The 2013 NHL draft class is shaping up to be one of the better draft classes in recent years. This is due to a quality 1995 birthdate class and a lot of good players born in 1994 who didn't make the September 15th cut off. While still very early in the draft season, and a lot can and usually does change, the 2013 draft looks to be a very talented one. At the Under-18 championship last spring, the 2013 class arguably outshone the 2012 draft class, which is unusual for that kind of event. Based on what I'm seeing now, the class has two elite prospects, and the rest of the top tier from 3-10 are high-end prospects, with good quality after them.
Standard explanations for how I get the information for these rankings, and what I emphasize can be found here.
The reports here will be brief. Detailed reports will come at the end of the draft season as usual as I get more notes and will know these prospects better.
Here's an early Top 30 of the players to watch for this draft season:
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Center, Halifax-QMJHL
He's a stud and a half of a prospect. MacKinnon may be the best skater I've seen in quite a few years. He's got elite puck skills, good instincts, and unusual strength for a player of his size and age, to go along with an on-ice work ethic to match his pure skill level. He'll be unfairly compared to Sidney Crosby because of his birthplace, and he's not that kind of prospect, but he's still quite unreal.
2. Seth Jones, Defense, Portland-WHL
Jones is a ridiculously advanced player for his age and position with elite hockey sense, high-end skating ability, and a game that simply lacks weakness. He won't wow you with top-end offensive skill, but his hockey sense allows him to do so much. Jones is ahead of the play all the time and has the tools to take over a game.
3. Elias Lindholm, Center, Brynas-SEL
There's a drop-off after Jones. With any of the next eight candidates, I could buy a legit argument for #3. I have them all pretty close to each other as of now and they are all top-tier prospects. Lindholm is a plus puck-handler, with great vision and good speed. His physical game is just okay, but his great offensive potential is very intriguing.
4. Hunter Shinkaruk, Center, Medicine Hat-WHL
Shinkaruk is a fantastic all-around offensive talent with plus hands, skating, shot, and good offensive hockey sense. He's a little on the small and slight side, but has a boatload of tools to help overcome that.
5. Jonathan Drouin, Left Wing, Halifax-QMJHL
Drouin just bleeds tools. He has high-end skating, hands, and vision to go along with a good work ethic and a fine defensive game. Drouin may be criticized for riding MacKinnon's coattails this upcoming season, but I have little doubt his talent level is for real.
6. Sean Monahan, Center, Ottawa-OHL
Here's a player who does it all, as Monahan has great hands, with top-end instincts in both ends, a good physical game, and while he's not a blazer, he moves at a fine pace. I don't see a dominant player with elite upside, but he's a forward who has top line tools.
7. Andre Burakovsky, Left Wing, Malmo-Allsvenskan
Burakovsky has plus if not better speed to go along with a similar skill level and a great physical game due to a top of the line work ethic. He should get a regular shift in Sweden's tier-2 pro league and projects as a top line power forward.
8. Rasmus Ristolainen, Defense, TPS-SM-Liiga
Ristolainen has tremendous hockey sense, as he defends very well and has the offensive instincts to know when to join the play and move the puck well. He's a good skater, with a solid skill level and a fine physical game, too. He's a late birthdate, but he's logging ridiculous minutes in Finland's top league, hitting over 20 minutes a game.
9. Pavel Buchnevich, Center, Center, Almzaz-MHL
Buchnevich was nearly a point per game as a 16-year-old in Russia's Junior league, which is pretty significant for those unfamiliar with that league. He has high-end puck skills and hockey sense and skates very well.
10. Aleksander Barkov, Center, Taapara-SM-Liiga
I could see a very good argument for Barkov at #3, but personally from watching Barkov nearly 20 times over the last year, although predominantly Internationally below his age level, he has not wowed me on a consistent basis. I love his hands, frame, and hockey sense, so if he has a big season, I could reconsider my ranking quickly.
11. Valeri Nichushkin, Center, Belie Medvedi-MHL
He's got all kinds of natural gifts, between the six-foot-three frame, plus speed, and good offensive skill. Nichushkin did not produce in Russia's Junior league last year, but he impressed in International play. He could get into the Top 10 discussion, minus the transfer risk, if he has a good season.
12. Max Domi, Center, London-OHL
Domi isn't his father's son talent-wise, as while he's tough, he has all kinds of skill, too. Max has great speed, creativity, high-end vision, and creates scoring chances at will. He's very small though.
13. Nikita Zadorov, Defense, London-OHL
He's a monster on skates. Zadorov is a six-foot-five defender with very advanced strength for a 17 year old, and he plays with a mean streak. He skates well, and at a very high level for a player his size, and has some puck-moving skill, too.
14. Ryan Pulock, Defense, Brandon-WHL
I have him down low due to limited notes, but I've heard reports from scouts that would make me possibly put Pulock in the top 10 once I become more comfortable with him. He's got high-end skill and hockey sense, but his defense is just okay.
15. Anthony Duclair, Left Wing, Quebec-QMJHL
Duclair was disappointing at the Ivan Hlinka, but I'm still a big believer in his talent. His skating and puck skills are very desirable and he battles hard although his size works against him.
16. Jacob De La Rose, Center, Leksand-Allsvenskan
De La Rose is a skilled power forward who shows a lot of dimensions between his good speed, impressive vision, and ability to play all three forward positions, and he displays a fair amount of grit to his game.
17. Artturi Lehkonen, Right Wing, KalPa-SM-Liiga
Lehkonen has tremendous hockey sense and finishing ability to go along with solid but not outstanding hands and speed. He's a little on the small side, too. He's been getting a regular shift in Finland's top pro league, if not being leaned on at times.
18. Curtis Lazar, Center, Edmonton-WHL
Lazar is a great skater with a top of the line work ethic and the ability to play a wide array of roles between grinder, puck handler, defensive forward and speedster. He has offensive skill, but I'd say it's more above average than great.
19. Adam Erne, Center, Quebec-QMJHL
Erne is fun player to watch because he has a ton of speed, plays with a high energy level, has a physical element to his game, and shows a quality skill level.
20. Robert Hagg, Defense, MODO- J20 SuperElit
I've talked to teams who see him as a clear top 15, if not a top 10 candidate, but I'm not sure I'm buying that just yet. Hagg is a very smart two-way player with significant defensive value. He has solid, but not great puck-moving skill and his skating could be a little better.
21. Jusso Ikonen, Left Wing, Blues-SM-Liiga
You can barely see Ikonen is on the ice at times because he's so small (five-foot-seven), but boy, can he play. Ikonen has simply blazing speed and plus plus hands with the ability to dazzle on any given shift.
22. Josh Morrisey, Defense, Prince Albert-WHL
Morrisey at 22 speaks to the quality of the draft class, because when I was doing the ranking process, when I finished with Morrisey at 22, I was upset to put him so low because I really like him. He's so smart and a very good four-way skater with top-end offensive ability.
23. Anton Slepyshev, Left Wing, Novokuznetsk-KHL
I'm doubling down on Slepyshev, who was passed over in the 2012 draft. He's a great puck handler and finisher, who is an above-average skater and shows a good work ethic. He's getting a regular top-nine shift in the KHL, which is pretty significant for an 18-year-old.
24. Kerby Rychel, Left Wing, Windsor-OHL
Rychel is a good do-it-all player who has a great work ethic, above-average speed, plays a reliable defensive game, and has offensive skill to boot. I'm not sure he has a ton of upside, but he has scoring line ability.
25. Tyler Hill, Left Wing, Muskegon-USHL
Hill has a combination of pure puck skills and grittiness. He's the kind of player who scouts say can go through you or around you. He's raw, though, and needs to improve his skating.
26. J.T. Compher, Center, USA Under-18-USHL
Compher had a great U17 season, and was called up to the U18 team early and was a key contributor. He's a great skater who works hard, and while he's not tremendously gifted with the puck, he shows the ability to make plays.
27. Alexander Wennberg, Center, Djurgarden-Allsvenskan
I don't look at Wennberg and see any one true standout skill, but he does a lot well. He skates, handles the puck, and sees the ice at an above-average level, and while I've seen him listed at five-foot-eleven, I think he's bigger with a fine physical game.
28. Ryan Kujawinski, Center, Kingston-OHL
Kujawinski is a good two-way forward with impressive speed and work ethic. He has the offensive skill to be a significant scorer, but his offensive chance creation has been inconsistent. I know some scouts who say they like him a lot, but also say they need to see more out of him.
29. Darnell Nurse, Defense, Sault Ste. Marie-OHL
Nurse is a big defender and his mobility would be good for a six-foot-one player and he plays a tough brand of hockey. The puck-moving upside is the question that Nurse will need to answer this season. While he can move the puck, it's unclear if he can be a quality offensive player.
30. Ryan Hartman, Right Wing, Plymouth-OHL
Hartman may not be the biggest player, but he has great hands and good vision. He's a fine skater, but could be slightly faster for a smaller player.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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