Jun 242010

There isn’t a Crosby, Ovechkin, or Doughty-calibre player available in this year’s version of the NHL entry draft, but the annual June affair provides franchises the opportunity to stock their prospect cupboards with future talent. Provided that all NHL teams stay the course and don’t make any trades today, here is my mock draft.

1. Edmonton Oilers – Taylor Hall – LW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): Edmonton can’t be the team that passes on the draft’s most complete and dynamic player.

2. Boston Bruins (from Toronto) – Tyler Seguin – C – Plymouth Whalers (OHL): Never mind the centres in Boston’s system, Seguin is just about on par with Hall.

3. Florida Panthers – Cam Fowler – D – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): Fowler’s got an incredible winning attitude and is arguably the third-best player available.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets – Erik Gudbranson – D – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): Has drawn comparisons to Chris Pronger and Tyler Myers . . . adds size to smallish Blue Jackets’ defence.

5. New York Islanders – Brandon Gormley – D – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL): Projected top-pairing blueliner adds to an Isles team which needs high-end talent on back end.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning – Nino Niederreiter – LW – Portland Winter Hawks (WHL): Strong, fast, and skilled, “El Nino” would look good alongside Steven Stamkos.

7. Carolina Hurricanes – Brett Connolly – RW – Prince George Cougars (WHL):  Aside from hip injuries, goal-scoring fiend is a strong two-way player.

8. Atlanta Thrashers – Alexander Burmistrov – C – Barrie Colts (OHL): Russian centre already plays Canadian game and still electrifies fans, to boot. Atlanta needs star power again.

9. Minnesota Wild – Derek Forbort – D – USA NTDP: Minnesota loves drafting close to home and local Duluth kid is a burly skater.

10. New York Rangers – Jeff Skinner – RW – Kitchener Rangers (OHL): Stock has catapulted in last few months and top-skating sniper adds new dimension of offence.

11. Dallas Stars – Jon Merrill – D – USA NTDP: Dallas needs a big defenceman who can also play the physical shutdown role. Merrill can do both.

12. Anaheim Ducks – Ryan Johansen – C – Portland Winter Hawks (WHL): Scoring threat needs time to fill out his body, but the Ducks can afford to wait a couple years.

13. Phoenix Coyotes (from Calgary) – Austin Watson – RW – Windsor/Peterborough (OHL): Intelligent scorer considered a top defensive forward plays a big game.

14. St. Louis Blues – Mikael Granlund – C – HIFK (Finland): Smallish centre is a slick forward who can fill the net and the Ducks need help down the middle.

15. Florida Panthers (from Boston) – Nick Bjugstad – C – Blaine Bengals (USHS): Dominating Minnesota highs chool centre named state’s “Mr. Hockey” for 2010.

16. Ottawa Senators – Dylan McIlrath – D – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Scary defenseman strikes fear into opponents with big fights and hits . . . A potential Boston fan favourite.

17. Colorado Avalanche – Jack Campbell – G – USA NTDP: Best player available at this point and fills goaltending prospect void for the Avs. Has a winning pedigree.

18. Nashville Predators – Quinton Howden – LW – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Howden brings defensive acumen, size, and scoring ability to a team which needs more blue-chip forwards.

19. Los Angeles Kings – Emerson Etem – C – Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL): California native has wonderful hands and smart hockey sense.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins – Vladimir Tarasenko – RW – Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL): With fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin already on the Pens, Tarasenko could be lured across the Atlantic.

21. Detroit Red Wings – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Chelyabinsk Traktor (KHL): Similar to Pittsburgh, Detroit has Datsyuk and the Russian ties to bring Kuznetsov overseas.

22. Phoenix Coyotes – Brock Nelson – C – Warroad Warriors (USHS): Pure finisher scheduled to attend University of North Dakota could find himself on the wing in the desert.

23. Buffalo Sabres – Riley Sheahan – C – Notre Dame (CCHA): Growing up close to Buffalo, all-around player is defensively aware and plays a complete game.

24. Chicago Blackhawks (from Atlanta, via New Jersey) – Charlie Coyle – RW – South Shore (EJHL): Boston University-bound winger is Tony Amonte’s cousin and has a diverse game.

25. Vancouver Canucks – Jarred Tinordi – D – USA NTDP: Canucks need a physical defenceman and Tinordi has it in spades at 6’6 and 205 pounds. Captained the USA NTDP U-18 team.

26. Washington Capitals – Kirill Kabanov – LW – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL): Wild attitude and could possibly go back to Russia, but why would he with Ovechkin on his NHL team?

27. Montreal Canadiens – Alex Petrovic – D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL): Bruising, physical defender adds to a Montreal blueline which needs shutdown players.

28. San Jose Sharks – Beau Bennett – C – Pentiction (BCHL): Another California standout, San Jose could use a scoring centre. Bennett will attend Denver University next fall.

29. Anaheim Ducks (from Philadelphia) – Calvin Pickard – G – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL): Won’t make an immediate impact, but gives the Ducks a future goaltending prospect for the pipeline.

30. Chicago Blackhawks – John McFarland – C – Sudbury Wolves (OHL) – Questionable effort, but no questioning his skating. Has been good on bad teams, but equally bad on good teams.

Jun 232010

[Editor's note: The Vancouver Canucks currently own six picks - including the 1st round, 25th overall pick - in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. In this week leading to Friday's draft, Matt Lee previews some potential Canucks picks.]

Kirill Kabanov

Position: LW
Team: Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 173 pounds
Central Scouting Ranking: 31st among North American Skaters
THN Ranking: 38th

Kirill Kabanov

Photo credit: rds.ca

Now this one could come from way out of left field, but what do you think the chances are the Vancouver Canucks take a chance on an enigmatic Russian winger who is incredibly talented but at the same time has an incredibly poor attitude?

If anyone in this draft is within the realm of talent as top-rated prospects Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, it’s Kirill Kabanov, a Russian winger who was lured over to play for the Moncton Wildcats in 2009 after negotiating his release from Spartak of the KHL. However, Kabanov left his team in the midst of its playoff to join the Russian U-18 team, but was dismissed for discipline problems.

And if the discipline issues weren’t enough of a red flag, how about the fact that Kabanov is no longer being represented by JP Barry, a respected NHL agent? No, Kabanov is being represented by none other … than his own father. And that could be ugly for an NHL team who decides to talk contract details with the youngster. Many NHL scouts live in fear that once the going gets tough for Kabanov in North America, he’ll simply head back to Russia (like former top pick Nikolai Zherdev did to Columbus).

That said, looking beyond the negatives of Kirill Kabanov, there is no questioning his skill. Not too long ago, Kabanov was mentioned in the same breath as Hall and Seguin, projected to be a top five draft selection. Even more notably, Kabanov impressed during his stint with Moncton, scoring 23 points in 22 games before suffering a wrist injury.

More recently, Kabanov did some amazing damage control at the NHL Draft Combine a month ago, when the Russian winger not only performed well in almost all the physical testing but was a great interview. Kabanov assured all interviewers that his lone intention is to play in the NHL and that he will never go back to Russia again. In fact, he even went so far as to suggest he would consider giving up his Russian citizenship, blasting the Russian Hockey Federation and the KHL for the poor treatment of their players. Altogether, Kabanov appeared remorseful for abandoning his QMJHL team and admitted that as a kid, he made a mistake. It takes an exceptional person to admit their mistakes to potential employers, but Kabanov did this with maturity… and he’s still only a kid.

From a Vancouver perspective, it seems unlikely the organization is willing to take such a huge risk on Kabanov, but with the team currently selecting at #25, why not go for the home run? For a player who has drawn comparisons to Ilya Kovalchuk, the Canucks could end up with a potential superstar winger for Cody Hodgson. And for an organization which hasn’t necessarily had a great track record in the first round to begin with, taking a riverboat gamble on Kabanov might not be a bad idea.

They said it: “He’s highly talented — as talented as any player in the draft. He broke his wrist earlier in the year and was sidelined a long time. Kirill is just adjusting to the North American game and as a result, left his Moncton team early in order to train for the Russian National Under-18 World Junior Team tournament that happens every April. Who’s he like? Maybe a Kovalchuk.” – Director of NHL Central Scouting E.J. McGuire

Jun 222010

[Editor's note: The Vancouver Canucks currently own six picks - including the 1st round, 25th overall pick - in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. In this week leading to Friday's draft, Matt Lee previews some potential Canucks picks.]

Jarred Tinordi

Position: D
Team: USA National Team Development Program
Height: 6’6”
Weight: 205 pounds
Central Scouting Ranking: 38th among North American Skaters
THN Ranking: 22nd

Jarred Tinordi

Once again, the Canucks are poised to select a prospect who plays the role of defensive defenseman to a tee. And for someone who was favourably compared to Calgary Flames blueliner Robyn Regehr, Jarred Tinordi seems to fit that bill.

Jarred Tinordi is the son of former NHLer Mark, who as a hard-nosed defenceman from the late 80’s to late 90’s played 663 NHL games with New York, Minnesota, Dallas, and Washington. For the past two years, Jarred has been with the United States’ national team development program, playing on both the U-17 and U-18 squads.

Like Dylan McIlrath who I previewed earlier, Tinordi isn’t going to blow anyone away with offensive ability but he plays a smart defensive game and with even bigger size than McIlrath. Some scouts believe that once Tinordi is done filling out, he could weigh somewhere around 230 pounds. He has the body to become a shutdown defenseman in the mold of Willie Mitchell and has the hockey bloodlines to fill that role.

In a debate between McIlrath and Tinordi, some argue that McIlrath is a more intimidating presence but doesn’t have the defensive acumen nor the bloodlines that Tinordi possesses. However, it’s difficult to say Tinordi isn’t as mean as McIlrath when Tinordi plays in a league where toughness and tenacity aren’t as emphasized as McIlrath’s WHL.

Another aspect of Tinordi which makes him a tempting selection is that he captained the USA U-18 team last year. In other words, he oozes leadership and for a club which values intelligence and integrity, Canucks management is certainly looking at those characteristics which Tinordi could one day provide on their backend. With centres Ryan Kesler and in the long term Cody Hodgson fulfilling the leadership role up front, Vancouver has few defensemen who can provide those intangibles from the back end.

Some fans might remember Tinordi from this year’s World Junior Championship, where the big blueliner suited up for the gold-medal winning United States team in Saskatoon.

The biggest knock on Tinordi are his puck skills, or lack thereof. As The Hockey News eloquently put it from one scout, “When he plays a physical, nasty, pass-first game, he’s as good as there is… But when he starts to dangle, his warts show”.

They said it: “For Jarred to be at his best, he just needs to be steady. He’s very intelligent, keeps himself in good position and is capable of making the first pass. And that should and probably always will be the foundation of what will bring out the most in his game.” – USA U-18 head coach Kurt Kleinendorst

Jun 212010

[Editor's note: The Vancouver Canucks currently own six picks - including the 1st round, 25th overall pick - in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. In this week leading to Friday's draft, Matt Lee previews some potential Canucks picks.]

Beau Bennett

Position: RW
Team: Pentiction Vees (BCHL)
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 173 pounds
Central Scouting Ranking: 32nd among North American Skaters
THN Ranking: 35th

If the Vancouver Canucks were doing local scouting this past season, there’s no doubt they’ve made a couple trips up to the Okanagan to see the Pentiction Vees’ blazing winger Beau Bennett.

Bennett, a native of California (a state which is beginning to develop more and more NHL-calibre players) set the BCHL on fire this past season, finishing his first campaign with Penticton as the league’s leading scorer with 41 goals and 120 points in 56 games. Bennett was the only BCHL rookie to record over 100 points in the last seven years, and with the amount of talent being churned out by the Jr. A level, that in itself is an impressive feat.

25 of Bennett’s 41 markers came on the powerplay, and scouts describe the Gardena, California product as a kid who has tons of hockey smarts with very good skills around the net perimeter.

Despite the fact the Canucks are in higher demand of a defenseman, their belief in drafting the best player available and not necessarily by position makes Bennett a tantalizing option. He’s one of the better skaters in the draft and if general manager Mike Gillis places an emphasis on a forward’s skating ability, one has to believe Bennett is high on his list.

As for an NHL comparable, look no further than Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils. In 2003-04, Zajac spent his junior days with Salmon Arm of the BCHL, posting similar numbers to Bennett (43 goals and 112 points in 59 games). Once he was selected late in the first round by the Devils in 2004 and his apprenticeship with Salmon Arm was completed, Zajac headed to the University of North Dakota for two years to fill out his body. Today, Zajac is a solid 60+ point player for the Devils and hasn’t even tapped into his potential yet. Likewise, Bennett will look to give it the old college try for a couple years before he makes his mark in the NHL. He has already committed his college services to the University of Denver in the CCHA.

They said it: “120 points in 56 games. Good size winger destined to follow maybe in the footsteps of one-time BCHL scoring leader Kyle Turris during his junior year.” – Director of NHL Central Scouting E.J. McGuire

Jun 202010

[Editor's note: The Vancouver Canucks currently own six picks - including the 1st round, 25th overall pick - in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. In this week leading to Friday's draft, Matt Lee previews some potential Canucks picks.]

Dylan McIlrath

Position: D
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 212 pounds
Central Scouting Ranking: 17th among North American Skaters
THN Ranking: 26th

In a word, Dylan McIlrath is tough.

As a third round pick of the Moose Jaw Warriors in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft, not a lot of experts had pegged McIlrath as much more than a rugged blueliner who would eventually be drafted by an NHL team in 2010. Few, at the time, had “The Undertaker” projected as a potential first round selection, as McIlrath is expected to become this week.

The Winnipeg native hits like a freight train and isn’t afraid to stick up for his teammates, a point which was emphasized in the 2010 CHL Top Prospects game where McIlrath got into a spirited battle with Red Deer Rebels defender Alex Petrovic, eventually tagging his opponent with a few rights for the take down.

No one in this year’s draft is as tough as McIlrath. Had Boston Bruins forward and former Vancouver Giants star Milan Lucic been a defenseman, this is what he would be. McIlrath is just that tough. He racked up 271 penalty minutes in his first two WHL seasons and had 19 fighting majors last season alone.

But more recently, scouts have had a chance to see the blueliner’s offensive game. Headed into the Christmas break last season, McIlrath had zero points, but finished the year with seven goals and 24 points in 65 games. So there is certainly room for the rugged defenseman’s offensive game to develop if the opportunity presents itself.

McIlrath cites Shea Weber as his favourite NHL player, and while it’s extremely difficult to compare anyone to the Canadian Olympian, McIlrath does play a similar game. He imposes his will with his sheer grit and toughness and has a cannon from the point which can find the back of the net.

However, the simplicity of McIlrath’s game does have some scouts worried as to what his ceiling would be in the NHL. Critics fear that McIlrath is a boom or bust type of prospect, who will either make it to the NHL as a top four defenseman or a complete bust.

From a Vancouver Canucks standpoint, the Canucks have a few defensemen like Kevin Connauton (Vancouver Giants) who have the ability to produce offense from the point but don’t have a polished defensive game. McIlrath cites current Canuck blueliner Willie Mitchell as another one of his influences, and Vancouver could certainly use a big bodied presence to fill out their backend when needed.

They said it: “An old school defensemen who plays hard and very physical. A great deal of untapped potential that can be used in shut down situations as well as on the offensive side of the puck.” – Moose Jaw Warriors head coach Dave Hunchak

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