The shortened 2013 NHL season was an opportunity for organizations to get a better sense of the direction in which they are heading. For many of the teams that failed to secure a playoff berth this year, that direction invariably leads to stronger efforts to infuse youthful talent into their organizational structure.
This year’s NHL draft class features a handful of exciting can’t-miss prospects, including Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin. But even outside the top three, teams have a chance to select players who can make an immediate impact at the NHL level.
The top of the draft is loaded with players of that caliber, but not every franchise is in search of players who can make the jump to the big stage in their rookie season. As is often the case, drafting the best player on the board is the best option for sustaining long-term success.
With the 2013 NHL draft upon us, it’s time to take a closer look at what every first-round team might do to find that sustainable success. Let’s break down the first round and highlight a few selections that will have an immediate impact on their respective organizations.
1. Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon, C
The No. 1 debate has centered solely on MacKinnon and Jones. In all reality, Colorado couldn’t go wrong with either.
And while the Avalanche could certainly use an elite defender like Jones, the upside of MacKinnon will be hard to pass on. Already a tremendous center with pro-ready abilities, he has the potential to develop into a truly elite scorer in the NHL.
Need and value don’t exactly meet here. Colorado has to choose between a player who can strengthen its defense immediately and a player who can be a franchise center with tremendous upside. If the Avalanche make the smart selection, MacKinnon will be the pick.
2. Florida Panthers: Seth Jones, D
Regardless of what Colorado does at No. 1, Jones isn’t falling any further than this. With the size, skating ability and fluidity rarely seen in a top defensive prospect, Florida will do well to lock up the best available player in this draft with MacKinnon off the board.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonathan Drouin, LW
Should Jones somehow fall to No. 3, Tampa Bay won’t even have to consider Drouin here. The Lightning need a shutdown defender.
But with Jones not likely to fall out of the top two, Tampa Bay can secure a player who can fill the vacated spot of Vincent Lecavalier, who was bought out prior to the draft. Drouin is as pro-ready as Tampa Bay is likely to find at any point in this draft.
4. Nashville Predators: Aleksander Barkov, C
There are plenty of 17-year-old talents in this draft class, but Barkov may be the most developed of them all. He has the size, skill set and maturity to be an immediate impact player in the NHL, and Nashville can’t afford to pass on him here.
5. Carolina Hurricanes: Valeri Nichushkin, LW/RW
Nichushkin is a tremendous prospect, but an underwhelming performance in the KHL last season may facilitate a small drop for the forward.
And by “small drop,” I mean out of the top three and into Carolina’s lap at No. 5.
Nichushkin has too much talent not to be a top-five selection on draft day. He has prototypical size and the versatility to play any forward position, though there’s a good chance he ends up at left or right winger in Carolina.
6. Calgary Flames: Sean Monahan, C
The top five prospects in this draft have set themselves apart from the rest of the class, but Monahan isn’t far behind that group.
The 6’2”, 186-pound center has ideal size and vision for the position, and he fills a big need for the Flames. If Calgary selects the best available player here, it won’t have to wait very long to see what he can do.
7. Edmonton Oilers: Elias Lindholm, C/RW
Edmonton needs to use this offseason to infuse as much young talent as possible. At this point in the draft, there’s no reason for the Oilers to reach for other positional needs.
With little quality depth to speak of in the middle, Edmonton can select the best available talent at a position that needs some repair. Lindholm isn’t at the same level as Mackinnon or Barkov, but the gap also isn’t wide enough for Edmonton to worry about missing with this pick.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Darnell Nurse, D
Nurse is a tough, gritty defenseman who also has enough polish to be effective in the offensive zone. Versatility is key for a team with few glaring holes, and Nurse is the type of player who can provide plenty of depth, even if his upside is a little more limited than that of some of the top forwards still available.
9. New Jersey Devils: Max Domi, F
Domi may be an option for Buffalo at No. 8, but if he makes it to No. 9 and the New Jersey Devils, he shouldn’t be expected to fall any further.
At 5’9”, Domi’s size may be a bit of a concern for teams selecting in the top 10, but he has the refined skill set and polish to be an immediate impact forward regardless of those concerns.
Upside is critical at the top of the draft, and Domi has it in spades.
10. Dallas Stars: Rasmus Ristolainen, D
Sometimes versatility is a disadvantage for the draft’s top defensemen.
Ristolainen is a two-way stud who is efficient in the offensive zone, but he’s not quite a top-tier blue-line defender at this point.
For a team like Dallas, that shouldn’t be a major issue. The Stars can give Ristolainen some time to develop into a more refined defensive player while still utilizing his offensive prowess and tremendous firepower.
11. Philadelphia Flyers: Nikita Zadorov, D
Philadelphia needs to get a lot better in the defensive zone; at this point, that looks like a multi-year project.
Fortunately for the Flyers, Zadorov isn’t that far from making the jump to the NHL level. He still needs some polish, but Zadorov has the talent the Flyers need to rebuild their back line for the future.
12. Phoenix Coyotes: Bo Horvat, C
Horvat isn’t elite in any one particular area, but he seems to do just about everything well. With a couple years to continue his development, Horvat can be a top-six forward who projects well as a three-zone center at the NHL level.
13. Winnipeg Jets: Hunter Shinkaruk, C
Shinkaruk’s draft stock will be largely contingent on teams’ willingness to overlook his size. At 5’10” and 175 pounds, he’s a lot smaller than scouts would like to see, but he makes up for it with quickness and pure speed.
Shinkaruk may need a year or two to add some bulk, but he’s too talented to pass on at No. 13.
14. Columbus Blue Jackets: Samuel Morin, D
With three picks in the first round, the Blue Jackets can add plenty of depth at whichever positions they see fit. At No. 14, that means selecting the best player still on the board.
Morin may not be the most purely talented player available, but he does have an imposing frame (6’7”) and the upside to be a dominant defender in the NHL. But like many of Columbus’ recent first-round picks, he’ll need a little time to develop the finer aspects of his game.
15. New York Islanders: Curtis Lazar, C
By the middle of the first round, pro-ready skill sets are hard to find. For New York, settling for potential and toughness wouldn’t be a bad option.
Lazar doesn’t have the polish to be a high-volume scorer early in his career, but he augments those areas with toughness and grit. The Islanders could do far worse with the 15th pick.
16. Buffalo Sabres (from Minnesota): Anthony Mantha, LW
Simply put, Mantha is an enigma.
He scored 50 goals last season, but he did so with an inconsistent motor and seeming unwillingness to put in full effort every game.
Yet if Buffalo can harness his physical abilities and scoring prowess while motivating the young winger to put in full effort night in and night out, it will have potentially found the steal of the draft at No. 16.
17. Ottawa Senators: Alexander Wennberg, C
Instincts can’t be taught, and in Wennberg's case, that may be the only thing holding him back from a top-10 selection.
The center has plenty of talent, but he lacks the killer instinct that separates top scorers from the rest of the league. There’s nothing to suggest Wennberg can’t develop better scoring instincts in the future, but, as a result, he’s not quite as pro-ready as many seem to believe.
18. Detroit Red Wings: Josh Morrissey, D
Sometimes projecting first-round selections is all about fit. There may not be a more Detroit-like pick in this entire draft class.
Morrissey is consistent to a fault, and the only thing keeping him from climbing up the draft board is his lack of elite size for the position. At 6’0”, he’s simply not big enough to be an enforcer at the NHL level, but he has all the talent to be a solid, consistent producer on Detroit’s back line.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets (from New York Rangers): Andre Burakowsky, LW
Burakowsy’s stock is hard to pinpoint given his raw skill set and need for a little polish before being a productive NHL winger.
Those particular faults have never scared off the Blue Jackets, though, and with so much upside available for the taking, Columbus won’t hesitate to pull the trigger in hopes of developing him into a quality scorer in the next few years.
20. San Jose Sharks: Ryan Pulock, D
Pulock is a hybrid defenseman who got his start at forward before transitioning to the back line. As a result, he’s not an elite blue-line defender at this point in his career.
But Pulock’s offensive experience also makes him an intriguing option in the final third of the first round. With perhaps the most powerful slapshot in this entire draft, Pulock gives the Sharks an intriguing power play option and a defender who can do a lot more in the offensive zone than several of his counterparts.
21. Toronto Maple Leafs: Adam Erne, LW
Erne isn’t the most consistent prospect in this draft, meaning a top-20 selection is far from guaranteed. The winger struggled mightily early last season, and while he showed signs of improvement as the year went on, it’s hard to imagine any team being willing to use a high pick on him at this point.
22. Calgary Flames: Frederik Gauthier, F
“Safe” is the best word to describe this pick.
Gauthier’s ceiling isn’t particularly high given his lack of elite scoring ability, but he does everything else at an above-average clip and could easily find a home in the first round given his refined skating and defensive abilities.
23. Washington Capitals: Zach Fucale, G
It’s not easy projecting the landing spot for the draft’s top goalie. Expect Fucale to go anywhere from outside the top 10.
Fucale is a polished, pro-ready goalie who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He won’t wow anyone with incredible saves, but that’s also a result of sound technique and a cerebral approach to playing the position.
If he’s available at No. 23, Washington will have a hard time passing on him.
24. Vancouver Canucks: Morgan Klimchuk, LW
Vancouver can afford to add a little more firepower here, especially with most of the top defensemen already off the board. Klimchuk is a hard worker with a solid all-around skill set, and he’s the ideal fit for a team without a ton of glaring positional needs.
25. Montreal Canadiens: Valentin Zykov, LW
At No. 25, Montreal could do a lot worse than a high-volume scorer like Zykov. He’s not particularly impactful in every area of the game, but he knows how to put the puck in the net.
He projects as a nice complementary scorer who could potentially develop into a top-six forward.
26. Anaheim Ducks: Kerby Rychel, C/LW
Rychel is a safe pick, but he may not be much more than that at the NHL level. Given his subpar skating abilities, Rychel isn’t an elite playmaker—but he does play a tough, physical brand of hockey that could appeal to Anaheim.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Los Angeles): Robert Hagg, D
Hagg’s skill set makes him a consistent two-way defenseman, but as is the case with a few projected first-rounders in this draft, his motor isn’t as consistent.
Hagg also doesn’t play with as much intensity as is expected, and the result will likely be a slide down the draft board and into the late first round.
The talent is there, though, and Columbus would do well to use its final first-round pick on a player with massive upside. If Hagg can work out his inconsistent motor, he’ll be a quality defender at the NHL level.
28. Calgary Flames: Michael McCarron, RW
At 6’5”, teams can’t expect McCarron to be a flashy skater or stick-handler. What they can expect, however, is an imposing presence in the offensive zone who uses his size to his advantage.
There will almost certainly be a team in at the end of the first round looking to take advantage of those traits.
29. Dallas Stars (from Boston): Ryan Hartman, RW
Most teams looking for a forward in the first round are keying in on scoring volume and finishing skills—the only reason Hartman may make a slide to the back end of the first round.
Hartman is a high-intensity skater who always puts in 100 percent effort. If his offensive skills come along in his formative years, Dallas won’t be unhappy with this pick.
30. Chicago Blackhawks: Mirco Mueller, C
Many seem to think Mueller could be a player whose stock skyrockets heading into the draft.
While there are certainly some indications that he could find his way into the early 20s as a result, it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see the center fall to the bottom of the first round.
But if Mueller does fall this far, Chicago could be getting a tremendous steal. He has improved at a surprising rate in the last couple years, and if he continues with that quick development, the Blackhawks won’t have to wait long to see what he can do.