2011 NHL Entry Draft
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Two top GMs differ in opinion on draft's evaluation

Tuesday, 06.21.2011 / 3:14 PM / 2011 NHL Entry Draft

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Two top GMs differ in opinion on draft's evaluation
Capitals GM George McPhee and Flyers GM Paul Holmgren are alike in that their teams possess just one pick in the first three rounds of the 2011 Entry Draft, but they have conflicting thoughts on this year's talent base
It's funny how two general managers residing in the same conference and owning just one selection in the opening three rounds of the 2011 Entry Draft can have such a different opinion when it comes to evaluating this year's group of draft-eligible prospects.
In one corner there's Washington Capitals GM George McPhee, who has just one pick (No. 26) in the top 91 choices. In the other is Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, who must wait until the 84th selection before finally announcing a name.
The Caps earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference in 2010-11 but fell in the second round of the playoffs to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now, McPhee will look to unveil another late-round gem as he's done so many times before.
Some of his late hits in the opening round include Marcus Johansson (No. 24, 2009), John Carlson (No. 27, 2008), Semyon Varlamov (No. 23, 2006), Mike Green (No. 29, 2004), and last year Evgeny Kuznetsov (No. 26, 2010), who tied for team lead in scoring with 11 points in seven games as Russia won gold at the 2011 World Junior Championship.

Still, you kind of get the feeling McPhee isn't too concerned over the fact he owns just one pick in the first three rounds of a draft that many consider to be chock-full of future talent.
"I think (the 2011 Draft) lacks the real difference-makers," McPhee said. "I think we were able to look at the last few drafts and say, 'At 25th or 26th, is there a difference maker there?' and I think there were more available. I think there are few in this draft, and I'm hoping one is sitting there when we pick.

"I think (the 2011 Draft) lacks the real difference-makers. I think we were able to look at the last few drafts and say, 'At 25th or 26th, is there a difference maker there?' and I think there were more available. I think there are few in this draft, and I'm hoping one is sitting there when we pick." -- Washington Capitals GM George McPhee

"In our opinion, and from what I'm hearing from the scouts, there were more available in recent drafts and we were fortunate to get three of them in Carlson, Johansson and Kuznetsov."
Holmgren, on the other hand, would welcome the opportunity to gain a pick in the opening two rounds. The fact the Flyers haven't had a pick in the first round since 2008 (Luca Sbisa, No. 19), and Holmgren realizes there comes a point when you need to start building assets from within and Philadelphia's cupboard is far from full.
"We have five picks right now," Holmgren said. "Next year we are missing a couple already. Obviously, we can't continue to do that, especially giving up the higher picks. I think we have made some deals for higher picks that have given us good players that are still of a good age that will be good players for a number of years.
"But looking at this draft, we're certainly open to talking about certain things, but whether anything happens or not, I don't know. Our first pick is at 84 of the third round and there is a chance that we can get a good player there. The fact that we don't have any second-round picks is not an ideal position. We haven't had one for a while, so we are looking around at things right now."
The last time the Flyers selected in the second round of the draft was 2007, when the club chose defenseman Kevin Marshall with the 41st pick.
Among the players NHL Central Scouting had rated in the range where the Flyers would be drafting June 25 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., are defensemen Colin Sullivan of Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut, Patrick Koudys of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Keegan Lowe of the Edmonton Oil Kings. Offensively, there could be several players up for grabs, including the multi-talented Zachary Yuen of the Tri-City Americans, Tobias Rieder of the Kitchener Rangers, Colten St. Clair of the Fargo Force, Markus Granlund of HIFK Jr. in Finland and Victor Rask of Leksand in the Swedish Elite League. Goalie Matt McNeely of the U.S. National Team Development Program also might be available.
"When you get going to (pick number) 17 or 18, you're probably looking at … who knows, you might get the same player at 45 or 50," Holmgren said. "It's just that much of a crap shoot. We're talking about 17- and 18-year-old kids that aren't fully developed and something in their game needs to be improved. You know they're going to get older and you believe they're going to get stronger. Something needs to improve. After the 17th pick, it probably becomes a little more of a gamble."
Even though McPhee has just one pick in the opening three rounds, his team will likely obtain a high-profile performer since it is in the first round.
"There are some guys that we have some interest in and we'll keep working with our staff here to determine what guys might be available," McPhee said. "As usual, we'll take the best player available. In the draft, that's always the plan and we haven't strayed from it very often. We've had a lot of success the last 4-5 years at the draft table, and we expect it to continue."
While the Capitals have certainly been a haven for Russian players and prospects, the club also has pinpointed several other high-profile prospects under McPhee's watch.
"I'd like to think we've had success drafting more than just Russian players … we've done really well in the last few drafts picking up Carlson and Johansson in the first round and players like (Brett) Flemming (No. 145, 2009) and (Cody) Eakin (No. 85, 2009) in the later rounds. We've had good success for a while.
"But we don't hesitate to take Russian players, because they'll come to play in Washington. Last year was a great example … being able to pick up a terrific player late in the first round (Kuznetsov). Many bypass a player because of a report, and that was to our benefit. He's an outstanding prospect and as good as any player selected in that draft, so if we can continue to make our organization better because some teams will pass on those guys, we have to draft them."
There actually is a pair of Russian players who spent the 2010-11 season starring in North America who could be available at No. 26 this year. London Knights center Vladislav Namestnikov is No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft, and Windsor Spitfires forward Alexander Khokhlachev is No. 29.

"Really, though, if you're going to give away picks, this is the year to do it," McPhee said. "I don't have any regrets about that. If something happens and we pick up a pick or two, that's OK, but I'm not that concerned not having picks in this particular draft. There are some drafts that are great drafts and you sure don't want to give away picks in that kind of draft. But this isn't that kind of draft."
Only time will tell.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale