Forecasting the top five picks in the NHL draft
1. Seth Jones D
—Avalanche VP Joe Sakic insists that he will take a forward, but the team that gave up the second-most goals in the West last season desperately needs to shore up its blue line. (Colorado defensemen also scored just five times in 2013.) The 18-year-old Jones (14 goals, 42 assists), a smooth skater with excellent hockey sense, is the logical choice.
2. Nathan MacKinnon C
—Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau, the 2013 Calder Trophy winner, could use MacKinnon on his line—he's a playmaker who will look to distribute as much as he will to shoot. MacKinnon's defensive game needs work, but his willingness to be physical makes him one of the draft's top all-around prospects.
3. Jonathan Drouin LW
—He was MacKinnon's linemate in Halifax last season, scoring 105 points (including 64 assists) and earning QMJHL MVP honors. At 5'11" and 176 pounds, the 17-year-old Drouin has the agility and playmaking ability to flourish in the Lightning's potent offense.
4. Aleksander Barkov C
—At 6'2", 205 pounds, the center was a skilled two-way player (21 goals, 27 assists) with Tappara in Finland. His already astute hockey instincts will benefit greatly from the guidance of Predators coach Barry Trotz.
5. Valeri Nichushkin RW
—He's still spindly at 196 pounds, but he will grow into his 6'4" frame and develop into a fearsome offensive threat for the Hurricanes. Nichushkin, 18, has already shown an ability to score in the clutch: He netted the overtime winner for Russia that denied Canada a place on the podium at World Juniors last January.