2013 Top Prospects Media Conference
NHL draft prospects are under more scrutiny than ever before. Digital technologies allow players to be observed and critiqued by interested parties across the hockey world, not just in person.
Some players see their fortunes fall, but there are always players who are able to ride the wave of positive momentum in their draft year. The latter see their stock soar in the weeks leading up to the NHL draft.
Improved second-half play, physical maturation, committing to play in the NHL (for European players) and general “buzz” are the most important reasons why many prospects see their stock rise.
These 10 prospects have all seen their stock soar, to varying degrees, in the past few months. Players are listed in reverse order of where they are most likely to be drafted on June 30.
All references to these players’ draft rankings are from the Central Scouting lists on nhl.com
Niklas Hansson moved into the top 30 of international skaters in the last Central Scouting rankings and he could be selected as one of the top 60 players in the NHL draft.
The Chicago Blackhawks' victory over the Boston Bruins may help to convince some doubters that skill and speed can counter a team built like the Bruins. The Bruins had a lot of skill as well as size, and Chicago chose to play their own game versus trying to match the brawn of the Bruins.
Skilled, mobile defencemen can counter opposing teams’ size, and Hansson fits that mold. He is a creative defenceman who moves the puck decisively. Niklas will not be ready to join an NHL roster next season, or likely the next season either, but this is not unusual for defensive prospects. Most NHL blueliners don’t become regular NHL contributors before they are 21 or 22 years of age.
Hansson’s defensive game continues to grow, and the native of Jonstorp, Sweden, should only get better as he matures both physically and in his overall play.
Rushan Rafikov is a young Russian defenceman who has put up some good numbers in his draft year.
He is primarily a stay-at-home defenceman. However, he was a plus player and earned 10 points in the Russian MHL.
Rafikov’s ranking has improved a great deal since the mid-term list was made available. He jumped from 45 to 21 among European skaters and could be a late second- or early third-round selection.
He does not have a lot of offensive potential, but he is a low-event defender in the best sense. Rushan is the type of defenceman that coaches can put on the ice and not be concerned about the team's defensive zone coverage. He is over 6’0” and continues to grow into his frame.
He is not likely to come to North America for a few seasons, but there is enough ability here that an NHL organization will likely take the gamble.
Myles Bell of the Kelowna Rockets is an interesting prospect. He is 6’0”, about 210 pounds and turns 20 later this summer. This is his third year of draft eligibility.
He began his junior career as a defenceman but was moved to left wing with a logjam on the point in Kelowna last fall. He responded by putting up 93 points and finishing sixth in WHL scoring in 2012-13.
He is now ranked 46 among North American skaters after a mid-term ranking of 87. Myles is obviously flexible and adaptable. He could be a very valuable addition to an NHL organization with this ability to play at forward or defence.
Unquestionably, Bell’s stock is soaring, and he could be a mid or late second-round selection on June 30.
Centre John Hayden is from Greenwich, Connecticut and has committed to play at Yale next season. Hayden has seen his ranking jump 30 spots from 59 to a final rank of 29.
Hayden is a power forward and is listed at 6’2” and over 200 pounds. He has scored consistently at every level of hockey at which he has played. And he doesn’t shy away from physical play and brings a lot of grit on every shift.
Hayden is a few seasons away from being an NHL regular, but he should get every opportunity to develop his hockey skills, at one of the powerhouses in NCAA hockey.
If he continues on his present trajectory, he should become a good top-nine forward in the years ahead.
Laurent Dauphin of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens made great strides this year in the QMJHL. He made the challenging jump from Midget AAA to the QMJHL this past season and produced 57 points in 62 games.
He also improved his stock by earning MVP honors at the CHL Prospects game in February with a goal and an assist.
Dauphin is not imposing at 6’0” and 166 pounds, and will need to put on some weight to become a top-nine NHL forward. Laurent has the skill to potentially push for a top-six spot. He is a very good passer with some of the best on-ice vision among this year’s draft class.
Dauphin is a project in that he has to physically mature and work on his play along the boards to become an NHL regular. Nevertheless, his hockey smarts and excellent skating abilities give him an edge over many other players.
Dillon Heatherington became one of the most important players for the Swift Current Broncos over the course of the 2012-13 season. His improvement was not lost on the scouts at Central Scouting as his final ranking among North American skaters is 31 after a mid-term spot at 44.
Heatherington played in all situations as the year progressed and was a valuable part of the team. Dillon also excelled at the U-18 World Championships and was very good versus his peers from across the globe.
The Calgary native is likely to be taken near the end of the first round or as one of the early picks in the second round. His well-rounded game should see him become at top-four defenceman after another year of junior, followed by some further development in the minor leagues.
6’4” mobile defencemen who can chip in offensively are always in high demand, so his final selection spot could improve even more by draft day.
The Rimouski Oceanic’s Samuel Morin is a towering presence on defence. He’s 6’6” and may end up at an NHL playing weight over 230 pounds.
Morin was ranked at number 76 in the mid-term list for NHL Central Scouting, but he jumped all the way to 23 by the end of the year. If Morin is developed with care, it would not be surprising to see him develop into a top-pairing defensive defenceman, capable of playing 25 minutes regularly, in the NHL.
Unquestionably, Morin has to get more comfortable with his size, and better understand how to use his physical gifts. Once he does this, he will be a menacing presence on the point.
He does not have the same offensive upside as higher-ranked defencemen such as Darnell Nurse or Seth Jones, but he is a different kind of player.
If he concentrates on building his existing strengths, he will be a great pick in the middle part of the first round of the 2013 NHL draft.
The Owen Sound Attack’s Zach Nastasiuk has shot up the rankings over the past few months.
Without question, his skills improved over the last half of the season, but a move to right wing was an important factor. Nastasiuk produced at a point-per-game pace after the switch, and this has also factored into his move from a mid-term ranking of 33 among North American skaters, to number 13.
Nastasiuk has good speed, and can create chances for himself and linemates quickly off the rush.
Zach is the type of player that all coaches love as he should be able to produce points when required, or play well defensively when required. He has the tools to become a top-six player and could be taken with one of the first 15 picks if his value continues to rise.
Darnell Nurse has not had anywhere near the same exposure as Seth Jones, the top-ranked defenceman, in the 2013 draft.
But at 6’4” and over 200 pounds, Nurse offers the same physical presence as Jones, if not quite the same high level of mobility. What Darnell does have over Jones is a nasty streak and willingness to drop the gloves if required. For many, these qualities don’t make a significant difference, but for players with Darnell's size, it creates even more space for them on the ice.
Nurse can also be an offensive threat. He put up 41 points for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds during the 2012-13 regular season.
There is an outside possibility that Nurse could make the jump to the NHL next season, if not rushed and if allowed to develop with third-pairing minutes in making the transition. Nurse has all the elements to become a number one defenceman in a few seasons.
Projected to be a mid first-round pick earlier this year, it would not be surprising to see Nurse picked in one of the first five selections.
Valeri Nichushkin has all of the elements that NHL scouts are looking for in a power forward. He is a great blend of size, speed, power and skill. He is 6’4” and may end up at a playing weight of 220-225 pounds, when he is done growing.
While Nichushkin has some questions to address, including how his game will transfer to North America, there is no questioning his potential. He is one of those rare players that can lift fans out of their seats and has that equally important quality of playing some of his best hockey on the biggest stages. He is the type of player that it is easy to build a highlight package around when required.
Nichushkin needs to continue improving his skating stride. This will only make him quicker and improve his endurance. Earlier in the season, he was viewed as a great prospect, but not really mentioned in the same breath as Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.
Nichushkin’s stock has really risen as he may even by selected with one of the first two or three selections at the 2013 draft.