With the 2013 NHL entry draft just six weeks away, there's little remaining time and opportunity for most prospects to change the minds of pro scouts and general managers around the National Hockey League.
We all have a fairly good idea of which young players are the most sought-after prospects. Although we're surely in for a surprise or two on draft day, when it comes to the perceived cream of the crop, there's not a great discrepancy among those who are best at hammering out this stuff -- for the most part. In examining a sampling of top rankings from a variety of expert sources, there's general consensus regarding some players, and less so in other cases.
For our draft roundup, we're analyzing recent rankings from the Central Scouting Service -- divided between North American and European skaters (April 24), ESPN Insider/NHL scout Grant Sonier (April 18), TSN's Bob McKenzie (April 29), International Scouting Services (May 15) and Hockey Prospectus' Corey Pronman (May 10).
The chart below outlines each expert source's draft rankings, followed by an analysis of where they agree and disagree about top prospects.
On the same page
There's little divergence in opinion as to where the top three European skaters rank overall. In varying order, Aleksander Barkov, Valeri Nichushkin and Elias Lindholm are ranked fourth through sixth nearly across the board -- only International Scouting Services has Lindholm slotted in seventh position. For teams with high draft picks, it may come down to whether the priority is a heavy-duty, two-way center (Barkov), a hulking winger in the style of a power forward (Nichushkin) or a centerman more known for his on-ice smarts (Lindholm). While Barkov and Nichushkin are coveted for their size, the less-imposing Lindholm is particularly appreciated for his high hockey IQ. (TSN's McKenzie called him a "smart, creative playmaker" and a "two-way threat.")
On the subject of on-ice intelligence, the top OHL forward prospect of 2013 ranks exceptionally high in that department. Plus, Sean Monahan is cherished for his size (6-foot-2), puck-moving ability and work ethic. Despite playing for the rebuilding Ottawa 67's this season, the 18-year-old center remains a top-10 favorite. In fact, McKenzie, Sonier and Pronman all have Monahan tiered seventh.
"I love Monahan," one NHL scout disclosed earlier this season while talking with ESPN.com's Craig Custance. "His biggest strength is he's so smart -- so, so smart ... To me, he's like a [Jonathan] Toews. Maybe not as dynamic but he's a guy who as a young player is going to kill penalties, be out there in the last minute and play against top players."
Mild difference of opinion
We're splitting hairs here, considering that these three top players are expected to go one-two-three, but not everyone believes the Portland Winterhawks defenseman should be branded No. 1. While McKenzie and ISS rank Seth Jones as the top overall selection, Sonier favors Nathan MacKinnon while Pronman is Jonathon Drouin's biggest cheerleader.
That being said, it would come as a great surprise if the Colorado Avalanche doesn't select Jones with the top pick overall. Never mind the Avs' grave lack of blue-line depth, the towering, skilled D-man has rock-solid connections to the organization. Joe Sakic -- who was recently entrenched as Colorado's new executive vice president of hockey operations -- instructed Jones' father to get his son skating lessons. Unless a top-three pick is dealt, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning are each expected to end up with one of the two Halifax Mooseheads' forwards (without much complaint, one would imagine).
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is another player who has the experts slightly split. Ranked outside the top 10 for some, Ristolainen sits eighth in the estimation of both McKenzie and Pronman. The Hockey Prospectus scribe insists the well-rounded TPS Turku (SM-liiga) defenseman is more than just a physical presence in his own end.
"His best skill is his hockey sense," wrote Pronman. "He thinks the game at a level well beyond his years, and he does not make many mistakes on the ice. He is an aware, effective defenseman who can close gaps with his body or with his stick. With the puck, he shows calmness, but he can process the game quickly when the situation calls for it. He can man the point on the power play.
"He is a solid to above-average skater (I have heard an NHL scout classify him as high end in that area). His puck handling is at a similar level; he can flash significant offensive ability, but the bulk of value will come from his work in his own zone."
On disparate wavelengths
While McKenzie and ISS have both OHL defensemen in their top 10, the rest of the panel appears split on Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Nikita Zadorov of the London Knights. Central Scouting pegs Nurse fourth among North American skaters and Zadorov 22nd. Pronman ranks Nurse No. 11 and Zadorov No. 16. On the flipside, Sonier favors Zadorov (ranked eighth) and considers Nurse slightly overrated (ranked 20).
"While I understand the ranking and like [Nurse's] upside, I feel this is considerably high based on what I project the player to be," wrote Sonier. "I see him as a defensive D-man and question his decision-making under pressure. I believe he'll play in the NHL, though, and his grit factor is appealing. Critics may suggest I am contradicting myself given my earlier thoughts on Zadorov, who I have ranked at No. 8 overall. The major difference is I like Zadorov's thought process (underappreciated puck skills) and he is measurably much bigger and stronger."
There also appears to be a variance in draft value in regards to center Curtis Lazar of the Edmonton Oil Kings, right wing Adam Erne of the Quebec Remparts and Baie-Comeau Drakkar winger Valentin Zykov.