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2009 Draft Breakdown: Centers

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks
Assuming the Blackhawks keep the 28th overall selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, it's safe to assume that the players who scouts regard as the “top-level prospects,” including John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene, won't end up in the Indian head sweater. So who are the players who could realistically still be there at #28? breaks down two of the Hawks’ biggest organizational needs -- center and defense -- and the players who could fill them, as well as the case for and against their selection by Chicago.

Today's position: Center

Louis Leblanc – Omaha (USHL)
Known as one of the draft’s most intense competitors -- though not to the point of being a discipline problem -- Leblanc has a great combination of size, speed, skill and hockey IQ. The USHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2008-09, Leblanc projects to be a top-six center if he can live up to his potential. The Pointe-Claire, Quebec native was a big part of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning team in the 2008 Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, scoring three goals in seven games.

The case for Leblanc: Leblanc’s tools and on-ice demeanor are very reminiscent of some other recent Hawks’ draft picks, namely Kyle Beach and Akim Aliu. With positive reports from Central Scouting, Red Line Report, International Scouting Service and others, Leblanc would probably be deemed a great value were he to drop all the way to the Blackhawks’ first selection.

The case against: Simply put, a player with Leblanc’s upside probably won’t drop all the way to #28, forcing the Blackhawks to trade up if they truly covet the center. Leblanc’s stock has risen throughout the season, and he is all the way up to #13 among Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters. Also, if GM Dale Tallon is looking for a player who can make an impact sooner rather than later, Leblanc may not be the right fit; he’s already committed to play at Harvard next season, and probably needs more than one year for his body to develop.

Jacob Josefson – Djurgarden (Swedish Elite League)
Josefson is one of the Draft’s top European skaters and a talented scorer, but has been a bit of a mystery in international tournaments. Some scouting services, such as Red Line Report, have dropped the Swedish prospect out of the first round entirely in their year-end rankings. Nonetheless, were Josefson to transfer his play from the Elite League to the NHL, whichever team lands him will get a smooth center who could be a great pivot man on a championship-caliber team.

The case for Josefson: Central Scouting ranked Josefson as the top-rated forward out of Europe this draft, and his pedigree from the Elite League is valuable. If he plays to his potential, Josefson could be the next in a line of Swedish NHL stars.

The case against: Josefson’s performance in international play is disappointing to say the least, and he's been said to “fall asleep for long stretches” in tournaments. Most NHL scouts use international tournaments to rank prospects across leagues, so his underwhelming play might hurt his stock.

Peter Holland – Guelph (OHL)
Holland took huge leaps in the OHL this year, finishing second on Guelph in points (67) and leading the team in goals during the playoffs (4). An outstanding skater with a strong knowledge of the game, Holland was a big contributor on Guelph’s power play, scoring 10 goals with the man advantage, often while playing the point, and participating in the penalty kill unit this season.

The case for Holland: Holland’s brains, skills and size are a tempting package for most NHL GMs. If he builds on his frame, the Caledon, Ontario native could become a solid power forward on a good club.

The case against: The big question surrounding Holland is ‘does he want it enough?’ Holland’s focus was lacking at times during the OHL season, and he hasn’t been quite as aggressive as most coaches would like to see from a budding power forward. Holland’s skills might translate better to the wing at the pro level, which might not be a good fit for the Blackhawks if they are looking for depth up the middle.

Chris Kreider – Phillips Andover (Mass.) High School
Kreider is regarded as the best high school forward in this year’s draft class, and a fantastic natural athlete with most of the tools you could want from an outstanding NHLer. Kreider’s best singular skill might be his skating, and Red Line Report calls him one of the best three skaters at any position in the draft.

The case for Kreider: Though he’s a raw talent, Kreider’s upside is intriguing. A speedster like Kreider would mesh well with the Blackhawks’ dynamic skaters, including Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell. Plus, he's got size to go with his speed, standing 6-2 and 195 pounds.

The case against: Though his talents are clearly exceptional, those who doubt Kreider’s potential look to the level of competition that he’s faced so far; it’s tough to measure his skill level against such a low level of competition. Kreider will need work on the defensive end, both on the ice and in the film room.

Jordan Caron – Rimouski (QMJHL)
While not as flashy as other members of the list, Caron’s biggest asset might be his drive and passion for the game. A big, instinctive forward in the offensive zone, Caron’s got a good combination of soft hands and a hard shot that hints at his offensive upside. The third-year QMJHL player is not afraid to go into the corners for a puck and he never hesitates to camp out in the crease.

The case for Caron: If the Hawks are looking for a player with a different set of skills than what they currently have in their system, Caron might be the guy. At 6’2”, 201 pounds with room to grow, Caron could become a tough, physical presence at the next level. He also fits into the mold of the quality character player that Tallon and his staff covet.

The case against:
Despite his great work ethic and smarts, Caron hasn’t developed the way some scouts had hoped that he would, and he might have maxed out on both his skating and defensive potential. He’ll improve offensively for sure, but some of his other skills might always be what they are now.

Honorable Mentions:

Zach Budish, RW / C Edina (Minn.) H.S.
Carter Ashton, RW
– Lethbridge (WHL)
Jeremy Morin, C
– U.S. Developmental Team
Drew Shore, C
U.S. Developmental Team
Kyle Palmieri, LW / C
U.S. Developmental Team
Carl Klingberg LW – Frolunda (Sweden)

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