Monday, June 27, 2011

2011 Draft Reaction

210 players were chosen by 30 NHL teams in Minnesota as the 2011 edition of the entry draft was held over the weekend. The CHL was dominant with 101 Major Junior players being scooped up, that's 48% of the entire Class of 2011. Nearly half of the CHL group came from the OHL, 46 players to be exact, while the WHL came next with 33 and the QMJHL rounded it out with 22.

By comparison, the USHL produced 28 draft picks and the college route showed decently with 61 players who are either already attending a NCAA program or have a commitment to do so. That group would include guys out of the BCHL, AJHL and the assortment of high school players based mostly in he United States.

Did you notice that there were as many goaltenders from Norway drafted as there were from WHL teams?

As always, media will try and assess labels of "winners" and "losers" to teams based on their picks and their perceived value. I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to look briefly at what teams did and maybe spotlight one or two picks that club made that stood out to me for one reason or another.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks made seven selections and three of them landed them Swedes including their first pick of the event, Rickard Rackell of the Plymouth Whalers who they grabbed with the last turn in the first round.

John Gibson is the player that stands out to me here. He was the second goalie chosen in the draft going immediately following Nashville's acquisition of Magnus Hellberg in the 2nd round. (That fact eluded analysts on the NHL Network and some media folks on Twitter too). Gibson was ranked as the top goalie in North America and had a tremendous U18 for the gold medal winning American entry. He's scheduled to go to Michigan but I still have a nagging feeling that he ends up with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. We'll see.

Boston Bruins

I think that the Beantowners came away with a couple of players that they legitimately didn't expect to still be available when their turn came around again to pick. The opportunity to grab Dougie Hamilton, a guy who logged 30-40 minutes of ice time in the playoffs (according to teammate Ryan Strome) and has NHL size already... that must have been a pleasant surprise. Factor in that he's mobile, can chip in offensively and that he just raised the average intelligence level of the organization by himself (CHL scholastic player of the year) and you know Hamilton and Boston are a great match.

Buffalo Sabres

I really admire what the Sabres were able to come away with from the draft and if I were going to try and proclaim winners and loser, Buffalo would definitely fall into the former category.

We talked about it a lot on The Pipeline Show and we finally got the answer to our question "will someone take Nathan Liuewen this year and if so, who and when?" Buffalo did it in the 6th round and now the 6'5 goalie joins Kootenay Ice teammate Brayden McNabb in the same NHL organization.

Calgary Flames

I thought that the Southern Alberta franchise did exactly what they needed to do in the early portions of the draft; go for skill. I expected that they'd take beef and braun from the WHL but the addition of Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winterhawks was an excellent one. It will probably overshadow the other Portland player picked up, Tyler Wotherspoon, but the blueliner was also a solid choice for Calgary.

Obviously being based in Edmonton, Laurent Brossoit's selection stood out and I found it interesting that a year after the Flames invited Oil Kings goalie Cam Lanigan to their summer prospect camp that they'd return to Edmonton for another goalie. He's still a work in progress but he's loaded with potential, an excellent choice in the 6th round for Calgary.

Carolina Hurricanes

Ryan Murphy fell out of the top 10 and right into their lap and I can't help but wonder how big of a surprise that actually was for the 'Canes. They get an excellent offensive defenceman there and then grab Keegan Lowe a couple of rounds later. The Oil Kings blueliner asked his father Kevin Lowe and the Oilers not to draft him and now he goes to the franchise that downed Edmonton in 7 games of the 2006 Stanley Cup final.

It's almost become a running joke to some but tradition to others; Carolina filled their annual quota of Plymouth Whalers, who are also owned by Peter Karmanos, when they chose goalie Matt Mahalak in the 6th round.

Chicago Blackhawks

11 picks for Chicago over the weekend and they also parted ways with Brian Campbell in the process. The Blackhawks took the only player that went from the AJHL, defenceman Sam Jardine of Camrose who is headed to Ohio State. They also grabbed Prince Albert power forward Mark McNeill with their first pick of the event.

The guy that sticks out to me is Brandon Saad. Once touted as deserving a top-10 ranking, Saad's stock dropped even though he had a point per game this year in Saginaw. If he rebounds and produces as expected, this could turn out to be thievery at 43rd overall.

Colorado Avalanche

With two picks in the top 11 I'm sure life is good these days for Joe Sakic and company. Certainly adding both Gabriel Landeskog and Duncan Siemens were as positive as they were predictable. Last year Colorado caught everyone off guard when they drafted Joey Hishon but this time around few were shocked when they added a Swedish power forward and the defensive partner of their top blueline prospect.

Columbus Blue Jackets

You can argue against the trading away of the #8 pick and Jakub Voracek for Jeff Carter, especially considering the former Flyer is apparently pretty unhappy with the swap, but they did accomplish some positives with their picks. How about Seth Ambroz falling all the way to the 5th round before Columbus pulled the mercy chute and ended his suffering?

They cut ties with former 6th overall pick Nikita Filatov in exchange for the 66th pick from Ottawa. With that option they grabbed a highly skilled but pint-sized forward named T.J. Tynan who had an excellent freshman season at Notre Dame last year. He helped lead the Fighting Irish to the Frozen Four and I wonder if the fact that he's got a NCAA year already under his belt made him more attractive.

Dallas Stars

Size, size and more size. Clearly that was on the agenda for Dallas this weekend as not one of their six choices measures below the 6' line and defenceman Jamie Oleksiak breaking scales everywhere at 6'7 and 245 lbs. I was told by more than one scout leading up this weekend that Sarnia's Brett Ritchie was an unmitigated steal if he was still available in the 2nd round. He missed time due to injury but when he played he was producing at nearly a point per game pace; 20 goals and 41 points in 49 games this year in the OHL. He also played for Canada at both the Ivan Hlinka and the World U18s.

Detroit Red Wings

It's become a stereotype to expect Detroit to draft heavily from Europe but this year that came true; 6 of 9 players taken by the Wings were born in Europe. We were told by several scouts leading up to the draft that if Ryan Sproul was still available in the second round, he might be the sleeper of the entire event. Detroit was able to grab the Soo Greyhounds defenceman in the 55th overall spot, right before the end of round 2. The big blueliner has developed rapidly over the last 12 months and if that continues then Sproul really could become what was suggested to us.

Edmonton Oilers

Nine picks and the rebuild has taken another significant step forward. Obviously Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a major piece of the puzzle moving forward and Oscar Klefbom has size and skill to inject into the organization in a couple of years. The selection of David Musil didn't get a great response from fans in the online community and wouldn't have been my choice there either but I can tell you that mid-way through the season the Oilers considered him to be the top blueliner available this year from the WHL. Travis Ewanyk is now the second player to have blogged with us all year to then be selected by the Oilers, Jordan Eberle was the first.

Some will write off the drafting of Dillon Simpson as some kind of nepotism but in the fourth round, that's a solid pick. The youngest player in NCAA hockey this past season, he didn't play every night and didn't get a ton of ice time when he did dress. However, keeping in mind that he's playing against guys 4 or 5 years older than him and you start to appreciate exactly how impressive his already being at North Dakota is. He can play 3 years of NCAA hockey and turn pro as a 20-year-old, and that's a rarity. On a side note, his brother Riley is property of the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Speaking of the Oil Kings... might they select 5th round pick Martin Gernat in the upcoming CHL import draft? Today they have moved Marek Hrbas to Kamloops so they have the room...

Florida Panthers

Another club deep into their rebuild, the Panthers added 10 players to the organization including some impressive offensive guys. Jonathan Huberdeau becomes their top offensive prospect but based just on skill level, Rocco Grimaldi is the guy to watch for. He's headed to North Dakota and will get minutes there as the Sioux are in a reloading phase as well. Yes Grimaldi's size makes him somewhat of a longshot but no one questions his effort or his skills, the latter of which were top-10 caliber.

Los Angeles Kings

For a team already deep in goalie prospects it was a surprise to see the Kings select Chicoutimi's Christopher Gibson. Clearly this was a case of best player available and that guys like Jeff Zatkoff, J.F. Berube, Martin Jones and maybe even Jonathan Bernier now have even more competition for long term duty in the organization.

L.A. also selected a pair of players from the WCHA conference in the NCAA - Drew Shore from Denver and Wisconsin Badger Michael Mersch. Both are forwards with size and good two-way ability.

Minnesota Wild

The host team of the draft made six selections of their own but arguably added their best prospect of the weekend via trade. Charlie Coyle joins the organization from San Jose along with the pick that became Zack Phillips and NHL winger Devin Setoguchi. Coyle, a 26-point freshman at Boston University, was a first rounder in 2010 and played for USA at the WJC in Buffalo.

One of the biggest reactions from the crowd on day 2 came when the Wild selected local high schooler Mario Lucia. Lucia isn't expected to attended the University of Minnesota where his dad is head coach and his brothers played but instead told us that Notre Dame was a finalist in his decision.

Montréal Canadiens

Most teams will suggest that they didn't expect that the player they drafted would still be available for them but in the case of Nathan Beaulieu I think that is actually true. He was the 5th ranked North American player by Central Scouting and yet did slip to Montréal who were picking 17th. After a second strong year with Memorial Cup winning Saint John it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that he could have been a top-1o pick. The Habs had other options but it's hard to argue that they had better ones.

Nashville Predators

I'm not sure what this means for Chet Pickard, maybe nothing, but the 2008 1st round pick has more competition for the goalie-of-the-future tag. The Predators have had success with monstrous goalies from Europe so the addition of 6'5 Magnus Hellberg fits their history which includes Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback.

30-goal man Josh Shalla of the Saginaw Spirit is an interesting player with size and obviously a nose for the net who Nashville was able to pick up in the 4th round.

New Jersey Devils

New Jersey acquired the best defenceman in the draft in Adam Larsson but it's the guy they grabbed much later that I'm going to talk about. There were some who we spoke with who didn't think that Reece Scarlett would still be around after the 2nd round let alone still up for grabs in the 6th where the Devils latched on to him. The Swift Current Bronco managed 24 points this past season and played well enough to earn an invite to the U18s with Canada. I wondered if Scarlett was worn out by the end of the year as he played a ton in Swift and a contact in the Saskatchewan town felt I might have been right. That said, this could be great value for the Devils getting a good prospect this late in the draft.

New York Islanders

It would be hard to argue that the Islanders didn't have a good weekend and in fact, that the team has drafted pretty well over the last several years. This time around the Isles added a really skilled center in Ryan Strome and a bunch of beef for the back end in Scott Mayfield and Lithuanian Andre Pedan. I like the late acquisition of overage defenceman Brenden Kichton of the Spokane Chiefs was overlooked in 2010 and replied with the most points in the WHL by a rearguard (81). John Persson was another overage selection as the 6'2 Red Deer Rebel import had a forgettable year in 2010 but scored 33 times playing alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

New York Rangers

I was panned on some message boards for even suggesting in my mock that the Rangers would consider a defenceman with their first pick and sure enough, the fans were right. New York took forwards with each of their first four selections including personal favorite J.T. Miller 15th overall.

A pair of WHL middlemen interest me from the Rangers draft harvest. Michael St. Croix was the third Oil King to be picked and we spoke with him on Saturday just moments after it happened. Shane McColgan of the Kelowna Rockets is a much better player than where he was ranked and drafted, I think it's quite possible that he and St. Croix both finish top 20 in league scoring next year.

Ottawa Senators

Another club that had a very successful weekend were the Ottawa Senators. With three picks in the first round the Sens added offensive punch; Mika Zibanejad, Stefan Noesen and Matt Puempel. Include Ottawa 67s forward Shane Prince into the mix and it's an overall injection of scoring for the rebuilding Sens.

Let's not forget that Ottawa also acquired Russian Nikita Filatov from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Here's a guy who was the 6th overall pick just 3 years ago. For one reason or another, and depending on who you ask, it didn't work out for him in Columbus. That said, if he and the Sens can make it work in Ottawa then this would be a turning point for the franchise. If t doesn't go that way, it only cost Ottawa a 3rd round pick, that's a gamble most teams would be willing to take any day of the week.

Philadelphia Flyers

What a weekend for the organization. A major facelift for the Flyers that saw them move two fan favorites in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards initially got mixed reviews. That was made worse with a potentially horrendous signing of Ilya Bryzgalov. But the return for the vets was significant including Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and a pick that turned out to be Sean Couturier.

German Marcel Noebels had a solid year in Seattle with the Thunderbirds. He came over to showcase himself after not getting drafted last year and made the most of it. 54 points in 66 games including 28 goals - not bad for a late 4th round pick up.

Phoenix Coyotes

The Desert Dogs got bigger this year too with all 8 players measuring in over the 6' mark. Saturday's in-studio guest was Rick Jackson from NHL Central Scouting and a couple of his personal favorites were snapped up by Phoenix in this draft. Kale Kessy is a power forward of the Medicine Hat Tigers and Harrison Ruopp is a big blueliner from Prince Albert. Overaged Darian Dziurzynski was a surprise pick in the 5th round but he did score 35 goals for the Saskatoon Blades this past season.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens only made five selections this year but most feel their choice in the first round will be an excellent one for them in the long run. Joe Morrow of the Portland Winterhawks is an excellent skater and puck mover who had 40 assists this past year as he started the high powered Portland attack from his own end. Morrow will take part in Hockey Canada's development camp this summer, their August U20 sessions with the 2012 World Junior Championship in mind. So will Scott Harrington, another defender that Pittsburgh added in the second round of this draft.

San Jose Sharks

I didn't like the way the draft began for San Jose with the trade to get Brent Burns which cost them three assets including Charlie Coyle. However, getting Matt Nieto was a typical San Jose move - a skilled collegiate forward. ironically, Nieto and Coyle are teammates at Boston University.

Another NCAA bound forward that caught our attention this year was Sean Kuraly. He's headed to join the Miami RedHawks and impressed us with how well spoken and mature he was. He didn't get picked by Columbus like his was hoping for but I'm sure San Jose is now his favorite NHL team.

St. Louis Blues

For a team that didn't have a first round pick the Blues definitely made out like bandits with their haul this year. Not only did they manage to grab 79-point man Ty Rattie of the Portland Winterhawks but Moose Jaw defenceman Joel Edmundson as well; and both in the second round. Another organization that has a glut of goaltending depth already, the Blues decided to add to the pile snapping up Owen Sound's Jordan Binnington, who won us over with his Memorial Cup play and appearance on TPS.

Tampa Bay Lighting

Will Steve Yzerman's influence combined with the team's location and growing talent pool be enough to convince skilled Russians to stay in or come to North America? That appears to be the bet as the Bolts grabbed three Russians with their first three picks including U18s star Nikita Kucherov.

London Knights forward Vlad Namestnikov is Russian but spent a lot of time in North America. Vyacheslov Kozlov is his uncle and the former Red Wing took his nephew to the rink a lot so Namestnikov grew to idolize some Detroit players... like Steve Yzerman.

Toronto Maple Leafs

No one was surprised when Brian Burke made a deal to move up a bit at the draft, nor with his selection of Tyler Biggs. The power forward plays the way Burke likes and he's headed to Miami to join the RedHawks the program that Brendan Burke was working with at the time of his death.

Stuart Percy
was Toronto's second selection in the first round which seemed early to those only going by two month old rankings but not to listeners of TPS over the last few weeks. The Mississauga St. Mike's Majors defenceman got a lot of time in the spotlight thanks to the OHL playoffs and Memorial Cup. Josh Leivo's name came up to us around February as a potential sleeper pick as the Sudbury Wolves forward started to grab the attention of scouts.

Vancouver Canucks

8 picks for the Canucks and only three were used on North American players, that equals just the number of Swedes added to the organization. Nicklas Jensen, the Oshawa Generals import from Denmark, can look up to Jannik Hansen as a fellow countryman that has made it to the NHL wearing a Canucks jersey.

Vancouver made an interesting choice in the 3rd round selecting David Honzik, a Czech netminder that was outstanding for Victoriaville in the QMJHL playoffs. The speculation has already begun but to me it seems pretty premature to suggest that either Corey Schneider or Eddie Lack is soon to be moved.

Washington Capitals

Speaking of teams further augmenting an organizational position of strength, the Capitals also nabbed a goaltender with their first pick of the draft. Norwegian sleeper Steffen Soberg was lights out for his nation's entry at the U18s but wasn't even ranked by Central Scouting. ISS head scout Ross MacLean revealed to us that he had the diminutive netminder really high on his own list. He might be a long shot, and he'll have to be patient with some big names in line ahead of him, but Soberg might be one to keep an eye on.

Winnipeg Jets

A great weekend for the NHL saw the official return of the Winnipeg Jets. The name is back and we're told the colours and logo will be revealed in short order as well but fans went bananas when Chairman Mark Chipman casually confirmed the 'Jets' name.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff then dropped the first surprise when he announced the name of Mark Scheifele as the 7th overall pick. That's not to suggest that it was a bad choice or the wrong one for the organization, but it certainly caught people by surprise. Most felt there was a pretty set top 8 or 9 and no one I spoke with suggested the Barrie Colts center would crack it.

An interesting pick in the 6th round as well. Back in March I polled scouts for our Pickin' Brains series and asked who the first goalie drafted out of the WHL/Western Canada would be and the name of Jason Kasdorf did come up but in an almost after thought way. The Portage Terrier netminder was in fact the first Western goalie to hear his name taken, ahead of Edmonton's Laurent Brossoit and overage Kootenay goalie Nathan Lieuwen.

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