While that's not entirely unusual on its own, consider this: usually by mid-point, the World Juniors, a successful major junior/European pro league campaign or a combination of both have propelled one player into the hype-o-sphere. Looking past the obvious in Sidney Crosby (2005) and Alex Ovechkin (2004), MA Fleury (2003), Erik Johnson (2006) and even Rick Nash (2002) had the lion's share of discussion heading into their respective drafts.
What's muddied the picture even more heading into this June's proceedings is the dramatic collapse of several prospects who were at one time or another considered shoe-ins for the top spot. Ottawa 67s pivot Logan Couture, who has drawn feverish comparisons to Steve Yzerman, suffered a late start to the year thanks to a bout of mono. Angelo Esposito, on the radar since a blowout performance for Shattuck St. Mary's prep school at age 15, may just barely eclipse the century mark in points in the Q. This after scoring 97 in 56 games last year. Mikael Backlund, a Swedish centerman touted as being better than Nick Backstrom, has collected 3 points in 17 HockeyAllsvenskan games and was cut from the Tre Kronor WJC squad. And more recently, London Knights phenom and Team Canada forward Sam Gagner was significantly outclassed by linemate Patrick Kane at the World Juniors.
Despite the rise of several prospects looking to fill the hype void with their own word of mouth, the 2007 NHL Entry Draft is anyone's game right now. But never fear; in 2006, yours truly looked into the crystal ball and correctly predicted the draft places of Nicklas Backstrom, Semen Varlamov, Jamie McGinn, George Holloway, Tony Romano and Jesse Joensuu in addition to being within 5 picks of Eric Gryba, Niclas Andersen, Jonas Junland, Rhett Rakhshani, David McIntyre, Ryan Daniels, Ryan Flynn, Cory Emmerton, Felix Schutz, Chris Auger,Simon Danis-Papin, John Armstrong, John DeGray, Jordan Bendfeld, and Kyell Henegan.
So as of January 13th, here's Part 1 of the Bugg Bytes 2007 Top 30:
1. Logan Couture, C, Ottawa 67s (OHL)
Height: 6'0 Weight: 191
Scouting Report: One of the best natural leaders in the CHL. Immediately changed the fortunes of the 67s top line upon returning from injury- suddenly, Jamie McGinn was not only very good but dominant once again. Incredible vision and timing. Creates plays through a combination of fantastic reads, pure skill and a willingness to get in the dirt. Could stand to play with more effort; while the pivot has lots of heart and will never give up on a play, shift or game, he would be an elite prospect if the motor ran on high every second.
2. Alexei Cherepanov, W, Omsk Avangard (Rus)
Height: 5'10 Weight: 172
Scouting Report: What every Russian player should be. Unparalleled upper body strength, great hustle and a love to go after the puck no matter where it is. While not as skilled as Ilya Kovalchuk, Cherepanov is capable of scoring at the same clip thanks to out-and-out effort. And since his soft hands and high, hard wrister aren't anything to laugh at, it's a deadly mix. The Russian winger's size will always be a problem no matter how much he likes to get in the trenches, and a reliance on an inefficient shooting technique over an otherwise flawless release needs to be corrected. Extra speed wouldn't hurt either.
3. Jakub Voracek, W, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Height: 6'1 Weight: 188
Scouting Report: A more muscular, more physical, and harder-hitting Marian Hossa with a bit less skill. Think Anze Kopitar, elite puck protection and all. One area of concern is offensive awareness: while simply bulling to the net generates a lot of offense, it's a trick that will work less and less against bigger and smarter competition. Voracek will need to learn how to use his great speed, deft hands and hard, accurate wrist shot to outskill defensemen in the NHL. Less reliance on his wrister would also improve his odds of finishing plays.
4. Sam Gagner, C, London Knights (OHL)
Height: 5'10 Weight: 182
Scouting Report: By his last game in the World Juniors, the one-dimensional forward had the game figured out. Despite his small stature, he can hit quite hard. And when he does, it's just a matter of using his proven skill to pass or shoot the puck like no one else. This new-found physicality and drive finally showed us what his true potential is: a harder-working Jason Spezza. If that intensity can remain consistent, the CHL wil be no match for the all-world stickhandler. Merely average skating and this aforementioned consistency will pose the biggest hurdles in the near future.
5. Karl Alzner, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Height: 6'2 Weight: 210
Scouting Report: Some say Wade Redden, I say Cam Barker- an elite offensive defenseman at the Major Junior level who isn't fearsome enough to be anything more than merely very good. The skill and silky-smooth skating are there, and Alzner's puckhandling ability and poise is mature beyond his years, but he backs down from traffic too often. Will still be good for 40 points at the NHL level thanks to his skill, smarts and tremendous outlet pass. But he could be so much more if his size were used more effectively.
6. Angelo Esposito, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Height: 6'1 Weight: 174
Scouting Report: A generational talent in every category but muscle and drive. There's a lot to work with here, but Esposito remains a project that will either go big or bust hard. Tremendous agility, laser passing and the ability to dangle with the best of them. Still hasn't figured out how to fight through tight defensive schemes, however. If he can do while becoming stronger and better away from the puck, the potential to be the biggest steal of the draft is there.
7. Patrick Kane, W, London Knights (OHL)
Height: 5'10 Weight: 170
Scouting Report: Agile, fearless offensive dynamo who can work wonders on the powerplay; owns perhaps the best set of hands in the CHL. Non-stop motor propels Kane around the zone, making him nearly impossible to contain. As with all players in this mold, the slight forward is at his best on the powerplay, capable of single-handedly generating goals. Even strength is the problem, with backchecking the furthest thing from Kane's mind. And at his small size, that willingness to fly into danger may pose injury problems down the road.
8. James Van Riemsdyk, W, US National Team (USNTDP)
Height: 6'3 Weight: 200
Scouting Report: Woefully underused at the WJCs after early struggles. Still a top ten and even top five talent. Roenick-like wrist shot, size and skill. The best goal scorer in the draft. Physically dominates opposition when on his game, and could do the same very soon in the NHL. One big sticking point is confidence: when given a lot of ice-time and room, Van Riemsdyk turns into a mini-Lindros. However, at times, the drive isn't there. Could be more attentive in his own zone and more attentive of penalty trouble that could hurt his team.
9. Kyle Turris, C, Burnaby Express (BCHL)
Height: 6'1 Weight: 170
Scouting Report: Like Esposito, one of the most highly skilled junior players in the country just not good enough physically or in his own zone. Turris dominated the Royal Bank Cup as a 16 year-old, and has summarily been outclassed in the BC Junior A league when by all accounts he should be shattering scoring records. A poor combine could tumble his stock to the middle of the round. A very good one would elevate him into the top 5. So goes life for a physically underdeveloped but gutsy offensive wunderkind whose hands are one of a kind.
10. Luca Cunti, C, GCK Lions (Swiss-A)
Height: 6'0 Weight: 185
Scouting Report: One of the most surprising prospects of the year. Underscouted previously due to playing in Switzerland, Cunti's elite wrist shot, great footspeed and dynamic stickhandling have helped shed uncertainty surrounding his nontraditional hockey background. The best Swiss prospect in a very long time. Will mix it up physically, dangle, or outskate to match anyone. A plausible steal.
11. Keaton Ellerby 12. Bill Sweatt 13. Mikael Backlund 14. James O'Brien 15. Nick Petrecki 16. Alexandre Plante 17. Maxim Mayorov 18. Tyson Sexsmith 19. Sergei Korostin 20. Thomas Hickey 21. Mike Hoeffel 22. Dana Tyrell 23. Michael Biega 24. Brandon Sutter 25. Jon Blum 26. Tommy Cross 27. Teddy Ruth 28. Kevin Shattenkirk 29. Zach Hamill 30. Trevor Cann
Next week, scouting reports on ten more of the top 30 prospects in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft!