Timo Meier, Connor McDavid Helping 2015 NHL Draft Live Up to Hype

SAN JOSE -- Timo Meier was briefly Connor McDavid's linemate. 

The Sharks winger played with the Edmonton Oilers center at the CHL's top prospects game in 2015. They were two of the best players in Canadian major junior ahead of that year's draft, ranked No. 12 and No. 1, respectively, in NHL Central Scouting's midseason rankings of skaters playing in North America.

Yet, it was clear to Meier that McDavid was a cut above the rest. 

"You could tell that McDavid," Meier said Monday at the Sharks' practice facility, "and [eventual No. 2 pick Jack Eichel] were ready to be top guys in the NHL. You could see that right away." 

Meier's Sharks will play McDavid's Oilers for the first time this season Tuesday, and both players are on pace for career years. McDavid scored 28 points in his first 20 games, more than any of his previous seasons. Meier, meanwhile, scored 12 goals in his first 21, and was tied for 11th in the league entering Tuesday.

They're not alone, either.

As of Tuesday morning, three of the NHL's five leading scorers this season were 2015 draftees. Winger Mikko Rantanen, who the Colorado Avalanche picked one spot after Meier at No. 10 overall, led the league with 32 points. Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner -- the No. 4 pick -- was tied for third with McDavid.

In fact, nine of the 64 players who scored at least 18 points by then were drafted in 2015. That was more than any other draft class, and equaled the two preceding drafts combined. 

Of those nine, McDavid and Eichel were the only ones playing on their second contracts. 

"Everyone's looking for cheap talent," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Monday, "and the only cheap talent there is is young guys [on their entry-level contracts]. I think that's opened the door for teams to be a little more open-minded about giving young guys some looks maybe earlier than the past."

The 2015 draft class is rising to the occasion. Five players drafted in 2015, including McDavid and Eichel, made an All-Star team before this year. That group doesn't include Marner, Rantanen, reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal or Thomas Chabot, currently the NHL's second-highest scoring defenseman. 

DeBoer considers the 2003 draft class the best he's seen in the last 20 years. He coached, or coached against, much of them in juniors and later in the NHL. He's not alone in his assessment either, since 28 players -- including current Sharks Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski -- from that class made an All-Star team of some kind. 

It remains to be seen whether or not the 2015 class will reach those heights, as the most experienced players are only in their fourth season. But, their impact early in the 2018-19 campaign is undeniable.

Meier said he hasn't followed his draft peers' exploits too closely. He does occasionally keep tabs, however, and he said seeing their success can be a strong motivator. 

"You try to push yourself when you see guys that are your age do that well," Meier said. "So I think it's a motivation to see that, and you wanna obviously compare yourself with those guys and push your game to get better."

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