Saturday, 27 June 2009

Selecting The Future

For all the reported trade talk at this year's NHL Entry Draft, there was one major trade on Day One. For all the secrecy that the New York Islanders hid behind, they eventually took the best player at the first overall position. For everyone who said that this draft may not offer up a lot of surprises, you get half-marks. There were a few players who might have been selected earlier than thought, and a couple who slid down the board. I'm not going to predict winners and losers after the opening round of the draft, but I'll go through each team's selections with my own opinion.

John Tavares - London Knights (OHL). It was said that Islanders fan would burn down Nassau Memorial Coliseum in search of GM Garth Snow's head had he passed over Tavares. For a team desperate for scoring, Tavares will provide that in spades provided he has willing teammates who will feed him the puck. His hockey sense is incredible, and his skating is fine. He will need to get stronger when battling in front of the net, but Tavares is a player that the Islanders desperately need to keep their dwindling fanbase from turning rabid.

Victor Hedman - Modo (Sweden). Since the Lightning operated their defencemen on a revolving door last season, Hedman might be the first defenceman since Roman Hamrlik who earns a spot on the blueline based on how high he was drafted. Hedman has experience after playing in the Swedish Elite League against men who are stronger and more experienced than he. However, the mess in Tampa Bay won't be solved by Hedman overnight. As it has been seen, it takes defencemen 3-4 years before they become big-time NHL defencemen. Hedman could be an exception, but he still looks a little lean to me. The skill level he possesses, however, makes him an all-world talent.

Matt Duchene - Brampton Battalion (OHL). While everyone is hunting for the next Steve Yzerman, Duchene may very well be the next Joe Sakic. Sakic is solid scorer, but doesn't shy away from playing defence either. Duchene is cut from the same mold. While he may not have Sakic's wrist shot, the heart, desire, and leadership is there, and that's an exceptional foundation to build upon. Oh, and that scholastic award he won in the OHL this year? The kid is wicked smart too.

Evander Kane - Vancouver Giants (WHL). Kane is the kind of player that every coach loves. He forechecks like a demon, can score goals in bunches, and loves to hit. While he's still a little undersized for the NHL, he will grow into 6'1" frame. What most people don't talk about is his determination and character. This is a guy who was cut from the Canadian World Junior team, only to be asked back after an injury. And what did he do? Show the world that he was a big-time performer. Alongside guys like Kovalchuk and Little, Kane should be a fan favorite in Hot-lanta.

Brayden Schenn - Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). If Los Angeles was looking for another wrecking ball to play alongside Dustin Brown, Schenn would be him. The kid is "Charlie Hustle" personified, and he knows how to score. He plays the game with his heart on his sleeve, and is a phenomenal character guy. He has soft hands, doesn't mind passing the puck over shooting, and loves to hit guys. Schenn might have the ability to crack the Kings' lineup next season if he continues to work hard this off-season.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Leksand (Sweden). There's no mistaking that the Coyotes need a solid, puck-moving defenceman after trading away Derek Morris last season. While it may be a couple of years before Ekman-Larsson matures into the foundation of the Coyotes' blueline, he has shown the flashes of brilliance to warrant his pick at sixth-overall. He has been described as a "poor man's Nicklas Lidstrom" as he plays both sides of the puck at a high level. Anytime you can be compared to a legend like Lidstrom has to be a major compliment in terms of what you bring to the table.

Nazem Kadri - London Knights (OHL). With GM Brian Burke unable to move in the draft to get Tavares, why not take the player who some scouts felt was a better player in the OHL Playoffs this season? Kadri didn't have the greatest season in the regular season, and that's the knock on him: consistency. However, he'll be playing in familiar territory in Ontario, and should settle into the Leafs organization fairly well in my view. Kadri brings all the elements to the table that you want: scoring, hitting, solid forechecking. He just needs to make a habit of bringing his lunchbox to work with him each and every night.

Scott Glennie - Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). Glennie was the knife that buttered Schenn's bread for Brandon this season. Glennie has remarkable skill and excellent playmaking vision. The one knock on him is that sometimes he's too finesse with the puck, and makes one too many moves. Glennie will be successful is he can simplify his game, and that's something the Stars can teach him. If he gets a chance to play with Jamie Benn in Austin next season, we may see the next "Hull-and-Oates" combination where they lit up the scoresheet. Glennie-and-Bennie, anyone?

Jared Cowen - Spokane Chiefs (WHL). The big defenceman proved he could overcome the knee injury he suffered in January by skating on Wednesday. It remains to be seen, though, if he rushed back. However, he is a Memorial Cup winner, and he's an enormous 6'5" frame. Bigger defencemen take time to mature and develop, especially after a knee injury, so I'm guessing he'll be in Binghampton for a year or two before getting to the NHL. However, his size and nastiness in the defensive zone remind me of one of the most despised defencemen of today's NHL in Chris Pronger. And Ottawa can certainly use a player like that.

Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson - Timra (Sweden). MPS, as I'll abbreviate him, went from a timid 16 year-old at the World Junior Championships to a budding superstar. His speed and soft hands make him a dangerous threat to score every time he touches the puck, but I believe it is his size that will make him a dangerous threat. In the same way that Forsberg could turn it on as he turned a corner, MPS appears to have that same blazing acceleration and deft scoring touch while having a bigger body to protect the puck. There is no way that Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini could pass up on Paajarvi-Svensson at the 10th pick.

Ryan Ellis - Windsor Spitfires (OHL). If there is any team that has a stable of exceptional young defencemen at this point, it has to be the Nashville Predators. Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Suter already anchor that group, and adding an offensive threat from the blueline like Ellis may give Nashville the extra boost they need. Watching him play this season felt like watching Paul Coffey again. He skates like the wind, he has exceptional vision, and he has a solid shot from the point. Barry Trotz and the staff in Nashville will develop his defensive game, but the offensive package he brings to Music City will wow the fans in Nashville.

Calvin De Haan - Oshawa Generals (OHL). In what seems like a step backwards after drafting John Tavares, the Islanders pick up a bit of a project in defenceman De Haan. Don't get me wrong: De Haan can move the puck and skates fairly well, but he won't be NHL-ready for at least 2-3 years. De Haan has incredible offensive upside, but he routinely was beaten down-low in his own zone, and needs to get bigger physically. His 6'0", 165 lbs. frame won't stand a chance in the AHL or NHL, especially when battles for the puck are won and lost along the endboards. And for the Islanders, there was better talent still on the board at this point.

Zach Kassian - Peterborough Petes (OHL). In two years, there will be teams who will not want to play against the Buffalo Sabres. Last year, they drafted 6'6" Tyler Myers who seems to enjoy crushing opponents into the boards when given the chance. This year, they draft Zach Kassian, a gladiator of a hockey player. Scoring? Yes. Hitting? Absolutely. Fighting? Damn straight. Kassian was built in the same fashion that Milan Lucic was, and he doesn't back down from anyone. Surprisingly, he was still on the board at #13. Unsurprisingly, the Sabres upgraded their toughness in one fell swoop.

Dmitry Kulikov - Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL). In picking Kulikov, the Panthers are getting a potential first-line defenceman. Kulikov isn't afraid to play physically, and brings a solid offensive upside to the Panthers. While far-less offensively-minded than the comparisons to Sergei Zubov was when he entered the league, Kulikov will offer a tremendous upgrade in the defensive department. Kulikov was the best defenceman available at #14, and the Panthers made an excellent choice.

Peter Holland - Guelph Storm (OHL). Holland comes into the draft with stats similar to those of third-overall pick Matt Duchene, but there are questions about his determination and doggedness. Holland will bring a solid skill package to the Ducks, and should line-up as a second-line centerman as long as Ryan Getzlaf is still in SoCal. However, he doesn't quite fit head coach Randy Carlyle's hard-work, hustle system yet, and that will have to be taught to the young man. If he reaches his potential, however, it would be worth the work in teaching him to how to play harder.

Nick Leddy - Eden Prairie High School. With the impending loss of Marian Gaborik, it was almost a given that Minnesota would draft home-grown Jordan Schroeder with the #16 pick. Minnesota did go home-grown, but selected defenceman Nick Leddy instead. GM Chuck Fletcher insists that Leddy is the perfect "new NHL" defenceman who can skate, move the puck, and play soundly in his own zone. While there is no denying Fletcher's intuition, we'll get to see how he plays at the next level when he moves to the USA Hockey program next month.

David Rundblad - Skelleftea (Sweden). The Blues are increasing their skill from the blueline forward. With Erik Johnson last year, the Blues have two outstanding defencemen waiting in the wings. Rundblad is highly-skilled, and brings an excellent two-way game to the Blues. The one thing that really stands out in his game is his breakout. He skates extremely well, and appears to be one of the better players to start a rush with his passing. If there's one thing that was exposed in their series against Vancouver this year, it was that the Blues had trouble getting the puck out of their zone. Rundblad could be a major part of the solution to that problem.

Louis Leblanc - Omaha Lancers (USHL). Montreal drafted a home-grown boy as their potential number-one centerman. Leblanc has soft hands and a true ability to avoid hits while with the puck. While he's still a little lean at 6'0", 178 lbs., he packs a lot of power behind his shots, and fires the puck from anywhere. He is a ball of fiery energy as he plays with a lot of emotion, and will stand-up for a teammate when he can. He forechecks well, he finishes hits, and he plays the game hard - something the Canadiens haven't seen for a while. He'll have to learn to play disciplined, though, if he wants to crack the Canadiens' line-up in a year or two.

Chris Kreider - Andover High School. Kreider has a big body, and uses it to dig hard in corners for the puck. He has a solid shot, and can really skate. The major knock on him, however, is that he is being compared to other high school students. While the potential is high, it will be interesting to see if he can continue to develop against players in higher-level hockey. For all intents and purposes, though, he's a solid, hard-working player, and that can only deliver good results.

Jacob Josefson - Djurgarden (Sweden). Josefson has been compared to Zetterberg, but he's clearly not as proficient in the offensive zone as his Swedish counterpart. However, he is a responsible two-way player and a playmaker, and that's entirely what Lou Lamoriello looks for. He has good strength, and is tough to knock off the puck, especially along the boards. The problem is that he's smaller in stature, and has minimal speed. Some have called him predictable since he is a pass-first player, so the coaching staff of the Devils will need to work with him to make him a more complete player offensively.

John Moore - Chicago Steel (USHL). Moore has the skill and talent to light up the scoreboard as a defenceman, and has drawn comparisons to Mike Green. However, the jump from USHL to the next level will determine Moore's real value. Moore skates incredibly well, and has exceptional acceleration to add to his ability. His defensive zone coverage needs work, but coach Ken Hitchcock and his staff will preach defence in Columbus. Moore has vast potential to be an exceptional offensive catalyst. The only question is whether or not he'll reach that potential.

Jordan Schroeder - University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (NCAA). The highly-skilled right winger was the top scorer as a freshman in the NCAA this season. For the Canucks to grab Schroeder at 22nd-overall is a huge payoff for a franchise desperate for scoring stars. After selecting Cody Hodgson, a gifted playmaker, last season, the Canucks get a fast, strong winger who can put pucks in the net. At 5'8", however, the thought is that he lacks the size of a power forward, pushing him to pass when he should shoot. The Canucks will look to break that pass-first trend to make him into the youthful scorer they need in the coming years.

Tim Erixon - Skelleftea (Sweden). Erixon looked extremely good at last season's World Junior Championship, and he was a solid defenceman in the Swedish Elite League. Erixon won't wow anyone with his offensive or defensive prowess, but he gets the job done. And for coach Brent Sutter, that's exactly the kind of no-frills defenceman he appreciates. He may not be a #1 or #2 defenceman, but he'll be the rock-solid guy sent out to do the dirty work for the Flames.

Marcus Johansson - Farjestad (Sweden). First there was Nicklas Backstrom. Then there was Anton Gustafsson. Washington adds a third quality centerman through the draft from Sweden in Johansson. Johansson isn't the most prolific scorer, but GM George McPhee stated that he is "[v]ery good in almost every area of his game - quick, smart, competitive, good hands". The one thing that prevented Johansson from being ranked higher than he was in the pre-draft reports was the series of concussions he suffered. He had two last season, but it appears the Capitals were happy with his health. He'll need a little work, but Johansson appears to be a solid prospect.

Jordan Caron - Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL). The 6'2" centerman fits the mold of the big, bad Bruins. He has great mobility, good hands, and a keen goal-scoring sense. Scouts feel that his skating needs to improve, and that he is slightly one-dimensional. Coach Claude Julien will add a defensive aspect to his game, and that should help Caron move through the ranks as a big, strong centerman.

Kyle Palmieri - US Under-18 Team. The Ducks make their second selection on Palmieri, a 5'10" speedy winger. He works extremely hard and always seems to be moving. It's these two traits which have propelled him to higher levels. Along with his work ethic, he has a big-league shot, and his competitive nature should drive him to be better. Under a watchful eye from coach Randy Carlyle, Palmieri could become another winger in the mold of current Duck Bobby Ryan.

Philippe Paradis - Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL). Paradis could be the next hard-nosed centerman to line up on the second line for the Hurricanes. Paradis mixes a healthy dose of grit and tenacity with scoring touch, something that the Hurricanes were lacking in their series against the Penguins. While some scouts have stated that he may be nothing more than a third-line centerman, with a little refining he could be the next Rod Brind'Amour. And that's something that Hurricanes' fans would love to see.

Dylan Olsen - Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL). The 6'2", 205 lbs. defenceman shone with the Canadian Under-18 program this past season, and looks to be a complete defenceman despite only playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He likes to throw the body around, and could compliment the solid offensive defencemen in Chicago by being the bruiser on the blueline. There's almost no doubt that Olsen will crack an NHL line-up in 3-4 years, but his development will rely on his physical condition as he moves from junior hockey to the professional ranks.

Carter Ashton - Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL). Son of former NHLer Brent Ashton, Carter is a scoring threat like his dad was. Typically, however, he is scoring from just outside the crease with his bid body parked in front of a goaltender. It's strange to think that the Lightning signed Ryan Malone to a long-term contract to do the same job, but Ashton was selected anyway. Scouts are begging for him to be more physical as a presence on the ice in the way that Tim Kerr was, but he's played soft thus far. That will have to change for him to be a contributor at the NHL level.

Simon Depres - Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL). The Penguins opted to go with a defensive defenceman with the last pick in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Depres literally is willing to do anything - block shots, eliminate players along the boards - and his positive attitude doesn't waver in his job. There is some concern amongst scouts that his play away from the puck might be his undoing, so head coach Dan Bylsma will have to get Depres to stay in the system when he's not battling for the puck. If Rob Scuderi leaves this summer, this might be next Scuderi for Pittsburgh. The only problem? He's about 3-4 years away.

There were three teams who didn't have a pick in the first round: Detroit, San Jose, and Philadelphia.

Landon Ferraro - Red Deer Rebels (WHL). Son of former NHLer Ray Ferraro, Landon was selected 32nd overall. The 5'11" winger is fast, but doesn't possess the overdrive gear that scouts look for in blue-chip prospects. However, his hockey IQ is extremely high, and he finds open ice regularly. He's a solid goal scorer, and should be a Red Wing one day. He would benefit greatly from linemates who can feed him the puck in the slot with his quick shot, and Detroit has those types of players in spades.

William Wrenn - US Under-18 Team. Wrenn was selected 43rd overall, and is heading to the University of Denver next season. San Jose couldn't resist the defensive defenceman at their draft position. At 6'2", he's still tall and lanky, but Wrenn is expected to fill out and be a bruising defensive in his own zone. While already defensively responsible in his own end, he could use a touch more offence to compliment his game. However, he skates well and a leader on his team, traits that all defencemen need.

Adam Morrison - Saskatoon Blades (WHL). Philadelphia selected Morrison with the 81st pick in the draft. Morrison didn't play much last season as he was platooned behind Braden Holtby, but the Flyers saw enough potential to pick him up with their first pick in the draft. He went 9-1-1, proving that a reliable backup is important. Morrison will start for the Blades this season with Holtby graduating to the pro ranks, so there will be more eyes on him this season as he prepares for a future with Philly.

Lastly, the trades from the couple of days have seen some players moved, and some players keeping their current residences.

The Anaheim Ducks shipped out defenceman Chris Pronger and forward Ryan Dingle to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenceman Luca Sbisa, forward Joffrey Lupul, two first-round picks and a conditional third-round pick in 2010 or 2011. The Ducks would have been seriously over the salary cap limit next season with Niedermayer and Selanne telling the Ducks that they want to come back. Francois Beauchemin is still a free agent, so the Ducks had to make room. Lupul adds another scorer to the Ducks line-up, and Sbisa adds some more young talent to their blueline.

Philly, of course, gets tougher and meaner on the back-end, meaning teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, and Boston will need to avoid someone's rather large elbows. A good trade for both teams, but the Flyers are starting to remind me of the Bullies again with the pick-up of Pronger.

Brandon Prust is on his way home. Calgary, the team who originally drafted Prust, traded defenceman Jim Vandermeer to the Phoenix Coyotes to re-acquire Prust.

Edmonton Oilers' forward Kyle Brodziak and a sixth-round pick were dealt to the Minnesota Wild for their fourth- and fifth-round picks.

The Florida Panthers dealt the negotiating rights to defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to the Calgary Flames for the negotiating rights to defenceman Jordan Leopold and a third-round pick. Bouwmeester's camp has already indicated that they are interested in the free agent market, but Calgary must want Bouwmeester badly for them to make this trade.

Dany Heatley was not traded, and, from what GM Bryan Murray said, it sounds like there were a few teams who kicked the tires, but wouldn't ante up the players and picks that Murray wanted. Unless something dramatic happens before Wednesday, it sounds like Heatley will be a Senator next season. Murray has stated that if the Senators are required to pay the $4 million bonus due to Heatley on July 1, he would remain a Senator.

So there's the recap. I'm off for some fun and excitement tonight as I'm going to check out The Hangover. I need a few laughs, and, from what others have told me, it's definitely worth it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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