NHL Draft Day: Top 5
By Ben Kingston
Professional sports drafts always create excitement and enthusiasm among fans. The 2013 NHL Entry Draft proved to be no different. Researching the top talent, keeping track of which team is picking where, and staying up-to date with trade news and rumours keeps fans busy for weeks leading up to the draft, yet the real excitement commences when the crowd attending the event is silenced by the suspense of having the general manager at the podium begin to announce the first overall pick. Some would say that this and the next four picks to follow always seem to be the most electrifying, as anything can occur when teams pick the top players from a collection of elite young talent. The 2013 NHL draft certainly confirmed this.
With the first overall pick in the draft, the Colorado Avalanche selected Halifax Mooseheads centerman Nathan MacKinnon. During the 2012-2013 season, the junior player ranked first overall flip-flopped between MacKinnon and Portland Winterhawk’s defence Seth Jones, with Jones being at the top for the longest period of time. Not until MacKinnon’s Memorial Cup heroics in which Halifax would defeat Portland in the final game was it apparent that MacKinnon should be at the peak of the draft list. In the tournament MacKinnon showed off his offensive abilities, scoring 13 points in 4 games, earning himself the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP and the Ed Chynoweth Trophy for the tournament’s leading scorer. His unbelievable Memorial Cup performance and impressive regular season numbers with Halifax was enough for Colorado to select him above all other draft eligible players. Although the Avalanche is much weaker defensively than they are offensively, making a skilled defenseman like Jones seem like a natural fit, a talent like MacKinnon’s is not easily passed up. This selection will give MacKinnon an excellent opportunity in Colorado to play alongside gifted forwards like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. Fans are definitely in for a treat when MacKinnon hits the ice with Colorado.
The next pick seemed to be a shock to many. The Florida Panthers selected Russian center Aleksander Barkov, leaving the top defensive prospect Seth Jones on the market. The big 6’3” centerman scored an impressive 48 points in 53 games with Tappara Tampere before missing the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. Barkov is a mixture of both size and offensive ability, a combination rare enough to have any NHL scout salivating over such a player. He shows great maturity in his hockey sense from playing at a young age against much older players in Finland 's SM-Liiga. A Florida team that struggled greatly in the past season picked in terms of immediate impact in the upcoming NHL season. Florida GM Dale Tallon would explain his pick by stating: “He played against men as a 16 and 17-year-old.” Tallon went on to call Barkov “a big centerman with skill that plays both ends of the ice,” a skill which “fits in with what we have in our system.” Tallon would also mention that he’s “anxious to get him playing.” With Tallon’s comments and Barkov’s skill and maturity, it seems as though his spot on the Panthers’ roster in the approaching season is almost a certainty.
The Tampa Bay Lightning choosing third overall selected Halifax left winger Jonathan Drouin, again leaving Seth Jones anxiously waiting in the crowd. Drouin, a part of the Memorial Cup-winning Halifax team, played a key role along with MacKinnon in the final game of the tournament against the Portland Winterhawks to lock up the win. Along with his stellar Memorial Cup performance, he also racked up an incredible 105 points in 49 games with the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL regular season, earning him the title of CHL’s Player of the Year. Drouin seems to create magic every time he touches the puck. He has the ability to make defensemen look silly, slow the game down, and to set up teammates with excellent scoring opportunities, making him the ultimate offensive threat. The selection of Drouin adds another highly skilled forward to the Lightning’s roster. With what appeared to be a hole in the team’s top six forward group heading into the draft, choosing Drouin should definitely assist in filling that gap. With his remarkable playmaking skills, the idea of a powerplay showcasing Drouin and one of the leagues most dominant and natural goal scorers in Steven Stamkos is nothing short of frightening for opposing teams. Expect to see Drouin in many NHL highlight reels to come.
With Seth Jones still available, the fourth overall pick was a no-brainer for the Nashville Predators. The 6’4” Portland Winterhawks defenseman was ranked as the top prospect by scouts for the majority of the 2012-2013 season. The big defenseman had an excellent World Junior tournament, guiding the United States to a gold medal finish. Scouts were praising Jones at this time for his overall talent and never would have predicted that he would be passed up until the fourth selection come draft day. As shocking and slightly disappointing as it would be for the young prospect expecting to go first or second overall to be finally chosen at number four, it was quite the opposite for the Preds. Acquiring Jones with the fourth pick can almost be viewed as a steal when you consider the unbelievable skill the young defenseman possesses. Jones brings size, intelligence with the puck, and outstanding skating to a Nashville team who should be considered lucky to draft such a player where they did, as defenseman like this don’t come around often. With an immediate spot on Nashville’s roster being more than likely, Jones will provide instant assistance to a Predators team that struggled last season. His presence on the blue line will make Nashville a force to be reckoned with for many seasons to come.
Many scouts had different thoughts on who should be chosen fifth overall by the Carolina Hurricanes. Some suggestions for this pick included Swedish forward Elias Lindholm, Ottawa 67’s centerman Sean Monahan, and big, mobile Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse. The Canes went with the Swede. Lindholm played with Brynas for the 2012-13 season where he led all junior players in the Elitserien with 30 points, scoring 11 goals with 19 assists. He also participated in the World Junior Championship for Sweden, assisting in their second place finish. He is considered an all-around forward, with great offensive abilities, responsible defensive play, and an immense intelligence that allows him to read and react to plays. Lindholm is widely considered pro-ready and could be providing support to Carolina’s line-up as early as this upcoming season.
NHL draft day is always an excitement, as fans get a look at the leagues next top players, with the microscope zoomed in especially on those chosen in the top five. This year’s top five show great potential, and with any luck will be hitting the ice for the regular season come October. Be prepared for these players to be key contributors for their NHL teams for many years. And so with the 2013 NHL Entry Draft done and in the books, it’s time to start scouting out the elite young talent that the 2014 draft will bring.
By Ben Kingston
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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