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2015 NHL Draft Preview: An in-depth look at a special draft class

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A calendar year worth of coverage, viewings, interviews, writing, tweeting, data and discussion all leads into two days. I hope you've enjoyed the coverage. Here's a huge preview.

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It has been a long time coming. When I kicked my 2015 NHL Draft coverage off with McKeen's Hockey (my first year working with them) at the start of the 2014-2015, it was in anticipation of what might turn into being a special class.

Nearly a year later we still don't know how the class will shape up when history looks back on it, but the crop of young players certainly didn't disappoint in the meantime.

And so here we are, on June 26, 2015, ready for the everything that Sunrise, Florida, has in store.

Elite top-end extends beyond No. 1 and 2

The class, highlighted by generational talent Connor McDavid is so strong that record-setting college star and generational talent in his own right, Jack Eichel, isn't even in the first overall discussion anymore.

Here's what I had to say about the two in an interview with SB Nation College Hockey.

As an evaluator, it seems hard to believe that there's a better player than Jack Eichel in any draft class. He's that good. But with McDavid, you don't even have to talk yourself into it.

The class doesn't stop at No. 2 though either. In fact, it carries unusually potent forwards at the top end and a trio of impressive, potential top pairing defensemen as well.

Erie's Dylan Strome and London's Mitch Marner, ranked fourth and fifth respectively in my final top 60 with McKeen's, scored at paces that exceeded recent first overall picks Nathan MacKinnon, Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

Strome, an extraordinarily intelligent player with size, projects comfortably as a cornerstone centre. Marner, a diminutive winger with world class skill is so gifted his size has never been a barrier, entering the OHL at 5-7 and 130 Ibs and now the NHL at 5-11 and 170 Ibs.

You can read more about both of them in my examination of their comparisons as well as in my profile of Marner from the SB Nation NHL Mock Draft.

On the backend, the class boasts an equally impressive group of defenders at the top of the class. University of Michigan's Zach Werenski and Boston College's Noah Hanifin both accelerated their high school educations in order to join the NCAA as underagers, taking on huge roles and succeeding in what were near picture perfect years.

In the WHL, heavy-shooting, well-rounded defensemen Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings should have scouts salivating at the complete package, and a chance to potentially snag him in the back half of the first 10 picks. There has even been talk of him climbing into the top-five.

Hanifin (not Hannifin or Hanifan), an elite defender, skater and passer at 17 years old, has been so highly scouted for so long that his value has actually unwarrantedly taken a hit due to overvaluation.

Werenski, the product of an extremely high-scoring Michigan team, scored at a staggering pace, playing big minutes as a freshman.

Werenski, who is a lesser skater than his American counterpart Hanifin and less physical than Provorov, might still be the most offensively gifted of the trio. - 2015 NHL Draft: Zach Werenski profile and scouting report

Were it not for a devastating knee injury, centre Mathew Barzal may have even been firmly in the discussion with Marner and Strome too. Brazal shortened season reduced his resume, whether warranted or not, but his play down the stretch left few doubters, with 39 points in his last 24 games before a dominant performance with Canada at the U18 level.

Depth highlighted by Europeans, QMJHL

I have written about the QMJHL's strong draft class a lot, including a full-length feature in McKeen's Hockey's 2015 NHL Draft Guide. When all is said and done, it could turn out to be one of the league's flagship classes.

Beyond top talents Timo Meier, Jeremy Roy, Evgeny Svechnikov, Jakub Zboril and Thomas Chabot, who all have the potential to be impact players who in and of themselves provide good first round depth into the early 20s, this year's draft is only as deep into rounds 2 and 3 as it is because of the nearly 20 exemplary Quebec-bred prospects.

Winger Daniel Sprong oozes offensive upside and would be a first round lock in most other drafts. Diminutive forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Dmytro Timashov have proven they can score at impressive clips in spite of their size. Sprong's teammate Filip Chlapik, surprisingly left of the Czech U20 team this year, made it onto the All Rookie Team in his own right. Beauvillier's teammate Denis Yan is gifted enough to be a first rounder.

And then you've got serious depth in sleepers such as playoff standout Nicholas Meloche, two-way centre Nathan Noel, hulking forward Nicolas Roy, and the vastly underrated Yakov Trenin (who is big and skilled).

QMJHL goaltenders Samuel Montembeault and Callum Booth (who briefly took the reins from Zach Fucale this season) are also enticing options, among others such as defensemen Guillaume Brisebois whose Acadie-Bathurst team handcuffed him.

Like the QMJHL, the players chosen from various European leagues don't figure into class' handful of top talent, but figure prominently into the draft's impressive depth.

Towering Finnish forward Mikko Rantanen could be taken inside the top 10. Countrymen Rope Hintz, Julius Nattinen and Sebastian Aho are also exciting offensive weapons, with the latter scoring the Karpat's game-winner in Liiga playoff action.

Likewise, Sweden has produced a number of excellent prospects scheduled to go in the early rounds of this year's draft. Oliver Kylington has all of the raw talent you could ask for in a defensemen, but needs to continue to put it together defensively.

Gabriel Carlsson's size, Sebastian Aho's (no, not that Sebastian Aho) mobility and creativity, Jacob Larsson's offensive upside and Jesper Lindgren's puck carrying each make them excellent options in the drafts early rounds on the backend as well.

Up front, Sweden didn't exactly slow down either, producing gifted forwards in Joel Eriksson Ek, Robin Kovacs and Filip Ahl, as well as U20 standout Jens Looke.

Oft-injured goalie Felix Sandstrom has all the tools to be an excellent goalie, with injuries and a bout of mono behind him.

Elsewhere, some of the lesser professional or junior leagues in Europe also produced the odd gem for 2015. Defensemen Erik Cernak, of Slovakia's HC Koscice has already played two years of pro hockey with former NHLers like Marek Svatos and Ladislav Nagy. Likewise, Switzerland's Denis Malgin could have potentially flown under the radar were it not for a strong U20 showing.

From the Czech Republic, forwards Michael Spacek and David Kase have impressed as all-around options.

Out of Russia, goaltender Ilya Samsonov and winger Denis Guryanov have both snuck into some top 30 rankings without fully recognizing the talent of centre Alexander Dergachyov.

Gurianov's a shot-first power forward with size and a quick release, something all teams desire, but he's signed for two more years with HC Lada Togilatti in the KHL and the inability to get him into an NHL team's system quickly may push some teams away. - Talking NHL Draft with Scott Wheeler

Not without its polarization

Every draft has them and the strength of the 2015 class doesn't change that.

Hulking power forward Lawson Crouse (my 15th ranked prospect) has caught the eyes of many for his size, two-way game and leadership, even finding his way onto Canada's U20 team with fellow draft-eligible forward Connor McDavid. Others, are less excited due to his lack of production, something that has been argued is partly linked to his Frontenacs 2.88 goals per game (fourth lowest in the OHL).

American forward Jeremy Bracco (interview) continues to have his size and affiliation with mega-talented teammate Austin Matthews used as reasons for his falling out of the first round.

The aforementioned Sprong and Kylington find themselves ranked anywhere from the teens of the first round, to outside of it all together, questioned for their decision-making and defensive awareness.

And while there's chatter of moving top picks every year, with little to show for it at the end of the weekend recently (save the Cory Schneider trade in 2013), there is serious talk of several of the top-10 picks and Leafs star Phil Kessel being in play this time around.

Regardless, after McDavid and Eichel go first and second, buckle up.

Other resources not linked above:

My mock draft with McKeen's Hockey

The Yahoo! Jr. Hockey/Behind The Net mock draft I participated in with Neate Sager (Yahoo!) and John Matisz (Toronto Sun)

My story/interview/profile with first round prospect Travis Konecny and mid-round speedster Jeremiah Addison

The complete order of selection for the draft

Jansen Harkins scouting report and profile

Scouting Combine fitness testing results