Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Countdown to Draft Day (Part 1)

In what will be the first primetime telecast of the draft, on Friday, June 22, the NHL will hold the first round of the Entry Draft in the evening. The NHL has always held the draft over the Saturday and Sunday of a weekend, but wanted to bring the draft to the public like the NFL and NBA with a first-round show. Who's really going to watch it?!? Well, only the people who would generally watch it and/or the people who make time to watch it. It's only the first round, so it won't be long enough to really have a party for... so I don't think I'll be doing that.

This isn't really a deep draft class either, so there isn't the big draw of a name that would bring the people to the television to watch. No Crosby, no Ovechkin, no Johnson... so, there really isn't that drive to do well. I think the intrigue will be the movement of players that teams may look to get rid of before they lose them to unrestricted free agency. We may see some mid-round trades that could knock some socks off... teams will have a good idea of how they want to improve this off season and may look to do a bit more wheeling and dealing at the draft.

In case you are highly involved in the draft, somewhat like I am, you'll want to know which team is going to be draft in which position. Well, here's a recap of the first round...

Chicago won the draft lottery held at the end of the year and will get first shot at the player they've been eyeing in their scout's notebooks. There is some talent to go in the first round and I would imagine that they would go after some more scoring to go with the scoring that's coming up the ranks. Building through the draft seems to be the Blackhawks' ticket to success. I would imagine that a kid like Patrick Kane will go first overall, just because of being a year older and probably a little bit more ready to make the jump right away.

The Flyers get the second pick overall. They are in need of some serious help to get the team jump started for this coming season. It wouldn't surprise me to see teams offer up something big to the Flyers to move up to get a kid like Kyle Turris or Karl Alzner. The Flyers are a team that needs help now and they've recently been an organization that doesn't build through the draft, rather talent that's firing now. I would imagine a big blueliner is more in their future with the likes of Mike Rathje possibly retiring and Derian Hatcher not being as dominating.

Phoenix holds the third pick overall and they'll be picking. Gretzky and company are in the midst of building a good young team and an electric offensive player would go a long ways to bringing more people to the seats at the Jobing.com Arena. There should be enough to choose from for Phoenix... Angelo Esposito, Sam Gagner and Jakub Voracek could all be great additions, but I could see either Esposito or Gagner go, just for the mere fact that these young Canadians had a little bit of prestige, much like the head coach.

With the push for Jack Johnson in the Kings line-up, you can see that GM Dean Lombardi is going to push the youth system and for good reason. They have a number of good talented young players who will be pushed to keep the Kings within their budget and somewhat competitive. With the fourth pick, they can't go too badly. Alexei Cherapanov hasn't been mentioned yet, the top rated European player, could go anywhere between first and fourth. Cherapanov has drawn comparisons to Pavel Bure and Ilya Kovalchuk, so he could be a great fit to the Kings if he was still available.

The Washington Capitals hold the fifth pick in the draft and it seems to me that they may need a big defenseman or more goaltending assurance, as Kolzig isn't getting any younger and there are still question marks around their young goaltending prospects. It may just be that they could find something a bit better from what other teams are offering as well. I could see the likelihood of a trade growing as the push for the playoffs will be great, as Alexander Ovechkin will need a playoff year sooner rather than later in Washington. It could also be that they move up to the second pick from Philly to make sure they get a guy like Cherapanov to flank Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

This is the first of three first rounders for the Edmonton Oilers. In a shallow talent pool, this may not be the best year for it. Nonetheless, they do hold some cards when it comes to dealing for some talent. Goaltending should be front and center when it comes to the Oilers decision. It's hard to say where to go in the goaltending department... in the North American lists, there are two Memorial Cup goaltenders, including the winner Tyler Sexsmith (from the Vancouver Giants). Depending on how the chips fall in the first five picks, the Oilers are not in bad shape to even pick up a decent goaltender with one of their later picks.

With a sign reading "Soon to be Under New Management" hanging on the front door of the Nationwide Arena, it's really hard to tell what the Blue Jackets are going to be doing with the seventh pick. So far, the franchise hasn't done a bad job at drafting... players like Rick Nash, Rostislav Klesla and Nikolai Zherdev are all good building blocks, but there is still something missing from the Columbus outfit that will bring them playoff success. June 22 will be a big day in regards to the direction they want to take. I would imagine there's enough for the Jackets to look at in regards to drafting and they'll make their big splash on the free agent market. It would have to be a radical hockey thinker to do something major in Ohio.

Inconsistent goaltending should be the number one topic on the off-season agenda in Beantown. Between Tim Thomas, Joey MacDonald and Hannu Toivonen, the Bruins couldn't make it over the hump with all the talent they have on the blueline and up front. Finnish prospect, Tukka Rask, should come aboard for the coming season, but I think there will be some concentration at the draft to find the next best keeper in the draft. It would be interesting to see if the Bruins make a push for Vesa Toskala with the number eight pick in hand.

The Blues also hold three picks in the first round of this year's draft. They hold their own (9th), Atlanta's (24th) and New Jersey's (26th). They certainly are not short of young talent coming through the system in St. Louis... there's a number of good prospects that are on the cusp of making it into the big time, but that doesn't mean the stockpile won't get any bigger. I would imagine that unless a team really wants a player around the time the Blues make their pick, they would consider a deal to make that move... but it's hard to say. It probably won't be the ninth pick they'd move, as there probably still could be a home run type pick by then.

Didn't really seem like anything went terribly right for the Panthers in 2006/07... the Bertuzzi/Luongo trade didn't quite work out for them and there wasn't a lot of help for Olli Jokinen. In the tenth slot though, pickens will be quite slimmer than it is up top and they'll probably have to take what they get when it comes to their pick. They do have quite a bit of talent up and coming, but unless there's a miracle, they're still probably another year or so before they make another run for the playoffs. But if you ask me, they could probably do a bit more without Ed Belfour.

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