Stop reading now if your stomach cringes every time you hear the word '15 year-old phenom'. Allow someone else the bandwith to enjoy the absolute buffet of riches the NHL will feast on in just a few years.
The 2008 and 2009 NHL Entry Drafts will mark the coming of a new age of scoring dominance. With kids growing to bigger and bigger heights at younger ages, and NHL-calibre development programs available to youth hockey, the next breed of superstars will come into the league quicker and with a bigger impact than ever before. Forget wider nets: the solution to the Dead Puck Era is here, and it's all thanks to some freakishly good genes.
2008 is the year of the defenseman. In fact, there's an extremely good possibility four of the top five picks next year are defensemen. Why? Well, ask yourself this: what three qualities would you want in a New NHL player? Speed is desirable. And offensive skill. And hey, throw some size on there, too. That's just what the top blueliners in '08 have to offer. Four of the top six defensemen in this draft are 6'3 or bigger at age 17, and each one can skate with those six inches smaller.
1. Drew Doughty (OHL, Guelph Storm)
6'0, 185 lbs/Born December 8th, 1989
One of the oldest players in his draft class, Doughty is nevertheless an exceptional talent. He would be a top-three pick this year if eligible. As a sophmore with the Storm, the bluechip rearguard led the team in assists (53) and points (74), and finished third in goals on the squad with 21. An exceptionally intelligent player, Doughty's ability to command both ends of the ice is rare among forwards, let alone defensemen. A 100 point season is not out of the question next year as the team will continue to rely on his rapidly maturing game.
2. Alex Pietrangelo (OHL, Mississauga Ice Dogs)
6'3, 192 lbs/Born Jan 18, 1990
Drawing comparisons to Nick Lidstrom, Alex Pietrangelo is another rearguard with the rare ability to dominate both offensively and defensively. A ridiculous +40 on the season while also compiling 52 points in 59 games, Pietrangelo plays a physical game, but does so within the rules as his 45 PIM indicate. A long reach and excellent first pass complete the package.
3. Yann Sauve (QMJHL, Saint John Sea Dogs)
6'3, 212 lbs/Born Feb 18, 1990
Similar to Pietrangelo in overall ability, Sauve was not able to contribute as quickly in his rookie major junior season due in part to the terrible team on which he played. However, an 80+ point campaign is not out of the question for the physical, offensively gifted defenseman.
4. Michael Del Zotto (OHL, Oshawa Generals)
6'0, 190 lbs/Born June 24th, 1990
Another gem from the Ontario League, Mike Del Zotto chipped in 57 points as a rookie defenseman. Known for his big, accurate point shot, superb agility and great puckhandling, Del Zotto is the perfect powerplay quarterback. Every touch of the puck can become something dangerous. Case in point: during the Gold Medal game of the Canada Winter Games, the creative rearguard received the puck at the blueline, and surprised Manitoba's goalkeeper with a textbook wrister.
5. Luke Schenn (WHL, Kelowna Rockets)
6'3, 209 lbs/Born November 2nd, 1989
The class of the WHL's 2008-eligible rearguards, big Luke Schenn uses every inch and pound on every shift. On first glance, his 29 points as a WHL sophmore don't compare to his peer bluechippers. However, a closer look reveals the Rockets were so bad in 2006-07 that those 29 points were third-best among all players on the squad, and his 27 assists second-most. In addition, Schenn stockpiled 139 PIM to lead the blueline. With the size and skill to score double that many points next season, Schenn is 2008's answer to Dion Phaneuf.
6. Colten Teubert (WHL, Regina Pats)
6'4, 180 lbs/Born March 20th, 1990
Another big boy on D, there's more to the former 1st overall Bantam pick than just size. A smart positional player with a meanstreak, Teubert can physically control a game in the way Chris Pronger could and still does. With just 11 points, however, Teubert is still learning how to best use his giant frame.
Outside of the blueline, there's plenty of talent in '08. Zach Boychuk (WHL, Lethbridge Hurricanes) finished tied for second in league scoring with 91 points. Steve Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting led that team in scoring with 42-50-90 in just 63 games. David Toews, the younger brother of Jonathan Toews, has been a force for Shattuck-St. Mary's in the States and could emerge as a top-ten pick. Jimmy Hayes, a 6'3, 200 lbs power winger and two-way centreman Colin Wilson are the best forwards from the US.
Deepest draft ever? 2009 could very well be. The big name is of course John Tavares, who scored 71 goals and 134 points as a sophmore for the Oshawa Generals. But there's a franchise defenseman, two superstar Euros and some kids from out of Atlantic Canada to watch for. Remember this when you read about these fine prospects: in any other year, each of the top 11 would be a clear-cut number one pick, top-three at worst. Now you know why scouts think it's deep.
1. John Tavares (OHL, Oshawa Generals)
6'0, 183 lbs/Born September 20th 1990
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.
2. Steve Anthony (NSMMHL, Dartmouth Subways)
6'2, 190 lbs/Born March 21st, 1991
Not all phenoms can be big-time scorers in major junior two years before their draft year, and Steve Anthony is a good example. Playing Midget AAA as a 15 year-old for the top-notch Dartmouth Subways program, Anthony finished 1st on the team in goals (33) PP goals (15) and SH goals (3) enroute to a 63-point season in 35 games. In the playoffs, the highly-regarded forward has taken it up another notch, scoring 8-16-24 in just nine games. An exceptional player in every aspect, Anthony's skating, shot, hands and size combine to make him the next star power forward.
3. Magnus Pääjärvi (Swedish J20, Malmo)
6'3, 187 lbs/Born March 12th, 1991
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.
4. Devon MacAusland (NBMAAADL, Moncton Flyers)
5'8, 145 lbs/Born May 23rd, 1991
Already receiving major attention due to out-of-this-world offensive production in minor hockey, tiny Devon MacAusland buoyed his stock into the stratosphere at the Canada Winter Games. The 2006 New Brunswick Midget AAA Rookie of the Year finished second in Winter Games tournament scoring, notching 21 points in just six games. An all-world playmaker with superb anticipation and hands, MacAusland's uncanny ability to find the open man generated 13 goals during the Games.
5. Victor Hedman (Swedish J20, Modo)
6'4, 211 lbs/Born December 18th, 1990
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.
6. Toni Rajala (B-Junior, Ilves)
Born February 29th, 1991
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.
7. Erik Haula (B-Junior, Assat)
5'8, 156 lbs/Born Febuary 23rd, 1991
A late surprise last season, Erik Haula's C-Junior debut as a 14 year-old was overshadowed by Rajala. However, as Haula's equal and even superior in the early rounds, there is no doubt competition at the top of the Finnish 1991 class. Haula's ability to both finish and create with aplomb make a dangerous weapon every shift.
8. Sam Calabrese (Team Illinois Midget AAA)
5'10, 160 lbs/Born February 18th, 1991
Featured in Sports Illustrated as a 13 year-old, American phenom Sam Calabrese is a throwback to the highest-calibre rushing defensemen in league history. One of the best skaters his age in the world, Calabrese's ability to guide the puck through a crowd is worth the price of admission alone. If the potent rearguard can add even two inches, he will be a contender for 2nd overall. Right now, he's what Bobby Orr was before a teenage growth spurt gave him the size to take a beating.
9. Jared Cowen (Spokane Chiefs, WHL)
6'5, 207 lbs/Born January 25th, 1991
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.
10. Andrei Kuchin (CSKA 2, Russia-3rd)
5'10, 165 lbs/Born February 11th, 1991
You may as well call Andrei Kuchin Mr. Tournament. In 2005, the then 14 year-old participated in the Nike Bauer International Bantam AAA Invitational, and came away the tournament's leader in goals (7) and PPG (2.50). Kuchin also scored a hat-trick in the deciding game of the Tretiak Cup, lifting CSKA's 1991-born team over a Toronto Bantam squad. And at the Toronto Prospects Hockey AAA tournament in March of '06, Kuchin finished tied for first in goals (9), second in points (14) and even finished three points ahead of Devon MacAusland. Altogether in 2005-06, Kuchin tallied 43-44-87 in 28 tournament games. The next big-name Russian forward, Kuchin's domination of his kids his own age has led to an unprecedented spot in the Russian 3rd pro league as a 16 year-old. One of the best technical skaters around, and with the hands and mind to make moves at top speed, he is without question a premier prospect for '09.
11. Matt Duchene (Central Ontario Wolves, ETAM)
5'11, 160 lbs/Born January 1st, 1991
One of the youngest committed recruits in Michigan State University history, Matt Duchene was 15 when he made the decision to attend that school when his Midget hockey days were over. It's not really surprising why MSU would take on the forward so early. There's something about a player that age scoring 184 points in 64 games in Midget AAA that draws attention. Capable of dominating a game with just his shot, Duchene also possesses top-flight speed and a knack for finding the open space.