The 2013 NHL Draft crop seems to be a little simpler then a year ago.
Well, after much debate centering on the question regarding this ‘Russian Factor’ with the highly skilled Nail Yakupov and the enigmatic but skilled Mikhail Grigorenko last season, the 2013 NHL Draft crop looks as though it will have less questions surrounding the top end guys and more high-end talent for NHL organizations to sift through over the next few months.
And in a year like this with so much talent to gauge, scouts except to see considerable movement since there is such a wealth of high-end talent that could eventually become top draft selections.
Any conversation about the 2013 NHL Draft needs to start with one of the most highly regarded names in recent years, that of Cole Harbor, NS product Nathan MacKinnon.
Do not confuse him with another famous Cole Harborite in Sidney Crosby as many have done early in this promising player’s Major Junior career as each play the game with different skills. Actually, the only thing that they truly share is an extremely solid work ethic and the drive to succeed.
MacKinnon had a very good rookie season in Halifax with the Mooseheads last year, but really exploded in the team’s playoff run this spring. He showed an ability to really make impact plays that affect the game at a high rate of speed and utilized his teammates extremely well.
This summer, he has already helped Canada capture Gold at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in August and has his eyes set not only on the Mooseheads season but also on the World Juniors over the Christmas holidays.
What MacKinnon is to forwards in the 2013 NHL Draft, Seth Jones, son of once prominent NBA journeyman “Popeye” Jones, is to defensemen. The top blueliner and sits a slight second behind MacKinnon at this point in the season.
He has already left many a scout drooling these past couple of seasons because of his blend of immense size, athleticism, extreme intelligence and natural instincts as Jones has been a staple on the backend for the US National Teams U18 squad. Jones has played in many international tournaments and dominated where he has brought a calm, poised attitude as well as his almost 100 per cent mistake free game with him.
The Plano, Texas product will be taking the next step in his development towards becoming a future NHL star in his draft year as he is primed to patrol the blueline of the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL this season.
After the top two prospects in MacKinnon and Jones come off the board, the field drops a little in high-end superstar potential, but still holds a handful of future NHL stars for the taking.
At the top of this second tier, in FC’s early opinion, sits Ottawa 67’s centre Sean Monahan, a big body who can play in all three zones and works hard to make a difference no matter what role he is called to play.
Last season he was not asked to be top fiddle but still produced outstanding numbers, well over a point-per-game, in this secondary role. Monahan has the abilities and potential to be a Ryan Getzlaf type of NHL center man.
Tappara’s Aleksander Barkov is another from the big, strong, two-way center mold.
Barkov, whose father of the same name was Russian, has impressed for the past few years in Finland as he has played up levels in competition without missing a beat. His maturity, elite vision and playmaking ability are all reason why he was as successful in the SM-Liiga as well as internationally last year.
He looks primed to have a breakout season in Finland’s top league and really make his mark internationally come the World Junior Championship.
The same can be said for Barkov’s countryman, big defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen of TPS.
He seemingly gets stronger and makes quicker decisions even when playing in pressure packed games against the most skilled competition in his age group. His play at the 2012 World Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid was outstanding.
His cool, calm and usually correct decisions in a multitude of situations make him a no-maintenance defender, even at such a young age. His two-way skills make his upside at both ends of the ice sky high.
Young and skilled Swede Elias Lindholm plays a strong two-way game but also possesses some elite intelligence and hockey sense that allows him to be a step or two above his peers. His skating, agility and playmaking skill make him dangerous offensively. The Swede will try to apply that with Brynas this season and if he does and plays well he could take a leap up these rankings.
And what would the draft be without a highly regarded Western Hockey League defenseman? Enter Ryan Pulock.
The Dauphin, MB kid finished third in overall defenseman scoring in the entire WHL last season with 60 points and has hopes of improving on this lofty numbers this season. Pulock has a good skating stride, strong vision, a booming point shot and high-end on-ice IQ that really make his a top end prospect.
In the same conference, Pulock will be tasked regularly with shutting down another highly touted WHLer.
Hunter Shinkaruk possesses loads of skill and goal scoring acumen in Medicine Hat. The Calgary kid displayed soft hands, good speed, lateral quickness and a split second release on his shot that tallied 49 goals last season. There are some questions heading into this season about whether he can replicate those numbers this season as some highly talented teammates Shinkaruk may have benefited from have graduated.
Regardless if Shinkaruk does regress production wise, this season he is a very strong prospect in the mold of Jordan Eberle with similar type NHL upside.
Shinkaruk’s Western Hockey League foil is Edmonton Oil Kings forwad Curtis Lazar, who has maintained a steep development trajectory over the past three seasons.
Lazar played a large role for the Canadian squad that took Gold at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in August. The still physically maturing power winger has a fearless attitude, strong skating ability, excellent vision and a shot that just jumps off his stick to aid him as he strives for a break-out season offensively for the Oil Kings.
Big, skilled forward Valeri Nichushkin, who impressed us at the U17’s in Windsor last January, will rival Lazar.
During that time he was called ‘the tournaments top prospect’ and stood out as a potential top-5 prospect for 2013 by FC scouts in attendance. The centre missed the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in August to due to injury that was a blow to his draft stock with some as he looks to be staying in Russia this season.
His blend of immense size, fluid mobility, goal scoring instincts and soft hands will tempt NHL teams early but he has the potential to fall because of the dreaded ‘Russian Factor’.
While most, if not all, of these prospects have the potential to earn the honor of top pick for 2012, at this moment, MacKinnon is FC’s choice as top draft prize for the NHL team who wins the draft lottery next April.
But then again, a lot can happen during the next nine months.