When it comes to creating and sustaining a successful NHL franchise, a large part of it is being able to draft smart and produce quality homegrown talent. No matter where you select in the NHL Draft, it’s almost never a guarantee that you’ll get a player that will stay with your franchise for years to come or that they’ll be high level elite talent. Many times we see that players with a lot of junior success and hype entering the NHL Draft never quite turn out to be the player their respective organization’s expected them to be. Although there has been excellent talent in the last 8 years, I believe that the 2015 NHL Draft is quickly pulling ahead as one of the biggest drafts of the decade.
When I say that I believe the 2015 NHL Draft is shaping up to be the best draft class of the decade, I don’t mean that as a slight to the other draft classes of the 2010s. So far we’ve seen some excellent talent come out of these years including Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin (2010), Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov (2013) and Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine (2016) just to name a few. However, after delving deeper into the statistics thus far and by strictly looking at just the first round, the 2015 NHL Draft has seemingly already produced more than a handful of expected longterm NHLers compared to previous years.
For example, by taking a look at the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, it’s easy to see that just by drafting with the first overall pick, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re guaranteed top end talent. With the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft the Edmonton Oilers selected Nail Yakupov who has not come close to his expected hype never amassing more than 33 points and totaling 9 goals and 16 points in the 2017-18 season with the Colorado Avalanche. Although it takes some players longer than others to develop and break into the NHL, 6 years after the 2012 NHL Draft there is only around 10-12 players who have successfully succeeded and made an influential impact in the league (Reilly, Lindholm, Dumba, Trouba, Forsberg, Wilson, Hertl, Teravainen, Vasilevskiy, Maata, Skjei and Pearson).
When looking at the 2015 NHL Draft, not only are there a high number of quality players already, but there can be comparisons made to the 2003 NHL Draft in the sense that a lot of these players have the potential to make lasting impacts in the league for many years to come. Not only did the 2003 Draft produce incredible talent, but many of the players selected in the first round are still playing today including Brent Burns, Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Jeff Carter, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and others. I believe that the 2015 draft class has the potential to mirror the success rate of the 2003 draft class when we look back in 10-15 years.
Why do I believe the talent in the 2015 draft class outmatches the other draft classes in the 2010s? Well for starters Connor McDavid was selected first overall and has already proved in three seasons that he was the generational talent he was hyped up to be. After recording his second straight 100 point season last year, McDavid became the first player since Jaromir Jagr to win back-to-back scoring titles since he did it from 1997-98 to 2000-01 along with joining an elite class of players (Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Joe Sakic and Jimmy Carson) as the only players to record more than one 100 point season before turning 22. Before even breaking out of the first 10 picks, the 2015 draft class is loaded with players who have already made lasting impacts on their respective franchises including Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres), Mitch Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs), Noah Hanifin (Carolina Hurricanes), Zach Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Mikko Rantenen (Colorado Avalanche). The only player in the first 10 picks who hasn’t made a drastic impact in the NHL yet is Dylan Strome, selected 3rd overall, who will likely make the Arizona Coyotes after having an impressive year in the AHL.
As for the players past the first ten picks, we get into territory of players that have had 1-2 seasons in the NHL including a number of them just playing their rookie seasons in 2017-18. Of these rookies are two Calder Trophy finalists in Mathew Barzal and Brock Boeser. Barzal, 16th overall, led all rookies in points and assists amassing 22 goals and 85 points in 82 games played. Barzal broke into the league by storm after a brief 2 game stint with the Islanders in the 2017 season, before returning to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL and captaining his team to a WHL Championship. Barzal was one of the few bright spots on an Islanders’ team that saw them miss the postseason for the second straight season.
Boeser, selected 23rd overall, spent two seasons at the University of North Dakota before joining the Vancouver Canucks at the end of the 2016-17 season gathering 5 goals and 6 points in 9 games played. This season Boeser was one of the league’s best rookies and went back and forth with Barzal for potential rookie of the year before injuring his back and being sidelined for the remainder of the season. However, Boeser gave Canuck fans a taste of what is to come in the future finishing second among rookie scoring with 29 goals 55 points in 62 games.
Barzal and Boeser highlight the second half of the first round that shows a lot of promising young players including Kyle Connor (17th overall, Winnipeg Jets), Thomas Chabot (18th overall, Ottawa Senators), Travis Konecny (24th overall, Philadelphia Flyers) and Anthony Beauvillier (28th overall, New York Islanders). Along with these notable players there are still plenty of players in this second half that have either just played their rookie season or have begun to get some games in the NHL thus far such as Joel Eriksson Ek (20th overall, Minnesota Wild), Jack Roslovic (25th overall, Winnipeg Jets), Jake DeBrusk (14th overall, Boston Bruins) and Noah Juulsen (26th overall, Montreal Canadiens).
How we now look back at the 2003 NHL Draft as filled with more stars than duds, I feel that this particular group of players will have the same effect when looking back 5 or 10 years from now. Many of these players have already shown that they will be key cogs in their respective franchises and likely be high end, quality players in the league for some time. Although not all players will be guaranteed to pan out exactly how a team plans when they draft them, I think this 2015 draft class is incredibly special and could wind up as the best draft class of the 2010s when it’s all said and done.