NATHAN MacKINNON - C, 6’, 182 lbs. (Halifax, QMJHL), #2 North American skater
It’s hard to think of a team that wouldn’t have interest in the all-around potential that MacKinnon will bring to a professional lineup. An exceptional offensive talent who passes and scores with equal aptitude, MacKinnon’s explosive combination of skating, vision, and shooting has translated to 153 points (63+90) through 102 QMJHL contests, all the while fueling Halifax’s 2013 Memorial Cup victory.
And to think he won’t turn 18-years old until September.
But MacKinnon is more than just a one trick pony. His smarts and agility are applied in the defensive zone as well, where he shows great anticipation and takeaway skills. He digs in and battles with a physical edge. On top of it all, he showed up at the combine with a cut physique that shows the same level of commitment off the ice.
MacKinnon isn’t just a great junior player. He has a natural “it” factor that cannot be taught.
JONATHAN DROUIN – C, 5’11”, 185 lbs. (Halifax, QMJHL), #3 North American skater
We often hear the term “hockey sense” - but what does it really mean? If you’re looking for answers, try watching Drouin skate a few shifts.
A quick forward with fabulous puck skills, Drouin possesses elite playmaking smarts that often see him make something out of nothing. He sees the ice as good as anyone in his class, using soft hands and a quick-thinking brain to know when to shoot, when to carry the puck a few extra strides, and when to instinctively feather a pass to a better scoring option.
Drouin, who was named the CHL’s Player of the Year following his 41-goal and 105-point campaign in Halifax, will need to add more mass to overcome the shortcomings that his limited frame presents, but scouts will be hard pressed to find a more pure offensive thinker in his age group.
ALEKSANDER BARKOV – C, 6’2”, 205 lbs. (Tappara, Finland), #1 European skater
It remains to be seen whether or not his career will rival those of fellow countrymen Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri and Saku Koivu, but for now Barkov has the makings of the next great NHL import out of Finland.
The man-child first made a name for himself at the 2012 World Junior Championship, where he showed calmness and creativity beyond his years while competing against the world’s best under-20 players. Since then, his frame has filled out and top league experience has been gained, resulting in 21 goals and 48 points this past season with Tappara Tampere before seeing his remarkable year derailed by a late-March shoulder injury.
Over-analytical scouts will pick apart his average skating ability, but there is no question that Barkov’s package of size, vision and two-way skill will lead to his name being called in the top-five come June 30.
VALERI NICHUSHKIN – RW, 6’4”, 196 lbs. (Chelyabinsk, KHL), #2 European skater
If you asked 30 NHL General Managers to raise their hands if their team could use an elite north-south winger who goes to the net with power, you’d likely see 60 arms flailing in the air. Enter Nichushkin, a strong-skating Russian whose move around the edge buried Canada in overtime of the bronze medal game at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Beyond that single play, the talented winger has attributes worthy of being the top overall pick. He gallops up and down his side of the ice with ease, possesses strength to emerge from scrums with the puck, and packs a very strong shot. If he can’t get around a defender, he’ll try to go through them.
There was quite a bit of buzz surrounding Nichushkin at the recent NHL Combine, where the 2012-13 KHL Rookie of the Year clarified his intentions of playing in the NHL next season. That is where his aspirations begin and end, however, as his comments suggest that AHL or North American junior duty won’t be worth his time.
ELIAS LINDHOLM – C, 6’, 181 lbs. (Brynäs, Sweden), #3 European skater
Hailing from the same Brynäs IF program that produced Nicklas Backstrom (WAS), Jakob Silfverberg (OTT), and current Sabres prospect Johan Larsson, 18-year-old Elias Lindholm promises to bring a robust skating game and complete set of two-way tools to the organization that selects him.
Lindholm is simply a joy to watch compete, blending an insatiable work ethic with high-end offensive wit. He has an ability to powerfully cut through seams befitting a player much larger in stature, and his puck control game is among the best in the draft.
All things point to Lindholm being a major difference maker when he arrives in North America. The nifty skater is already a dependable SEL scorer, cashing 11 goals and 30 points this past season to rank third in team scoring, setting the stage for plenty of suitors come draft day.
SEAN MONAHAN – C, 6’2”, 186 lbs. (Ottawa, OHL), #5 North American skater
A multi-dimensional centerman, Monahan has proven to be a consistent offensive force since joining the Ottawa 67’s, scoring 20 goals and 47 points as a rookie in 2010-11, before wrapping up his pre-draft resume with consecutive 30-plus goal seasons.
A fluid skater with excellent puck-handling skills, Monahan is at his best when entering the zone with speed. His passing skills are among the tops in his age group, but when the play isn’t there he has no trouble positioning his body to uncork a very quick and accurate shot.
Just as important for scouts was the fact that Monahan established himself as leader in Ottawa following the departure of talented wingers Tyler Toffoli (LAK) and Shane Prince (OTT). With a strong two-way blend, the Brampton, Ont. native has himself nicely positioned as a top-10 overall pick.
HUNTER SHINKARUK – C, 5’11”, 185 lbs. (Medicine Hat, WHL), #6 North American skater
Central Scouting’s top-rated WHL forward, Shinkaruk made waves two seasons ago when he collaborated with fellow speedster Emerson Etem (ANA) to pot 49 goals and 91 points for the Tigers. With Etem off to the pro ranks and scouts looking for a repeat performance, the quick-handed winger did not disappoint, connecting for a stat line of 37-49-86 (recording at least a point in 49 of 64 games) to remain a top-level talent for the 2013 draft.
Shinkaruk’s game is built on being fleet of foot, and despite not being the most physically imposing player in his class, the Calgary-native has the ability to grind through checks and get the puck towards the net. With size always a concern, Shinkaruk’s durability is noteworthy as evidenced by his 193 games of WHL experience heading into draft day.
VALENTIN ZYKOV – RW, 6’, 210 lbs. (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL), #7 North American skater
Best described as “a bull in a china shop,” Zykov is an intense competitor who lit the lamp 40 times in 2012-13 en route to being named the CHL’s Rookie of the Year. With a passion for scoring and willingness to battle down low, Zykov represents a viable option for any club looking to get bigger and more skilled down the wings.
After a hot and cold start to his season in Baie-Comeau, Zykov put his power game on display at the 2012 Subway Super Series, notching one goal and one assist, along with a game-high plus-three rating, as Russia opened with a 6-2 victory over Team QMJHL. The floodgates remained open from there, with the Russian posting an impressive seven-game scoring streak in January, followed-up by another 10 goals in the playoffs as the Drakkar marched to the league final.
FREDERIK GAUTHIER – C, 6’5”, 210 lbs. (Rimouski, QMJHL), #8 North American skater
One of the bigger bodies among the top forward prospects, Gauthier has carved out a reputation in the scouting community as a steady two-way worker with considerable NHL upside. He gets around very well for a big man, can play any forward spot, and shows the dedication in the defensive zone that only adds value to the compelling, versatile skill set.
Sometimes the road to the draft takes interesting turns. Previously committed to Harvard University, Gauthier decided to pass up the word-class education for a chance to try his skills in major junior. The risk obviously paid off for the Mascouche, Que.-native, whose 22 goals and 60 points not only saw him vault up draft rankings, but also helped him earn a spot on Team Canada at the IIHF U-18 World Championship.
ALEXANDER WENNBERG – C, 6’2”, 174 lbs. (Djurgarden, Sweden), #5 European skater
With skating and acceleration that rivals the more-heralded MacKinnon, Wennberg checks in as the fifth-ranked European skater by Central Scouting entering the draft. The hard-driving Swede is no doubt a powerful and graceful mover, but there’s more to his game than just an ideal motor.
Playing in Sweden’s second-tier professional league, Wennberg put up his fair share of points (14+18) while playing a fearless two-way style that projects extremely well to the smaller North American rinks. He doesn’t throw the big hit, but his grit and determination are somewhat underrated, and his mature defensive mind matches his sharp playmaking intellect.
There’s no telling where Wennberg will end up, but you can bet there is a team just outside of the top-10 waiting to pounce on the developing talent.
THE THREE BEST FITS FOR BUFFALO?
With the Sabres holding a top-10 pick for just the third time in 25 years, it appears that any of the aforementioned would be a welcome addition to the Buffalo lineup. Here are the three that would make the most sense:
MacKinnon – The last player to grow up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, attend boarding school in Minnesota, and win a QMJHL championship in his draft year (Sidney Crosby) delivered a Stanley Cup victory before hitting the age of 21. If MacKinnon can do the same, he’d be an obvious fit for any team, right?
Lindholm – If past experience is worth anything, it should be noted that Lindholm has familiarity with Larsson from their time in Brynas, offering the Sabres some added chemistry to blend in with the player that shined with Zemgus Girgensons down the stretch in Rochester.
Nichushkin – The Sabres boast an abundance of centermen under the age of 25, leaving the opportunity open to pair Nichushkin’s big frame and power game with fellow Russian, Mikhail Grigorenko.