PITTSBURGH -- Now that the 2012 NHL Draft has come to an end, scouts and general managers have to begin scheduling their viewings of the next crop of top prospects.
So who are the top players available for the 2013 NHL Draft, scheduled for June 28-29 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J?
Halifax Mooseheads center Nathan MacKinnon is regarded as a sure-fire top-five pick. In his first season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, MacKinnon had 31 goals, 78 points and a plus-11 rating. His 47 assists led all first-year QMJHL players, and he finished second to 2012 first-round draft pick Mikhail Grigorenko in voting for the QMJHL Rookie of the Year award.
Oilers grab Yakupov with No. 1 pickBy Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
With the first pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, the Edmonton Oilers selected 18-year-old right wing Nail Yakupov, making him the first Russian-born player chosen No. 1 overall since Alex Ovechkin in 2004. READ MORE ›
MacKinnon also is known for hailing from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the same hometown as Pittsburgh Penguins star center Sidney Crosby. At 5-foot-11 and 179 pounds, MacKinnon is similar in size to Crosby in his draft year (5-10, 191). MacKinnon also played at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Minnesota, the prep school at which Crosby spent part of his developmental years.
All that has ratcheted up the pressure on a player who won't turn 17 until Sept. 1.
"It really isn't fair to put those expectations on Nathan," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "It's a tough label to carry. You're comparing him to Crosby, who has been the premier player in the NHL in the last number of years and probably the foreseeable future. That's tough.
"I think eventually, as it progresses, he'll end up developing his own style and his own character and if he's as good a player as everyone is projecting he is he'll carve out his own little niche."
Central Scouting's Chris Edwards also warned against excessive expectations for MacKinnon.
"He's a really good skater, is solid on his skates and has really good playmaking ability … excellent hands," Edwards said. "We need to temper those comparisons to Crosby, though. Just because he comes from Cole Harbour and went to Shattuck, everyone seems to automatically compare him to Crosby. That's ridiculous, and it's not his fault the media hype gets shoved on him. The experts come out and start making comparisons … who he's going to be. Bottom line is he's a heck of a player and we'll wait and see what he's going to be next season."
One other player who should be high on the draft lists of many scouts next season is defenseman Seth Jones of the U.S. National Team Development Program. In 45 games with the USNTDP in 2011-12, Jones had five goals and 23 points. He'll play for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League in 2012-13.
"If there's a defenseman better than him next season, I'm looking forward to seeing him," Edwards told NHL.com. "He's a solid, big guy who handles the puck very well. He's also very smart."
NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr feels that while the aforementioned players are top notch, they will be challenged for top honors on the 2013 draft board all season.
"Nathan and Seth are two players who have received significant viewings and evaluations and they're well known in the media and by hockey fans," Marr told NHL.com. "There are other players that'll come into the mix really quick. There's no runaway leader here. At the top end, there are quite a few players who are going to be in the mix here. I think 2013 is shaping up to be a good year."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale