The 2015 NHL Draft is supposed to be one of the deepest draft classes in recent years, but before we get there, there's still a group of excellent prospects who will likely make the league this year. Here's a list of some of the biggest names looking to make big impacts in their first full NHL season. Note that while the majority of these players are expected to make it into the NHL, their arrival is not definite.
1. Jonathan Drouin - Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts drafted Drouin third overall in 2013 but he failed to make their roster in the 2013-14 season, the only player who was selected in the top five that year who didn't make their draft club's NHL team. Tampa sent him back to the QMJHL where he had another outstanding season and learned to play in different roles, the big one being that he learned to play a 200 foot game, something key in Tampa Bay Head Coach Jon Cooper's playing style which is attack at five, defend at five. And now that Martin St. Louis is gone, the Lightning need somebody who can set up Stamkos' famous one-timers. With one of his best skills being his passes, Drouin could work his way up to Tampa Bay's top line only weeks after joining the club.
2. John Gibson - Anaheim Ducks
After getting a taste of NHL action last year with the Ducks in both the regular season and the playoffs, the world's top ranked goaltender prospect is now set to team up with fellow goalie Frederick Anderson and give the Ducks what could be one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL in recent years. Gibson had a .954 save percentage in his three regular season games with the Ducks and won gold with the US in the 2011 IIHF World U18 Championships. Gibson even beat out veteran goalie Jonas Hiller to play for the Ducks in their second-round series against the Kings after Anderson was injured. Gibson could lead the Ducks far this year and be the goalie they need to win in the playoffs.
3. Aaron Ekblad - Florida Panthers
Florida had an excellent rookie in Jonathan Huberdeau in the shortened 2012-13 season but he didn't have great success last year. The Cats will hope for different results from their first overall pick from this past draft: Aaron Ekblad. The young defenseman was voted the best player in his position in the OHL during the 2013-14 season and could very easily make the Panthers' roster next year. He'll be a part of a very different Florida team but that may be for the better as he'll have veteran defenseman and two time Stanley Cup Champion Willie Mitchell to seek advice from. Ekblad could be key if the Panthers ever hope to become a contender.
4. Sam Reinhart - Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo is stockpiling first round draft picks and 2015 will continue that trend as they will have three next year but their pick in 2014 will serve them well. Reinhart, who was taken second overall in this year's draft, had over 100 points in his last WHL season and was considered a member of the "Fantastic Four", that is the top four prospects in this year’s draft (note that Aaron Ekblad and Leon Draisaitl who is listed below were also in this group). The Sabres have a great deal of confidence in his offensive ability and it's said that he has one of the highest hockey IQ's in the world. All of this puts him on the list.
5. Jake Allen - St. Louis Blues
With their new center in Paul Statsny, the Blues hope that Jake Allen can emerge as a star goaltender, one that may be capable of winning them their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. He's been named the best goalie in the AHL and has spent four years maturing and mastering his games in the minors. He had a successful stint with the Blues in the 2012-13 season when he went 9-4-0 and was named to the NHL All-Rookie-Team. He had seven shutouts with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL last year and was an absolute steal by being taken in the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and while that draft seems long ago, Allen is only 23 and with veteran Brian Elliot there to provide support, Allen is set to help the Blues by joining their team next season.
6. Michael Hutchinson - Winnipeg Jets
He may not be the best of the Jets prospects but he could play a significant role in their future. Ondrej Pavelec hasn't gotten the organization anywhere in recent years and if that stays true through next year, he may not be with the Jets in the 2015-16 season. Hutchinson will most likely be the Jets' backup this year as he learns more about how to play in the NHL. He went 17-5-1 in his time with the St. Johns Ice Caps of the AHL last year and 2-1-0 in three games with Winnipeg. If he proves he has starter potential he may turn the Jets into a winning team for the first time since they made the playoffs in the 2006-07 season but to really impress he would need to win Winnipeg a playoff game, as they're the only team in the league that has never won a postseason game.
7. Leon Draisaitl - Edmonton Oilers
Typically if a player is drafted high by Edmonton (as most have been in recent years) they immediately make the team. Aside from Darnell Nurse two years ago, every top ten pick Edmonton has had since 2010 has made their team and Draisaitl will likely be no different as he is the kind of center Edmonton needs. The highest drafted German player ever, Draisaitl had an impressive season with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL last year and was made captain of Germany's World Junior Championship team this year. He's worked all summer in Edmonton to improve his fitness should he make the NHL, something that has caught the eye of the Oilers management.
8. Teuvo Teravainen - Chicago Blackhawks
Following an amazing IIHF World Junior Championship to help Finland capture the gold, Teravainen may make his way to the Blackhawks lineup this year. Players drafted by Chicago have played pivotal roles for them in recent years (players like Duncan Keith, Dave Bolland, Corey Crawford and Patrick Kane) and Teravainen could do the same. While he didn't impress much during his three games with Chicago last year, he is expected to make an impact this year. The Hawks will have issues with cap space this year and trying to keep so many stars on one team will be difficult but keeping Teravainen will be a no-brainer for the Hawks.
9. Evgeny Kuznetsov - Washington Capitals
Four years of waiting was long enough for the Caps who signed Kuznetsov to an entry-level contract in early March. Two days after signing, he joined the team and finished the year with nine points, including a game in which he had three assists. He showed some skill and gained valuable experience during his short stint in Washington. He's expected to be a full-time member of the squad next season and has no reason not to as he's won gold three times (two at the World Championships and one at the World Junior Championship) and will be just another of Washington's talented forwards.
10. Griffin Reinhart - New York Islanders
The leap to the NHL will likely be a tough one for Reinhart (older brother of the previously mentioned Sam Reinhart) but he may be just what the Islanders need: a good defenseman. He was a member of the Edmonton Oil Kings team that won the Memorial Cup Championship this year and put up career high point totals in his time with the Oil Kings this year. His numbers may not be as impressive during his rookie season with the Isles, but a well-crafted defenseman is something New York needs if they're ever to win their first playoff series since the early 90's.