It was a little under a year ago that DobberHockey first brought you an exclusive look at the 2008 and 2009 draft classes. With the next draft just one season away, it's time to see how the favorites are doing and who else has appeared on the scene since. Part one of this series takes a look at the names you need to know now.
John Tavares, LW
Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Height/Weight: 6'0, 183 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 59 GP, 40-78-118
What We Said Then: "How good is John Tavares? Last year, he might have been a top-ten pick. This year, he'd go #1. In 2008? Same story. However, we'll have to wait until 2009 to see his name called. Tavares is a goalscorer of the rarest level, with the ability to find the back of the net like only Mike Bossy and Brett Hull could. A 200-point season is not out of the question by the time Tavares is draft-eligible. An underdeveloped skater, that facet of the 16 year-old's game is his only weakness."
What's Going On Now: Prospects can be immediate game-breakers upon entering any level of hockey, but to progress to the highest level, improvement is always necessary. Unfortunately, in the case of John Tavares, that improvement has not come. Despite being a goal shy of cracking the OHL's all-time list in that category, Tavares has performed at a level some might call disappointing. A heavy schedule and heavy demands on a young man have clearly taken their toll. While the phenom deserves credit for trying to develop his playmaking game, his offensive toolkit was never in question. Skating was the question then, and it is now with virtually almost no progress coming in this category.
Is Tavares' first overall status in doubt? It will ultimately come down to two things: the needs of the team drafting #1, and Tavares' 2008-09 season. But even the idea that a consensus generational talent would drop to a maybe first overall pick speaks to the plunge his stock has taken.
What's On Tap: If Tavares can return to the ice focused and ready to play 100% every single shift- and with the necessary rest time required to do so- he could still have a season unseen in junior hockey in a long, long time. It may not be 200 points, but an 80-goal season would be a sight to behold and would shoot him right back up to #1.
Magnus Svensson-Pääjärvi, C/LW
Timra IK (SEL)
Height/Weight: 6'1, 198 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 35 GP, 1-2-3, 2 PIM
What We Said Then: "Another 15 year-old playing at a relatively high level, Magnus Pääjärvi suited up for ten games in a league meant for 18-20 year-olds. All things considered, he did a-okay, potting 3 points. A dynamic forward with incredible hands and offensive instincts, Pääjärvi is a prodigy not seen in Sweden since Peter Forsberg."
What's Going On Now: The prodigy label gets thrown a lot- and so do comparisons to Forsberg. So let's foil Pääjärvi's accomplishments with that of a more recent Swedish star, Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom's November birthdate made him one of the oldest players in the 2006 class. As a 17/18 year-old the year prior, Backstrom netted 34 points in 29 games (1.17 PPG) on the Swedish J20 circuit. Pääjärvi was 16 for the majority of the 2007-08 season, and notched 22 points in 17 J20 games for a PPG rate of 1.22. He also played 35 games in the SEL, as compared to Backstrom's 19. But does this automatically make Pääjärvi better? Well, no. But Pääjärvi has gifts that Backstrom could only wish for: a bigger, more muscular frame- he's 6'1 and 198 already- great wheels, and truly breath-taking hands.
What's On Tap: Pääjärvi has a few historical precedents he needs to match to make 2008-09 a successful season. The aforementioned Backstrom netted 26 points in the SEL in his draft year, but was a year older. Peter Forsberg had a 0.75 PPG rate at age 17 in the Elite League, so anything close to that would of course be stellar. Shooting even higher would be Forsberg's WJC record of 17 points in six games. An absolute bull like Peter the Great in his prime, Pääjärvi has the frame and skill to be a record-setting scorer at this year's World Juniors.
Toni Rajala, C/LW
Ilves A-Junior (Fin)
Height/Weight: 5'9, 160 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 33 GP, 13-22-35, 10 PIM
What We Said Then: "One of two stellar Fins in the '09 class, Rajala is the Finnish version of Sidney Crosby, having dominated the attention of the media as a 15 year-old playing with 16 year-olds. Tied for 9th in league scoring with fellow phenom Erik Haula, Rajala's on-ice vision was on full display during a 32-point campaign. An excellent skater, passer and finisher, Rajala can and did dominate contests."
What's Going On Now: Finnish hockey's resurgence on the prospect stage has been led directly by the continued stellar play of Rajala. Still a mite at 5'9 and 160 lbs, few players in the past five years have demonstrated the kinds of gifts the talented Finn displays nightly. An effortless skater who moves around players with an almost invisible change in speed, Rajala dominated Finland's top junior league as a 16 year-old. His ability to read the play west-east stood out in particular, allowing him to victimize goaltenders and defenders off the rush with ease. A wicked stickhandler when inspired, Rajala instead plays a steadier game, going where the puck is as efficiently as possible and getting rid of it just as quick.
What's On Tap: Obviously, the biggest thing to watch here will be size. Even a 5'11, 180 lbs frame would make Rajala an unstoppable player at the next level. Even if he doesn't grow, look for him to still be an easy top-five selection.
Victor Hedman, D
MoDo Hockey (SEL)
Height/Weight: 6'6, 220 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 39 GP, 2-2-4, 44 PIM
What We Said Then: "One of the most hyped Swedish defensemen in years, Victor Hedman has, at the age of 15, cemented his status a consistent offensive contributor for the powerhouse Modo organization's U-20 affiliate. The youngest player on the squad, the monster rearguard with mouth-dropping agility posted 10 points and a +10 rating in 2006-07. Tied for 12th in league scoring by defenseman, Hedman looks poised to break several records as he moves up the Swedish hockey ladder. A huge slapshot, a rough-and-tumble game and tremendous offensive awareness to go along with mature-beyond-his-years positioning and poise are the tools of a future NHL superstar."
What's Going On Now: In a tale of two different prospects, Victor Hedman couldn't be headed in a much different direction. If it was possible to improve on the above report, Hedman did it in 2007-08. Let us count the ways: a top-four defender as a 16 year-old in one of the best men's leagues in the world; a force at the WJCs; one of the best skaters on any team he played for. Hedman even improved in an area no one thought he might, growing from 6'4.5 to a staggering 6'6. Still relatively underweight at 220 lbs, much like Mario Lemieux was the perfect hockey player, Victor Hedman has tools no one thought could be combined outside of a fantasy.
What's On Tap: Hedman's biggest challenge for 2008-09 will be off the ice, namely in the weight room. Zdeno Chara is six inches bigger and has forty more pounds of muscle to him. Hedman could also stand to be a more imposing physical force, although this will come as he transitions to the rougher North American game. Finally, while most say he's stuck into the role of #3 or #4 on MoDo, earning top-pairing status would almost ensure he is taken 1st overall in June.
Jared Cowen, D
Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Height/Weight: 6'5, 211 lbs
2007-08 Statline: 68 GP, 4-14-18, 62 PIM
What We Said Then: "When you're 16 years old and have the frame to be the tallest guy in almost NHL dressing room, scouts are going to salivate. Such is the case with defenseman Jared Cowen, far and away the most coveted player at last year's Bantam Draft. But size isn't the mammoth rearguard's only asset. Scoring 28 points for the Saskatchewan Contacts of that province's Midget AAA league, Cowen has stepped onto Chiefs blueline for last few games of the season and made an immediate impact, notching two assists in six contests."
What's Going On Now: Well, obviously, Cowen hasn't lost any of his principle asset: height. But he's also gained in other areas, too. Obviously a work-in-progress, Cowen added more strength to his legs in 2007-08, and with it greater speed and balance. Not a Hedman-esque skater by any means, Cowen plays a far simpler game for his talents, relying on his reach and pure power to simply ragdoll players anywhere on the ice. His awareness allows him to pick the best spots to do so. Offensively, the mammoth D posted a relatively impressive 14 assists and 18 points, putting him third on the Chiefs in that category.
What's On Tap: Cowen has some work to put in physically before he'll be ready. Reportedly closer to 6'6 now, it's ever-important he add muscle, and in the right places. But a simple, never-detrimental game is a fine foundation for the rearguard to build off of, and one that makes him a special talent. If he can score north of 25 points this year, consider it a success.
Olivier Roy, G
Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL)
2007-08 Statline: 47 GP, 27-11-3, 2.87 GAA, 0.896 Sv%
What We Said Then: Nothing, at least in this article. But Roy would jump onto everyone's radar when the season began: "More a pickup for those in keeper leagues who allow the drafting of players of any age, 16 year-old Cape Breton goaltender Olivier Bellavance-Roy isn't eligible until 2009, but he's making a strong push for top Q goaltender already. In just his fifth CHL game, the 5'11, 163 lbs keeper picked up first shutout, a 1-0 blanking of the Moncton Wildcats. The hot hand earned the next start, and stayed hot, shutting out Acadie-Bathurst 7-0. How now has the longest active shutout streak in the QMJHL."
What's Going On Now: What began as a hot streak ended as just the first chapter in what will be a storied career for Roy. He set two records in 2007-08, setting the wins (24) and shutouts mark (4) for a 16 year-old. Besides being a two-time defensive player of the week, Roy also earned Defensive Rookie of the Year, Rookie of the Year and All-Star honors. Let me repeat again: at age 16. Being a July-born, Roy is also one of the youngest players available. However, that relative youth has come at a cost. Despite his incredible poise and technique, Roy stands at just 5'11 and 163 lbs.
What's On Tap: A recent star crop of Q goalie prospects has been decimated by overwork. Roy will be able to avoid that problem on what is an improving Eagles squad. However, he still needs to conquer his height and muscle deficincies. Still, one of the best goalies ever tipped the scales at only 165, despite a 6'1 frame. Both marks are easily attainable for Roy.
Who is that goalie, you ask? We hate to make the comparison because of the name, but they even look the same:
As for play, there are also a lot of similarities. Unlike former Cape Breton star M-A Fleury, Roy's game is as controlled and professional as can be- just like what made St. Patrick such a difficult foe.
Next Week: The Second-Tier Stars