Taylor or Tyler? Hedman or Tavares? Yakupov or Murray?
Pre-draft drama in the National Hockey League is at its most entertaining and unpredictable point when there is a legitimate logjam of talent atop the board, and NHL Central Scouting's final rankings help get the conversation started. All 30 teams in the league are analyzed, discussed and analyzed some more between now and draft day, making for an exciting two months of debate leading up to the draft.
The 2013 final rankings - released today - aim to paint a clearer picture heading into the draft of which players are expected to go high in the draft order while breaking them down into four primary categories: North American skaters, North American goaltenders, European skaters and European goaltenders.
While there was much debate and discussion regarding the top-three North American skaters on the board, Central Scouting ultimately decided that no change was necessary from the midterm list released in January.
Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones remains No. 1, followed by Halifax Mooseheads teammates center Nathan MacKinnon at No. 2 and left wing Jonathan Drouin at No. 3.
"These are players you can build your team around, so what kind of player do you want to build with?" Marr said. "Do you want to build from the back-end out, or do you want to build up the middle? There's no steadfast answer, so the projection is what the player will mean to the team.
"We think Seth's game is still going to develop, as are MacKinnon and Drouin, but we had no reason to remove Seth from that No. 1 spot. We do feel Nathan will get stronger and continue to develop."
After deeming 6-foot-3.5, 205-pound Jones as the top prospect on the board this season, the scouts exchanged arguments and observations why MacKinnon should remain ahead of linemate Drouin, who had nine more goals and 30 more points in five more games during the regular season.
"Nate MacKinnon is a right-handed centerman that can play in any area of the ice," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "With the way he thinks the game, there would seem to be a huge ceiling for this kid and what he can become.
"Drouin couldn't have done anything more to push the envelope against MacKinnon and Seth Jones, so that's as tight a gap as you'll ever get between first and third. If you're picking No. 1, 2 or 3, you're a happy team."
FINAL 2013 DRAFT RANKINGS
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Topping the list of North American skaters is Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, better known as the guy everyone's talking about as a potential No. 1 overall pick. He's a top-pairing defenseman who can play both ends of the rink, and recently represented gold medal-winning Team USA at the World Junior tournament in Ufa, Russia. At 6-foot-3 and 205 lbs., many think Jones is on the verge of being able to play in the NHL, and he already proved his ability to play well on a big stage at the World Junior.
Coming in at second on the final ranking for North American skaters is skilled center Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads, and his teammate, dynamic winger Jonathan Drouin, falls right behind him at No. 3.
On the European side, Aleksander Barkov of Tappara in Finland was the top-ranked skater from overseas. Valeri Nichushkin of Chelyabinsk in Russia is No. 2, with Elias Lindholm of Brynas in Sweden at third overall. This year's draft is widely considered to be very deep, with high-end talent available up and down the projected first-round grouping of players.
And over the years, drafting and developing has proven to be the sure-fire way to build a long-term, consistent winning franchise. Long gone are the days when assembling a team of big-name free agents and complementary pieces meant buying your way into the playoffs and hoping your goaltending can take you the rest of the way; the NHL's best teams - those that compete annually for the Stanley Cup - are built around young, dynamic players who have their names called on draft day.
In 2007, it was the Chicago Blackhawks and then-GM Dale Tallon who made Patrick Kane the No. 1 overall selection at Nationwide Arena. Three years later, Kane was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head after a Game 6 victory in Philadelphia, surrounded by a slew of teammates who entered the organization just as he did.
A year later, Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty went first and second overall at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, and it's no secret that those two players are playing lead roles in their teams' success (Doughty also won a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012). The NHL is clearly driven by its young talent and the mad dash to acquire as much of that young talent as possible is what makes the draft so intriguing.
That's where the Blue Jackets have an opportunity to make a significant impact.
Holding three first round picks in this year's draft, GM Jarmo Kekalainen has a multitude of options at his disposal. It's entirely conceivable that the Blue Jackets use all three picks on three very good players, but if they choose not to, there will be no shortage of avenues to explore: package some picks to move up in the draft order and pick someone they really like? Definitely possible.
Move one of the first-round picks to acquire an NHL player who can provide immediate help? Also something to consider.
Based on this year's crop of talent and the significant number of quality players available, it's become pretty clear that the Blue Jackets are going to have several opportunities to strengthen the team both in the present and long-term.