(Andover's Chris Kreider, a darkhorse top ten pick)
The 2009 NHL Entry Draft lottery took place on Tuesday night. While every team in the top five had a chance to win the rights to the first pick, the New York Islanders retained the right to draft John Tavares. However, the results are still causing a shake-up in the draft board as the season comes to a close.
14. Florida Panthers- Scott Glennie, C (Brandon Wheat Kings)
Like the Buffalo Sabres, while the Panthers are really, really good at finding goalies, defensemen and wingers that fit their system, centers rarely flourish in Sunshine. To add injury to insult, Stephen Weiss was forced into wrist surgery immediately at the conclusion of the season. A #2 C on any other team to start with, future issues in this area would further rob Weiss of offensive ability. Enter Glennie. A terrific skater and thinker like Weiss, Glennie adds dimensions that many other centers only wish they had. Perhaps a little over-rated as a goal scorer, Glennie would nevertheless help the Panthers turn things around down the middle.
Upside: #1 center, 25-50-75+
13. Buffalo Sabres- Ryan Ellis, D (Windsor Spitfires)
In 1983, the Buffalo Sabres used the sixth pick on a player no one ever thought would be an NHL forward, never mind a defenseman. Considered too devoid of defensive acumen, too soft, and most certainly too small, Phil Housley was written off before his career even began. Sound familiar? While the Sabres could stand to use a game-breaking forward or two to compliment Thomas Vanek, elite puck-rushers (or PMDs, as Murray has coined them) are a rare commodity. And hey, if Ellis does turn out to be too small, a conversion to forward would a snap... after all, he had more points than any OHL first-time eligible forward, and is currently second in that league's playoff scoring race with 22 points in just 12 games.
Upside: Elite PMD, 15-45-60
12. Minnesota Wild- Zack Kassian, RW (Peterborough Petes)
With the wholesale clearing out of the Minnesota Wild braintrust, the team enters the NHL Draft with both many options and many questions. While Assistant GM and now interim head chief Tom Lynn was responsible for the scouting department, it remains to be seen if he too will lose his job. Kassian is the type of player Doug Risebrough would have coveted; free to pick as they please, Lynn and his staff may have other ideas- or they may stick to the team's status quo of adding big, physical forwards.
Upside: Top-nine power forward, 20-35-55+, 120 PIM
11. Nashville Predators- Nazem Kadri, C (London Knights)
Can the real Nazem Kadri please stand up? 2009's most maligned first round forward talent, the highly skilled center entered the 2009 OHL playoffs with considerable questions about his drive and attitude. However, despite posting big numbers early on, an early 6-7-13 line was due mostly to two big games in blowouts. However, as the games have become closer ,Kadri has suddenly begun to steal the spotlight from John Tavares. Arguably the best forward in the opening two games of the highly-touted Windsor/London Conference Finals series, Kadri's four points are double Tavares's output through the first two games of the series. The Preds would be happy with Kadri outside of the top ten, issues or no; an above-average skater with excellent hands, Kadri has the vision and talent to make things happen, and the frame to endure punishment- when he wants to.
Upside: Top-line forward, 25-50-75+
10. Edmonton Oilers- Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, LW (Timra)
After almost a decade of excuses and hemming and hawing, new GM Steve Tambellini blew the doors off Rexall Place with a highly emotional presser earlier this week to announce the team's decision to let coach Craig MacTavish go. While speaking endlessly about accountability and passion, Tambellini also let it be known that he felt the Oilers needed to get bigger and stronger up front while still retaining skill. However, as much as Tambellini would love to add a Brayden Schenn or Evander Kane, he may have to settle for two out of three. After facing the first bad press of his young career, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson entered the U18s with a boatload of pressure on his back- and he responded. Sweden's leader with five goals and five assists in just five games, the 6'2 speedster has shown he still among the very best in his age group.
Upside: NHL superstar, 25-55-80+
9. Ottawa Senators- Jared Cowen, D (Spokane Chiefs)
Was it clever gamemanship or clueless bragging? GM Bryan Murray's comments about scouting a 'player potentially better than Hedman' while in Euorpe sent both fans and the media into a frenzy. Ekman-Larsson has since been pegged as the most likely target of the comments, but it raises an interesting question: with Larsson's stock rising by the day, is Murray simply trying to push Jared Cowen down to him? While 'OEL' has likely rocketed past him due to a dominant U18s and Cowen's ACL injury, the Sens would make out like bandits if the hulking rearguard drops out of the top seven. Spokane's MVPs during their surprising Mem Cup ran last season, Cowen has the size, smarts and potentially skills to be a truly unstoppable force.
Upside: Top-pairing defenseman, 5-30-35++
8. Dallas Stars- Jordan Schroeder, RW (U. Minnesota)
Like we said last week, it would be an incredible shock if the Dallas Stars opt to pass on a Minnesota-born winger with superstar upside- especially one so comparable to current American cornerstone Mike Modano. While Jordan Schroeder's numbers don't reflect an elite finisher, Modano never cracked 50 goals during his major junior career and was instead notching assists at a 1.5 PPG pace. As it is, Schroeder has scored some truly amazing goals, and with the speed and drive to beat anyone, he will prove to be a major surprise at the next level- size be damned.
Upside: Star forward, 30-55-85
7. Toronto Maple Leafs- Chris Kreider, LW (Andover Academy)
Boyd Deveraux could win the Hart, Art Ross, Norris and Vezina Trophies next year, and it still may never absolve the career journeyman of his cardinal sin on the last day of the regular season. With wins by both Phoneix and Los Angeles, the Leafs were all set to fall to the 5th pick when Deveraux scored a truly impropable hat-trick to secure a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators. While the Islanders won the lottery anyway, even single-digit odds of landing Tavares will haunt Leafs Nation for years to come. However, with Brian Burke at the helm, betting on him drafting a Canadian is never a good strategy. Enter Chris Kreider. At 6'3, the highly skilled winger has continued to dominate New England prep hockey with his speed, skill and phsyical game. While the Leafs have a stronger need for a center, Burke can immediately make his mark on franchise by taking the American-born power forward.
Upside: Top-line forward, 35-35-70+
6. Phoenix Coyotes- Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D (Leksand IF)
How high will he go? That's the question scouts and GMs alike are asking after yet another star-building performance by rearguard Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Only now coming over to North America to play in an international tournament, Larsson's savvy play has been a wakeup call. The U18 tournament co-leader in points by defensemen with eight in five games, Larsson has all but secured his place in the top eight. It will then come down to how much a team feels he fits. So what about the Yotes? Loaded with talented forwards, Phoenix has plenty of grit on the back-end, but little in the way of game-breaking skill. Capable of using both his size and speed to control a game, Larsson could be the missing piece that propels the Phoenix attack.
Upside: Top-pairing rearguard, 5-40-45+
5. Los Angeles Kings- Brayden Schenn, C (Brandon Wheat Kings)
While Butch Goring was never the most skilled guy, it was his addition to the New York Islanders that turned them into one of the greatest dynasties in league history. Ironically enough, the Kings have been looking for a player like him ever since they traded him in 1980. Loaded with skill, size and speed both up front and on the back end, the Kings are nevertheless still struggling to compete on a night-to-night basis. Like Goring, while Brayden Schenn will never be a league-leader in any category, he can be the heartbeat that drives LA to their first Cup Finals in fifteen years. His elite playmaking ability and game-changing physical game are also nice traits.
Upside: Heart-and-soul forward, 25-50-75+
4. Atlanta Thrashers- Evander Kane, C (Vancouver Giants)
As the Altanta Thrashers get ever closer to the Ilya Kovalchukless era, they must continue to build on their newly-forged identity as a team that can and will compete against any team in any area. That describes Evander Kane's game to a T. Vancouver's unabashed MVP against Spokane in the WHL's Western Conference Finals, Kane brought every element needed from a power forward, and it paid in both points and wins. A three star selection in both Game 5 and 6, it's no coincidence that both were games featuring multiple overtimes. Kane potted multi-point games in three of the seven games during the series, finishing with six points and 14 PIM.
Upside: Top-six power forward, 30-30-60, 100+ PIM
3. Colorado Avalanche- Matt Duchene, C (Brampton Battalion)
No Sakic, no problem. Already being mentored by one of the most complete players in OHL history, Brampton Battalion forward Matt Duchene is getting the kind of experience only a select few players ever do. Riding shotgun to star Cody Hodgson, Duchene has lived up to the hype as the OHL's best '09-eligible forward not named John Tavares. In just 12 games, the explosively quick center has eighteen points, ninth-most in the league. An NHL-ready player in terms of skill, Duchene will likely return to Brampton next year to get the same star treatment Hodgson is before becoming an NHLer full-time in 2009-10. If the Avs select him, Duchene will further get to learn from one of the best youngsters in the game when he slides in behind Paul Stastny.
Upside: Star center, 30-50-80
2. Tampa Bay Lightning- Victor Hedman, D (MoDO)
With Tavares no longer in Tampa's sights, the talk has turned from lotto to nutto in just under a week. First starting with the news from Brian Lawton himself that the pick wasn't untouchable, then turning into rumblings the team was looking more at Matt Duchene than Hedman, the drama over #2 is turning into more than is necessary for what should be a slam-dunk pick. Hedman's passion is still very much under fire, but no other player in NHL history combines skating ability, puck skills and size like him. When one weighs Tampa's number of young stud forwards against their number of young stud defenders- hint, one category is zero- there's no logical reason for the Lightning to pass on Hedman.
1. New York Islanders- John Tavares, D (London Knights)
Forget all this talk about the New York Islanders not drafting John Tavares. It just doesn't make any sense. While many have compared this pick and player to Mike Bossy, JT's arrival on Long Island will have an effect closer to that of 1973 first overall pick Denis Potvin. While Bossy and Trottier are more remembered by the younger generation, it was Potvin who marked the beginning of the team's transition from expansion club to dynasty.
Missing the Cut
Dmitri Kulikov, D- A deserving top 12 player, the Russian rearguard carried his incredible QMJHL regular season play into the CHL post-season. Kulikov finished with more than double the next-nearest defenseman on the Drummondville Voltigeurs, racking up fourteen in just eight games. A five-tool player like Denis Grebeshkov, a similar draft position (18th) is possible thanks to the overwhelming amount of depth in the '09 class.
John Moore, D- What began as an extremely promising season for USHL defender John Moore ended with a whimper on April 4th when his Chicago Steel missed the playoffs. While a poor regular season doesn't alter Moore's natural gifts- athleticism, size, speed, skill- it does raise questions. Moore often over-committed on simple plays, attempting to skate or hit anything without assessing his options.
Simon Despres, D- Down and then up and then down. Consistency is rarely found in young d-men, but for Simon Despres, it's been especially elusive. One of the major factors in Saint John's second-half turn around during the regular season, the smooth-skating Despres looked like he'd finally figured it all out after amassing three assists in Game 1 of a heavily mis-matched series between the Sea Dogs and Cape Breton Eagles. However, that proved to be merely a flash. Held to just one assist in the next three contests, Despres returned to the passive style of game that hindered him earlier in the year.
Peter Holland, C- When your team gets swept, it's hard to find positives. Not for Peter Holland. Ineffective early in Guelph's first round match-up with Saginaw, Holland turned it on in time to almost upset the Spirit. While the Storm fell in d ouble OT in Game 3, the 6'2 pivot scored three goals, including the GTG with under five to play. Game 4 was largely an exercise in futility, but Holland again put Guelph on his back when he cut an early 2-0 to 2-1 before the Spirit took care of business. An intriguing player thanks to his long reach and excellent fitness, Holland should go top 16.