The 2013 NHL Entry Draft is expected to be very exciting for a variety of reasons. The biggest, however, is that this draft class, particularly at the top, is as deep as we’ve seen in a decade. The quality of prospects coming up through the ranks this year is going to put a lot of teams in good position to pick up some quality players.
Despite such a deep first and second round, there’s a chance this year’s selections will be a little light on Americans towards the top. There of course is Seth Jones, one of the draft’s very best players, but there are only about three or four more players that have a legitimate shot at the first round out of the United States.
While this U.S.-born class might not have as much quality as we’ve become increasingly accustomed, there are some really intriguing talents that should be garnering a lot of attention once the picks start flying Sunday in Newark, N.J.
As I do every year, I put together a list of the 15 best American prospects for the NHL Draft, in my opinion. This list will closely mirror the top-50 I produced for CBSSports.com, but the reports are a little more in-depth here.
1. Seth Jones (Plano, Texas) — D — Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
The best American-born prospect to enter the draft since Patrick Kane, Jones deservedly has gotten a lot of attention this season. Though it sounds like the Colorado Avalanche will pass him by with the first overall pick, it doesn’t take away much from what Jones has accomplished and will accomplish over his long career.
He’s a terrific all-around defenseman, with good size at 6-4, 208. He skates extremely well and has smoothness to his game. Jones rarely panics and is creative in his ability to absorb and avoid forechecking forwards. Offensively, he has a really heavy, accurate shot, distributes the puck extremely well and has enough skill to evade defenders with his stickhandling.
Jones plays physically, though I know scouts would like to see him get meaner. He has tremendous reach, a good defensive stick and is so strong with his skating that he is a tough guy to get around. He mostly toyed with the WHL this year at both ends of the ice and should be ready to hop into an NHL lineup right away.
One former coach told me he thought Jones could be a 20-year player in the NHL and is a future captain. He plays a brand of hockey that helps teams win and he has the hardware to show for it. Jones won gold medals at the 2011 and 2012 World Under-18 Championship and 2013 World Junior Championship. He also helped lead the Portland Winterhawks to both the regular-season and postseason title in the Western Hockey League.
Jones is a good prospect, but he’s also an important one. No matter where he ends up, he will become a star player for that team and will be a role-model for a lot of kids across the country who want to try hockey. It is a role that Jones is prepared for and one he should excel in. The league will be better with Seth Jones in it.
Stats: 61 GP, 14-42–56, 33 PIM
Projected Range: Top-three pick
2. Adam Erne (North Branford, Conn.) — RW — Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Erne’s draft stock has fluctuated a lot this year and he had a somewhat turbulent season with the Quebec Remparts. That said, he remains an extremely intriguing prospect.
Erne has continually improved his skating to a point where it has become a real strength in his game. He has always possessed good physical strength and uses his body well. Erne is a tough guy to knock off the puck as a result, and also has some solid puck skills to get around defenders. The winger has an elite-level shot, but has also become an excellent passer. He was over a point-per-game in the QMJHL this year.
Erne also added to his physical game this year and is more prone to initiate contact. He’s also more aggressive in puck pursuit, but his defensive game could still use some work.
The 6-0, 210 forward played with Indiana in the USHL as a 15-year-old before moving onto the QMJHL. Not a lot of players who entered the junior ranks at such a young age have ended up maintaining their status as a top prospect in his class. That’s something extremely notable for Erne as each year his game took a step forward.
Stats: 68 GP, 28-44–72, 67 PIM
Projected Range: Mid-first round
3. Steven Santini (Mahopac, N.Y.) — D — U.S. National Under-18 Team (USHL)
Every time I saw Santini over the last two years, he was a little bit better than the previous viewing. Now he’s rounded out into an elite defensive-defenseman who thinks the game at a high level.
He used to be mistake-prone with the puck and struggled a bit with positioning, but those deficiencies have melted away. Santini is a high-end skater, who has good speed and excellent range. He plays with a physical edge, but keeps everything controlled. Santini is extremely difficult to get around and his sound positioning makes him very difficult to play against in front of his own net.
Santini’s offensive game isn’t great, but he seems to have some puck-moving upside. He’s not going to be a very productive player, but it is hard to find guys that play at the level defensively he can. That lack of offense, could drop him a bit on draft boards, but everything else he does screams NHL.
At the World Under-18 Championship, Santini was on the ice for just two goals against the entire tournament, and only one of those was at even strength. Despite not registering a single point, he was named the tournament’s best defenseman, which almost always goes to players that produce points. That’s how noticeable his defense was. He shut down players like Valeri Nichushkin and Connor McDavid, while playing huge minutes. It was one of the best performances I’d seen in five years at the tournament.
Boston College has a real gem in Santini, as he’ll be joining the Eagles next season.
Stats: 56 GP, 0-13–13, 42 PIM
Projected Range: Late-first, early-second round
4. J.T. Compher (Northbrook, Ill.) — C — U.S. National Under-18 Team (USHL)
A favorite of scouts I’ve talked to all year long, Compher has a lot of qualities that NHL teams crave and that could make him a late-first-round pick on Sunday.
The captain of the U.S. National Under-18 Team this year, Compher is a gritty two-way forward who has a terrific shot and an ability to create some offense. He plays a blue-collar style of offense, which may make it seem like he doesn’t have the best skills, but he combines skill with his strength and it makes him extremely tough to play against.
Compher, who missed considerable time with an early-season injury, played in every big situation for the U.S. over the last two years. He was a bottom-six forward on the 2012 gold-medal World Under-18 Team, playing more of an energetic, physical and defensive style. In 2013, he was a top-line forward and got all the toughest match-ups. He scored some huge goals including a shootout-sealer against Russia in the semifinals at this year’s U18s.
He has terrific defensive sense, is a strong penalty-killer and initiates contact often. Compher is a bit undersized, but the way he plays makes it a non-issue. Expect him to make an immediate impact at the University of Michigan next season.
Stats: 49 GP, 15-27–42, 45 PIM
Projected Range: Late-first, early-second round
5. Ryan Hartman (Chicago, Ill.) — RW — Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
A late 1994 birth year, Hartman had a year of high school left after finishing up at the NTDP last year. He was a Miami commit, but made the choice to go to the OHL instead and it may just end up paying off with a first-round selection for Hartman.
A hard-nosed, two-way wing, scouts I’ve talked to love just about everything Hartman does. He’s renowned in the OHL as one of the guys opposing players hate to play against. He can be an effective pest on the ice and plays with a hard edge. On top of that, however, is some underrated skill. Hartman was over a point-per-game in his first OHL season and has a strong shot and really solid vision.
Defensively, Hartman is good in pursuit and makes sure he takes care of his own end. He is a strong penalty killer as well. Despite coming in at 5-11, 185, Hartman can deliver some punishing body checks and is often looking to lower the boom. That can lead him to take some careless penalties at times, which could use a little cleaning up, but that kind of comes with the territory.
Hartman was one of the unsung heroes on the U.S. National Junior Team that took home the gold medal at the WJC this year. As a fourth-line grinder, Hartman was paired against other teams’ top lines with Cole Bardreau and Blake Pietila. There are some within USA Hockey that think that line is the reason the U.S. won gold at all. Their defensive work was incredible.
The ability to combine offense with such an edge seems to make Hartman a strong candidate, if not a lock for the first round. He’s currently recovering from a late-season injury, but look for him to play an important role on next year’s World Junior team and his OHL production to go up.
Stats: 56 GP, 23-37–60, 120 PIM
Projected Range: Late-first, early-second round
6. Michael McCarron (Macomb, Mich.) — LW — U.S. National Under-18 Team (USHL)
At 6-5, 225, there might be a team out there that considers betting on McCarron’s upside and taking him in the first round. It would be somewhat risky, but players like McCarron just don’t come around a lot.
The size jumps out, but there’s way more to the big man than just that. He has surprisingly soft hands, with a quick release on his shot and excellent distribution skills. McCarron plays a physical game, though I know scouts want to see even more nastiness out of the big fella. He’s not afraid to drop the gloves, though.
What’s interesting about McCarron is those puck skills though, and that’s a big reason why if a team picks him early, it’s not just because he’s a big guy. His decision-making could use a little work and his defensive game needs a bit more rounding out, but McCarron has all the tools to become a high-end power forward with scoring pop. He has top-six potential, which is rare to find in a player of his size.
The other big factor with McCarron is how much he’s developed over the last three years. He was a very raw prospect coming out of Honeybaked’s midget program and in two years at the NTDP, his skating smoothed out, his physical game became more focused and his skills flourished alongside creative, skilled forwards. He wasn’t cornered into becoming a tough guy, and hopefully that continues over his next few years of development.
McCarron is committed to Western Michigan for next season, but the London Knights traded for his OHL rights last year. It could be the most notable NCAA-CHL battle of the offseason. He might be the most intriguing U.S.-born player in this entire draft.
Stats: 49 GP, 11-18–29, 166 PIM
Projected Range: Late-first to Late-second round
7. Ian McCoshen (Hudson, Wis.) — D — Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
The top prospect from the USHL that’s not part of the NTDP has been three years in the making. He’s spent three seasons with the Waterloo Black Hawks, joining the team when he was 15, and he’s long been considered one of the very best in the 1995 birth year in the U.S.
McCoshen has taken steps forward with his game in each season in Waterloo. A strong defender, he is a tough guy to beat one-on-one and he isn’t afraid to deliver a check. This past season, the offensive elements of his game began to flourish as he posted 11 goals and 44 points in the USHL. That’s not easy to do for a 17-year-old defenseman in that league. His offensive progression over the last three years goes like this: six points at age 15, 20 at age 16 and now 44 at 17. That’s encouraging.
The Wisconsin native has a pro-ready frame at 6-2, 207 and he has a lot of physical strength. The one concern I’ve heard from scouts that I tend to agree with is how much of a ceiling McCoshen has. He’s improved each of the last three years, but there is some concern about his overall upside and if he can take his game up another few levels yet.
McCoshen will be in good hands, joining Santini at Boston College, where NHL players are continually get churned out of. He should play some solid minutes early on and make contributions early for the Eagles.
Stats: 53 GP, 11-33–44, 48 PIM
Projected range: Early, mid-second round with an off chance at late first.
8. Hudson Fasching (Burnsville, Minn.) — RW — U.S. National Under-18 Team (USHL)
Though he’s tumbled down most rankings, I think Fasching really redeemed himself at the World Under-18 Championship and I still think he has potential to be a big-time power forward at the next level.
Projections surrounding Fasching’s upside definitely went south when he didn’t produce at a high level, but I think his skills are maturing and his offensive ability is still developing overall. He has a pro-body with room to fill out some more. He’s listed at 6-2, 189 and he plays the game with strength. He’s particularly good in the hard areas of the ice, protecting the puck with his big frame and making plays around the net.
Fasching has some good passing ability and vision for the offensive zone. If he can add some nastiness to his game and his offensive capabilities come along a bit more, he could develop into a productive third-line-type player at the NHL level.
He’s headed to the University of Minnesota next year and should be able to contribute early on. He’ll need some time to round out his game, but I think there’s some good qualities worth taking a chance on.
Stats: 56 GP, 10-17–27, 39 PIM
Projected Range: Mid-second, early-third round
Coming up next, the rest of the Top 15, some honorable mentions and sleepers to watch for.