With the 2013 NHL Entry Draft less than a week away, we at Fang Faction thought it would be good to hear an expert's point of view. Ken McKenna of Hockey'sFuture.com has been covering prospects for fourteen years. In 2003, Ken took over the reigns of Hockey's Future as managing editor.
Hockey's Future is the go-to place for all prospect analysis before they become big NHL stars. Make sure to follow them on Twitter, @HockeysFuture.
We asked Ken a series of questions regarding the Predators' draft situation, this year's draft class and the importance of the NHL combine to scouts. Enjoy!
Q: Is Joe Sakic bluffing when he told The Denver Post last week that he would pass on Seth Jones?
Ken McKenna: Technically speaking, I think Sakic is being truthful in that, if the Avalanche hold onto the first pick, they most likely will select one of MacKinnon, Drouin, or Barkov. But I think there is some wordsmithery being employed by Sakic as there is nothing that would stop them from choosing Jones if they were to deal for another of the top four picks, i.e. they wouldn't be using the first overall selection to draft Jones. The other thing is that Patrick Roy is a QMJHL guy, so he has seen more than enough of MacKinnon and Drouin over the past couple of seasons to have a very good read on the ability of those two players. In the end, I think the Avalanche are doing what they have to do to explore all possible angles associated with having the first overall pick in a good draft. They finished at the bottom of the league, so clearly they need help across the roster. So, adding extra pieces while still drafting in the top 3 or 4 would leave them in a better place than they were in before the draft.
Q: Do you see David Poile selecting Jones fourth overall if he is available by that time, instead of a forward?
Ken McKenna: The Predators lost a very good defenseman when Suter left the club last summer. The team does have some younger defensive talent in the pipeline, but nobody as good as Jones. Drafting Jones would certainly help to fill the void left by Suter's departure, but I think the Predators need to add some top-level forward talent to their ranks. Picking up Forsberg was a good start, but they need more. So, I wouldn't be totally surprised if they chose Jones, but they wouldn't be addressing their greatest need if they did so. Then again, you take the best player available, so Jones would be difficult to pass up if he was still on the board.
Q: Who do you think the top forward entering the draft is, Jonathan Drouin or Nathan MacKinnon?
Ken McKenna: In terms of overall ability, I would give the nod to MacKinnon. Drouin is probably the better pure offensive talent of the two, but MacKinnon is still pretty strong in that respect. Really, I don't think there is that much space between those two, Barkov, and Nichushkin. They can all dominate in their own way, with Barkov and Nichushkin having the added dimension of excellent size that Drouin and MacKinnon are lacking. In the end, if you're drafting in the top five, then this is a good draft to be in that position.
Q: Why should Preds fans not be worried about a similar situation with Valeri Nichushkin like they suffered with Alexander Radulov?
Ken McKenna: I wouldn't be one to say that Preds fans shouldn't worry if Nichushkin's name is called by the Predators. I think Nichushkin is a great talent, perhaps the best in this draft when he feels like playing to his abilities. But he has stated that he will only play in the NHL, and not at a lower level, so he'll be in Russia until he makes an NHL roster. Of course, that could happen this fall given that he is physically ready for the NHL. But, as with many Russian players of late, you're just never sure when or if they'll come over, and, if they do, how long they'll stay. I don't think it is any different in Nichushkin's case, so he is a bit of a wild card. But based strictly on talent, it would be hard to pass him up. Where he ends up being drafted will be one of the interesting plot lines for the early portion of the NHL Draft, that is for sure.
Q: Are Barkov, Drouin and Nichushkin NHL ready? Would they be ready to play under Barry Trotz's system?
Ken McKenna: I think that physically, Barkov and Nichushkin are certainly ready for the NHL. I don't think Drouin would be hurt by another year in junior, but he probably has the skill to play in the NHL right now. But I believe that Barkov is going back to Finland for one more season, and as stated above, it is the NHL or bust for Nichushkin.
As to whether these players will fit in with Trotz's system, maybe Barkov would be the best fit in that respect. Drouin and Nichushkin are more offensively oriented players, but Trotz has coached few of those types of players during his tenure, and there might be a reason for that.
Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of Aleksander Barkov, compared to Valeri Nichushkin?
Ken McKenna: I'm not sure I want to talk in terms of strengths and weaknesses when comparing these two since they are both top players. I think Nichushkin's skating is more pro-ready than Barkov's, but Barkov has improved in this area. Nichushkin is probably the more skilled player, but Barkov will most likely be the better two-way player (but he has some skill, as well). If you are trying to decide which player is a better fit for the Predators, I would probably go with Barkov.
Q: Before the Memorial Cup Championship, some were saying the result of the match will not affect the rankings of the players. However, with the Seth Jones-led Portland Winterhawks losing, he has dropped in some respect. Do you think the final result of the game made an impact on the rankings?
Ken McKenna: I don't think it was the Winterhawks losing as much as it was the dominating performance by MacKinnon (and Drouin played well, too) that has put him back on top, at least in the eyes of some. Jones didn't play badly at that tournament, so he didn't hurt his draft stock. But MacKinnon took his game to another level, putting aside whatever doubts that may have existed about his talent.
Q: Compared to last year with Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyek and Griffin Reinhart, is this year's draft more predictable or less?
Ken McKenna: I think Yakupov was the best pure talent in that group, and I think that, as the season went on, he mostly showed that. The other three are very good players who should make their mark in the NHL sooner or later – Galchenyuk has to a certain extent already, but defensemen usually take a bit longer to settle in. But as to whether last year's top four is more predictable than this year's, I think this year that you have four players that have little separating them in terms of ability. They all have their own strengths, but maybe Jones and MacKinnon have that little extra that makes them 1-2 in this draft. So predicting last year's top pick was a little easier than it will be this year, but Draft Day always brings a few surprises.
Q: How important is the combine to scouts really?
Ken McKenna: It has some importance, otherwise they wouldn't bother holding it. But I think it is most important for the prospects that are further down the pecking order. I think most of the scouts have a pretty good read on the top prospects available for the NHL Draft, so, unless these players have a really poor interview with the teams, they should remain among the top prospects. But players further down the pecking order aren't necessarily as well known, and they are further down the list because they may have more holes in their game than those at the top. So, the interviews and testing might be able to help clubs decide whether these prospects have certain physical or mental areas that might prohibit them from overcoming some of their shortcomings on the ice. Conversely, a good showing at this event could also help boost their draft stock a bit.
Having said this, I still believe that on-ice performance is probably 80-85% of the decision-making process for the NHL scouts, so the combine isn't the be-all, end-all for these prospects.
Q: Lastly, what does your top 5 mock draft look like?
Ken McKenna: Well, we've already posted the HF staff mock draft, but that draft was completed before Sakic came along and screwed everyone's mocks up. I wasn't involved in the selection process in our mock draft, however I think it is a good draft. But, given what we know now, if it is true, I guess I would go with the following:
1) Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon
2) Florida Panthers: Seth Jones
3) Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonathan Drouin
4) Nashville Predators: Aleksander Barkov
5) Carolina Hurricanes: Valery Nichushkin (but maybe not)