I’ll be at the NHL draft in Minneapolis on June 24th, so feel free to follow me on twitter for live draft-day tweets. (HouseOfPuck)
If there’s any question as to the importance of June 24, look no further than the Chicago Blackhawks. Or the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Detroit Red Wings. Of course, these are the last 3 cup winners, all of which have been built primarily through the draft. The first two were fortunate to get a string of very high picks, while the Red Wings have simply drafted well for years without the fortune of a lottery pick.
In terms of hockey operations, Friday June 24th is without a doubt the most important day for the Winnipeg (Blanks). It gives the team the opportunity to add a key piece of their future at virtually no cost – apart from the cost of well-paid scouts and the youngster’s inevitable entry-level contract, which will range from about $1.75-$2.5 million including bonuses. Here are the teams that are ahead of Winnipeg in the draft queue:
5-New York Islanders
In the coming weeks, the draft will be my main focus. I’ve been collecting data and information on prospects for several weeks, but for now I’m just going to give you a very brief summary of 8 of the top players available, which includes 5 forwards and 3 defencemen. (Order is not exact, but does approximate how many scouts view them)
Ryan-Nugent Hopkins (C) – Would be shocked if he didn’t go number 1. While it’s unfair to compare anyone to the greatest player of all time, it’s true that RNH plays a style similar to Gretzky, with incredible vision, skating, and natural ability. A more realistic comparison is Patrick Kane, but less of a sniper and more of a play-maker.
Adam Larsson (D) – Big Swedish defenceman with a great overall game. He’s been hyped for some time, as he’s been playing big minutes in the SEL (Sweden’s top pro league) for the past 2 years. May not have elite offensive skills, but looks like a future #1 d-man.
Jonathan Huberdeau (C) – Has been steadily rising up the rankings, particularly after leading his team – the Saint John’s Sea Dogs of the QMJHL – to both the Q title and the Memorial Cup championship. Has an elite skill set, and is good both as a set-up man and a finisher.
Gabriel Landeskog (RW) – Quickly taking the title of the most NHL-ready player in the draft. This Swedish forward is captain of the Kitchener Rangers and plays a “Canadian game” – lots of grit and strength, and a well-rounded game. May not have as high an offensive ceiling as some of his peers.
Sean Couturier (C) – A big centre out of the Q, he was once thought of as a potential #1 selection. After a poor performance for Canada at the World Juniors, his draft stock fell a bit. His frame and skill-set are undeniable, but some scouts are frustrated with his lack of intensity and consistency. He could be anything from Vinny Lecavalier to Benoit Pouliot.
Dougie Hamilton (D) – A two-way defenceman with good size and skill, most scouts believe he’ll be the second d-man to go. In addition to his considerable on-ice ability, he recently won CHL scholastic player of the year with a 94% average.
Ryan Strome (C/W) – One of the most dynamic forwards in the draft, this OHL forward had the highest points-per-game total of any draft-eligible player at 1.63 (106 points in 65 games). May be a riskier pick than some of the players ranked ahead of him, but his upside could also make him a steal.
Ryan Murphy (D) – May not actually go in the top-8, but his skill-level is unbelievable. He’s very similar to recent Canadian World Junior captain Ryan Ellis -a small defenceman with the offensive ability of an elite forward. At 5’10 or 5’11, he’s undersized for his position, but for any team eyeing a future powerplay quarterback, he’s the obvious choice.
Other players who merit top-10 consideration include rising Swedish centre Mika Zibanejad, Swiss forward Sven Bartschi, WHL defenceman Duncan Siemens, and QMJHL d-man Nathan Beaulieu. Much more coming on this, including full statistics, size+age, scouting reports, etc for the top 30 or so prospects.