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MacKinnon tops McKenzie's Final Draft Rankings

Bob McKenzie

6/25/2013 8:56:58 PM

In an NHL season of wild momentum swings and dramatic finishes -- see Game 7 of Toronto-Boston and Game 6 of Chicago-Boston -- perhaps we shouldn't be surprised the race for No. 1 in the NHL Draft has been a wild ride of its own, with a series of entertaining twists and turns.

Halifax Moosehead centre Nathan MacKinnon started the 2012-13 season as TSN's consensus top prospect and that is precisely where he'll finish it -- as No. 1 on TSN's Final Top 75 2013 NHL Draft Rankings.

Last September, in a TSN pre-season survey of 10 NHL scouts, it was unanimous, all 10 ranking the Cole Harbour, N.S., native as No. 1.

And when the same 10 scouts were surveyed by TSN more than 10 months later, in the last week as a matter of fact, eight had the dynamic goal-scoring pivot as No. 1 on their list.

If you didn't know better, one might assume it was a comfortable wire-to-wire win for MacKinnon. But it was anything but, with the scouts changing their minds on multiple occasions and MacKinnon losing that mantle for a significant portion of the season.

Even in September, when MacKinnon's No. 1 status was unanimous, the scouts acknowledged that Portland Winterhawk defenceman Seth Jones was a legitimate challenger to MacKinnon, just a wisp behind him in their rankings.

Just prior to the World Junior Championship in December, Jones' play in the WHL had convinced three of the 10 scouts that he, not MacKinnon, was the No. 1 prospect.

A month later, after brilliant performances at the WJC and CHL Prospects' game, Jones was declared the new No. 1 on TSN's mid-season draft rankings, with seven of the 10 scouts choosing Jones over MacKinnon.

And what was initially billed as a two-horse race between MacKinnon and Jones became a three-horse affair with the emergence of first year QMJHLer Jonathan Drouin, who just happened to be MacKinnon's linemate on the Mooseheads.

Drouin played so well at the WJC and was so dominant in a month of the QMJHL regular season when MacKinnon was sidelined with a knee injury that the dynamic Quebecois moved into the No. 1 conversation for some.

When the scouts were surveyed in late April for TSN's Draft Lottery edition rankings, eight pegged Jones at No. 1, with MacKinnon and Drouin getting only one first-place vote apiece.

And four of those 10 scouts ranked Drouin ahead of MacKinnon on their list.

But then came the QMJHL playoffs, notably the Memorial Cup, and MacKinnon, fully healed from his knee injury, went on an incredible tear that culminated with a pair of Memorial Cup hat tricks, including one to lead Halifax to the championship in the title game.

MacKinnon started the 2012-13 scouting season with a hat trick to lead Canada to victory in the gold-medal game of the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tourney last August and bookended it in the final game of the season at the Memorial Cup.

And in the span of about one month -- from late April to late May -- MacKinnon went from having one first-place vote from scouts surveyed by TSN to getting eight of 10.
 
By any and all draft ranking standards, it was a remarkable turnaround in a relative short time span.

"There's usually not that much movement at the top of the draft over the course of a season," one scout told TSN. "But what you have to understand is it's always been really close between the top three or four guys. They all have their attributes and they're all really different in terms of their skill sets. It's a really good draft, for both high-end players and depth, too."

Indeed.

MacKinnon is a shoot-first, goal-scoring centre with dynamic speed and power and a tenacious puck hound whose strengths should translate well at the NHL level.

Jones, who is No. 2 on TSN's Top 75, is a big, athletic specimen whose skating is elite level, possessing a capacity to take over games offensively and more than enough defensive awareness to hold the promise of a complete package blueliner.

Drouin, No. 3, is a sub-6 foot winger with dynamic puck and stick skills whose vision, playmaking and ability to dominate games offensively is second to none.

Finnish centre Aleksander Barkov, No. 4 on TSN's list, was a man amongst men in the Finnish Elite League this season, playing a strong two-way game and putting up better offensive numbers than many last fall thought he was capable of producing. Barkov is ranked by some NHL teams as no lower than No. 2 overall.

"There's something for everyone at the top of this draft," another scout said.

TSN's Top 10 rankings for 2013 also include the following:

5. Swedish centre Elias Lindholm. He is one of the most complete players in the draft, a savvy two-way pivot with offensive skills and hockey sense who makes all the right moves with and without the puck.

6. Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin. The hulking right shot winger from Chelyabinsk can play a pure power game when he drives the net and now that he's free of KHL commitments and able to play in the NHL next season he may be less of a draft-day wild card.

7. Ottawa 67s centre Sean Monahan. The late 94 birthdate, 3rd-year OHLer is a skilled forward who put up good offensive numbers but plays a strong all-around game that may have suffered at times this season because the 67s had a poor season and traded away some key veterans.

8. Finnish defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen. The 6-foot-4 blueliner owns what may be the hardest slapshot of any 2013 draftee and he plays a hard, straight line physical two-way game.

9. Soo Greyhound defenceman Darnell Nurse. At a shade under 6-4 and still filling out, the son of former CFLer Richard Nurse has the frame, aggressive mindset and tremendous mobility to be a hard-to-play against two-way or shutdown defenceman.

10. London Knight forward Max Domi. The son of former NHL tough guy Tie Domi is only 5-9 but at a playing weight in the 190s and with his quickness, power and mad puck skills, Domi can score or make plays with the best of them.

NHL scouts seem genuinely excited by not only the quality and depth of this year's prospects throughout the first round but the diversity of the different types of players available.

There are some notable trends in this year's TSN Top 30 draft rankings:

-- It's a great year for the Quebec League, with 8 prospects in TSN's top 30, including the No. 1 ranked MacKinnon and No. 3 ranked Drouin. That's one more than the seven prospects for each of the Ontario and Western Leagues.

-- It's a great year for the province of Quebec in terms of home-grown talent. Even when you factor out one QMJHL Maritimer (MacKinnon), one American (No. 20 ranked Adam Erne) and one Russian (No. 25 ranked Valentin Zykov), there are five Quebec based prospects still in the top 30.

-- There is only one goalie ranked in TSN's Top 30 -- Halifax netminder Zach Fucale at No. 19. He is also one of the eight QMJHLers and five province of Quebec prospects.

-- There are a lot of highly-touted big defencemen. Each of the top-six rated blueliners on TSN's list -- No. 2 Jones, No. 8 Ristolainen, No. 9 Nurse, No. 11 Nikita Zadorov, No. 16 Mirco Mueller and No. 17 Sam Morin -- are bigger than 6-foot-3.

-- The majority (16) of TSN's Top 30 are Canadians. There are five Swedes, three Americans, three Russians, two Finns and one Swiss player rounding it out.

-- There are no U.S. high school or college players in TSN's Top 30.

One final note on how TSN arrives at the rankings: We survey 10 NHL scouts to get a numerical ranking of where they would slot prospects according to their individual preferences. Based on compilation of those 10 surveys, we arrive at a consensus ranking of at what point in the draft a prospect is most likely to be selected.

Which teams are picking in which slot has no bearing or influence on the process. It is not a mock draft or an assigning of players to specific teams as much as it is a projection of when a prospect is likely to be taken.

The draft is this Sunday in at 3 pm ET in Newark, N.J., and TSN will be on air for the entirety of the draft.