The 2013 NHL draft could be one of the most exciting events of the year if the lockout wipes out the entire 2012-13 season.
After several months of watching the top players in the 2013 class, we are starting to see which prospects are establishing themselves as first-round picks.
Let's look at who each team should select with their first-round pick.
Notes: Draft order determined by my predicted 2012-13 season finish. Columbus' second first-round pick (No. 27) is from the Los Angeles Kings because of the Jeff Carter trade last season. Columbus' third first-round pick (No. 28) is from the New York Rangers because of the Rick Nash trade over the summer.
1) Columbus Blue Jackets: Nathan MacKinnon, Center, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Nathan MacKinnon might not be the best prospect in this class (it could easily be Seth Jones), but the Blue Jackets desperately need a No. 1 center.
MacKinnon has the potential to be an elite goal scorer and playmaker, which are two things that Columbus lacks on its top line.
Seth Jones is a great talent, but after drafting defenseman Ryan Murray with the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft, the Blue Jackets need a forward, and preferably a center with this selection.
Through 30 games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season, MacKinnon has scored 22 goals with 30 assists.
2) New York Islanders: Seth Jones, Defenseman, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
After taking Griffin Reinhart with the No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft, expect the Islanders to bolster their defensive depth even more with the selection of Seth Jones.
The American defenseman is an amazing talent and could be among the best offensive defensemen in the NHL very soon.
Jones has scored eight goals with 20 assists in 31 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.
Reinhart and Jones would be an awesome NHL defensive pairing that would greatly improve the team's blue-line depth and talent. The Islanders cannot pass on Jones if he's available.
3) Anaheim Ducks: Aleksander Barkov, Center, Tappara (Finland)
Aleksander Barkov is an offensive star for SM-liiga team Tappara in Finland who happens to be a goal-scoring center with size and incredible skill.
His improvement this season has been impressive, as the chart below explains:
Since it's possible that the Ducks could lose top-line center Ryan Getzlaf in free agency, and second-line center Saku Koivu to retirement next summer, finding another top-six center in the draft must be a top priority.
4) Florida Panthers: Jonathan Drouin, Center, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon have been spectacular this season for the Halifax Mooseheads, and since the Florida Panthers need a No. 1 center for the future, Drouin should be their selection.
Drouin's goal scoring has really developed this season. He has scored almost three times as many goals as he did last season in nine fewer games.
Expect Drouin to play a major role in Team Canada's success at the 2013 World Junior Championships in Russia later this month.
5) Calgary Flames: Sean Monahan, Center, Ottawa 67's (OHL)
The Flames surprised some people with the selection of Mark Jankowski in the first round of last year's draft, but this pick won't be a surprise.
Sean Monahan is the clear choice for Calgary, as he has the ability to be a No. 1 center and form a great partnership with top Flames prospect Sven Baertschi
Monahan is a complete offensive player with good hands and impressive speed. He also has a physical element to his game, which is something the Flames need from their top-six forward group.
6) Montreal Canadiens: Rasmus Ristolainen, Defenseman, TPS Turku (Finland)
Passing on talented center Elias Lindholm would be tough for the Canadiens, but after they selected Sarnia Sting center Alex Galchenyuk in the 2012 draft, taking a defenseman should be Montreal's plan.
Rasmus Ristolainen is arguably the best defensive prospect after Jones. He is a puck-moving defenseman who also impacts games with his physical play and toughness.
He would excel on the power play, especially next to P.K. Subban, and has an impressive two-way skill set.
7) New Jersey Devils: Elias Lindholm, Center, Brynas IF Gavle (Sweden)
Elias Lindholm would be a great future replacement for Zach Parise because he can score goals and excel defensively.
His two-way game is fantastic, and his goal-scoring ability continues to improve. He has scored six goals with 15 assists in 32 games for Swedish team Brynas IF Gavle of the SEL.
Lindholm's hockey intelligence and vision on the ice is spectacular for a player of his age, and he projects to be a top-line player in the NHL for a long time.
8) Edmonton Oilers: Nikita Zadorov, Defenseman, London Knights (OHL)
After taking several forwards with their high draft picks over the last few years, the Oilers need to bolster their blue line in the 2013 draft.
Nikita Zadorov is a very physical defenseman with great size (6'5", 228 pounds), and he also has a powerful slap shot from the point.
He's not an elite offensive talent, but he does move the puck well and is a smooth skater in all three zones. Zadorov would be a valuable addition to the Oilers organization.
9) Toronto Maple Leafs: Valeri Nichushkin, Center, Chelyabinsk (Russia)
Valeri Nichushkin is a gifted offensive center with impressive goal-scoring ability. He also has great speed and acceleration for someone who is 6'3" and weighs 195 pounds.
His defense is also impressive, and he's not afraid to use his size and strength to impact games all over the ice.
Nichushkin has amazing potential, but he's not as consistent as fans and coaches would like. As long as he keeps improving at both ends of the ice, he will be a top-10 pick.
We know the Maple Leafs need a No. 1 center, so Nichushkin should be a player that general manager Brian Burke considers drafting if he's available.
10) Dallas Stars: Hunter Shinkaruk, LW, Medicine Hat Tigers (OHL)
Hunter Shinkaruk is a playmaking winger who can also be relied on to score goals. He has scored 19 goals with 25 assists in 31 games for the Tigers, and he has become one of the top wingers in this class.
He's not the biggest player, but he does skate very well and has good speed.
The Dallas Stars need another top-tier center, and if Lindholm and Nichushkin are off the board, then Shinkaruk should be taken.
11) Colorado Avalanche: Ryan Pulock, Defenseman, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
The Avalanche did not have a first-round pick last year because of the Semyon Varlamov trade with the Washington Capitals, and in the second round, they selected a center.
This pick should be used on a defenseman, and Ryan Pulock of the Brandon Wheat Kings should be the pick.
There are a lot of quality defensemen being drafted from the WHL right now, and Pulock could be another NHL star from this league.
Pulock can give Colorado a consistent point producer on the blue line, which is something they need. He has scored 29 points (10 goals and 19 assists) in just 30 games this season.
12) Winnipeg Jets: Josh Morrissey, Defenseman, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
The Jets took a defenseman in last year's draft when they selected Jacob Trouba, but the team still needs more defensive depth.
Josh Morrissey of the Prince Albert Raiders is a strong defensive player who hits hard and has good awareness in his own end.
He's a physical player who would add some needed toughness to the Jets blue line.
13) Nashville Predators: Curtis Lazar, Center, Edmonton Oil Kings
It would be shocking if the Nashville Predators did not select a forward with their first-round pick this year after not having a first-round pick in 2012 because of the Paul Gaustad trade.
Lazar is a physical center who also has impressive offensive potential. With a great season for the Oil Kings, Lazar could establish himself as a certain top-10 pick.
He has scored 14 goals with 10 assists in 31 games for Edmonton this season.
14) Carolina Hurricanes: Robert Hagg, Defenseman, Modo (Sweden)
The Carolina Hurricanes have some good young defensemen who should become NHL regulars over the next year, but it's still an area that needs to be addressed in this draft.
The Hurricanes need a physical defenseman who can defend well in his own end and impact the game with his size and skill.
Robert Hagg would strengthen several areas of the Carolina blue line that need to improve.
15) Tampa Bay Lightning: Adam Erne, Right Wing, Quebec Ramparts (QMJHL)
The Lightning have enough center depth, so adding a few more wingers to their organization should be a priority in this draft.
Adam Erne is a high-skilled offensive player and a consistent goal scorer. He has scored 19 goals with 25 assists in 34 games for the Quebec Ramparts this season.
16) Phoenix Coyotes: Max Domi, Center, London Knights (OHL)
The Coyotes need a young center who isn't afraid to play a physical style of hockey and can score goals.
Max Domi of the London Knights, whose Dad is former NHL player Tie Domi, can score goals and create chances for his teammates.
His two-way game is already solid, and if he continues to improve, he could be a top-10 pick.
17) Ottawa Senators: Andre Burakovsky, Left Wing, Malmo (Sweden)
The Ottawa Senators will need more depth on the wings if Daniel Alfredsson and/or Jason Spezza leave some time in the next few years, but even if they don't, Andre Burakovsky should be their pick.
He is a highly skilled power forward with impressive strength and skating ability. He could become one of the top three wingers in this class in the last few weeks leading up to the draft.
18) Buffalo Sabres: Darnell Nurse, Defenseman, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
The Sabres drafted two centers in last year's draft and made two great choices. This year's pick should be Darnell Nurse, who is a defenseman for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Nurse has great size at 6'5", but he needs to get stronger to be a physical force in his own end. He is an impressive offensive player, however, and can move the puck well and bolster the power play.
19) Detroit Red Wings: Jason Dickinson, Center, Guelph Storm (OHL)
The Red Wings need a top-six center who can provide the team with consistent scoring and playmaking when veterans Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are no longer top-tier players or retire.
Jason Dickinson of the Guelph Storm is a skilled center with a good wrist shot and above-average speed. He has scored 12 goals with 17 assists in 34 games this season.
20) San Jose Sharks: Anthony Mantha, Left Wing, Val d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
Anthony Mantha is one of the best goal scorers in the QMJHL, and he could see his draft stock rise quite a bit if he continues to play well.
He has 50 points (28 goals and 22 assists) in just 34 games and would be a great addition to the Sharks lineup.
21) Minnesota Wild: Frederik Gauthier, Center, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Rimouski Oceanic center Frederik Gauthier is playing well in his rookie season in the QMJHL, as evidenced by his 13 goals and 21 assists in 30 games.
Even though top prospect Charlie Coyle could become a top-six center for the Wild in the near future, passing on a forward like Gauthier would be a mistake.
22) Washington Capitals: Keaton Thompson, Defenseman, USNDT
Keaton Thompson is a skilled passer who skates very well for a defenseman. He has the potential to be a quality two-way defenseman at the NHL level if he gets a little stronger. He's also an intelligent player who can be an important part of the power play.
The Capitals have plenty of young forwards already at the NHL level or ones that will be there soon. Washington's first-round pick in 2013 should be a defenseman.
23) Philadelphia Flyers: Zach Fucale, G, Halifax Mooseheads
If Ilya Bryzgalov struggles in a shortened 2012-13 season and isn't able to have a bounce-back year, the Philadelphia Flyers have to think about taking a goaltender in the first round.
Zach Fucale is the top goaltending prospect in this draft class and would be a good fit in Philadelphia. He has a 21-3-0-1 record this season and his save percentage and GAA have both improved from last year.
The problem for the Flyers is that Fucale might not be available after pick No. 20.
24) St. Louis Blues: Artturi Lehkonen, Right Wing, Kalpa (Finland)
Artturi Lehkonen is a Finnish winger who can score goals and has really good speed. He is very talented but has to get a bit stronger and play defense more consistently.
The Blues could certainly use another goal-scoring winger for the future since they don't have a lot of elite scorers in their prospect pool.
25) Chicago Blackhawks: JT Compher, Center, USNDT
JT Compher is a good two-way center with size, and he will likely play for the University of Michigan during the 2013-14 season.
Compher has battled injuries this season, and he will need to impress scouts quite a bit when he returns to improve his draft stock.
26) Pittsburgh Penguins: Kerby Rychel, Center, Windsor Spitfires
If Brandon Sutter doesn't play well as the Penguins' third-line center this season, and his development fails to go as planned, Pittsburgh should consider drafting Windsor Spitfires center Kerby Rychel.
Rychel is a complete offensive player and is an improving passer and playmaker. He also has solid hands and quick acceleration.
He has scored 19 goals with 13 assists in 35 games this season.
27) Columbus Blue Jackets: Anthony Duclair, Left Wing, Quebec Ramparts (QMJHL)
Duclair is one of many talented goal scorers from the QMJHL in this draft class, and he could possibly become the Blue Jackets' first-line left winger in the near future.
His vision and hockey intelligence are tremendous, but he still needs to work on his defensive play. Duclair has scored nine goals with 17 assists in 21 games this season for the Ramparts.
28) Columbus Blue Jackets: Morgan Klimchuk, Center, Regina Pats (WHL)
If the Blue Jackets pick Seth Jones, or don't take a center with their top pick, they should draft Morgan Klimchuk from the Regina Pats toward the end of the first round.
Klimchuk has scored 16 goals with 22 assists in 36 games for the Pats this season, and he would give Columbus the top-six playmaker it needs at center.
29) Boston Bruins: Madison Bowey, Defenseman, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
The Bruins don't have too many needs, and they have enough quality defensemen, but at this stage of the first round, you often see teams draft the best player available.
It's possible that veteran defenseman Andrew Ference may not be in Boston for the 2013-14 season if he doesn't re-sign before the summer, so there may be a spot for Bowey at the NHL level at some point in the future.
He has scored eight goals with eight assists in 34 games for the Rockets this season.
30) Vancouver Canucks: Steve Santini, Defenseman, USNDT
The Canucks would be wise to select a defenseman in the first round of this draft because there is no guarantee that Alexander Edler will re-sign in the summer, and veteran Kevin Bieksa will not be a top-tier bluelinert three to five years from now.
Santini is a physical player with good size (6'2", 205 pounds) and strength, and he would add some needed toughness to the Vancouver blue line.
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