My 2009 NHL mock draft
His game has been picked apart, but John Tavares is still Best Player Available
The Leafs (#7) would love to pair center Brayden Schenn with his brother Luke
Injured Edina power forward Zach Budish could be the steal of the first round
After five years of issuing an NHL mock draft, here's what I've learned: these things make crapshoots look like blue chip investments. After all, it's not simply a matter of trying to guess how these 17- and 18-year-old kids will pan out. It's trying to make a read of how each individual team thinks these kids will pan out.
Since no scout is willing to reveal his team's cards, a mock comes down to a lot of jawboning and over-the-fence type speculation. Suffice to say, it's an inexact science. Still, it's a lot of fun trying to fit the pieces together and get the debate rolling until it all plays out for real on Friday night, isn't it?
So, without further ado, here's how I envision this thing:
1. New York Islanders: John Tavares, C, London (OHL)
Mystery, my butt. Garth Snow can play it as cute as he wants, but this is the name he'll call Friday night. Scouts have been on top of Tavares for so long that they've spent the last two seasons picking his game apart and he's still the Best Player Available. Does he have flaws? Sure. His skating won't make anyone forget Yvon Cournoyer, and his play away from the puck is a work in progress. But his OHL-record goal totals (72 in 2006-07, 215 for his career) prove he knows where to go in the offensive zone and what to do with the puck once he gets it, and that makes him too valuable to pass up. The Isles have given away more than 17,000 tickets for their draft party. No need for those attending to bring torches and pitchforks. The fans will get the man they want.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning: Victor Hedman, D, Modo (SEL)
Other teams will come calling, but the Bolts won't put this pick into play with Hedman there to be had. This is, after all, the team that dressed an NHL-record number of defenders (21) last season. A cross between Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Pronger, Hedman will mature into the 25-minute stud that Tampa can build its blueline around. He's physically ready to make the jump immediately, but it is more likely he'll spend at least another season in Sweden.
3. Colorado Avalanche: Matt Duchene, C, Brampton (OHL)
Some will compare him to Joe Sakic, but I prefer the thinking of a scout who likened him to Marian Hossa. Duchene's a smart, two-way player; a great skater with elite playmaking skills who's more than willing to go hard to the net. He's a magician with the puck, an elite stickhandler who'll thrill the masses while he's disorienting defenses. Some have suggested that he'll prove to be the best all-around player in this class. Colorado fans (at least, those who haven't fled the bandwagon) would settle for that.
4. Atlanta Thrashers: Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, LW, Timra (SEL)
Keep an eye on the guy that announcers, for sake of brevity, refer to as MPS. Widely considered a lock for the top-five since an impressive performance at the World Juniors, there are now whispers that he could drop several slots. Wishful thinking on the part of some scouts at the lower end of the lottery and beyond? Could be. I still think he's too intriguing a package to slip. MPS's game is all about speed. The kid is a burner, Mike Gartner-style. He blazes up and down the wings, blowing by defenders and driving hard to the net where he's capable of fooling netminders with a variety of shots. He'll be a first-line winger in this league no matter where he lands.
5. Los Angeles Kings: Brayden Schenn, C, Brandon (WHL)
Given the depth of young talent they've acquired and their need for immediate help, I'll be stunned if the Kings hold onto this pick. But whoever they deal it to likely will make the move with an eye on selecting Schenn, a hard-nosed player who approaches every shift with integrity. Like his brother Luke, Brayden is a scrapper. He's intense in his pursuit of the puck, and extremely tough when it's in his possession. He's got a bit of Mike Richards in him.
6. Phoenix Coyotes: Dmitry Kulikov, D, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Jared Cowan might have more long-term potential, but Kulikov is a safer bet. Think of him as a more physical version of Sergei Zubov. He's strong positionally and great with his stick, so he's effective in his own end, but it's his play with the puck that moves him to the top of the class. He's an offensive-minded defender who has the nerves and hockey sense to serve as the core of a puck-possession approach. After a nearly mistake-free turn in the Memorial Cup, there's reason to believe he could be ready to contribute in the NHL next season.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs: Evander Kane, C, Vancouver (WHL)
The Leafs probably had their hearts set on Schenn, but won't be disappointed to land Kane, a cruiserweight with a gift for goal scoring and a nasty competitive edge. He's not particularly big (6-1, 176) but he plays with the determination of a guy three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier. Once he hits the blueline, he's a bull going to the net. Kane likely will move to the wing in the NHL.
8. Dallas Stars: Jared Cowen, D, Spokane (WHL)
The injury-riddled Stars didn't earn many breaks last season, so maybe it's a small payback from the hockey gods that health concerns drop Cowen into their laps. At 6-5 and 220 pounds, he has the potential to become the dominant physical defenseman they've lacked since the departure of Derian Hatcher. Like Hatcher, Cowen has real leadership skills, but also brings an offensive dimension that the former captain lacked.
9. Ottawa Senators: Chris Kreider, C, Phillips Andover (USHS)
It happens every year. A team shocks the draft floor by grabbing a player far earlier than anyone expected. Could it be Kreider this year? There's been plenty of quiet buzz surrounding this big center that suggests there are several clubs hoping he drops to them later in the round, but I don't think it'll happen. Kreider is the big two-way center that every team covets. He's blessed with great acceleration, elite playmaking skills and a willingness to engage in the battle down low. A more competitive version of Jason Spezza? The Sens can only hope.
10. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Ellis, D, Windsor (OHL)
Maybe the Oilers don't make this pick if someone other than Pat Quinn had been named coach last month. But after watching Ellis develop with Team Canada and then quarterback the Spits to the Memorial Cup championship, Quinn understands that his potential won't be limited by his frame. This kid is a winner. He simply finds a way to make it happen. He might not be the traditional shutdown defender, but Ellis is sound in his own end. And once he gets the puck, there may be no more effective player in the draft. His hockey sense is off the charts. Few can match his passing touch and no one is better at finding a lane to get his shot to the net.
11. Nashville Predators: Jordan Schroeder, C, Minnesota (WCHA)
A risky pick? Some might say so after his red flag-raising performance at the combine and a disappointing effort at the World Juniors. And even in the new NHL, 5-9 is 5-9. But Schroeder is regarded as a world-class talent, an elite playmaker with great wheels who elevates the level of those with whom he skates. is frame may be small, but it's sturdy, and that makes him tough to knock off the puck. He's also displayed obvious chemistry with Nashville's 2007 first-rounder Colin Wilson in previous international events. Maybe it's not such a risky pick after all. . .
12. Minnesota Wild: Scott Glennie, C, Brandon (WHL)
Overshadowed by linemate Schenn for much of the year, Glennie proved himself a potential top-10 pick by season's end. A dynamic player, the core of his game is speed. Defenders have to respect his ability to blow by them, and that creates space for him and his linemates in the neutral zone. His goal-scoring ability might be slightly overrated, but Glennie should develop into a solid finisher with 30-goal potential.
13. Buffalo Sabres: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Leksand (Allsvenskan)
It's not like the Sabres are lacking in blueliners, but OEL is too good to pass on at this point. At 6-3, he's bigger than the prototypical new-age defender, but boasts the same high-end skills package. He's an elite skater with great mobility and he reads the play quickly, something that shows in his strong positioning at both ends of the ice. It wouldn't be a shock to see him taken in the top 10.
14. Florida Panthers: John Moore, D, Chicago (USHL)
The Panthers have a big hole opening on their roster with the impending departure of Jay Bouwmeester, so adding a slick offensive defenseman makes sense. That could mean David Rundblad, but Moore's name has gained a lot of heat in the past few weeks. Offensively, that's easy to understand. He's a smooth skater and savvy playmaker who makes great reads in the other team's zone. But in his own zone, he remains something of an adventure. He has the tendency to run around and his physical game doesn't match his size. Flawed? Sure . . . but the drumbeats suggest he won't drop far.
15. Anaheim Ducks: Nazem Kadri, C, London (OHL)
A bit of a slider, Kadri can be a flashy, creative contributor in the offensive zone and a diligent checker in his own end. There have been questions about his competitive fire, but some scouts feel they were answered during the OHL playoffs. Still, other nagging concerns about his size (6-0, 177) and offensive potential have allowed other prospects to scoot past him into the top 10, thus allowing the Ducks to pull off something of a steal mid-round.
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