Breaking down the NHL draft
The NHL draft went down yesterday in Montreal, and it was kind of a big deal, at least for puckheads. John Tavares (pictured at right) went first overall as many anticipated, but there were several other surprises in the first round. Two of The Rookies’ resident hockey nuts, Skating Tomato and Andrew Bucholtz, break down this year’s top 10 picks below.
1. New York Islanders, John Tavares: As this year’s Hockey Prospect Messiah, Tavares has the potential to either turn what is easily the worst hockey team in the Tri-State area into a perennial playoff contender (alliteration alert!) or flop like Alexandre Daigle and wind up dominating his league 16 years from now…in Switzerland. There’s certainly fuel for both arguments. As a 16 year-old, he scored 72 times and broke the single-season record for OHL goals at that age, set by Wayne Gretzky. He also finished his junior career with 215 goals, breaking the league record set by Peter Lee, who in his best season in the NHL, reached 60…points. Either way, the Islanders desperately need this center’s talents. (Trivia fact: Tavares’ uncle, also named John Tavares, holds the career scoring record in the National Lacrosse League, which would be a lot cooler if the league had a bigger following than MLS or the WNBA)
2.Tampa Bay Lightning, Victor Hedman: As with many no 2 picks, Hedman is nowhere near as popular as his higher drafted counterpart, in large part because he’s a Swedish blueliner and well, Nicklas Lidstrom just doesn’t sell as many jerseys as Sidney Crosby. Having become one of the youngest members of Sweden’s national team at 17, playing in two World Junior Championships and winning two silver medals there, and being ranked as Europe’s top skater in this draft by the International Skating Services speaks well for him, though. In only 5 years, the Lightning have fallen from Stanley Cup champions to a team so dysfunctional Gary Bettman had to yell at their owners to stop squabbling this past week, so I’m sure what’s left of their fanbase won’t complain about landing Hedman, especially with last year’s top pick, Steven Stamkos, already playing in Tampa.
3.Colorado Avalanche, Matt Duchene: With his play in the OHL Final, the Under 17 Challenge, and the World Junior Championships to his credit, Duchene holds at least as much experience in the under 18 hockey world as Tavares and Hedman, even if he accumulated most of his draft buzz far more recently than they did. Seeing as he grew up an Avs fan and has earned comparisons to Joe Sakic, he should be just as big a hit with the Colorado fanbase as his more celebrated peers, though. He’s famed for both his goal-scoring prowess and his defensive play.
4. Atlanta Thrashers, Evander Kane: Kane could be a nice pickup for the Thrashers. He’s shone with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL over the last couple of years, and also did well for Canada at the World Junior Championships this past season. He’ll join former Giants teammate Spencer Machachek in the Atlanta organization. Many have been impressed with his stickhandling and scoring ability, but he also brings a physical presence. The commonly-heard knock on Kane is that he isn’t the most consistent worker, but he’s improved that in recent seasons. He also <a href=”“>went to the Thrashers in the SBN Mock Draft, so this pick isn’t a huge surprise.
5. Los Angeles Kings, Braydon Schenn: Rudy Kelly of the Battle of California described Schenn as “the most Canadian hockey player that ever lived.” Sounds about right. He’s not the quickest guy out there, but he’s a punishing physical forward with a good set of hands; he put up 32 goals and 88 points in the defensive Western Hockey League last year for the Brandon Wheat Kings. He can score, hit, and set up others, and he’s the brother of Toronto Maple Leafs’ wonder prospect Luke Schenn, so he has a good hockey background as well. He probably won’t make the Kings right away next year, but could be a force for them down the road after he develops his game a bit more.
6.Phoenix Coyotes, Oliver Ekman-Larssen: The good news: the Team Formerly Known As The Winnipeg Jets has selected the leading points scorer last year in Sweden’s second tier Allsvenkan League (39), its +/- leader for last year (+44), and a fast skater. They also have a recent history of being able to bring their top picks up to the big league fairly quickly, with Mikkel Boedker and Kyle Turris having played their rookie seasons last year 0 and 1 years after being drafted respectively. The bad news: they still have no idea where they’ll be playing next season.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs, Nazem Kadri: Kadri is an interesting choice, as his scoring totals thus far have been much lower than many of the other forwards chosen so high, partly due to injury. He put up 25 goals and 78 points in 56 games with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League last season. He isn’t as proven of a scoring threat as many of the other top-10 prospects, but he has a lot of physical potential. He’s also already used to playing in a pressure-cooker environment thanks to his time in London, which should help him adjust to life in the limelight in Toronto.
8. Dallas Stars, Scott Glennie: Glennie was a bit of a surprising pick here, but he does help fill a need for the Stars; they don’t have a lot of depth at right wing. He put up 28 goals and 70 points in 55 games with Brandon and became the second Wheat Kings player taken in the top ten this year (after Schenn). He can both score and set up others, and he isn’t far away from being able to contribute at the NHL level. His biggest asset is his speed, which makes him a nice fit for new head coach Marc Crawford‘s system.
9. Ottawa Senators, Jared Cowen: Cowen’s a physical defenceman in the traditional WHL mould. He doesn’t put up a ton of points, as he only had seven goals and 14 assists in 48 games this season, but he’s renowned for his checking ability and physical play. He’s 6’5” and 220 pounds, so size is on his side as well. He has already had a severe knee injury, though, which perhaps knocked him down to #9. He’s come up big in several key games though, including the Spokane Chiefs’ drive to the 2008 Memorial Cup. The Senators could use help on defence, so they’ll be hoping he’s able to make the jump to the big leagues relatively quickly.
10.Edmonton Oilers, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson: Throwing aside the long name, this left wing holds the distinction of having been able to score 8 points in his first 11 games in the aptly named Swedish Elite League at the age of 16. He also played at this year’s World Junior Championships, following in the footsteps of such 16 year-olds as Gretzky, Crosby, and Lindros, so either he’s going to be Alberta’s next great superstar or the next Trent Green of hockey.