There is no actual hockey played at the NHL Scouting Combine, but it is an important yet unheralded event where prospects are viewed by NHL scouts while undergoing physical and medical testing. Some new improvements to the event helped make it even more productive this year.
The results from that do not make much of an impact in overall player rankings, but it is a good way to hear some names and get familiar with these players who make up arguably the best draft class since 2003.
I will watch and read more on these prospects and release an updated ranking in the week before the draft, which will take place on June 30th. For the meantime, this one should give you a pretty good idea about the best talents in this draft class.
I chose to mix North American and European players and goalies instead of splitting them like the NHL Central Scouting staff does. You can find their final rankings here.
Remember, this is not a mock draft in any way, and these rankings do not indicate where I think a player may get drafted.
1. Seth Jones, D, Portland (WHL)
A great two-way defenseman, Jones really has it all. He's big and strong but skates and controls the puck extremely well. He plays smart and sound in his own zone while possessing good vision and some playmaking ability on the offensive side.
2. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
Drouin is a little undersized but has spectacular hands and puck skills, and he can create chances in ways that very few current NHL players can. His combination of hockey sense, quick hands and feet and a knack for flat out making plays is rare.
3. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
Drouin and MacKinnon absolutely dominated junior hockey together in Halifax, and it's difficult to separate the two and say which one helped the other more. MacKinnon is a phenomenal all-around player who is perhaps the strongest skater in this draft. His stock as a top-three pick was solidified when he won the MVP at the Memorial Cup and turned in a hat trick performance in the championship game.
4. Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Traktor (RUS)
A tall, powerful winger who is dangerous when he gets moving, Nichushkin is an intriguing prospect with the ceiling to develop into an elite power forward in the NHL. Teams may be scared off a bit by his transfer risk, however, because there is no guarantee yet (subscription required) that he will leave Russia right away and come to the NHL.
5. Aleksander Barkov, C, Tappara (FIN)
Barkov is an exceptional prospect who logged big minutes and was a near point-per-game player in SM-Liiga in Finland, which is rare for a young 17-year-old. He was Finland's best player at the World Junior Championship this winter. He is skilled enough to control a game in any situation: offensively, defensively or on the power play.
6. Elias Lindholm, C, Brynas (SWE)
Lindholm is a talented forward who excelled in the Swedish Elite League this past season, which is impressive for an 18-year-old. He makes up for average size with his great hockey sense and vision. He's a pure playmaker who is a plus skater, makes smart decisions and would rather pass than shoot on most plays.
7. Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Nurse comes from a family of athletes. His aunt played basketball at Syracuse, where she met and married Donovan McNabb, who trained with Nurse last summer. His father was a receiver in the CFL, and his older sister played college basketball. On the ice, he's a hulking presence who is still developing offensively but is a stalwart in his own end.
8. Sean Monahan, C, Ottawa (OHL)
Monahan is the classic player who is not outstanding in any particular aspect, except for his ability to think the game. He has good size, fairly average skating ability and solid puck control. But he's really valuable as a two-way center who is smart and responsible all over the ice.
9. Hunter Shinkaruk, C, Medicine Hat (WHL)
Shinkaruk looks like a player who may get looks as both a center and winger at the next level. He's somewhat undersized but is a real threat every time he touches the puck. A creative player with quick hands and a lethal shot, he can produce in bunches.
10. Nikita Zadorov, D, London (OHL)
Zadorov has been a man amongst boys since coming over to the OHL from Russia, which eliminated concerns about potential signing difficulties. His 6'5" frame is already well-filled out, and his skating ability is impressive for someone his size. He's still a bit raw, but he has a lot of impressive attributes.
11. Zachary Fucale, G, Halifax (QMJHL)
Not surprising that Halifax won the Memorial Cup, as Fucale is already their third player on this list. It's difficult to rank goalies here, but I feel like just outside the top 10 is appropriate for Fucale. He isn't that big, but he moves extremely well and is always in position for extra-chance shots.
12. Max Domi, C, London (OHL)
Domi is far and away more talented than his father, former NHL enforcer Tie. But he also has a scrappiness above his 5'9" frame, which is definitely a product of bloodline. Domi has exceptional stick-handling abilities and is a true playmaker who is more than quick enough to compensate for his size.
13. Rasmus Ristolainen, D, TPS (FIN)
Ristolainen is a strong player who isn't exceptional in any one area, but he's a true banger when he needs to be. He's a big, strong kid who can play a lot of minutes and won't make many mistakes while punishing opponents for theirs.
14. Ryan Pulock, D, Brandon (WHL)
Pulock is not the best skater, but nonetheless, he has an impressive offensive game. He possesses the hardest slap shot in the draft but is also apt at joining the rush and consistently makes smart plays.
15. Bo Horvat, C, London (OHL)
Horvat is arguably the most complete forward in this draft class, and he has the potential to play in the NHL sooner rather than later. He is above-average in every facet of the game but is extremely hard-working and will be more of a defensive center in the NHL.
16. Alexander Wennberg, C, Djurgarden (SWE)
Wennberg is a strong but also elusive skater who is decently sized and efficient in all three zones. He won't wow you with any one particular aspect of his game, but he's a smart and creative player who can do a lot of things for a team.
17. Adam Erne, LW, Quebec (QMJHL)
Erne has that rare but useful ability to score but also be an agitator who gets under opponents' skin. He's powerful on his feet and has a willingness to drive to the net and work in hard spots to get the puck.
18. Josh Morrissey, D, Prince Albert (WHL)
Morrissey is a slick offensive defenseman. He is a plus skater who loves to move the puck up the ice and try to create offense out of the back. He's undersized and needs to be more physical, but his offensive ability is tantalizing.
19. Valentin Zykov, RW, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
After coming over to North America this year, Zykov had a surprisingly productive season. He is dangerous in the offensive zone, using his combination of physicality and creativity.
20. Curtis Lazar, C, Edmonton (WHL)
Opinions on Lazar vary a bit, as some people are wary of his lower offensive ceiling. But he's a strong, mature, team-first kid who isn't afraid to be physical and is extremely hard-working all over the ice.
21. Robert Hagg, D, MODO (SWE)
22. Andre Burakowsky, LW, Malmo (SWE)
23. Frederik Gauthier, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)
24. Anthony Mantha, LW, Val-d-'Or (QMJHL)
25. Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor (OHL)
26. Samuel Morin, D, Rimouski (QMJHL)
27. Ryan Hartman, RW, Plymouth (OHL)
28. Mirco Mueller, D, Everett (WHL)
29. Pavel Buchnevich, F, Severstal (RUS)
30. Emile Poirier, LW, Gatineau (QMJHL)