The 2013 draft is said to be a strong and deep draft, and with the Panthers already having a deep and strong farm system, this is just adding icing to a cake made entirely out of icing. Here's a look at the top five:
Alexander Barkov Jr., Center, Tappara (SM-liiga)
Barkov is one of the greatest NHL Entry Draft prospects to ever come out of 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. - Corey Pronman
Barkov Jr. became the youngest Finnish player to ever play in the IIHF World U20 Championship in 2011. He is also the second youngest player to score a goal in the tournament.
Jonathan Drouin, Left Wing, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
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 naturally generated highlight reel scoring chances on a regular basis for the Mooseheads, and his ability to make plays in tight spaces is second to none. What separates Drouin, though, are his hands, and his tremendous ability to think the game. - Corey Pronman
Drouin led the Mooseheads in scoring in both the regular and post seasons. He was also fifth in scoring on Team Canada at the World Juniors. If drafted, he'll be the third straight player drafted by Florida born in Quebec, in the first round.
Seth Jones, Defensemen, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
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If Seth Jones has a weakness in his game, I do not see it. He is a special defense prospect, and as I outlined in the previous section, he nearly made me break my tendency of preferring an elite forward to a defenseman. Jones is a high-end (arguably an elite) skater, who moves at a unique and unusual level for such a large man. With his very large wingspan and mobility, Jones closes gaps with high efficiency, and he can be difficult to get around. His best trait is his clearly elite hockey sense. Jones was making pro-level reads when he was 16, showing he was, and still is, advanced way beyond his years. He makes a multitude of good defensive plays with positioning, stick work and anticipation. He seems to always to be a step ahead of everyone else. - Corey Pronman
Jones was captain of the 2012 American U18 team that won gold at the IIHF World U18 Championship. He was an alternate captain at the 2013 U20 games, where Team USA won gold. If selected, he'll be the second American drafted by the Panthers in the first round, Nick Bjugstad was the first.
Nathan MacKinnon, Center, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
MacKinnon is a simply fantastic prospect who has all the tools a GM would want in a high draft choice. His body and skills are advanced, relative to the fact he is a tad over two weeks away from being bumped to the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. MacKinnon is an elite skater, and possibly a generational one, easily the best in this draft class. He has an unbelievable first few steps, and he generates a ridiculous amount of power from his legs. - Corey Pronman
MacKinnon played for the same Bantam AAA (Cole Harbour Red Wings) and Midget AAA (Shattuck-Saint Mary's) teams as Sidney Crosby. If selected, he'll be the first player from Nova Scotia drafted by the Panthers in the first round.
Valeri Nichushkin, Left Wing, HC Dynamo Moscow (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. - Corey Pronman
Some scouts view Nichushkin as the number one pick of the draft, and his KHL contract has been terminated. Of course, he doesn't want to play in any league in North America below the NHL.