|Steven Stamkos is almost a given to be the first overall pick, by Tampa Bay, in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
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While it's almost a given that the Tampa Bay Lightning will select Sarnia Sting star forward Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, almost nothing is known beyond that.
All of which should make this Friday night (Preview Show, 6 p.m. ET, NHL Network, NHL.com; First-round coverage (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, NHL Radio) and Saturday (10 a.m. ET, NHL Network, NHL.com) in Ottawa two of the most intriguing hockey days of the year.
Most of the draft debate surrounds where -- and in what order -- the five defensemen that follow Stamkos on NHL Central Scouting's list of the top North American skaters --Peterborough's Zach Bogosian, Guelph's Drew Doughty, Kelowna teammates Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn and Niagara's Alex Pietrangelo -- will be chosen.
All could be selected in the first 10 picks, and more than half of the first round could consist of defensemen.
"I've never seen that many defensemen in the first round of a draft," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said.
Bogosian, Doughty and Pietrangelo all are highly skilled offensive defensemen. With 61 points in 60 games, Bogosian was the only defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League to lead his team in scoring. Pietrangelo had 53 points and was a plus-29, while Doughty had 13 goals and 50 points.
Myers and Schenn are considered more defensive-minded blueliners, but also chipped in offensively. Myers is 6-foot-7 and many have compared him to Boston's Zdeno Chara at the same age, but Myers is considered a far stronger skater than Chara at the same point in their careers. Myers also chipped in with 19 points in 65 games. At 6-foot-2 and 216 points, Schenn is a physical, nasty force in his own end, but he also had seven goals and 28 points and played on the gold medal-winning Team Canada squad at the World Junior Championship.
As good as the group of blueliners is, though, it's almost a lock none of them will overtake Stamkos for the top pick. The 6-foot, 176-pound center led the Sting with 105 points and was second in the OHL with 58 goals, including 23 on the power play.
Without making any formal announcement, the Lightning tipped their hand weeks ago when they built a Web site centered on Stamkos coming to Tampa Bay — SeenStamkos.com.
"Certainly the new ownership has made it clear to us that they really like him," Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster said. "I think they're excited to have a player of that caliber be the first pick on their watch. From that standpoint, it's probably not the best-kept secret around which way we're leaning."
Intriguing Russian Nikita Filatov also could be among the top players selected. Filatov is the top-ranked European skater, according to Central Scouting. The lack of a formal transfer agreement between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation, which governs European hockey, muddies his draft status. But Filatov is unsigned for next season and has said he wants to play somewhere in North America in 2008-09.
Besides Filatov, the number of Europeans that will be selected in top rounds of the draft remains unclear.
There also could be two or three North American goaltenders selected in first round, led by Guelph's Thomas McCollum, Central Scouting's top-rated netminder, and the Tri-City Americans' Chet Pickard, the Canadian Hockey League Goalie of the Year.
Swedish netminder Jacob Markstrom and Finnish goalie Harri Sateri, the top-rated European goaltenders, also are first-round candidates.
Other top forwards include the Everett's Kyle Beach, Lethbridge's Zach Boychuk, Brampton's Cody Hodgson, Kitchener's Mikkel Boedker and Boston University's Colin Wilson.
After the top-rated group of defenseman, there is another group that also has lots of pro potential, including Lethbridge's Luca Sbisa, Brandon's Colby Robak, Oshawa's Michael Del Zotto, London's John Carlson, who played this past season with Indiana in the United States Hockey League, Regina's Colten Teubert and Ottawa's Tyler Cuma.
NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire believes that because of the great amount of talent available, there might not be as many trades as in recent years.
"There is no cliff where the talent falls off in that first round," he said. "Often, in certain years, talent falls off noticeably, or talent falls off after eight, so you have to trade up to get to that upper plateau, or if you're picking ninth there's a perceived drop … but I don't see any rifts.
"It'll be fraught with a trade or two, but I don't think as many and I don't think as many drastic ones because teams know they'll get a player at No. 8 that's just as good as the player at 22."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.