It's generally assumed that Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon will go to the Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers (first and second) when the 2013 NHL Entry Draft is finally held on June 30. However, there are three commonly mentioned names at the top of the draft rankings for Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman to consider.
[The following descriptions are taken from Corey Pronman's article "Top 100 Draft Prospects 2013
1-5." You might also want to consult The Hockey Writers' Draft Prospect Index, though it doesn't have an entry for Barkov (yet).]
1. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Halifax Mooseheads
Drouin is special offensive talent, with upside through the roof-a prototypical elite, puck possession forward. Drouin has unique puck skills, with the ability to show consistent offensive creativity. . . . He has elite vision and offensive hockey sense, which allow him to dictate the offense. . . .That said, Drouin can be a liability when the game turns physical. He is a tad undersized, and his strength level needs to be improved in order to be effective in pro-level board battles.
2. Aleksander "Sasha" Barkov, C, Tappara, SM-Liiga (Finland)
He is a tremendously advanced player, with elite hockey sense. He regularly logged 20 minutes this season, which is rare for a September-born 17-year-old in Finland's top league. He has an incredible amount of patience, vision, and awareness. He can slow the game down and dictate the tempo, as well as be the focal point on the power play. He also has a high level of defensive skill, showing ability at a very young age to be a quality defensive center. . . . He will not crash and bang, but he protects the puck well.
Barkov injured his shoulder late in his season in Finland, and there has been some question about whether this will keep him out through NHL training camps in the fall.
3. Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Traktor Chelyabinsk, KHL
Nichushkin is an impressive power forward who has a ton of natural gifts. He could be a potential star, if not an elite power winger in the NHL. His best skill is his skating ability, as he is a true plus-plus skater that defensemen need to respect when he's barreling down the wing. If a gap gets too tight, Nichushkin will likely be behind the defender in no time. He is also a strong, 6'4'' pillar who loves to drive to the net. . . . One area of concern: he needs to improve his defensive play.
Pronman admittedly didn't consider the KHL risk in ranking Nichushkin, but there's no question that it's on people's minds. The situation as I've come to understand it is that he has a contract with Traktor that goes through 2013-2014. They released him from the contract on the condition that if he doesn't make the NHL right away, he would return and play for Traktor rather than play in the AHL or CHL. Getting out of a KHL contract to play in the NHL is a delicate matter, but it is possible. The question then becomes one of whether a team would be willing to let him develop in the KHL for one more year rather than in the AHL if they don't keep him on their roster. Both would mean development time if that's necessary, but only in the AHL would he be available for a call-up. [Another tiny factor is that he speaks very little English.]
Other notable choices include:
Elias Lindholm, C, Brynas, SEL (Sweden)
Sean Monahan, C, Ottawa (OHL)
Rasmus Ristolainen, D, TPS, SM-Liiga
Max Domi, C, London (OHL)
At this point it's impossible to tell with any certainty who the Lightning are leaning towards, though Nichushkin has been at the center of attention in the past few weeks. In the end, all that we know is that the the team is considering him as seriously as any other prospect. I don't suspect that Steve Yzerman would be as reluctant as some other GMs in taking Nichushkin on despite the challenges.
So what do you think? Who should the Lightning draft at #3, assuming Jones and MacKinnon are taken?