Impressive draft class should yield help for many teams
By Jon A. Dolezar, SI.com
The Florida Panthers haven't visited the postseason since 2000, but they are clearly the team to beat in the NHL Draft Lottery.
For the second year in a row, Florida won the rights to the first pick. And for the second straight year, the Panthers are likely to deal the top pick in an effort to acquire additional selections.
With a very deep draft class, but no clear-cut No. 1 pick, the odds of Florida keeping the top choice and exercising it in Nashville on June 21 are probably less than 50-50.
If the player who eventually lands with the Panthers has half as much of an impact right away as Jay Bouwmeester did last season, they will be very pleased with their maneuvering. Florida general manager Rick Dudley is hoping to find another sucker, er, trading partner who is interested in the No. 1 pick, but he will be happy to hold onto it if no one falls for his chicanery again.
The terms of last year's trade called for the Panthers to hold an option on swapping first-round positions with the Blue Jackets this year if they wanted to. The assumption, of course, was that Columbus would be a worse team than Florida (true, but shockingly only by one point) and that the Panthers wouldn't hit the jackpot again.
Dudley also dealt the top pick away when he was helming the war room for the Lightning in 1999, so this would be the third time in five years he has traded out of the top spot.
So here is what the first-round draft order looks with the draft still 2 1/2 weeks away, but it certainly won't look exactly this way on June 21.
For one thing, the winner of the Stanley Cup will select 30th, with the losing team remaining in its present position.
Trades surely will have an impact on the selection order, as well. Last year, 10 of the first 30 picks were involved in trades on draft day or the day before. And that was considered a quiet draft on the trade front.
SI.com's 2003 Mock Draft
With Olli Jokinen, Matt Cullen and Stephen Weiss, the Panthers are deep up the middle for the next half-decade, but Staal projects to be a better all-around player, and eventually could force Jokinen to the wing on the top line.
Cape Breton (QMJHL)
6' 1 1/2"
Less than a month after Patrick Roy ended his career, the next great Quebec netminder officially will begin his. The 'Canes, Penguins and Kings are all interested in Fleury, the star of the 2003 World Junior Championships, but don't expect Carolina to deal down unless Los Angeles is willing to give up all three of its first-round picks and a player off its roster.
Central Army (Russia)
The Penguins would love to trade up to make sure they can get Fleury, but their minor league cupboard is bare, so they don't have a lot to deal. If they can't swing something to grab Fleury, the consolation prize of getting Zherdev at No. 3 isn't so shabby. Until a disappointing showing at the World Juniors, Zherdev was the odds-on favorite to go first overall.
U.S. U-18 team
Suter's father, Bob, played on the 1980 U.S. Miracle on Ice team, and uncle Gary totaled 845 points and 1,327 penalty minutes in 1,145 career NHL games. The Jackets would have a great blueline tandem for the future if they added Suter to continually emerging Rostislav Klesla.
The Sabres have plenty of skill with Maxim Afinogenov, Daniel Briere, Tim Connolly, J.P. Dumont and Ales Kotalik, but they need to add some crash to their flash. With the balance at the top of this draft, Horton could emerge as the best all-around player of the bunch.
The Sharks have dealt away a good portion of their once-deep roster and now appear to be wholeheartedly in a rebuilding mode. But with skilled two-way players like Michalek, it shouldn't take long to get back to the postseason. Like Horton, Michalek could end up being the best player among the Super Six who have distinguished themselves from the pack.
The Golden Gophers won their second straight NCAA title largely because Vanek carried the team on his back during the tournament. He finished his impressive freshman season with 62 points in 45 games, and his draft stock soared as a result of his incredible postseason.
Coburn has been compared favorably to Chris Pronger, which should get Thrashers fans' hearts racing with hope. While Pasi Nurminen and Byron Dafoe will keep the crease warm for another year, Coburn and Kari Lehtonen should begin their long-term tenure in Atlanta together in 2004-05.
Red Deer (WHL)
Many scouts belive Phaneuf is a better defensive blueliner than either Suter or Coburn, but both are likely to be chosen before Phaneuf based on their more versatile two-way style. Phaneuf has a little bit of Scott Stevens in him -- and some Bryan Marchment nastiness, too -- though Phaneuf's shot from the point may be even better than that of the Devils' captain.
North Dakota (WCHA)
Though Vanek stole the headlines with his impressive run at the end of the year, Parise was the best freshman for the first half of the season. The son of 14-year NHLer J.P. Parise has incredible hockey sense and great skills with the puck. He has answered questions about his size and looks to be a top-notch scoring prospect with first-line potential.
On a deep team like the Flyers, Brown might not project to be more than a third-line winger, but he has the talent to be a superb character forward. Brown mixes it up enough that he could emerge as a favorite if he reaches the NHL while Ken Hitchcock and Bobby Clarke are still running the organization.
O'Sullivan is the mystery man of the first round. On talent alone, he might be alongside the premier sextet at the top of the round. But character issues have some teams concerned after he was sent home for a month by his junior team to resolve off-ice issues.
Central Army (Russia)
Kastsitsyn made his debut in the top Russian league this season and didn't look out of place. He was the dominant player on Belarus' overmatched squad at the World Juniors, but his stock may slip because some teams are worried about the fact he suffers from epilepsy. Without the medical concerns, he may have been a top-10 pick.
Yaroslavl Jr. (Russia)
Blackhawks general manager Mike Smith must have some Russian blood in his lineage with how often he drafts selects Russian players with his first-round pick. Glazachev lacks the fifth gear that most Russian stars have, but his willingness play physically in the offensive zone gives him a different offensive dimension than a player like Zherdev.
Like most players who come out of the Q, Pouliot can skate and play with the puck. Unlike most from what is regarded as a soft league, he can also mix it up. Pouliot would do well in the Islanders organization, where defense is valued as much as offense, and his game would likely advance quickly since he could watch and learn from Michael Peca.
Stewart bulked up late in his junior career and his skating suffered as a result. His size makes him tough to knock off the puck, which is something the smallish Bruins lack outside of Mike Knuble and Glen Murray.
Jessiman came onto scouts' radar screens with a surprising freshman season at Dartmouth, where he put up 47 points in 34 games. His skating ability and hands are impressive for a player of his size, and he could eventually pair up with Brad Isbister to give the Oilers a massive winger tandem on one of their top two lines.
Tambellini is the son of Canucks VP of player personnel Steve Tambellini, and his game already features NHL savvy. His style is reminiscent of another undersized, but speedy former Michigan Wolverine, John Madden. Tambellini was impressive in the second half of the season, helping to lead Michigan to its third straight Frozen Four appearance.
6' 2 1/2"
The Ducks have proven that character guys can take you a long way. And Getzlaf would be a perfect addition to their organization's depth chart. With top prospects Joffrey Lupul, Chris Kunitz and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau vying for first- and second-line duties, two-way players like Getzlaf are just as valuable to a team's penalty-killing unit and checking lines.
The Wild have plenty of offensive talent in their system, but if the son of former Flames great Kent Nilsson is still around when they pick, he would be hard to pass up. Nilsson put up 21 points in 41 games in the Swedish Elite League this season playing mostly as a 17-year-old, breaking Markus Naslund's mark of 19 set in 1990-91.
Ohio State (CCHA)
6' 1 1/2"
Kesler had a so-so season with the Buckeyes, but he was a pleasant surprise playing for the U.S. at the World Juniors. The Sharks are fond of solid two-way players, and Kesler would be a worthy successor to Mike Ricci as San Jose's top pest.
6' 2 1/2"
The Devils never have lacked physical blueliners, and Seabrook could be an impressive two-way player with another year or two of seasoning. Much like Barret Jackman emerged while playing with Al MacInnis this season, Seabrook would benefit greatly from playing alongside Scott Stevens before the end of his great career.
Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Carter reminds some scouts of a skinnier version of former Greyhound Joe Thornton, but he needs to fill out his body and get more physical to live up to that lofty comparison. Carter is nimble on his feet and impressive handling the puck, but he needs to add a bit of toughness to his overall games.
The Flyers have incredible depth at center, but Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau are both 31 or older, so their replacements need to be selected soon. Fritsche would make a nice addition to Philadelphia's second line some day, thanks to his good puck-carrying skills and natural instincts.
Wow, seems kind of weird to see the Lightning drafting this late, huh? That's what a division title will get you. Tampa Bay almost certainly will select a defenseman, given that its trade deadline moves included desperate swaps for Marc Bergevin and Janne Laukkanen in an attempt to add depth on the blueline.
Maine (Hockey East)
With three first-round picks, the Kings are candidates to try to trade up and get Fleury. But it might make more sense for them to stay put and add three players who are likely to contribute in the future. Howard went 14-6 with a 2.45 GAA and a .916 save percentage as a freshman at Maine, and is the clear No. 2 netminder behind Fleury.
The Blues are big fans of big, rugged defensemen, so Belle would fit in well in St. Louis. He is a great skater, but his cannon of a slap shot from the point may be his most NHL-ready attribute. The Blues have good depth in the blueline down through their system, but Belle's offensive awareness and puck-carrying ability should land him in the NHL within three years.
Colorado College (WCHA)
The Kings hold this pick after dealing Mathieu Schneider to the Red Wings at the deadline, and odds are they will opt for a blueliner to add to their deep defensive corps in the minors. Stuart is a fitness freak whose game is close to NHL-ready, but he is unspectacular and probably doesn't project to be more than a No. 4 defensemen.
The Stars are loaded with right wingers, but most of their top forward prospects play on the left side. Fehr is a gritty, but skinny winger who could be an excellent defensive asset once his frame fills out. He may not ever be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL, but he could have a long, steady career on the third line of a good team like Dallas.
6' 2 1/2"
Unless he can play the left side, Steve Bernier might not be too excited about getting chosen by the Sens. With Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat already on the right wing, Ottawa has other needs to address. But Bernier's 101 points in 71 games could be too good to pass up late in the first round.