Now that the abbreviated 2012-13 season has culminated with the Chicago Blackhawks defeating the Boston Bruins to win the Stanley Cup, the focus shifts to the NHL draft. Every team aspires to reach the pinnacle of the league just like Chicago did, and the draft is often the first step toward doing so.
Depending upon who you ask, there are anywhere between three and five can't-miss prospects in this year's class. So it will certainly be intriguing to see which players land where and if any teams are willing to move up or down in the draft. Whatever the case, there is a lot of talent up top, so this could be a draft that fans remember for a long time.
In addition to a full first-round mock draft, here is a complete breakdown of the ideal selections for every team picking in Sunday's first round.
1. Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
The Colorado Avalanche have a pretty good group of forwards that includes the likes of Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly. Despite that, it seems as though they are poised to select center Nathan MacKinnon with the No. 1 overall pick.
Defenseman Seth Jones appeared to be their preference for quite some time, but MacKinnon has surged past him in recent weeks and is nearly a sure thing to be taken first, according to the Denver Post's Adrian Dater.
That probably stems from the fact that it is so difficult to find a franchise center in the NHL. MacKinnon has all the makings of one, and he has an excellent track record. He racked up 75 or more points in each of the past two seasons, and he accrued 33 points in 17 postseason games this year as Halifax won the Memorial Cup.
MacKinnon's performance has led to comparisons to NHL greats such as Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, according to SportsNet:
Those comparisons are unfair, as MacKinnon probably isn't going to be on that level. But he could definitely be a star in the league. Jones may very be a star as well, but MacKinnon's presence will be felt on the score sheet. Even though Colorado will still have to improve on defense and possibly in goal, MacKinnon is the right pick because he is the best prospect in this draft pool.
2. Florida Panthers: Seth Jones, D, Portland (WHL)
It looks like the Panthers will miss out on MacKinnon, but Jones has all the makings of a shutdown defenseman for many years to come, so he will certainly aid in the rebuilding process.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonathan Drouin, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
Defense and goaltending have been Tampa Bay's biggest issues over the past several seasons, but with Vincent Lecavalier being released through the amnesty clause, per Kevin Allen and Mike Brehm of USA Today, look for the Lightning to nab a player who could be the next Martin St. Louis in the form of Drouin.
4. Nashville Predators: Aleksander Barkov, C, Tappara Tampere (SM-liiga)
Barkov has been compared to a slightly lesser version of Mats Sundin by some observers due to his size and skill. While he may never reach that level, the Predators would be happy with a career that is anything resembling Sundin's.
5. Carolina Hurricanes: Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
Nichushkin had fallen in the rankings for a few months due to the concern that he would have to remain in Russia. But he is ready and willing to play in the NHL, and the Hurricanes will be happy to put him alongside skilled offensive players like Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin.
6. Calgary Flames: Sean Monahan, C, Ottawa 67's (OHL)
Monahan is a skilled center with good size, which is something that is constantly in demand in the NHL. The Flames have very little in terms of high-level forwards after trading Jarome Iginla, so they'll attempt to use Monahan as the centerpiece of their rebuild.
7. Edmonton Oilers: Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Despite multiple No. 1 overall picks such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov in recent years, the Oilers can't seem to make much progress. Defense is a big need in Edmonton, so a tough, rugged guy like Nurse would fit well.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Elias Lindholm, C, Brynas IF (SEL)
Buffalo is in a transitional period, and it simply needs to add more talent to the system. The Sabres acquired Swedish forward Johan Larsson from the Minnesota Wild in a trade this past season, so they'll hope that he and Lindholm can develop some synergy.
9. New Jersey Devils: Rasmus Ristolainen, D, TPS Turku (SM-liiga)
Few teams in the NHL have had as much success drafting from Europe as the Devils. New Jersey could use some help pretty much everywhere on the ice, but it certainly can't go wrong with a big, promising defenseman like Ristolainen.
10. Dallas Stars: Bo Horvat, C, London (OHL)
The Stars are looking to begin a new era, as they have new uniforms and a new head coach in Lindy Ruff. Dallas dealt a couple forwards at the deadline this past season, so it will restock the cupboard by selecting Horvat.
11. Philadelphia Flyers: Nikita Zadorov, D, London (OHL)
Philadelphia was far worse than anyone could have expected this past season, and that had plenty to do with terrible defense and goaltending. It doesn't seem as though a Chris Pronger return is on the horizon, so look for the Flyers to take a defenseman like Zadorov.
12. Phoenix Coyotes: Alexander Wennberg, C, Djurgardens IF (SEL)
The Coyotes have a ton of European forwards, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them take another one at No. 12. Wennberg's hype train has picked up steam in recent weeks, so he could easily end up in Phoenix or wherever the team ultimately relocates.
13. Winnipeg Jets: Max Domi, C, London (OHL)
Winnipeg is on the verge of qualifying for the playoffs. While the team probably won't find a player who will put it over the top this season, the Jets can select a player who could add to a winning cause in a year or two. The Jets boast a lot of big, skilled forwards, so they can afford to bring in a smaller forward to mesh with them.
One player who certainly fits the bill is London Knights center Max Domi.
Domi is easily one of the most explosive offensive players in the draft, but many observers are worried about his height at 5'9". Plenty of short players have gone on to have great NHL careers, but it can be a hindrance at times. Winnipeg is an absolutely perfect landing spot, though, because guys like Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd will be able to protect him.
The Jets won't have to worry about his size like some other teams might. Size and all, Domi has moved up No. 10 in TSN's prospect rankings, according to Craig Button of TSN.ca.
It's easy to see why as Domi had a spectacular season. Not only did he put up 87 points in 64 regular-season games, but he also managed 32 points in 21 playoff games. There is going to be a lot more defensive resistance and a lot less space at the NHL level, but if bigger forwards are out there creating room for him, he should be fine.
14. Columbus Blue Jackets: Samuel Morin, D, Rimouski (QMJHL)
With three picks in the first round, the Blue Jackets have the luxury of being able to address several needs. At 6'7", Morin is one of the tallest defenseman in the entire draft, and Columbus would be happy to add him to the organization.
15. New York Islanders: Josh Morrissey, D, Prince Albert (WHL)
Since Mark Streit is no longer in the fold, the Islanders need to make sure that they have defensemen that are ready to step up in the near future. Morrissey will need some time to develop, but he has a very bright future.
16. Buffalo Sabres (via MIN): Anthony Mantha, LW, Val-d'Or (QMJHL)
The Sabres already took a forward at No. 8, but it's impossible to have too much depth and skill up front. Mantha is 6'4" and he netted 50 goals this past season, so he could be a big part of Buffalo's youth movement in the near future.
17. Ottawa Senators: Adam Erne, RW, Quebec (QMJHL)
Ottawa surprised a lot of people this year, as it qualified for the playoffs despite a number of big injuries. The Senators are simply a hard-working team, and a forward like Erne would fit in with that program very well.
18. Detroit Red Wings: Mirco Mueller, D, Everett (WHL)
It is no secret that the Red Wings love to draft and develop European players. Mueller has experience in North America, which should help accelerate his progress and allow him to be a part of Detroit's blue line in a few years.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets (via NYR): Hunter Shinkaruk, LW, Medicine Hat (WHL)
The Blue Jackets acquired Marian Gaborik last season to boost their attack. But while he's certainly helped in that regard, they could use more explosiveness. Shinkaruk is a small player, but he has a ton of offensive skill.
20. San Jose Sharks: Frederik Gauthier, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)
San Jose's biggest problem is a lack of depth behind its top-flight players. Gauthier is a big center like Joe Thornton, and while he doesn't possess that type of playmaking ability, perhaps he can learn behind him in a couple years.
21. Toronto Maple Leafs: Curtis Lazar, C, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
The Maple Leafs were one of the NHL's biggest surprises this season, as they made the playoffs and pushed the Bruins to seven games. They really lack skill at the center position behind Nazem Kadri, though, so they would be wise to select Lazar.
22. Calgary Flames (via STL): Zach Fucale, G, Halifax (QMJHL)
Plenty of forwards and defensemen will be selected in the first round of Sunday's draft, but it seems likely that only one goaltender will hold that distinction.
Halifax goalie Zach Fucale is rated as the consensus No. 1 goaltender in the draft, and he has a good chance of coming off the board in the first 30 picks. In fact, he is so far ahead of other draft-eligible goalies that he is the only one making the media rounds, according to Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel:
That speaks to the state of the goaltender position in the NHL right now, as many teams feel as though they can get by with a lesser goalie if they are stout elsewhere. Even so, goaltending is extremely important come playoff time, as teams with hot goalies can go a long way.
One team with a particularly dire goalie situation is the Calgary Flames, as longtime starter Miikka Kiprusoff recently announced his retirement, according to Finnish NHL correspondent Juha Hiitela. With that in mind, the Flames need a long-term replacement.
Fucale, who put up solid numbers this past season in a very offensive league, is their best bet. He had an excellent 2.35 goals-against average, along with a .909 save percentage, putting together a sparkling 45-5-3 record. Since the Flames have three first-round picks, they'll probably be more willing to use one on a goalie than most teams, so this marriage seems to make the most sense.
23. Washington Capitals: Ryan Pulock, D, Brandon (WHL)
Washington has a great deal of offensive talent, including Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but its defense leaves something to be desired. Pulock is already a polished defender, and it may not be long before he's ready for the NHL.
24. Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Hartman, RW, Plymouth (OHL)
The Sedins can only take the Canucks so far, as Vancouver needs to give the twins more to work with. Hartman isn't a guy who can step in right away, but he is an offensive dynamo who could feed off the Sedins in the near future.
25. Montreal Canadiens: Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor (OHL)
Although the Canadiens' season ended in disappointing fashion, with the team being ousted in the first round of the playoffs, they have a lot to be excited about. Montreal has a nice group of young forwards, and Rychel would simply add to that.
26. Anaheim Ducks: Morgan Klimchuk, C, Regina (WHL)
The Ducks are another team that had a fantastic regular season only to sputter in the playoffs. Offense is the name of the game in Anaheim, but with Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu on their last legs, the Ducks need to take a forward like Klimchuk.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets (via LA): Valentin Zykov, LW, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
Columbus took a bit of a gamble earlier in the round with Shinkaruk, and it should take another with Zykov. While Zykov is a bit of an all-or-nothing player, the Blue Jackets will hope that they hit on at least one of their forward selections.
28. Calgary Flames (via PIT): Madison Bowey, D, Kelowna (WHL)
Having already taken a forward and a goalie, it makes sense for the Flames to look defense at No. 28. Bowey doesn't jump out at you in any one area, but he is a solid all-around defender who has a good chance to play at the next level.
29. Dallas Stars (via BOS): Robert Hagg, D, Modo (SEL)
Hagg was considered a top prospect by most heading into this past season. Although he fell from that lofty status, he played against a very high level of competition and doesn't have as much growing to do as many of the other defensemen in this draft do.
30. Chicago Blackhawks: J.T. Compher, C, US-NTDP
As the Stanley Cup winners, the Blackhawks can pretty much do whatever they please with this selection. Chicago has had success with a little American forward by the name of Patrick Kane, so it will look stateside again by taking Compher.
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