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Audio: NHL scouting director and top prospects Jones, MacKinnon get ready for draft

NHL Hockey Draft Pros_Naso
Associated Press photo --
From left, Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Hunter Shinkaruk, Sean Monahan, Jonathan Drouin, Zach Fucale, Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse.

By John Vogl

WEEHAWKEN, N.J. -- With the New York skyline as a backdrop, some of the NHL's top prospects summed up their feelings as they head toward the draft Sunday.

Seth Jones, a former Denver resident, knows it would be a great story if Colorado picks him first. The Avalanche, though, are looking toward Nathan MacKinnon. He's trying not to think about it.

To hear from them and Dan Marr, the NHL's director of Central Scouting, click the audio files below.

Dan Marr

Seth Jones

Nathan MacKinnon

Road to the NHL Draft: Jonathan Drouin

By John Vogl

Jonathan Drouin

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Halifax (QMJHL)

Born: St. Agathe, Quebec

Measurables: 5-foot-10, 186 pounds

2012-13 stats: 49 games, 41 goals, 64 assists, 105 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 3 (North America)

Lowdown: Drouin’s dream season included a Memorial Cup championship and nearly every award handed out, including Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year and MVP of both the regular season and playoffs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He can store the honors alongside his highlight packages, which include jaw-dropping goals and pinpoint passes. Many came during a 29-game points streak that featured 26 goals and 39 assists. He had 35 points in 17 playoff appearances, including a five-assist outing in the championship game.

Though skating alongside fellow top prospect Nathan MacKinnon certainly helped Drouin stand out, he played just as well without the superb center and made MacKinnon look good, too. Drouin is outstanding at reading plays, which allows him to intercept passes and start lethal transitions. The words “magical” and “magician” have been used often.

Drouin lacks the adult strength of MacKinnon and Seth Jones, so he may not be as ready to compete in the NHL as his draft mates. He’ll have to reach the top level and show why Quebec voted him as its top draft prospect.

They said it: "He had that swagger and inner confidence that he wanted to be a difference-maker every time he was on the ice. His skill set, hands and vision really are at an elite level, so he's going to be a prime-time NHL scorer." – Steve Spott, head coach of Canada’s world junior team, to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Curtis Lazar

By John Vogl

Curtis Lazar

Position: Forward

Junior team: Edmonton (WHL)

Born: Salmon Arm, British Columbia

Measurables: 6-foot, 190 pounds

2012-13 stats: 72 games, 38 goals, 23 assists, 61 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 20 (North America)

Lowdown: Lazar blew past Steven Stamkos. He left Sidney Crosby behind. That has a tendency to draw attention. The looks at Lazar began at the 2011 Canada Games, a biennial event that is the country’s largest competition for young athletes. Lazar led British Columbia to the gold, scoring 12 goals to break Stamkos’ record and 17 points to eclipse Crosby’s mark in only six games.

The Oil Kings’ assistant captain combines a hard-working mentality with offensive ability. A former teammate of Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk, Lazar led Edmonton with eight goals and 19 points in 20 playoff games en route to the Western Hockey League title in 2011-12. The speedy forward continued the goal scoring this season, pacing the team with 38. Lazar scored nine times in 22 playoff games but added just two assists.

Lazar doesn’t have the dazzling creativity many would like and has been knocked for taking the safe play. That is good decision-making for the NHL level, but scouts hope for a higher showing of skill at the junior level.

They said it: "He had a dry spell for a while, but when he was on he was around the puck and creating stuff all game. He can certainly take advantage of his opportunities. He's got real good puck-handling ability, is a smart offensive guy and skates well.” – Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Adam Erne

By John Vogl

Adam Erne

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Quebec (QMJHL)

Born: New Haven, Conn.

Measurables: 6-foot, 210 pounds

2012-13 stats: 68 games, 28 goals, 44 assists, 72 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 26 (North America)

Lowdown: Erne looks like a power forward with his stocky frame, but that impression lasts only until he hits the ice. Then he’s a speed demon who likes to play a fast game and has the wheels to do so. His skating ability helps him win races to the puck, and his size allows him to keep it. Erne has a strong shot and deft passing ability.

The well-traveled winger has played in Connecticut, California, Indiana and Quebec, and he feels as if the moves have helped him mature faster. He’s not afraid to let loose with practical jokes, though. Remparts teammate Kurt Etchegary once reached for a towel following a shower and soon discovered Erne had covered it with baby powder.

The linemate of Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko needs to become more consistent. Though there have been questions about his conditioning, he excelled in the endurance bike test at the NHL Scouting Combine.

They said it: "Erne’s a highly competitive kid. He’s got real good speed. He’s really thick. At times, he’s very explosive. Every once in a while you won’t notice him in a game, but most of the times he’s a goal scorer. … He’s a first-round player, for sure.” – Kevin Devine, Sabres director of amateur scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Alexander Wennberg

By John Vogl

Alexander Wennberg

Position: Center

Foreign team: Djurgarden (Sweden)

Born: Stockholm

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 174 pounds

2012-13 stats: 46 games, 14 goals, 18 assists, 32 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 5 (European)

Lowdown: Wennberg has knowledge of all three forward positions, but his skill set works best at center. He’s a speedy, shifty skater who remains calm with the puck. He likes to play at a quick pace and had a high shooting percentage by getting to the scoring areas.

Wennberg’s team played in Sweden’s second division, so he hasn’t faced the same level of adult competition as other top Europeans. He excelled with Djurgarden, though, and led the team with four game-winning goals. He can take care of the defensive zone and has garnered a reputation as a two-way player.

He’s reportedly signed a two-year contract with Frolunda of the Swedish elite league, so he wouldn’t be ready for the NHL until 2015.

They said it: "Excellent skater who has a free and easy stride with excellent quickness and a change of pace. Is capable of keeping defenders on their heels. He can open up ice and space for himself with his skating.” – Craig Button, former Calgary general manager, on TSN.ca.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Mirco Mueller

By John Vogl

Mirco Mueller

Position: Defense

Junior team: Everett (WHL)

Born: Winterthur, Switzerland

Measurables: 6-foot-3, 176 pounds

2012-13 stats: 63 games, 6 goals, 25 assists, 31 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 9 (North America)

Lowdown: Mueller is a first-round talent according to NHL Central Scouting. He’s a third-rounder, at best, according to others. Either way, he’ll hear his name called.

There’s not much wrong with Mueller. There’s also no standout trait that makes him a lock to succeed. He skates very well, though he had a tendency to go sideways – a carryover from his time on larger European rinks. He played in the Swiss elite league as a 16-year-old before deciding to head to North America.

Moving was a good choice as his draft stock rose from unknown to much-discussed. He’s not afraid to tangle with opponents. He’s discovering how to play offense, and his smooth stride helps. He will continue to learn by playing against the best as international opportunities abound with Swiss national teams. He’s got plenty of endurance based on his NHL Combine bike ride of 14:30, the best among the prospects.

He said it: "I can see plays happen before they happen, so most of the time I’m in the right position to make a play. Scoring goals is another person’s job." – Mueller to the Hockey News.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Zach Nastasiuk

By John Vogl

Zach Nastasiuk

Position: Right wing

Junior team: Owen Sound (OHL)

Born: Barrie, Ont.

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 192 pounds

2012-13 stats: 62 games, 20 goals, 20 assists, 40 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 13 (North America)

Lowdown: Sabres scouts who kept tabs on 2011 draft pick Daniel Catenacci this season got a good look at Nastasiuk, too. The duo helped lead Owen Sound to a 44-18-6 record. Catenacci led the Attack with 79 points, while Nastasiuk finished fourth. The roles were reversed in the playoffs as Nastasiuk paced his team with 11 points, including four goals, in 12 games.

The son of a Canadian Football League player jumped 20 spots from his NHL Central Scouting midterm rank of 33. He gets high marks for his hockey sense and competitive fire. He’s strong and wants to get better.

There are doubts whether he can turn into a scorer. He’s not the most creative player with the puck. His skating is suspect.

They said it: "Into the playoffs he was the guy that was driving the ship. Along the wall he’s strong as an ox, down low he’s strong. You can’t get the puck off him, and he’s the guy that can go into the corners get to the pucks first and feed it out to the guys. He’s got a little bit of an underrated skill set." – Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, to the Montreal Gazette.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Elias Lindholm

By John Vogl

Elias Lindholm

Position: Center

Foreign team: Brynas (Sweden)

Born: Boden, Sweden

Measurables: 6-foot, 181 pounds

2012-13 stats: 48 games, 11 goals, 19 assists, 30 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 3 (European)

Lowdown: Lindholm continually excels outside his peer group. He was a 16-year-old star playing against 18-year-olds, tore up an under-20 league as a 17-year-old and performed admirably this season against men while turning 18. The progression should continue once he reaches the NHL.

Lindholm is a two-way center who has drawn comparisons to countryman Peter Forsberg. He has outstanding passing vision, and he knows how to find the net. He’s averaged 14 goals, 33 assists and 47 points in 41 games the past three seasons while steadily climbing the competition ladder. What sets Lindholm apart is his defensive awareness. He knows what to do at both ends of the ice.

Lindholm isn’t a big middle man, but he could fill out. He learned to sidestep checks in the Swedish elite league. He intends to play at least one more season with Brynas, according to TSN, so teams who want him in North America immediately might take a pass.

They said it: "He can be a tremendous player. He has the smartness and he has the grit to play. He has the most important combination, and that is both the will to compete hard and the smarts to be a really good player." – Roger Ronnberg, Lindholm’s coach on Sweden’s world junior team, to Yahoo.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Juuse Saros

By John Vogl

Juuse Saros

Position: Goaltender

Foreign team: HPK-Jr. (Finland)

Born: Forssa, Finland

Measurables: 5-foot-9, 161 pounds

2012-13 stats: 37 games, 1.86 GAA, .933 save pct.

Central Scouting rank: No. 1 (European)

Lowdown: Goaltending has become a tall man’s position. Scouts drool when prospects resemble 6-foot-3 Carey Price or 6-2 Ryan Miller. Europeans such as Saros and the Sabres’ Jhonas Enroth (5-10) are doing their best to prove size isn’t everything. Saros has stood tall so far.

The Finnish phenom backstopped his country to a bronze medal at the under-18 world championships, making 24 saves against host Russia in the third-place game. His best outing came during the preliminary round when he stymied the United States with 49 stops during a 2-1 upset of the Americans. He finished the tournament at 5-2-1 with a 1.86 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

Saros excels at stopping rebounds. He was the best goalie in Finland’s junior league, but he’s yet to face adult competition. The inexperience and lack of size are his main drawbacks.

They said it: "He had a great season, has extremely quick reactions and reads the game very well. He's the No. 1 goalie prospect in Europe. He was good last year but has been sensational this season.” – Goran Stubb, NHL director of European Scouting, to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Hunter Shinkaruk

By John Vogl

Hunter Shinkaruk

Position: Forward

Junior team: Medicine Hat (WHL)

Born: Calgary, Alberta

Measurables: 5-foot-10, 181 pounds

2012-13 stats: 64 games, 37 goals, 49 assists, 86 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 6

Lowdown: There’s more to hockey than scoring, but it’s still the main goal. Goals are Shinkaruk’s ultimate goal, too. The center is as offensive-minded as they come, with good reason. He filled the net 49 times last year while skating alongside Emerson Etem, who advanced to Anaheim this season. Shinkaruk barely missed a beat without the pro prospect, scoring 37 goals to show he wasn’t merely Etem’s sidekick.

Shinkaruk is explosive, agile and highly skilled. He’s the type of player who creates a buzz in the arena every time he gets the puck with open ice in front of him. He reminds many of Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, the 2011 NHL Rookie of the Year.

As can be expected with someone so focused on offense, defense is not Shinkaruk’s high point. He needs to get better without the puck. He’s also an October birthday, which means he’s spent much of his life competing against less-developed kids. Many things came too easy for the smallish forward.

He said it: "I watched a Daniel Briere interview once, and a lot of people say, ‘Act like you’ve been there before,’ and he said, ‘I’m going to celebrate like it’s the last goal I’m ever going to score.’ So when I score I want to make sure I enjoy it because there’s not many things I love more than scoring." – Shinkaruk in story at TheHockeyWriters.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Bo Horvat

By John Vogl

Bo Horvat

Position: Center

Junior team: London (OHL)

Born: Rodney, Ont.

Measurables: 6-foot, 206 pounds

2012-13 stats: 67 games, 33 goals, 28 assists, 61 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 15 (North America)

Lowdown: Horvat has experienced nothing but success since joining London two years ago, and he had a lot to do with it this season. He scored with 0.1 seconds left in Game Seven of the OHL finals to win the game and series, sending the Knights to the Memorial Cup for the second straight spring. It was the highlight of a dominating postseason. Horvat recorded 16 goals and 23 points in 21 games as folks marveled at his big-game ability.

Possibly the best faceoff man in the draft, Horvat loves the two-way game. He’s a stellar penalty-killer and shot-blocker who gets put on the ice in key situations. He scored 11 goals in his first season of junior hockey and tripled it this season.

Though he plays top-line minutes with London, some observers feel he’ll amount to a third-line center in the NHL.

They said it: "He does everything you like to see. His penalty killing is very good, blocking shots. He's effective every shift. He does something every shift to contribute to a win. He's got good skill. He's got pretty good finish around the net. I love his competitiveness." – Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Report: Avs to pass on Seth Jones with first pick, select a forward

By John Vogl

The NHL draft was already interesting with trade talk and bona fide prospects. Colorado just added to the intrigue.

The Avalanche are set to pass on former Denver resident and No. 1-rated prospect Seth Jones with the first overall pick, according to the Denver Post. The defenseman seemed destined to return to the city where he fell in love with hockey, but the Avs like the potential of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov.

"If we do pick first, we're leaning more toward one of those three forwards," Joe Sakic, executive vice president of hockey operations, told the Denver Post. "We feel those three forwards are just too good to pass up."

Continue reading "Report: Avs to pass on Seth Jones with first pick, select a forward" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Rasmus Ristolainen

By John Vogl

Rasmus Ristolainen

Position: Defense

Foreign team: TPS (Finland)

Born: Turku, Finland

Measurables: 6-foot-3, 201 pounds

2012-13 stats: 52 games, 3 goals, 12 assists, 15 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 4 (European)

Lowdown: Like other top-rated Europeans, the move to the NHL won’t be shocking for Ristolainen because he’s been playing against men in a pro league for two years. He’s actually been playing a lot. Ristolainen averaged more than 21 minutes per game while leading TPS’ defense corps in scoring. He also put up two goals and six points in six games at the world juniors.

Ristolainen doesn’t shy away from contact. The big-bodied Finn knows how to hit and can use his size and strength. He is adept at reading plays and makes solid decisions with the puck.

He’s not the best skater and could benefit by lengthening his strides. The Sabres have interest because he’s played alongside Buffalo prospect Joel Armia on national teams. The abundance of top-end forwards could push Ristolainen down the draft board.

They said it: "He's a mobile, strong, offensive-minded defenseman with very good puck-handling and passing skills. ... He knows how to use his size and strength. He's one of the best young defensemen in Europe in his age group. He's a leader on the ice and plays with confidence." – Goran Stubb, NHL director of European Scouting, to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Ryan Hartman

By John Vogl

Ryan Hartman

Position: Right wing

Junior team: Plymouth (OHL)

Born: Hilton Head, S.C.

Measurables: 5-foot-11, 185 pounds

2012-13 stats: 56 games, 23 goals, 37 assists, 60 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 16

Lowdown: Many people speak highly of Hartman, but few are his opponents. He can be likened to the Sabres’ Patrick Kaleta. He’s an agitator of the highest degree who loves the sound and feel of a big hit. He finished second on Plymouth with six fighting majors and led the team with 120 penalty minutes. Skirmishes after the whistle were as frequent as the verbal barbs Hartman lobbed at his foes.

Hartman helped the United States win gold at the world junior tournament. While skating in the role of shutdown forward, he put up two goals and three points in seven games. He finished second on Plymouth in points and assists. The former member of the U.S. National Team Development Program brings a solid work ethic and rarely takes shifts off.

Hartman probably will not develop into a top-line scorer, but he can bring the intangibles and attitude that teams embrace. He had shoulder surgery after the season and will be sidelined until August.

He said it: "Lots of teams show interest, some teams don't. It's exciting to think about. It's going to be where you're playing for the rest of your life, maybe.” – Hartman, about the draft, to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Kerby Rychel

By John Vogl

Kerby Rychel

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Windsor (OHL)

Born: Torrence, Calif.

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds

2012-13 stats: 68 games, 40 goals, 47 assists, 87 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 17

Lowdown: Scoring 40 goals in consecutive seasons does a lot for a player’s draft stock, as Rychel can attest. He led Windsor with 41 tallies and 74 points last season, and he kept the production going this season to pace the Spitfires again. He has the size of a power forward and knows how to get to the right spots for a scoring chance.

Rychel is the son of former NHL forward Warren Rychel, who grinded out a 400-game career with stops in Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Colorado and Anaheim. Warren Rychel is also the general manager in Windsor, and his acquisition of Kerby has obviously worked out.

Rychel needs to improve his skating. He’s often sluggish on starts. Though he’s handled expectations that come with being the son of an NHL player and OHL GM, he can be weighed down by the burden of carrying a team.

He said it: "I'm a two-way power forward who can be used in all situations. I think the coaches have a trust in me to play in all situations. Some people will nitpick at my game since they know who my dad is. But I don't play like him. I work hard like him, but I'm not a fighter. I'm more of a goal scorer and penalty killer." – Kerby Rychel to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Aleksander Barkov

John Vogl

Aleksander Barkov

Position: Center

Foreign team: Tappara (Finland)

Born: Tampere, Finland

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds

2012-13 stats: 53 games, 21 goals, 27 assists, 48 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 1 (European)

Lowdown: A 17-year-old isn’t supposed to dominate a men’s league. Barkov did. The big forward skated alongside former NHLer Ville Nieminen and never looked out of place, thrusting himself into the mix for a top-five selection at the draft.

Barkov’s father, Alexander, played 16 years in European leagues (often as a point-per-game player), and Barkov has lived up to the family name. He’s been competing against professionals since he was 16 and quickly developed the poise of a grown man. He’s been referred to as Saku Koivu with size.

“Sasha” had seven points in six games at the world junior championships on a team that boasted Joel Armia, the Sabres’ first-round pick in 2011. He’s a dependable faceoff man who has the vision to make the correct pass.

Barkov’s playoffs ended abruptly because of the need for shoulder surgery. He had it in April and will miss five months. He’s not the fastest skater.

They said it: "He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He's a very good stick-handler with great vision. He's one the better two-way players in this class and has shown more consistency than any other European over a full season." – Goran Stubb, NHL director of European Scouting, to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Ryan Pulock

By John Vogl

Ryan Pulock

Position: Defense

Junior team: Brandon (WHL)

Born: Dauphin, Manitoba

Measurables: 6-foot, 211 pounds

2012-13 stats: 61 games, 14 goals, 31 assists, 45 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 12 (North America)

Lowdown: It’s a fun moment when Pulock gets the puck at the point. Folks inhale deeply, then freeze as they watch him wind up. His slap shot – clocked at 102 mph in a Brandon skills competition – is world class. The cannon makes opponents wince in multiple ways. They block it and get bruised, or it reaches the net for a scoring opportunity. Even the puck doesn’t find the twine, goaltenders have trouble handling it and rebound chances abound.

Pulock has 33 goals and 72 assists over the past two seasons, making him one of the most dangerous scoring threats from the blue line in junior hockey. He produced this season despite battling a wrist injury for much of the year.

The ailment caused his stock to drop. Central Scouting had him at No. 6 in the midterm rankings. Pulock is not blessed with size or speed, which has led to conflicting scouting reports on his long-term ability. He played forward for much of his life and is still learning the defensive game.

They said it: "He passes the puck very well, plays a pretty simple game, and is very good on the power play. When he’s at the top of his game, he can make the game look pretty easy. He’s our captain, and he’s very respected by his teammates for his desire to get better and improve." -- Brandon General Manager Kelly McCrimmon to WHL.ca.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Samuel Morin

By John Vogl

Samuel Morin

Position: Defense

Junior team: Rimouski (QMJHL)

Born: Lac-Beauport, Quebec

Measurables: 6-foot-6, 202 pounds

2012-13 stats: 46 games, 4 goals, 12 assists, 16 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 23 (North America)

Lowdown: Morin was merely a curiosity when the season started. He stood out because of his height, but little else was of grand stature. Things have changed. He’s vaulted up the prospect rankings, including a 53-spot jump by NHL Central Scouting, which had him ranked 76th in the midterm evaluations. Folks are intrigued by his willingness to scuffle and hit. His long reach in the defensive zone is an enviable trait and makes forwards go wider than they’d planned.

He’s a solid puck mover with a hard shot. He learned power-play tips from Sabres prospect and former Rimouski standout Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, who was a scoring machine in juniors.

Morin’s lack of pounds weighs heavily against him. He’s as rail-thin as Buffalo’s Tyler Myers at the same age, and like Myers he may struggle to put on pounds. Myers faltered while trying to adjust to his developing body, and Morin has experienced similar growing pains.

They said it: "He moves really well for a big guy, and he has a good sense of the game, offensively and defensively. He’s quite a responsible player. When you get a guy that’s that big, that rangy, can make the first pass out of the zone and has a good stick to defend, and he’s got a little bit of a physical element ... that’s a pretty nice package." – Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, to the Montreal Gazette.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

Road to the NHL Draft: Valeri Nichushkin

By John Vogl

Valeri Nichushkin

Position: Right wing

Foreign team: Chelyabinsk (KHL)

Born: Chelyabinsk, Russia

Measurables: 6-foot-3, 196 pounds

2012-13 stats: 18 games, 4 goals, 2 assists, 6 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 2 (European)

Lowdown: So how can a guy with pedestrian stats and a reputation for inconsistency make his way into consideration for the first overall pick? Pure, unadulterated talent. Nichushkin is a slick-skating big man who has the ability to make defensemen look as if they’re standing still. Few players in the draft can match his skating ability, especially in one-on-one situations, where he also uses his long reach to get around goaltenders. The combination of size, speed and a passion for heading toward the net amazes scouts.

The 18-year-old played at three levels in Russia this season: junior, second division and the Kontinental Hockey League. He had six goals and nine points in 25 playoff games with Chelyabinsk, which traded him to Moscow Dynamo after the season.

That’s where the red flags come in. He’s tried to convince folks that he really wants to play in the NHL next season, but the KHL paycheck waves in the background. Nichushkin added he will skate only in the NHL or KHL; the AHL is not an option. He had just one goal and two points in six games at the world junior championships.

They said it: "When Nichushkin is at his best, he's by far better than Barkov, but he's not always at his best. He's a big, strong player with a high overall skill set. He can score the big goals and can dominate games." – Goran Stubb, NHL director of European scouting, to NHL.com while comparing Nichushkin to top-rated European skater Aleksander Barkov.

Road to the NHL Draft: Frederick Gauthier

By John Vogl

Frederick Gauthier

Position: Winger

Junior team: Rimouski (QMJHL)

Born: Mascouche, Quebec

Measurables: 6-foot-5, 210 pounds

2012-13 stats: 62 games, 22 goals, 38 assists, 60 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 8 (North America)

Lowdown: Gauthier was on his way to Harvard, which isn’t a bad place to go for hockey or an education. Then the phone rang. Sidney Crosby, a former star for Rimouski, told Gauthier to reconsider his career choice. When the greatest player in the world calls, it’s wise to listen. So Gauthier changed his mind and took his big body to Rimouski.

The big body is what should carry Gauthier to the NHL. You can’t teach size, especially when that size can skate well and create offense. Gauthier averaged nearly a point per game for the Oceanic, and his defensive awareness was outstanding. He’s universally praised for his eagerness to play in his own zone.

The knock on Gauthier is his inability or unwillingness to consistently use his size, a common complaint with big men. He doesn’t have a mean streak yet. He stumbled in the playoffs, recording just two assists in six games.

He said it: "There's a defensive end and offensive end, and you have to chip in with both. I learned that every time you're on the ice you have to give it what you got, and on the next shift give it what you got. You have to empty the tank each time you're out there, and that's what I try to do." – Gauthier to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 30.

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | [email protected]

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | [email protected]


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | [email protected]

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