My 2008 NHL mock draft
Here's something to keep in mind about this weekend's NHL Entry Draft: it's unlikely to be a quiet affair.
The relatively small and surprisingly expensive free-agent market means that the event is sure to be dominated by news of trades as well as talk of young, unrealized potential. The host Ottawa Senators, looking to make a splash for their home fans, are in the market to move up. So are the Kings, who have 10 of the first 101 picks and 15 selections overall. The Blue Jackets, Bruins, Stars, Predators, Sabres and Panthers are among the teams rumored to be chatting about moving up or down in the draft.
As a result, the order of selection is guaranteed to differ from what you're about to read in our annual mock draft. Still, the research that went into this should offer a good idea of where players make sense, both in terms of their potential and the needs and philosophies of the teams making those picks.
The first round of the draft gets underway on Friday at 7 p.m. ET on Versus in the U.S. and TSN in Canada. Here's how I think it will play out:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning:
Steven Stamkos, center, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "The team that takes Stamkos is going to get one of the fastest skaters in all of the draft. Steven goes to the net fearlessly with that speed and brings a bit of an edge and a bit of an aggressive attitude that every team wants ... [he is projected to play on] a top line in the NHL."
Our take: Use the pick or trade it for instant help? The Lightning took all the drama out of the equation by putting up a Web site (www.seenstamkos.com) minutes after winning the lottery. Not that there should have been any question about snatching Stamkos, who should fit nicely into the No. 2 center spot vacated by Brad Richards. He needs to fill out that 5-foot-11, 176-pound frame, but his character, speed and ability to think the game suggest he'll be in the NHL next season and will be a major star in short order.
2. Los Angeles Kings:
Nikita Filatov, left wing, CSKA-2 (Russia)
Central Scouting says: "Nikita is a leader, has a great attitude, excellent work ethic and tons of talent. He has matured during the season and leads by example. He is an excellent skater who can change pace, even at top speed. Despite his size, he still plays aggressive, taking and giving hits."
Our take: The consensus choice here would be a defenseman like Drew Doughty, possibly Zach Bogosian. But Dean Lombardi's never been afraid to swing for the fences (see: Thomas Hickey last year at No. 4), and choosing Filatov gives him a chance to knock this pick right out of the park ... and the draft out of kilter. Filatov has 40-goal potential. Combine that with his fluency in English and stated desire to come over immediately, and this selection begins to make a lot of sense for the Kings, especially with 14 other picks with which to address organizational holes.
3. Atlanta Thrashers:
Drew Doughty, defense, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "A team is going to build its [blue line around him for the] next 10 years. A lot of his hockey experience translates into on ice intelligence; it's hard to find that in a young defenseman. Drew probably is one of the guys, most able to step into the NHL next year."
Our take: Desperate to rebuild the back end, the Thrashers would be thrilled to have Doughty or Bogosian fall into their laps at three, but Doughty makes the most sense. His play at the World Juniors demonstrated his smarts, his skating and his own-zone abilities. But he really set himself apart at the recent combine, where several scouts commented on his improved conditioning and his strong showing during the interview process. He's a leader who can become a Rob Blake-type in Atlanta.
4. St. Louis Blues:
Zach Bogosian, defense, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "Zach's combination of skating ability and size are what set him apart. There are some bigger, taller defensemen who have to grow into their body, but Zach is right there, fully proportioned and ready to make that step into the NHL very quickly."
Our take: You like Anaheim's blue line combo of Pronger and Niedermayer? This pick, along with the selection of Erik Johnson first overall in 2006, sets the Blues up to have their own dynamic duo in short order. He's a two-way threat who can be used in all situations, thanks to his size, speed, hockey sense and a well-earned reputation as perhaps the most consistently competitive player in the draft.
5. New York Islanders:
Luke Schenn, defense, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Central Scouting says: "A big strong defenseman [like Ed] Jovanovski. Luke can play a mean game and he plays a tough NHL-style defense."
Our take: Schenn's classic defensive style was showcased for the Canadian junior side at the Super Series and World Juniors last season, and he's been a highly coveted commodity ever since. He's miserable to go up against in his own zone, exacting a punishing physical toll shift after shift. Because that element of his game is so well developed, his offensive potential is overlooked. He'll never be a power-play specialist, but he makes smart, effective decisions with the puck to key the transition game. Alex Pietrangelo's also a possibility here.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets:
Alex Pietrangelo, defense, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "He might have the best top-end [potential] ... in the entire 2008 draft. He has Pronger-like size and vision. A lot of scouts say that he might be playing better now than Pronger played in his last year of junior."
Our take: With so many premium forward prospects already in the fold, the Jackets will be thrilled to add Pietrangelo at this spot. His offensive game already suggests a Brian Leetch-like ability to read the play and make things happen with his feet, his shot or his passing skills. Despite all that, there are concerns about his capacity to apply the same passion and intensity to his defensive zone work, and that's why he's likely to fall out of the top five.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs:
Mikkel Boedker, left wing, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "He's come a long way. He was skilled at the start of the season, but he's fine-tuned his game to the North American style. Playing the point on the power play hasn't hurt his statistics either."
Our take: He impressed all season long with his ability to make things happen at top speed, and a natural nose for the net that led to 29 goals in 62 games in the great Dane's first crack at North American hockey. But it was the way he raised his play for the OHL champion Rangers in the Memorial Cup -- nine goals and 35 points in just 20 playoff games -- that has scouts picturing him on the fast track to the NHL. A job next season isn't out of the question.
8. Phoenix Coyotes:
Tyler Myers, defense, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Central Scouting says: "Tyler is the tallest player among the top-rated players. As a defenseman, that height translates into a great poke-check and great stick work. At 6-foot-7, he still has a little bit of growing into his body to do. Obviously, comparisons are made to Zdeno Chara."
Our take: The Coyotes have loaded up on premium forward prospects in recent seasons, so a potential top pairing defender is the obvious call with Myers on the board. His up-and-down play with the Rockets suggests he's a bit of a risk at this spot, but there's undeniably a high-reward element that makes him irresistible. He's already a smooth skater and is reliable at both ends, but it's going to take some time, like it did for Chara, for him to grow into that body. He could become an elite shutdown defender.
9. Nashville Predators (from Florida):
Colin Wilson, center, Boston University (NCAA)
Central Scouting says: "Colin is a combination of skilled and power forward. He is very strong, has excellent hands and is a very good passer and playmaker. He is very reliable defensively, has incredibly quick feet and he can turn quickly while maintaining puck control."
Our take: With the nucleus of a great young blue line in place, forwards, preferably big ones, are at the top of Nashville's wish list. Wilson, who was dynamite for Team USA at the last WJC, may not be an ideal No. 1 center, but he's got such a well-rounded game that the lack of high-end offensive potential won't deter the Preds. He was a huge hit at the scouting combine, impressing with his strength in the testing and his maturity in the interviews. Think of him as a more consistent Jason Arnott.
10. Vancouver Canucks:
Cody Hodgson, center, Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "He is a very skilled centerman whose hockey sense has him quarterbacking the power play from down at the half boards. He knows when to shoot and when to pass. He's also a good face-off guy. Quite an all-around asset to any team that drafts him."
Our take: Desperate for some help up front, the Canucks will be thrilled to see Hodgson slide to No. 10. Skating and size are the knocks against him, but everything else suggests he'll be a dynamic top-six forward. Reports from teammates suggest he's a true character player, and he's another one of those kids who seems to play his best in the biggest games. His performance at the Under-18 World Championships confirmed what his 40-goal season for the Battalion suggested: He has go-to guy potential.