|Drew Doughty is the highest-rated defenseman for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
The Guelph Storm star and World Junior standout is the highest-rated defenseman for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, but there is a glut of talented blueliners behind him that are working hard to try to take that honor away from him.
“I really try not to think about it too much, but I always have it in the back of my mind,” Doughty said. “Everyone is trying to get their draft stock higher and they know that all of those defensemen are very talented. I’ve always got to be playing my best and it’s just pushing me to play hard every night. I just really need to play my heart out and play my best.”
Doughty is one of 40 players who will play in the Home Hardware CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game Wednesday night (9 p.m. ET) at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
It is the CHL’s annual match-up of the 40 top players eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa in June. The rosters are selected by the 30 NHL general managers, along with NHL Central Scouting and the game has become one of the most anticipated dates on the scouting calendar.
“We’re proud of the fact that a guy like Sam Gagner is playing for the Edmonton Oilers and getting an average of over 14 minutes a game and just last year he was a member of that Top Prospects Game,” said E.J. McGuire, Director of Central Scouting for the NHL.
“Not to put any pressure on any of the kids that are there that they have to appear in an NHL uniform next year, but I would predict that they are going to appear – all of them – in an NHL uniform at some point in the very near future.”
Steven Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting was the top rated North American player in the Central Scouting mid-term rankings that were released two weeks ago. He is the consensus No. 1 pick ahead of a group of defensemen that occupy six of the next seven spots.
Doughty is ranked second while Zach Bogosian of the Peterborough Petes is rated third, Alex Pietrangelo of the Niagara IceDogs is rated fifth, Kelowna Rockets’ teammates Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn are rated sixth and seventh, respectively and Colby Robak of the Brandon Wheat Kings is rated eighth. Kyle Beach of the Everett Silvertips was rated fourth and is the only other forward in the top eight.
“It’s certainly deep,” McGuire said. “In my five-year tenure with Central Scouting, it may be the deepest. I think all of these kids will get at least a shot at the NHL. These are the future stars of our League and they are going to carry our banner going forward into 2010 and beyond.”
Doughty said that despite their competition on the ice, the Top Prospects Game is a great opportunity for the players to get to know some of the other draft-eligible players.
“It’s been kind of cool to meet all the guys that I will be at the draft with and the combine with,” Doughty said. “It’s been a great experience. It’s a good thing for the scouts and it’s a good thing for the players as well. I think it will push everyone to be better because they can see who’s chasing them and who’s behind them in the draft. I think it’s a really good thing to play in this game.”
Pietrangelo said that being in Edmonton this week has been a great experience so far.
“It’s been tremendous,” said Pietrangelo, a 6-foot-3, 211-pounder with great mobility. “It’s been good to get to know some of the guys and hang around here. It’s kind of an eye-opener to see all of the talent that is here this week. It’s always good to meet people that you can relate to. There are a lot of smiles in the room right now.”
Pietrangelo said that it has been fun being part of one of the deepest defensive groups since 1995 when Bryan Berard, Wade Redden and Aki Berg were the top three picks. Blueliners Kyle McLaren, Jay McKee and Denis Gauthier were also first-round picks that year.
“It’s an honor to be with the guys here,” said Pietrangelo, who was named to the Ontario Hockey League’s all-rookie team last year. “They are all great players. Any team that gets one of the top D is going to get a great player. It’s cool this week to get to hang with some of those guys and see what they are going through along with myself.”
Robak was one of the biggest surprises in the mid-term rankings. His stock improved dramatically from the beginning of the season and he’s looking forward to the opportunity to play with and against the other top prospects from around the CHL.
“Of course it’s a big competition with all of the top defencemen around the CHL,” Robak said. “They are all looking to get drafted like me. It’s a good year for defensemen and it’s going to be a good competition. It’s a great honor for me to be selected to play in this game. I’m just going to have to bring everything.”
Schenn joined Doughty and Stamkos on Canada’s gold-medal winning national junior team and is looking forward to playing under Edmonton Oilers’ greats Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson, who are the Team White coaches. Team Red is guided by Calgary Flames’ greats Lanny McDonald and Mike Vernon.
“They have a ton of experience and are obviously very well-respected in the hockey business,” Schenn said. “It’s cool for us to have them as coaches and we look up to them for sure. They’ve been around and have had so much experience.”
For Doughty, he plans to stick to his own game and not worry about who may be trying to take away his claim as the top guy in a deep class of defensemen.
“I know the game is going to be really tough,” Doughty said. “Everyone is going to be playing their hearts out. Everyone wants to get their draft stock higher. Everyone’s going to be playing a tough game and I think it’s going to be a good one to watch.”