The June 26th NHL Entry Draft is not far away and now that the Stanley Cup Finals have come to an end, the hockey world now shifts its focus to the draft. Here are my predictions for who will go in the top 15.
15. Anaheim Ducks – RW Scott Glennie (Brandon-WHL). Glennie has made amazing strides in the last year or so. He is definitely a bonafide goal scorer but one could argue that his stats were padded because he played with Brayden Schenn. His stats are split fairly evenly between the powerplay and even strength. He can skate with the best of them, in this draft. He has arguably better offensive potential than his linemate in Brandon, the aforementioned Brayden Schenn. His downside is his defensive game. Even though he played on the penalty kill with Brandon, he does lack the defensive instincts that some of the names above him on this list have. The Ducks would love to add Glennie to their growing class of young forwards that include Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan and others. Not to mention that Glennie can also play at centre in addition to the wing.
14. Florida Panthers – C Nazem Kadri (London-OHL). Kadri made big strides this season playing for the London Knights of the OHL. He learned much about winning as a second line centre when the team he played for, the Kitchener Rangers went to the Memorial Cup final in 2008. He got more playing time and an increased role with the Knights in 2009. Kadri sees the ice very well and makes for a great play maker.
13. Buffalo Sabres – D Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Leksand-SWE). Oliver could be a steal at this point in the draft but the feeling is that he could be taken even later in the draft. Most of this uncertainty is due to his size and strength issues. He has a decent frame and is a very mobile defenceman on the ice. However, he lacks the necessary size to play in the NHL. A very small minority think he will be taken in the top 10. He possesses good puck control and incredible hockey sense.
12. Minnesota Wild – RW Jordan Schroeder (Minnesota-NCAA). If it wasn’t for the depth in this year`s draft, Schroeder would be easily a top 10 pick. He won’t fall any lower than #12 as it would be fitting that the former Golden Gopher gets picked by the team in his home state. Many compare his skill and size to that of Patrick Kane. Schroeder had 11 points in 8 games with USA World Junior team this past year. He has great playmaking ability with soft hands. He will go well with young Wild forwards like Gillies and Sheppard. Some have criticized him for his lack of size and strength which also may be a reason that he will not be selected in the top 5. He will need to add size to play at the NHL level.
11. Nashville Predators – D Ryan Ellis (Windsor-OHL). Ellis is no doubt a stud prospect in this draft. What is keeping him from the top 5 is his lack of size and strength. Many thought he was too small to play Canadian junior hockey. He possesses impeccable puck skills and a cannon of a shot for a guy at his stature. Ellis had 89 points in 57 games in 2008-09 as well as 31 playoff points in 20 games this past postseason. He is getting better and better defensively but will still need to improve that part of his game. That part will come when he learns to use his body positioning better. Predators GM David Poile has not been afraid to take defencemen in recent drafts and if Ellis is still around at #11, he will be taken at that position. Ellis will join the ranks of arguably the best young group of defencemen of the future that includes the likes of Weber, Suter, Franson, Blum and Sulzer.
10. Edmonton Oilers – D John Moore (Chicago-USHL). Some say he would be a gamble at the #10 spot in the draft but Moore does have big potential. He has a good frame and will work on adding strength. He was a point per game player at the collegiate level and is not afraid to step up and join the rush.
9. Ottawa Senators – RW Zack Kassian (Peterborough-OHL). Kassian is a strong power forward who will hit anything that moves. He improved his offensive game this season as he was a point per game player in 2009 for the Petes. He is not afraid to fight. While some teams may be hesitant to use their first round pick on a fighting power forward, Kassian has big potential as he still needs to work on the skating part of his game. When he does this, he will be much more of an effective player. The Senators seem to lack that one perennial tough guy who can score and set up teammates as well. He would be a very nice addition to the core nucleus of the future of the Sens.
8. Dallas Stars – D Dmitry Kulikov (Drummondville-QMJHL). Kulikov possesses so many strengths in his game that it is hard to think of many weaknesses. He skates effortlessly and is an impeccable puck handler for a defenceman. The ideal comparisons to him in the NHL are Sergei Zubov and Brian Rafalski. Kulikov does need to put on some weight and strength but he still positions himself well to make up for it. He will be a top 4 defenceman for years to come. The Stars would love to add him to their young corps especially with Zubov getting up there in age. He will be there among the likes of Fistric, Grossman and Niskanen. It will be hard for newly appointed Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk to pass up on this kid.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs – C Brayden Schenn (Brandon-WHL). Many have said that Schenn is the second best forward in the draft. He has great instincts and never gives up on plays. He works hard for his goals and makes it look easy at the same time. He is a big kid with a good frame and could very well become an Erik Staal-type player. His stats may be a bit padded with the chemistry that he showed with Scott Glennie. Schenn did not look as well when playing with other wingers. He is a decent skater but will improve. He has a real nice skill set and will be an effective player when he fully pans out. Leafs GM Brian Burke will be gunning for a top 2 pick for sure but he wouldn’t mind taking Brayden, brother of 2008 1st round pick and current Leaf, Luke Schenn.
6. Phoenix Coyotes – LW Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (Timra-Sweden). Magnus is arguably one of the best skaters in the draft, if not the best skater. He does need to improve his defensive game but his offensive game is definitely very good. He has a good shot and sees the ice very well. Playing for team Sweden in the most recent World Juniors tournament, Magnus blew by opposing defences with speed and skated circles around even the Canadian defenders. He could be a top 5 pick but with the quality of prospects available, he could sink as low as 7th. The Coyotes will not pass on him though. They have already taken talented forwards in recent drafts such as Kyle Turris, Mikael Bodekker and Peter Mueller.
5. Los Angeles Kings – LW Evander Kane (Vancouver-WHL). Evander Kane has a tremendous scoring ability and proved that with the Vancouver Giants this season and in the past with the North Shore Winter Club. He can skate very well and stick handle even better. He finishes his checks and can play a rough game if the time calls for it. He will need to put on more size to be more effective and will likely have to spend a little time in the AHL before coming up to the NHL. The Kings will have a very good nucleus moving forward. Along with Kane, they have the likes of Kopitar, Brown, Frolov, Moller amongst others to build around. The Kings are likely done drafting defencemen too as they already have Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty on their roster to go along with the 4th overall pick from 2007, Thomas Hickey as well as the 13th overall pick from last year, Colton Teubert. With the Kings apparently gunning for Vincent Lecavalier over the trade market, GM Dean Lombardi will be looked at like a genius in the very near future.
4. Atlanta Thrashers – D Jared Cowan (Spokane-WHL). Cowan was the top defenceman on the Memorial Cup winning Spokane Chiefs last year and somehow was not invited to tryouts for the Canadian team for this year’s World Juniors. He is comparable to Victor Hedman in size and strength. Cowan is a little more physical and has some mobility. He compares to Jay Bouwmeester. The Thrashers would love to have this kid to add to their undoubtedly studly blueline of the future that includes the likes of Bogosian, Enstrom and others.
3. Colorado Avalanche – C Matt Duchene (Brampton-OHL). Duchene has arguably one of the best shots among prospects in the draft. He is a pure scorer who possesses amazing skating ability. He can pass the puck reasonably well but that is one part of his game that he can definitely improve upon. He will likely add some more size and that would turn him into a more effective player at the NHL level. The Avs will definitely want someone in the wings to take over in the event that Joe Sakic retires either this year or next. Unfortunately for them, Duchene won’t be at that level to start this season just yet. He may require some time in the AHL but it will all be for the best.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning – D Victor Hedman (Modo-Sweden). The big Swedish defenceman was projected by many to go in any one of the top 3 spots with a higher probability on being drafted in the top 2. The most ideal NHL comparison would be Chris Pronger. Hedman moves the puck well, makes a great first pass and can anchor a powerplay with his tremendous vision. He uses his size to his advantage and positions himself very well in the defensive zone. He doesn’t play with the intensity or aggressiveness that Pronger does but makes up for it in being a great playmaker. This kid has huge potential and the Lightning will be happy to have him on their blueline of the future that will feature the likes of Meszaros, Wishart and others. Hedman was recently profiled on CBC`s Hockey Night in Canada with some of the other top players headed to the June 26th draft. Hedman`s favourite player growing up? Wayne Gretzky. That too, should get the scouts thinking.
1. New York Islanders – C John Tavares (London-OHL). He’s been the most talked about prospect entering the 2009 draft and if it weren’t for a submission mistake, he would have already been drafted last year in 2008. Tavares is a skilled player who has a knack for hitting the back of the net. Early on in his young hockey career, he was not as fit as he is now and the added strength has seemed to really shored up his game. His skating, at one time, was a question mark but those critics have since been silenced. He has great passing ability and is slowly improving his defensive game. He protects the puck as well as anyone in the draft. The Islanders will be looking for a marketable star. They also need someone to play alongside up and coming forward Kyle Okposo. Tavares should be that player. If GM Garth Snow passes up on him to take Hedman instead, it would not be a surprise but probably not the right choice for the direction of the team.
Draft wildcards - These are guys who could go early or could go very late. Past examples include the late Alexei Cherepanov and Kyle Beach. Here are some:
D Ryan Ellis - lacks size and strength, could be taken anywhere between 7th and 17th
C Jacob Josefson - nice 2-way forward, could be taken anywhere between 13th and 24th
C Zach Budish - tore his ACL in high school (a terrible injury for any athlete), good size - was pro-sized for football (played linebacker), late 1st round pick
C Jordan Caron - good size and mature, would need to step his game up later on to be a potential first line player, could be taken anywhere between 16th and 27th
The trade game:
I can't tell you what trades will go through but I can tell you major players. The obvious one is Leafs GM Brian Burke. The speculation is that he wants to get the 2nd overall pick from Tampa. My feeling is that he will fall short of that and try to lock up Brayden Schenn or Matt Duchene by attempting to trade up to the 4th or 5th overall picks. I would expect Kings GM Dean Lombardi to dangle the 5th overall pick on the trade market. Not because of the Pronger rumour but because the Kings have incredible depth on the backend with Johnson, Hickey, Doughty, Teubert and at forward with Kopitar, Brown, Moller, Purcell. The Kings will make a splash somehow and that 5th overall pick is looking pretty sexy to 29 other teams considering the talent level of this draft class and especially the talent in the top 10. The Oilers and Sabres are two teams that could ship out available talent on their respective rosters with picks to move up. The Oilers could possibly move the rights to Kotalik as well as Nilsson along with picks. The Sabres will be sure to dangle Afinogenov out there.
For the fellow Pred fans who read this, I can't say much. David Poile traded up a few spots last year to select Colin Wilson with Florida's pick but that meant trading their own selection downward to 18 to select Chet Pickard. Poile has always been a reserved GM making deals when necessary. They don't have the luxury of two picks in the 1st round this year. However, the Preds have multiple picks beyond the 1st round and those could be turned around and shipped to either move up or to acquire a forward (probably not a big name or one with a big contract).
For my hometown Canucks, Mike Gillis seems to be a guy who will pull off a big deal but I don't see him trading into the top 10. The Canucks have very little in their system beyond Hodgson and Schneider. It doesn't bode well for them that Yann Sauve is their top defenceman prospect. If Gillis makes a move, he either risks trading Schneider or ships off a player currently under contract. Pending UFA Mattias Ohlund could be a possible name to be shipped out of town as well.
Hope you enjoyed it! This draft should be great so set your PVRs now! Cheers.