Music City USA will be alive with the sounds of drafting
Posted: Thursday June 19, 2003 9:56 PM
Updated: Thursday June 19, 2003 10:18 PM
By Jon A. Dolezar, SI.com
Do you like boring Belarussians or flashy Finns? Are crafty Canadians or slick Swedes more of your thing? The 2003 NHL Entry Draft has something for everyone. We just wish we knew how it was going to start.
The most wide-open draft in recent memory will be full of intrigue as teams try to wheel and deal on the draft floor at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Unlike years past (Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001) or future (Alexander Ovechkin in 2004), the top pick remains a mystery. Columbus turned the trick a year ago with a draft-day deal to move up and grab Rick Nash at No. 1, and surely Panthers general manager Rick Dudley will develop a case of cell phone elbow after taking so many last-minute calls.
The Panthers are so worried about information leaks that they are slumming it at the Courtyard Nashville Downtown while the majority of NHL teams live it up at the ritzy Marriott at Vanderbilt University in the tony West End.
Florida waited until all of its scouts arrived in Nashville this week to put together its top five on its draft board for fear that information might leak out.
The first eight picks remain unchanged from our second mock draft, but after that the fun begins. Anthony Stewart, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Brown have made big jumps, while Zach Parise and Patrick O'Sullivan are among the late tumblers.
SI.com's 2003 Mock Draft
The odds that the Panthers will deal down with a team that is hot to trot for Fleury are about 75-25. However, if Florida hangs on to it, there is probably a 90 percent chance it will make Staal the first selection. If my ninth-grade algebra is correct, that means there is about a 22.5 percent chance that Staal is holding a Panthers jersey and smiling for photos around 1:05 p.m. EDT on Saturday afternoon.
Cape Breton (QMJHL)
6' 1 ½"
The Hurricanes would be smart to call the Panthers' bluff and not attempt to try to trade up to the top spot. Carolina selected Red Deer goaltender Cam Ward with the 25th pick last year and he went 40-13-3 with a 2.10 goals-against avereage and a .920 save percentage this season. Even if Fleury is available, 'Canes general manager Jim Rutherford will have an interesting decision to make based on Ward's impressive play. If Carolina takes Fleury, Ward either will become trade bait or a very good No. 2. Then again, Rutherford could throw everyone for a loop by grabbing Nikolai Zherdev, Nathan Horton or Milan Michalek and leaving Fleury for the Pens at No. 3.
Central Army (Russia)
The Penguins need an infusion of talent at every position, so they can't go wrong by staying put and seeing which of the top three players falls to them. Sebastien Caron may not be as good as Fleury 10 years from now, but he was good enough as a rookie that he looks like he can be a fixture in the crease for a few years. Pittsburgh would be best served by selecting Zherdev, who would give them an exciting young offensive player to build around once Mario Lemieux hangs up the skates for good.
The Blue Jackets finally may have enough talent that they wouldn't need to rush Horton to the NHL next season, but he could be good enough to crack their Opening Night roster whether they like it or not. Horton and 2002 No. 1 overall pick Rick Nash would give Columbus a bruising duo to build their top six forwards around for the next dozen years.
The Sabres are another candidate to swing a deal at the draft, but they could do worse than to grab this skilled two-way forward. Michalek could be the most NHL-ready player in the draft since he has played in the Czech Extraleague for two seasons against much older competition.
San Jose has a quartet of excellent young forwards in Patrick Marleau, Marco Sturm, Alyn McCauley and Brad Boyes, but the Sharks are still in need of a pure goal scorer. Vanek finished sixth in the NCAA in scoring as a freshman with 62 points, and he has the tools to become a regular 30-goal scorer in the NHL. Vanek's hands are reminiscent of Milan Hejduk's, which would be a nice addition to a team that scored 34 fewer goals in 2002-03 than in 2001-02.
U.S. U-18 team
The Predators would like to make a splash as the hosts of the draft, but they are likely to opt for a safe pick that might not pay off for three or four years. Nashville is likely to have the pick of the defensive litter, which would allow general manager David Poile to add another blueliner to 2001 first-round pick Dan Hamhuis. The Preds need to decide whether they want size (Braydon Coburn), hitting (Dion Phaneuf) or offense (Ryan Suter), but Suter offers the best combination of the three.
The Thrashers also are desperate to add a blue-chip defenseman, but general manager Don Waddell is interested in making the playoffs in 2003-04, so this pick could be dealt for a current NHL player. Atlanta could be tempted by the thought of adding another gifted offensive player (Zach Parise or Andrei Kastsitsyn) to its already potent duo of Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk, but if the Thrashers keep the pick, a rearguard is more of a necessity.
The Flames could still opt for Parise here, but Stewart's rare size-skill combination makes him a more valuable commodity. Even though he may not have the offensive upside of Parise, this bruiser instantly would make Calgary a more physical team by forcing checkers to focus on someone other than Jaroma Iginla. A tandem of Stewart and Iginla up front would be a physically imposing one for the Flames.
6' 2 ½"
Getzlaf would be a welcome addition to the Canadiens' undersized forward unit. New Habs general manager Bob Gainey knows the value of a good character center, and Getzlaf could be an ace checker and penalty-killer in Montreal for years to come. He has the talent to emerge into a first-line player if he works on his skating, but even now he is likely to emerge as at least a second-liner.
No player in the draft personifies what Philadelphia hockey is like more than Brown. Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke loves heart-and-soul players like this, and Brown's effort level would quickly make him a favorite among the fickle fans of Philly.
Red Deer (WHL)
Phaneuf is the last of the three defensemen who have separated themselves from the pack, and it might be surprising to see him last this long. But the Rangers would be thrilled if he's still on the board, since Brian Leetch and Boris Mironov are both unrestricted free agents. Phaneuf's physical style would play well on Broadway, and he would complement offensive-minded top prospect Fedor Tyutin nicely.
North Dakota (WCHA)
The Kings would feel like it was Christmas in June if Parise falls to them. Los Angeles could package its three picks to move up, but if the Kings think Parise may still be available when they make the first of their three first-round selections, they would be willing to stay put and take their chances. Parise's offensive game is already NHL-ready, but another year at North Dakota is probably needed to make him a more complete player and to bulk him up closer to 200 pounds.
Central Army (Russia)
The Mike Smith European forward lovefest continues. Kastsitsyn is more of a pure offensive player than than Tuomo Ruutu, Mikhail Yakubov and Pavel Vorobiev, who all can play a bit of defense, too. The Blackhawks' recent fondness for Russian players makes it increasingly likely that they would take a shot on this high-risk, high-reward player. Without epilepsy and back troubles, Kastsitsyn may have been a top-five pick, but medical concerns drop him down a bit to the middle of the first round.
Colorado College (WCHA)
The Islanders have a great top-four blueline corps for the moment, but age and contract attrition could thin it out significantly in the next two seasons. General manager Mike Milbury has traded away his top defensive prospects for Alexei Yashin, Jason Wiemer and Roman Hamrlik in recent years, so the Isles need to grab a defenseman with their top pick either this year or next. Stuart doesn't have as high of a ceiling as Suter, Coburn or Phaneuf, but his commitment to fitness and his steady style will result in a long, but unnoteworthy career.
Pouliot is atypical of most players who come out of the Q. Regarded as a league for smallish players who can skate and create, Pouliot proved he can also mix it up in what is regarded as a soft league. In Boston, Pouliot would be able to apprentice with an excellent two-way center (Brian Rolston) who could teach him to do the little things right.
Jessiman scored 47 points in 34 games in his surprising freshman season at Dartmouth, where his skating ability, impressive hands and hearty size allowed him to dominate. The Oilers already have some monstrous wingers in Brad Isbister and Georges Laraque, though Jessiman plays much more like Izzy than the bruising Laraque. Adding Jessiman would give Edmonton a towering trio of wingers to offset its relative lack of size in the middle.
The Capitals need to start rebuilding their offense, since Peter Bondra is declining quickly and Jaromir Jagr could be dealt as a salary dump. Nilsson, the son of former Flames great Kent Nilsson, scored 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. The Capitals might be tempted to rush a player of his skill to the NHL quickly, but his game may need a year or two in the AHL to adjust to the North American style.
6' 2 ½"
Anaheim's biggest need may be another stay-at-home defenseman, but unless the Mighty Ducks want to reach a bit for Brent Seabrook or Richard Stehlik, they may opt to fill another hole. Bernier would provide Anaheim with a big body up front, and would serve as good protection to undersized future star Stanislav Chistov. Bernier's above-average size doesn't mean below-average skills at all. He has great offensive instincts and handles the puck well, making him look like an ideal power forward. Bernier tallied 101 points in 71 games, so an infusion of size and offensive talent may be tough for the Stanley Cup runners-up to pass up.
The Wild have Kyle Wanvig (6-foot-3, 220 pounds), Matt Foy (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and Rickard Wallin (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) on the way, but Fehr would be tempting since he would fit in superbly in Jacques Lemaire's trapping defensive scheme. 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 Minnesota.
Yaroslavl Jr. (Russia)
The Sharks would do the future of their offense well to get both Vanek and Glazachev in the first round. San Jose appears to be set on defense with Brad Stuart, Kyle McLaren, Scott Hannan and Jim Fahey, so new general manager Doug Wilson is likely to double up on offensive players in the first round. If Glazachev is still available this late, he would be a no-brainer, but he might be an option for Chicago at No. 14 instead of Kastsitsyn.
Tambellini is a fleet winger who skates hard at both ends of the ice. He had an impressive second half of the season, helping to lead Michigan to its third straight Frozen Four appearance. The son of Canucks VP of player personnel Steve Tambellini, Jeff's game already features NHL savvy and is reminiscent of another undersized, but speedy former Michigan Wolverine, John Madden. Since the Devils hit a home run by signing Madden as a free agent in 1997, adding a player of similar style would be another savvy move by general manager Lou Lamoriello.
Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The one complaint about the Canucks' roster this season was it lacked depth at center after Brendan Morrison and Henrik Sedin. Carter has drawn comparisons to former Greyhound Joe Thornton, but he is skinnier and not nearly as physical. Carter is nimble on his feet and impressive handling the puck, but he needs to add a bit of toughness to his overall game.
The Flyers have incredible depth at center, but Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau are aging, 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. He also likes to fly around the offensive zone in search of the puck on the forecheck, which would endear him to defense-first Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock.
6' 2 ½"
The Lightning have spent most of their early picks recently on Russian forwards, so it's time to head in another direction. Tampa Bay's defense was a mess down the stretch, so much so that Marc Bergevin and Janne Laukkanen were traded for to add depth on the blueline. But neither will be back with the Lightning, so in addition to looking to free agents for immediate help, Tampa Bay needs to look for some young defensemen in the draft. The Lightning could be tempted into going for yet another forward since contract talks with Dave Andreychuk and Vaclav Prospal aren't going well.
I had O'Sullivan at No. 12 in the first mock draft and No. 11 in the second, so what could he possibly have done to fall 15 spots in one week? Well, it's nothing that he did, but many teams are going to shy away from him just because they don't want to deal with the fallout with his abusive father. There is still a chance that some team could take a risk on him a bit earlier than this, but if he is still available at 26, the Kings are the type of team that could afford to take a flyer on him because they have three first-round picks.
6' 1 ½"
Munce replaces Boston College right winger Patrick Eaves in this spot from the previous mock draft. Munce shot up the charts by leading Team Canada to the gold medal at the U-18 World Championships. The Kings are certainly looking to add a goaltender, and that could be either Munce or Maine's Jim Howard at this position.
Richards led the Memorial Cup champions in regular-season scoring, but only because team captain and first-line center Derek Roy missed 19 games while playing for the Sabres in the preseason and for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Richards was a valuable No. 2 center on a good team, and could someday serve as a second- or third-line center for a deep team like the Stars. Richards is excellent on faceoffs and would be learning from one of the best two-way centers in the NHL, Mike Modano.
Toronto St. Michael's (OHL)
Klein doesn't yet have ideal size for a defenseman, but if he's drafted by a team with big boppers like Ottawa, he won't need to be a top-pair blueliner. Klein is a good passer, but he focuses on his own end first and doesn't project to score anywhere near the 44 points he scored for St. Mike's this season. Most scouts expect him to be a solid No. 3 or 4 defenseman, so playing in an organization like the Sens' where there are already established top guys might give Klein the needed time to mature.
Ohio State (CCHA)
6' 1 ½"
Kesler only had an average season with the Buckeyes, but he was a pleasant surprise playing for the U.S. at the World Juniors. Kesler is a responsible two-way player who would fit in well in the Blues' system. St. Louis has plenty of forwards over 30 -- stars Scott Mellanby, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight among them -- so building organizational depth at forward would be a safe play with the last pick of the first round.