What do we need right now?
Is it a poised and polished minute-munching, two-way defenceman? Or a sublimely skilled center? There are no wrong decisions at the top this year.
NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr and his staff made that point loud and clear Wednesday with the release of Central Scouting's final rankings of the top draft-eligible skaters and goaltenders from North America and Europe.
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 defenceman 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."
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenceman Darnell Nurse is No. 4, followed by Sean Monahan of the Ottawa 67's at No. 5. Rounding out the top 10 are Hunter Shinkaruk of the Medicine Hat Tigers, Valentin Zykov of Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Frederik Gauthier of Rimouski Oceanic, Mirco Mueller of the Everett Silvertips, and Anthony Mantha of the Val-d'Or Foreurs.
Nurse jumped from No. 9 at the midterm to No. 4 on the final list, and Mueller moved up two spots to No. 10.
Why is Nurse, a 6-3.5, 185-pound player from the Ontario Hockey League, regarded as the second-best defenceman on the list?
"I like everything about him … he defends himself, is steady and doesn't make many mistakes," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "I think he made the decision pretty easy by how well he played in the second half. I'm not saying he plays like Chris Pronger, but he could be that Pronger-type of guy with how good he is with the puck and his toughness."
Among the top 30 skaters ranked, 11 were from the Ontario Hockey League, nine from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, eight from the Western Hockey League, and two from the United States Hockey League.
Central Scouting listed 20 forwards and 10 defencemen among its first-round projections, including four players who were outside the top 30 at the midterm: Zach Nastasiuk of the Owen Sound Attack, who jumped from No. 33 to No. 13; Rimouski's Samuel Morin, who went from No. 76 to No. 23; Laurent Dauphin of the Chicoutimi Sangueneens, who moved from No. 41 to No. 28; and John Hayden of the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team, who jumped from No. 59 to No. 29.
Morin, a hulking 6-6.25, 202-pound defenceman, made the biggest leap, climbing 53 slots. The native of St-Henri, Quebec, had four goals, 16 points, a plus-10 rating and 117 penalty minutes in 46 regular-season games this season.
"He's got good gap control and uses that long reach well, and is really effective 1-on-1," Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau said.
The second-ranked American-born player on the list after Jones is No. 24 Ian McCoshen of the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL. McCoshen, from Hudson, Wis., finished with 11 goals and 31 assists in 52 games, and his 42 points were second among USHL blueliners. Boston College bound, McCoshen also had a plus-34 rating, and five goals and 24 points on the power-play.
The highest ranked U.S. high school player is defenceman Thomas Vannelli of Minnetonka (Minn.) High School. Vannelli (6-2, 165), who is No. 44 on the list, had eight goals and 31 points in 25 games for the Skippers this season. He's with the United States at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
There was no change at the top of Central Scouting's final North American goaltender ranking; Halifax's Zachary Fucale retained the No. 1 ranking. Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, Tristan Jarry of the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL), Waterloo's Calvin Petersen, and Spencer Martin of the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) round out the top five.
The top three skaters on Central Scouting's final European ratings are forwards, topped by No. 1 Aleksander Barkov of Tappara in Finland. Valeri Nichushkin of Chelyabinsk in Russia is No. 2, with Elias Lindholm of Brynas in Sweden No. 3.
The top three international goalies are Juuse Saros of HPK Jr. in Finland, Ebbe Sionas of AIK Jr. in Sweden, and Luka Gracnar of Salzburg in Austria. Gracnar hails from Jesenice, Slovenia, the same hometown as Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer