Just four months out, the NHL Draft remains a puzzle in many ways. Not at the top, where Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel continue to lead the way. The Buffalo Sabres, destined to finish 30th in the NHL this season and thus guaranteed no worse than the No. 2 slot, know they’ll be able to plug one or the other alongside the newly acquired Evander Kane next fall.
Elsewhere, there continue to be jumps and drops, and this month the two biggest moves belong to power forward Timo Meier of the Halifax Mooseheads (No. 12) and University of Michigan defenceman Zach Werenski (No. 10). Meier has been lighting it up all season alongside Nik Ehlers, while scouts have been impressed with how Werenski has played as a 17-year-old on the Wolverines blueline.
Injuries, meanwhile, continue to complicate the draft picture. Seattle’s Mathew Barzal is back after a long layoff, while Pavel Zacha, once a top-five pick in many corners is out with an elbow injury and Saint John blueliner Jakub Zboril continues to work his way back from a knee problem.
With contributions from NHL and CHL scouts and executives, and CHL insiders Gare Joyce, Jeff Marek, R.J. Broadhead and Sam Cosentino, here’s Sportsnet’s Top 30 NHL Draft Prospects for February (January rankings in parenthesis):
1. (1) Connor McDavid, C, Erie (OHL) Still in contention for OHL scoring crown despite having missed 20 games to injury and world juniors.
2. (2) Jack Eichel, C, Boston University (NCAA) The prestigious Beanpot competition has been delayed two weeks by inclement weather. Lots of scouts will be there to see BU star.
3. (3) Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College (NCAA) It will be interesting to see whether big, impressive blueliner returns for his sophomore season.
4. (4) Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston (OHL) He’s battling through a challenging season with Frontenacs and hoping Sam Bennett returns by the end of the month.
5. (5) Dylan Strome, C, Erie (OHL) He and London’s Mitch Marner used to be unfriendly rivals, they’re now close pals.
6. (7) Mitch Marner, C, London (OHL) Scored 100 points in 50 games, one of only two players in the CHL to hit the century mark so far this season.
7. (6) Mikko Rantanen, RW, Turku (Finland) He didn’t play in the recent Five Nations tournament in Czech Republic. His size and speed remain very appealing.
8. (11) Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon (WHL) He plays with a four-inch extension on his stick for extra reach and was half of an impressive pairing with Wheat Kings mate Ryan Pilon at the CHL Top Prospects Game.
9. (8) Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle (WHL) He missed 28 games with a cracked kneecap, returned Jan. 23. In 13 games back, he has four goals and 10 assists.
10. (19) Zack Werenski, D, Michigan (NCAA) Shooting up the rankings as teams become favourably impressed with his offensive instincts and skill.
11. (9) Oliver Kylington, D, AIK (Sweden) He may be the best skating defenceman in the draft. At the recent Five Nations tournament, scouts loved his mobility but wanted more offensive-zone finish.
12. (26) Timo Meier, RW, Halifax (QMJHL) The Swiss youngster played on a line with McDavid and Travis Konecny at the Top Prospects Game. Is currently riding a 24-game points streak.
13. (10) Nick Merkley, RW, Kelowna (WHL) Has the perspective of having an older brother, Jay, who plays in Swift Current and has yet to be drafted. Thinks the game exceptionally well.
14. (12) Pavel Zacha, C, Sarnia (OHL) Missed 13 games with an elbow injury, twice suspended this season. Has only played 26 games, but the skill set is there.
15. (14) Travis Konecny, RW, Ottawa (OHL) Had a good showing at the prospects game and is a full-time winger now. Dropped to No. 26 in NHL Central Scouting mid-term rankings.
16. (15) Filip Chlapik, C, Charlottetown (QMJHL) Owns great skill and has 58 points in 51 games for up-and-down Islanders.
17. (16) Jakub Zboril, D, Saint John (QMJHL) Recovering from an MCL injury, he’s expected to be cleared for contact today, possibly back in lineup next week.
18. (18) Kyle Connor, C, Youngstown (USHL) Is heading to the University of Michigan. He’s second in USHL scoring and plays with speed and creativity.
19. (17) Colin White, C, USNDTP (USHL) Scouts are struggling to assess the pivot after an early season illness. He had a so-so showing at the Five Nations tournament.
20. (13) Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown (QMJHL) Plays with a chip on his shoulder, but didn’t really make a strong case for himself at the prospects game. Leads the Islanders in scoring.
21. (20) Jeremy Roy, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL) After being injured Jan. 23rd, he returned to action last weekend but slipped to 7th in D-man scoring.
22. (21) Evgeni Svechnikov, RW, Cape Breton (QMJHL) 23 goals in 44 games. His 56 points have him fourth among QMJHL rookies. Overshadowed of late by fellow Russian Maxim Lazarev.
23. (23) Thomas Chabot, D, Saint John (QMJHL) Limping along on sore hip flexor of late. Has had to stay in the lineup because of injuries to other Sea Dogs defenders.
24. (25) Brock Boeser, RW, Waterloo (USHL) Leads the league with 26 goals in 39 games. Has now committed to North Dakota after previously de-committing from Wisconsin.
25. (27) Paul Bittner, LW, Portland (WHL) Is an engaging youngster from small-town Minnesota who has his season rolling, up to 24 goals, plus-31 after slow start and early ankle injury.
26. (NR) Brandon Carlo, D, Tri-City (WHL) The towering, powerfully built blueliner played for Team USA at world juniors. Surprisingly mobile.
27. (28) Adam Marsh, LW, Saint John (QMJHL) Has struggled to score of late, but scouts remain impressed with his NHL-ready shot. The Chicago-born winger has 22 goals.
28. (29) Jordan Greenway, LW, USNDTP (USHL) Inconsistency continues to make him a puzzle for scouts. Teams are really going to have to make a projection here.
29. (NR) Jens Looke, RW, Brynas (Sweden) Three goals at the world juniors. He’s similar in some ways to William Nylander, if not quite as creative.
30. (NR) Jake DeBrusk, LW, Swift Current (WHL) He has 34 goals in 57 games. Was a seventh-round pick in 2011 WHL draft and has jumped to No. 24 in NHL Central Scouting list.
On the radar
Gabriel Carlsson, D, Linkoping (Sweden)
Glenn Gawdin, C, Swift Current (WHL)
Adin Hill, G, Portland (WHL)
Matthew Spencer, D, Peterborough (OHL)
Nikita Korostelev, RW, Sarnia (OHL)
Nicolas Roy, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Erik Cernak, D, Kosice (Slovakia)
Jeremy Bracco, RW, USNTDP (USHL)
Christian Fischer, RW, USNTDP (USHL)
Tommy Novak, C, Waterloo (USHL)
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 (KHL)
Jonas Siegenthaler, D, Zurich (Swiss)
Blake Speers, RW, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Jansen Harkins, C, Prince George (WHL)