BY: Margann Laurissa
With the 2013 NHL Entry Draft now complete, many questions will start to be asked about the young men who heard their names called in Newark, most specifically the first-round picks. In what was perhaps the most talent-laden first round since 2003, the multitude of questions is natural, especially since so many of these players are considered to be among the best. Couple that with the NHL becoming a young man's league now more than ever and it seems as though these ponderings are going to need more hastened replies than ever before. Some will wonder: What kind of player will (insert player name here) be when he makes it to the NHL? Will he prove that he was worthy of being a first-round selection? What will be his fantasy value? To help answer some of these questions, one must break down each player individually and see what he will bring to his new organization, whenever he gets to start playing in the NHL.
1. Colorado Avalanche -- Nathan MacKinnon (C, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)
When the Colorado Avalanche made it known that they were not going to take a defenceman with their first overall pick, many eyebrows were raised. Why would a team that was already quite weak on defence pass on a young blueliner? Instead of doing that, they decided to take the player they always truly wanted in Nathan MacKinnon. With the Avs considerably strong down the middle already with the likes of Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, it seemed almost ludicrous for them to use their first overall selection on a centre. That may be true but consider this. Barring contract extensions, Stastny, O'Reilly and current checking-line pivot John Mitchell have contracts that are all expiring after the coming season; Duchene will have his contract expire the season after. All four of those players are left-handed shooters while MacKinnon is a right-handed shooter, giving the centre-ice position some more depth in that regard. Whether MacKinnon will readily produce at the NHL level is a bit hard to tell. Just because he did do well in the QMJHL, it does not necessarily translate into immediate NHL success. He will, however, perform quite well if with great linemates, much like Gabriel Landeskog was. Perhaps trying some shifts on right wing could help, too. MacKinnon will benefit from having Patrick Roy as a head coach, someone who watched him play several times in junior; Roy knows better than anyone about this young man's skill set by seeing it firsthand. There is no doubt that MacKinnon will stick in the NHL right away next season but he may have to work his way up the forward lines. He will be a first-line centre in time but he won't be there just yet; it will probably take two or more years before that happens.
2. Florida Panthers -- Aleksander "Sasha" Barkov (C, Tappara Tampere, SM-liiga)
Considering that the Florida Panthers have been shying away from European players with their first-round selections ever since Dale Tallon has taken the general manager's reins, it seemed a bit surprising when they took Aleksander "Sasha" Barkov with the second overall pick. The Panthers were very intelligent in selecting him in many ways. The centre-ice position in Florida has a lot of pivots who, unless they are given extensions, have contracts ending in 2014-15, which is also the same season in which Barkov's contract with Tappara expires. (The only centreman who could be gone before then is Marcel Goc, whose contract ends after this season.) Around the same time that Barkov could become eligible to play in the NHL, barring him prematurely opting out of his SM-liiga contract, a lot of the centre-ice positions on the Panthers roster could be ready for satiation. With Vincent Trocheck also on the depth chart in Florida down the middle, it will be interesting to see just how this will affect where Barkov is placed in the lineup. He has shown already in the SM-liiga, as well as at the World Juniors, that he is capable of being a #1 centre; the former is quite impressive since he has been playing amongst men for the last few years. By the time he is ready for the NHL, which is another year or two, he could very well be a first-line centre in the NHL if he continues to commit to his development and if the Panthers are patient enough to allow that to happen, especially since they have realized that not rushing their first-round picks of late (Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau) has actually been more advantageous than harmful.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning -- Jonathan Drouin (LW/C, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)
With the Tampa Bay Lightning finding it very hard for them to produce points away from their two go-to guys in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, it was not surprising in the least that they found themselves picking CHL MVP Jonathan Drouin with their third-overall selection. Drouin showed this season, as a draft-eligible player, that he is capable of putting up big numbers and playing well in key situations. Along with Nathan MacKinnon and Zachary Fucale, Drouin was instrumental in helping the Halifax Mooseheads win their first-ever Memorial Cup, showing that he is comfortable playing on one of junior hockey's biggest stages. Drouin has also shown that he does not have to be the biggest player on the ice to be dominant. With Drouin, the Lightning have found themselves a great two-way, high-scoring forward who can play both left wing and centre, making him much more versatile than a mere one-dimensional player. It will be up to the Lightning coaching staff to determine what position they wish to use him in more than the other. It looks right now that the top line in Tampa is already predetermined as having St. Louis, Stamkos and Teddy Purcell on it, there is a good possibility that Drouin will see himself on the second line to start his NHL career, that is if he immediately sticks in the NHL. Now that Vincent Lecavalier is on his way to the Philadelphia Flyers, Drouin can actually step into that second-line centre role right away and be an effective member of the roster.
4. Nashville Predators -- Seth Jones (D, Portland Winterhawks, WHL)
It came as a bit of a surprise when Seth Jones found himself bounced out of the #1 spot overall. When he slipped twice more, it started to become more of a shock. Finally, he found himself chosen fourth overall by the Nashville Predators. The Predators, as everyone knows, are a team deep in offensive talent from their blueline. Shea Weber has been at or around twenty goals the last few seasons, hitting a personal best 23 in 2008-09. Kevin Klein and Roman Josi are starting to come into their own as significant contributors. Ryan Ellis is ready to become a full-time NHL defenceman. Going into their second season without Ryan Suter, however, the Predators realized that they are going to need someone to fill that hole immediately and they are not sure if Victor Bartley -- who was actually quite an offensive defenceman in his junior career -- is ready to take on that responsibility. In Jones, Nashville gets a blueliner who has demonstrated already that he is a big-name player, whether helping the Portland Winterhawks win the WHL championship, winning gold at the World Juniors with Team USA, or whatever the case may be. He also brings such significant size, standing 6'4" and weighing in at 205 pounds, thanks mostly to having the genetics that comes with being the son of a former NBA superstar. He may not be a top-pair defenceman right away but he will get there. He may even start next season on the second pairing. Jones will get every chance he can get to make the Predators full-time next year.
5. Carolina Hurricanes -- Elias Lindholm (C/RW, Brynäs IF, SHL)
Many thought that the Carolina Hurricanes were going to trade their first-round pick but it will remain to be seen if they did the right thing by doing so. The Hurricanes used their fifth-overall selection to draft Elias Lindholm, a forward from Brynäs, the same system that developed the likes of Washington Capitals centre Nicklas Bäckström. Lindholm has one year remaining on his contract in Sweden and, looking at the majority of the key forwards on the Hurricanes, it will not just be a question of signing him after that but if it will be a salary cap issue. The Hurricanes have five players under contract beyond the 2014-15 season, including Jordan Staal's that will see him in Raleigh until the 2022-23 season (gah!), so money could be the issue. Finding a place for Lindholm in the lineup, however, should not be that problematic. Beyond the top two lines, there will be a need to fill those spots, and a player constantly making the nearly three-hour trek to and from Charlotte does not seem like a good enough choice. It also seems to be a bit advantageous since there are not many players in the Hurricanes system picked in the 2011 and 2012 drafts who are ready for the next level. Victor Rask is still some time away and Erik Karlsson is, as well. Lindholm could very well become a second-line forward in the NHL and it seems as though he may stay there for a while considering the contract extensions that some of the veteran players in Carolina currently possess.