HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, believes the top spot in 2013 NHL Draft is a four-player race.
While that may be the case, there are also two clear frontrunners -- defenseman Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks and center Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads.
In the release of its midterm rankings Tuesday, Central Scouting pegged Jones the top-rated skater in North America, followed by MacKinnon.
"Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov are going to make a case for themselves," Marr told NHL.com. "Ultimately, the teams selecting will pick their players, but I can tell you that No. 1 and No. 2 are fluid. It wasn't an easy decision, and there's nothing negative to say about either [Jones or MacKinnon].
"They are both very good in their own right, and they play different positions. That will influence some people since they are the best players at their position. To say one is the best overall was tough."
So why did Jones finally earn the nod?
"Both of these players impact the game in the position they play, but the one difference is that Seth plays the game well in all three zones," Marr said. "That's not to say Nathan doesn't. Nathan excels in the offensive zone and he's going to be a prolific scorer. He's one heck of a competitor."
Drouin, MacKinnon's teammate with Halifax, was No. 3 among North American skaters while Barkov earned the No. 1 rating among European skaters. Marr was asked if Drouin's performance for Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championship helped his cause.
"Everybody helps themselves at the World Juniors," he said. "The fact he got to showcase his ability was just a confirmation of what people thought of him as a player. He's one player who won't surprise anyone in what he does or what he accomplishes."
The 5-foot-10.75, 185-pound Drouin was considered a bit of a longshot to earn a roster spot for Canada, but the 17-year-old beat the odds and ultimately received a spot on the top line, alongside team captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Scheifele. He had one assist and a plus-1 rating filling in for Jonathan Huberdeau on the top line in Canada's 4-1 preliminary-round victory against Russia. Drouin, who normally skates with MacKinnon on the top line in Halifax, finished the WJC with two goals, four points and a plus-4 rating in six games.
"It meant a lot to play in World Juniors with guys like Scheifele and Nugent-Hopkins," Drouin said. "They show so much maturity on and off the ice. I think that will only help my game. I really gained from that, and I'll try to carry that over into the second half of the season in Halifax."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
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