With the second half of the NHL season upon us, some teams are already making plans for the draft lottery while others are clinging to playoff hopes in tight races across the league. Meanwhile, many top NHL prospects are preparing for the postseasons in junior and European professional leagues around the globe.
The top of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft is strong. Teams ending up with one of the 14 lottery picks are looking good to get a prospect who will go a long way in improving their franchise's pipeline. The new lottery system does complicate things, however, as all 14 teams that miss the playoffs will have a chance at the first overall pick.
The draft seems like a long ways away, but June 30 will show up faster than you know. With that in mind, this is our first monthly mock draft projecting the first round. Since there's no crystal ball that will give us the draft order, it is simply set by team records as of the morning of March 14.
Unlike our 2013 NHL Draft Big Board, this mock draft is not a straight ranking of players. It takes into account things like a team's draft history and, in some cases, organizational need. In most instances, a team won't draft based on need, but it's still worth noting for potential tendencies.
The Class of 2013 is indeed an exciting one, so let's get to it …
|2013 NHL Mock Draft by Chris Peters|
|1. Florida Panthers – Seth Jones (WHL) -- D|
Unlike some other teams that might find themselves at No. 1, this should be an easy decision for Florida. With a stocked crop of forwards in the prospect pipeline, Jones is the cornerstone defenseman around which Dale Tallon can build. He's NHL ready and would bring some much-needed star power to the Panthers. One scout told me that Jones is pulling away from the pack and will be No. 1 on a lot of team's draft boards.
|2. Washington Capitals – Nathan MacKinnon (QMJHL) -- C|
The Caps would probably love to see Jones fall to them, but MacKinnon is a pretty safe pick at No. 2. His elite speed and good all-around game would provide some fairly quick help to a team that has uncharacteristically struggled to score. He has dipped a bit on some draft boards, but MacKinnon is still a special player with clear NHL ability and game-breaking potential.
|3. Buffalo Sabres – Jonathan Drouin (QMJHL) -- LW|
There might be a more pressing organizational need on the blue line for Buffalo, but Drouin is too obvious a choice in this position. Some teams have him ahead of MacKinnon, and I believe Drouin probably has a higher potential. That upside isn't without risk because his size is moderately concerning. But there isn't a player in this draft, or maybe the last who knows how many, who can do what he can with the puck on his stick.
|4. Tampa Bay Lightning – Aleksander Barkov (SML) -- C|
Barkov is a do-everything center who has put up some incredible numbers playing in Finland's top pro league this year. His offensive skill, size and immense hockey sense give Barkov a sense of NHL readiness. He might not have the upside of the previous three, but where he is already at is pretty impressive. He's pretty clearly the next best available after “The Big Three.”
|5. Colorado Avalanche – Elias Lindholm (SEL) -- C|
A crafty forward who can play center or wing, Lindholm has a lot of tools that make him a good bet to go in the top five. Colorado has a pretty light prospect pipeline, so getting a player with Lindholm's upside and skill could be huge. He's playing very well in Sweden's top pro league and was solid at the World Juniors for Sweden.
|6. Calgary Flames – Sean Monahan (OHL) -- C|
Calgary's failed attempt to sign Ryan O'Reilly might not be all bad. The Flames' struggles could get them in good position to grab a strong two-way center. Monahan fits that bill with a good amount of offense. He played for a poor team this year in the OHL, but he's a two-time 30-goal scorer in the OHL. He has great size and looks like a very safe pick in this range due to his high-end hockey sense.
|7. Philadelphia Flyers – Darnell Nurse (OHL) -- D|
This could be a slight reach of a pick here, but I think Nurse plays the style that the Flyers love. There's a real edge to his game and such a strong defensive presence. He has terrific size and skates well. One NHL scout told me Nurse stands out because he already plays an NHL-style game. He's defense first, but the offensive aspects of his game are starting to show this year, too.
|8. Columbus Blue Jackets – Valeri Nichushkin (KHL) -- LW|
The Blue Jackets have three picks in the first round, and it's such a great year to have them. Nichushkin has made it pretty clear that he wants to play in the NHL, and he should be an easy pick in this range. Nichushkin has incredible size, speed and skill. He has top-six upside and is currently getting challenge in the KHL. This would make for a great first pick of the Jarmo Kekalainen Era.
|9. Edmonton Oilers – Nikita Zadorov (OHL) -- D|
With the cupboard filled with forwards from three straight first-overall picks, the Oilers could look to defense. There's a bevy of good choices, but Nikita Zadorov could be that high-upside rear guard whom Edmonton can help develop into a high-end defensive defenseman. There's still some rawness to the 6-foot-5 blueliner, but he can play mean and has some good mobility.
|10. New York Islanders – Rasmus Ristolainen (SML) -- D|
A solid defensive defenseman with some puck-moving ability, Ristolainen has been playing in the Finnish pros the last two years. While there's some debate on his upside, there's little argument about Ristolainen's ability. He has great awareness and solid mobility to go with NHL-ready size. Ristolainen probably isn't terribly far off from being ready to hop into an NHL lineup.
|11. Dallas Stars – Hunter Shinkaruk (WHL) -- LW|
At one point considered a top-five prospect, Shinkaruk has been passed up, but that doesn't mean he has lost his game. A terrific puck handler and skater, Shinkaruk has some terrific offensive upside. His size might scare some teams off early, but the skills suggest it won't be as big of an issue. He can be a pretty exciting player to watch when he's on his game.
|12. Nashville Predators – Ryan Pulock (WHL) -- D|
A high-upside defenseman, Pulock could be a good piece to add in this range. He has a bomb of a shot from the point and is a gifted puck-mover. He has good size and skates well but was slowed by injuries this season. There's some amount of risk in this pick, but the potential is there for a high reward. Nashville could use some depth on the back end, and Pulock's a sound option to fill it.
|13. Winnipeg Jets – Adam Erne (QMJHL) -- RW|
The Jets' pipeline was left pretty bare before the move to Winnipeg. With the top four defenders off the board, there's a better potential to hit with a forward. Erne might be the best available here. He has been highly productive for the Quebec Remparts over the last two seasons and has turned his skating into a real strength. With good vision and a heavy shot, he looks to have serious top-six potential.
|14. San Jose Sharks – Max Domi (OHL) -- C|
Though undersized, the skill and work ethic are there for teams to overlook Domi's smaller frame. He took a big step forward production-wise playing for the London Knights and looks to have a lot more to give going forward. The speed, the hands and hockey sense are where they need to be to warrant a top-15 selection. San Jose's light pipeline could use this heavy dose of offensive skill.
|15. Minnesota Wild – Alexander Wennberg (Allsvenskan) -- C|
The Wild have done well drafting European players in recent years with Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin among them. Wennberg is another high-upside Swede playing in his home country's second pro division. He has terrific hockey sense and a strong two-way game. Wennberg is producing at a high clip for a teenager with Djugarden and was outstanding for Sweden at the World Juniors.
|16. Columbus Blue Jackets (From NYR) – Frederik Gauthier (QMJHL) -- C|
With three picks, the Jackets can be a little choosier than everyone else. Gauthier might be a little high in this range, but he's only just beginning to tap into his potential. At 6-foot-5, 209, Gauthier is still figuring out how to use his frame, but he has shown some serious offensive potential. In his first QMJHL season, he's just over a point-per game pace.
|17. Detroit Red Wings – Kerby Rychel (OHL) -- LW|
Rychel has one of those diverse skill sets that NHL teams just love. On top of being a highly-productive player, he's tough and plays mean. His forechecking is relentless, and he has some serious finish around the net. Rychel has 160 points over two seasons in the OHL and possesses strength and speed. There's a lot of skill in Detroit's pipeline, which Rychel would add to along with some snarl.
|18. Phoenix Coyotes – Anthony Mantha (QMJHL) -- LW|
Mantha brings size to the table at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. On top of that, he's scoring at a torrid pace in the QMJHL this year. He has shot up the charts in a big way with 48 goals in 65 games for Val-d'Or. The good thing about Mantha's size is that he knows how to use it. He has enough versatility that adds to the intrigue so he doesn't have to rely solely on his goal totals.
|19. St. Louis Blues – Robert Hagg (SEL) --D|
The Blues took a chance on a high-upside defenseman last draft in Jordan Schmaltz, but that shouldn't keep them from trying the same in this slot. Hagg has been on the rise since a standout performance for Sweden at the World Juniors as an injury replacement. He has great puck-moving skills and skates very well. There's plenty of room for him to grow his game, but he's off to a solid start.
|20. Vancouver Canucks – Curtis Lazar (WHL) -- C|
There's a chance that Lazar won't last this long, but there are still some questions about his overall ability to produce at the next level. That said, Lazar has elite speed and can create on the fly. His production is trending up, and he's starting to show a more natural scoring ability. Size might be an issue, but he has a tremendous on-ice work ethic and doesn't shy away from anything.
|21. Columbus Blue Jackets (from LAK) – Artturi Lehkonen (SML) -- LW|
Having spent half the season in Finland, new Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen is undoubtedly familiar with Lehkonen. A natural scorer, Lehkonen needs to get a bit stronger, but his offensive creativity provides a lot to like. He has some tremendous skills, is creative with the puck and can probably score from just about anywhere in the offensive zone. Currently having a solid pro season in Finland, the ceiling is high on Lehkonen.
|22. New Jersey Devils – Josh Morrissey (WHL) -- D|
Morrissey makes teams pay with his skating and puck skills. His vision and distribution ability make him a threat from the blue line, and he has been a highly productive player in the WHL. The Devils don't have anyone like him in their system. Morrissey has room to fill out his frame, but the offense and upside that he brings will make him tough to pass up if he falls here.
|23. Toronto Maple Leafs – Bo Horvat (OHL) -- C|
Tenacious at both ends of the ice, Horvat has a great mix of defensive capabilities and offensive flair. He's not the biggest, but has good physical strength and is tough to get the puck from. He pursues well and has a nose for where the puck is going to be. With 31 goals for London this year, he's far from just a defensive forward. There's a lot to like about Horvat's game (and he's a good Ontario boy, Grapes).
|24. Carolina Hurricanes – Valentin Zykov (QMJHL) -- RW|
The Hurricanes showed they're not opposed to taking risks. And while Zykov could be one, he has high-reward potential. A stout forward, Zykov is tough to knock off the puck and has really impressed in his first season in North America. With 37 goals and 71 points as a QMJHL rookie, Zykov has shown some immense offensive talent and upside. Carolina shouldn't be scared to snap him up here.
|25. Ottawa Senators – Mirco Mueller (WHL) -- D|
With some well-established forwards in the prospect pipeline, Ottawa might be able to fill out its blue-line crop in this range. Mueller has been moving up a lot of draft charts and with good reason. He has great size, he's mobile and he has a high ceiling. He needs some smoothing out to do yet, but the Swiss defenseman turned heads at the 2013 WJC and has been solid defensively for Everett.
|26. Boston Bruins – Ryan Hartman (OHL) -- RW|
Hartman is one of the more interesting prospects in the draft because projections for him are all over the map. He showed at the World Juniors for Team USA that he could play a gritty defensive game, but he brings a lot of offense, averaging better than a point-per-game with the Plymouth Whalers. His hockey sense and on-ice work ethic should make him intriguing to a team like the Bruins.
|27. Pittsburgh Penguins – Zach Fucale (QMJHL) -- G|
The goaltending crop is fairly thin this year, so teams that have an organizational need might look to resolve that in the first round before it gets picked over. The Pens are a good candidate to go for it with a light goalie pipeline and are in a range where the highest skill guys are already snapped up. Fucale is the head of the goalie class and has been backstopping one of the best teams in all of Canadian Major Junior with Halifax.
|28. Montreal Canadiens – Jacob de la Rose (Allsvenskan) -- LW|
Montreal could go many ways, but de la Rose would be a smart choice. He has NHL size and terrific speed. He can get the job done at both ends of the ice and has a high energy level every shift. The puck skills and upside are there for de la Rose to bring a bit more offense to the table as well. The Habs don't have anyone quite like him, so this could be a good fit.
|29. Anaheim Ducks – Nicolas Petan (WHL) -- C|
Undersized but entertaining, Petan has set the WHL on fire offensively this year. Despite coming in at 5-foot-9, 166 pounds, Petan has 112 points in 69 games for the Portland Winterhawks. He has tremendous speed and a relentless work ethic. Petan is unafraid to engage in the physical game and goes to the hard areas of the ice to generate offense. He's a risk in the first round but potentially worth it.
|30. Chicago Blackhawks – J.T. Compher (USHL) -- C|
Compher is an Illinois native and currently the top forward at the U.S. National Team Development Program. He plays a gritty, two-way game with good strength and solid skating. The on-ice work ethic really stands out here. Compher can definitely bring the offense as well with a strong shot and decent skill.