Auditing CSS prospect rankings

Evaluating midterm rankings of Jones, MacKinnon, other top talents

Updated: January 24, 2013, 3:23 PM ET
By Grant Sonier | ESPN Insider
Seth Jones/Nathan MacKinnonGetty ImagesShould Seth Jones or Nathan MacKinnon be ranked as the top NHL prospect?

The Central Scouting Service's (CSS) midterm report, widely used by the general public as a baseline for the NHL entry draft, has been released and is already causing a little bit of a stir with a new name as the No. 1 North American prospect.

When you read the latest list, it's essential to keep in mind that it is far from a definitive ranking. The opinions of NHL franchises and their talent evaluators will vary, sometimes drastically, from the CSS rankings. And that's no ill reflection on Central Scouting. Even within the same team's draft room there may be widely differing opinions on the same player. So, as I comb through the report and provide my own impression of the rankings below, keep in mind it's not meant to be disrespectful to Central's scouting team, it's just a different opinion.

In more than 20 years of being around the game of hockey, I have realized that there are many variables that must be factored into a midterm evaluation. When a player propels his team to the playoffs and helps his team succeed, it must be considered when elevating one player over the next. An evaluator must also consider lack of ice time, positive or negative opportunities (what role is the player performing on his team?), the player's surrounding environment as well as injuries. You also have to put stats into perspective and realize that point totals -- even if a player is leading a league/team -- do not automatically translate into becoming a good NHL player.

With all of that in mind, here are my thoughts on the CSS list and how I see these players in relation to their evaluations. I make none of these statements lightly but rather through experienced deduction, influenced in part by the many current NHL executives whom I have had the opportunity to work beside.

Let's start with the biggest debate-worthy aspect on this new rankings, the debate for No. 1: Seth Jones over Nathan MacKinnon.

Much of this debate is influenced by the World Junior Championships (WJC). But the more important question to me is this: Is it only a two-man race for No. 1? Despite the rapid rise of MacKinnon's teammate, Jonathan Drouin, for me it remains a race between MacKinnon and Jones for the top spot, with Jones deserving a great deal of credit for his performance in support of Team USA winning World Junior gold. From now until the draft in June, many tough decisions will have to be made; to do that, we have to get deeper into the details of each player, starting at the top.

Seth Jones, D, Portland (WHL)
North American rank: No 1

This year's first overall pick may boil down to team needs, and if the team with the No. 1 pick thinks that a big, elite-skating, puck-moving D-man is what it wants to hang its hat on, then it is easy to see the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones stepping on the stage first. He has answered most critics by being a standout at the recent WJC. Whichever team gets the first selection may fear the risks of a D-man over a forward -- as blueliners are harder to project. However, there are a couple of forwards in the queue who may make that decision easier by year's end.