The Memorial Cup is over, the NHL Combine has come and gone, the Frozen Four is a distant memory... all that's left for this year is the NHL Entry Draft. For The Pipeline Show, this is our biggest month of the year, it's what we gear up for all season and it culminates on June 25/26th. Dean and I are once again hosting the live draft coverage on the TEAM 1260 and as the days get closer, more and more stuff bounces around my cranium.
For me there are 3 big wild cards in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft. The first is Brett Connolly of the Prince George Cougars who was limited to just 16 games this year because of hip flexor problems. He's declared himself to be 100% clear from those problems now and I haven't heard anything to believe that that's not the case. He didn't do much at the U18s but as we learned, Connolly had come down with food poisoning while in Belarus and couldn't play. It was a tough year for the guy that scouts told us might have made it a 3-horse race with Hall and Seguin if healthy all season. He could go 3rd overall or he might still be available outside the top 10... definitely a wild card.
Kirill Kabanov is a top 10 talent but might have hurt his reputation too severely with his end of the year decision to leave Moncton. To his credit, he's owning up to the error in judgment and is telling anyone and everyone who will listen that he has zero interest in playing anywhere but North America. Kabanov is now represented by super-agent J.P. Barry which was tactically a great choice. The young forward has said and done everything he can over the last several weeks to convince NHL clubs that he's worth taking a chance on - but will it work? It only takes one team to feel he's worth the uncertainty and I think that will happen in the first round.
Goalies are always a wild card and Jack Campbell might be the best one we've seen for a few years. The kid does nothing except win and on the international stage this year he's done more than just that - he's dominated. The U18s are valued by scouts because it's the most recent marquee event on the scouting calendar and in Belarus Campbell was unbelievably good. We talk about Hall and Seguin being franchise forwards well Campbell has been some impressive for the last 12 months that he has to be considered a potential franchise goalie and if so... shouldn't he also be a candidate for a top 10 pick? I think so.
Better Fit for Edmonton?
Recently on The Pipeline Show I floated a question to co-host Dean Millard and our listening audience. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson had been on the station earlier in the day (The Jason Gregor Show) during which Gregor asked him the stereotypical "self scouting report" question. MPS suggested that his speed and offensive drive were what defines him as a top prospect and added "I'm a pure scorer". It was very reminiscent of the way that we're all talking about Taylor Hall.
I expanded on this by asking: "Outside of the physical element of Hall's game, how much of a difference is there between he and MPS?". I think it's a valid question because Oiler fans have been very vocal about the fact that the organization doesn't have anyone that plays like Hall and I wonder if that's really the case.
Again, that's obviously not to suggest that MPS is as good as Hall projects to be - one was a 10th overall pick and one might go 1st - but I think that's simply because of what else Hall brings to the table; his hellbent, physical style of play. We're talking about job description here - "Needed: a high tempo, high scoring winger that naturally thinks offence at a world class level". That fits for both Hall and MPS... agreed?
But my point is this: Is the gap between Hall and MPS greater or smaller than the gap between Tyler Seguin and Sam Gagner? One contact in the business that we contacted suggested the difference was much greater between the two centers than between the two wingers. In the scout's opinion, Seguin is a sure-fire 1st line player while Gagner will be challenged to be anything more than a 2nd because of his skating.
Dean and I would love to hear your opinion on this one and we'll continue to talk about this on Tuesday evening.
BOS, EDM & Riley Nash
I'm of the belief that something could happen between the Oilers and the Bruins on draft day. I'm skeptical that it would involve a NHL roster player like Blake Wheeler though just in order to convince the Oilers to pass on the guy the Bruins prefer. That seems like a big price to pay to me. If a deal is made, I won't be surprised if it was a pick or two, maybe a pick and a prospect, coming back to the Oilers instead.
Dean has learned that the two teams had talks earlier this season involving Riley Nash and Mikko Lehtonen. We're not sure if it was a 1-for-1 swap but after we both spoke with sources from teams in each conference, we know that Nash does have some value around the league. In this case we're led to believe that it was Edmonton that wouldn't green light the trade.
Might the Bruins still have an interest in Nash? Lehtonen, a 6'3 and 196 lbs right winger, led the Providence Bruins in scoring this year with 50 points, he had 53 the year before. The Finnish player was drafted by the Bruins in the 3rd round of 2005.
Speaking of Nash, fans speculated that Montréal might have an interest in him after they'd signed his brother to a deal in the spring. About a month ago I asked a scout from the Canadiens if he personally liked Nash in his draft year and was told "I sure did". (I mentally noted that that particular scout survived GM Pierre Gauthier's purge last week). Maybe the Oilers and Habs can work something out on draft day. Would Montréal's 2nd round pick, 57th overall, be too much, too little or just enough?
Tyler vs Taylor
I've been on the Tyler Seguin side of the debate since well before Christmas, and still am, but there is no denying that Taylor Hall's performance in the Memorial Cup was highly impressive. On Draft Lottery Day we polled callers to the show on who they wanted the Oilers to select and it was 2:1 in favour of Seguin. If you did that poll today it might be 2:1 Hall.
Personally I think the huge swing in public support to Hall's side is mostly due to the fact that fans across the country actually got a chance to see what he does on a nightly basis. If the Memorial Cup wasn't televised and all fans took from it was that he had 9 points and was MVP for the second year in a row, would it make a difference?
My bigger question is this: The scouts that had ranked Seguin #1 in April, did they see something different from Hall in the Memorial Cup that they hadn't already seen from him all season long? If not, if he was that good all year, then you have to believe that Seguin would retain that ranking. If Hall did step it up even more, (ie: the excellent backchecking), then that's the key in my opinion.
As my Dean put it last week, these guys have been like two prize fighters who keep (figuratively speaking) slugging away, trying to one up each other all year long. Hall wins 2009 Memorial Cup and is MVP, Seguin lights it up for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in August... Hall makes team Canada and wins silver at the 2010 WJC, Seguin is named OHL Player of the Month for December and January... Windsor eliminates Plymouth in the playoffs, Seguin is named OHL Player of the Year and gets ranked #1 by Central Scouting... Hall wins 2010 Memorial Cup and MVP again, Seguin is named Top Prospect by the CHL.
Can the correct answer simply be that there is no wrong choice?
- If you listen to the show with any semblance of regularity you'll know that we've been pumping the tires of Portland's Brad Ross all year. I've had scouts tell me he's a third round pick, maybe a mid-late 2nd rounder. For me, if I'm Edmonton I have a hard time not taking him at #31 if he's still there. I don't think you want to take a chance on him still being available at #48, the pick acquired from Nashville.
- The guy I am later coming to the party on but am fully on board with now: defenceman Dylan McIlrath. He won me over in the first round of the WHL playoffs when he made an end to end rush against the Hitmen and nearly scored. To that point I wasn't sure that I'd use a first round pick on a guy that's sort of pegged as a second pairing bruiser. However, his offensive numbers jumped after the Warriors traded Travis Hamonic to Brandon and he took on a much bigger offensive role. He's the toughest guy in the draft and that's going to lead to and early selection. Dean and I think he's primed for a huge season next year, especially after comparing McIlrath's draft season stats to another guy who broke out after he was drafted in 2008. If McIlrath is still on the board when the #12 pick comes up, I start looking to find a way to trade up to get him.
- Trying to make NHL comparables for prospects in their draft year is tough. Instead, I prefer trying to compare current draft class guys to NHL guys in their draft year. Here are 3 examples: (1) Nino Niederreiter is reminding me a lot of Anze Kopitar in 2005; a guy who should get taken well before the 10th pick but might slip out because of his passport. (2) Jordan Eberle in 2008 was a smallish sniper with average speed but elusive agility on his side, sort of like Jeff Skinner this year. (3) Is John McFarland the 2010 version of Angelo Esposito? Both were considered top prospects the year prior but saw their stock drop considerably in their actual draft year.
- 3 NCAA players have already made plans to jump North to the WHL. Tyler Pitlick leaves Mankato for Medicine Hat, Islanders prospect David Toews moves from North Dakota to Brandon and Buffalo's Corey Fienhage also leaves UND but he'll join the Kamloops Blazers. Will there be more after the draft as player talk to the teams that selected them? Jaden Schwartz told us he'd weigh his options between Colorado College and Tri-City after speaking with his NHL rights holder.
- The 2011 NHL Draft will be in Minnesota and the 2011 Frozen Four will also be played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The World Junior Championship is in Buffalo. Good thing the Memorial Cup is still going to be in Canada! The Mississauga St. Mike's Majors are hosting the CHL event and I wonder if they'll move it to the Air Canada Center when the Toronto Maple Leafs are eliminated from playoff contention (did I say 'when'? I meant 'if'... honestly).
- Most people are expecting a lot of movement at the draft this year. With a few exceptions, most of the trading on draft day has been "picks for pick" and not many actual bodies changing hands. Will that trend continue or will there be more than a just a couple big name NHL players dealt?