Nathan MacKinnon headlines a deep 2013 NHL draft class prepared to take the next step in their hockey careers on Sunday. Other talented prospects who will hear their name called early include Jonathan Drouin and Seth Jones.
After watching the Chicago Blackhawks skate away with the Stanley Cup for the second time in four years, other franchises around the league know the standard that's been set. The draft is a key part of the process in building an organization, even if the prospects don't make an immediate impact.
With the draft right around the corner, here's a complete mock draft of the opening round, featuring a deeper dive into three intriguing potential selections.
1. Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
In terms of current need, the Avalanche would be better off selecting Jones. That said, they can't afford to pass up a potential offensive dynamo like MacKinnon to fill the defensive need. They need to take the best player available.
MacKinnon is a highly skilled center who has the ability to skate around defenders on his own or deliver a perfect pass to set up one of his wingers. It's difficult to find any serious flaws in his game, and he's only going to get better from here.
2. Florida Panthers: Seth Jones, D, Portland (WHL)
Defensive prospects usually aren't nearly as smooth as Jones. He's a terrific skater with an ability to join the rush, which is even more impressive when you consider his size. He can help Florida immediately.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonathan Drouin, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
Drouin's best trait is his vision. His ability to read the play while moving up ice allows him to showcase his creativity and playmaking skills. He could eventually form an unstoppable duo with Steven Stamkos.
4. Nashville Predators: Aleksander Barkov, C, Tappara (SML)
Barkov is a prototypical center for today's game. He's got good size, has excelled at both ends of the ice and flashed the distribution skills necessary to rack up a lot of assists. He's a worthy top-five pick.
5. Carolina Hurricanes: Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
A versatile power forward with the ability to play on either wing, Nichushkin shouldn't fall outside the first five picks. He has terrific hands and can score highlight-reel goals that will excite the Carolina fanbase.
6. Calgary Flames: Sean Monahan, C, Ottawa (OHL)
The top five prospects have seemingly separated themselves from the pack. So the Calgary pick is where things should begin to get more interesting. Monahan is a sniper who's improved his all-around game.
7. Edmonton Oilers: Rasmus Ristolainen, D, TPS (SML)
Although not on the same level as Jones, Ristolainen is another two-way prospect who should eventually blossom into a big-minutes guy for the Oilers. Edmonton should be focused on defense all draft long.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Elias Lindholm, C, Brynas (SEL)
Buffalo has been making a concerted effort to get tougher and better up the middle. Lindholm fills both categories and should be an easy selection if he's still on the board when the Sabres are on the clock.
What should New Jersey target at No. 9?
9. New Jersey Devils: Hunter Shinkaruk, LW, Medicine Hat (WHL)
What Shinkaruk lacks in size he more than makes up for in skill and quickness. He could benefit from adding a little more bulk to survive the NHL grind, but he's still worth taking here.
10. Dallas Stars: Max Domi, C, London (OHL)
Tie Domi was a grinder who helped his team by providing a spark with physical play. His son didn't follow in his footsteps. Instead, he developed into a skilled offensive player with even more upside.
11. Philadelphia Flyers: Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The Flyers must improve on the blue line in order to get back on a playoff level. The team's defensive group has been a concern for a handful of years now, and while some progress has been made, there's still plenty of work left to do.
That leads Philadelphia to Nurse. He doesn't possess the offensive skills many of the other defensemen in the class have shown, but he is a force in his own zone. Has the size and strength necessary to clear the front of the net and should be NHL ready before long.
12. Phoenix Coyotes: Bo Horvat, C, London (OHL)
Horvat is the type of player who doesn't stand out in any particular area. He'll help a team by contributing in every area, from special teams to faceoffs and everything in between.
13. Winnipeg Jets: Nikita Zadorov, D, London (OHL)
The only reason Zadorov won't go higher is the fact he's still a bit raw. He needs some time to further develop his game, but all the tools are in place for him to eventually become a star blueliner.
14. Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Hartman, RW, Plymouth (OHL)
What makes Hartman stand out is his work rate. Rarely does a shift go by where he doesn't do something of note. He isn't an elite scorer, but he does enough to quickly move up the ranks.
15. New York Islanders: Alexander Wennberg, C, Djurgardens (SEL)
Wennberg is close to being ready for NHL action. He's shown good speed and an ability to win battles. I'd like to see more scoring instincts in front of goal in the near future, though.
16. Buffalo Sabres (via MIN): Adam Erne, LW, Quebec (QMJHL)
Erne played with current Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko in Quebec. A reunion may be in order as the Sabres look to get Grigorenko more heavily involved after an up-and-down rookie season.
17. Ottawa Senators: Ryan Pulock, D, Brandon (WHL)
Still coming along as a defender, Pulock might break into the league as a bottom-pairing defenseman who makes his main impact on the power play. He's got a big shot and good hands.
Which of these defensemen is the best prospect?
18. Detroit Red Wings: Josh Morrissey, D, Prince Albert (WHL)
Picks like Morrissey are why the Red Wings have stayed in contention for so long. While he presents some risk due to prior inconsistency, Detroit will force him to become more reliable.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets (via NYR): Mirco Mueller, D, Everett (WHL)
Mueller is a player who could surprise on draft day by going earlier in the round. He's been improving at an impressive rate, and if a team thinks he can continue that, there's definite value.
20. San Jose Sharks: Curtis Lazar, C, Edmonton (WHL)
San Jose needs more players like Lazar to compete in the playoffs. He's a tough, gritty forward who's willing to work to create chances. The fact that he's showing signs of offensive potential is a bonus.
21. Toronto Maple Leafs: Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor (OHL)
Rychel would be a great fit with the Maple Leafs. He's a natural scorer, something Toronto has lacked in recent seasons, and he should be able to make a push toward the NHL in the not too distant future.
22. Calgary Flames (via STL): Zach Fucale, G, Halifax (QMJHL)
Calgary gave up 160 goals during the lockout-shortened season, which was tied for the second-most in the league. Poor play from both goalies, Miikka Kiprusoff and Joey MacDonald, played a key role in those struggles.
In turn, the Flames must look to the future of the position. Fucale is the top goalie on the board thanks to strong technical ability and quick reflexes. Goalies tend to take some time before reaching the NHL, but Fucale's upside makes him worth the first-round investment for Calgary.
23. Washington Capitals: Samuel Morin, D, Rimouski (QMJHL)
At 6'6'', Morin's draft stock will come down to how much teams fall in love with his size. In a perfect world, the upside to become a lockdown defender is there. It will take some time, however.
24. Vancouver Canucks: Valentin Zykov, LW, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
Zykov is exactly the type of prospect teams like late in the opening round: someone who's shown the ability to score and, with a little more time to develop, can add other key components to his game.
25. Montreal Canadiens: Andre Burakovsky, LW, Malmo (SEL)
The Canadiens need to find more skill on the wings in the coming years. Burakovsky is still a couple of seasons away from making a huge impact, but the early signs are positive.
26. Anaheim Ducks: Steve Santini, D, U.S. (NTDP)
The offensive game is already in place. Santini is very good at jump-starting rushes and can also deliver some heavy shots from the point. He still needs to solidify his defensive game, however.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets (via LAK): Frederik Gauthier, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Gauthier must become more consistent. At times, he looks like he belongs inside the top 10. Those times haven't come frequently enough, though. But he could be great value for Columbus in the end.
28. Calgary Flames (via PIT): Anthony Mantha, LW, Val-d'Or (QMJHL)
It's easy to like Mantha's size and willingness to get to the front of the net. However, he still needs more development time before it's known if he's the complete package ready to shine in the NHL.
29. Dallas Stars (via BOS): Nicolas Petan, C, Portland (WHL)
Based on his junior numbers alone, Petan would go a lot higher in the round. A lack of size will likely cause him to slide, however, due to questions about his ability to thrive in a physical atmosphere.
30. Chicago Blackhawks: Morgan Klimchuk, C, Regina (WHL)
The champions get to finish the round. Klimchuk fits the Blackhawks' mold: a hard worker with the ability to play in any situation and enough offensive skill to make his presence felt in key spots.