(Skelleftea's Tim Erixon, whose strong U18s have made him a hot commodity)
The Draft is just two months away, and while some players are becoming clear favorites, others are making a last-minute push thanks to strong playoff and international showings.
22. Philadelphia Flyers- Calvin de Haan, D (Oshawa OHL)
Pick high, get a good player. Pick low, get a good player. No matter how bad- or good- the Philadelphia Flyers seem to do, they always seem to come out of the Draft with a stud. James van Riemsdyk (2nd), Jeff Carter (11th), Luca Sbisa (19th), Mike Richards (24th)... the list goes on and on. 2005 was the last time Philly picked 22nd, and the guy they got- Claude Giroux- is pretty good too. With an enviable list of forwards, look for the Flyers to once again focus on defense. Perhaps the most underrated defenseman to score a PPG in his draft year ever, Calvin de Haan has all the tools to be a top-flight offensive defender. While he didn't get a playoffs to further raise his stock, the cerebral puck mover had a strong U18s showing. In six games, de Haan lead Canada's defense in points with six, and finished tied for second among tournament D in assists.
21. Calgary Flames- Tim Erixon, D (Skelleftea SEL)
While injuries to Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf can't exactly be blamed on anyone, that the Flames were forced to rush a 2007 3rd round pick to the NHL to fill holes is a damning indicment of the team's amateur scouting the past several years. With Calgary's Swedish experiment rapidly looking better and better by the day, the Flames may very well return overseas in the '09 first round. 6'2, 190 lbs Tim Erixon was considered in a third tier of rearguards prior to the U18s in Fargo. However, thanks to a tournament-leading 3-6-9 line in just six games, Erixon's stock has never been higher. Primarily a stay-at-home defender with a keen sense for the game, Erixon would be an excellent addition to Calgary's pipeline if they so choose to give Phoenix their 2010 1st.
20. Carolina Hurricanes- Jeremy Morin, LW (USNTDP)
While all of Carolina's sins can be forgiven thanks to their miraculous comeback in the final eighty seconds of game seven, it was a clear sign that the veteran leadership group that also encompasses much of their forward talent is quickly detiorating... save Ray Whitney. While the Canes have devoted a lot of 1sts in recent years on scorers, a couple more wouldn't hurt. With a known love for American products, sniping winger Jeremy Morin would be a perfect fit. After a lacklustre second half offensively, Morin entered the U18s with a lot to prove. 6-4-10 in seven games later and the power forward is now soundly back in top 20 territory.
19. New York Rangers- Carl Klingberg, LW (Frolunda Jr. Swe-Jr)
Another year under Glen Sather, another early playoff disappointment with a cloudy future. The only things Rangers fans know for sure is that they'll need their scouting staff to continue stepping up, as cheap, NHL-ready talent will become all the more important as Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Wade Redden handicap the team for the next half-decade. Thankfully, when it comes to Europe, few teams have been as good lately as the Rags. 6'3 power winger Carl Klingberg has the size and skill New York covets, and the skating and agility to be a truly special player. With all the teams on the look-out for such players, it's truly bizarre that players of Klingberg's ilk- like Rangers prospects Evgeny Grachev and Artem Anisimov-continue to slip to, well, the Rangers.
18. Montreal Canadiens- Louis Leblanc, C (USHL)
If the Montreal Canadiens draft Louis Leblanc, Bob Gainey and Trevor Timmins deserve a Nobel Prize in Peace. With the monumental collapse of the 100th anniversary Canadiens pitting Francophone against Anglophone fan in a way not seen since the days of the Nordiques, Leblanc has all the traits required to satisfy both groups. A highly skilled power forward who spent his draft year in an American league (check), Leblanc has the French Canadian blood that is so important in Montreal. Leblanc has the talent, drive and relentless compete level to help carry the team for years to come.
17. St. Louis Blues- Landon Ferraro, C/LW (Red Deer Rebels WHL)
Blessed with a wealth of forward talent both on the roster and in the system, the Blues have the ability to take some risks at the 2009 draft table- but they never do. Skill, character and work ethic are traits the front office of John Davidson, Al MacInnis and Jarmo Kekalainen have coveted since day one. While Landon Ferraro did not have a season statistcally that might merit a top 20 pick, the savvy goal scorer is as dangerous a player as those ranked ahead of him. Blessed with tremendous speed and an elite release, Ferraro's ability to score from anywhere would ensure the Blues cannot be shut down by just focusing on Brad Boyes.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets- Simon Despres, D (Saint John QMJHL)
Different place, same team. One of the constants throughout this year's early mock drafts was Saint John shutdown stud Simon Despres joining the Columbus Blue Jackets. Out of the top 15 for most of the middle part of the season due to his inconsistent play, it's still no sure bet he goes in the first half of the Draft. The Jackets would gladly draft him, though. A smooth skater who can control a game defensively, Despres' offensive game would just be an added plus to a BJ blueline that prides itself on two-way play.
15. Anaheim Ducks- John Moore, D (Chicago USHL)
If John Moore is still available at 15, it will be a crime- ditto if it's to the Ducks. As we said a couple of mocks ago, Moore's ability to play like either Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer may get him in trouble, but it's ultimately an incredible package. GM Bob Murray has done a bang-up job of injecting young talent on the blueline in the last couple of months- see James Wisniewski and Ryan Whitney- and Moore, along with NCAA standout Jake Gardiner, will help Anaheim recover quite quickly from Brian Burke's mis-steps.
14. Florida Panthers- Zack Kassian, RW (Peterborough OHL)
Nathan Horton, Anthony Stewart, Kenndal McArdle, David Booth... it's clear the Florida Panthers have an affinity for power forwards, good and bad. While Zack Kassian's skill and skating ability are more akin to Stewart and McArdle than Horton and Booth, the strapping winger has the character and hustle to help the Panthers move from rebuilding team to annualcontender.
13. Buffalo Sabres- Ryan Ellis, D (Windsor OHL)
Once again, Ryan Ellis is our best bet to join the Sabres at the draft table. Buffalo's ability to develop smaller players is simply awesome, and the Sabres will need offense from every position if they wish to regain the lofty heights they enjoyed in 2005-06.
12. Minnesota Wild- Scott Glennie, C (Brandon WHL)
It would be something for the WHL's (co-)leading playoff scorer to drop outside the top ten, but center Scott Glennie is just a victim of terrific performances by those above him. While the Oilers will more than likely scoop him up- barring, as said above, the free-fall of a player like Cowen- Minnesota would be a perfect fit. Glennie can do a bit of everything, from score to make plays to kill penalties.
11. Nashville Predators- Nazem Kadri, C (London OHL)
Nazem Kadri's days outside the top ten are probably coming to an end thanks to a dynamic and dominant performance in the 2009 OHL playoffs. John Tavares' equal and then some in the West Finals versus Windsor, Kadri's mix of size, skill and willingness to play in traffic make him a bona fide pick in the 9-12 range. It will be a battle to keep him motivated and trouble-free at the next level, but that's not likely to dissuade a team like Nashville from immediately improving their offense.
10. Edmonton Oilers- Jared Cowen, D (Spokane WHL)
Once considered a top three pick, is it really possible that rugged rearguard Jared Cowen falls outside the top six? In a word, yes. 2003 was another deep draft year that featured a 6'5 defenseman who dominated as a 16 year-old, only to fall off slightly as a WHL sophomore. And while Braydon Coburn has turned into a fine player all his own, one would be hard-pressed to include him in the top ten of players from that draft (Thomas Vanek, Ryan Getzlaf, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber, Dustin Brown, MA Fleury...). With 2009 said to be as deep as '03, a porject like Cowen could be a victim of the tremendous amount of NHL-ready talent available in the top eight.
9. Ottawa Senators- Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D (Leksand Allsvenskan)
Oner of the worst-kept secrets of the Draft, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is likely to end up a Senator- if he's still available. The top nine is as fluid as any year despite its tremendous talent, and movement on or near draft day will continue to shake up the landscape. A mobile, minute-eating defenseman has been Ottawa's Achilles Heel since losing Zdeno Chara. While Larsson isn't as big, he still brings plenty of size and skill to the rebuilding Sens.
8. Dallas Stars- Jordan Schroeder, RW (U. Minnesota NCAA)
7. Toronto Maple Leafs- Chris Kreider, LW (Andover USHS)
Like last month, we're willing to go out on a limb and predict that Chris Kreider ends up a Leaf. While the Leafs could use a player who could contribute sooner, the Andover Prep star is just too good in the areas Brian Burke covets for the Leafs to pass him up. However, if Brayden Schenn magically falls out of the top five, look for Burke to grab him instead- or face the wrath of fans.
6. Phoenix Coyotes- Dmitri Kulikov, D (Drummondville QMJHL)
Rookie of the Year. Rookie D of the Year. Defenseman of the Year. Best QMJHL Prospect. Russian import Dmitri Kulikov completed his first North American season in fashion with almost every award possible when the QMJHL announced its award winners April 1st, but he clearly hasn't been satisfied. Through 13 playoff games, the 6'1 200 lbs rearguard has amassed 19 points to help Drummondville to the Q Finals. The Voltigeurs are expected to thoroughly dominate Shawinigan, as they've done to every other team during the post-season. Kulikov's stock continues to blossom, with only the Memorial Cup standing between him and a guaranteed draft position in the top seven. Like we said last month, with the Yotes looking for an elite puck-mover to compliment their forwards- whether it be Kulikov or Oliver Larsson or someone else- expect a surprise pick at six.
5. Los Angeles Kings- Brayden Schenn
4. Atlanta Thrashers- Evander Kane
3. Colorado Avalanche- Victor Hedman (MoDO SEL)
Simply unfair. That's what it would if the Avalanche added Victor Hedman to their young core. Having entered Denver with a Stanley Cup-caliber roster, to think that the Avs need only endure one off-year to rejoin the league's elite is enough to make one green with jealousy. Hedman is everything the Avs have been missing since Ray Bourque and Rob Blake left town: a big, calm body who can control the ice for 30 minutes.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning- Matt Duchene (Brampton OHL)
In the fairness of exploring every possibility and option, we have the Lightning making a bit of a different pick here at 2. No, we don't think he's the best or second-best player in the Draft, like some do. But Duchene's big-league acceleration and top speed will make him a hit for whichever team he plays for, and his character and versatility would be big plusses for the Lightning. Tampa would probably be better off spreading out their young talent across different positions, but it wouldn't be a horrible move. It just makes the need for a potential franchise defenseman all the greater next year, when the Lightning may have a crack at two other great forwards in Taylor Hall and Kirill Kabanov.
1. New York Islanders- John Tavares (London OHL)
Question his drive, skating and defensive hustle all you like. John Tavares is a marked man for the rest of his career based on those who love to hate talented players. Tavares may never reach the lofty heights thrust on him since joining the OHL as an underage player, but who cares? He has consistently shown an ability to put the puck in the net at an elite level, and that's what the team who drafts him will be after- not a Selke winner or the next Gretzky.