Noah HanifinRichard T Gagnon/Getty ImagesNoah Hanifin is touted as a potential top-pairing defenseman at the NHL level.
When teams are deliberating on their draft boards -- specifically when looking at the top of the draft -- the position of the skater is often a very key question. Do they want a potential first-line center, or a potential No. 1 defenseman? John Tavares or Victor Hedman? Nail Yakupov or Ryan Murray? Nathan MacKinnon or Seth Jones? Sam Reinhart or Aaron Ekblad? In 2015, after the top two picks go Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, will the team picking third want forwards Dylan Strome or Mitch Marner, or will it grab top defensive prospect Noah Hanifin? The evidence favors the former. The decision at the No. 3 slot comes down to two variables: first is the evaluation of the merits of the player’s own abilities and second is the relative value of a player based on his position. The most important aspect of this is the actual value of the position at the NHL level. On talent alone, Boston College blueliner Hanifin is either even with or a little above star OHL forwards Strome and Marner. But breaking the tie over whom the No. 3 team should pick comes down to the positional variable, and there's evidence to suggest that grabbing a player who will be a top-line forward is a wiser investment than getting that top-pairing D-man.

How much will McDavid, Eichel help? 

February, 19, 2015
Feb 19
Connor McDavid and Jack EichelGetty ImagesConnor McDavid and Jack Eichel are the likely No. 1 and 2 picks in this summer's draft.
For most of the 2014-15 NHL season, we’ve heard a ton of discussion about the bottom of the standings and what those teams have been playing for: specifically, draft prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, seen as potential franchise saviors for the clubs that "earn" the top two picks in the 2015 draft.

But a lot of the discussion misses the important question: What is the actual on-ice value those prospects bring to their potential organizations? How quickly will the team that selects them be among the Stanley Cup contenders? The short answer is that they'll bring quite a lot of value, but they’re not going to flip the fortunes of a team overnight.

Here are the expectations for these two in their rookie season of 2015-16, what kind of impact their new team should expect in the standings as well as the kind of team that may be just a McDavid or Eichel away from contending

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Why Lawson Crouse is a top-10 prospect 

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
Lawson CrouseClaus Andersen/Getty ImagesThe stats don't agree with the scouting reports when it comes to Lawson Crouse.
There is no more contentious prospect in this year’s NHL draft than Kingston Frontenacs winger Lawson Crouse, who is very likely to be selected in the top 10.

Any discussion that involves Crouse becomes divisive almost immediately. It’s not because of a forged birth certificate allegation, or because of his nationality, or that he’s been injured the whole season or that his position tends to be risky to project; and he’s not a KHL flight risk.

No, this debate is about a much simpler issue: Crouse’s production in junior -- or a lack thereof relative to most elite CHL prospects.

Even with that in mind, Crouse is a very good prospect, and deserves to be taken in the top 10 this summer

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Why McDavid is an exceptional prospect 

August, 13, 2014
McDavidDennis Pajot/Getty ImagesConnor McDavid has continued to excel against older competition in the OHL and international play.
In my very preliminary draft rankings, I noted that there is no debate over the top prospect for the 2015 NHL draft: It's Erie Otters center Connor McDavid. The debate for me is how much of a gap there is between him and the next best prospect, Jack Eichel.

With Connor's draft season about to get underway, there may be some folks out there who aren’t familiar with the player who many scouts believe will be the face of the franchise that drafts him next June.

Here’s an overview and introduction to one of four players ever given "exceptional status" by the OHL.

What is the “exceptional player” tag and to whom is it given?

A Canadian player tagged with "exceptional status" by Hockey Canada is permitted to start playing in the CHL at 15 years of age, as opposed to the usual 16. The only four candidates to get this title have been from Ontario: John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Sean Day and Connor McDavid.

Not all exceptional status players are created equal.

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Top 10 prospects for 2015 

June, 30, 2014
McDavidFrancis Wallace/Getty ImagesConnor McDavid is projected as a potential franchise-altering player at the top of the 2015 draft.
The 2015 NHL draft class contains four elite prospects, although there is a clear separation between Connor McDavid and the next three players. The draft is being promoted as a "superdraft" comparable to 2003, but I think that's a stretch at this point. There are still plenty of question marks on plenty of prospects, as talented as they may be, which is why projecting a draft's strength when most of the players are 16 years old is extremely difficult.

For now, the draft class generally looks strong, mostly due to a very strong top end, but we'll have to see how these guys progress over the next six to eight months before I declare the class as anything more than that.

Here is an early look at my top 10 prospects for next year's draft. This will be updated after the Ivan Hlinka tournament in August.

1. Connor McDavid, C, Erie (OHL)

There is no debate here. None. At all. McDavid is the best prospect since Sidney Crosby, although he's not at the same level Crosby was at the same age. His skating, hands and hockey sense are all elite, and his hockey IQ could be generational, as he simply looks like a unique player in terms of how he processes the game.

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Top 100 Index | Top 10 Goalies | Best skill sets

We’re days away from the 2014 NHL draft, with the festivities getting underway Friday at 7 p.m. ET. Teams are finalizing their draft boards, and the last arguments are being made in favor of or against certain prospects. While the scouting staff of each club has a great sense of each player by this point, there are some fluctuations.

With that in mind, I took a look through my top 100 draft prospects and identified players whose stock has risen or fallen the most since we published the list on May 15.

The three main movers are all Edmonton Oil Kings, with the additional notes acquired during their Memorial Cup run. To be sure, players have not drastically improved or regressed since a few weeks ago, but part of the scouting process is always collecting more information. That process can lead to an evaluator, like me, changing his opinion as material acquired contrasts what you previously believed.

Here are a handful of players whose draft spot has been influenced during the past few weeks.

Sam Bennett, C, Kingston (OHL)
Original ranking: 2
Stock: Target of many jokes

Much noise was made during the NHL combine when top prospect Sam Bennett could not do just one pull-up during one of the sessions. Social media and parts of the Internet would of course take it too far, suggesting it reflects poorly on the prospect, meaning he's out of shape or won't be able to battle for pucks. This can't be farther from the truth.

Every time I've viewed Bennett, he has impressed with his physical game.

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Top draft prospects at each skill 

June, 19, 2014
Mock Draft 1.0 | Top 100 draft prospects | Top 30 prospects of past three years
One of the challenges in describing draft prospects is the specific degree of skill a player has in a particular area. What's the difference between "solid," "good," "very good," "exceptional," etc.?

In an effort to better present the players within each of these skills -- and because certain teams and fans value particular skills differently -- I'm going to identify the best prospects in this year's draft class at particular parts of the game.

During my evaluation and ranking process, I place grades on every major tool for all players. For most of the tools, there's separation among the top five to seven players, but then there's typically bunching within the No. 8 to No. 20 range in each skill. In other words, bear in mind that there were some very tough calls for the final spots on each of these lists. You'll notice a lot of common names throughout, but that's not really very surprising; it's tough to be a high-end prospect without being very good to elite at a lot of things.

Top 10 skaters

1. Jake Virtanen, RW, Calgary (WHL)
2. Josh Ho-Sang, RW, Windsor (OHL)
3. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
4. Adrian Kempe, LW, Modo (SHL)
5. Kasperi Kapanen, RW, KalPa (Liiga)
6. Sam Bennett, C, Kingston (OHL)
7. Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL)
8. Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara (OHL)
9. Julius Honka, D, Swift Current (WHL)
10. Roland McKeown, D, Kingston (OHL)

Virtanen is the best pure skater in the draft class, and that fact drives a lot of his overall value. The reason he sits right outside the top 10 on my overall draft board is because he doesn't have the well-rounded offensive tool kit of players like Ehlers or Bennett. Ho-Sang is an electric player, and when you combine his skating with his puck skills, it makes him one of the most fun players to watch in this class.

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NHL Draft Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesVictor Hedman (No. 2), John Tavares (No. 1) and Matt Duchene (No. 3) were the top picks in 2009.
Continuing a tradition we began last year, we're going back five years to see how different the first round of the NHL draft would play out if GMs had the benefit of 100 percent accurate foresight as to how draft prospects would pan out. We've tasked former NHL assistant GM Frank Provenzano (a veteran of 17 NHL drafts) and our prospect analyst Corey Pronman with going through a re-draft of the 2009 first round.

The 2009 NHL draft produced two stars -- John Tavares and Matt Duchene -- but they were highly rated heading into the event, so their production in the time since hasn't been hugely surprising. However, the 2009 class also had its share of highly drafted players that didn't pan out (including Scott Glennie, No. 8 overall) as well as players taken later who have become NHL regulars (including No. 149 overall selection Marcus Kruger and No. 161 overall selection Darcy Kuemper).

For the purposes of this re-draft, we accounted primarily for future value, using past production only as an indicator of what that future value will be. This draft order represents our selection of the best available player in each slot, with notes in certain cases regarding fit into the long-term organizational plans.

After a coin toss, Frank won the right to select first overall, and we alternated picks thereafter (Corey on the evens, Frank on the odds). We're using the original draft order, prior to any trades made that day.

1. New York Islanders: John Tavares, C, London Knights (OHL)

Five years after having his name called to start the draft party in Montreal, Tavares remains the first overall pick today. The 23-year-old center has averaged just under a point per game (0.90) in the 350 NHL games he has played thus far in his young career, and he has done so without the strongest of supporting casts, to put it mildly. Tavares is not only the Islanders' captain but is also the face of a franchise that should be on the verge of loftier heights.

Tavares' actual draft slot: No. 1, Islanders
Islanders' actual pick: Tavares

2. Tampa Bay Lightning: Matt Duchene, C, Brampton Battalion (OHL)

I'd agree with Frank that Tavares is the best player from 2009, but it's not insane to consider Duchene for that designation as well. His dynamic skating and skill level make him a consistent offensive threat. He has already produced his first 70-point season as he enters his physical prime, so we could be just getting a glimpse of things to come, particularly once Colorado's other young forwards, such as Nathan MacKinnon, blossom and give him strong partners with which to work.

Duchene's actual draft slot: No. 3, Avalanche
Lightning's actual pick: Victor Hedman

3. Colorado Avalanche: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Leksand (Allsvenskan)

The Coyotes were ecstatic to find Ekman-Larsson still on the draft board when their turn at the microphone came up in 2009, and for good reason. The smooth-skating Swedish rearguard already anchors the Phoenix blue line, and he finished fifth overall in the NHL in goals by a defenseman (15) and sixth in average ice time (25:53) this past season. Add numbers like this into Colorado’s current mix of players, and the Avs might be playing hockey into June.

Ekman-Larsson's actual draft slot: No. 6, Coyotes
Avalanche's actual pick: Duchene

4. Atlanta Thrashers: Ryan O'Reilly, C, Erie Otters (OHL)

O'Reilly is a high-end, two-way player who logs the tough minutes and works very hard, yet seemingly was incapable of taking minor penalties this season (he finished with a mere two penalty minutes for the 2013-14 season).

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Jonathan Drouin, Aaron Ekblad and Nail YakupovGetty ImagesWhere do Nail Yakupov, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Drouin rank among all prospects of 2012-14?
This project asks a simple question: If the top draft prospects of the past three draft classes (2012 to 2014) were all in the same class, which players would be ranked the highest? Note that this is not a reflection of how the players have done since being drafted, but rather how I evaluated these players as they were drafted. Obviously, much would change if we had hindsight on particular players; players such as Olli Maatta and Hampus Lindholm aren't listed here, but very well would be if we took performance in the NHL into account.

For those who missed it, here is this year's top 100, and for a look back, here is 2012 and 2013. There is one slight change in the past rankings, as I give more value to defensive value now than in the past.

There are some obvious bias issues in trying to rewind the clock once you've seen results play out; I attempted to make an honest recall of my evaluations from those summers.

The following top 30 illustrates particular trends about the 2014 NHL draft that I've discussed previously: The very top isn't the greatest -- although Aaron Ekblad is a decent No. 1 prospect, as far as No. 1 prospects go -- and the No. 5 to No. 10 range is pretty strong compared to the No. 5 to No. 10 prospects of recent draft classes.

1. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (2013)
Previous team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

Drouin was the best prospect since John Tavares (although Tavares was a level above) and had an extraordinary draft season. He broke out in a giant way, dominating the QMJHL with 109 points in 49 games. His skill and offensive IQ are as elite as they come, but he was sent back to his junior team in 2013-14 so he could improve physically; the Lightning also lacked an available lineup spot. Based on 2013-14 play, Nathan MacKinnon and Drouin would be flipped in my rankings.

2. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche (2013)
Previous team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

MacKinnon had one of the best 18-year-old seasons we've ever seen, and is tracking to potentially be an elite NHL player very soon. He was also extremely impressive as an under-age player in the QMJHL. I thought Drouin passed him a little in their 17-year-old seasons, but there was obviously a great argument for MacKinnon being No. 1 due to his unbelievable skating, combined with his great skill and power game.

3. Seth Jones, D, Nashville Predators (2013)
Previous team: Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

I could have flipped a coin to decide on Jones or Ekblad as the top defenseman from the past three years, but went with Jones because I feel he has a little more room to grow from continued physical maturity. Jones has always been a player who displayed a game beyond his years, right through to his 18-year-old draft season. As a draft prospect, his hockey IQ is what really stood out to go with his great skating, size and skill level.

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Aaron EkbladClaus Andersen/Getty ImagesThe sum of his parts -- despite risks -- could make Aaron Ekblad the No. 1 overall pick.
The decision on the No. 1 ranking in my recent top 100 NHL draft prospects was the toughest to make among the top 10.

I'll address the process I used to make the call in two parts: The first is why Aaron Ekblad is a superior talent to Sam Bennett and the rest of the field, and the second is an explanation of why Ekblad's risks were not risky enough to push Bennett or any of the other top forwards ahead of him.

Talent and skills comparison

It's always tough to explain why one prefers a forward to a defenseman. For ranking decisions of the same position, you simply can compare the skills and illustrate the decision much easier. However, we don't look at skating, offensive skills, physicality and hockey IQ in the same light for forwards as we do for defenders.

Ekblad is a good not great skater and a good not great puck handler. I sense the excitement already! He projects to be an above-average offensive player. He could be a defenseman who plays on a team's top power-play unit, specifically if that team doesn't use four forwards, but he won't be a top-10 scoring defenseman in the NHL.

The areas where he separates from the pack are his physical game and defensive value, with both being elite. It's rare that a big, strong defender like Ekblad possesses such natural hockey skills. In addition, he has high-end to elite hockey IQ on both ends and a huge shot. That total package looks like a player who has an NHL All-Star floor and the ceiling of being one of the NHL's elite blueliners.

Bennett does a lot really well, but I don't see him being an elite player in any one fashion; he's the Sam-of-all-trades in this class.

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Sidney Crosby, Evgeni MalkinGregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty ImagesRay Shero struggled to build scoring depth behind Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Pittsburgh Penguins fired general manager Ray Shero this past week following a Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers. Evaluating the merits of an executive is tough, because so much of it can be process versus results, and it's tough to know exactly what parts of the process are due to the manager alone.

We can, however, look at the results to get a better picture of what happened under Shero, and look ahead to what the next GM has to work with.

Shero’s draft and development results

One main issue brought up during the Ray Shero era was that he wasn't able to acquire forward talent through the draft to provide depth behind the superstars. There's merit to that claim.

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Garth SnowAndy Marlin/Getty ImagesIslanders GM Garth Snow must decide by June 1 if he will send the No. 5 overall pick to the Sabres.
Earlier this month, the NHL held the lottery for the 2014 draft, with the Florida Panthers jumping the Buffalo Sabres to earn the top pick. But we’re not concerned about either of those teams just yet (well, the Sabres, in an indirect way).

We’re focused on the New York Islanders, who drew the No. 5 selection, but have to decide by June 1 whether to keep that pick or send it to Buffalo as part of their trade during the 2013-14 season for Thomas Vanek; it’s either give up this first-rounder or their first-rounder in 2015, a draft class that features potential franchise players Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.

To help solve the dilemma, we’ve reached out to ESPN Insider Frank Provenzano -- a former NHL assistant GM with 17 years of experience with three different teams -- and ESPN Insider Corey Pronman, our resident expert on NHL prospects, to assess the issue from all angles.

The Vanek trade was always a puzzling one

This was a misguided move to begin with, as the Isles used their primary UFA poker chip (Matt Moulson) to acquire essentially the same asset in Vanek, and failed to upgrade either their defense group or, more critically, their goaltending (Evgeni Nabokov's below-average .905 save percentage was the only Islander goaltender’s to break the .900 barrier).

In essence, they gave up the rights to their first-round pick in either the 2014 or 2015 draft for what amounted to six extra goals; Vanek scored 17 times in 47 games in an Islanders uniform, while Moulson scored 11 in his 44 games with the Sabres. After they ended up unable to re-sign Vanek, they were able to recoup only a mid-level prospect in Sebastian Collberg (whom Pronman characterizes as “pretty good, but not great”) and move up about 100 spots in the draft by swapping a fifth-round pick for a second-rounder.

To add insult to injury, Buffalo was even able to beat the Islanders’ trade deadline return on Vanek, as they hauled in two second-round picks for Moulson. -- Provenzano

Where will the Islanders finish next season?

The Islanders finished 27th overall this season, but were 21st in team possession rank. The major reason the Islanders finished below that possession mark in the standings is due to their goaltending. At even strength, the Islanders had a poor .906 save percentage, while the league average is around .919.

To see how comparable teams did after these kinds of campaigns, I took data from the past five seasons and looked for all teams who had even-strength shot differentials within a 2 percent range of the Islanders’ this season, and had an even-strength save percentage under.910.

Of this group -- with the Islanders’ shot differential and comparable goaltending -- the average finish was 25th that season and 21st in the following season. If the Isles follow suit, this gives them a 2.1 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL draft lottery (as seen in the chart at right).

However, even if the Isles have a terrible season, finishing last in the league, there’s only a 25 percent chance they land the No. 1 pick (though by rule, they can only move down one spot, so they’d land either McDavid or Eichel). -- Pronman

Value of their 2014 pick

The industry sees the top tier of the 2014 NHL draft as five players deep: Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl and Michael Dal Colle. I do not necessarily share that exact view, but I do think it is very likely the Islanders will be in a position to draft a top-tier prospect in this class. While it’s been said that this class is not that strong overall, it's a pretty standard draft, talent-wise, where the Isles will be picking.

In other words, a player like Dal Colle or Draisaitl would be on a similar level to other players taken fourth or fifth overall in average draft years.

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Reinhart shines at CHL prospects game 

January, 16, 2014
Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad Derek Leung/Getty Images)Sam Reinhart (left) and Aaron Ekblad are potential No. 1 picks in the 2014 NHL draft.
CALGARY -- The Canadian Hockey League -- a collection of the major junior hockey leagues in Canada (QMJHL, OHL and WHL) -- staged its Top Prospects game this week, and I was on hand to take in the event, as well as connect with scouts and executives. Going back to my top 30 draft prospects column from the preseason, 21 of those 30 play in the CHL, so this was a good chance to get an update on many of the top players that will be on the board this summer.

I tend to give a slight emphasis to puck possession skill in my evaluations, based on numerous studies that show it is the single best predictive measure of team-level success at higher levels. Performance is taken into account as another factor, adjusted appropriately for team strength, league quality and other contextual elements.

This contest featured a game-winning goal by Sault-Ste. Marie’s Jared McCann, but Kootenay’s Sam Reinhart really jumped off the ice. Here’s a deeper look at the top draft prospects that appeared in this game:

Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia (OHL)

DeAngelo flashes his great offensive tools, which is the strength of his game as evidenced by his OHL scoring totals. He's a very skilled puck mover, who is dangerous on the mad advantage. The reason I may hold back from tagging him as a first-round prospect is his play on the defensive end. DeAngelo is undersized, and regularly on the wrong end of scoring chances. It would be one thing if he was making good plays but being out-muscled, however he's not making the proper defensive reads on some occasions.

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Grading NHL teams by WJC prospects 

January, 7, 2014
Filip ForsbergLudvig Thunman/AFP/Getty ImagesFilip Forsberg (left) was named the MVP of the World Junior Championship, with 12 total points.
Finland shocked host team Sweden in the gold medal match to conclude the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. But while the team results of the event are important, the individual performances are what many focus on, as some of these players will be stars in the NHL in the coming seasons.

Below are my grades for NHL teams in terms of the players in their pipeline that participated in the event, including some observations on every drafted prospect. This is based mostly on video observations, but also discussions with scouts. Bear in mind that the team grades are not meant to show total prospect value, as that cannot be determined from a short tournament, and that we focus more on the scouting angle instead of the statistical angle for these rankings. For reference, an "A" represents a high number of prospects participating in the tournament and performing at a high level. A "D" represents few prospects in the tournament and those that did participate did not perform particularly well.

Nashville Predators: A

• F Filip Forsberg was outstanding and was named MVP of the tournament. He dominated opponents with high-end puck skills, a great work ethic, a top-end power game and good instincts. He was always involved in the play when he was on the ice, sometimes creating chances through sheer will. Forsberg looks like a potential top-line NHL forward, and perhaps a star.
• F Saku Maenalainen had a surprisingly great tournament, as he was the top goal scorer, and a threat every game on Finland's top line. He doesn't have great puck skills, but he's a big, strong forward who skates well, went to the high percentage areas, showed good awareness and quality finishing skills.
• G Juuse Saros was the best goaltender at the tournament, a natural progression after being the best goalie at the under-18 tournament last spring. Saros may be small, but he's an incredibly gifted goaltender in all other aspects. He's quick, smart, poised and most impressive of all are his reads and reflexes. Saros reads shots off the stick perfectly, anticipating when to stand, go down and make movements within the crease.
• F Zach Stepan was the 13th forward for most of the tournament for Team USA, but slotted in briefly for Danny O'Regan. He's a decent all-around player who made a few nice plays at the tournament, but was mostly a non-factor.
• D Mikko Vainonen was a solid, physical defensive presence. He regularly made some tough stops and cleared forwards out of the high percentage areas well. However, he didn't get much done in terms of puck movement.

Washington Capitals: A

• F Riley Barber was outstanding, and was a consistent offensive threat for the Americans. He brought speed, skill, energy and effective decision making on a regular basis, showing why he's been one of the top players in college hockey this season.

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Previewing notable Euros at WJC 

December, 26, 2013
Filip ForsbergBruce Bennet/Getty ImagesFilip Forsberg will be counted on to produce for Sweden at the World Junior Championships.
With the IIHF World Junior Championship fast approaching, our final preview includes profiles on the top drafted players among the European teams. We also include some brief notes on the top draft-eligible players as well as predictions for the tournament.

As with the breakdowns of Team USA and Team Canada already posted, these notes are based on personal viewings and discussions with scouts, and each drafted player is listed with his NHL club.


Teuvo Teravainen, C, Chicago Blackhawks

Teravainen is expected to carry Finland on his back, entering the tournament as one of the top drafted prospects outside the NHL. Teravainen's puck possession skills are outstanding. He's a great puck handler, with offensive instincts that are off the charts. He makes lightning-quick decisions, controls the play very well and has a bullet of a one-timer.

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