Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. If you missed any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of them here.
Today I give an early look at the 2013 NHL draft with my top 30 rankings so far.
If someone obvious is missing off the list (especially a European player) chances are i haven’t seen enough to properly rank him yet. I often use the World Juniors, the Five Nations, and the Under 18s as my reference point for ranking some of these players as Euro tapes are hard to come by. That said guys like Barkov, Nikushkin, and Lindholm who were seen last season (or in 4 nations events, or the Subway Super Series) will be included.
I’ll be doing this ranking in four parts this week. 1-10, 11-20, and 21-30, and honourable mentions
Ok, lets go with our top 10.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Centre, Halifax Mooseheads 5’11 179 lbs (November Rank: 1) Many other scouts have downgraded MacKinnon to the number 2 or even 3 prospect (ISS). I don’t see things that way. Despite minimal icetime in the World Juniors, and despite a recent injury in a game vs Moncton, I’ve still got MacKinnon as the Best player in this class. MacKinnon has it all, speed, power, hands, vision, shot, hockey sense. He’s a future franchise centre, and those are near impossible to find later in the draft. Despite his size, listed at 5’11, MacKinnon is extremely strong on his skates and is excellent at controlling the puck down low and taking the puck to the net or making plays for his teammates. Also dangerous off the rush, MacKinnon has good speed, and excellent lateral agility. The gap has narrowed, but I’ve still got him at #1 with a bullet.
2. Seth Jones, Defence, Portland Winterhawks 6’4 206 lbs (November Rank: 2) – Jones showed off his phenomenal skill in helping to lead the U.S. team to a gold medal at the World Juniors. There were some rough patches along the way, but in the playoff rounds Jones played great hockey and elevated his stock. He’s got He’s got the ideal size that teams look for on the blue line and couples that with an exceptionally smooth and fluid skating stride. He’s also very good positionally, and he’ll be a top defender in the NHL. I’ve criticized Jones in the past for not being a dominant physical defender, and he’s improved slightly on that aspect, but I’d still like to see a genuine mean streak before I can consider him at first overall.
3. Jonathan Drouin, Left Wing/Right Wing, Halifax Mooseheads 5’11” 176 lbs (November Rank 5): Drouin just keeps putting up the points, and making spectacular plays whether he plays on a line with MacKinnon, or even now while MacKinnon is out with an injury. He’s definitely the lightning in the thunder and lightning combination that is the Mooseheads dynamic duo. The diminutive Drouin has been scoring at an incredible pace this season, and has assured that teams can’t ignore him because of his size any longer, with 71 points in 34 games this season. He’s a dynamic skater and creative offensively as both a playmaker and a finisher, blessed with great hands. The only thing that holds him back is his size and some questions defensively. And yes, I know he’s listed at 5’11” the same height as MacKinnon. But I’ll bet on the two having at least a two inch gap in height if the NHL combine was held today. I see him on the ice next to MacKinnon and there is just no way the two players are the same size. You can’t deny the talent though, and Drouin has forced himself into the conversation at the top of the draft board, just as he forced himself onto a top line for Team Canada at the World Juniors.
4. Aleksander “Sasha” Barkov, Left Wing/Centre, Tappara (SM-Liga) 6’2″ 205 lbs (November Rank 3): One of the drafts youngest eligible players, Barkov is still putting up great numbers playing against men in the SM-Liga (Finland’s top division) with 41 points in 45 games this season. He has outstanding hands, and showed great poise with this recent shootout goal, pulling off an incredible move on the backhand. He was outstanding at the four nations tournament in the fall, but was a little disappointing in the preliminary rounds of World Juniors. He did redeem himself somewhat by scoring a bunch in the relegation round, but it was against weaker competition. Barkov has great size, is outstanding on the boards, has great hands, can score goals and set them up, and has a well-polished two way game. One of the best Finnish prospects in years. He could push himself back into the top 3 with a good showing at the Under 18s.
5. Elias Lindholm, Centre, Brynas, Elitserien 6’0″ 192 lbs (November Rank 6): The talented Swedish centre has put up 25 points in 43 games in Sweden’s top league. Lindholm performed well for the silver medal winning Swedes at the World Juniors showing off his high end skills in a top 6 role for the team, and putting up 2 goals and 2 assists in 6 games. Earlier in the fall, he also had a good 4 nations tournament until an ankle injury slowed him down. Lindholm has ideal NHL size. He’s an excellent skater, with very good top end speed, and great acceleration and agility. A top notch stickhandler, Lindholm continues the theme in our top 5 of being blessed with soft hands. He is more a passer than a scorer, and his great vision and playmaking skills will be highly coveted in this years’ NHL Draft.
6. Sean Monahan, Centre, Ottawa 67s, 6’2″ 170 lbs (November Rank 4): Monahan was #3 on my preseason top 10, and number 4 in my November ranks. So why has he dropped to 6? Well with 64 points in 46 games for the Ottawa 67s, its nothing he has done, as Monahan has performed up to my expectations. It has been the great play of Drouin, Barkov, and Lindholm that have moved themselves up, rather than poor play by Monahan pushing him down. Monahan has been everything he was advertised to be this season for Ottawa and missing some time dealing with a 10 game suspension for a check to the head is the only thing that is keeping him out of the OHL’s top 10 scorers. Monahan is a pure powerforward in the middle of the ice, who drives the net hard, and is able to contribute both goals and assists to his team. He makes his linemates better and this ranking shows the great high end talent at the top of this draft class.
7. Valeri Nichushkin, Centre/Right Wing, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL) 6’3″ 195lbs (November Rank 9) – Nichushkin continues to impress every time I see him on the ice, whether its scoring a great goal to beat the US in the prelims of the World Juniors, or to clinch bronze for Russia with a similar goal against Canada, or with his performance in the Subway Super Series. He’s a dynamic skater, who has a great stride, very good top end speed, and outstanding acceleration. He is able to use quick changes of pace to attack defenders off the rush and is especially effective driving wide on defenders (as seen in the two big goals he scored). He is a big forward who can use patience, great puck protection and stickhandling skill to create play, and also has a good shot which he uses to put the puck in the back of the net. He’s shown versatility playing at Wing in the World Juniors, and at Centre in the Subway Super Series. On pure talent, he makes this years group a “big 7″ at the draft board, however he could fall on draft day as he’ll face the “Russian Factor.” Nichuskin is signed to a three year KHL contract (this season and two more), and this could really hurt his final draft position depending on interviews, but on talent alone, Nichuskin is an easy top 10 pick. Given what is happening with Vladimir Tarasenko (a steal of a pick at 16 for the Blues, who fell due to the Russian factor) and Evgeni Kuznetsov (a top prospect in the World who choose to stay in Russia rather than join the Capitals this season), NHL teams still struggle with decisions due to the lack of a formal KHL/NHL transfer agreement.
8. Ryan Pulock, Defence, Brandon Wheat Kings, 6’1″ 211 lbs (November Rank 8): Pulock returned from an upper body injury that had him out for part of January, but hasn’t really missed a beat. With 42 points in 49 games he’s 7th among WHL defensemen in scoring (and trails only Seth Jones amongst draft eligible players. Pulock’s biggest asset is an absolute rocket of a slapshot and fantastic one timer which make him an extremely feared shooter on the Powerplay. Other teams are certainly shading their PK to try to minimize Pulock’s shot at this point, but despite that, he still has 14 goals this season. A natural PP Quarterback, Pulock makes smart crisp passes and sees the ice extremely well. Pulock is an above average skater with good mobility on the blue line and loves to join the rush. He can be the lead man with the puck or can join the attack as the trailer, ready to unleash his rocket slapper.
9. Rasmus Ristolainen, Defence, TPS Turku, SM-Liga (6’3″ 200 lbs) (November Rank 11): A November 1994 birthdate, Ristolainen is a little more mature, and is now playing his second season against men in Finland’s top league, where he has 13 points in 44 games. He has also been a player on the international stage as he played in the last two World Junior Championship and the last two Under 18 World Championships. Ristolainen has NHL ready size and he uses it effectively combining very good positioning, and effective defensive play, with a healthy mean streak in his own end of the ice. His strong skating, good speed, acceleration, agility, and lateral mobility on the blue line help him greatly, and contribute to Ristolainen’s strong two way game. He moves the puck well, either leading the rush through his skating and stickhandling, or getting plays start with a strong first pass. The combination of size, and all around game certainly has scouts salivating at the potential of the young Finnish blueliner.
10. Hunter Shinkaruk, Left Wing, Medicine Hat Tigers 5’11” 175lbs (November Rank 7): Another player who has fallen a bit from his preseason rank where I had him number 4. However this is also of no fault of his own, but more a reflection of how good this draft has become for forwards. Here is a player who is 13th in WHL scoring with 70 points in 52 games this year (and he could be in the top 10 if not for an injury). Shinkaruk is a shifty, and agile skater, with good speed. He has a tremendous wrist shot and excellent release, particularly when coming in on a rush off the left wing. Not just a one trick pony, Shinkaruk also has very good playmaking skill and vision which makes him very difficult to defend. Currently holding a spot in our top 10, he’ll be in a dog fight to keep it the rest of the way, as their are some rising stars behind him.
Thanks for reading. Check back in later in the week for parts 2, 3 and 4 of the February Rankings.
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