The story in the summer was that Halifax Mooseheads centre Nathan MacKinnon and Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones were in a two-horse race to go first overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft.
Although Jones and MacKinnon are still frontrunners, it seems the draft’s storyline has evolved.
After winning gold with Team USA at the world junior championship and tearing it up in his rookie season in the WHL, it appears Jones has become the favourite to go first overall. The Plano, Texas, native, who has scored 12 goals and 52 points in 57 games in Portland, is viewed as the complete package, possessing impeccable vision, strong skating abilities, elite compete level, and a 6-foot-4, 204-pound frame.
Scout’s take: “I really think Jones has separated himself as the top prospect,” says Ross MacLean, head scout of International Scouting Services. “There is just so much to like in his game. He projects so well and already has an NHL ready skill set. He has performed very well on the biggest stages so far this year and outshone the others who could challenge his top ranking at every turn and in every head-to-head meeting. The only way he doesn't go number one at this point is if the team picking at one desperately wants a forward. Even so, he might be too good to pass up.”
Even though the consensus is Jones is the top prospect, MacKinnon and Halifax left wing Jonathan Drouin are so hot on his trail that it is tough to say for certain who will have his name called first.
Scout’s take: “Our recent Mckeen’s Hockey rankings would certainly suggest that both Jones, who is ranked No. 1, and Drouin, who is ranked No. 2, would occupy the top two spots on our list as the front runners for the first overall pick,” says David Burstyn, former NHL scout and current head scout of Mckeen’s Hockey. “Mackinnon is ranked at No. 3 not so much for his drop in play, but rather the stellar play of Jones and Drouin. At this point all three are excellent candidates to be selected first overall and it will depend on positional needs of the NHL team that selects first.”
Drouin has 98 points in only 45 games (Getty Images)A debate on who the best Moosehead of the draft is could go on for months. On one hand there is MacKinnon, a 5-foot-11, 179-pound centre who has been talked about as the next NHL superstar for the past three years. On the other hand there is Drouin, a 5-foot-11, 176-pound winger who has exploded into a superstar this year, scoring 39 goals and 98 points in 45 games. It seems MacKinnon, who has scored 28 goals and 69 points in 41 games, has more upside, but Drouin has had the stronger sophomore season.
Scout’s take: “I still think MacKinnon offers a little bit more and is slightly more dynamic, but Drouin seems to have leapfrogged him in terms of creativity and that explosive highlight-reel offensive ability,” says MacLean.
The consensus on the next prospects in line seems to be Russian winger Valeri Nichushkin and Finish power forward Aleksander Barkov.
Most thought Nichushkin’s draft stock would fall after he decided to stay in Russia rather than come to North America through the CHL import draft; however, that has not been the case for the 6-foot-4, 196-pound winger with his strong showings in international tournaments.
International Scouting Services is especially high on Nichushkin, ranking him second overall in their February rankings. But one has to keep in mind he hasn’t seen as much love from other scouting services. He was ranked fourth among European skaters by NHL’s Central Scouting Service and eighth overall by Mckeen’s Hockey.
Scout’s take: “I've been high on this kid for a long time and have never had a bad viewing,” says MacLean. “The fact that he didn't come over to North America might hurt him a bit and he hasn't received a ton of exposure. But after a very consistent and strong showcasing of his skill set during the WJC and an offensively dominant U18 Five Nations event last month, he is a definite top five pick in my mind and could even be the best overall forward available in the draft.”
Barkov has turned heads left and right in the Finish Elite League. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound centre has notched 21 goals and 47 points in 51 games, averaging more points per game than the Chicago Blackhawks' 18th overall pick of the 2012 draft, Teuvo Teravainen, who has netted 13 goals and 30 points in 42 games.
Scout’s take: “His sheer ability to pile up points has been well documented in the SM-Liiga where he is averaging close to a point a game and playing first-line minutes, incredibly impressive for a player of his age,” says Burstyn. “While Barkov can produce, he will also need to add a physical dimension to his game and showcase a higher compete level. His upside as an NHLer looks very promising as we currently have him at fifth overall.”
Barkov, who turns 18 in September, has elicited some enticing comparisons to Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar. But to fulfill that potential, scouts believe he needs to improve his skating.
Scout’s take: “He certainly has similar qualities to Kopitar as both possess uncanny hockey sense and the ability to disguise their intentions to make plays and manufacture offense,” adds Burstyn. “I would say that Kopitar was a better skater at the same age. And that will be the burning question moving forward with Barkov, whether or not NHL teams firmly believe his skating will improve.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen