The 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup is the new precedent for the most talented group of draft prospects taking part in the CHL’s Big Dance.
Saskatoon hosting the consensus top-3 prospects of the draft, Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones and Halifax Mooseheads snipers Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, is only the tip of the iceberg. Six other young guns are also in the running to have their names called in the first round: Mooseheads puck-stopper Zachary Fuacale, the Winterhawks’ Nicolas Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and the London Knights’ Bo Horvat, Max Domi, and Nikita Zadorov.
Here is a look at BTN’s top-10 ranking of the best draft prospects headed to The City of Bridges. This ranking was put together based on insight from scouts and several different independent scouting services’ projections.
1. Seth Jones, defence, Portland Winterhawks – All signs point to the Colorado Avalanche selecting Jones with the first pick of the draft. Not only is the 6-foot-4, 206-pounder regarded as the top prospect of the draft by nearly every scouting service, but the Avalanche also desperately needs to improve their blue line and Jones would be somewhat of a hometown pick as he wasintroduced to hockey while growing up in Denver.
What separates Jones from other elite defencemen in recent drafts is his ability to take over a game. He can dominate the play and dictate the speed of the game at both ends of the ice. He showcased this uncanny talent in his rookie season in Portland and when he led USA to a gold medal at the 2013 world junior championship.
“I really think Jones has separated himself as the top prospect,” says Ross MacLean, head scout of International Scouting Services. “There is just so much to like in his game. He projects so well and already has an NHL ready skill set. He has performed very well on the biggest stages so far this year and outshone the others who could challenge his top ranking at every turn and in every head-to-head meeting.”
2. Nathan MacKinnon, centre, Halifax Mooseheads – As pointed out by BTN’s Cam Charron, it’s a back-and-forth debate on whether MacKinnon has the edge on Drouin or vice versa. Most scouting services, including Central Scouting and ISS, have MacKinnon ahead of his teammate, but at the end of the day, the Florida Panthers, assuming they don’t trade down, will decide who goes ahead of whom with the second pick in the draft.
MacKinnon fought through injuries this year, but when healthy, he averaged over 1.7 points per game, racking up 32 goals and 75 points in 44 games. In addition, he slightly improved his scoring average in the playoffs, potting 11 goals and 33 points in 17 matches.
The Sidney Crosby comparisons to MacKinnon have become extinct. And rightfully so since the Pittsburgh Penguins star posted much better numbers in his draft year than the Halifax, NS., native. That isn’t, however, to say scouts don’t believe MacKinnon will develop into a franchise player. The consensus is still that he projects to be a first-line centre capable of scoring 80-plus points a season at the next level.
3. Jonathan Drouin, wing, Halifax Mooseheads – Drouin has done everything in his power to leapfrog his star teammate in the draft rankings. Although MacKinnon didn’t receive as much opportunity, Drouin clearly outshined him for Canada at the world juniors. The 5-foot-11, 176-pounder also bested his stats in Halifax, scoring 41 goals and 105 points in 49 games, averaging 2.14 points per game.
Scouts have been drooling over Drouin’s uncanny hockey smarts. The consensus is he can read a play as well as anyone in the draft and it goes without saying that he has a real knack for being at the right place at the right time.
The Huberdeaux, Que., native has been compared to a handful of different current and former NHL stars such as the Carolina Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner, the Tamp Bay Lightning’s Martin St. Louis and retired legend Mats Naslund.
4. Bo Horvat, centre, London Knights – It’s believed Horvat leads the way of the Knights’ handful of highly-regarded draft prospects. He, however, isn’t too far ahead of Domi and Zadorov in most rankings.
The 6-foot, 203-pounder, who is ranked 15th by NHL's Central Scouting, doubled his point total this year, notching 33 goals and 61 points in 67 games. He also made a name for himself in the dot, typically winning 60 to 70 per cent of his faceoffs on any given night.
"I've always taken a lot of pride in my draws," said Horvat to BTN’s Neate Sager. "Last year I got put on the wing to learn that position. I work on that a lot with [Knights assistant coach] Dylan [Hunter]. He's been a really big help with the little things in the [faceoff] circle."
Horvat’s real coming out party came in the second season. After scoring 16 goals and 23 points in 21 games, he was named the Ontario Hockey League’s Playoff MVP.
5. Max Domi, wing, London Knights – Domi’s nose for the net and first-class first two steps has put him on the map as one of the top forwards of the draft.
"Just sniffing around the net, being hungry to help your team out, that's something that is always in the back of my mind," Domi said to Neate Sager of BTN. "Not giving up on plays, trying to make something out of a nothing play, is something I've been working on a lot this year with the coaching staff and my teammates. I take pride in being tight around the net.
The Toronto native led London in scoring in both seasons, netting 39 goals and 87 points in 64 games in the regular-season and 11 goals and 32 points in 21 games in the playoffs.
Even though he was ranked 19th by NHL’s Central Scouting, there is a lot of chatter that the 5-foot-10, 194-pounder, who is the son of former NHL tough guy Tie Domi, could be one of the first 10 players to have his name called in New Jersey on June 30.
6. Nikita Zadorov, defence, London Knights – Standing 6-foot-5, 228-pounds, it’s practically impossible to overlook Zadorov on the ice. He, however, stands out for a lot more reasons than his towering stature. The Russian native is a smooth skater, plays the body hard and often, and can contribute in the offensive zone as he scored six goals and 25 points in 63 games.
"Nikita is a big man who skates very well," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He has very good mobility and his backwards skating is about the best in this year's draft. He will take the body and battles hard along the boards. He uses his long reach well and is an effective pokechecker."
7. Nicolas Petan, centre, Portland Winterhawks – One would think a 46-goal, 120-point season would easily be enough for a top-3 draft prospect ranking, but here sits Petan in seventh spot.
The main reason for Petan’s low ranking is his small frame, standing 5-foot-9, 166-pounds. But despite his short stature, the 18-year-old, who was ranked 33rd by Central Scouting, plays with grit and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas of the game.
After not registering a single point in 22 playoff games last year, Petan had no problem lighting the lamp in the post-season the second time around. On a line with St. Louis Blues second round pick Ty Rattie and Nashville Predators prospect Brendan Leipsic, the Delta, B.C., native netted nine goals and 28 points in 21 games.
8. Oliver Bjorkstrand, wing, Portland Winterhawks – Although he isn’t as highly regarded as Nino Niederreiter, the New York Islanders’ fifth overall pick in 2010, or Sven Baertshi, the Calgary Flames’ 13th overall pick in 2011, Bjorkstrand is the Winterhawks’ latest import draft star.
Bjorkstrand’s transition to the North American game from the pro Denmark league he played in last year has been smooth. The 5-foot-11, 163-pounder, who is ranked 36th by Central Scouting, quickly found success finding the back of the net in Portland, going on to almost maintain a point-per-game ratio with 31 goals and 63 points in 65 games.
"There's just some small, small stuff that you have to get used to when you come over," Bjorkstrand told BTN on his adjustment to the Dub. "Over here the game is more direct, you go more to the goal. In Denmark it's more about making plays and setups."
9. Zachary Fucale, goaltender, Halifax Mooseheads – The 6-foot-1, 176-pounder is considered the clear-cut top netminder of the draft class after posting a 2.35 average and a .909 save percentage in 55 games in his second major junior season.
“Not only has Zach been perceived as the top goalie available all season long, but he's playing better for Halifax in the QMJHL playoffs,” says the director of goalie scouting for McKeen's Hockey, Justin Goldman. “He allowed just one goal in each of the first four games against the Saint John Sea Dogs, and then posted back-to-back shutouts in the first two games of the series against Gatineau. In my mind, there is no question he'll be the first goalie selected in this summer's draft.”
10. Remi Elie, wing, London Knights – After scoring seven goals and 17 points in 65 games, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound rookie raised his level of play for the Knights in the playoffs. He potted four goals and eight points in 21 contests, improving his points-per-game ratio by roughly 45 per cent.
Elie, who is ranked 71st among North American skaters by Central Scouting, is known for playing a simple meat-and-potatoes style. He finishes every check and plays a 200-foot game.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen