1. Colorado Avalanche - Nathan MacKinnon (C)
With likely the highest offensive upside of any player in the draft, MacKinnon is just about as dynamic as they come. MacKinnon has top-end speed combined with a wicked release, making him very difficult to defend. He uses his body well, and is tough to move off the puck. He is more capable on the defensive end then he may appear, as there is a physical aspect to his play. He'll need to improve on the back check, but he is well on his way to becoming a complete player. There are lofty expectations for MacKinnon, and despite some reservations about his current ability to play at the next level—especially considering his disappointing 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship effort—he should make a huge impact in the coming years. In the short-term though, it might be best to temper your expectations as Colorado's depth up the middle could result in MacKinnon starting the season on the third line.
2. Florida Panthers - Aleksander Barkov (C)
Florida made a bit of shocker by selecting the Barkov with the second overall pick. Barkov is the full package and unique among Finnish players. Blessed with an NHL-ready body, the 6-2, 207-pound power forward has top offensive skills and is an exceptional competitor who can easily win puck battles because of his strength. He set the record for most points by a 17-year-old this season in the Finnish SM-liiga with 48 (21 goals, 27 assists). A two-way center, Barkov isn't just a great offensive player, he has hockey smarts and plays a sound game away from the puck, too. He may not be the best skater in the draft, but he’s improving. Barkov doesn't play an overly physical game, but he has been successful against older competition and should transition well to the North American style provided he is over a shoulder injury that ended his season prematurely. He should compete for a roster spot at training camp.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning - Jonathan Drouin (RW)
According to certain scouts, Drouin is an even better prospect than his Halifax teammate Nathan MacKinnon. The 18-year-old put together an incredible season, culminating in being named CHL Player of the Year. Drouin finished with an outrageous stat line, scoring 41 goals and registering 64 assists in only 49 regular season games. He was just as good in the playoffs, registering 44 points in 21 contests, en route to winning the Memorial Cup. Drouin's top skills are his ice-vision and his puck handling, and despite his lack of explosive speed, his acute hockey sense gives him the unique ability to see the play even before it fully develops. Size could be an issue, but he’s proven himself against larger opponents, especially in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, when he finished the tournament on Team Canada’s top line. There are openings in Tampa for a few forwards and Drouin is poised to grab a roster spot with a good showing in training camp.
4. Nashville Predators - Seth Jones (D)
Seth Jones is considered by most hockey pundits to be the best prospect of a very talented NHL draft class. He’s a workhorse armed with great size, athleticism and bravado. He hits, skates, quarterbacks the power play, and is both a shooter and a playmaker. Jones does need to hone his defensive positioning but that may be his only weakness. He is the complete package and will contribute immediately to his NHL club next season. What makes him special though is his potential impact to be a leader both on and off the ice. Jones wasn't expected to drop further than second in the draft, so Nashville must be feeling pretty thrilled about this pick. They certainly could have used a forward, but Jones is just too promising a defenseman to pass up.
5. Carolina Hurricanes - Elias Lindholm (C)
There is nothing not to like about Lindholm's game. He's a center who can do a little bit of everything well in all three zones. Even though he only had 11 goals and 19 assists this season, he is a talented and passionate player with a tremendous work ethic and an extraordinary hockey IQ. The center has hands, stickhandling and passing skills that are advanced for his age. Even though he's not the biggest guy, he's strong for his size and finishes his hits. Lindholm is a tenacious, quick player who excels in creating turnovers and generating offense in transition. He's also a great faceoff man. Lindholm might never be a top-line center, but he's responsible and has the ingredients to be a future NHL captain. Carolina was shopping this pick heavily, but they ended up using it on a player who should turn into talented forward.
6. Calgary Flames - Sean Monahan (C)
After losing a significant number of players from last year’s squad, the Ottawa 67's relied more heavily on Monahan and he responded with the increased responsibility. He was team captain in 2012-2013, a testament to his natural leadership skills. Monahan isn't flashy on the offensive end, but he is arguably the best two-way player in the draft. He uses his above average size well, being physical when necessary. He played in all situations for Ottawa, and was an absolute monster in the faceoff circle. While Monahan may not be a dynamic game-changer, a la Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, he does everything the coaches ask of him and does it well. Many scouts agree that he will develop into a top-six forward in the NHL. As the Flames are very thin at center Monahan will have a very real chance to break camp with Calgary in 2013-14.
7. Edmonton Oilers - Darnell Nurse (D)
Tall, tenacious and tough to beat, Darnell Nurse is one of the elite shutdown defensemen in this year’s draft class. In 2012-13, Nurse's second OHL season, his offensive output exploded from 10 to 41 points, as he played big minutes on the Greyhounds' top pairing and established himself as a defensively sound leader with excellent skating abilities and a fiery physical edge. Nurse needs to beef up his lanky frame and improve his offensive instincts and capabilities if he hopes to be a scoring threat in the NHL. His on-ice skills are polished and if he has a strong off-season in the weight room, he could crack an NHL roster this spring with the potential of earning a top four spot in the near future. The Oilers already have plenty of skilled forwards and getting Nurse will help them become a far more balanced team in the long run.
8. Buffalo Sabres - Rasmus Ristolainen (D)
Rasmus Ristolainen has been making scouts salivate for years now. An extremely talented and smart defenseman with three years of professional experience, the Finn plays a shutdown game with a decent offensive upside. He’s capable of quickly and effectively moving the puck up the ice, he plays tough minutes and is very gritty and physical. Ristolainen makes impressive reads, has a great shot, is calm with the puck and commonly jumps into the rush. His skills are NHL ready and he is physically mature. It will not be long until he blossoms into a top-pairing defenseman.
9. Vancouver Canucks (via New Jersey) - Bo Horvat (C)
Some scouts tout Horvat as the best shutdown center in junior hockey. Whether that's accurate or not, there is no denying that he plays the game with a combination of toughness and skill that few players can match. He's known best for his defensive prowess, excelling in the faceoff circle, while showing tremendous ability on the back check and in the corners. Horvat stepped up as a leader on a loaded London team this season, a testament to his upbeat character and determination. He's also improved his offensive game scoring 33 goals in 67 games for the Knights. He has a nose for the net but is also a strong playmaker who can center scoring wingers. There are a ton of things to like about Horvat, who could make an impact in the NHL as soon as 2014. There will be a considerable amount of pressure on Horvat as the player who was acquired for Schneider.
10. Dallas Stars - Valeri Nichushkin (RW)
Nichushkin is a monster with a 6-4, 202-pound frame and tremendous offensive skills. The winger has a powerful stride and superb vision and playmaking ability. He’s a menace to contain for defenders, as he has the ability to bulldoze his way to the net and utilize his smooth hands to create scoring chances at will. Nichushkin progressed to the KHL this year, and he turned heads at the World Junior Championships and Five Nations. He’s still a little raw and needs to be a little more consistent, though. His defensive game also needs refining. But the comparisons to Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin speak to his upside. Nichushkin's already got some experience playing with men in the KHL, but it will probably take him time for him to transition from European hockey to the NHL.