The World Junior Championship is a big part of the prospect calendar, but not the be-all end-all when it comes to the draft. Because the tournament tends to favor 19-year-olds, you can't fault a 17-year-old for being left on the sidelines. Sure, it's a checkmark if they make it and thrive, but you can see how nationality and even position can make it an unlevel playing field.
Below you will find my second run at a top-30 ranking for the 2015 NHL draft. There is a good deal of change from the first installment, though at the top much remains the same, since I'm conservative that way. You will also notice no goaltenders have been included. Frankly, it's been a tough year to gauge netminders and when you see Zach Fucale and Thatcher Demko drop to the second round in recent years, you get a little gun-shy. With that in mind, here's what I came up with:
1. Connor McDavid, C – Erie Otters (OHL)
Game-changing ability anytime he steps on the ice. As expected, he got better as the world juniors went on since he was just returning from a broken hand, but delivered several exquisite goals. Vision and hockey IQ some of the best ever.
2. Jack Eichel, C – Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Was it fair to make an 18-year-old captain of Team USA? That's a debate point for another time. But Eichel's resume is still incredible in the NCAA. Playing against older, stronger competition he has used his shot, speed and playmaking to wreck the field.
3. Noah Hanifin, D – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
A 17-year-old making an impact on a major college program's blueline is pretty rare, but that's Hanifin, who also played at the world juniors for Team USA. Fast, well-built and incredibly poised, Hanifin is everything an NHL team wants in a defenseman.
4. Dylan Strome, C – Erie Otters (OHL)
With McDavid out of the lineup, Strome proved he is in no way protected by his teammate. The big, smart center scored 12 points in the first seven games of McDavid's injury and Strome currently sits second in Ontario League scoring with 72 points in just 39 games.
5. Mathew Barzal, C – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Out since November with a knee injury, it would be easy to knock Barzal down simply because he's been out of the spotlight. But he's still a known talent, with excellent playmaking abilities and vision; that won't disappear when he returns.
6. Zach Werenski, D – University of Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Not only is Werenski surviving as a 17-year-old in college, but he's been Michigan's best defenseman. The freshman contributes in all situations and does so with speed, patience and size. He also played for Team USA at the world juniors.
7. Oliver Kylington, D – AIK (Swe.)
A leg injury kept Kylington out of the world juniors and he would have been a boon for the Swedes, who could have used his excellent skating and puck-moving skills on the back end. Though he is now down a rung in Sweden's Allsvenskan, he is still playing against men.
8. Lawson Crouse, LW – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Crouse was a surprise inclusion on Canada's world junior team, but the youngest member of the squad earned his keep. Big, physical and responsible, the left winger was willing to take on any role and also demonstrated a quick shot that bodes well for his scoring acumen.
9. Pavel Zacha, C – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
There's a ton of potential in Zacha, a Czech power forward learning the North American game with Sarnia. At the world juniors, he showed a great compete level as well as tricky hands to go along with his great frame. Suspensions in the OHL have slowed him down, but he's learning.
10. Mitch Marner, RW – London Knights (OHL)
The leading scorer in the OHL with 77 points in 38 games, Marner is a speedster with very slick hands who is incredibly dangerous in the offensive zone. Not huge at 5-foot-11 and 164 pounds, but he gets the job done out there.
11. Colin White, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
12. Kyle Connor, C – Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
13. Mikko Rantanen, C – TPS Turku (Fin.)
14. Brock Boeser, RW – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
15. Ivan Provorov, D – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
16. Jeremy Bracco, RW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
17. Nick Merkley, C – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
18. Jeremy Roy, D – Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
19. Evgeny Svechnikov, LW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
20. Ryan Gropp, LW – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
21. Tom Novak, C – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
22. Nicolas Roy, C – Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
23. Paul Bittner, LW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
24. Jansen Harkins, C – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
25. Brandon Carlo, D – Tri-City Americans (WHL)
26. Daniel Sprong, RW – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
27. Matthew Spencer, D – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
28. Jordan Greenway, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
29. Travis Konecny, C – Ottawa 67's (OHL)
30. Thomas Chabot, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)