton Oilers, followed by Jack Eichel to the Buffalo Sabres. Is there a chance the Sabres might trade the second pick? Sure, and expect lots and lots of rumours.
And then expect Eichel to pull a Buffalo sweater over his head.
It’s what happens after that, however, that begins to make this draft particularly fascinating, a window into the way individual teams are thinking these days, and the league in general.
Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin has been the consensus No. 3 selection most of the year, but now rumours abound as to what the Arizona Coyotes might have in mind for that pick. Such as maybe taking Dylan Strome, who is the third-best player in the draft on more than a few lists. Or maybe the Coyotes will consider trading the pick. And is it possible teams are suddenly keener on Brandon blueliner Ivan Provorov than Hanifin? Could Hanifin turn into Cam Fowler and fall dramatically on draft day?
Look, anything’s possible, and with centres more coveted now in the NHL than any other position, it’s possible the top 10 could be filled with Strome, Mitch Marner, Mathew Barzal and perhaps even Pavel Zacha after McDavid and Eichel.
The more you talk to scouts and those who have watched over these draft-eligible players, the more you get a sense there is a vast difference of opinion on players. Some love Daniel Sprong. Others wouldn’t touch him. Some believe Jansen Harkins of Prince George Cougars could be as good as some of the centres ranked higher. Others scoff at the notion.
Many remember Swedish defenceman Oliver Kylington was rated in the top 10 earlier this season and has fallen, but then the talk begins about Kylington’s brilliant skating abilities. Goalies don’t seem to go in the first round anymore, but Russian netminder Ilya Samsonov has a lot of people excited.
There are so many players bunched in the second half of the first round a smart team drafting in that area might be wise to trade down for two second-round picks and do just as well. It’s a draft that will go down as one of the best because of the two studs at the top, but in five years we may have a very different opinion of this talented crop of teenagers.
Here’s Sportsnet's final Top 30 prospects rankings for the 2015 NHL Draft:
1. (1) Connor McDavid, C, Erie (OHL), 6-2, 195 Not much more to say. He swept the CHL awards. He dazzled in the playoffs. The Oilers are already printing sweaters. He’s going first.
2. (2) Jack Eichel, C, Boston University (NCAA), 6-2, 196 Leads a strong U.S. draft class. Seven points in 10 games at World Championship impressed everyone. He's ready to be a Sabre.
3. (4) Dylan Strome, C, Erie (OHL), 6-3, 185 He won OHL scoring title in last game of the season and added another 22 points in 20 playoff games. Has an NHL shot.
4. (3) Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College, 6-3, 205 Owns a strong, all-around game and played a ton of minutes in tough Hockey East as a 17-year-old. Had 23 points in 37 games.
5. (7) Mitch Marner, C, London (OHL), 5-11, 160 He's drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane. Controls games, has great quickness and vision. Had 16 points in seven playoff games.
6. (6) Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon (WHL), 6-0, 201 The 30th pick in last year’s CHL Import Draft has shot up rankings over course of year. He was the highest-scoring rookie in the WHL.
7. (8) Mikko Rantanen, RW, Turku (Finland), 6-3, 211 Tall, rangy, left-hand shot who plays the right side. Spent most of year competing against men in the Finnish Elite League. Scouts see offensive upside.
8. (14) Pavel Zacha, C, Sarnia (OHL), 6-3, 210 Had such an up-and-down year. Suspended twice, starred for Czechs at world under-18s. He might be a better left winger. Plays with an edge.
9. (9) Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle (WHL), 5-11, 175 Stood out at the world under-18s. Missed 28 games in regular season with a knee injury. Is very patient in traffic and had 57 points in 45 games.
10. (10) Zach Werenski, D, University of Michigan (NCAA), 6-2, 206 A great skater with lots of offensive imagination; had 25 points in 35 games. It will be interesting to see if he stays a Wolverine.
11. (12) Timo Meier, RW, Halifax (QMJHL), 6-1, 209 Had a breakout power-forward season with 44 goals and 10 more in the playoffs after starting season as “B” prospect for NHL Central Scouting.
12. (13) Nick Merkley, RW, Kelowna (WHL), 5-10, 190 Has a pit bull-like attitude. He wants the puck, wants to score. Shone at Memorial Cup. Some question his skating, but he's a big point producer.
13. (5) Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston (OHL), 6-4, 215 He showed more finish at end of season once Sam Bennett returned from injury. Some see a Shane Doan-type. He has a big body, the question is will he score at NHL level?
14. (18) Kyle Connor, C, Youngstown (USHL) 6-1, 177 Potted 34 goals in 56 games, committed to University of Michigan. He has explosive speed and plays on the wing at times.
15. (16) Filip Chlapik, C, Charlottetown (QMJHL) 6-1, 196 High skill, high hockey IQ, but a slightly unusual skating stride. Scored 75 points in 64 games. He's a bigger version of David Krejci.
16. (17) Evgeny Svechnikov, RW, Cape Breton (QMJHL) 6-2, 199 He played in the KHL last season and ended up with 32 goals in 55 games this year, but just one in playoffs. Pure goal scorer with a big body.
17. (NR) Joel Eriksson Ek, C, Farjestad (Sweden) 6-2, 180 He shot up the rankings late in the season. He's a good, not great skater, but controls and protects the puck. Will take time to develop.
18. (23) Thomas Chabot, D, Saint John (QMJHL) 6-1, 180 A very good skater who will take a hit to make a play, but isn't as flashy as other defencemen ranked higher. Very consistent.
19. (30) Jake DeBrusk, LW, Swift Current (WHL), 6-0, 175 The son of former NHLer Louie DeBrusk is considered a very hard worker with a nose for the net. Another who has steadily risen in rankings.
20. (21) Jeremy Roy, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL) 6-0, 188 The smooth-skating blueliner was the best offensive defenceman at world under-18 despite playing with high-ankle sprain. Can be a power-play quarterback.
21. (22) Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown (QMJHL) 6-0, 180 The Dutch citizen is the X-factor in first round. He's top 10 based on skill and drive, but doesn’t have 200-foot game at all.
22. (20) Colin White, C, USNTDP (USHL) 6-0, 183 Committed to Boston College, but struggled all season with injuries and illness. His dad was a linebacker at Georgia Tech. Is a Patrice Bergeron-type.
23. (19) Jakub Zboril, D, Saint John (QMJHL) 6-1, 184 Skilled and tough, he reminds some of Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov. Can really shoot the puck, go end-to-end and has a good first pass.
24. (NR) Jacob Larsson, D, Frolunda (Sweden) 6-2, 190 Another latecomer for this year’s draft. He's seen as Carl Gunnarson-like. Rangy, lean, will likely need a few years more at home.
25. (27) Jansen Harkins, C, Prince George (WHL) 6-1, 182 Another son of a former NHLer. He has good size and is a well-rounded player, but struggled at world under-18s. Had 79 points in 70 games.
26. (15) Travis Konecny, RW, Ottawa 67s (OHL), 5-10, 175 He's Ryan Callahan-like. Was a centre, but played most of season on the wing. He thrived in second half to get to 29 goals, 10 points in playoffs.
27. (24) Brock Boeser, RW, Waterloo (USHL) 6-0, 195 He's polished and goes hard to net; a complete player slated to go to North Dakota. He plays a heavy game and had 35 goals in 57 games.
28. (NR) Ilya Samsonov, G, Magnitigorsk (Russia), 6-3, 200The only goalie on this list has all the tools and could go much higher. Teams would get a compensatory second-rounder if doesn’t come to North America.
29. (11) Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestads (Sweden) 6-0, 180 Once seen as best European, scouts fell out of love with him. But he's a brilliant, Erik Karlsson-like skater. His creativity in the offensive zone has been questioned.
30. (NR) Nicolas Roy, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL), 6-4, 195 A towering 6-foot-4 forward with a short skating stride. He had a so-so year but played very well at world under-18s and could be late bloomer.
Denis Guryanov, RW, Togiatti (Russia), 6-3, 190
Paul Bittner, LW, Portland (WHL) 6-4, 204
Anthony Beauvillier, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL) 5-10, 185
Nicolas Meloche, D, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL), 6-3, 190
Noah JuulsEn, D, Everett (WHL), 6-2, 174
Brandon Carlo, D, Tri-City (WHL) 6-5, 196
Ryan Pilon, D, Brandon (WHL) 6-2, 206
Jeremy Bracco, C, USNTDP, 5-9, 173
Jordan Greenway, LW, USNDTP (USHL) 6-5, 220
Vince Dunn, D, Niagara (OHL), 6-0, 187
Gabriel Carlsson, D, Linkoping (Sweden), 6-3, 194
Dennis Yan, LW, Shawinigan (QMJHL), 6-1, 184
Thomas Novak, C, Waterloo (USHL), 6-0, 180
MacKenzie Blackwood, G, Barrie (OHL), 6-4, 215