Sometimes a name is just too present, the buzz too loud. Seth Jones has separated himself from the pack and that is why he has claimed the No. 1 spot on my draft list. Even with a new lottery that expands the number of teams with the potential to select first overall, the NHL basement is still your starting reference point. And Florida, Colorado, Calgary, Philadelphia and Tampa could all use Jones next year. With that in mind, here are my latest draft ranking predictions.
1. Seth Jones, D, Portland
He finished fourth in WHL scoring among defensemen with 56 points in 61 games and was the youngest in the top five. He was also a top-five rookie scorer and offense is but one facet of his game. Jones can also play the shutdown game and his size makes him a load to handle.
2. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Halifax
A knee injury cost him games down the stretch, but MacKinnon was back at it in the playoffs, posting six points through three contests. His explosive stride separates him from everyone else, while the pivot can get red-hot in the faceoff circle and also play a chippy, physical game. That’s what NHL scouts love to see.
3. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Halifax
Ending the regular season averaging more than two points per game is simply fantastic and there will never be enough words to describe Drouin’s offensive game. His vision is uncanny, his stick is a magnet for the puck and when he’s in his office at the side of the net, it’s usually lights-out for the enemy goalie.
4. Valery Nichushkin, C, Traktor
Earlier in the year, the “Russian factor” was a question when it came to Nichushkin’s draft slot. But speaking with scouts and execs, they don’t care; he’s just too talented. His size adds to the intimidation and even though he has a contract back home, a patient team will get a game-breaker in a couple years.
5. Sasha Barkov, C, Tappara
The man-child with excellent vision has continued his unprecedented run as a 17-year-old in Finland’s top league, where he has his team on the cusp of the semifinal. Barkov brings the entire package and plays a team game.
6. Sean Monahan, C, Ottawa
The last prospect standing on a 67’s ship that went down in flames, Monahan now has a lot of time to train until the draft combine, since he’s too old for the world under-18s. Nevertheless, the kid has great hockey sense and uses his big frame to protect the puck with authority.
7. Elias Lindholm, C, Brynas
Lindholm and his Brynas squad were shut down by Skelleftea in the first round of the Elite League playoffs, but it was still a banner year for the youngster. Despite playing against older competition, Lindholm put up nice numbers by working the corners and earning power play time.
8. Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie
The size and snarl was always there, but what has truly thrust Nurse up the draft charts is the way his offensive game took off this season. The big blueliner popped in 12 goals and 41 points a year after notching just one and 10 as a rookie.
9. Hunter Shinkaruk, LW, Medicine Hat
Finished the regular season on fire with four multi-point outings in his last five games. Shinkaruk kept the party going in the playoffs, too, where his Tigers were giving the Memorial Cup hosts from Saskatoon more than they could handle. Skating is elite with the left winger, who is still ironing out his defensive responsibilities.
10. Robert Hagg, D, Modo
Incredibly mature for his age, Hagg has a great frame and can pass the puck at an NHL level already. Scouts want to see more passion, but there’s no denying the two-way ability he brings every night.
11. Curtis Lazar
12. Nikita Zadorov
13. Adam Erne
14. Rasmus Ristolainen
15. Anthony Mantha
16. Alexander Wennberg
17. Kerby Rychel
18. Ryan Pulock
19. Frederik Gauthier
20. Josh Morrissey
21. Bo Horvat
22. Valentin Zykov
23. Zach Fucale
24. Jacob De La Rose
25. Max Domi
26. Steve Santini
27. Andre Burakowsky
28. Morgan Klimchuk
29. Ian McCoshen
30. Eric Comrie
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.