The Colorado Avalanche have been trying to uncloak some of the mystery that surrounds the top of the 2013 NHL draft, stating that their preference for the No. 1 overall pick is Nathan MacKinnon. While I agree with their assessment -- ranking him as the top prospect in a very, very good 2013 draft class -- and do believe he'll be selected No. 1, I'm not sure if it's the Avs who will end up selecting him.
A deep crop of prospects, even at the very top, makes it a little easier for teams to jump around via trade and still come away with a prospect of high value. That said, to me there are still a few tiers where the talent dips a bit.
Ignoring positional value, the best three prospects in this draft class are MacKinnon, winger Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Seth Jones. They could all be generational talents at the NHL level. But even the next trio -- Aleksander Barkov, Elias Lindholm and Valeri Nichushkin -- have star potential. Look even lower, to the final third of Round 1, and NHL scouts see a slew of players who will provide solid value in the league.
The most frequent comparison I've heard for this year's draft class is the legendary class of 2003, which produced a total of 24 All-Stars. That could be overstating things slightly, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if late in this first round or even in the second, we see a few future stars unearthed along the lines of Patrice Bergeron (No. 45 overall in 2003) and Shea Weber (No. 49). Regardless of where your team is selecting, this will be a draft to get excited about.
A few notes about the structure of the mock draft below. Rule No. 1 for almost every NHL team is, "Take the best player on the draft board." Rule No. 2 is "See: Rule No. 1." Drafting is about accumulating the best assets possible. Drafting for need happens, but no team is going to reach for a prospect just because they have a hole on their current NHL roster. That's how you stunt your organizational growth. What follows is how I see Round 1 playing out based on organizational philosophies and the talented prospects available. So, with that, here is my final first-round projection for the 2013 NHL draft:
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TEAM: Halifax (QMJHL)
Pick analysis: The clear-cut best player in this draft should be selected No. 1 overall. But will it be by the Avs? There are compelling arguments for the Avs selecting a defenseman, and some pundits suggest they should draft for position and select Seth Jones, but I can't subscribe to this staff falling into that notion. MacKinnon is ready for the NHL now and will have an impact next season with his explosive skating, smart hockey sense, elite offensive skills and desire to prove he is the best. That was the case at the Memorial Cup, where he helped his Halifax team win the coveted title. However, I wouldn't be surprised if the Avs get a trade offer they can't refuse. Moving down is a risky proposition, so they'll have to be sure they can get the pick they want at their new slot. But if they can add assets and get Jones a little lower, it would be a huge win.