2013 NHL Draft: Ranking This Year's Biggest Steals
The 2013 NHL draft gave teams an opportunity to draft from a deep class that was rich with talent at forward and on defense.
Building a strong prospect pool is all about getting the most value for each pick, and there were a number of teams during Sunday's draft that improved their depth by selecting players who will fulfill an organizational need and/or address a certain weakness.
Let's look at the biggest steals of the 2013 draft.
North American skater rankings courtesy of NHL.com.
No. 4: Nashville Predators, Seth Jones
The biggest shocker of the first round was top-ranked North American skater Seth Jones not being selected until pick No. 4 when the Nashville Predators added a tremendous two-way defenseman (40-plus-point potential) to their blue line.
Jones, 18, was expected to fall no lower than No. 2, especially because the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers, who held picks No. 1 and No. 2 overall, respectively, both needed a franchise defenseman to build a championship-caliber roster around.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, who probably weren't expecting Jones to be available at No. 3, surprisingly passed on him despite finishing 26th in goals against and missing the playoffs this season largely because of their poor defensive zone play.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about going to (the teams with the top three picks), but at the same time, I'm excited to be a Predator, and obviously Shea Weber is there," said Jones shortly after being drafted. "(Weber is) a great player, and they have a lot of other great players, and I'm happy to be a part of the organization."
Jones is a solid defensive player who impacts games physically and is tough to play against with his size (6'4"), strength (208 lbs) and long reach. He's an exceptional skater who's capable of playing on special teams as a rookie and logging 15-plus minutes each night against talented NHL forwards. His leadership qualities are also impressive.
The Predators lost superstar defenseman Ryan Suter in free agency last summer and were unable to replace him before or during the 2013 season.
Drafting Jones to strengthen the team's blue line and establish a great defense pairing with captain Shea Weber will help make up for Suter's departure (Jones will provide offensive skills similar to Suter) and result in Nashville being one of the most difficult teams to score against next year.
No. 10: Dallas Stars, Valeri Nichushkin
Valeri Nichushkin has top-five talent, but the Dallas Stars were fortunate to select him with the 10th pick of the first round.
The Russian winger plays a power forward game with an impressive combination of high-end offensive skill and physical play. He uses his speed well in all three zones and is also responsible defensively.
His size and strength (6'4", 202 lbs) allows him to win puck battles in the dirty areas and maintain possession of the puck in the attacking zone against physical defensemen. He brings a skill set of goal-scoring ability and toughness to a Stars forward group that already features talented stars such as Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.
The 18-year-old also hopes to contribute to the Stars as a rookie next season.
"I don't want to go that far ahead and say what's going to happen is going to happen, but I'm pretty sure I can make a jump to the NHL," he said.
Nichushkin has elite offensive talent and plays with the same intensity that has drawn comparisons to another Russian winger, Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin.
He could end up being the best winger from this draft class, which is why Dallas got full value from this pick.
No. 24: Vancouver Canucks, Hunter Shinkaruk
The Vancouver Canucks shocked the hockey world by trading their starting goaltender Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for just the ninth overall pick in this draft.
The anger from the team's fans following that surprising move should have lessened a bit after Vancouver made a smart choice with its own first-round pick (No. 24) by taking Hunter Shinkaruk from the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers. He was ranked sixth on Central Scouting's final predraft rankings of North American skaters.
Shinkaruk adds some much-needed center depth to a Canucks prospect pool that was severely lacking high-end offense talent at forward. The Calgary native also brings some versatility with his ability to excel at left wing or as a center.
The 18-year-old forward is a fantastic skater with impressive speed and great hands. He scored 37 goals and added 49 assists in 64 games for the WHL club last season in addition to tallying six points (three goals, three assists) in eight playoff games.
Shinkaruk was expected to be a top-15 pick before the draft, and the Canucks were lucky to take him at No. 24 and fulfill a strong need down the middle. By taking a player with the potential to be a first-line center at the NHL level and possibly Henrik Sedin's future replacement, Vancouver got strong value with this selection.
No. 36: Montreal Canadiens, Zachary Fucale
The Montreal Canadiens made one of the best picks of the draft by selecting top-ranked North American goaltender Zachary Fucale with their first pick of the second round (No. 36 overall).
Fucale, who has first-round talent, backstopped the Halifax Mooseheads to QMJHL and Memorial Cup championships this season and led the league in wins (45). He also posted a 2.35 GAA and a .909 save percentage.
One of the most impressive parts of Fucale's game is his composure in net and the mental toughness that allows him to bounce back from a bad goal or game, which is often difficult for young goaltenders. He's also athletic and controls rebounds well.
Montreal has done a great job developing goaltenders in the past 10 years, with current St. Louis Blues starter Jaroslav Halak (271st overall in 2003) and franchise cornerstone Carey Price (fifth in 2005) headlining that group.
The Canadiens already have a No. 1 goalie in Price, so Fucale will be given the time he needs to develop and improve without being rushed to the NHL. That is the best-case situation for a talented young netminder.
As a player who understands the hockey culture in Quebec and has proven to be a clutch performer in postseason play, the selection of Fucale in the second round gives the Canadiens strong goaltending depth and a player with star potential.
No. 57: St. Louis Blues, William Carrier
William Carrier was ranked 18th in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings of the best North American skaters in this year's draft class, but he fell all the way to No. 57 in the second round, where the St. Louis Blues used their second pick of the day to take him.
The reason for Carrier slipping may have been an ankle injury that limited him to only 34 games in 2012-13 for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL. However, he did score 16 goals and added 26 assists this season, which is impressive given the lack of talent he had around him as Cape Breton finished with the league's worst record.
The 18-year-old winger brings good size (6'1", 198 lbs) and an impressive offensive skill set that includes goal scoring, speed and a high hockey IQ to the ice each game. Carrier excels in a playmaking role and has the potential to develop into a top-six NHL forward with more experience at the junior level and maybe a year or two in the AHL.
Whenever a team is able to draft a player ranked in the top 20 among North American skaters with a pick in the final stage of the second round, it's a win for the organization.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Follow Nick on Twitter for live updates from the 2013 NHL draft on June 30. All quotes obtained firsthand. Prospect rankings via NHL media notes.