Several new faces crack the first round as pretenders fade and obscure talents explode down the stretch in the March edition of the DobberHockey 2010 monthly mock draft.
1. Edmonton Oilers- LW/C Taylor Hall (Windsor OHL)
The OHL scoring race is going to be a photo finish. Not long ago- nine days ago, to be precise- Tyler Seguin appeared to be running away with the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy. However, like it was during Steve Stamkos' draft year, Taylor Hall simply took it as a challenge to be met. With eleven points in his last four games (2.75 PPG!) Hall briefly wrested the top spot back despite playing four fewer games than his opponent before a three-point night Friday by Seguin.
With the OHL regular season nearing its end the playoff picture in the Western Conference has been all but settled. Five points up on the Owen Sound Attack, the Guelph Storm have the... ahem... envious task of playing the first-place Windsor Spitfires in the first round.
If that holds true, look for Hall to continue his offensive domination into the post-season. In three games against the Storm this season, he has never scored fewer than four points, racking up a stunning thirteen in three games (3.25 PPG!)
2. Boston Bruins (via Toronto)- D Cam Fowler (Windsor OHL)
Toronto fans may be annoyed that they might have to watch the Bruins take an Ontario boy with their pick, what would truly grind Brian Burke's gears is having to see Boston add a potential franchise American defender at his expense.
However, the only kink in that plan may be Fowler himself. After a quietly dominant World Juniors in which he added just two points but controlled the flow of the play around his net, the 6'2 rearguard has enjoyed little of the offensive success he had in the first half of the year. A lot of this has to do with Ryan Ellis' return; while a boon to the Spits as a whole, Fowler is not longer the top option on the powerplay as the puck and action are dictated by his diminutive partner.
Inconsistent goaltending has been Windsor's major downfall down the stretch; while the team is clocking in 5 GPG since February 1st, the team has lost their fair share of 6-3 and 8-5 games and is allowing 3.5 GA a night.
3. Carolina Hurricanes- C Tyler Seguin (Plymouth OHL)
Regardless of who the better player is, wouldn't it simply just be fitting for the draft to begin like this? Hall's charisma, charm ("I'd love to play for Edmonton") is the perfect fit for a team that's been burned by a litany of stars since the beginning of the 90s. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes end up with as close to a home-grown product as the organization could produce.
As mentioned, a big night yesterday propelled Seguin back into top place points-wise with 102. With four games left, Seguin has a legitimate chance at besting Steve Stamkos' draft-year total of 105. He's also just three back of the 50-goal mark, and barring anything incredible will likely be the only player in the league to net both 50 goals and 50 assists.
Looking at the standings, at fourth in the Western Conference, the Whalers are securely in playoff position with spots 1 through 7 clinched. All that's left to determine is who Plymouth will play. From Seguin's perspective, Sault Ste. Marie (fifth West) would not be an ideal opponent; he had just two points in three games and was a -3 before finally getting some measure of revenge yesterday against the Greyhounds with his three-point night.
4. New York Islanders- D Brandon Gormley (Moncton QMJHL)
When the New York Islanders see something they like, they're willing to use whatever pick is available- even if it's four or five spots higher than conventional wisdom would dictate. With that in mind, Brandon Gormley would be a walk in the park compared to some of the team's recent reaches (Calvin de Haan, 12th overall; Josh Bailey, 9th overall).
A top-seven pick otherwise, Gormley has likely done all that is necessary to separate him from the pack after Fowler. With twelve points and a +11 rating in his last ten games it's not even really a race anymore. Gormley's problem has always been consistency and temerity; he rarely did much more than skate it up ice gracefully before dumping it in. Then, when he seemed to figure out his game with the puck, he became too passive away from it. At the right time, everything is working together and the Niedermayer-esque rearguard could reach 50 points.
5. Florida Panthers- LW Nino Niederreiter
Power forwards might not grow on normal trees, but what about palm threes? The Florida Panthers have had little problem finding and developing big men who can score. Nathan Horton, David Booth and youngsters Viktor Oreskovich and Shawn Matthias all fit the mold. So why is the team having so much trouble scoring with any consistency? Center depth is one reason, but the team's biggest forwards lack the will and spark to win battles along the wall and in open ice.
Enter Niederreiter. Used to carrying below-average on his back (see: Switzerland) the hulking winger enjoys both scoring goals and throwing his weight around. Of the fifteen players in the WHL who have 35 or more goals, Niederreiter is fourth in PIM- not bad for both the youngest player on the list and for a player from a country not known for its on-ice terrors.
One trait about Niederreiter that simply doesn't get enough mention is his age. He's a week too old for 2011. When you consider that power forwards tend to reach their full potential at a later age, it's scary to think how lethal he could be at age 25 or 26. Interesting trivia: with his powerplay goal February 20th against Kelowna, Niederreiter surpassed Rick Nash's draft-year total of 32 markers.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets- C Alexander Burmistrov (Barrie OHL)
With a top-seven pick, the Blue Jackets have their pick at any of a number of dynamic offensive forwards. However, like that old saying about being surrounded by salt water while stranded on a liferaft, all of the best forwards past #5 are... wait for it... Russian.
It would be one thing if there had only been one trouble Russian player over the last five years, or one from the top of the Draft and another a little later on. But that the Jackets have now had a sixth and a fourth overall pick from that country burn them likely gives GM Scott Howson pause at the draft table. The issues haven't been solely with draft picks, either; Alexandr Svitov also buggered off to Russia when the team wouldn't guarantee him top ice-time.
So what does Columbus do? Aching for center depth, the obvious solution would be to take the most North Americanized Russian- Alexander Burmistrov. A critical cog of the OHL's best franchise in 2009-10, it's no coincidence that the Barrie Colts have both the league's top powerplay (27.5%) and a top five penalty kill (82%) with Burmistrov featuring prominently on both units. Developing quickly into a dominant faceoff presence in addition to his crafty play both with and away from the puck, Burmistrov is an all-zones player whose worth can't be measured in points alone. Former Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock would have appreciated that.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning- D Erik Gudbranson (Kitchener OHL)
With Tamp Bay's offense once again clicking at a pre-lockout rate thanks to Steve Stamkos replacing Brad Richards in the top six, the Lightning's next focus should be on getting franchise rearguard Victor Hedman a bit of help. A smooth-skating left-handed puck mover who also happens to weigh in 6'6 230 lbs, it would make a lot of sense to pair him with a large right-handed partner that can handle the business at home.
Erik Gudbranson is just that guy. At 6'3, 199- albeit probably a little less since mono hit- Gudbranson has not had the easiest season but he's done everything that one could ask for under the circumstances.
However, if you needed any further proof that the old Gudbranson is back, check these splits:
Sep-Nov: 20 GP, 1-12-13, 41 PIM, +7
Dec-Jan: 5 GP, 1-3-4, 2 PIM, +1
Feb-Mar 6th: 11 GP, 0-6-6, 18 PIM, +5
With Kingston locked into the playoffs- and the Brampton Battalion the likely opponent- Gudbranson has a chance to recoup a ton of draft stock. If he can both shut down Cody Hodgson and continue to chip in offensively, there's no reason to think Gudbranson is not a lock to go in the top seven.
8. Montreal Canadiens- C/RW Mikael Granlund (HIFK SM-Liiga)
It's impossible not to draw comparisons; an organization sorely lacking star power takes a chance on a small but determined Finnish forward who ultimately becomes the face of the organization. When he was selected 21st overall in 1993, 5'10, 183 lbs Saku Koivu had ten points in 46 games for TPS Turku. The very next year he exploded and reached 53 in 47.
While that was seventeen years ago and young players have been given a little more ice-time on European rinks since, it's impossible not to see how impressive 5'10, 172 lbs Mikael Granlund has been this season. In 37 games, Granlund has an incredible 35 points and is 32nd in league scoring.
Prior to Koivu's knee injury in 1997, he was well on his way to challenging for the league scoring title. Granlund has the vision, skill and heart to match such feats, and to be Montreal's best and most beloved forward since Koivu.
9. New York Rangers- LW/RW Kirill Kabanov (Moncton QMJHL)
Alexei Cherepanov was well on his way to becoming one of the next top Russian snipers in the league. Shy but extraordinarily skilled, we'll never know how good he could have been in the best league in the world since his efforts to get there robbed him of his life.
While Kirill Kabanov isn't as dangerous a finisher- think more Ales Hemsky than Alex Ovechkin- he has the media-friendly personality to thrive in New York, both on and off the ice.
With just seventeen games under his belt to date and a regular season that will be less than twenty overall, it's almost impossible to get a fair and accurate picture of his skills. We can approximate: over a 60-game season, the rangy winger would have 28 goals and 70 points at his current pace- easily the best in the QMJHL among rookies in both categories. But what truly separates him from the others on that are the penalty totals; over 60 games he'd have 91 minutes in the bin, second among rookies and first among rookie forwards.
Kabanov presents a unique combination of skills, charisma and physical play. However, he's also a challenging player due to injury, the constant threat of his homeland luring him back and a history of inconsistent if not lackadaisical play. It will take a special team to keep him inside the top seven.
10. Atlanta Thrashers- C/RW Vladimir Tarasenko (Siber KHL)
The Atlanta Thrashers have not used a first round pick on a Russian since 2001 and Ilya Kovalchuk. When you consider what he did for the franchise both on and off-ice, it's a surprise to learn that the team has never again gambled. Mind you, there have not been any opportunities; the only example might be 2004, when the team could have had Alexander Radulov but went with Boris Valabik instead.
No matter what the Thrashers do, two things are certain: the team has chosen their direction in net, trading Kari Lehtonen to accommodate Ondrej Pavelec. The blueline is also solid with young talents like Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom lining up along veterans Ron Hainsey and Johnny Oduya, and Arturs Kulda knocking on the door.
Up front is what presents the most challenge. Kovalchuk was the team's lone star attraction and while most hockey fans can understand that the team has done well to sign the likes of Rich Peverley and Maxim Afinogenov to dirt-cheap contracts, they and Bryan Little and Evander Kane simply can't match Kovalchuk in star power.
That's where Tarasenko could conceivably come in. Where Kovalchuk would gamble shift in and shift out, lifting the masses from their seats, Tarasenko brings a more complete game to the fore without sacrificing a soft pair of mitts and a nose for the net. His 13 goals are three off the team lead and a little more than half what Kovalchuk netted at the same age in he Russian second-tier men's league. He could be Atlanta's answer to Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg.
11. Anaheim Ducks- D Mark Pysyk (Edmonton WHL)
Mentorship is a huge part of development. Consider Pavel Datsyuk; would he be as good in all three good zones if Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman were there to shelter and mentor him? Not every player that gets drafted by a team with a legend develops perfectly, but playing with such a player can accelerate development by years.
Consider, then, the case of Mark Pysyk. While his upside is perhaps not as high as Gormley or Fowler, that he can conceivably step right into the Anaheim lineup next year and provide a sound two-way presence from the bottom pairing is more beneficial in the short-term.
And long-term? Well, who better to mentor a slick-skating 6'2 defender than Scott Niedermayer? After all, Nieds has never been looked at as primarily a physical defender or a puck mover or a stay-at-home guy; instead, he possesses a wide range of gifts and the brains to know which skill to use in any given situation.
Pysyk is similar. While not as inherently skilled with the puck, his hockey sense is so good that he never has to go out of position for a big hit in order to stop a rush or make a dangerous pass in order to advance the puck. He could, with continued linear development, become Scotty the Sequel.
12. Minnesota Wild- LW Brett Connolly (Prince George WHL)
Their best young rearguard is fighting concussion issues, while they lost a star forward in the off-season who missed a ton of time with injury by... signing another star forward with an injury history. So Brett Connolly and his wonky hip would fit right in. While the Prince George Cougars are guaranteed to finish outside the WHL playoffs, Connolly has not taken the ice in a game since December and that means he's likely no-go for the World U18 Championships- the last major stop on scouts' calendars.
What will that mean for Connolly's stock? Well, it certainly is not improving. And why would it? Any team that selects him would be banking that a) his rookie year was a true picture of his talents and b) that he recovers 100% from his hip injury. Ironically for a player who hasn't been healthy, Connolly's next big challenge is the Combine; if he can prove to the litany of team doctors he's sure to see that his hip is fine long-term, he may still go in the top fifteen. A few on-ice workouts plus a strong VO2 and strength testing showing wouldn't hurt either.
13. Boston Bruins- D Jon Merrill (USNTDP U18)
Any team that gets Jon Merrill outside the top ten is getting a steal. That's my bold statement of the Draft. While certain scouts/scouting services still have a love-in for 6'4 Derek Forbort, the facts are as such: the 6'2 rearguard has more goals, assists and points than Forbort despite playing in nine fewer games. Internationally, he's been even more lethal, picking up six points in nine games to Forbort's three. There really should not be a discussion here; Merrill is the top NTDP rearguard in the class. His game is more polished and their upsides are arguably just as high; gambling to gain two more inches in height is simply not worth it.
14. Dallas Stars- G Jack Campbell (USNTDP U18)
While the Dallas Stars patched things up for now in net by acquiring the likes of Kari Lehtonen, it would be foolish for us- or them- to think that that should be all that needs to be done. After all, Lehtonen is meant long-term as a replacement for Turco and not a back-up, and that still means the Stars lack an NHL-caliber goalie prospect.
So why not pick the best one in the Draft? Campbell had a truly epic World Juniors but has since returned to quiet domination of the teams he and the NTDP face on a weekly basis. That hiding out of sight might be the best thing the Stars- or another team desperate for a goalie- could ask for.
15. St. Louis Blues- C Riley Sheahan (Notre Dame NCAA)
17 points in 39 games may not seem like it's worth a top fifteen pick, even in the NCAA, but consider this: 2009 first-round pick Kyle Palmieri also happens to play Notre Dame. Despite being ten months younger, power pivot Riley Sheahan is a) the exact same size and b) has the same number of points. The Blues probably aren't all that hot on adding yet another project center (see Berglund, Patrik and Oshie, T.J.) especially one who still has a good two years of development left. But the wait is worth it- trust us.
16. Anaheim Ducks (from Philadelphia)- C Emerson Etem (Medicine Hat WHL)
Etem has made his way around the California-area teams in our mocks this year, and that's because it would be a seriously great story. How awesome would it be to see a California native be drafted by one of the newest teams in the league that likely inspired him to pick up the game? But Etem is much more than a story that would give Gary Bettman cause to celebrate; he's an explosive talent who belongs somewhere in the 10-20 range but nowhere in particular. A team will have to help him refine his skating style to NHL standards and get him to focus more on an all-around game, but the Ducks made winners out of Ryan Getzlaf, Correy Perry and Bobby Ryan. There's no reason to think they can't mold Etem the same way.
17. Phoenix Coyotes (from Calgary)- D Derek Forbort (USNTDP U18)
See, we don't hate Forbort that much. Don't get us wrong- 6'4-6'5 rearguards who can skate and score at or near 0.5 PPG in their draft year are worth gambling on in the first round, but why do it when you know that a player will need to completely re-build their game from the ground up to be an every-day player? Those are not the type of picks to make in the top fifteen. Forbort could very well end up the next Chris Pronger or Victor Hedman with a freakish turn in development and the Coyotes have the depth both on the roster and in the system to take a chance on such high returns. Mind you, that's what everyone said about Kyle Turris...
18. Detroit Red Wings- C Jeff Skinner (Ottawa OHL)
No change from last month. Sometimes you just have a feeling about a guy, and while the Wings could go on a significant tear that alters their draft position by as much as eight spots, they may finally give their scouting crew a high pick to work with.
Regardless of his size and reported speed issues, it'd be something for a 50-goal scorer to come up shy of the top fifteen in a post-2005 Draft. Jeff Skinner will never be a burner but he does everything well except for rifle pucks, which he does really well.
19. Nashville Predators- LW Quinton Howden (Moose Jaw WHL)
The Nashville Predators weren't overly active on deadline day, shoring up- surprise, surprise- their defense while shedding enigmatic winger Ryan Jones via waivers. That means there are no more holes to fill than there were prior to the deadline, which allows the Preds to continue drafting players that fit the team's blue-collar philosophy.
Quinton Howden has been everywhere in our mock drafts, from the top fifteen to the bottom third. It's simply impossible the gauge the worth of a former 1st overall Bantam pick who plays with such staggering inconsistency that he can be the best player in the WHL one night and its worst defensive forward the next.
One point of concern is physicality; with just 44 PIM on the year and 66 over 130 career games there's no overwhelming optimism that Howden replaces Scott Hartnell's nasty presence. But with the proper coaching from Barry Trotz, Howden could find a half-way point between physical menace and reliable top-six forward. After a ridiculously hot January in which he piled up 17 points in 14 games, Howden has just ten in his last fifteen and is a -3 in that span. He also had just six PIM.
20. Ottawa Senators- RW Austin Watson (Peterborough OHL)
Europe's been a fine source of talent for the Senators, but the odd good 'ole Canadian boy would inject some much-needed toughness into a top six where Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Alex Kovalev scare no one physically. While it's unwise to draft merely for that size, big players that show potential in more than one department attract attention simply because they're so rare. That's what could make Austin Watson a hot commodity on draft day.
It's been an up-and-down year for the Ann Arbor native; after defecting to the OHL with much fan fare last year, Watson didn't immediately becoming that missing piece the Spits thought they were getting. While the team has managed to be elite without his help thanks to unparalleled depth, Watson had remained a sore point until being traded to Peterborough for Zack Kassian.
The lanky winger has eleven points in his last ten- albeit split between January, February and March due to injury- and has featured prominently in the Petes attack since returning. He's getting hot at the right time, but fair warning is required: throughout his major junior career, Watson has been known to be everywhere one month and gone the next. Along with excellent size, Watson has good top-end speed and is an excellent puckhandler in tight. He's especially good at escaping containment on the boards when he combines his raw power and skill.
21. Buffalo Sabres- C Ryan Johansen (Portland WHL)
Grit, grit, grit. The Buffalo Sabres went to the market on deadline day and came home with the premier body-thrower on sale in Raffi Torres. It's a good bet the enigmatic but tough-as-nails winger re-signs, too, considering that the team has a need for his skillset not just for the stretch run but all season long.
That's where Ryan Johansen would come in. A better overall hockey player than last year's first round pick Zack Kassian, Johansen is nowhere near as goonish but is just as effective at both agitating his opponents and opening room for his linemates. He's a premier two-way center that looks more and more like Ryan O'Reilly with every passing day.
22. Colorado Avalanche- D Alex Petrovic (Red Deer WHL)
With a sudden explosion in prospect development that has seen almost every body in the system turn to gold the moment they earn a call-up, the Colorado Avalanche are riding a youth high not seen since the days of Owen Nolan, Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic. Defense has been a top priority and the team has continued to stock up in the later rounds, but players like Kevin Shattenkirk and Stefan Elliott are not and will never be fearsome physically.
Enter Alex Petrovic. As close to an Adam Foote clone as you'll find in the new NHL, Petrovic's combination of intensity, strength and leadership would fit well in the young Colorado locker room. He'd make an excellent partner for any one of the many softer puckmovers the team has both on the roster and in the system.
23. Atlanta Thrashers (from New Jersey)- C Evgeny Kuznetsov (Chelyabinsk KHL)
The Thrashers could hit gold twice when it comes to Russia, no matter where New Jersey and their first round pick ends up being. That's because concern over the transfer agreement is such that a truly dynamic talent like Evgeny Kuznetsov could fall to the 20s. Kuznetsov likely doesn't make it past a team like Pittsburgh or Washington, but there are few other candidates who continue to do their homework in Russia and are willing to risk a top thirty pick on a player who may or may not come over- no matter how founded those fears are.
24. Pittsburgh Penguins- LW Brad Ross (Portland WHL)
The Penguins have been content with their draft position since becoming a consistent contender because they've found that taking the left-overs can be just as good and far less expensive than grabbing what's warm or even hot. Brad Ross is the type of player that could fall to their pick on draft day. A roughshod forward who gets the puck north-south with lots of speed and little flash, he'd be an excellent replacement for former beloved Pen Ryan Malone.
25. Vancouver Canucks- RW Tom Kühnhackl (Landshutt Germany-2)
Swiss and Germany and California oh my! The 2010 first round is quickly becoming a lesson in diversity as the NHL's impact is felt around the world. However, old-time European hockey is the source of Tom Kühnhackl's ability. His dad is often brought up as a case study of how bad some European leagues were pre-1990s: in 1979, while playing for the same team as his son, Erich Kühnhackl racked up an incredible 155 points- including 83 goals- in 48 games.
At 6'2, 168 lbs Tom doesn't appear to have inherited all of his dad's 6'5 frame but that could still be on the horizon. What is known, however, is that the highly-regarded German talent will be headed to toe hHL next year to suit up with- who else- the Windsor Spitfires.
26. Los Angeles Kings- C Jaden Schwartz (Tri-City USHL)
Just as we had last month, pivot Jaden Schwartz is a natural fit for the Kings. A homerun-potential talent who is blessed with elite vision and passing skills if not speed and size, Schwartz has continued his domination of the USHL. With 17 goals and 74 points, the Saskatchewan native is four point up on the league next-highest scorer. Ten games remain on the USHL sked; while it's not likely Schwartz hits the century marker, Tri-City is currently hanging for dear life in the standings and the diminutive pivot has been known average 2 PPG at a time. Back in the winter, Schwartz had a thirteen-game point streak in which he scored 24 points.
27. Phoenix Coyotes- G Calvin Pickard (Seattle WHL)
The Coyotes are in no immedate need of a goalie, but highly-regarded Swedish prospect Joel Gistedt is struggling to earn playing time in the ECHL at the age of 22 and Mike Lee is likely a four-year project at St. Cloud State. As the Habs have proved, it doesn't hurt to have two starters on your roster (although trading one is a *****). Calvin Pickard could an NHL goalie in as little as three years; already Seattle's MVP at age 17, it's possible he out-strips his older brother in terms of development and accomplishments in a short period of time.
28. San Jose Sharks- RW Tyler Pitlick (Minnesota State NCAA)
The San Jose Sharks are in a world of cap trouble, and part of the problem is that the team has few players at any position on an entry-level contract that can step into the lineup within three years. Tyler Pitlick may not strike one as the likeliest candidate for such a promotion, but tremendous hockey sense and work ethic can take a player a long ways. Example: the fact that Pitlick accelerated his schooling so as to play his draft year at Minnesota State.
Tied for third on the Mavericks in goals, that he has more goals than helpers is a stark change from his college days when a fair amount of criticism was leveled at how he might produce at the next level. As it is, while Pitlick is a handful along the boards because of his size (6'1, 190 lbs) and relentless puck pursuit, he's at his best when breaking into the zone with a full head of steam. That's when he puts his soft but formerly under-utilized hands to work, shaking out anyone who steps up to challenge him.
29. Chicago Blackhawks- D Dylan McIlrath (Moose Jaw WHL)
The Blackhawks have slowly begun to build up a reserve of top young talent in order to fill in when cap moves must be made, and Western Canada has featured prominently in their draft strategy. Kyle Beach and Dylan Olsen will one day be important members of the big club for both their physical play and hockey smarts. That's why Dylan McIlrath would be a no-brainer. A staggering 6'5, that he has almost 25 points and 170 PIM tells you everything you need to know about why such a player would attract attention on draft day. As we said two months ago, McIlrath has the potential to contribute even more offensively if he can strike a balance between playing physical and playing the puck, but it's much fun to watch him ragdoll guys.
30. Washington Capitals- C/RW Beau Bennett (Penticton BCHL)
For the first half of the season, it appeared the BC Tier II league scoring title was a two-horse race: 20-year-olds Mark Zengerle and Denver Manderson. However, a third challenger appeared in December and slowly but surely chipped away. At year's end, 18-year-old Beau Bennett had the kind of year that got Kyle Turris drafted in the top five three years ago, finishing just one point shy of the Phoenix Coyotes prospect's total at the same age.
There's likely no danger this year's BCHL phenom goes that high, but all the positive arrows are there: Bennett is a recruit of a school known for its excellent development (Denver University) and he came on extremely strong down the half.
Although one would think Bennett is primarily a playmaker, it's difficult to pigeonhole his style. First and foremost he was the league's top garbage goal man, sending rebounds so quickly back at the goalie like it was a squash match. Bennett is also lethal cycling the puck through the box, getting rid of the puck quickly and accurately (although he does tend to telegraph his movements). He's an intriguing talent and has almost the same style of play and vitals as current LA King Ryan Smyth.