While the NHL draft doesn't produce a myriad of prospects who are ready for the big-time from jump street like the NFL and NBA drafts typically do, the 2013 version of the NHL draft appears to contain several players who will be able to start on an NHL roster from day one.
That doesn't mean that all of them will go on to become All-Star players, but a fairly sizable handful of them should contribute at the NHL level immediately.
Since hockey now appears to be a young man's game for the most part, the earlier they make it to the NHL, the better.
Here are three surefire first-round picks in this year's draft who will avoid further time in junior hockey by playing in the NHL and making their presence felt next season.
As the consensus top forward in this draft, it would be a huge surprise if Nathan MacKinnon doesn't jump straight to the NHL next season.
There isn't much left for the skilled center to prove with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, as he already has back-to-back campaigns of 75 or more points. MacKinnon also made his presence felt in the playoffs by racking up 33 points in 17 games on the way to a Memorial Cup title.
The Colorado Avalanche are selecting first overall, and while they already have a nice stable of young forwards including Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly, The Hockey News' Ryan Kennedy reports that they appear to be leaning heavily in MacKinnon's direction.
If the Avalanche are willing to ignore an obvious need with a great player in the form of defenseman Seth Jones, then there is no doubt that they view MacKinnon as an elite player.
Considering the fact that MacKinnon will probably be playing alongside some combination of Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly or Paul Stastny, he will be in a position to succeed. MacKinnon has great playmaking ability and goal scoring touch to boot, so he's already the early Calder Trophy favorite.
Even if the Avalanche pass on Jones as expected, he truly looks like the best defensive prospect to come through the ranks in many years.
First and foremost, Jones already has an NHL body at 6'4" and 205 lbs., so there isn't any concern about him being pushed around. In addition to that, he has a rare skill set that will allow him to thrive as soon as he bursts onto the scene.
The big righty has excellent defensive acumen and isn't afraid to get physical. Perhaps his most intriguing tool, however, is his offensive ability. Not only can Jones move the puck up the ice himself, but he is a great passer and has a hard, accurate shot from the point.
All of that resulted in him putting up 56 points in 61 games with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks this past season.
It's understandable why Colorado is more willing to invest in a point-producing forward than a defenseman, but Jones isn't going to fall far. The Florida Panthers are a definite option and it would be an absolute shock if he fell any further than No. 3 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Defensemen tend to have a steeper learning curve than other positions, but Jones has played big games for Team USA's junior ranks and won gold at the World Junior Championships early this year.
He'll be prepared for the big stage.
MacKinnon and Jones are viewed as sure things by most observers, but there are some definite question marks otherwise. Forwards Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov are supremely talented, but Drouin is on the small side and Barkov still needs some offensive development.
One forward who already seems like he can take the NHL by storm, though, is Russia's Valeri Nichushkin.
Nichushkin could have potentially fallen into the middle of the first round, but now that his status appears to be settled, his stock has quickly risen. According to Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus, Nichushkin is being viewed in the same way as MacKinnon, Jones and Drouin now that he intends to play in North America.
Even so, he may not be a top-five pick. There is some concern that he will go back to Russia and never return if he doesn't make a team right away or if things don't go well. He's currently a member of the KHL's HC Dynamo Moscow.
Nichushkin is such an incredible talent, however, that teams shouldn't let that influence them. A huge power forward at 6'4" and more than 200 lbs., he should be physically dominant from the start.
As long as he is focused, he will be a star in the NHL.
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