Though it is a long time until the NHL Draft it is about time for those interested in the top prospects for the draft to identify who they should be following as the junior seasons progress. They might rise up the rankings and fall according to injury or failure to meet expectations.
This piece will be looking at several of the top defensive prospects for 2013 and analysing their skills talents and whether any of them catches the eye. Will any of these prospects end up being selected by the Stars in less than a years time? Perhaps. Its far too early to predict who will select who but this is the time to start to select those prospects to watch and see how they develop in the most crucial year of their junior careers.
Seth Jones RD, 6"3 200lbs Portland Winterhawks, WHL
Seth Jones has spent the previous season playing in the US Development Programme but at the end of last season decided to test the WHL. He is a big smooth skating defenseman who makes the game look very easy. He is fast and has an excellent ability to shut down approaching forwards. His passing game is already pro standard and he can handled and shoot the puck at a high standard. If he was available for the 2012 Draft he could have been a top pick, at least within the top three. I have a feeling that Seth Jones will be the top selection of the 2013 draft and at the very least be the highest selected Texas native so far in draft history. Playing alongside Pittsburgh Penguin's prospect Derrick Pouliot I think he could dominate the WHL.
After the jump I will present five other top defenders who are available to draft this year:
Rasmus Ristolainen RD, 6"3 200lbs, TPS, SM Liiga
I touched upon Rasmus Ristolainen in the first piece I wrote on the 2013 draft. He is a good skater for his size and he plays an extremely smart game. He's a good two way defenseman and likes to use his size and body to punish oncoming forwards. He has good hands and a very heavy slapshot which he gets on net consistently. He is a very young defender considering he is playing in the SM Liiga and has had some trouble handling his defensive duties going a painful -20 over 40 games last season. I wouldn't be surprised if he was the first Finn drafted and is currently seen as a top 10 selection.
Ryan Pulock, RD, 6"1 200lbs, Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL
Ryan Pulock is considered one of the premier offensive defenseman in the draft and acts quite often as a fourth forward. He has good skating skill and a good ability to get up and down the ice but he doesn't always rush back to his own zone as fast as he rushes into the opposition zone. Despite his reputation as an offensive first defenseman he generally he stick checks well and when he does use physical play he uses it effectively. He displays excellent hockey IQ and a talent for running a powerplay. Scouts of the WHL think he is already a better and more rounded defenseman than both Griffin Reinhart and Derrick Pouliot. Despite being good defensively he will need to improve to meet the expectation that he has the potential to be a number one d-man.
Josh Morrissey, LD, 6"0 184lbs, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL
Morrissey is one of the best puck moving defenseman of the WHL. He has an elite level passing ability and a high end playmaking game, however this passing ability has left him not shooting enough at the net. His main weakness is his defensive games. He is a good stick checking however he is often caught catching up with forwards and he is not strong enough to challenge forwards along the boards effectively. This results in him gambling too much and taking penalities that didn't need to be conceded. To be effective at a higher level he needs to get stronger.
Madison Bowey, RD, 6"1 194, Kelowona Rockets, WHL
Bowey has the potential to be a good two way defenseman, though at the moment his skills lie more towards the offensive side. He has excellent positioning and despite occasionally getting caught out of position in the offensive rush he doesn't take crazy risks within the offensive zone. He isn't a defenseman who looks for the big open ice hit but instead uses physical play to knock the player off the puck. He needs to work on his skating speed but generally he is a well rounded player.
Robert Hagg, LD, 6"2, 201, Modo J20, SuperElit
Robert Hagg has the potential to be one of the top Swedish players drafted in 2013, if not that then the first Swedish defenseman picked. He has excellent vision and can pass well. He doesn't exactly standout massively in one zone but is generally good in all areas. His biggest weakness is his skating which style wise is good he needs to work on his speed. North American teams might like him to develop more physicality but he is potentially a good well rounded defenseman. Depending upon the situation on the crowded blueline for Modo in the Elitserien he could see some time playing amongst the adults.
This draft doesn't appear to be anywhere near as deep on defenseman as the 2012 draft but there are a few good prospects that will be going early. Most of those prospects listed above are more likely second pairing defenseman rather top pairing. One thing I've noticed when looking at this year's grouping is that a lot of the top defensive prospects are right shots rather than left shots. In 2012 out of the 8 defenseman drafted in the top 10 only two shot right. Four out of the six above are right shots. Whether it stays like that by the time of the draft is a completely different matter.
Of those above my favourite (discounting Seth Jones who will be selected within the top two picks and I hope the Stars won't be picking there) would be Ryan Pulock. The Stars need an offensive minded defense prospect and Ryan Pulock looks like he could be a very good offensive defenseman. He is also a right hand shot which is something the Stars lack amongst their top defensive prospects. The Stars often draft out of the WHL so he could be on their radar to watch over the 2012-2013 season.
The Stars have improved their blueline over the past few years and it seems unlikely they would pick a defenseman over a forward, such as a left wing, in the first round. However the Stars have stuck with the policy of picking the best player available, whether that player fits an organisational need or not. For now its far too early to think who would be the best pick, its the time to identify those to watch as the season progresses.