The 2013 NHL Draft is certainly shaping up to be a good one.
While the draft may not come close to the number of high-caliber defensemen selected in the first round last June, the depth across the board is quite impressive. During the 2012 NHL Draft at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, 13 defensemen were plucked in the first round to match a record set in 1996.
The run on defensemen started early, too, as three of the top five and eight of the top 10 players picked star on the back end.
The top two players on the board entering this season are center Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and defenseman Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League.
"Those are two players who have received significant viewings and evaluations and they're well known in the media and by hockey fans," NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr told NHL.com. "But 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 … 2013 is shaping up to be a good year."
It's interesting to note that if Jones is chosen No. 1, he'd be the first defenseman selected with the first pick since 2006, when Erik Johnson went to the St. Louis Blues.
In MacKinnon's first season in the QMJHL, he 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.
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.
On a team full of veteran leaders this season, Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme remained non-committal when asked if MacKinnon would don the captain's "C."
"We don't know yet," Ducharme told NHL.com. "Our captain last year [Cameron Critchlow] is gone, so we will have a new captain. If it's not [MacKinnon], he'll still be one of our leaders. We want him to focus on his game and things he needs to do and he's going to get a lot of attention. It'll be a really big season for him, so we want him to be, first and foremost, at his best all the time so maybe we won't put that extra pressure on him."
Critchlow, who earned an invite to Edmonton Oilers development camp in July, is coming off a tremendous over-age season that saw him record 21 goals and 29 assists for 50 points in 68 regular-season games. He followed that up with a 12-goal, seven-assist effort in 16 postseason games on the wing with MacKinnon.
At this point, MacKinnon isn't all that concerned with who will be named captain. The club also possesses two other top 2013 draft prospects: goalie Zachary Fucale and forward Jonathan Drouin. MacKinnon, Fucale and Drouin were teammates on the gold-medal winning Canadian team that captured gold at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in Slovakia in August.
MacKinnon, who scored a hat trick in the gold medal contest against Finland, finished the Hlinka with five goals and six assists in five games. Fucale played four of the five games, concluding the tournament with a 23-save shutout over Finland in the gold-medal match.
"We have a lot of good leaders," MacKinnon told NHL.com. "We have a veteran team and not many rookies, and guys have been around for a few years. I'm not too worried about [the captaincy]. Either way, I still feel I could be a leader by just example. I'm not a real vocal person. Whether I have a letter on my jersey or not, I'm just trying to bring my best."
MacKinnon said he hasn't been contacted by Hockey Canada for participation at the country's National Junior Team selection camp in December. It's still too early to even think that far ahead.
"There's still a lot of hockey to be played before then," he said. "That's my goal … to be able to represent my country over in Russia. That's what I'm striving for, but at the same time, I'm in Halifax and I'll continue to do whatever it takes to help my team here."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale