Seth Jones, pictured at the Top Prospects Game, is starting to top a lot of draft rankings lists, but has stiff competition in Nathan MacKinnon. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
There’s good news and bad news for teams getting off to sluggish starts this lockout-shortened season. The good news is there’s some high-end young talent available in the 2013 NHL draft – Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin at the head of the class – for the bottom-feeders to feast on. The bad news? Contrary to popular belief, the 2013 draft isn’t nearly as deep as scouts initially projected the past couple of seasons.
So for teams really struggling through the first two weeks of play – are you listening fans of Calgary, Columbus, Phoenix, Florida and Washington (for now) – it means you have the highest odds of selecting a really high-end talent that can become a franchise cornerstone for 15-plus years. But for the 7/11 teams out there (those just missing the playoffs and destined to draft in the No. 10-14 slots), a mid-first round pick this year isn’t any more special than any other year.
In discussion with dozens of scouts the past few weeks as we prepare for our annual Future Watch issue, The Hockey News has learned the much-ballyhooed draft of 2013 is more sizzle than substance. It’s nothing special, after all.
“The 2013 draft is not as strong or as deep as we first thought,” said one scout, echoing the thoughts of many others. “It’s a deep top 10 and an OK first round, but I don’t see a lot of depth. Is it deeper than 2012? I’m not so sure.”
The 2012 draft was considered the weakest in several years. That’s perhaps why 2013 was so anticipated, because of the heavy hitters like Jones and MacKinnon at the top of the list. It wasn’t that long ago some scouts and media outlets were selling the 2013 draft as the best since 2003, when the star-struck likes of Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Loui Eriksson, Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber all were taken in the No. 11-49 window.
“The 2013 draft won’t come close to 2003,” another scout said. “Let’s make that clear right now. Take away the first eight or 10 picks and you’re looking at guys who can contribute on the third and fourth lines, not the first line.”
The NHL changed the rules of the draft lottery so all 14 non-playoff teams have a shot to win the first overall pick. But after that solitary roulette wheel has been spun, picks 2 through 14 go in reverse order of regular season finish.
“It looks like there’s a demarcation between the first three (MacKinnon, Jones and Drouin) and the next five or six,” a scout said.
Another scout asked the media to practise caution when singing the praises of MacKinnon, the odds-on favourite to go first overall. “He should never be compared to Sidney Crosby (even though they both hail from the Cole Harbour region of Nova Scotia). One guy is a superstar, the other is a projected star. I’ve always felt the media is placing too high of expectations on Nathan.”
So for teams slow out of the gate, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. But only the really bad teams will benefit the most.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.