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Craig Button talks Drouin, other draft prospects to watch

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

NHL Network and TSN analyst Craig Button believes one of the biggest mistakes a general manager can make at the draft is underestimating the value of smaller players.

"You have to have the courage to be right," Button told "Knowing you could be wrong but having the courage to be right is the way to go. The majority of mistakes made at the draft are based on overestimating the bigger players and underestimating the smaller guys."

For seven seasons, Button served as the director of scouting for the Dallas Stars, and then two seasons as the director of player personnel with the organization. He went on to serve as vice president and general manager of the Calgary Flames from 2000-01 through 2002-03, and was also a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2004.

As a respected authority on the draft, Button took some time to provide with some insight into the latest storylines on the road to the 2013 NHL Draft.

For starters, despite all the deserved hype surrounding Halifax Mooseheads forward Jonathan Drouin this season, Button is convinced that Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones should be the top choice. Jones is rated No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top draft-eligible North American skaters, followed by No. 2 Nathan MacKinnon of Halifax and No. 3 Drouin.

"I still have a bold line under Seth Jones at the top of my list because he is the most unique defenceman I've seen since Chris Pronger," Button said. "I'm not saying he's Chris Pronger, but he's that type of defenceman who can control the game."

While he might not overtake Jones as the No. 1 choice, Drouin has been closing the gap on MacKinnon as the top North American forward on the board.

"Drouin's hockey intelligence is off the charts … there is nobody smarter than this guy," Button said. "The thing you have to remember is that if you want to vault players up and knock some down based on very small sample sizes, your chances of making mistakes [as a scout] have increased exponentially."

Still, the 5-foot-10.75, 185-pound Drouin, who currently is on a 24-game point-scoring streak and leads the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 94 points, is tough to ignore.

"It might be easier for Jonathan to play in the NHL where the players are better, smarter and where the level of play is much quicker," Button said. "Those types of players around him will make him even better.

"Jonathan Drouin is no different to me than two other former Quebec league players, Denis Savard and Pat LaFontaine. I don't even consider size an issue with him."

Button said Drouin reminds him of former NHL star Mats Naslund and current Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis.

There's no question that a team holding the first or second pick in the 2013 NHL Draft is going to have quite a dilemma if it does base its decision on positional need.

"With 18-year-old players, you have to be really careful about need; that's a caution I would give anybody," Button said. "To me, hockey is no different than baseball in that you have to take the best player … the player you feel will be the best in three to five years once he's physically mature enough."

Button said his choice as the second-best defenceman on the draft board after Jones would be Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. Nurse, who has 11 goals, 36 points and 104 penalty minutes this season, is ranked No. 9 on Central Scouting's midterm list.

"He has expanded his game to the point that allows him to impact many areas of the ice," Button said. "I've seen a real progression in his offensive play and a development in terms of his command of the game."

Who should be considered the best two-way player available in the draft?

"In my eyes, Elias Lindholm [of Brynas in Sweden] and Frederik Gauthier [of Rimouski in the QMJHL] are in the same breath," he said. "They are arguably the top two-way forwards available."

While center Aleksander Barkov of Tappara in Finland has done nothing to sway Button's opinion of him as the top European player on the board, he feels that Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin might not be getting the recognition he rightfully deserves.

"I've compared him to the great Alexander Yakushev because he's big, powerful, skilled and smart," Button said. "These guys don't grow on trees, and to have a shot to have him on your team would be something special. He was the best Russian player at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge that included all of the top 1995-born players."

Nichushkin had three goals and six points for gold medal-winning Russia at the U-17 tournament. The 6-4, 196-pound forward is No. 4 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top draft-eligible European skaters.

"I can hear it now, 'What about the Russian factor?'" Button said. "Well, let me take you back to the 1990 Draft [at B.C. Place in Vancouver]."

In that 1990 Draft, Owen Nolan went first, Petr Nedved second, Keith Primeau third, Mike Ricci fourth and Czechoslovakian-born Jaromir Jagr went fifth.

"I remember sitting there and asking, 'Who is the best player?' and everyone would say Jagr, but no one would take him because he was Czech," Button said. "So Pittsburgh drafts him fifth. He comes over right away, begins winning all these scoring titles and becomes one of the greatest NHL players of our time. The moral of the story is not taking a player because of where he plays is the dumbest thing going."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

Author: Mike G. Morreale | Staff Writer

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