Best fits for instant-impact prospects

Updated: February 22, 2013, 11:18 AM ET
By Grant Sonier

More and more, we're seeing players emerge straight from the draft and into a contributing role with an NHL club. As we look ahead to what could end up being a special draft this coming June, I have identified seven players I believe could start the 2013-14 season on an NHL roster and make their mark on the league. But what circumstances would best suit their skills? What environment would best allow them to succeed immediately?

To get a sense of that, I examined some of the teams likely to be selecting at the start of next season's draft to try to identify the best fits for the draft's best prospects.

Nathan MacKinnon, center, Halifax (QMJHL)

The anticipation and hype around this 6-foot center has been enormous, and except for a World Junior Championship showing in which he was not given a chance to strut his stuff, he has answered any questions there may be about just how good he really is. His dynamic skating, skill and grit give him a chance to make an immediate impact in the NHL. Unlike many gifted offensive forwards, MacKinnon has great awareness in all three zones, something NHL coaches need in their young players if they are going to have faith in putting them on the ice. Any team would love to add him.

Best fit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Newly appointed general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was the assistant GM in St. Louis when defenseman Erik Johnson was selected first overall in 2006. I am not suggesting that experience will scare the team into staying away from a D-man like Seth Jones -- nor am I suggesting that Jones is the No. 1 pick -- but given the choice, I think the Blue Jackets can use another top-six forward. Ryan Murray and Tim Erixon are building blocks for the blue line, and now MacKinnon gives them a blue- chipper up front as well. He will bring the intangibles the team will be looking for as it reshapes itself under new management. His work ethic, skills and professional approach will help in moving this franchise in the right direction. Plus, his strong defense will allow him to play while he figures out the offensive side.