TORONTO -- Will defenseman Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League maintain his grasp as the top draft-eligible prospect in North America?
Is Nathan MacKinnon still considered the best pro prospect for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Halifax Mooseheads?
Are Finland's Aleksander Barkov and Sweden's Elias Lindholm still considered the Crème de la Crème among the European contingent?
These questions will certainly be answered in earnest on June 30 when the 2013 NHL Draft is held at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
NHL.com on location for final meetings
Mike Morreale of NHL.com will be on site for NHL Central Scouting's final meetings in Toronto from Friday through Sunday to provide readers exclusive stories from the final gathering to discuss the best North American prospects on the draft board.
A final list of the top 210 North American skaters, 120 European skaters and 30 goaltender prospects is scheduled for release later this month. All seven rounds of the 2013 NHL Draft will be held at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on June 30.
In addition to timely features, Morreale will provide a running blog
of events each day and he can be followed on Twitter for real-time updates at @mikemorrealeNHL
There also will be an exclusive alphabetical listing of the top 10 rated players from each of the leagues, including the WHL, OHL, QMJHL, USA-East, USA-West and the Canadian juniors and midgets, when they become available over the weekend.
In the meantime, the top evaluators at NHL Central Scouting, headed by director Dan Marr, will don their thinking caps and meet one final time in Toronto to establish their final rankings of the top 210 North American skaters and 30 goalies. The five-day selection process begins Friday. From a separate location, the Director of European Scouting, Goran Stubb, will offer his recommendations to Marr on the top 120-plus European skaters and 10 goalies.
The final rankings release will be made official later this month.
"It's never easy to produce a final ranking list and this year is no different, but it's always interesting when our discussions involve excellent NHL prospects for the first overall spot," Marr told NHL.com. "During the course of the season a couple more players have come into consideration for the top spot, so I'm anticipating considerable debate to get the first few names in order."
At Central's midterm ranking release in January, Marr told NHL.com that the draft was a four-player race with Jones, MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin of Halifax and Barkov of Tappara at the forefront. While that may have been the case, there were two clear frontrunners at that time: Jones and MacKinnon.
Jones was ranked the top-rated skater in North America, followed by No. 2 MacKinnon and his linemate, No. 3 Drouin.
Jones finished his rookie season in Portland with 14 goals, 56 points and a plus-46 rating in 61 regular-season games. The 6-foot-3.5, 208-pound native of Plano, Texas, is regarded by many as the can't-miss prospect on the draft board this season. He has two goals, five points and a plus-1 rating in six WHL playoff games.
MacKinnon (6-0, 182) closed out his second season with the Mooseheads with 32 goals, 75 points and a plus-40 rating in 44 games. He has accrued 63 goals, 153 points and a plus-51 rating in 102 career games in the QMJHL. His nine-game goal-scoring streak from Oct. 6-27 was the longest of any player in the league this season, and he generated 14 goals and five assists during that stretch. He would miss 14 games this season with a lower-body injury. He has three goals, seven points and a plus-5 rating in four QMJHL playoff games.
Drouin had 41 goals, 105 points a plus-48 rating in 49 contests for Halifax in 2012-13. In two seasons, he's produced 48 goals, 134 points and a plus-43 rating in 82 games. The 5-foot-10.75, 185-pound player had an incredible 29-game point streak from Nov. 30, 2012, to March 15, 2013 -- collecting 26 goals and 65 points over that span. He has two goals, 10 points and a plus-6 rating in four playoff games.
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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."
Drouin, who turned 18 on March 27, was considered a bit of a long shot to earn a roster spot for Canada, but he made the team and even earned some time on the country's top line alongside 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 over Russia. Drouin, who normally accompanies MacKinnon on the top line in Halifax, finished the WJC with two goals, four points and a plus-4 rating in six games.
Barkov earned the No. 1 rating for those draft-eligible skaters playing in Europe. The 6-3, 209-pound center had a career-high 21 goals and 48 points in 53 games with Tappara this season. Despite the fact he'll miss the remainder of the year with a shoulder injury he sustained in the playoffs, Stubb said the ailment will not affect Barkov's draft status one bit.
The scouts in Toronto will debate, scrutinize and review the future of all potential blue-chip prospects from within the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, USA-West and USA-East, which includes all U.S. colleges and high schools, and the Canadian junior and midgets.
"The rest of the field for the first round is also going to be quite interesting as many of the same players from the midseason ranking will be in the mix, but the order could change considerably," Marr said. "That's how close, yet complex, this draft field is for the first round."
Rounding out the top 10 North American prospects on Central's midterm list after Drouin were center Sean Monahan of the Ottawa 67's (OHL), versatile forward Hunter Shinkaruk of the Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL), defenseman Ryan Pulock of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL), center Frederik Gauthier of the Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL), left wing Valentin Zykov of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL) and Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL).