Perry Leftko

Going into the 2015 National Hockey League Draft, everyone knew that Connor McDavid, with his immense talent and skill, would be the consensus pick to be selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers and develop into a generational player. And he has, winning the Hart Memorial Trophy once as the Most Valuable Player in the NHL, twice winning the Art Ross Trophy awarded to the player who leads the NHL in scoring and twice winning the Ted Lindsay Award as the outstanding player selected by the NHL Player’s Association. The Canadian-born centre has sparkled with his blistering speed and ability to turn opposing players inside out with breathtaking highlight-reel goals. But beyond McDavid, that draft may go down in history as one of the best in terms of overall talent and ability, a combination of sure-fire superstars taken early in the selections and some who slipped through the cracks and became proverbial sleepers.

Buffalo followed Edmonton and took centre Jack Eichel, which again was hardly surprising. The Massachusetts native had been a star in Boston College and has developed into one of the best American-born players of all time, averaging about a point a game. Reflecting his talent, the Sabres made him their youngest captain in team history, giving him the C at age 21. He has clearly become the face of the franchise and one of the cornerstones of Team USA in international tournaments.

Arizona then took centre Dylan Strome, who struggled in the desert but has clearly found a home in the Windy City after the Chicago Blackhawks traded for him midway into the 2018-19 season.

The Maple Leafs drafted fourth overall and took flashy winger Mitch Marner – nicknamed The Magician. There had been much deliberation going into the draft because head coach Mike Babcock wanted defenseman Noah Hanifan, who fit the mould of a shut-down rearguard that could play the defensive-style hockey he preferred. But assistant general manager Mark Hunter wanted Marner because he knew him well. Marner played for the London Knights, owned by Hunter and his brother, Dale, who coaches the team. The Knights are one of the powerhouses in Canadian junior hockey, and Marner was one of their stars. Marner has developed into a bonafide superstar with the Leafs, particularly with his deft passing.

The top-10 rounded out with centre Pavel Zacha (New Jersey), defenseman Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia), defenseman Zach Werenski (Columbus), right wing Timo Meier (San Jose) and right wing Mikko Rantanen (Colorado). Rantanen has become one of the best power forwards in the NHL, along with linemate Nathan MacKinnon. In retrospect, the Finnish-born player should have been taken higher in the draft.

In the category of sleepers, the New York Islanders found a gem in Mathew Barzal, a centre with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, who was taken 16th overall. The Islanders elected him to spend another season in the juniors before calling him up for a couple of late-season games. He was awarded the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2017-18 season totalling 22 goals and 63 assists for a total of 85 points in 82 games. He has become one of the best offensive centres in the league.

Left wing Kyle Conner, picked immediately after Barzal by Winnipeg, and defenceman Thomas Chabot, taken by Ottawa, have also developed into respective stars for their respective teams. On a team stacked with offensive talent, Conner has come into his since becoming a full-time roster player with the Jets, averaging more than 30 goals the last three years. Chabot, meanwhile, anchors the Senators’ power-play.

And if you go further in the draft, Vancouver clearly mined a prospect with right wing Brock Boeser, taken 23rd overall, followed by right wing Travis Konecny, picked 24th overall by Philadelphia. Both players are among the top six forwards on their teams.

In retrospect, Connor McDavid has done exactly what was projected he would do. He was a slam-dunk selection, but what followed after him has collectively proven that there were many quality players that followed him, some early and quite a few later.

February 10, 2021 — marko vuruna

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