Top center prospect Nathan MacKinnon watching Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
There are several tantalizing talents at center in the 2013 NHL draft—from Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov to Bo Horvat and Max Domi, there seems to be a player-type to fit any need that a team could be trying to fill.
With the Stanley Cup Final set to end by June 26 at the latest, attention is set to shift quickly to the draft, which will take place only a few days later on June 30.
Stanley Cup-winning teams don't always share similar DNA. Some teams win with defensive structure and larger players, while other squads play a puck-possession/skill game. Regardless of the style, championship teams always have strength down the middle.
Keep in mind that this isn't necessarily the order in which these players will be drafted. Team need could necessitate taking one player over another, especially after the top four or five players listed, where there is a solid drop off in overall talent and potential.
Frederik Gauthier is a rangy center who has shown flashes of brilliance while playing with the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. In 2013 he posted 60 points in 62 games and was fourth overall in team scoring.
When watching him play, the first thing you're likely to notice is his size. Gauthier is already 6'5'' and weighs in at well over 200 pounds. While he doesn't play a big man's game, he's still difficult to knock off the puck—especially when he gets the wheels going.
He's an outstanding skater for a kid his size, and while there's some question about his overall offensive upside, there's little doubt about his hockey IQ and ability to play a mature game in all three zones.
While Alexander Wennberg will be one of the oldest players selected at the 2013 NHL draft, he's benefited greatly from the extra year of development while playing in Sweden. Over that span of time, he's bulked up considerably and now punches in as a 6'1'', 190-pound center who likes to play a power game.
He'll need to continue to add strength to play his brand of hockey in the NHL, but Wennberg is certainly on the right track.
There were some worries about his ability to produce at a high offensive level, but a 32-point season for Djurgardens IF Stockholm erased mostly all of those concerns. Wennberg is a versatile player and is able to effectively play all three forward positions well.
He's an excellent skater with borderline-elite top-end speed. Wennberg is also an above-average shooter and playmaker, making him one of the top centers likely to be available in the back half of the first round.
There may not be a player available in the draft who plays a more complete 200-foot game than Bo Horvat. While there are clearly some more impressive offensive specimens available, few guys in the draft can impact a game in as many ways as Horvat.
He's a tenacious backchecker and forechecker and hounds the opposition's puck carrier whenever he's able to. Scouts like to use the phrase "attention to detail" when describing Horvat's play in his own zone, as he's rarely the victim of a bad turnover or sloppy play in the neutral zone.
Lastly, he's the kind of presence other players want to follow into battle. Horvat has that "it" factor that makes him an outstanding leader, and he's been just that at every level so far.
You'll be hard pressed to find a scout or onlooker who doesn't recognize Max Domi's supreme level of talent. He's one of the most explosive players available in the draft, and if he wasn't 5'9'' (ish), 197 pounds (with all his gear on), then Domi would likely be a top-five selection in this draft.
As he stands now, he could very well crack the top 10.
Domi is a puck-possession player who is capable of ragging in the offensive zone until a play develops that he likes. His hockey IQ is outstanding, as is his vision and ability to complete difficult plays at top speed.
He was the leading scorer for the London Knights this season, putting up 87 points in 64 games. While Domi doesn't take after his father (Tie Domi) too often, he doesn't shy away when it comes to the rough stuff. The evidence is in the PIMs, of which Domi had 71.
The best goal scorers in the NHL have the ability to hit the soft spots in defensive coverage at exactly the right moment—Hunter Shinkaruk is the kind of player that possesses outstanding hockey IQ, allowing him to find these seams and exploit them.
He's been one of the more elite goal-scoring threats in the WHL over the last two seasons. Shinkaruk has scored a whopping 86 times in his last 130 games for the Medicine Hat Tigers, adding 91 assists over that same span for good measure.
Shinkaruk is a highly skilled player, possessing hasty hands and above-average skating ability. If he wasn't a touch undersized (5'10'', 181 lbs), he could be challenging for a top-five selection.
Some questions surround him and his ability to translate his style of play to the NHL level, but Shinkaruk is undoubtedly one of the more offensively gifted players available in this draft.
Some players just seem to be puck magnets, the play following them wherever they go. Elias Lindholm falls deftly into that category of player. Those who watched the WJC tourney may have found themselves wondering if Lindholm didn't always have the puck on his stick.
For his opponents, it probably felt that way.
Lindholm is able to dictate the pace and flow of a game with his possession-style and general hockey smarts—two hallmarks of the Swedish school of hockey that he embodies so well. Just because he's adept with the puck doesn't mean he's unpolished defensively, though. Quite the opposite is true, really.
He ends up in control of plays so often because of how strong he is without the puck, backchecking and lifting sticks, leaving his mark on plays defensively as well as offensively. Lindholm ties his skill set together nicely with an outstanding work ethic that is evident on every shift.
Sean Monahan was the focus of the opposition's defense for the better part of two years as he was the star on a weak Ottawa 67's team, but that didn't prevent him from posting back-to-back 78-point seasons.
This is a center who will never blow you away with flashy plays or hotdog dangles—instead, Monahan is a results-oriented player that tends to make the most out of the more simple plays.
He's a north-south skater and uses his 6'2'', 186 pound frame to fight off checks when defenseman try to press him.
Monahan is a pass-first center, and his vision is uncanny. His ability to saucer passes to open teammates may be second to none in the draft, but he's also capable of finishing if defenders seem to be overplaying the pass.
His defensive game lacks some polish, but that area of play has come a long way for Monahan over the last year or so. All told, he's one of the better offensive talents available in the draft this year.
The day could come when we view Valeri Nichushkin as the best player taken in the 2013 draft. Scouts have aggressively compared the Russian phenom to Evgeni Malkin, and upon watching him play, it's clear where those comparisons come from.
While Nichushkin is far from being a lock to win the Hart Trophy at any stage of his career, the skills are there for him to develop into one of the best players in the NHL.
As an 18-year-old, Nichushkin already has pro-size. He stands at 6'4'' and weighs in at more than 200 pounds with plenty of time to grow more. It's one thing to posses size and another altogether to know how to use it.
Nichushkin knows how to use it and plays with a bullish mentality. He didn't back off of that area of his game through the 18 games he played against grown men in the KHL this year, so no one should expect him to back down against NHL players.
He has talent coming out of his ears, his skating is exceptional, and he's able to find open players after creating space for them as he barrels through the middle of the ice.
Playing in any pro-league at the age of 16 is ridiculous and impressive. Aleksander Barkov did just that, cracking the SM-liiga before his 17th birthday. He was the second-leading scorer on Tappara Tampere as a 17-year-old a year later, posting 48 points in 51 games played in Finland's top pro-league.
Barkov is arguably the top Finnish prospect ever, and he is ready to make an impact at the NHL-level almost immediately.
The 6'2'', 203-pound center possesses an outstanding amount of patience with the puck, never forcing plays that aren't there. Instead he's more than happy to wait for defenders to pinch in on him, opening up space and time for teammates.
It's rare for young players to be able to provide both top-end offensive and defensive skills from the center position, but Barkov seems to have everything in spades. He's out on the ice during the last minute of play regardless of what his team needs.
He can defend leads as well as attack them, and while his skating is a touch below average, that's an area that can easily be ironed out with some work at the NHL level.
The most offensively dynamic and dangerous player in this draft is Nathan MacKinnon. When it comes to play in the offensive zone, there isn't a player that can match what he can do on a nightly basis.
His vision is uncanny and he has the ability to finish when given even an inch or two of space while entering the zone. MacKinnon's most standout ability is his skating—the word "generational" has been used to describe his ability to move around out on the ice.
MacKinnon's agility is far above average, and to say that he's slippery would be an understatement.
The compete level is off the charts as well. MacKinnon hates to lose and leaves all his energy out on the ice during every shift. He skates at defenders almost like an NFL running back, using his momentum to plow through defenseman that appear to be standing still by comparison.
It's a rare player that gives viewers butterflies of anticipation and excitement every time they touch the puck. MacKinnon is that kind of player.