Well, our favourite time of the year has come and gone, as NHL teams have restocked the cupboard with fresh young faces, dreaming of playing in the NHL. How many of these kids will actually make it? Not a lot, but they'll all be given a chance. Here's some names that stick out for me.
Cam Fowler dropping to 12 was the biggest surprise of the first round, and the Ducks were running to the podium to pick him. The Windsor Spitfire d-man will be groomed to be Scott Niedermayer's replacement. The question mark with him is that he's soft, but his skating ability might outweigh that. Fowler brings loads of offensive potential. With their 2nd first round pick, Anaheim stayed local with Emerson Etem who skates with Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League. Etem has size, speed and skill, but scouts would like the right winger to drop his shoulder and drive to the net every once in a while. Etem scored 37 goals as a WHL rookie this year. 4 of the Ducks picks from rounds 2 to 7 are at least 200 pounds with Devante Smith-Pelly tipping Toledos at 211. Christopher Wagner led the Eastern Junior Hockey League in scoring captaining his team to the Southern Division Championship and tied the single-season scoring record with 83 points.
The Thrashers said goodbye to one Russian just before the trade deadline, and welcomed two to the fold at the draft. New G.M. Rick Dudley snagged Alexander Burmistrov 8th overall. He was terrific in Barrie last year and at the World Juniors in Saskatoon. Ivan Telegin who played against Burmistrov while with Saginaw was a 4th round pick who scored 26 goals. The center is 6.03 and 185 pounds. Julian Melchiori was taken in the 3rd round, he's a big blueliner with good mobility who's going to University of Massachusetts Lowell next year.
Getting the more complete player in Tyler Seguin will work out just fine for Boston who looks to be shopping Marc Savard hard. Seguin can play next year in Boston and if he struggles can be sheltered in their deep line up. Jared Knight - who more then doubled his goal production this year with London - and Ryan Spooner (right) who put up 54 points in 47 games with Peterborough were nice pick ups in rounds 2 and 3 but are both undersized forwards. Craig Cunningham is also small in stature but scored 37 goals and 97 points in Vancouver of the WHL this year. I really like the pick up of Maxim Chudinov in the 7th round. He's a small stocky blueliner who can dish the puck. Both Cunningham were passed over in past drafts.
The Flames didn't draft until round 3 and are relying on second generation NHLers to come through. Max Reinhart is former Flame Paul's son and plays with Kootenay of the WHL. He was a member of Canada's U18 team this year. John Ramage is Rob's son and skated at Wisconsin University this season. Every player the Flames drafted is at least 6.00 feet tall and only Patrick Holland is under 180 pounds.
The Canes took one of my favourite players in the draft when they jumped on Jeff Skinner at 7. The small but stocky centreman with Kitchener scored 50 goals in the regular season and added 20 more in the playoffs. His stride is awkward, but he might have the best shot in the draft. Carolina went with 3 different blueliners after that. Justin Faulk is a offensive rearguard with the US national team, Mark Alt just decided on hockey full time after a great high school football career as a QB, and Danny Biega blew everyone away with his physical testing at the combine. I really like the pick up of Justin Shugg from Windsor in the 4th round. He's one of the most versatile players in the draft. The 'Canes also acquired former Edmonton 1st rounder Riley Nash in a trade that cost them the 46th overall pick.
Drafting Kevin Hayes in the first round makes sense now, after Chicago traded for his brother Jimmy, giving up a 2nd round pick to Toronto. The Hawks made 4 selections in the 2nd round. Ludvig Rensfedt might develop into a power forward, Kent Simpson is a solid netminder with good size and Stephen Johns is a stay at home physical blueliner with the US national team.
I was shocked that Colorado took Joey Hishon with the 17th overall pick, but like the old cliche says, it only takes one team to like you. Hishon does have 121 points in 101 games the past 2 years in Owen Sound, but most had him rated as an early second rounder. Colorado's choice in 2nd round I do like; Calvin Pickard, for most people, was the second best goalie in the draft. The Avs went to Portland twice taking physical d-man Troy Rutkowski and overage winger Luke Walker in the 5th round.
The Blue Jackets dropped the first surprise bomb when they announced Ryan Johansen's name 4th overall. Columbus has long been looking for a centreman to play with Rick Nash and while Johansen might be a few years away, no player improved his stock more during the WHL playoffs then the Portland Winterhawk who had 19 post season points. Columbus went big in later rounds, taking 6.04 inch Brandon Archibald from Sault St. Marie and 6.06 goalie Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault from Halifax. Scott Howsen didn't take a player under 6.01. The only Euro the Jackets selected was 28 goal man Petr Straka who's from the Czech Republic who played in Rimouski this year.
The Stars only had 5 picks and made me look smart, which is rare by making my prediction come true of them drafting goaltender Jack Campbell. All he did was win this year, from the World Juniors to the U18, Campbell was golden for team USA. Patrick Nemeth is a big d-man from Sweden whom Dallas took in round 2.
The Wings snapped up Riley Sheahan with the 21st overall pick. The Canadian who played at Notre Dame is a pretty safe selection. Once he gets away from the defensive minded program at Notre Dame he might be able to add some offence to his game. Detroit went United Nations at the draft taking 3 Canadians, one Swede, one Fin, a Czech and one American.
I like what the Oilers did at the draft. Taylor Hall wouldn't have been my choice but he's still going to be a dynamic star in the NHL. The team beefed up with forward Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton who will both play in the WHL next year. Slovakian d-man Martin Marincin will likely join them when Prince George makes him the first overall pick in the CHL import draft, and when he fills into his 6.04 frame he could be a beast. The Oilers took only one college bound player, in Kellen Jones, with their last pick of the draft. He's off to Quinnipiac University. The also drafted a home grown goalie, selecting Tyler Bunz in the 5th round. He will be teammates with Pitlick in Medicine Hat this year.
The Panthers won the draft in my opinion. Before things began they picked up Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and Vancouver's 1st round pick for Keith Ballard and Viktor Oreskovich. Then they went big and tough with Eric Gudbranson. He plays mean and oozes character. They continued to get bigger with Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner Nick Bjugstad who is bound for the University of Minnesota next year. He's already 6.04. Quinton Howden was their final first round pick, the one they got from the Canucks. Howden has speed to burn and some scouts think he could turn into a Wayne Simmonds/Chris Stewart type player. I'm not a huge fan of John McFarland, but if the Sudbury Wolves star ever becomes a consistent player, he could be a steal in round 2. Alex Petrovic is a solid 2nd round pick who plays a tough, honest game on the blueline. Florida also dipped into the AJHL with goalie Sam Brittain who's off to Denver and Benjamin Gallacher of the Camrose Kodiaks.
LA hosted the draft and traded up to 15 to snag Derek Forbort, in the process leaving 2 locals on the board. Forbort is 6.05 and almost 200 pounds who is a terrific skater. A great all around blueliner who if he gets tougher will be a great pick. Tyler Toffoli is a solid second round pick, and Jordan Weal might be the steal of the draft in the 3rd round, if his size doesn't hold him back. Taking a chance on Maxim Kitsyn in the 6th round could pay off for LA down the road. He has size and skill, but doesn't always bring it every night.
The Wild need skill and get it with Finish forward Mikael Granlund. He didn't have a great World Junior but was lights out at the U18. He has great vision but will need to improve his skating. I love the Jason Zucker pick as one of their 3 second round picks. Zucker has speed to burn, plays hard and tough and can chip in offensively. I believe he becomes the first Nevada born player to be drafted.
The Habs who hosted the draft last year picked up 6.06, 205 pound blueliner Jared Tinordi, who skaters better then his dad Mark did, but plays just as tough. Tinordi is supposed to be NCAA bound, but the London Knights are making a hard push to recruit him. Brendan Galagher, a 5th round pick put up 81 points and 111 PIM with Vancouver this year.
The Predators may have picked up one of the most complete players in the draft by selecting Austin Watson 18th overall. Watson was buried on the depth chart in Windsor but waived his no trade clause and scored 20 points in 10 games with Peterborough. He's big, can kill penalties, check and score, and the Preds likely passed on Beau Bennett because they were surprised Watson was still there. Nashville's 3rd round pick Taylor Aronson showed some nice offence from the blueline in Portland with 30 points and 65 pim in 71 games. Getting Joonas Rask in the 7th round was a nice job, he's the brother of Boston goaltender Tuuka Rask, and scored 10 goals in the Finish Elite League this year.
The Devils didn't have a first round pick and didn't acquire one either. Instead they took Jonathon Merrill 38th overall. Merrill is big and physical, but some off ice issues scared teams away. The unholy went to pipemen twice, taking Plymouth's Scott Wedgewood in the 3rd round and Maxime Clermont was a nice pick up in round 6, the goalie plays in Gatineau.
New York Islanders
I've liked what New York has done in the last few years and their first pick in round one was no exception. No player shot up the rankings more then Nino Niederreiter. The Portland winger from Switzerland was terrific at the World Juniors. Trading up to take Brock Nelson puzzled me, as they gave up 2 second round picks to do it. Nelson is going to UND next year, but one scout told me he's in for a big wake up call as he's not at all ready for the physical play he'll encounter. In round 3, New York took a chance on Kirill Kabanov (right) who has top 5 talent, but a 4th round reputation. If Kabanov matures the Islander will look like geniuses.
New York Rangers
New York beefed up their blueline with the toughest player in the draft, Dylan McIlrath took on all comers this year playing for Moose Jaw. He might have more offence then people think and will shine this year in the WHL. Christian Thomas is the son of former NHLer Steve, and Andrew Yogan gives the Rangers some versatility up front.
The Senators traded their first round pick to St. Louis for 2009 first rounder David Rundblad who will one day join Erik Karlsson on the Sens back end. Wtih their 2nd round pick they grabbed big Czech forward Jakub Culek who looked very good in Rimouski this year. Mark Stone might turn out nice, after being a 6th round pick. In Brandon during the Memorial Cup he was promoted to the top line. He has to become a better skater but has size and a nice set of hands.
The Flyers, like Calgary, didn't pick until round 3 and grabbed Michael Chaput from Lewiston. Getting an almost 30 goal scorer with some grit is pretty good. Their 4th round pick took a giant step forward this year. Ty McGinn went from 8 goals and 22 assists to 27 goals and 62 points with Gatineau this season. Philly, with their last pick, took the nephew of Bill Ranford, Brendan. The winger put up 29 goals and 65 points with Kamloops of the WHL.
Just like Anaheim, Phoenix had to be overjoyed that Brandon Gormley was still available at 13. The best all around defenceman in the draft should be a mainstay on the Coyote blueline for years, and might be able to make the team next year. Phoenix then shocked everyone taking goaltender Mark Visentin with the 27th overall pick. He's big at 6.02 and despite sub par stats the Coyotes obviously like his style. They also took another goaltender Louis Domingue in the 5th round. The Quebec goalie has a chance to represent Canada at this year's World Junior tournament.
The rich get richer with Pittsburgh's selection of BCHL forward Beau Bennett. He needs to bulk up and should do so if the Penguins are patient and let him develop at Denver University. 120 points in any league is hard to ignore. Bryan Rust was their 3rd round pick, he helped the US win a World Junior title, and German forward Tom Kuehnhackl is joining Windor of the OHL next year.
The Sharks didn't draft until late in the first round, but they still snagged a skilled foward. Charlie Coyle has skill, size and character. He's off to Boston University next year. Max Gaede also has size and was their 3rd round pick. He is supposed to play NCAA hockey next year, but might jump to the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings. In the 5th round San Jose chose Freddie Hamilton, who is smart and loaded with athletic ability. Hamilton carried a 99 per cent average through high school and both his parents were Olympians.
The Blues dealt away David Rundbland to grab a 2nd first round pick. AT 14 they grabbed Jaden Schwartz who put up 83 points in the ultra defensive USHL. He's supposed to play at Colorado College next season but might be persuaded by the Blues to play in Tri City of the WHL. With the 16th overall pick, St. Louis took a chance on a highly skilled Russian. Vladamir Tarasenko is smooth, but might be stuck in the KHL for a while. The Blues also grabbed a couple of brothers of past NHL draft picks. Max Gardiner's older brother is defenceman Jake, a Ducks first rounder in 2008, while Cody Beach's older brother is Kyle, a Blackhawks prospect.
Steve Yzerman's first draft as the bolts G.M. saw him taking a chance. Brett Connolly if healthy would have made it a two horse race with Hall and Seguin, but he only played 16 games for Prince George. The 6.02 winger did have 19 points, after a 30 goal 16 year old season. If healthy Connolly (right) will be a star for years to come, but concerns over his hips will have many worried. Tampa was calling Prince George hourly to talk about his hip. In the 3rd round, Tampa selected Brock Beukeboom, the son of former NHLer Jeff. He used to be a forward before moving to the blueline, but some think he might make a good power forward in the NHL.
No matter what Brian Burke says, it must have hurt to watch Boston take Tyler Seguin 2nd overall. But Burke made a nice move trading into the second round to take Brad Ross of the Portland Winterhawks. Ross is considered the best agitator of the draft, but also has some skill with 60 plus points in the WHL this year. Sondre Olden was a shrewd pick in the 3rd round, the big Norwegian could turn into a power forward with soft hands down the road. Greg McKegg in the 3rd round was also a solid pick.
Vancouver didn't draft until round 4, and went back to school with Patrick McNally, a 6.02 defenceman. He notched 34 points in 27 games in the Independant School League for Milton Academy. Mcnally is off to Harvard next year. PEI blueliner Adam Polesak gives Vancouver some grit with 91 PIM in 66 games this year. Their last pick, Sawyer Hannay doesn't provide offence from the blueline but is 6.04 and 190 pounds. Despite having Cory Scheider and Roberto Luongo, Vancouver still took a goalie with their 6th round pick, Jonathan Iilahti from Finland.
When we did our mock draft, we were criticized for predicting Washington would take a Russian. Turns out they took two, with their first 2 picks. Evgeny Kuznetsov was thought to be staying in the KHL, but Alex Ovechkin might be able to convince him to come to North America. Stanislav Galiev is already here, and played in St. John of the QMJHL last year where he didn't score a lot, but competed every night. Washington also took goaltender Phillip Grubauer who led Windsor to a Memorial Cup this year.
(Photos: All photos credit to Harry How/Getty Images)