2013 NHL Entry Draft: Players to Watch

11:30 AM, Jun 24, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Thanks to the lockout, there will be precious little time between the end of the Stanley Cup Finals and the NHL Entry Draft, which is set for Sunday at the home of the New Jersey Devils.

The 2013 draft at Prudential Center marks the first time since 2009 a team other than the Edmonton Oilers owns the top selection. The Colorado Avalanche hold that distinction for now, but it's anybody's guess what the Avs are planning to do with the No. 1 pick.

In the months leading up to this year's draft, defenseman Seth Jones had been heralded by just about everybody as the clear choice at No. 1. However, it appears no one consulted the Avalanche about that because the current owners of the first overall pick are saying they won't pick Jones.

Joe Sakic, Colorado's vice president of hockey operations, has suggested his club is going to pass over Jones and is eyeing a forward instead. All signs point to Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin or Alexander Barkov being that forward.

Of course, plenty of people think Sakic and the Avalanche are bluffing about not picking Jones and that is certainly a possibility. It's hardly ever in a team's best interest to have everyone know what you're going to do and Sakic may trying to create a bidding war for the No. 1 pick.

Although it's anybody's guess what the Avs are really planning on Sunday, one thing is clear and that is Jones' status as the top defenseman in this draft. It's clear he won't last long even if he isn't picked No. 1 overall.

Here is a closer look at some of the players behind the names that will be called in the early portion of Sunday's draft.

SETH JONES - D - PORTLAND (WHL)

Jones, the son of former NBA player Ronald "Popeye" Jones, is listed by NHL Central Scouting at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and expects to be an all-around presence on the blue line at the NHL level. He also has been described as having tremendous poise on the ice, a trait that comes in handy when playing on the blue line. If Jones does have a weakness, it appears to be in shooting accurately from the point. Scouts have compared his skill set to Chris Pronger, a former Hart and Norris Trophy winner. If he does go first on Sunday, the African-American Jones will be the first black player selected with the No. 1 overall pick at the NHL draft.

NATHAN MACKINNON - C - HALIFAX (QMJHL)

If Colorado does use the No. 1 pick for a forward, the consensus seems to be that MacKinnon would be the team's best bet. At 6-feet, 182 pounds, MacKinnon boasts tremendous hands and the Halifax native is considered to be the best prospect out of Nova Scotia since Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby, who was picked first overall in 2005. MacKinnon also got the better of Jones' Portland Winterhawks in the 2013 Memorial Cup Final, scoring a hat trick to lift his Halifax Mooseheads to the Canadian Hockey League title. MacKinnon also was named MVP of the Memorial Cup tournament after posting seven goals and six assists in four games.

JONATHAN DROUIN - LW - HALIFAX (QMJHL)

Although MacKinnon is the more highly-regarded player overall, Drouin actually turned in a better season than his linemate with the Mooseheads in 2012-13. Playing to the left of MacKinnon, the 5-foot-10, 186-pound Drouin was named the CHL's most valuable player this season after posting 105 points (41 goals, 64 assists) in 49 games. He was the first player to win the CHL MVP in his first year of draft eligibility since Crosby did it for Rimouski Oceanic in 2004-05. While MacKinnon projects as more of a pure sniper at the NHL level, Drouin is considered more of a creative playmaker and scouts believe he'll be playing in the NHL next year just like his highly-touted teammate.

ALEKSANDER BARKOV - C - TAPPARA (Finland)

While Jones, MacKinnon and Drouin are ranked first, second and third, respectively, on the NHL Central Scouting's North American prospect list, Barkov heads the European group. The Finnish centerman already has NHL size at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and scouts believe he can be a valuable two-way pivot at the NHL level. The 17-year-old Barkov, who is the son of a former Russian national team player, played among men in the SM-Liiga -- the top Finnish professional league -- in 2012-13 and finished second on Tappara with 48 points (21G, 27A) in 53 games. A shoulder injury in the SM-Liiga playoffs cut Barkov's season short but that isn't expected to hurt his draft stock all that much.

DARNELL NURSE - D - SAULT STE, MARIE (OHL)

Believed to be the second-best defensive prospect in this year's draft behind Jones, Nurse, the Canadian nephew of former NFLer Donovan McNabb. also comes with an impressive athletic pedigree. In addition to counting the ex- Philadelphia Eagles quarterback as his uncle, Nurse's father, Richard, played wide receiver for Hamilton of the CFL and his mother, Cathy, played collegiate basketball for McMaster University. Listed by Central Scouting at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, Nurse is still growing and is said to have all the tools to be a two-way force in the NHL. Nurse also is garnering comparisons to Pronger, but with the way he is said to revel in the physical side of the game, he may resemble the former All-Star defenseman even more than Jones does.

SEAN MONAHAN - C - OTTAWA (OHL)

Noted for his solid overall game, Monahan has been likened to Colorado forward Gabriel Landeskog, who was the second overall pick by the Avs in 2011 and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie the next season. At 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, the captain of the Ottawa 67's doesn't have the offensive skill set of either MacKinnon, Drouin or Barkov, but he did lead his junior club this past season with 78 points (31G, 47A) in 58 games. Although the 67's suffered through an awful season in which it went 16-46-0, Monahan still managed to impress other coaches in the 2012-13 OHL's Eastern Conference Coaches Poll, finishing among the top-three players in four separate categories (Smartest Player, Best Playmaker, Best Stickhandler and Best on Face-Offs).

VALERI NICHUSHKIN - RW - CHELYABINSK (Russia)

This big forward played at three different levels for the Chelyabinsk organization in 2012-13, including an 18-game run at the KHL level. He had four goals and two assists in his 18 games at the top division, and had a combined 18 points (12G, 6A) in 24 total games at the second division and junior levels. Already boasting NHL size at 6-foot-4, 196 pounds, Nichushkin is a natural goal scorer who could project as a power forward in North America. However, his overall game is said to be a bit raw and that fact combined along with the NHL's aversion to Russian players at the draft, could cause Nichushkin's to fall a bit on Sunday.

ELIAS LINDHOLM - C - BRYNAS (Sweden)

Lindholm played the entire 2012-13 season for Brynas at the Swedish Elite level and was a finalist for Rookie of the Year in the country's top professional league. He led all junior-aged players in the Elitserien with 30 points (11G, 19A) in 48 games. Billed as a complete player, Lindholm was one of only two players to finish with a plus rating (plus-1) for Brynas this season. Lindholm also comes with a professional hockey pedigree, as his father, Mikael, was a 12th-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Kings in 1987 and played 18 games at the NHL level.

RASMUS RISTOLAINEN - D - TPS (Finland)

This Finn expects to be the first European defenseman taken in this year's draft and boasts a similar skill set to Jones and Nurse. Listed at 6-foot-3, 201 pounds, Ristolainen has played among men for TPS of the SM-Liiga in each of the past two seasons and spent the entire season at Finland's top level in 2012-13 after splitting time between TPS' main club and junior squad last year. He led TPS in scoring among defenseman in 2012-13, recording 15 points (3G, 12A) in 52 games. While he has similar size and offensive skill to both Jones and Nurse, those players are believed to further along than Ristolainen in terms of playing responsibly in their own zones.

HUNTER SHINKARUK - LW/C - MEDICINE HAT (WHL)

This undersized forward can play either left wing or center and has drawn comparisons to current NHL star Zach Parise for his ability to create in the offensive end while playing a responsible overall game. He was the captain for Medicine Hat in 2012-13 and led the team in assists with 49, while finishing second in goals (37) and points (86). That was after notching 91 points on 49 goals and 42 assists in 2011-12. Although he has drawn raves for his ability to create havoc on the forecheck, Shinkaruk is considered undersized at 5- foot-11, 175 pounds and likely will have to add weight before making the jump to the NHL.

ZACHARY FUCALE - G - HALIFAX (QMJHL)

Yet another Halifax prospect expected to go early, Fucale is considered the top goaltending prospect in this year's draft but he's still not projected to go until late in the first round. Fucale doesn't boast great size (6-foot-1, 181 pounds) but scouts love his ability to position himself correctly to make up for that fact. He played in 55 games for a stacked Halifax club in the 2012-13 regular season and won 45 of them while recording a 2.35 goals against average and .909 save percentage. Fucale then went 16-1 in the QMJHL playoffs to help anchor the Moosheads' successful run at a President's Cup. The Quebec native isn't flashy, but his game is about as polished as a goaltender's can be at this age.

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