Now things really get interesting.
The World Junior Championship added a new layer of intrigue to the 2015 NHL Draft class, with Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen making a believer out of many scouts and jumping into the top 10 of this month’s Sportsnet Top 30 Draft Rankings for the first time. Other lesser known players, like Slovak defenceman Erik Cernak and Swiss blueliner Jonas Siegenthaler, caught the eyes of scouts and will be now watched even more closely.
Next week, NHL Central Scouting delivers its first numbered rankings with separate categories for North Americans, Europeans and goaltenders. Then on Thursday, 40 of the top prospects in the Canadian Hockey League gather in St. Catharines for the BMO Top Prospects Game, live on Sportsnet.
Nothing has changed at the top of the Sportsnet list, where Erie centre Connor McDavid, Boston University pivot Jack Eichel and Boston College rearguard Noah Hanifin continue to lead the way. Along with Rantanen, and the rise of Saint John defenceman Thomas Chabot to No. 23, an intriguing development this month will be the expected return to action of highly regarded Seattle Thunderbirds centre Mathew Barzal from a cracked kneecap.
Barzal, who didn’t return to the T-Birds lineup Tuesday night against Spokane at home, is in a tricky spot. He’s been selected to play in the Top Prospects Game, and if he returns against Kelowna for Sportsnet’s Friday Night Hockey marquee game this week or the next night against Everett, he’ll have to play in St. Catharines or risk suspension by the CHL.
Three years ago, Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting was suspended two games by the CHL after skipping the Top Prospects Game. He’d missed a month with a knee injury earlier in the season, but then played three games in three nights before deciding not to play in the junior showcase.
Seattle officials might prefer Barzal not travel to Ontario next week to play in an all-star game even if he plays this weekend, but theoretically might sit him out to make sure he isn’t suspended.
With contributions from NHL and CHL scouts and executives, and CHL insiders Gare Joyce, Jeff Marek and Sam Cosentino, here’s Sportsnet’s Top 30 NHL Draft Prospects list for January (December rankings in parentheses):
1. (1) Connor McDavid, C, Erie (OHL) Any doubt anyone should have had erased by his strong world juniors. With the Otters reinforced by trades, they should beready to take run at MasterCard Memorial Cup.
2. (2) Jack Eichel, C, Boston University (NCAA) He struggled to find consistent linemates at the WJC. Had two goals and four points in his return to Terriers lineup against Wisconsin.
3. (3) Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College (NCAA) Handled himself well as a 17-year-old D-man at the world juniors. “To do what this kid is doing in college is pretty impressive,” said one scout.
4. (4) Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston (OHL) Strong play in a support role for Canada at world juniors solidified his top-5 standing.
5. (5) Dylan Strome, C, Erie (OHL) He plays in Top Prospects game next week four years after his brother, Ryan, played in the same game.
6. (13) Mikko Rantanen, RW, Turku (Finland) The scouts were waiting to see him at the world juniors and he didn’t disappoint. A power forward with a left hand shot coming off the right wing.
7. (6) Mitch Marner, C, London (OHL) Leads Ontario league in scoring, averaging more than two points per game.
8. (7) Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle (WHL) As with Morgan Rielly and Alex Galchenyuk in 2012, it's going to be a challenge for scouts to evaluate his partial season. He's played just 16 games so far.
9. (8) Oliver Kylington, D, AIK (Sweden) An injured groin just prior to the world juniors meant scouts didn’t see him perform on that big stage.
10. (9) Nick Merkley, RW, Kelowna (WHL) With Medicine Hat forwards getting hot, has fallen to third in WHL scoring. The addition of Leon Draisatl could help him face weaker checking.
11. (10) Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon (WHL) Almost a point-per-game with the Wheat Kings. He's physically strong, doesn’t get rattled and is poised beyond his years say scouts.
12. (12) Pavel Zacha, C, Sarnia (OHL) A first half puzzle. Was suspended twice and had an average world juniors. Scouts need to see more from Zacha in second half to get him back into top 10.
13. (16) Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown (QMJHL) Given that the Dutch-born forward didn’t have a team to play for at the world juniors, scouts will be eying him closely at the Top Prospects Game.
14. (15) Travis Konecny, C/RW, Ottawa (OHL) His season is picking up steam as the 67's continue to surprise in OHL’s Eastern Conference.
15. (14) Filip Chlapik, C, Charlottetown (QMJHL) Failed to make the Czech team for world juniors, but has the size and hands to get scouts' attention.
16. (17) Jakub Zboril, D, Saint John (QMJHL) Also didn’t make Czech team and was then felled by a knee injury and isn’t expected to appear in Top Prospects Game.
17. (11) Colin White, C, USNDTP (USHL) An early season illness has hampered his season. Couldn’t crack the U.S. lineup for world juniors.
18. (18) Kyle Connor, Youngstown (USHL) Has quick hands and lots of speed, but went pointless in the USHL top prospects contest.
19. (19) Zack Werenski, D, Michigan (NCAA) Some scouts loved him at the WJC, others not so much. His skill with the puck is undeniable and he has no fear when it comes to making plays.
20. (20) Jeremy Roy, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL) Leads all Quebec league defencemen in scoring with five goals and 33 points.
21. (23) Evgeni Svechnikov, RW, Cape Breton (QMJHL) The No. 1 star in QMJHL last week with three goals and nine points in three games.
22. (21) Matthew Spencer, D, Peterborough (OHL) Will face new challenges playing for the Petes after top veterans were traded away at the deadline. Steady force at back end.
23. (NR) Thomas Chabot, D, Saint John (QMJHL) Trending upwards aggressively. He's a strong mobile skater making move similar to Travis Sanheim last June, who went 17th.
24. (24) Nikita Korostelev, RW, Sarnia (OHL) A shoulder injury may keep him out of Top Prospects Game. But he's pure scorer—16 goals in 34 games.
25. (26) Brock Boeser, RW, Waterloo (USHL) He reminds some of Mike Fisher with his skating and style. Has 19 goals in 28 games.
26. (27) Timo Meier, RW, Halifax (QMJHL) Continued to impress scouts skating for Switzerland at the world juniors. Plays a North American style game.
27. (28) Paul Bittner, LW, Portland (WHL) His season has picked up with 18 goals. Scouts love the size (6-foot-4, 202 lb.), but want to see more consistency in the second half.
28. (30) Adam Marsh, LW, Saint John (QMJHL) Perhaps a dark horse in the draft. Good with puck in the offensive zone with a big-time shot.
29. (22) Jordan Greenway, LW, USNDTP (USHL) Great size at 6-foot-5, 212 lb., but just two goals in 22 games so far this season makes it hard for scouts to get too excited at this point.
30. (NR) Adin Hill, G, Portland (WHL) His strong play motivated the Hawks to deal veteran Brendan Burke to Calgary. He has the best save percentage (.933) in the WHL.
On The Radar
Brandon Carlo, D, Tri-City (WHL)
Nicolas Roy, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Erik Cernak, D, Kosice (Slovakia)
Jeremy Bracco, RW, USNTDP (USHL)
Christian Fischer, RW, USNTDP (USHL)
Brendan Warren, F, USNTDP (USHL)
Tommy Novak, C, Waterloo (USHL)
Gabriel Carlsson, D, Linkoping (Sweden)
Michael Spacek, F, Pardubice (Czech)
Dennis Yan, LW, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
Nicolas Meloche, D, Baie Comeau (QMJHL)
Vince Dunn, D, Niagara (OHL)
Noah Juulsen, D, Everett (WHL)
Alexander Dergachyov, C, St. Petersburg (MHL)
Jonas Siegenthaler, D, Zurich (Swiss)
Blake Speers, RW, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Jansen Harkins, C, Prince George (WHL)