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On the clock

CNNSI.com sizes up the needs for each NHL team

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Tuesday June 20, 2000 09:20 PM

  Marian Gaborik of Slovakia could be the first pick in the draft. Robert Laberge/Allsport

By Eric Duhatschek, CNNSI.com

CALGARY -- Ever since the National Hockey League started drafting 18-year-olds, the annual Entry Draft has become an exercise in wishing and hoping, praying and guessing.

Apart from a handful of precocious teen-agers who occasionally step in and play right away, the normal pattern is this: Players get drafted, pull on a sweater, pose for a grip-and-grin photo op with the general manager and then disappear from view for two-to-four years while they try to develop into legitimate NHLers.

The 2000 edition should be more of the same.

No Eric Lindros, no Mario Lemieux, not even a Vincent Lecavalier. For the first time in a decade, there is also no consensus No. 1.

"The top five teams could very legitimately each have a different guy rated No. 1," said Tom Thompson, a Minnesota Wild scout.

Calgary scouting coordinator Ian McKenzie adds this: "There aren't the one or two or three guys who can turn into franchise players, but there are probably 30 or 40 good players in the draft. You never know. Somebody drafting 20th might get just as good a player as the team drafting second."

Here is a team-by-team look at each team's first available pick and possible draft strategies:

No. 1 -- New York Islanders

The Islanders took four first-round picks last season and turned them all into bona fide NHL prospects. That's the good news. The better news is they won the lottery and moved up to No. 1 overall this year. With a new ownership group in place and oodles of prospects already waiting in the wings, odds are the Islanders will listen to offers for their choice. They need immediate help more than another blue chip kid. Only expansion Atlanta scored fewer goals than the Islanders last year, so improving the offense is a priority.

Figure either Slovak Marian Gaborik or University of Wisconsin freshman Dany Heatley gets chosen here ... by whoever ends up with the pick.

No. 2 -- Atlanta Thrashers

Just about everything that could have gone wrong did for the Thrashers in their inaugural season. Even the play of last year's No. 1 overall pick -- Patrik Stefan -- was a relative disappointment. The Thrashers need help everywhere, but goaltending was a particular soft spot.

Depending upon how much GM Don Waddell wants to gamble, this may be where Boston University netminder Rick DiPietro goes. But then again, a goalie has never gone this high before, so maybe the Thrashers trade down.

No. 3 -- Minnesota Wild

Playing in a hockey-smart community, the Wild will be under less pressure than other expansion teams to produce a winning team right away. Just about everybody in the organization spent time with the Montreal Canadiens, a team that understands the value of an impact defenseman.

The Rostislav Klesla from OHL Brampton is the best blueliner in the draft.

No. 4 -- Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets made a nice pick-up a fortnight ago, grabbing 23-year-old goaltender Marc Denis from Colorado for a second-round draft pick. Denis is both a short- and long-term solution in net, so the goal here is to find an impact player, either on defense or offense, that can become a cornerstone player when the franchise eventually turns the corner.

Nos. 5 and 8 -- Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning surrendered the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft in a complicated three-way transaction that also saw them end up with the New York Rangers' top choice, eighth overall, in this year's draft. Accordingly, with the Nos. 5 and 8 picks, the Lightning can grab one or two impact forwards to take some of the scoring pressure off Vincent Lecavalier.

No. 6 -- Nashville Predators

The Predators selected a goaltender, Brian Finley, with the sixth overall pick a year ago. Moreover, in 19-year-old David Legwand and 35-year-old Cliff Ronning, they are respectable down the middle for a third-year franchise. Ideally, the Predators need a scoring winger with size to complement Legwand on their top line of the future.

No. 7 -- Boston Bruins

The Bruins' injury-fuelled swan dive from 91 to 73 points will give them a shot at replenishing their depth on defense, which was gutted when they traded Ray Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche. With Don Sweeney a potential unrestricted free agent, the Bruins could need up to three bodies on the blue line in the next 36 months.

No. 9 -- Calgary Flames

Not much ever changes in Calgary, where -- for the umpteenth year in a row -- the Flames are looking for a No. 1 center with size and scoring ability. Can you say Mikhail Yakubov? The Flames could also use some toughness on the wings to complement their speedy but diminutive forwards like Val Bure and Marc Savard.

Nos. 10 and 11 -- Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks go back-to-back, having picked up a pick from Vancouver for Bryan McCabe. GM Mike Smith, who has a doctorate in Russian studies, was picking European players long before it became fashionable, so figure one or both selections will be spent on Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev, Alexei Smirnov or 6-4 1/2 Alexander Frolov, the best of a very good crop of Russian prospects.

No. 12 -- Mighty Ducks of Anaheim

The Ducks' needs are many and varied, beginning with another impact forward to anchor the second line and take some pressure off Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. The Ducks have never had or developed an impact defenceman ala Chris Pronger or Al MacInnis, a shortcoming that perenially keeps them from gaining ground on the rest of the Western Conference.

Nos. 13 and 16 -- Montreal Canadiens

Unbelievably, no team has collectively scored fewer goals over the past two seasons than the Canadiens, who possess a pedestrian, plodding group of forwards. The Habs need more than just a consistent scorer, they need a star. And they have two shots to get one.

No. 14 -- Carolina Hurricanes

Among the Hurricanes' forwards, only soon-to-be-unrestricted free agent Gary Roberts offered any kind of a consistent physical presence, their most apparent shortcoming. With 19-year-old David Tanabe on the horizon, the Hurricanes are OK on the blue line, but they desperately need a power forward with soft hands, to open up the ice for the Jeff O'Neills and Sami Kapanens of the world.

No. 15 -- Buffalo Sabres

After trading away two blue chip defensive prospects in the past 24 months (Alexei Tezikov and Cory Sarich), the Sabres need to replenish their organizational depth on the blue line. They may be as sound as any NHL team down the middle, but they could use someone flashier on the wings to take advantage of Doug Gilmour's and Chris Gratton's playmaking prowess.

No. 17 -- Edmonton Oilers

Ideally, the Oilers need to punch up an attack that relied too heavily on Doug Weight and Bill Guerin last season. In addition, they could use some added muscle up front to take some of the pressure off Mike Grier and Ethan Moreau. When one or the other or both were out of the lineup, the Oilers played too passively.

No. 18 -- Pittsburgh Penguins

No general manager is as astonishingly consistent as the Penguins' Craig Patrick, who has selected a European with his first pick eight times in 10 years. The problem is, the Penguins do not lack pure skill. They could use some muscle up front to open up the ice for Jaromir Jagr and the rest of the Prague Penguins.

No. 19 -- Phoenix Coyotes

The Coyotes have positioned themselves well in goal with a trio of blue chip kids on the horizon and their blue line corps -- while getting a little long in the tooth -- is deep from one-to-six. They need help at forward as age creeps up on Greg Adams, Benoit Hogue and potential unrestricted free agent Dallas Drake.

No. 20 -- Los Angeles Kings

After surrendering four prospects to the New York Islanders in the Ziggy Palffy deal, the Kings need to add depth everywhere, but defense is of particular concern. The fact that GM Dave Taylor protected only three defensemen in the expansion draft tells you all you need to know about the Kings' need for more skill and size on the blue line.

No. 21 -- Ottawa Senators

The Senators' needs will hinge largely on how they resolve the Alexei Yashin situation, but no matter what happens there, a priority is adding depth on the blue line to supplement Wade Redden and Chris Phillips. Surrendering Janne Laukannen to Pittsburgh in the Tom Barrasso trade now looks like a colossal blunder.

No. 22 -- New Jersey Devils

The Devils have had only one top-10 pick in the last nine years and yet still have done a remarkable job of pulling out gems from the nether regions of the draft year after year. They have a couple of young goalies in the system and Martin Brodeur, at age 28, is in his prime, so expect them to add a forward to replace the youth they traded away in their Stanley Cup run.

No. 23 -- Vancouver Canucks

Acquired from Florida as the last payment in the one-sided Pavel Bure swap, the Canucks probably need to help in goal more than any other team in the league apart from Calgary. If No. 2-rated netminder Brent Krahn happens to slip this far, looks for Vancouver to scoop him up.

No. 24 -- Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs have had considerable success drafting Europeans in the first round, but it remains to be seen if this trend continues, now that Mike Smith has moved on to the Blackhawks. Ideally, the Leafs need to put a couple of defensemen into the organization, especially someone with an offensive upside, following Bryan Berard's career-threatening eye injury.

No. 25 -- Dallas Stars

After Manny Fernandez was traded to Minnesota in advance of the expansion draft and Roman Turek was lost to St. Louis the year before, the Stars' most pressing need is to work more goaltending talent into the system. Defensively, the Stars are sound in their top four, but Shawn Chambers is injury prone and both Sylvain Cote and Dave Manson could walk as unrestricted free agents.

No. 26 -- Washington Capitals

With Peter Bondra on the trading block and Adam Oates only two months shy of his 38th birthday, the Capitals desperately need to upgrade a middle-of-the-road offense. Apart from defenseman Sergei Gonchar, the Capitals also have a shortage of skilled offensive defensemen, a need they will be required to address soon.

No. 27 -- Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche traded away huge gobs of their farm system in the past two years in order to make a Stanley Cup run, surrendering four players or prospects to get Theo Fleury in 1999 and Ray Bourque this year. Colorado's superior scouting system still managed to produce four excellent players with two years or fewer NHL experience (Milan Hedjuk, Chris Drury, Alex Tanguay, Martin Skoula), but the cupboard is getting bare. The Bruins hold an option on this pick, courtesy of the Ray Bourque trade.

No. 28 -- Philadelphia Flyers

Traditionally, the Flyers have done well drafting goaltenders early, but a priority in 2000 is adding some young talent up front, plus organizational depth on the blue line. Two rookie defenseman, Andy Delmore and Mark Eaton, cracked the line-up midway through last season, but that left the cupboard practically bare.

No. 29 -- Detroit Red Wings

Like Colorado, the Red Wings sacrificed their future to make a Stanley Cup run the last two years and it shows in its depleted system, with very few 'A' prospects waiting in the wings. Unlike last season, when the Red Wings didn't pick until 120th overall, they did retain their No. 1 choice and could use help almost everywhere in the organization, as age begins to creep up on key personnel.

No. 30 -- St. Louis Blues

After Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis, the talent on the St. Louis blue line drops precipitously, but that may be deceptive. Fifteen of 27 picks over a three-year span were defensemen and a couple are close to playing in the NHL. More than anything else, St. Louis needs to upgrade its collection of forwards so that if center Pierre Turgeon ever begins to slip, someone can step in and contribute to the offense.

No. 38 -- New York Rangers

The Rangers' decision to move up to fourth overall in 1999 (to grab Pavel Brendl) cost them this year's first-rounder, so new GM Glen Sather starts from behind as he tries to fill in the gaping holes in the New York organization. Despite being a shrewd trader when it comes to picking up untapped potential, Sather had an undistinguished drafting record for much of the past decade in Edmonton. That doesn't bode well for a Rangers' team that needs help everywhere.

No. 46 -- San Jose Sharks

The antithesis of the Rangers, the Sharks possess arguably the second-best collection of young talent after the New York Islanders, boasting half-a-dozen blue chip prospects 22 or under. The Sharks had top-three picks in three of the past four years and made them count. The challenge for GM Dean Lombardi is to draft as well from the lowest starting position in franchise history.

No. 53 -- Florida Panthers

As GM Bryan Murray twiddles his thumbs, waiting to make the Panthers' first selection late in the second round, he can console himself by remembering Pavel Bure's explosive 58-goal season. Suddenly, surrendering the 23rd overall selection (and being the last team to select in the draft), seems like a small price to pay. In an era when skill is at a premium, the Panthers have decent-enough talent, they just need more toughness to protect it.

Eric Duhatschek is a contributor to Sports Illustrated and will be writing a weekly NHL column for CNNSI.com next season.


 
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