Nathan MacKinnon is the best center prospect to enter the NHL draft since John Tavares was taken with the first overall pick by the New York Islanders four years ago.
The Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) forward occupies the second spot on the NHL's final predraft rankings of North American skaters and ranks first among forwards.
MacKinnon is the proverbial can't-miss prospect because of his exceptional offensive talent and ability to perform at a high level in the most important games.
Let's take an in-depth look at what makes MacKinnon a special talent and worthy of the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft.
MacKinnon has developed his goal scoring skills quite nicely while playing for the Mooseheads. He scored 31 goals in 58 games during the 2011-12 season, then improved his total to 32 in only 44 games this year.
He has an accurate wrist shot, a powerful one-timer and a quick release on both. He's a sniper with the ability to score high-glove, blocker side or with a great dangle finished with a backhand.
As a power-play forward, MacKinnon is capable of scoring from the point with his slap shot. He's also capable of battling in front of the net to score the dirty goals.
Put simply, MacKinnon is a natural goal scorer who uses his speed, hands and vision to finish the scoring chances he creates. It wouldn't be a surprise at all of he scored 25-40 goals consistently at the NHL level.
MacKinnon is the special kind of center who finds the right balance between finding his own offense as a goal scorer and making a strong effort to get his teammates involved as a playmaker.
His passing skills are tremendous, his vision is solid and he doesn't hold on to the puck too long. He gets rid of it when he needs to with quick decisions and, as a result, rarely turns the puck over in vulnerable areas of the ice.
MacKinnon racked up 90 assists over the past two seasons for Halifax and was largely responsible for the scoring success (41 goals) that linemate and top prospect Jonathan Drouin enjoyed this season.
He's able to shift his way through opposing players and enter the attacking zone with speed, much like Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane.
Once he establishes possession in the offensive zone, MacKinnon protects the puck well and displays great patience before making a decision on where to pass it.
A lot of praise has been given to MacKinnon for his incredible offensive talent, and rightfully so, but his two-way game is more polished than people realize.
He's not an elite defensive forward, but by no means is the 18-year-old a liability in his own end. MacKinnon is willing to play a physical game and backcheck consistently, which shows the type of maturity and responsibility that coaches want to see in young forwards.
He's willing to go to the dirty areas, fight for pucks, gain possession and start the rush up the ice.
Several recent centers taken in the top three, including Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins, didn't enter the NHL with the defensive smarts and awareness that MacKinnon shows as an 18-year-old.
MacKinnon won't be a Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews on defense, but he won't hurt his team in its own end. He's willing to defend, be aggressive on the forecheck and play smart in all three zones in addition to his extraordinary ability to dominate offensively.
In addition to his offensive and defensive abilities, MacKinnon has also established himself as a clutch scorer at the junior level.
He has tallied 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) in 34 career playoff games for the Mooseheads, including a 2013 Memorial Cup-leading 13 points (seven goals, six assists).
The 18-year-old center finds ways to impact the game on each shift, whether it's by scoring a goal, creating a scoring chance or making a play defensively. He projects to be a solid three-zone center also capable of playing a role as a power-play specialist and penalty killer.
MacKinnon has an amazing skill set and is ready to make a positive impact at the NHL level next season as a rookie. He's talented enough to produce consistently and strong enough to hold his own against bigger and stronger opponents.
It would be shocking if he doesn't get selected in the top two picks of the draft, especially since both the Colorado Avalanche (first overall) and Florida Panthers (second overall) need a No. 1 center to build their offense around long-term.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Follow Nick on Twitter for live updates from the 2013 NHL Draft on June 30.
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