Some might argue that the playoffs are the most exciting time of the year in hockey, but the NHL draft can't be far behind, as every team has an opportunity to get better and build toward the future. The next crop of NHL stars will officially enter the league on Sunday.
The NHL is doing things a bit different this year, as all seven rounds will take place on Sunday. The past few years have seen the first round contested on Friday night, followed by the rest of the draft the following Saturday. But the league wanted to make this an event, and there is no question that hockey fans' eyes will be glue to the television on Sunday.
Here is everything you need to know about how to watch the entire NHL draft, as well as which prospects you should keep tabs on.
Where: Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
When: Sunday, June 30 at 3 p.m. ET
Watch: NBC Sports Network and TSN
Top Prospects to Watch
Nothing is certain until the Colorado Avalanche officially announce their selection, but Halifax Mooseheads center Nathan MacKinnon appears to be the likely No. 1 overall selection.
MacKinnon has been a highly touted prospect for the past couple years. He was long considered the favorite to be taken first, but defenseman Seth Jones had seemingly surpassed him. That is no longer the case, though, as the Avs have indicated that they will go with MacKinnon, according to the Canadian Press (h/t CBC.ca).
Colorado needs defense more than it needs another forward, as it already boasts the likes of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly. But MacKinnon could potentially be a generational star in the mold of a Sidney Crosby.
It probably isn't fair to make those comparisons, but MacKinnon is surely used to it by this point. At the very least, he will likely be an All-Star-caliber center, which isn't something Colorado, or any team, can afford to pass up.
MacKinnon had a great regular season in the QMJHL, putting up 75 points in just 44 games, but he really boosted his draft stock in the playoffs. He was good for 33 points in 17 postseason contests, leading the Mooseheads to the Memorial Cup. The Avalanche are hoping that MacKinnon can lead them to an even more prestigious Cup in the near future.
If MacKinnon isn't the first player off the board on Sunday, it will likely be Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones.
The 6'4", 205-pound American really established himself as the best draft-eligible defenseman in the world this past season. Not only did he rack up 56 points in 61 games in the competitive WHL, but he also led Team USA to a gold medal in the World Junior Championships, which is the premier accomplishment for a junior player.
All of that led to Jones ascending to the top of the rankings. For whatever reason, though, MacKinnon has shot past him. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that highly drafted defensemen have flopped in recent years, so there may be some apprehension when it comes to taking Jones.
Even so, TSN's Gord Miller is surprised that Colorado would pass up on a potential No. 1 defenseman in the form of Jones:
If the Avalanche do pass on Jones, it's hard to imagine him slipping past the Florida Panthers at No. 2. The Panthers have had their issues with defensemen in the past, with Keaton Ellerby flaming out and Erik Gudbranson coming along slowly, but Jones is a far superior prospect. The Panthers are rebuilding, and Jones would be the perfect guy to build around.
Although he hasn't received as much attention as MacKinnon, winger Jonathan Drouin actually put up bigger numbers this past season with 105 points in 49 games. In fact, Drouin and MacKinnon skated on the same line for Halifax, so scouts often had an opportunity to evaluate both players at once.
Even though Drouin and MacKinnon are roughly the same size, there appears to be some concern regarding Drouin's frame, as well as a perceived lack of defensive acumen.
From an offensive perspective, though, Drouin is about as good as it gets. He can do things with the puck that very few players who are currently in the NHL can. He is truly a marvel who will surely show up on the highlight reel quite often at the next level.
According to Bob McKenzie of TSN, a survey of NHL scouts resulted in Drouin being named the best prospect in a number of key categories:
Drouin probably won't be taken first or second, but he won't last long after that. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a possibility at No. 3, and there is no doubt that he would love to play there. With Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis already in place, Drouin could be productive from the get go. If Tampa passes, then his safety net is the Nashville Predators at No. 4.
Drouin is far from a sure thing, but he has the skill set necessary to excel in the NHL.
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