By Allan Muir
Taking a defenseman first overall in the NHL draft has always been something of a risky proposition. Of the 12 blueliners that have been taken in the top spot, only Denis Potvin (1973) and perhaps Ed Jovanovski (1994) have lived up to the hype.
Even so, the NHL’s Central Scouting Service couldn’t help but list Portland Winterhawks defender Seth Jones as their consensus first choice for the 2013 draft. The midseason favorite remained at the top of the CSS final prospect ranking, which was released today.
An amateur scout not involved with Central Scouting said Jones was the obvious selection: “Look around the league at the impact a premier defenseman can have, Look at what [Ryan] Suter has done for Minnesota, look at what [P.K.] Subban did for Montreal. That’s what Jones will do for somebody. He can make that impact.”
There was some thought that Jonathan Drouin’s remarkable second half might propel him above Halifax Mooseheads teammate Nathan MacKinnon and maybe even Jones. In the end, the sniper remained in the three spot with MacKinnon at two.
“Nate MacKinnon is a right-handed centerman that can play in any area of the ice,” Central Scouting’s David Gregory told NHL.com. “With the way he thinks the game, there would seem to be a huge ceiling for this kid and what he can become.
“Drouin couldn’t have done anything more to push the envelope against MacKinnon and Seth Jones, so that’s as tight a gap as you’ll ever get between first and third. If you’re picking No. 1, 2 or 3, you’re a happy team.”
Ultimately, this call will come down to the drafting philosophy of the team that ends up with the first pick. You want a polished, two-way defender in the Scott Niedermayer mold? Jones is your pick. You want to build around an elite center with high-end skating ability who thinks the game at a world-class level? Go with MacKinnon. There might be a team out there that covets Drouin but odds are they’d trade down to get him rather than use the first overall pick.
The most prominent jumper in the final list is Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defender Darnell Nurse, who leapt from nine to four in the North American list. “He’s a Shea Weber type,” a scout told SI.com last month. “Good skater, physical, very tough to play against. He could play on someone’s top pair.”
Owen Sound’s Zach Nastasiuk also made a stunning move, jumping from 33 to 13, coincidentally the day after a magnificent performance for Canada at the Under-18 World Championship. Someone at CSS must be a big fan. Scouts I’ve spoken with see him as a reliable two-way winger with second-line upside. Ranking him at 13 suggests something more.
Three other players made significant moves into the top-30: Rimouski’s Samuel Morin went from 76 to 23; Laurent Dauphin of Chicoutimi leapt from 41 to 28; and John Hayden of the U.S. National Team Development Program went from 59 to 29.
Jordan Subban, brother of P.K. and 2012 Boston first-rounder Malcolm, moved into the second-round discussion, jumping from 81 to 55.
The biggest leap? That looks to be Martin Reway, who bounded 86 steps, from 177 to 91. CSS obviously saw enough skill and compete in the Czech winger to overlook his tiny frame (5′-8″, 158).
Notable sliders include troubled Quebec winger Adam Erne (13 to 26), Prince Albert defender Josh Morrissey (11 to 27) and USA NTDP forward JT Compher (20 to 34).
Juuse Saros is the most interesting name on the international ledger. The top-ranked Euro goalie is really small (just 5′-10″, 178), but as he showed in a 49-save performance against the Americans at the U-18s, he is a world-class stopper. His size is the only thing that could keep him out of the first round. In the end, even that might not dissuade a team from taking a chance on him.