Predicting Which 2013 1st-Round Draft Picks Will Make the NHL in 2013-14 Season
There was an enormous amount of high-end talent in the 2013 NHL draft class, which is why we will likely see more first-round picks make their pro debuts next season than normal.
With the salary cap going down about $6 million for the 2013-14 season, general managers need to find ways to add talent to their rosters with players whose contracts don't include a large cap hit. This is one reason why a high number of rookie players on entry-level deals could make the jump to the NHL next year.
Let's take a look at the first-round picks from the 2013 class who are most likely to begin their NHL journey in the fall.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon is a near-lock to join the Colorado Avalanche for next season after being taken with the No. 1 overall pick.
The former Halifax Mooseheads center possesses an NHL-level hockey IQ and strong enough playmaking skills to finish among the leaders in rookie scoring.
Given the Avalanche's strong depth down the middle, MacKinnon should be able to slide comfortably into the third-line center role and ease his way into the NHL without having to shoulder the expectations of a top-six forward.
Colorado finished 26th in goals scored and had the 24th-best power play last season, which is why the arrival of MacKinnon should happen immediately, especially since he's fully ready for the NHL game.
Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
The departure of No. 1 center Stephen Weiss in free agency will not be a huge blow to the Florida Panthers because second overall pick Aleksander Barkov is fully capable of excelling in a top-six role immediately.
Barkov is the most NHL-ready forward of the 2013 class and has been playing against much older players in the Finnish Elite League for the past two seasons.
The 17-year-old forward impressively tallied 47 points in 53 games last season, and he'll make a great center for reigning Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau on Florida's top line.
The Panthers ranked 29th in goals scored last season, but there's a strong chance that their offense will be much improved next season with the power-forward skill set that Barkov will bring to the ice each game.
Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning
Jonathan Drouin has the goal-scoring skills and speed to make a positive impact in the NHL next season. He's the ideal left winger for superstar center Steven Stamkos, and it's a role he could fill as early as October.
The young forward led the Halifax Mooseheads with 105 points last season and projects to be a 30-goal scorer for many years at the NHL level.
After losing top-six center Vincent Lecavalier and third-line winger Benoit Pouliot, the Lightning should bring Drouin to the NHL next season because the team needs its offense to bail out a blue line that will make plenty of mistakes.
Seth Jones, Nashville Predators
Young defensemen rarely make an immediate jump to the pro game, but Seth Jones is the rare prospect who has an NHL-ready skill set and body.
Anything he could learn from playing in the AHL can be taught to him by Nashville Predators captain and No. 1 defenseman Shea Weber, as well as head coach Barry Trotz.
Nashville's defensive style of hockey that demands responsible play from all of its players should allow Jones to make a smooth transition to the NHL.
The team could also use his offensive talents (power-play ability, playmaking, puck-moving skills, powerful shot, etc.) to improve a blue line that had no 30-point scorers and only two players tally more than 14 points last year.
The Predators are an ideal fit for Jones, and since he won't take the next step in his development by playing another year against junior-level players, his NHL debut should be next season.
Elias Lindholm, Carolina Hurricanes
Elias Lindholm will likely make the Carolina Hurricanes roster next season as a versatile forward capable of being productive as a center or a winger.
Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News and Observer tweeted on Monday that "[GM Jim] Rutherford says opportunity there for Lindholm to start with Canes. Says will be shocked if he doesn't."
The fifth overall pick tallied 30 points in 48 games for Brynas IF Gavie of the Swedish Elite League last year, and he has the size and skill needed to be a second or third-line forward in the NHL next season.
Lindholm protects the puck very well with soft hands, impressive stick handling and a high hockey IQ. This type of skill set will help him adjust to the speed and physicality of the NHL game.
The Hurricanes desperately need to improve a power play that ranked 27th in the league last season and add scoring depth on the wings. Lindholm has the talent to address both of these weaknesses.
Carolina also has just $4,885,000 in salary cap space, per CapGeek, most of which should be used on upgrading the team's blue line. This is why Rutherford's best option to improve his offense at this stage of the offseason is to put Lindholm on the NHL roster.
Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
As a team in a rebuild, one of the mistakes that the Calgary Flames cannot afford to make is rushing a talented prospect to the NHL before he is fully ready. But in the case of sixth overall pick Sean Monahan, the young center from the Ottawa 67s is capable of making his NHL debut next season.
In 58 OHL games last year, Monahan scored 31 goals with 47 assists.
The Flames are desperate for depth at center, and as a gifted playmaker with phenomenal passing skills, vision and a high hockey IQ, Monahan has the talent needed to make a positive impact offensively right away.
However, the main reason why Monahan is NHL-ready can be seen in his strong two-way game. The 18-year-old forward is not a defensive liability and has a willingness to backcheck and play physical.
Calgary also needs a player to become the team leader and face of the franchise moving forward. This was a role that former star Jarome Iginla served in for many years, and as a tremendous leader, Monahan has the ability to be the future captain of this franchise.
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars
Valeri Nichushkin has a skill set that reminds many people of Alexander Ovechkin. Whether or not the No. 10 overall pick becomes a superstar of Ovechkin's caliber remains to be seen, but he does play an impressive power forward game that helps him score lots of goals and impact games physically.
His NHL-caliber size (6'4" and 240 pounds) allows him to protect the puck well and battle opposing players to score the dirty goals. He's not going to be overwhelmed by the speed or physicality of the NHL game as a rookie. From an offensive standpoint, Nichushkin is ready for a top-six role.
After adding three quality centers in the trade market with the acquisitions of Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff, new Stars general manager Jim Nill is going to need enough quality on the wings to take advantage of the playmaking skill that these centers will bring to the ice. Nichushkin is the type of winger capable of dominating offensively with a quick, talented center like Seguin.
The Russian forward's defensive skills are weak, but new Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff will be able to help develop this part of his game quickly.
The Stars finished 25th in attendance percentage last season (per ESPN), and they would be wise to use Nichushkin's arrival to generate interest in the team this fall when the NFL's Dallas Cowboys are the talk of the town.
Max Domi, Phoenix Coyotes
As a responsible two-way player with an impressive amount of offensive talent, Max Domi will be able to step right into the NHL and give the Phoenix Coyotes some much-needed skill and depth at the center position.
Even though he doesn't play the same type of physical game that his dad Tie displayed for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Domi has the strength needed to withstand the physicality of the NHL game and still create scoring chances with his vision, smooth skating, accurate wrist shot and soft hands.
The 18-year-old forward tallied 87 points (39 goals, 48 assists) in 64 games last season, and his defensive skills are better than most of the forwards who were selected in the first round.
One of the concerns about Domi's game is his lack of composure when other teams try to get under his skin. But this is a problem that a veteran head coach like Phoenix's Dave Tippett will be able to correct rather quickly.
The fact of the matter is that the Coyotes need his offensive skill at center for an offense that ranked 21st in goals scored and 25th in power-play success last year. As a third-line player, Domi would be able to develop at a steady pace on a veteran Coyotes team.
Phoenix would also be wise to market him to its fanbase in an attempt to increase ticket sales after ranking 29th in attendance percentage last season, per ESPN.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.