NHL's Central Scouting Service took their first step in breaking down the top talents of the 2013 draft class by releasing their preliminary rankings.
To the surprise of no one, Halifax Mooseheads centre Nathan MacKinnon topped the QMJHL, Ottawa 67's centre Sean Monahan lead the OHL, and Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones stood out in front in the WHL.
As it stands, MacKinnon is believed to be the front-runner as the top prospect of the draft. The 5-foot-11, 179-pound centre has been dynamite for Mooseheads, scoring 19 goals and 37 points in 22 games thus far.
"Nathan is a great skater with overall exceptional skills (good playmaking ability and hands, good vision and a great shot)," says Michael Charron of Central Scouting Service. "He is very competitive, can play physical when he needs to be, and will skate into traffic to jump on a loose puck or to find his way to the net for a scoring chance."
Monahan separated himself from the majority of the pack last year in his breakout season for the 67's, posting 33 goals and 78 points in 62 games. His phenomenal vision and hockey sense has elicited some comparisons to Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathon Toews. Although it is a lofty comparison for the time being, the 6-foot-2, 193-pound centre does have a comparable skill-set to Toews when he was around his age.
Jones is touted as a future cornerstone defenceman. Possessing an appealing 6-foot-4, 206-pound frame, physicality, strong skating abilities, elite hockey sense, and superb offensive skills - he is the full package.
Jones, who is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, has anchored the Winterhawks' back end this year in his rookie season of major junior hockey. The Plano, TX., native has notched six goals and 14 points in 21 games, while racking up 21 minutes in the sin bin.
Past the big three
MacKinnon isn't the only Moosehead that has turned heads, winger Jonathon Drouin was pegged second among QMJHL skaters and Zachary Fucale led the way between the pipes.
Drouin is actually producing at a better points-per-game ratio than MacKinnon. The 5-foot-11, 176-pounder has tallied 15 goals and 35 points in 16 games, averaging over two points per game.
Dissecting his stats, Fucale's 15 wins in 18 games is quite impressive to say the least. However, his .883 save percentage doesn't stand among the best of the top goaltenders of the draft.
Sault. Ste. Marie Greyhounds' Darnell Nurse stands out as the best defenceman out of Ontario, ranked second among OHL skaters.
The 6-foot-5, 192-pounder, who is the son of former CFL receiver Richard Nurse, broke out into a star this year with the Greyhounds, scoring three goals and 17 points in 23 games. He is poised to be selected with a top 15 pick in June.
There is no shortage of hockey bloodlines in the OHL. Windsor Spitfires forward Kerby Rychel, ranked third, is the son of former NHLer Warren Rychel. London Knights forward Max Domi, ranked fourth, is the son of hard-nosed Tie Domi. Oshawa Generals centre Cole Cassels, ranked 13th, is the son of 16-year NHLer Andrew Cassels. Belleville Bulls defenceman Jordan Subban, ranked 17th, is the brother of Montreal Canadiens star P.K Subban and Boston Bruins puck-stopper prospect Malcolm Subban.
As per usual, the Dub's back end dominated their draft crop. Seven of their top 10 prospects are defenceman, including the Brandon Wheat Kings' Ryan Pulock, ranked No. 3, and the Seattle Thunderbirds' Shea Theodore, ranked No. 4.
It does seem unlikely that the WHL will have five blueliners selected with top 10 picks like in last year's draft with Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Mathew Dumba, and Derrick Pouliot. Nonetheless, there is a strong possibility that seven of their defencemen could end up being first-round picks. Jones, Pulock, Theodore, Prince Albert Raiders' Josh Morrissey, Kelowna Rockets' Madison Bowey, Wheat Kings' Eric Roy, and Everett Silvertips' Mirco Muller have made strong cases early.
Medicine Hat Tigers' Hunter Shinkaruk, who has 17 goals and 35 points in 24 games, leads the way among forwards. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, who is the Dub's No. 2 ranked skater, is the only draft eligible player in the WHL that is expected to receive a strong look from Team Canada for the upcoming world junior championship in Russia.
Edmonton Oil Kings centre Curtis Lazar's eighth-overall WHL ranking seemed low for being ranked sixth overall among all skaters by International Scouting Services' first ranking.
Nevertheless, the 6-foot, 198-pound centre hasn't quite reached the expectations laid upon his shoulders heading into his draft year. Lazar has only scored eight goals and 14 points in 22 games, currently being on a nine-game goalless drought.
Kamloops Blazers winger J.C Lipon is ranked 13th after being passed over in the past two NHL drafts. The 19-year-old winger currently leads the Dub in scoring, racking up 21 goals and 50 points in 25 games.
Finland's Alexander Barkov is regarded as the top prospect outside North America. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound centre has been lighting up the Finish Elite League with Tappara at the young age of 17. He has potted an incredible 12 goals and 24 points in 23 games thus far. To put these stats into perspective, the Chicago Blackhawks first-round pick of last year's draft, Teuvo Teräväinen, has scored seven points in 15 games this year in the same league.
Valeri Nichushkin stands out as the best prospect out of Russia. The 6-foot-3, 176-pound forward has netted eight goals and 10 points in 15 games with Chelmet Chelyabinsk of the VHL. He is expected to represent his country at the upcoming world junior championship. This performance could spike or deflate his draft stock.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen