WEEHAWKEN, N.J. -- During the 2003-04 season, seven players skated in at least 30 games after being picked in the 2003 NHL Draft.
With many experts believing the 2013 NHL Draft features the deepest crop of talent since 2003, how many of the players selected Sunday could emerge as full-time NHL players for the 2013-14 season?
"I think the top four [Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov] all could be NHL-ready," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said during a press event Friday outside the Sheraton Lincoln Harbor Hotel overlooking the Hudson River. "If any of them were to make a team out of training camp, that would not surprise me."
FROM DRAFT TO NHL
The talent-rich 2003 NHL Draft saw seven players go from the draft floor to an NHL lineup for at least 30 games. Six of the seven were first-round picks, and each had varying levels of success that first season.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
Drafted: First round, No. 1
2003-04 season: 21 games, 4-12-2, 3.64 GAA, .896 SVP
Finished season: Returned to junior team, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
Eric Staal, C, Hurricanes
Drafted: First round, No. 2
2003-04 season: 81 games, 11 goals, 20 assists, 31 points
Finished season: With Carolina
Nathan Horton, RW, Panthers
Drafted: First round, No. 3
2003-04 season: 55 games, 14 goals, 8 assists, 22 points
Finished season: With Florida
Nikolay Zherdev, RW, Blue Jackets
Drafted: First round, No. 4
2003-04 season: 57 games, 13 goals, 21 assists, 34 points
Finished season: With Columbus (started season in Russia)
Dustin Brown, RW, Kings
Drafted: First round, No. 13
2003-04 season: 31 games, 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points
Finished season: With Los Angeles
Brent Burns, D, Wild
Drafted: First round, No. 20
2003-04 season: 36 games, 1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points
Finished season: With Minnesota
Patrice Bergeron, C, Bruins
Drafted: Second round, No. 45
2003-04 season: 71 games, 16 goals, 23 assists, 39 points
Finished season: With Boston
The event Friday featured Central Scouting's top six North American skaters: Jones, a defenseman with the Portland Winterhawks; Halifax Mooseheads teammates MacKinnon and Drouin; Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse; Ottawa 67's center Sean Monahan; and Medicine Hat Tigers forward Hunter Shinkaruk. Also in attendance were Barkov, a Finnish center ranked as Central Scouting's top European skater, and Halifax's Zachary Fucale, Central Scouting's top-rated North American goaltender.
With the exception of Fucale, the seven skaters each believe he will find himself in the NHL next season and is ready to contribute to whatever team drafts him.
"For sure I think I am," said MacKinnon, Central Scouting's second-ranked North American skater. "I want to be more than ready, I don't want to just hang on in the NHL next year and kind of watch. Obviously I have a ton to learn about the NHL. Every team has good veterans that will help me a ton, but at the same time I want to be able to make an impact and try to help the team win every night."
Monahan, who had 31 goals and 78 points in 58 Ontario Hockey League games in 2012-13, said, "I think I'm NHL-ready right now. Obviously I think a hard summer of training and getting stronger is going to really help me make that jump and become an impact player and that's my goal for next year."
Each prospect admitted this summer would be big for him as far as getting stronger and best prepared to showcase himself at training camp.
"I feel like I'm pretty strong now," said Jones, Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater. "You're paying against grown men in the NHL who have grown-man strength. It's not easy. You see guys like [Boston Bruins forward Milan] Lucic, guys like that who are massive, tough to contain. You have to be on your toes and strong."
That goes double for smaller players Drouin or Shinkaruk. Drouin, No. 3 on Central Scouting's final ranking, was named the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year after totaling 41 goals and 105 points in 49 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League games. He also played for Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship and helped Halifax win the Memorial Cup, capped by a five assists in the championship game. He's listed at 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds.
"Working out is a big thing," Drouin said. "I'm obviously not the biggest guy. I'm not 6-3 or 6-4 like Seth. I feel heavy and ready to play. I play a smart game; I don't go around and try to hit people, that's not my game. I'm a smart player."
Shinkaruk (5-10, 181), No. 6 in Central Scouting's ranking, said watching Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane has him thinking he can step right into an NHL lineup.
"I don't really see any reason why I can't play next year," he said. "Obviously I'm not the biggest kid, but you look at a guy like Patrick Kane who had great success … we're about the same size and weigh the same amount right now. I'm a competitive kid and that [playing in the NHL] is going to be my goal."
In addition to getting stronger, Shinkaruk, who had 37 goals and 86 points in 64 Western Hockey League games in 2012-13, said he's going to focus on his defensive-zone play this summer.
"I'm an offensive player and that [defensive play] is definitely the biggest question mark around my game," he said. "I think coming in as a rookie that's one thing that allows a coach to have trust in you and gains the trust of the older players as well. That's something I'll work on and something I've worked on the last three years. [And] off the ice, get stronger. I'm not the biggest guy, so getting more strength is something that's going to help."
It isn't just the smaller players looking to get bigger and stronger. Nurse, No. 4 on Central Scouting's list, is 6-foot-4, 185 pounds.
"I'm almost getting to 200 pounds now," he said. "Mother Nature hasn't really taken her toll yet on me. It's going to take some time."
He said part of his offseason training plan is going to be, "Just eating. Being at home, you work out hard, that'll never change [and] my mom always has a refrigerator full, so it [the weight] is going to come."
The top North American prospects will be able to work out hard all summer, but Barkov won't have that opportunity. He had surgery on his right shoulder in March and only recently began skating and stickhandling. He isn't able to shoot pucks yet.
He said the status of his shoulder will determine if he plays in the NHL or spends one more season with his Finnish club, Tappara. He was second on his team with 48 points in 53 games in SM-liiga, Finland's top league, in 2012-13. After helping Tappara finish second in the standings, he was injured during the playoffs.
"If I get the chance to play in the NHL, I'll come here," Barkov said. "It's always been my dream to play in the NHL and now it's my main goal of my life."
Nurse echoed those sentiments.
"That's anyone's goal that goes through this," he said of playing in the NHL. "You want to play as fast as possible. … I'm not going to put limitations on myself and say I couldn't do it. With that said, I'm going to put as much work in as I can this summer and however long it helps me."