Most people believe that the Nashville Predators will take Aleksander Barkov with the fourth overall pick at the 2013 NHL Draft on June 30 in New Jersey. The Predators have needed a true No. 1 center for years, and Barkov could definitely be a player that could fill that void.
“Talking to NHL Scouts based in Europe, they told me that Aleksander Barkov had a season that was basically incomparable to players in the past,” said Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News on the Smashville 24/7 Podcast. “What he did this year as a teenager, they just hadn’t seen before.”
However, there is another centerman in the draft that is expected to be gone by the No. 4 pick. Of course, that does not guarantee that he will be gone.
Nathan MacKinnon is widely regarded as the top forward in this year’s draft and the most explosive skater that has been seen in years. He led the Halifax Mooseheads to their first ever Memorial Cup championship and is perhaps the most NHL-ready prospect in the draft. Most people have MacKinnon being selected by the Florida Panthers at No. 2 overall, but stranger things have happened.
The more likely route for the Predators to land MacKinnon, however, would be by way of a trade. If he is far and away the best player available on the board as rated by the Predators, they would be wise to at least try to trade up and grab MacKinnon.
“This guy is an explosive talent,” said Predators Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty. “He’s probably the best skater in the draft — powerful lower body, explosive. He can change the game on a dime with his skating because he can just explode away from people and really make things happen in open ice. He’s one of those guys that is really driven and focused to score, and when you combine that with the skating and power that he has he’s a pretty dynamic player.”
Barkov and MacKinnon are both centers, but they have different styles. MacKinnon is the more flashy player of the two, whereas Barkov has more size. Both are able to contribute offensively, and both appear to have a style of play that is going to transition very nicely to the NHL level.
“MacKinnon is an explosive player with his skating and his power. Kind of a game-breaking type of guy,” Kealty said. “Barkov might be the most well-rounded forward in the draft with the way he plays both ends, and the maturity he has in his game. He played in the Finnish Elite League and scored a point a game, played in every situation against top lines, and that even included a lot of lockout players from the first half. He’s a real mature and polished player that can put up points, so they have some differences but they also have some similarities.”
While it certainly is possible that the Predators could find a way to land MacKinnon, Barkov seems to be the most likely target for the Predators in the upcoming draft. Nashville is very high on Barkov, who is already being compared to some of the top centermen in the NHL.
“He’s got some similarities to say like a [Anze] Kopitar in LA. That type of player– like a big puck possessing type of centerman that can really carry the puck and make plays at both ends,” Kealty said.
The bottom line is that the Predators have needed a top-line center for the entire existence of their franchise, and they’ve got an excellent shot of landing one in the draft this year. Whether it’s MacKinnon or Barkov, it sure seems like the Predators picked a good year to be selecting in the top five of the draft.