While the 2013 playoffs may be the focus of the hockey community right now, the conversation will soon shift to the 51st NHL draft on June 30th at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Some of the biggest names in minor-league hockey will be on display during this draft, and franchises will be looking to lay the groundwork of a Stanley Cup winning team at this event.
With so much on the line during the draft, the excitement around where every first-round team will go with their selections is the talk of the sports world. Here’s how the entire first round shakes out.
Highlighted players are italicized and all stats via NHL.com’s draft coverage.
1. Colorado Avalanche (16-25-7): Seth Jones, D, Portland (WHL)
There is just under two months left until the 2013 draft, but almost every hockey expert agrees that Portland defenseman Seth Jones will be the No. 1 overall pick, and for good reason.
Not only does Jones have the size, at 6’3” and 205 pounds—he is also one of the more underrated puck-handling defenders in this draft. With a few more years of developing, there is little doubt that Jones has the ability to be a star in the NHL.
As the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, the younger Jones will develop physically and mentally into the long-term solution on the blue line the Colorado Avalanche have been in need for over the last five years.
2. Florida Panthers (15-27-6): Jonathan Drouin, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
The biggest knock on Halifax left winger Jonathan Drouin is his size. At 5’10” and 185 pounds, there is some concern if he will be durable enough to be the center of defensive attention from whatever team the Florida Panthers are playing.
Knowing Drouin’s small stature, every team in the NHL will be sending their biggest defenders his way and wearing him down. Lucky for the Panthers, though, Drouin is already one of the toughest players in this draft and will make the transition smoothly.
Using his great hands, quick feet and accurate passing abilities, Drouin has the hockey I.Q. and ice vision to put himself into the elite category with the proper time to develop.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (18-26-4): Nathan MacKinnon, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
While the Tampa Bay Lightning should be looking for a defender at No. 3 overall, the talent of Halifax center Nathan MacKinnon is too extraordinary to pass on for a team still trying to find a long-term identity.
MacKinnon is a player that might be better suited as a right wing, but with all the potential to become a serious star in the NHL and RW Martin St. Louis getting older, the fit may be too perfect to pass on for Tampa Bay.
With the puck-handling skills, raw speed and quickness in his motions and elite ice vision to separate himself from the players around him, it’s just a matter of time before MacKinnon is a star.
4. Nashville Predators (16-23-9): Sean Monahan, C, Ottawa 67's (OHL)
While Ottawa 67's center Sean Monahan isn’t the sexiest pick at No. 4, his size (6’1” and 190 pounds and still growing), physical play and puck handling abilities fit right into the defense-first mindset of the Nashville Predators.
5. Carolina Hurricanes (19-25-4): Sasha Alexsander Barkov, C, Tappara Tampere (SM-liiga)
The Carolina Hurricanes are in desperate need of offensive depth, and when an elite playmaking prospect like Sasha Alexsander Barkov of the Finnish SM-liiga league falls to No. 5, this will be a no-brainer for the organization.
6. Calgary Flames (19-25-4): Rasmus Ristolainen, D, TPS Turku (SM-liiga)
After moving veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline, the Calgary Flames must find the long-term solution for the defense. Not only would Rasmus Ristolainen be the future of the franchise, he would step right into the NHL and make an impact after spending time in the Finnish SM-liiga league.
7. Edmonton Oilers (19-22-7): Nikita Zadorov, D, London (OHL)
The Edmonton Oilers desperately need defensive help, and after seeing the Flames take Ristolainen, the Oilers will jump on the next best defender on the board, London’s Nikita Zadorov. At 6’3” and 205 pounds, and with great hands and a physical presence, Edmonton will find its franchise defenseman.
8. Buffalo Sabres (21-21-6): Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
The Buffalo Sabres are moving into yet another rebuilding mode, but this time, the fact that the franchise has the ability to take a player like Dynamo Moscow right wing Valeri Nichushkin is a blessing. While it’s unclear if Nichushkin will immediately play in the NHL or not, the elite sniper is the best pure goal scorer in the 2013 class.
9. New Jersey Devils (19-19-10): Elias Lindholm, C, Brynas IF (SEL)
As most other big Swedish centers in the NHL that thrive on passing, the future is bright for Elias Lindholm if he finds himself on the New Jersey Devils. With Ilya Kovalchuk on the wing, the elite playmaking skills of Lindholm will make him an instant star in New Jersey.
10. Dallas Stars (22-22-4): Adam Erne, RW, Quebec (QMJHL)
The Dallas Stars have quite a few finesse stars on the roster, and it’s about time the team got a player that can push the tempo of the game and bring the pressure to the opposition. While right wing Adam Erne isn’t a huge winger (6’0” and 205 pounds), he plays fast and physical and is great at putting the puck in the net from almost anywhere in the offensive zone.
11. Philadelphia Flyers (23-22-3): Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The Philadelphia Flyers need major upgrades in the defensive zone, and while Sault Ste. Marie defender Darnell Nurse is long-term project, his raw skill and size (6’3” and 185 pounds) make him too valuable of a prospect to pass on at No. 11.
12. Phoenix Coyotes (21-18-9): Ryan Hartman, RW, Plymouth (OHL)
As much as Shane Down has meant to the Phoenix Coyotes organization during his career, the selection of a prospect as talented as Plymouth right wing Ryan Hartman is the smart move to make for the future of the organization.
13. Winnipeg Jets (24-21-3): Max Domi, C, London (OHL)
The Winnipeg Jets need to find playmakers that can drive the offensive play on their own and involve the rest of the talented players on the team. When undersized (5’9’ and 175 pounds) center Max Domi falls to No. 13, the Jets will have the sparkplug the franchise needs.
14. Columbus Blue Jackets (24-17-7): Ryan Pulock, D, Brandon (WHL)
The Columbus Blue Jackets need serious help across the roster, but the lack of depth at defense is too much too ignore. While defensive prospect Ryan Pulock is a rough project, he has the stick handling skills to be an elite offensive defenseman in the NHL with the right development.
15. New York Islanders (24-17-7): Josh Morrissey, D, Prince Albert (WHL)
The New York Islanders are proving once again, in their first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, that the team lacks elite defense. While Prince Albert defender Josh Morrissey has the talent to add in the offensive zone, it is his defensive prowess that should interest the Islanders the most.
16. Buffalo Sabres from Minnesota (21-21-6): Hunter Shinkaruk, LW, Medicine Hat (WHL)
My sleeper pick of the draft goes to the Buffalo Sabres at No. 16 with Medicine Hat left wing Hunter Shinkaruk. Not only does the forward prospect bring a consistent scoring acumen that has been missing from the roster, the ability to play physical and agitate while still being effective makes him elite. This is the type of player the Sabres have needed for years.
17. Detroit Red Wings (24-16-8): Tom Vanelli, D, US-Under-18 (USAH-NTDP)
The run on defenders earlier in this draft has thinned the crop by the time the Detroit Red Wings pick at No. 17, but the franchise is always thinking long-term with its picks anyway. With the future in mind, the Red Wings will take Minnesota’s Tom Vanelli and reap the rewards in a few seasons.
18. Ottawa Senators (25-17-6): Bo Horvat, C, London (OHL)
The Ottawa Senators will get the biggest steal of the draft when London center Bo Horvat falls victim to the defensive rush and lands in Ottawa. Horvat is not great at any one thing, but is so versatile in every facet of the game that he makes the teammates around him that much better.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets from NY Rangers (24-17-7): Alexander Wennberg, C, Djurgardens IF (SEL)
The Columbus Blue Jackets have three first-round picks, and after taking a strong defenseman with the team’s first selection, drafting a prospect with as much upside as Alexander Wennberg—who has played all three forward positions—is the smart second step in the rebuilding process.
20. San Jose Sharks (25-16-7): Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor (OHL)
The San Jose Sharks have always been criticized for their lack of grit at key times. While this postseason is proving that theory wrong, the addition of a physical presence like Windsor left wing Kerby Rychel, as the power forward the team desperately needs, is the smart move for the betterment of the team.
21. Toronto Maple Leafs (26-17-5): Mirco Müller, D, Everett (WHL)
Drafting defender Mirco Müller is a long-term investment for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but with the raw skill of the two-way defender and his size (6”2” and 176 pounds), this is the best fit for the future of the franchise.
22. Washington Capitals (27-18-3): Steve Santini, D, New York (EJHL)
The Washington Capitals have plenty of offensive talent on the roster, but the lack of elite defenders that can shut down the opposition’s best players is the franchise’s biggest issue. When defender Steve Santini falls to No. 22, the team will have the shut-down defenseman it was seeking.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets from Los Angeles (24-17-7): J.T. Compher, C, US-Under-18 (USAH-NTDP)
The final pick of the Blue Jackets first round must be a long-term player that doesn’t need to come right into the NHL. With plenty of skill already, the idea of Columbus taking Michigan center J.T. Compher and bringing him up to the main roster after developing at the college level is a smart investment.
24. Vancouver Canucks (26-15-7): Curtis Lazar, C, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Vancouver has been bullied over the last two seasons at the forward positions, and drafting Edmonton Oil Kings center Curtis Lazar would send a clear message that the Canucks will be adding toughness and grit anywhere possible.
25. Calgary Flames from St. Louis (19-25-4): Zach Fucale, G, Halifax (QMJHL)
Veteran Miikka Kiprusoff’s status is still unclear, but the Calgary Flames must look to the future for goalies. While the franchise has some depth at the position, a player as talented as Halifax’s Zach Fucale is a smart investment for a team seeking a franchise netminder.
26. Boston Bruins (28-14-6): Anthony Mantha, LW, Val-d'Or (QMJHL)
The Boston Bruins play a certain physical style that is not fitting of all the players in this draft, so finding the perfect prospect is tough. While on paper left wing Anthony Mantha may not be the best fit right now (lacks elite forechecking skills), the Bruins must make this investment and train the talented scoring winger.
27. Montreal Canadiens (29-14-5): Morgan Klimchuk, C, Regina (WHL)
The Montreal Canadiens need more grit and raw power on the team. While center Morgan Klimchuk doesn’t possess elite size, his ability to drive the offensive zone and put the puck in the net makes him one of the best pure snipers in the draft, and a perfect fit for Montreal.
28. Anaheim Ducks (30-12-6): Shea Theodore, D, Seattle (WHL)
The Anaheim Ducks have a strong defensive group, but lack the talent of an offensive defender that can take over the game and play the point consistently. If Seattle defender Shea Theodore falls into the Ducks’ lap at No. 28, the answer to their problems will be solved.
29. Calgary Flames from Pittsburgh (19-25-4): William Carrier, LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
The Calgary Flames should be looking for the best fundamental hockey players available. When a two-way forward, like left wing William Carrier, is available at No. 29, this is a long-term investment the franchise must make on draft day.
30. Chicago Blackhawks (36-7-5): Emile Poirier, LW, Gatineau (QMJHL)
The Chicago Blackhawks know how to build a franchise, and adding a gifted prospect like left wing Emile Poirier—who will fall in the draft because he needs time to grow into his body and into his game—is the perfect fit for the organization.