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Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty Previews The Top Five Prospects In This Year's Draft

by Jimi Russell / Nashville Predators sat down with Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty to preview the consensus Top Five prospect players in this year’s draft.

Now in his 13th season with the organization, Kealty has been managing the club’s amateur scouting operation as the Predators Chief Amateur Scout since July 2007. In addition to monitoring the best draft-eligible talent around the globe, Kealty keeps an eye on the Predators prospects playing in the CHL, NCAA and other junior leagues in North America and Europe. The Boston native has overseen Nashville’s past five drafts, helping to bolster the club’s depth across the board, selecting 24 forwards, 11 defensemen and four goalies since taking over Nashville’s draft table in 2008. The future looks bright for the Preds, as 10 of those 39 picks have already earned NHL experience and a number of others are trending towards NHL careers.

A former first-round pick (22nd overall) of the Quebec Nordiques in 1994, Kealty was signed by Nashville as a free agent in 1998 following a four-year college career as a Boston University Terrier. The former defenseman played one pro season for the Milwaukee Admirals (International Hockey League) before his playing career was cut short due to injury.

Without further ado, here is Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty’s take on this year’s Top Five prospects:

Aleksander Barkov, C
Tappara (SM-Liiga/Finnish Elite League)
6-3, 205 lbs.
Sept. 2, 1995
Tampere, Finland

Kealty’s player synopsis:
“He is an excellent two-way player and very well rounded for such a young guy,” Kealty said. “He possesses the puck very well and he can contribute at both ends of the ice because of his size and his style of play. He has great vision and a great ability to make plays. He played in the Finnish Elite League at 17-years old – he doesn’t even turn 18 until September. When you consider what he’s accomplished at that level and at that age – he was a point-per-game player – when you add all that up he is a terrific prospect.”

Prospect at-a-glance: The big, Finnish-born center had his season cut short due to a shoulder injury during the playoffs, but the 17-year old showed he's a consistent two-way player while playing against more veteran talent in the SM-Liiga this season – he posted 21 goals, 48 points in 53 games for Tappara.

Something you may not know: Barkov is fluent in Finnish, Russian and English. His father, Alexander, played professional hockey in Russia, Italy and Finland, and serves as an assistant coach for Ak Bars Kazan in the KHL. His mother played basketball for the Russian National team.

Comparable player(s): Mikko Koivu (Minnesota), Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles)

Jonathan Drouin, LW
Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
5-10, 186 lbs.
March 27, 1995
Ste-Agathe, Quebec

Kealty’s player synopsis:
“He is an electric offensive player,” Kealty said. “He has great puck skills and creativity. He averaged over two points a game in the Quebec league this year, and now he’s doing it again in the playoffs. He is one of those guys that brings you out of your seat when you watch him play. He has not only the offensive skill to produce and make plays, but he’s got some of that flare to him that a lot of the stars in the game have.”

Prospect at-a-glance: Coming into his second season in Halifax, Drouin didn’t rank highly on many draft boards, but playing alongside fellow Top Five prospect, Nathan MacKinnon, helped propel Drouin into everyone’s mind. The talented winger tallied 41 goals, 105 points and a +48 rating in 49 games on the way to being crowned the QMJHL’s Most Valuable Player and Best Pro Prospect in 2012-13. The Mooseheads are currently playing for the QMJHL title and a shot at the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup.

Something you may not know: Drouin won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and again represented his country as a 17-year old at this year’s World Juniors. In addition to being named the QMJHL’s MVP and Best Pro Prospect in 2012-13, the animated winger also won the league’s Best Personality of the Year Award.

Comparable player(s): Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay), Patrick Kane (Chicago), Jordan Eberle (Edmonton).

Seth Jones, D
Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
6-4, 204 lbs.
Oct. 3, 1994
Frisco, Texas

Kealty’s player synopsis:
“He’s pretty unanimously the top prospect in the draft,” Kealty said. “He’s big, he’s an excellent skater, he’s good on his edges, and he can skate the puck out of trouble and move the puck up the ice. He can get involved at both ends of the ice with the skill and ability he has. He is a terrific athlete – it’s pretty well documented that his father is “Popeye” Jones, the long time NBA players. Obviously, he has a lot of athletic ability. This is a guy that we’ve watched come through the U.S. development program and now he plays in Portland. He is a terrific player, and with the upside that he has, he is only going to get better. He is the top defenseman in the draft.”

Prospect at-a-glance: Jones was crowned NHL Central Scouting’s top prospect for this year’s draft. The 6-3, 205-pound blueliner posted 56 points (14g-42a) for Portland of the Western Hockey League and won gold with Team USA at the World Juniors in January. Jones is currently battling for the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup and a slot in the Memorial Cup.

Something you may not know: Jones is the son of former NBA player and current Brooklyn Nets assistant coach, Ronald “Popeye” Jones. Seth’s younger brother, Caleb, will follow in big brother’s footsteps after being drafted by Portland in the 2012 WHL Bantam draft.

Comparable player(s): Scott Niedermayer (retired – Anaheim Ducks/New Jersey Devils), Rob Blake (retired – Los Angeles/Colorado)

Nathan MacKinnon, C
Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
6-0, 184 lbs.
Sept. 1, 1995
Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia

Kealty’s player synopsis:
“This guy is an explosive talent,” Kealty said. “He is probably the best skater in the draft – powerful lower body, he’s explosive and he can change the game with his skating. That ability really allows him to make things happen in open ice. He’s one of those guys that is really driven and focused to score. When you combine that drive with his skating ability he is a really dynamic player.”

Prospect at-a-glance: Perhaps the most NHL-ready prospect in the draft, MacKinnon was slowed by a mid-season injury, but still finished the 2012-13 regular season with 75 points (32 goals, 43 assists) in 44 games for Halifax. As noted with Drouin, MacKinnon is also in the middle of playing for the QMJHL title and a shot at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.

Something you may not know: MacKinnon is the second highly-touted prospect to come out of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, following in the footsteps of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

Comparable player(s): Steven Stamkos (F, Tampa Bay)

Elias Lindholm, C
Brynas (Elitserien/Swedish Elite League)
6-0, 181 lbs.
Dec. 2, 1994
Boden, Sweden

Kealty’s player synopsis:
“He is another very good two-way player,” Kealty said. “He has a very good sense of the game, great vision and good competitiveness. He can make plays on both ends of the ice. He is one of those players that makes guys around him better. He is a real versatile player – for him to be contributing at the level he is in the Swedish Elite League at 18-years old is very impressive.”

Prospect at-a-glance: The highest-ranked Swedish-born prospect in the draft, Lindholm put up 11 goals, 30 points in 48 games for Brynas in the Swedish Elitserien – his first full season at the Swedish Elite level. The 18-year old averaged more than 16 minutes per game - the fourth most per game among junior players and sixth-most among Brynas. He ranked third on the team in points, led the team in power play goals (8) and only took one minor penalty all season.

Something you may not know: Lindholm posted four points (2g-2a) playing alongside Predators forward Filip Forsberg as Sweden fell to the United States in the gold medal game at this year’s World Juniors. Lindholm's father, Mikael, was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 12th round (No. 237) in 1987. He's also the cousin of Detroit Red Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok, who was drafted in the second round (No. 51) in 2010.

Comparable player(s): Jonathan Toews (Chicago), Nicklas Backstrom (Washington)

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