It's that time again. In the spring of 2007, we told you all about the marvels of the 2008 and 2009 Entry Drafts. Now it's the fall of '08, and it's time to talk a little about 2010. Is the amazing talent pool entering the league every day finally about run dry? Don't bet on it.
Taylor Hall, LW
Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
6'0, 178 lbs 11/14/1991
2008-09 Stats: 8 GP, 4-9-13, 6 PIM
The Scoop: We initially referred to him as a Guy Lafleur clone, but let's change that to Gretzky. Has the same effortless acceleration that can leave opponents standing still, the same passion for the game. But Hall's most priceless gift is his vision. Like The Great One, Hall will hang in the background, and step into the play at the exact microsecond required to intercept a pass or make a pass no one else can see.
The Future: Hall is a 1.6 PPG player now, and was hovering right at 2 prior to a couple quieter games. His numbers may not be as mind-blowing as Tavares' at 16, but his game is as good in some respects- and better in others. 2 PPG seems to be the standard for high-rate talents in the O, but the Spitfires have a lot of talent in the next couple of seasons that could rival what the London Knights assembled. He could have 100 points next year, and 50+ goals.
Jordan Weal, C
Regina Pats (WHL)
5'8, 158 lbs 4/15/1992
2008-09 Stats: 8 GP, 3-8-11, 4 PIM
The Scoop: Weal is the most electrifying player in the WHL as a 16 year-old. A tremendous skater with great acceleration, Weal loves to dart in and out of traffic to find seems. He'll often fly into a crowd, draw a couple defenders to him, and calmly dish the puck off. He's also a pretty handy goal-scorer, but he won't see many until he's a bit stronger.
The Future: The WHL has seen a couple of smaller guys enter the league as underagers and post ridiculous numbers: see Hamill, Zach and Boychuk, Zach. But Weal just exudes energy and star power neither did at the same age. He was the undisputed league MVP through the first couple of weeks, continuing to perform unbelievably well under pressure. And unlike Hamill, who had Peter Mueller and Kyle Beach to finish for him, Weal had little options until the return of Jordan Eberle from Edmonton's camp. His size makes him prone to a nasty decline as teams adapt to his style of play; the only way to combat that is more height and weight.
Austin Watson, RW
Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
6'3, 171 lbs 1/13/1992
2008-09 Stats: 8 GP, 3-4-7, 4 PIM
The Scoop: On the other end of the scale, American-born Austin Watson is one of the two pieces that are helping revitalize hockey in Windsor (see Taylor Hall). Watson is both one of theOHL's biggest forwards and one of its most skilled players. His great hands and sense of timing fuel fine dishes from the right boards. Away from the puck, while not mean, the big winger can absorb hits easily and deliver good ones in return.
The Future: Watson just needs to keep developing. He needs muscle- lots of it- and maybe a touch of nastiness. He's got all the tools to be a star power forward in the NHL. In the O, look for 75 points this year, and 90-95 next year.
Erik Gudbranson, D
Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
6'3, 195 lbs 1/7/1992
2008-09 Stats: 6 GP, 0-5-5, 6 PIM
The Scoop: Sweden has Victor Hedman. Canada has Erik Gudbranson. Selected fourth overall in the OHL Bantam Draft with the reputation of being a big, hard-hitting rearguard, the Orleans native realized in camp his style of play would not suit the O. So all he did was transform himself, turning from a so-called Pronger clone to a Bourque one. Possessing great top-end speed and a willingness to jump up in the play, Gudbranson is often the first one back in his zone. In fact, he's often able to read the play so far ahead that he's in place before everyone else has decided rush back the other way.
The Future: Gudbranson has set the bar extraordinarily high. In fact, based on stats alone, he's the top pick among one of the deepest classes of d-men ever. And the hype will only get bigger as he does. Many have wondered what it would be like if Hedman were Canadian, and we're about to find out. A handful of defenders have cracked 50 and even 60 points as rookies, so that's not going to set any records. But would 80 points- and maybe 100 PIM- be out of the question next year?
Brandon Gormley, D
Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
6'2, 180 lbs 2/18/1992
2008-09 Stats: 8 GP, 1-2-3, 4 PIM
Another in a long list of young, well-built defenseman compared to Chris Pronger, Brandon Gormley couldn't play any differently. Then-Midget coach Dale Derkatch- now head coach of the Regina Pats- compared the youngster to Lidstrom. A smooth, quick skater like Nik, Gormley doesn't have that outstanding first step or stride that can single-handily fuel the attack. And that's good. He instead utilizes all of his gifts, from his hockey sense to his quick, accurate passes and hard, always-efficient point blasts. Already projecting an icy calm demeanor and a commanding presence on the ice as he advances the puck, it's scary to think that Gormley is two years from being just draft-eligible
The Future: But he's not without fault. After accumulating an amazing 25 points in his first six games of AAA, Gormley noticeably fell off, finishing with 'only' 56 in 42 games. He will have to remain consistent and maybe find a way to produce more offense even in his 16 year-old year. Still, that's reaching. A tangible goal is adding ever-important muscle.
Maxime Clermont, G
Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
6'0, 201 lbs 12/31/1991
2008-09 Stats: 6 GP, 3-2, 2.74 GAA, 0.895 Sv%
The Scoop: Those don't look like the stats of a winner, but neither does a 3.94 GAA, and that's what one JS Giguere carried into his draft year. Like Giggy, Clermont presents a very large, low stance to shooters. Great vision and long legs allow him to follow the puck and cover the bottom of the net before a shooter can let it fly.Clermont is also a pro at directing pucks out of the zone, and when used on the PK, he can almost run the thing by himself. However, like Jiggy before JS Allaire sorted him out, Clermont is inefficient and presents a huge five-hole to shooters with his style. Long, low shots can beat him from a fair distance.
The Future: Clermont will need some good coaching and natural development to remain the star of the '10 goalie class. His workload has not been particularly heavy, which will allow him to develop at safer- albeit slower- pace.
Kirill Kabanov, LW
Spartak-2 (Russian First League)
6'2, 176 lbs 7/16/1992
2008-09 Stats: 4 GP, 3-3-6, 6 PIM, + 3 (Ivan Hlinka U18)
The Scoop: A big Russian kid with great offensive skills who plays the LW. Wait, he's... right. Another Alex O, right? Uh, nO. Kirill Kabanov may not be the next Ovy, but he's going to be a darn fine player just the same. A highly popular young man both as an athlete and a person, Kabanov escapes many of the cliches that follow Russian players around. But who does he play like? Well, think a playmaking version of Ovechkin. A dazzling skill player, Kabanov revels in appearing and disappearing, and his maturity in knowing when to be flashy and when to just do his job is incredible. He's also a capable leader and willing to both take and give hits- big, bone-jarring hits.
The Future: The Sudbury Wolves hold Kabanov's CHL rights, and they're doing everything humanly possible to bring him over. While he'd be an instant hit in the O, this is a rare opportunity where staying in Russia may actually help him more- after all, his style of play and body are suited for the men's game. So long as he does not run afoul of his coach, Kabanov could get the kind of experience that can only prepare him for the NHL quicker.
Maxim Kitsyn, LW
Metallurg Novokuznezk (RSL)
6'1, 174 lbs 12/24/1991
2008-09 Stats: 11 GP, 4-0-4, +3, 2 PIM
The Scoop: Another big Russian LW with goal-scoring talent? This one must be like Ovy-Wan, right? While it's closer, Maxim Kitsyn is still no Ovechkin. Not overly physical, Kitsyn instead relies on incredible natural ability. Chased by Metallurg since the age of 14, Kitsyn was named KHL ROTM after scoring four goals in just eight games. A bit awkward in his first couple steps- a style issue, not a skill one- Kitsyn is nevertheless an explosive, powerful skater. He prefers to fly north-south with the puck, using NHL-quality tricks to conceal his shot angle.Kitsyn does not telegraph his shot, and a microsecond release allows him to let go quick, unpredictable rockets. To make it even more of a challenge,Kitsyn can perform incredible moves in tight with one or two hands on the stick.
The Future: Kitsyn doesn't have a lot to work on offensively. While he can make great short passes, he rarely dishes and prefers to fly to the net. This will likely change as he becomes more willing to experiment and has the leash from his coach to do so. He's also very competent away from the puck for a 16 year-old in theRSL, at least making the attempt to be in the right area on the backcheck. He's no Ovechkin, and he's maybe not a Malkin, but he's something special regardless- think a bigger, stronger Simon Gagne.
Teemu Pulkkinen, RW
Jokerit J18 (Fin J18)
5'8, 171 lbs 1/2/1992
2008-09 Stats: 5 GP, 10-12-22, 2 PIM
The Scoop: You're reading that right. 22 points in five games. 4.5 PPG. How is that possible? Well, for starters, offensive wizard Teemu Pulkkinen collected almost half of them in one game earlier this week, scoring ten points in a 21-0 victory over the last place team in the league. Truth be told, the U18 league has been too easy for the youngster. While nowhere near NHL-ready physically, Pulkkinen has been able to physically dominate opponents with a fearless, mack-truck style of hitting. He's simply a beast and has made opposing players afraid of him. One of the best in Finnish youth hockey history at deking through opponents, Pulkkinen has plenty to work on before he can be considered a serious contender for first overall.
The Future: ...better include spending days and nights in the gym. Pulkkinen will also need to improve his dedication for the basics of hockey, as he struggled when put into the U20 league. If he can't get by on skill alone there, it'll be tough to crack the Finnish men's league, never mind the show. With two years until the draft, there's still time for three or even six inches of growth.
Mikael Granlund, C
Karpat Oulu J20 (Fin J20)
5'8, 163 lbs 2/26/1992
2008-09 Stats: 7 GP, 3-7-10, +2, 10 PIM
The Scoop: Much like Pulkkinen, Mikael Granlund is a phenom in Finnish hockey. At age 16, he is playing with players three and four years older- and doing quite well. Why was Granlund able to make the jump, and not Pulkkinen? Simple: Granlund has learned to tone it down. A YouTube favorite at 14, Granlund's skills with the puck and pure puckhandling put Rob Schremp to shame. In J18, Granlund would often control the puck for an entire powerplay, just mesmerizing his opponents while they waited for a wicked slapshot. However, in A Junior, the story couldn't be much different. Willing to support his linemates offensively, Granlund is quietly putting up over a PPG and emerging as a slightly more ready prospect than Pulkkinen.
The Future: Again, that's not saying much. Neither will go anywhere in the NHL if they do not have above-average gains in height and weight. The odds are that at least one of them will, but one of them will not. There's even a good chance neither grow any more. It's exciting, but unlike Kitsyn or even Kabanov, Pulkkinen and Granlund are a little more uncertain at this point time, if anything can be more uncertain than 16 year-olds who have yet to even begin living their lives.