Jonathan Drouin believes he’s ready to play in NHL next season

NEWARK -- Sitting on the outside of the "Seth vs. Nathan" debate is Halifax Mooseheads forward Jonathan Drouin. Ranked No. 3 overall among the prospects who will be inside Prudential Center for Sunday's NHL Draft, Drouin's future might already have been decided, barring any trades that affect the expected order of picks.

It's expected that Seth Jones and Halifax teammate Nathan MacKinnon will be the top two selections. In what order is still a mystery, especially if you believe the Colorado Avalanche are bluffing with their public fawning of MacKinnon over Jones. From there, it's set up for the Tampa Bay Lightning to take Drouin with the third pick.

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Drouin has drawn comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St. Louis, which would fit nicely if he's headed to the Lightning. “We’re not the biggest guys," Drouin said about St. Louis during Friday's top prospects availability. "I’m not small like that, but we play the same way. We skate hard and have good vision.”

But it wasn't automatic that Drouin would be part of the top pick conversation at the beginning of the season. In September, he didn't crack the top 10 in TSN's prospect rankings. It wasn't until the midterm rankings in January that Drouin started having his name included on the top of draft boards with MacKinnon and Jones.

That early slight was something the Quebec City native used as motivation.

"When Nate got injured, I think I stepped up my game there," he said. "[It] helped me prove a lot of people wrong.”

In 49 games with the Mooseheads, Drouin scored 41 goals and put up 105 points as Halifax went on to win the Memorial Cup. He also scored twice in six games for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in Ufa. It was a season that moved him up onto many team's radars.

"I play a smart game," he said. "I don’t go around trying to hit people. That’s not my game.”

"The tempo of his decision making sets him apart," said one scout. "[He] innovates on the fly, deploying different gears intelligently."

Drouin said he met with 19 teams during the NHL Combine earlier this month and the feedback he received focused mainly on improving his defensive zone work. According to a scout, he also would benefit from adding weight. Despite that, the 5-foot-11, 175 lbs. Drouin believes he can play in the NHL next season.

"I’m not the biggest guy, like Seth, but I feel ready to go."

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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