NEW YORK, N.Y. – Here’s a look at the top 10 prospects available in Sunday’s NHL draft:
1. Seth Jones, defenceman, Portland (WHL)
The son of former NBA star Popeye Jones topped the final NHL Central Scouting rankings because he didn’t look out of place in his first season in the Western Hockey League. Jones had 15 points in the WHL playoffs and got the Winterhawks to the MasterCard Memorial Cup final. The six-foot-four defenceman won gold with Team USA at the world junior championship and is hard to stop when going up ice.
“Seth has always risen to any challenge that’s been put in front of him,” said NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. “He makes his mistakes, but we can see how he learns from the mistakes. And whenever he’s challenged in big games, he rises to the occasion.”
2. Nathan MacKinnon, centre, Halifax (QMJHL)
MacKinnon raised his already sky-high stock with a standout performance in the Memorial Cup. He led all scorers with 13 points and recorded a hat trick in the championship game. MacKinnon is from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia—the same hometown as Sidney Crosby—and possesses vision and skills similar to those of the Penguins captain. Marr thinks MacKinnon’s competitive streak and separation speed set him apart.
“The one thing that stood out was just the explosiveness with his skating,” Marr said. “I can’t recall a player that can pull away that quickly with that much power.
3. Jonathan Drouin, left-winger, Halifax (QMJHL)
Drouin is a top prospect because of his ability to read plays and react quickly. Add speed and a fast first step, and Drouin had 105 points en route to being named MVP of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Marr described Drouin’s hockey sense as “par excellence.”
“Any time he’s on the ice, he’s capable of being a game-changer,” Marr said. “That’s why he fits into that category where if somebody went and took him at No. 1 overall, nobody could say they were off the wall doing that.”
4. Aleksander Barkov, centre, Tappara (Finland)
More NHL ready than some other Europeans in the draft, Barkov is a strong two-way centre because he has already played against grown men. Hockey sense and offensive skill are just a couple of ingredients for the six-foot-two, 205-pound Finn. He dealt with a shoulder injury that ended his season, but it’s believed that won’t hurt his stock.
“These are guys that are hard to come by and they’re always in demand,” Marr said. “He’s a big, strong centreman that every team needs to build around and to complement a roster.”
5. Valeri Nichushkin, right-winger, Chelyabinsk 2 (Russia)
Nichushkin caused a stir by saying he’d only come to North America next season if he’s playing in the NHL. Given his skill set, the power forward should be able to make that happen. Marr called Nichushkin a bit of a wild card in this draft, given the unknowns about him.
“This is a guy that he’s very hard to check when he’s driving to the net and he’s got speed, quickness and skills to be a top scorer in the National Hockey League,” Marr said. “Some people say when all is said and done, he may be one of the top forwards to come out of this draft.”
6. Darnell Nurse, defenceman, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
His father was a CFL receiver, his uncle an NFL quarterback and his mother and two sisters basketball players, so it’s fair to say athleticism isn’t an issue for Nurse. Academics aren’t either, as he was named OHL scholastic player of the year. He uses his six-foot-four frame to his advantage on the blue-line. Nurse has some offence to his game but is an imposing force in the defensive end.
“He’s the kind of guy who is not going to make a lot of mistakes,” said Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting. “He’s steady and solid, and you can trust him out there.”
7. Elias Lindholm, centre, Brynas (Sweden)
Every Swedish centre seemingly gets compared to Peter Forsberg or Mats Sundin. Lindholm’s game is closer to Forsberg’s because he can make plays with finesse while also possessing strength to get to the net. Lindholm was the youngest player on his team and was a finalist for rookie of the year. He had 11 goals and 19 assists, third on Brynas.
“He’s a complete package,” NHL director of European scouting Goran Stubb said. “He’s an excellent skater and great competitor who gives it 110 per cent on every shift.”
8. Sean Monahan, centre, Ottawa (OHL)
An offensively gifted playmaker with plenty of size, Monahan learned tough lessons playing on an Ottawa 67’s team that went 16-46-6 this past season. He was their leading scorer with 31 goals and stood out as a top-three vote-getter among OHL Eastern Conference coaches for smartest player, best playmaker, best stickhandler and best on faceoffs honours.
“Sean has high-end puck skills and playmaking ability,” Edwards said. “He has very good offensive instincts and creates offence every shift.”
9. Hunter Shinkaruk, left-winger/centre, Medicine Hat (WHL)
What Shinkaruk doesn’t possess in size at five-foot-10 and 181 pounds, the 18-year-old makes up for in excitement. The captain of the Medicine Hat Tigers had 37 goals and 49 assists this past season and was considered the second-best skater in the WHL behind only Jones. The Calgary native grew up idolizing Mike Modano.
“This kid is really exciting to watch,” said Peter Sullivan of NHL Central Scouting. “As soon as he touches the puck you go,‘Wow, this is great.’ “
10. Zachary Fucale, goaltender, Halifax (QMJHL)
The Memorial Cup-winning goaltender went 16-1 in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs and led the league with 45 regular-season victories. Tactically, he’s a goaltender who plays big in his net and has good body control. Mentally, though, he’s something special, according to Marr.
“I’ve never seen a goalie that I can remember that is so ultra-composed,” Marr said. “I don’t think you can fluster this guy. I was curious as to what his resting heart rate is when he’s standing in the net there. It looked like his pulse might be like 40 beats a minute.”