The 2013 NHL draft is next up now that the combine has come and gone. Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon were the centers of attention despite not taking part in any of the physical fitness portions of the combine.
The trio are widely considered the top three players available in the upcoming draft that will take place in Newark, New Jersey on June 30. The quick-climbing duo of Aleksander Barkov or Valeri Nichushkin may have performed well enough through the last half of the season to break up the "big three," however.
All but the final four selections of the draft are locked in now, with the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins still playing for the right to lift the Stanley Cup.
Biggest Strengths: There isn't a more dynamic forward available in the draft this year. Nathan MacKinnon does everything well, but what really sets him apart from his peers is his skating. His first few strides are remarkably quick, and even top-end defenders like Seth Jones aren't quite sure how to handle the center.
Projected Role: MacKinnon is without a doubt evolving into a top-line center—the kind of player that you build teams around. When presented with "talent versus talent" situations, he's shown a penchant for stepping up his game. There's also a bit of a chip on his shoulder at this point that wasn't necessarily showing through at this time last year.
Why He's the Pick: The flip-flopping of Jones and MacKinnon has more to do with the regime change in Colorado than it does with the forward having shredded the defender at every turn during Memorial Cup play. There is suddenly a touch of risk associated with Jones. The fear is that he'll "flop" and turn out to be another Erik Johnson.
No one is worried that MacKinnon will be the next Pavel Brendl.
Biggest Strengths: When checking off traits that make up a dream defender, there are a few that are bound to come up. Big, quick, smart. Makes a solid first pass. Keeps the offense to the outside with his stick work. Seth Jones possesses all these talents and skills, making him an outstanding defensive specimen.
Projected Role: The "slide" to No. 2 doesn't change the fact that Jones is the kind of defender that can anchor a unit for a decade-plus once he's on the right side of 20. His slap shot will make him a threat on the power play, and his smarts will all but guarantee he ends up playing at least 30 minutes a game and in all situations.
Why He's the Pick: This is a win-win situation for the Florida Panthers. They'll take either Jones or Nathan MacKinnion at this spot. Florida (like all teams selecting in the top 10 or so) could use an elite forward or defenseman. In this scenario, they end up with the latter. Watching Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski mentor this kid would be fun.
Biggest Strengths: There's slick, and then there's what Jonathan Drouin is capable of. He dazzles with the puck on his stick, ragging and toe-dragging until there's a scoring opportunity for someone, somewhere. He's as quick and agile as teenagers come and possesses a tricky wrister to boot.
Projected Role: The third of the franchise-caliber players sitting atop the 2013 draft, Drouin is an electric winger that projects as a top-line scoring threat once he bulks up a touch. He's listed at 5'10'', 176 pounds. Tacking on some muscle will be essential before he makes it to the NHL, but the talent is there.
Why He's the Pick: Steven Stamkos and Drouin for the next 10 years. Sound good, Tampa? Also, the chance to have Martin St. Louis tutor him on the ins and outs of being a smallish forward in the NHL would be invaluable to his development.
Biggest Strengths: Aleksander Barkov is outstanding for several reasons. What impresses scouts the most, though, is his composure with the puck despite high levels of pressure. He's been playing against full-sized professional players for two years now, putting up 64 points in 85 games in the SM-liiga as a teenager.
Projected Role: Barkov drips intangibles and smarts. He's an outstanding playmaker, but he knows when to rein it in and play defensive hockey as well. Roll this together and there's a top-line center here waiting to be snatched up at the No. 4 pick by the Nashville Predators.
Why He's the Pick: The Preds are looking to stock up on young talent after their goal-scoring well went totally dry in 2013, costing them a spot in the playoffs. They traded for Filip Forsberg at the deadline, and adding Barkov gives them a second remarkably talented center to work with.
When's the last time Nashville had two lights-out centermen on its roster? Exactly.
Biggest Strengths: At this juncture, Valeri Nichushkin's biggest strength may be that the team that drafts him won't have to wait two years for him to hit the ice wearing their colors. This is a remarkably talented forward that has the skills needed to possibly evolve into the best player taken in this draft. He's not undersized in the slightest, already weighing in at close to 200 pounds while standing at 6'4''. Roll some fancy footwork and a slick stick into that package, and this is a dangerous player.
Projected Role: Anything less than a top-six role for this uber-talented Russian would be considered a letdown. The hands and vision are there for him to be a top-line guy depending on how things shake out in Carolina.
Why He's the Pick: There are some safer picks for the 'Canes here, but they have the depth necessary to take a bit of a chance on this mysterious European player. When Nichushkin is on his game, he's every bit as good as Nathan MacKinnon; he just needs to find consistency once he arrives in the NHL.
Biggest Strengths: Elias Lindholm is the total package when it comes to a Swedish-born (and trained) players. He skates well, has an above-average hockey IQ and knows when to put the throttle down in the offensive zone. He has a knack for backchecking as well.
Projected Role: The smarts are there for Lindholm to be a top center for the Calgary Flames. The competition isn't really all that stiff, so he'd be given every chance to cement his spot on the top line alongside the likes of Sven Baertschi.
Why He's the Pick: The Flames have officially started their rebuild and need to take solid, talented players that aren't boom-or-bust types with all three first-round picks. Lindholm is as close to a can't-miss top-six forward as you'll find at No. 6, and he's the best pick for a team looking to flood the system with talent.
Biggest Strengths: Behind Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse is the highest-ranked defender available in this draft, and with good reason. This kid is a bull and it's clear he thrives on physical play. Nurse wants to be tough to play against, leaning and chopping and forcing forwards to make bad choices with the puck after eating a few nasty body checks.
Projected Role: Nurse hasn't locked himself into being either a defensive or offensive specialist. He's well-suited to play both sides of the puck and could work as a top-four defender. The skill is there for him to be a top-pairing guy, but the odds are good that he won't end up as a depth blueliner.
Why He's the Pick: The Edmonton Oilers could very well take a center at No. 7, but Nurse may be too good to pass on. He's one of the top North American players available in the draft and is the best defender behind Jones. This selection would lock down Edmonton's blue line for a long time while also giving them some much-needed snarl on the back end.
Biggest Strengths: No one is going to get Sean Monahan confused with Nathan MacKinnon when it comes to offense, but the former possesses one of the more refined two-way games available in 2013. Monahan plays a simple north-south game and won't dazzle you with his hands, instead always making the high-percentage plays in the offensive zone.
Projected Role: Monahan has the skill set needed to evolve into a No. 2 center at the NHL level. Teams with less depth could try to shoehorn him into a top-line role, but he'd be much more comfortable playing his 200-foot game on a second line.
Why He's the Pick: The Buffalo Sabres are already loaded with young centers, so why select another one in Monahan? He's the most steady pick available here while also arguably being the best player available. The cool thing about centers is that they typically have an easier time sliding to wing than vice-versa. He's also a late '94 birthday, which gives him an extra year of development; he will be NHL-ready quicker than nearly anyone else available in the first round.
Biggest Strengths: Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin are considered the top offensive players available in this draft. Hanging out just below them is Hunter Shinkaruk, who has a comparable skill set. His hockey IQ is off the charts, and he possesses a great shot along with a keen scoring ability.
Projected Role: Shinkaruk is as fleet-footed as they come. Pair that with his phenomenal shot, and this is a top-line player in the making.
Why He's the Pick: Shinkaruk's lack of physicality may concern some, but there's just too much raw talent and finish here to pass up. He's an outstanding selection at this stage of the draft—digging out a top-line player at No. 9 can be a bit tougher than grabbing one at No. 2. Shinkaruk is the skilled forward that the Devils will be looking for in this draft, and if he's available here, they'll grab him.
Biggest Strengths: Another low-flash, high-output forward, Frederik Gauthier plays an outstanding game in all three zones. He always seems to be around the puck, making simple and high-percentage plays throughout the rink. He shows small flashes of brilliance in the offensive zone from time to time, which makes him a special player.
Projected Role: Gauthier, at worst, will be an above-average third-line center. He projects cleanly as a second-line guy, though. He can play wing or center, and his game lends itself to any role that the Dallas Stars could give him. The skill is top-six worthy, and the hustle is valued on any line.
Why He's the Pick: This is the kind of player that can pick you up and get you going when the skill guys aren't bringing enough Kool-Aid during their shifts. He can hit, set up plays and has that intangible ability to make things happen that gets his bench excited and rolling again.
Biggest Strengths: Rasmus Ristolainen wants the opposition thinking about him long after the last few seconds have ticked off the clock and the game is over. This bruising—no, punishing—defender hits hard, and he hits to hurt people. He's not a dirty player and doesn't throw elbows like a moron. He's just got a knack for lighting players up and keeping them down.
Projected Role: There isn't an aspect of the defensive game that Ristolainen doesn't do well. He plays big minutes through all situations. While he is certainly a specialist in his own zone, there's a great shot available here as well.
Why He's the Pick: If the "biggest strengths" doesn't sell you on Ristolainen as a Philadelphia Flyer, then you must be a new fan. In which case, welcome, and know that this defender was born to wear orange and black.
Biggest Strengths: The young center models his game after Ryan Getzlaf, and while Curtis Lazar doesn't necessarily have that kind of offensive upside, there is little question that he possesses many of the same intangibles as the Anaheim captain. He brings fire to every shift, is always hustling and plays hard in all three zones.
Projected Role: Regardless of where Lazar slots in, he has the intangibles that teams love to have around. He'll be a leader from whatever line he plays on, whether that's as a second-line center or a third-line checking forward.
Why He's the Pick: The Phoenix Coyotes thrive when they have players sporting this kind of do-or-die attitude in the lineup. Lazar would be right at home in the desert because of his attitude and drive to win hockey games at all costs. The 'Yotes won't ever be a cap team chock full of All-Stars, but they will outwork you. That's Lazar's M.O.
Biggest Strengths: Anthony Mantha is the kind of power forward that teams drool over at this stage of the draft. He's already 6'3'', 200 pounds and frequently skates to the dirty areas to score goals. Mantha was the QMJHL's leading goal scorer, showing that his particular combination of skill and size is quite effective.
Projected Role: Odds are good that Mantha finds his way into a top-six role sooner or later. Power forwards can take as long as defenders to develop their games at the NHL level, so the Winnipeg Jets would need to be a bit patient with him.
Why He's the Pick: The size/skill package is too outstanding to leave on the board. Mantha isn't as surefire as some of the forwards that will go before him, but the talent is off the charts and the NHL-ready size is a plus. Welcome to Winnipeg, kid.
Biggest Strengths: In a thinner draft, Ryan Pulock would be receiving attention as a possible top-10 pick. His shot is ridiculous. When you watch him play, that's likely the first thing you'll notice. Yet there are layers to his offensive prowess, as Pulock is almost as adept at skating the puck up ice as he is in hitting streaking forwards with breakout passes.
Projected Role: Pulock will be a power-play specialist while holding down a top-four role wherever he ends up. His skating and shot could allow him to evolve into the offensive half of a top pairing.
Why He's the Pick: The Columbus Blue Jackets have defenders coming out of their ears at this point, but at No. 14, there isn't a forward worth passing over Pulock for. He's a steal at this stage of the draft, and if he's here, there's little reason for him not to become the next Blue Jacket.
Biggest Strengths: Some onlookers get a little gun-shy when it comes to mildly undersized European-born players. Had Valentin Zykov not scored 40 goals during his first season in North America, then those fears would be warranted. Putting up numbers like that in the QMJHL should alleviate concerns about his game not translating to the NHL level.
Projected Role: There's a lot to like about this player. He doesn't have the electric goal scorer's touch needed to be a major offensive contributor in the NHL, but his particular combination of an elusive shot and slick speed will allow him to be dangerous on whatever line he ends up playing on.
Why He's the Pick: The New York Islanders like their forwards to have a ton of foot speed, and Zykov has that in spades. He's shifty in traffic and has a quick and deceptive release. Zykov is a rock-solid mid first-round selection for Garth Snow and Co.
Biggest Strengths: Towering at 6'5'' and weighing in at 228 pounds already, this 18-year-old monster already has NHL-ready size and strength. Nikita Zadorov is one of the most interesting prospects available due to his size and solid play in his own zone.
Projected Role: Shutdown defender that the top forwards on the other team dread playing against. He leans and hits and throws checks like his size would imply, but he also has a sound stick and skates well for a man his size.
Why He's the Pick: The Buffalo Sabres have been accused of lacking grit over the last few years. Zadorov is the kind of presence that can turn the tides of games with his size and overt physicality, giving Buffalo toughness on the back end and a solid piece to build around on the blue line.
Biggest Strengths: Put Max Domi's skills into the hands of a 6'2'', 200-pound forward and you have a top-five prospect. Instead, Domi checks in at 5'10" and weighs 184 pounds—soaking wet with his skates on. Still, the outlandish gob of talent here is undeniable.
Projected Role: If he can overcome his diminutive stature, then Domi's ceiling is high. He doesn't have the size needed to really be effective in a checking role, so it's top-six scoring threat or bust.
Why He's the Pick: The Ottawa Senators have one of the better young cores in the NHL and can afford to take a shot on Domi with the No. 17 pick. There are safer guys still on the board here, but none of them bring the electric style of play that Tie Domi's son does. The Sens also have the depth down the middle to move Domi to the wing, where his game could work out better at the NHL level.
Biggest Strengths: Alexander Wennberg has an uncanny knack of molding his game on the fly to mesh well with his teammates. He proved at the 2013 WJC tourney that when you surround him with high-caliber offensive talent, he comes out of his shell creatively, using the skilled players around him to create chances in the offensive zone.
Projected Role: Wennberg's offensive ceiling isn't incredibly high, but he's already a sound scoring threat, so that isn't a concern. He has the chops around the net to hang in a top-six role, but also possesses the defensive awareness needed to play on a checking line.
Why He's the Pick: The Detroit Red Wings have a tendency to select the best player available, and at No. 18, Wennberg is likely that guy. He plays a Detroit type of game already and has the 200-foot awareness that the Wings look for in their younger players.
Biggest Strengths: Smooth-skating, offensive-minded defenders are always in high demand at the NHL level, and that's exactly what Mirco Mueller brings to the table. He's slick with the puck and knows how to skate it out of trouble. He also doesn't typically turn it over and usually makes the right choices with the puck.
Projected Role: On another team, Mueller might pan out to be a second- or third-pairing player, but his history with Ryan Murray could change that if he ends up with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Before Murray was selected No. 2 overall last season, he was skating on a pairing with Mueller, as he did while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Why He's the Pick: The chemistry between Mueller and Murray is obvious, and it's not often that NHL teams have the chance to unite players that were effective in juniors together in the big leagues. The interesting possibility might be too good to pass up for the Jackets.
Biggest Strengths: Adam Erne is a big, strong forward that likes to drive to the net to create scoring chances. He's not your typical power forward, though, in that he has a high hockey IQ and also can use his body to make space for teammates. That scouting report should sound familiar to fans of the San Jose Sharks.
Projected Role: Erne has a wide variety of skills and things that he does well. He could eventually be right at home in a top-six scoring role. If Erne doesn't pan out to that degree, he projects cleanly as an above-average third-liner that can score timely goals while defending well.
Why He's the Pick: There have been some questions about Erne's attitude and commitment to the game. It may scare off teams higher up in the first round, but the Sharks can manage a little bit of risk at No. 20. Erne is a prototypical Shark through and through. You can teach NHL-caliber attitude. You can't teach NHL-caliber scoring skills.
Biggest Strengths: Jason Dickinson is only a teenager, but he's already remarkably hard to knock off the puck. He's given kids his age fits with his size and strength, dragging the puck through traffic and shaking off checkers along the way. Not just a one-trick pony, Dickinson also has above-average hockey smarts and a nice finishing touch to boot.
Projected Role: The sky is the limit for this power forward in the making. Dickinson is the kind of quality player that teams hope fall to them in the back third of the draft, and the Maple Leafs could have a solid top-six forward in him.
Why He's the Pick: Toronto's struggles down the middle of the ice are well-documented. The Leafs have been without a true No. 1 center for a long while now, and Dickinson could be the answer to that problem. Even if he doesn't pan out that well, he has the skill and size needed to be a solid contributor at the NHL level for years to come. Safe-ish home run picks are pretty rare to find at the draft.
Biggest Strengths: Robert Hagg is already a tremendous power-play quarterback and is loaded with offensive skills. His vision is superb, his shot is great and he can dazzle you with his skating. Hagg isn't just an offensive specialist, though, as he has other dimensions to his game that allow him to kill penalties and defend leads as well.
Projected Role: If he doesn't hit any bumps in his development, Hagg projects as a solid top-four NHL defender and a power-play QB.
Why He's the Pick: The Calgary Flames desperately need to flood their farm system with talent. Adding a forward like Elias Lindholm early and an awesome blueliner like Hagg late would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. This is about as strong of a defenseman as you'll find this late in the draft, and Hagg could turn out to be quite the steal.
Biggest Strengths: There arguably isn't a better two-way player available in this draft. Bo Horvat isn't going to bring anyone out of their seats with his offensive ability, but his hustle and 200-foot game are outstanding for a teenager. Horvat has a high concentration of general puck awareness and always seems to know what to do with it on his stick.
Projected Role: Horvat possesses a scoring touch to go with his defensive acumen, but he'd likely be much more suited for a No. 3 center spot while anchoring a penalty-killing unit.
Why He's the Pick: The Capitals traded away their top center prospect in Filip Forsberg and need to replace that depth. While Horvat isn't nearly as talented as Forsberg, he does bring a lot of grit and determination to the ice every night—qualities that the Caps appear to lack at times.
Biggest Strengths: This is a mean and talented forward that likes to hit about as much as he likes to score. Kerby Rychel is the kind of player that can make an impact on a game even when he isn't scoring goals due to his love of the rough stuff.
Projected Role: If the scoring continues to come along, then Rychel could be a solid second-line option. His game is much more likely to land him a spot as a bottom-six player, utilizing his speed and aggression to cause turnovers. He also has enough finish to really pull a third line together.
Why He's the Pick: Frankly, the Vancouver Canucks don't have enough grit to go around in their current group of forward prospects. Rychel isn't NHL-ready, but once he arrives, he has the skill set to be a difference-maker as a physical player for the talented 'Nucks.
Biggest Strengths: Ian McCoshen already has the size needed to be an NHL defender. He stands at 6'3'' and weighs in at 207 pounds, and he knows how to use that size to his advantage. It's crazy to think that he'll only be 17 years old when drafted.
Projected Role: While still a few years away from arriving in the NHL, McCoshen has a heavy shot to go along with his sizable frame. He'll garner some consideration for power-play time and could end up as the defensive half of a first or second pairing.
Why He's the Pick: The Montreal Canadiens have plenty of speed and offensive capability on their blue line. McCoshen would give them a strong-arm option and make the Habs tougher to play against as well.
Biggest Strengths: J.T. Compher loves to have the puck on his stick and he doesn't tend to give it up until he's created some room for an open teammate. His passes are outstanding, as is his vision. Compher also has a deceptive release, making him a genuinely dangerous player every time he enters the slot.
Projected Role: Compher played all over the place for the United States in the WJC tourney, showing off his versatility. He isn't likely to bloom into a top-line scoring threat, but the kid has the tools needed to be a solid second- or third-line player in the NHL.
Why He's the Pick: While he doesn't play the overt physical game that the Anaheim Ducks like, his puck possession skills and vision make him a good match for the power-forward types that already abound in the organization.
Biggest Strengths: The creativity is strong in this one. Andre Burakovsky is as slick as any other forward available at this stage of the draft, bringing plenty of puck skill and finish to the table. He's a touch undersized, but he has enough talent to make up for that.
Projected Role: Top six or bust, in all reality. Burakovsky has incredible amounts of speed, his acceleration is top-notch and he knows how to finish in traffic. That said, these skills don't translate well on a checking line.
Why He's the Pick: This is a late home run selection for the Jackets, who will have picked safe guys with their first two selections. If a player like Bo Horvat is still floating around this late, Columbus could elect to go with the safer selection. But this is a tantalizing amount of skill worth taking a shot on at No. 27.
Biggest Strengths: Samuel Morin is an interesting and raw ball of size and skill. Standing at 6'6'', he clearly has NHL-ready size. While he hasn't always played to that strength, lately he's become relatively mean and not so fun to play against. Morin also has a great shot from the point and has a respectable motor for a kid his size.
Projected Role: Morin already plays piles and piles of minutes—typical of these big defender types—and is in outstanding shape. He has the offensive-zone prowess to be a mildly effective defenseman in that zone, but his bread and butter is in his own end. There are worse things than having a 6'6'' guy holding down a spot on a second or third pairing.
Why He's the Pick: The Dallas Stars have shown a penchant for drafting large defenders over the last few years, and Morin falls under that umbrella. He's strong enough in his own zone to not be considered a "risky project" pick and projects as a solid NHL-caliber defender. Not bad for a No. 28 selection.
Biggest Strengths: Like Max Domi, the 5'9'' frame might scare some teams off. But 120 points through 71 games with the Portland Winterhawks should go a long way toward alleviating those concerns. Nicolas Petan has a ton of talent and isn't afraid of the rough areas like some smallish forwards.
Projected Role: If Petan can figure out how to translate his skill game to the NHL, he could very well be a top-six forward in the NHL. The Calgary Flames could elect to use him as a winger where his size wouldn't be quite as much of a factor.
Why He's the Pick: It's rare to be able to add a talented forward of this caliber this late in the first round. As stated previously, Calgary's goal in this draft should be to flood its farm system with as much talent as possible. The Flames won't find a more talented forward than Petan at this point.
Biggest Strengths: Joshua Morrissey's skating skills are elite. He's quick and knows how to use his wheels to get the puck out of trouble and down the ice in a hurry. He wasn't projected as a top-round guy early in the year because of his lack of defensive play, but Morrissey has worked hard to shore up that area of his game.
Projected Role: The Chicago Blackhawks don't need a top-four guy here. Morrissey could evolve into one, but this is an outstanding option for a bottom-three guy moving forward. He also has power-play specialist written all over him because of his great speed and solid shot.
Why He's the Pick: The 'Hawks are in the enviable position of being the only conference finalist that held onto its first-round selection. Adding Morrissey would give them another talented player for the farm.