(Draft order based on current playoff situation. Positions 27-30 are listed according to regular season overall standings; the final order for those four positions will be determined by the results of the playoffs.)
#1 COLORADO – Seth Jones
D, 6’4”, 208 lbs. (Portland, WHL)
With young guns Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, and Ryan O'Reilly setting the pace up front, simple team building suggests that adding a potential franchise defender like Jones makes a whole lot of sense regardless of the Denver-area connections. Big and strong with excellent skating skills, Jones will step right in to NHL minutes and cover a lot of ice.
#2 FLORIDA – Nathan MacKinnon
C, 6’, 182 lbs. (Halifax, QMJHL)
Dale Tallon molded the modern-day Blackhawks when he selected Shattuck-St. Mary's product Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006. Now at the helm in South Florida, Tallon claiming the immensely gifted MacKinnon, also of Shattuck fame, seems like a no brainer – especially when considering how the Panthers have gone D with three of their last four first-round picks.
#3 TAMPA BAY – Jonathan Drouin
C, 5’11”, 185 lbs. (Halifax, QMJHL)
The Lightning ranked third in the NHL last season with 3.06 goals per game and could look to keep the strikes coming with the slick Drouin, who scored 53 times in 66 games (including playoffs) while riding shotgun with MacKinnon. The CHL’s Player of the Year can no doubt light the lamp, but it’s his playmaking sense that is really off the charts.
#4 NASHVILLE – Aleksander Barkov
C, 6’2”, 205 lbs. (Tappara, Finland)
The Predators have selected a Finn in nine of the last 10 drafts, but never in the first round. That could change by pulling the trigger on Barkov, a mature, athletic centerman who can boost the Nashville offense with his vision and skill. The big-bodied talent, who racked up 48 points as a 17-year old pro, should make a seamless NHL entry two years from now when his current deal with Tappara Tampere expires.
#5 CAROLINA – Valeri Nichushkin
RW, 6’4”, 196 lbs. (Chelyabinsk, KHL)
The Hurricanes have selected 119 players through 16 drafts since relocating from Hartford in 1997, but only one out of a Russian league. After inking Alexander Semin to a five-year extension, it’s possible that Jim Rutherford confidently invests in Nichushkin’s bullish power game. The system could use defense as well, but rolling with the boom or bust forward could pay immediate dividends on Tobacco Road.
#6 CALGARY – Sean Monahan
C, 6’2”, 186 lbs. (Ottawa, OHL)
After taking high school sensation Mark Jankowski in the 21st spot one year ago, Jay Feaster could continue to firm-up the all-important middle with the skilled and productive Monahan. The best player on a weak squad, Monahan succeeded with limited help in his draft year en route to a posting a second-straight 30-goal season, giving the Flames another big, smart pivot with some jam to build around.
#7 EDMONTON – Rasmus Ristolainen
D, 6’3”, 203 lbs. (TPS Turku, Finland)
The Oilers are loaded on offense, selecting forwards with their first pick in six of seven drafts since making the Stanley Cup final in 2006. With points machine Justin Schultz piling on from the blueline, Edmonton would do well finding a rangy counterpart to eat up big minutes for years to come. Scouts praise Ristolainen for his consistency and toughness, while also noting his powerful stride and passing skills.
#8 BUFFALO – Elias Lindholm
C, 6’, 181 lbs. (Brynas, Sweden)
An impeccable skater with a “total package” skill set, Lindholm’s world-class vision, instincts and two-way commitment provide game-changing elements for any team to build around. The creative six-footer motors in and out of traffic seeking opportunity, but more importantly plays the game hard in all situations with the intangible traits to bring out the best in his mates.
#9 NEW JERSEY – Bo Horvat
C, 6’, 200 lbs. (London, OHL)
With quality defensive prospects in development, the Devils could no doubt afford to bolster their forward depth. Horvat, who was named MVP of the OHL playoffs, plays an all-around New Jersey brand of hockey with unselfish two-way ability, an excellent work ethic and plenty of offensive wherewithal that could see him approach 50 goals next season if he lands back in London.
#10 DALLAS – Hunter Shinkaruk
C, 5’11”, 175 lbs. (Medicine Hat, WHL)
The Stars’ system boasts quality depth on the blue line, leaving room for newly-hired Jim Nill to seek out a flashy, slashing trigger man at the top of the draft. The sniping Shinkaruk will bring speed and finishing ability when he arrives at the pro level, offering a higher-gear winger to blend with the power forward bodies of Alex Chiasson and Brett Ritchie.
#11 PHILADELPHIA – Darnell Nurse
D, 6’4”, 189 lbs. (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL)
The Flyers haven't used a first -ound pick on a defenseman since 2008 (Luca Sbisa), but that streak should end with the emerging Nurse still on the board. Effective in transition with a developing mean streak, Nurse has the components to fit right in on Broad Street. Add in the fact that his uncle is former Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, and the Greyhounds stud landing in Philly just seems right.
#12 PHOENIX – Max Domi
C, 5’9”, 193 lbs. (London, OHL)
After dipping into NHL bloodlines a year ago with Henrik Samuelsson, the Coyotes could realistically play that card again. Domi, son of famed NHL pugilist Tie, is an ultra-intelligent competitor who blends blazing speed with a dazzling array of puck skills. Undersized yet explosive, the driven gamer has the feistiness and natural offensive make-up to energize the Coyotes’ scoring lines for years to come.
#13 WINNIPEG – Nikita Zadorov
D, 6’5”, 230 lbs. (London, OHL)
A year after selecting American standout Jacob Trouba to anchor the blue line, the Jets will go fishing for a future partner with the hard-hitting and hard-shooting Zadorov. Big mobile defenders aren’t always easy to come by, and the Jets, who regularly rank among league leaders in goals against, can’t pass up the possibility of having two blue-chippers to build around.
#14 COLUMBUS – Alexander Wennberg
C, 6’2”, 174 lbs. (Djurgarden, Sweden)
Jarmo Kekalainen presides over his first draft as Jackets GM tasked with crafting an annual contender in the re-aligned Eastern Conference. A blue-collar, up-tempo battler who can fill the net, Wennberg’s effortless skating stride and elite puck control skills project to be a major North American factor after some SEL maturation with Frolunda.
#15 NEW YORK ISLANDERS – Curtis Lazar
C, 6’, 193 lbs. (Edmonton, WHL)
The Islanders loaded up on defense at the 2012 draft, using all seven of their selections on rearguards. The number 15 slot this year is a good time for Garth Snow to tap into the Oil Kings pipeline for a second straight year to select Lazar, whose speed, leadership and versatility helped him pot 58 goals over the past two WHL seasons, while also building a strong post-season resume.
#16 BUFFALO (from Minnesota) – Steven Santini
D, 6’2”, 207 lbs. (USA U-18 Team)
Named best defenseman at the IIHF U18 World Championship (past winners include Brent Seabrook, Erik Karlsson, Ryan Suter, Kevin Shattenkirk, Adam Larsson, and Cam Fowler), Santini’s well-rounded skill set helps solidify the Sabres’ future defensive core. The draft is all about projecting players three-to-five years down the road, and the right-handed Boston College commit already stands out with his impressive skating, open-ice hitting and keen shutdown acumen.
#17 OTTAWA – Ryan Pulock
D, 6’1”, 211 lbs. (Brandon, WHL)
An offensive-minded defenseman with good awareness, Pulock uses a pro body and wise decision making to get his much-talked about cannon through to the net. The Senators could afford to add depth at the wing positions, but Pulock’s puck-moving skills and high-end power play potential provide a compelling complement to the steady young defensive core being built in the Canadian capital.
#18 DETROIT – Frederik Gauthier
C, 6’5”, 210 lbs. (Rimouski, QMJHL)
Gauthier’s huge frame and three-zone aptitude are attractive to a Red Wings organization already boasting good positional balance among its prospects. A good thinker of the game, Gauthier doesn’t have one standout skill but uses hard work to come through with timely offense as evidenced by his game winner in the U-18 gold medal game.
#19 COLUMBUS (from New York Rangers) - Valentin Zykov
RW, 6’, 210 lbs. (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL)
Zykov burst on to the North American scene in 2012-13, powering his way to 40 goals and the CHL’s Rookie of the Year award. The bulky Russian is not a blazer, but he gets the job done. Tough to handle down low with an intensity level that matches his scoring skill, Zykov addresses Columbus’ need for size and offensive talent down the wings.
#20 SAN JOSE – Josh Morrissey
D, 6’, 182 lbs (Prince Albert, WHL)
A crafty puck moving defenseman, Morrissey’s average frame and ability to run a power play blend elements of Brian Campbell and current Sharks catalyst Dan Boyle. Morrissey was instrumental in Canada’s U-18 gold medal victory, logging over 19 minutes a game while leading all rearguards with seven points (3+4) and a plus-10 rating.
#21 TORONTO – Kerby Rychel
LW, 6’1”, 200 lbs. (Windsor, OHL)
A hard-nosed forward with soft hands, Rychel’s gritty style and knack for the net could set the stage for the next Air Canada Centre fan favorite. While the bloodlines helped (his father Warren played over 400 NHL games), it was Rychel’s down-low presence and quick release that allowed him to amass back-to-back 40-goal seasons in Windsor. The Leafs have gotten tougher to play against and Rychel seems like a low-risk fit.
#22 CALGARY (from St. Louis) – Anthony Mantha
RW, 6’4”, 190 lbs. (Val-d’Or, QMJHL)
Mantha, a pure goal scorer with good size and skating, blinks on the radar as the Flames keep stockpiling big bodies to compete in the West. A 50-goal scorer in the QMJHL, Mantha’s ability to get up and down while being tough to knock off the puck could turn into a major asset once his two-way consistency and work ethic comes around.
#23 WASHINGTON - Andre Burakowsky
LW, 6’1”, 176 lbs. (Malmo, Sweden)
After dealing 2012 first-rounder Filip Forsberg at the deadline, the Caps reload the offensive cupboards with the high-end potential of Burakowsky. The slippery winger delighted scouts with four goals in five games for a disappointing Team Sweden at April’s U-18, displaying shooting and vision that could see him become a big-time producer once his frame fills out.
#24 VANCOUVER – Madison Bowey
D, 6’1”, 200 lbs. (Kelowna, WHL)
Developing in the defense factory in Kelowna, Bowey has the size and mobility required to play a two-way NHL game. The Winnipeg native takes command in his own zone, but scouts really like his fluid skating and ability to get the puck deep on the rush. The Canucks, who last used a first-round pick on a defender in 2005, were likely impressed with his strong fundamentals in major minutes at the U-18 tourney.
#25 MONTREAL – Adam Erne
LW, 6’1”, 195 lbs. (Quebec, QMJHL)
Six years after finding success with Connecticut native Max Pacioretty, the Habs go with another Nutmeg State product in the Remparts’ Erne. Long coveted by former coach Patrick Roy, Erne’s combination of size, production and physical play could raise the overall effort of a Habs forward group hungry for tenacity on the scoring lines.
#26 ANAHEIM – Ryan Hartman
RW, 5’11”, 187 lbs. (Plymouth, OHL)
A versatile forward with a mean streak, Hartman hits, scores and distributes. His consistent mix of skill and scrappy play at both ends of the ice allowed him to excel on the grind line as Team USA earned gold at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. The Ducks have used early picks on players with a USA Hockey pedigree in each of the last four drafts, making the skilled agitator a logical target.
#27 COLUMBUS (from Los Angeles) – Robert Hagg
D, 6’2”, 204 lbs. (MODO, Sweden)
After grabbing a pair of forwards earlier in the round, the Blue Jackets add to their deep stable of two-way defenders with the smart and efficient Hagg. An effortless skater with a nice slap shot and emerging physical game, the MODO product really came on late in the year, giving the scouting community confidence that he can be plugged into an NHL lineup in just a few short years.
#28 DALLAS (from Boston) – J.T. Compher
C, 5’11”, 184 lbs. (USA U-18 Team)
After snagging pure offensive upside earlier, the Stars look to secure a hard-working role player to fill out their future middle lines. Committed to the University of Michigan, Compher is an agitator who is great at reading plays and being in the right spots offensively. He notched seven points (3+4) while logging over 20 minutes per game at the recent U-18s to firm up his first-round status.
#29 CALGARY (from Pittsburgh) – Shea Theodore
D, 6’2”, 182 lbs. (Seattle, WHL)
A fabulous skating motor from the back end, Theodore’s package of size and offensive potential make him a solid fit for a Flames club in need of additional pop from the back end prospects. The T-Birds stalwart piles up points in big minutes with Seattle, but will need to add quite a bit of mass before realizing his role as offensive specialist at the NHL level.
#30 CHICAGO – Ian McCoshen
D, 6’2”, 207 lbs. (Waterloo, USHL)
Classified in the “smart and poised” category, McCoshen is a steady two-way defender with a fair amount of upside. He’s cool and confident with the puck, and it’s obvious that playing on an Olympic-sized rink in Waterloo has bred great footwork and positioning. The Wisconsin native also packs a rifle from the blue line that will be utilized more often when he lands at Boston College in the fall.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - sabresprospects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.