Thursday, June 21, 2007

NHL Draft Extravaganza!

We should probably just let this blog die, since none of us have the time/interest to post more often than every few months. However, I'm a sucker for entry drafts in every sport, and since I've been stuck at home yesterday afternoon and today with the flu, I've finally had a chance to start reading up on this weekend's NHL draft. And blogging about it is probably a more productive use of my time than flooding blogger emeritus Andy Grabia's inbox with draft-related emails is.

Now, I know very little about all of these prospects, and I'm pretty sure I've never seen any of them play, but that won't stop me from passing judgment on them.

Before I mock the first round of the draft, some observations on the major stories of the weekend:

Sidney Crosby Isn't Walking Through the Door...
This is considered a weak draft, mostly since there's a lack of sure-fire elite prospects at the top. That said, it's impossible to project how draft classes will turn out. Most will produce at least a few all-stars and plenty of long-term NHLers, if not true franchise players. I'm thinking 2007 falls into that group.

(Un)Restricted Free Agents on the Move
Nashville and Philadelphia got the free agency season off to an early start with the move of impending free agents Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell to Philadelphia with contracts in hand.
I don't think there's anything underhanded about this, but I think Philly possibly overpaid in one case, and definitely in the other. Timmonen is probably overpaid somewhat for a guy who's not a franchise defenseman on par with Niedermayer, Lidstrom, Pronger etc. But $6.3 a year is decent value considering that guys like Pavel Kubina pull in $5 mil a year. Hartnell, on the other hand, is not worth the money he's getting paid. He's an interesting case, since he's the first UFA from an age group more associated with RFAs. At 25, he's getting paid more on anticipated production than past performance. So his contract should be compared to those of players like Rick Nash, Ales Hemsky, and Nathan Horton, all of whom signed long-term contracts during their RFA years. Comparing Hartnell to what Hemsky got last summer, and Horton got today, he is overpaid. He got more money than those two, despite being older and having produced less to date.

Where Philly does get value is by signing these two players ahead of July 1, and the 23rd pick in a draft that is a crapshoot from picks 4 until the end is worth it. Now, instead of being a last-place team with cap room to burn, the Flyers are a team on the rise who is 1-2 players away from being a contender. That makes it a far easier to sell to bring in a Gomez, Briere, or Drury in just over a week's time. So good on the Flyers for that, and good on the Preds for getting some return when they would have gotten nothing in return otherwise.

What Will the Oilers Do?
With three first round picks, this is a pivotal weekend in the team's history. It demands in-depth coverage and scrutiny of every possible scenario.

Ah, who am I kidding. I'm pretty sure their draft weekend will go something like this:

1st pick (6th overall) - Low upside, low downside, high-character two-way forward or defenceman from the Canadian Hockey League.

2nd pick (15th overall) - Obscure, low-ranked European player with dazzling physical skills but who is considered a "project"

3rd pick (30th overall) - Traded. Best case scenario - along with a medium-rated prospect or two for Wade Redden. Worst case scenario - for an aging, overpaid 2nd pairing defenceman or 2nd line forward.

2nd Round Pick - American high school or USHL player who will go on to become the team's best player from this draft.

Other Moves
1. Trade late round pick or prospect for the rights to an unsigned player currently playing in Europe.

2. Declare off-season a success.

Player Movement
I don't anticipate any of the other top impending free agents to be moved, since Buffalo still plans to negotiate with Briere and Drury, Jersey hasn't given up on Gomez from what I can tell, and I can't see any team paying a high-price to talk to Sheldon Souray (though he may be a pleasant conversationalist for all I know).

Goalies seem to be the hot commodity in Columbus. Since most teams assume that J-S Giguere will return to Anaheim, that leaves, with apologies to Ed Belfour, a dearth of goalies on the UFA market. So expect teams to kick the tires on Manny Fernandez (Minnesota) and Martin Gerber (Ottawa), both of whom are tied up in long-term contracts, but have been supplanted by younger starting goalies. Cristobal Huet (Montreal) could be had too, since it's a matter of time before Carey Price pushes him into the Fernandez-Gerber group, and San Jose could move either Evgeni "Humbert Humbert" Nabokov or (more likely) Vesa Toskala.

There is also talk that Ottawa could move Wade Redden, on the heels of an average playoff performance, and headed for free agency next summer. He has a no-trade clause, but might waive it to move closer to his hometown of Lloydminister (read: Edmonton). The Sens could be looking to move him, as they have a deep group on defense, and would like to clear cap space to resign Tom Preissing, he of the +40 plus/minus last season and right-handed point shot on the powerplay (a commodity that seems to be as rare in hockey as the left-handed reliever is in baseball). Edmonton, obviously, needs help on defense to fill the gaping hole left by Chris Pronger, and has cap space, picks, and prospects to burn. I'm all over this trade as long as Edmonton doesn't give up too much. Picking up the $6 million tab on Redden should reduce what they have to give up in terms of players/picks.

I haven't heard of any other player movement, but I'm sure there will be surprises.

Now...the mock draft, with my guess at how the picks will turn out. I haven't factored in trades (both picks for picks, and picks for players) which will surely happen.

1. Chicago - Patrick Kane, LW, Ontario Hockey League
An undersized sniper in the Daniel Briere mode. This guy lead the OHL in regular season and playoff scoring this past season, his first in the league, so I'm thinking he's a keeper. Short of a headline reading "Bill Wirtz Puts Team Up For Sale", he offers the best that Hawks fans can hope for.

Projected Stats - 45 G, 35 A at his peak

2. Philadelphia - James Van Riemsdyk, LW, US National Team Development Program
Big, physical, two-way winger. Sounds a lot like the guy the Flyers just traded for. Maybe they can get him to agree to a rookie discount if they agree to sign him to a 6 year, $25 million contract in 2013 when Hartnell's expires.

Projected Stats - 25 G, 25 A, 120 PIM at his peak

3. Phoenix - Kyle Turris, C, BCHL, headed to Wisconsin
Junior B sniper excelled at World Under 18s and has drawn comparisons to Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya. Seems like an obvious pick, which is why I was very tempted to have Phoenix screw it up and pick someone else. However, I'll give new GM Don Maloney the benefit of the doubt, and hope that they move back to Winnipeg before Turris hits his stride so that he'll play in front of an appreciative hometown crowd.

Projected Stats - 45 G, 55A, team captain at his peak.

4. Los Angeles Kings - Karl Azner, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Solid two-way defenceman; he'll be a great compliment for Jack Johnson and a horse on the backline.

Projected Stats - 5 G, 25 A, 28 minutes of ice time a night at his peak

5. Washington Capitals - Alexei Cherapanov, W, Russia
He's a high-risk, high-reward proposition, and will no doubt frustrate his coaches because of his penchant for taking shifts and nights off. I think he'll slide into the teens if Washington passes, but figuring he'll be a good fit with fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, they'll take a chance.

Projected Stats - 30G, 25 A, minus 35 at his NHL peak. Back in Russia playing for big money by the age of 26.

6. Edmonton Oilers - Sam Gagner, F, Ontario Hockey League
Dave's kid, which makes me feel really old. He looks like the perfect player for MacT's system - plays in both ends of the rink, high-character, and not overly offensive minded.

Projected Stats - 25 G, 30 A, team captain at this peak.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets - Keaton Ellerby, D, WHL
New GM Scott Howson goes for the quick help on the backline, rather than gambling on the U.S. Juniors with higher upside but a longer development curve.

Projected Stats - 5 G, 20 A, many, many blocked shots.

8. Boston Bruins - Jakub Voracek, RW, QMJHL
This is wishful thinking on my part. He's a big winger who dominated in the Q playoffs, and would be a good compliment for Boston's skilled forwards like Bergeron, Savard, and Kessel.

Projected Stats - 30 G, 30 A at his peak

9. St. Louis Blues - Ryan McDonagh, D, Minnesota High School
The Blues have gone to the Minnesota well often in recent years, both when it's the obvious pick (Erik Johnson last year) and when it's not (TJ Oshie in 2005). McDonagh has a lot of potential, and would be a good gamble here.

Projected Stats - 15 G, 30 A at his peak

10. Florida Panthers - Logan Couture, C, OHL
I can't discern any sort of draft pattern from this franchise, so we'll go with the best player available.

Projected Stats - 25 G, 35 A at his peak

11. Carolina Panthers - Alex Plante, D, WHL
They pick a lot of CHL, especially WHL, players, and Plante seems to resemble Glen Wesley, so we'll go with him.

Projected Stats - 5 G, 15 A

12. Montreal Canadiens - Zach Hamill, C, WHL
Despite concerns about his skating, the Habs go for the offensive center.

Projected Stats - 20 G, 40 A

13. Toronto Maple Leafs - Angelo Esposito, C, QMJHL
The prohibitive #1 in the draft before the season started, he struggled a lot once his talented linemates graduated to the pros. I wouldn't be surprised to see him slide into the 20s or out of the first round entirely, but I'll be that the Leafs take him and he bombs worse than Brandon Convery.

Projected Stats - 15 G, 10 A

14. Colorado Avalanche - Kevin Shattenkirk, D, US National Team Development Program
Talented offensive defenseman seems like a good fit here.

Projected Stats - 12 G, 40 A at his peak

15. Edmonton Oilers - Max Pacioretty, LW, USHL
I deviated from the standard obscure European here, mostly because I'm too lazy to look one up (okay, I'll take Niclas Lucenius, who's ranked 49th by the Hockey News). Pacioretty seems like a Kevin Lowe pick. Big, physical, and headed to a U.S. College.

Projected Stats - 25 G, 25 A at his peak

16. Anaheim Ducks - Logan MacMillen, C, QMJHL
High character forward. Will be a checking line anchor for years to come

Projected Stats - 18 G, 15 A, 7 short-handed goals at his peak

17. NY Rangers - Mickael "Bob" Backlund, C, Sweden
He may lack the dreaded chicken-wing submission hold of his namesake, but he's a talented offensive player who falls due to injury concerns.

Projected Stats - 25 G, 35 A

18. Calgary Flames - Brandon Sutter, F, WHL
Nepotism rules the day. I've seen Brandon described as soft, which was a term I never thought would be associated with a Sutter.

Projected Stats - Whatever Ryan Sittler's NHL numbers were.

19 - Minnesota Wild - Oscar Moller, RW, WHL
I've seen him described as a Jacques Lemaire type player, so why not.

Projected Stats - 15 G, 10 A

20 - Pittsburgh Penguins - Colton Gilles, C, WHL
Clark's nephew is gritty, but lacks any semblance of offensive skill.

Projected Stats - 10 G, 15 A, several "monster" checks and penalty kills.

21 - Phoenix Coyotes - Casey Pierro-Zabotel, LW, BCHL
I know nothing about this guy, but it seems like the Coyotes are due to go way off the board on one of their picks.

Projected Stats - Career - 15 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 8 PIM

22 - Montreal Canadiens - Ian Cole, D, US National Team Development Program
This guy is considered a sleeper, and Montreal picks a lot of college-bound players towards the top of the draft.

Projected Stats - 5 G, 25 A at his peak

23 - Nashville Predators - Thomas Hickey, D, WHL
Skilled player from the WHL; fits the Nashville bill.

Projected Stats - 10G, 25 A at his peak

24 - St. Louis Blues - Joakim Andersson, C, Sweden
They pick a lot of Swedish forwards, or so it seems.

Projected Stats - Never comes over from Europe

25 - Vancouver Canucks - Jonathan Blum, D, WHL
Plays for the local Vancouver Giants, and is a solid player.

Projected Stats - 10 G, 20 A at his peak

26 - St. Louis Blues - Mike Hoeffel, LW, US National Team Development Program
They go back to the American college well, and pick Hoeffel, who is committed to Minnesota, a program that the Blues pick a lot of players from.

Projected Stats - 30 G, 25 A

27 - Detroit Red Wings - Maxim Mayorov, LW, Russia
They go for the skilled Russian forward in hopes that they can bring him over.

Projected Stats - 35 G, 25 A

28 - Washington Capitals - Akim Aliu, RW, OHL
Boom or bust prospect. I say his attitude causes him to bust

Projected Stats - 25 NHL games with 4 different franchises.

29 - Ottawa Senators - Brett MacLean, LW, OHL
Big, physical winger is a Bryan Murray-type player.

Projected Stats - 25 G, 20 A at his peak

30 - Edmonton Oilers - Bill Sweatt, LW, Colorado College (WCHA)
He's an unbelievably fast college player; Oilers also pick a lot of players from his program.

Projected Stats - 25 G, 20 A.

NHL drafts are always unpredictable, so I'll be surprised if I get even a quarter of these correct. I do think the Oilers will trade either the 15th or 30th pick, and at least one other 1st rounder will be traded for an established NHL player. I also think that, of the top picks, Kane and Turris will be stars, and Gagner, Azner, and Voracek will have long NHL careers. This will also turn out to be a banner year from American prospects, and though no goalies make it in the first round, at least 2 starters will emerge from what was seen as a shallow pool.

Enjoy the weekend, and get ready for 2010 when these prospects finally start hitting the ice in the NHL.


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