It’s crystal clear at the top. Then muddy and getting muddier after that.
It appears only a major event or change in thinking by an awful lot of hockey people will stop Erie Otters centre Connor McDavid from going first overall in next summer’s NHL draft in Sunrise, Florida. Flashy Jack Eichel out of Boston University is set to go second.
Then it starts to get interesting.
Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin figures to lead an American charge that could see seven U.S. players go in the top 20.
“It’s always that way in October. Wait until March,” growled one veteran CHL executive.
This is Sportsnet’s first prospects list of the season heading towards the 2015 draft and it's very fluid, with NHL Central Scouting having so far identified only its “players to watch” list, grouping prospects into “A,” “B” and “C” ratings.
Already, players outside the “A” group are starting to stir, like Shawinigan sniper Denis Yan and CHL player-of-the-week Nikita Korostelev of the Sarnia Sting.
So consider this a starting point, and no more. While McDavid, Eichel and probably Hanifin are locked in, you can expect all kinds of movement heading towards the CHL Top Prospects Game in St. Catharines in January, and then the draft.
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 Prospects list:
1. Connor McDavid, C, Erie (OHL)... 18 points already and nary a detractor to be seen. Hard to believe he won’t go wire-to-wire at No. 1.
2. Jack Eichel, C, Boston University (NCAA)... Four-point game in romp over U Mass Amherst last weekend. Only real challenger to McDavid.
3. Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College... Along with Eichel, the Boston College defenceman faces a big challenge as a 17-year-old playing in the tough Hockey East. Mobile, two-way blueliner.
4. Pavel Zacha, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL)... Shifty 6-foot-3 Czech centre taken first by Sting in CHL import draft. Big reputation, little slow out of the gate with two goals in first seven games.
5. Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestads (Sweden)... Stylish left-handed shooting defenceman has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson.
6. Dylan Strome, C, Erie (OHL)... Plays the power play with McDavid, also has 18 points as the Otters started quickly. Older brother Ryan an Islanders first rounder.
7. Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle (WHL)... Highest rated player out west this season. B.C. native has 11 points in eight games so far. Great skill, speed.
8. Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston (OHL)... Some might not have him this high. But the combination of size and skating ability is impressive.
9. Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown (QMJHL)... Dutch citizen, moved to Montreal at age 7, may become a Canadian. Five goals this season in 12 games coming off 30-goal campaign.
10. Travis Konecny, C, Ottawa 67s (OHL)... Captained gold-medal winning Team Canada at summer Ivan Hlinka tourney last summer. Known for his energy, compete level.
11. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Turku (Finland)... Tall, rangy winger expected to play for Finland at the world juniors in Toronto and Montreal in December.
12. Mitch Marner, C, London Knights (OHL)... Was also a top player on under-18 championship team. Shifty playmaker off to sluggish start with rest of low scoring Knights.
13. Colin White, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL)... Committed to Boston College for next year. Right-handed shooting pivot out for next month with unspecified illness.
14. Jordan Greenway, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL)... Listed at 6-foot-5, 222 pounds, native of Potsdam, N.Y. is committed to Boston University next season.
15. Nicolas Roy, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)... Towering 6-foot-4 centre/winger caused waves by refusing to report to Cape Breton as first overall Q pick two summers ago.
16. Kyle Connor, C, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)... Third year in USHL, scouts are expecting him to put up big numbers. Committed to University of Michigan next year.
17. Evgeny Svechnikov, RW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)... Dynamic attacker played in KHL last season after being taken in second round of 2013 CHL import draft. Has 17 points already.
18. Zack Werenski, D, University of Michigan (NCAA)... Paired with Hanifin last year in Ann Arbour program. Was also recruited heavily by London Knights.
19. Paul Bittner, LW, Portand (WHL)... Right there alongside Crouse and Greenway as mega-sized wingers. Skated with Winterhawks in Memorial Cup tourney two years ago.
20. Tommy Novak, C, Waterloo (USHL)... Has committed to University of Minnesota next year. Magician with the puck, not clear whether he’s better at centre or on the wing.
21. Matthew Spencer, D, Peterborough (OHL)... Petes caused a stir by taking Spencer ahead of exceptional status youngster Sean Day in 2013 OHL draft. Solid blueliner, great skater.
22. Nick Merkley, RW, Kelowna (WHL)... Leading scorer on 8-0 Rockets team that figures to challenge for WHL title. Played with Crouse, Roy at Ivan Hlinka tourney last summer.
23. Filip Chlapik, C, Charlottetown (QMJHL)... High skill, high hockey IQ. Throws some scouts off with slightly unusual skating stride. One-two punch with Sprong.
24. Jeremy Roy, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)... Smooth-skating blueliner had 44 points for the Phoenix as a 16-year-old last season.
25. Jakub Zboril, D, Saint John (QMJHL)... The whole package, skilled and tough, reminds some of Florida’s Dmitri Kulikov.
26. Jansen Harkins, C, Prince George (WHL)... Son of former NHLer and Cougars GM Todd Harkins. Good start with 15 points in 10 games.
27. Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon (WHL)... 30th pick in this year’s CHL import draft. Russian-born defenceman played midget hockey in U.S. and skated for Cedar Rapids in USHL last season.
28. Brock Boeser, RW, Waterloo (USHL)... Pronounced BEE-zer. Played on the wing with Novak at under-18s last summer. Polished, goes hard to net, complete player.
29. Nikita Korostelev, RW Sarnia (OHL).... Played two years in GTHL for Vaughan Kings and Toronto Jr. Canadiens. CHL player-of-the-week last week after five-point game against Windsor.
30. Dennis Yan, LW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)... Russian-American is tearing up the “Q” with nine goals in 11 games. Plays for U.S., selected in 2014 CHL import draft.
Honorable mention: Graham Knott, LW, Niagara (OHL); Rasmus Andersson, D, Barrie Colts (OHL); A.J. Greer, LW, Boston University (NCAA); Ryan Gropp, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL); Christian Fischer, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL); Mackenzie Blackwood, G, Barrie Colts (OHL); Timo Meier, RW, Halifax (QMJHL); Jeremy Bracco, C. U.S. NTDP (USHL).