As the hockey almanac moves further away from the latest World Junior Championships and delves into the belated NHL season, the ongoing Seth Jones-Nathan MacKinnon draft derby is nudged further from the center of the radar. Yet, that does not technically mean it is going anywhere.
The presumptive top two picks in 2013 crossed paths again last week, less than a month after their U.S. and Canada teams met in the WJC. Jones captained Team Orr to a 3-0 blanking of MacKinnon’s Team Cherry―at the home of MacKinnon’s Halifax Mooseheads, no less―in the annual CHL Top Prospects Game.
Jones had the primary assist on the icebreaker and eventual game-winning goal and a plus-one rating in the Jan. 16 showcase. MacKinnon was held scoreless and brooked a minus-two rating.
Much like the WJC, this exhibition is a little more than nothing, but not necessarily the tell-all as to which prospects should rank above others. Even so―and not to let on too much prematurely―recent special events have served to do little more than embolden the posture of some of these aspiring draftees.
With their most up-to-date headlines in mind, here is where each of the top 20 draft prospects for this summer stand.
Erne is channeling any negative energy from missing out on gold with the U.S. in the best ways. The second-year member of the Quebec Remparts has reached 55 points in 45 games to precisely match his 64-game total from 2011-12.
Besides captaining the Modo junior team, which is never a bad item to put on a pre-draft resume, Hagg has also spent a portion of this season with his city's older squad. He has yet to impress after 14 games, but there is hardly any rush to get him NHL-ready.
The second-youngest American to participate in, let alone make, a noteworthy contribution at the World Juniors, Hartman has since resumed his first OHL season. He has most recently dazzled through a Plymouth Whalers homestand with a goal in each of five consecutive games, including a Jan. 12 hat trick.
If nearly season-long injuries last year did not stop Alex Galchenyuk and Morgan Rielly from going early in the first round, then a recent wrist ailment ought not to dock the Brandon Wheat Kings captain too far.
Especially considering the Wheat Kings' struggles, there has been little not to like about the two-way performance of Pulock.
Ristolainen’s performance with Team Finland drew mixed reviews.
Two NHL scouts in Goran Stubb and Janne Vuorinen singled him out as one of the top draft-eligible performers in the WJC. Conversely, CBC’s Elliotte Friedman quoted an anonymous scout as saying that Ristolainen “[w]asn’t sharp, didn't like to get hit and took rough penalties.”
One can give Ristolainen a similarly mixed evaluation of his season in his home country’s pro league, where he is one of the few teenaged defensemen making any substantive impact. Like aforementioned Hagg, he can go in the mid-to-late first round and then be given plenty of time to finish refining his game.
Granted, the slimming of the gap is owed heavily to the fact that Jonathan Drouin and MacKinnon missed a month of Quebec League action to train and skate with Team Canada. But Zykov deserves a degree of credit for, prior to Wednesday’s action, trailing the two Mooseheads by two and four points, respectively, on the league list of players yet to turn 18.
As it happens, Zykov’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar immediately trail the Mooseheads for first in the overall standings. Nobody on the team trails Zykov in the production department with 29 goals and 56 points.
Through eight games this January, Zykov is on a career-high eight-game scoring streak, which simply means he has never been hotter-handed.
Apart from maybe adding a little more size―he is presently listed at 192 pounds―Nurse has little left on his checklist in terms of impressing prospective NHL employers. Going at or near the 10th overall pick and refining his frame and his game for one more year in Sault Ste. Marie before stepping in to start 2014-15 is a realistic two-year plan.
There is virtually every reason to believe that the Knights’ sustained regal posture in the OHL is more a product of Domi’s skill set and output than the other way around. Or, at least, that is enough of the case to verify Domi as an upper-echelon first-round candidate.
He sat out the Prospects Game with the flu and was one of the last candidates released from the ultracompetitive tryout for a spot on Canada’s WJC team. But outside of one poor outing against the Kootenay Ice and back-to-back losses in which his Medicine Hat Tigers were shut out, Shinkaruk is continuing to impress in the Western League this January.
Zadorov was omitted from Russia’s roster in the WJC, but made the most of an opportunity to flex his muscles in the Prospects Game.
While hardly the most productive blueliner, Zadorov easily leads the league-leading London team with a plus-31 rating, one of the few readily available means of measuring an amateur defenseman’s efficiency.
The fact that he has that swollen a rating despite scoring a mere 16 points through 41 games played can only mean he is using his 6’5", 228-pound frame to help anchor one of the OHL’s stingiest defensive brigades.
Most nights when he has finished in the red, of which there have been only seven, have not so coincidentally been London losses, of which there have only been eight in regulation. That speaks to how dependable Zadorov can be in his day job if he smoothly translates his major-junior self to the pros.
Comparisons to countryman Peter Forsberg have hardly diminished Lindholm’s drive to improve and tackle the task at hand. His World Junior coach, Roger Ronnberg, indicated as much in an interview with Sunaya Sapurji of Yahoo! Sports more than a week after the tournament.
“He sets the standard for the rest of the team,” Ronnberg told Sapurji, adding, “he has the most important combination and that is both the will to compete hard and the smarts to be a really good player.”
Playing in the top league of his native Sweden, Lindholm’s production surpasses all other players under the age of 20. He is even more dominant among those under the age of 19, being the only skater out of handfuls to see regular ice time in that league who has also broken double digits, let alone 20, in the point column.
With 51 points, he enters Wednesday night’s league action tied with Andreas Athanasiou for fourth on the scoring leaderboard among those under the age of 19. He is the seventh-most productive among undrafted OHLers.
Monahan’s output also underscores decent balances between playmaking and finishing and between even-strength and special teams scoring. Through 37 games, he had tallied a 9-17-26 transcript on the power play, while his other 24 points at even strength are more than what all but six other 67s have collected in any situation this season.
The 6’4", 196-pound Nichushkin brought a tad too much brawn to the WJC preliminary round when he was suspended one game for a hit from behind on Canada’s Tyler Wotherspoon. In addition, on a talent-laden Russian 20-and-under team, the 17-year-old was inevitably eclipsed by current NHL rookies Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko.
But he also brought an element of clutch aptitude to the bronze-medal game, clinching the hardware with an overtime goal. Outside of the IIHF, with three teams in three leagues, he has charged up a 12-8-20 scoring transcript in 32 games played this season.
Assuming he can learn to tame his physical game while still getting the most out of his size, Nichushkin ought to emerge as another Grigorenko.
With a four-point performance at the World Juniors, contrasted with the one point by his Halifax teammate MacKinnon, Drouin verified his independence as a producer. He shared a hand in two tournament goals with Ryan Strome and another with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but none with his heralded Mooseheads linemate.
Since returning to his normal life in the Quebec League, Drouin has doubled a carry-over production streak from five to 10 games this month. With that, he is now averaging precisely two points per night on the year with 58 in 29 games played for the Mooseheads.
After leading all under-18 players with seven points in the WJC, Barkov went back to keeping up with the grown men of the SM-Liiga. His 35 points in 38 games have him among the top 10 scorers overall, second among players under the age of 24 and the best among those who have yet to turn 20, let alone 18 or 19.
With this much consistency amid different changes of pace and different challenges from more seasoned and celestial groups, Barkov is only growing more difficult to dethrone as the best draft-eligible European.
The further he goes in his final year of hype before entering the draft, the more MacKinnon makes it clear that he is a rung or two below Sidney Crosby, but still appreciably talented and accomplished.
Unlike his fellow Nova Scotian, who went from Shattuck-St. Mary’s to the Quebec League to a first overall selection that surprised no one, MacKinnon is not nearly as dominant in the major-junior ranks. He also had an uneventful WJC, although that was partially a product of older, locked-out, NHL-caliber talent competing for Canada.
But aside from that and his poor showing in the Top Prospects Game, MacKinnon is a gratifyingly consistent scoring pilot for the Mooseheads. In five QMJHL games this calendar month, he has doggedly responded to his lesser days with a four-game goal-getting streak and by averaging exactly two points per night in that span.
No one needs to expect MacKinnon to hit the ice sprinting and start carrying a given NHL team without fail next fall. They just need a player with his skill set and competition level to transfer that from Halifax to their franchise and be ready for a rigorous acclimation.
Even before the WJC, Jones was more advanced in his position as an all-around defenseman than MacKinnon was as a pure forward. The tournament performances of those two players only amplified that notion, and the contrast when they met again in the Top Prospects Game was all but the cherry on that sundae.
He has hit a slump in the past week, enduring a cumulative minus-six in his last three games with the Portland Winterhawks, but that is likely the result of fatigue brought on by his various travels to Ufa and Halifax.
In both of those excursions, between his gold-medal triumph with the Americans and his 3-0 victory with Team Orr, he has done everything to sustain, if not embolden his reputation as an adept big-gamer.
Once again, there are still five months to go, but Jones is steadily sustaining his case to go first overall this summer.