The scouting verdicts are in on the top 18-year-old hockey players in the world, teams have interviewed the teens in whom they are most interested, and all that remains now is for the 30 NHL teams to announce the selections that will impact their future.
The annual entry draft will be held in Columbus, Ohio, beginning with the first round Friday night. Here's a talent analysis on some of the players who will be taken early, using the league's Central Scouting Bureau's rankings and beginning with North American skaters:
1. Kyle Turris, C, Burnaby Express: scored 66 goals and assisted on 55 for 121 points in 53 BCHL games . . .league MVP . . . 6-1 and 170 pounds . . . has total skills package and tremendous upside . . . excellent shot, good at getting puck to open man, and also has the grit to battle in front of net for rebounds . . . the bigger the game, the better he plays . . . conscientious defensively . . . can control the flow of a game . . . standout for Canada at 2007 world under-18 tournament . . . nickname is KT . . . moved up from No. 5 in Central Scouting's mid-season rankings with strong second half . . . is enrolling at University of Wisconsin so not readily available.
2. Patrick Kane, RW, London Knights: led all major junior point-getters with 62 goals and 83 assists for 145 points in 58 OHL games . . . smallest of the top prospects at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds . . . excellent puck and stickhandling skills, good speed and shot, all of which make him one of the most offensively gifted players in the draft . . . scored five goals for U.S. team at 2007 world junior tournament . . . only knock against him is that he doesn't always pay attention to defensive responsibilities . . . the independent International Scouting Services had him No. 1 in its May report . . . Chicago picks first and many predict Kane will be their man . . . teammates call him Kaner.
3. James vanRiemsdyk, LW, USA Under-18: led team with 33-30 in 43 games . . . this imposing power forward is 6-3 and 200 pounds and strong on the puck . . . long reach and soft hands . . . good skater with quick acceleration . . . pro-level shot . . . great ability to find open teammates . . . impressive work ethic . . . star on U.S. world junior team . . . nicknamed Reemer . . . Intends to play at University of New Hampshire this autumn so not readily available . . . If Chicago takes Kane and Philadelphia follows by taking Turris, expect vanRiemsdyk to go third to Phoenix.
4. Keaton Ellerby, D, Kamloops Blazers: two goals and 23 assists in 69 WHL games . . . rugged, as his 120 penalty minutes attest . . . 6-4 and 194-pound size will appeal to a lot of teams . . . won hardest shot competition at major junior Top Prospects Game . . . exceptional skater . . . handles puck well . . . nickname is Els . . . cousin of Phoenix captain. . . Blue Jackets, picking seventh, interested if he's still available.
5. Karl Alzner, D, Calgary Hitmen: 8-39 in 63 WHL games . . . 6-2 and 209 pounds . . . composed and smart . . . stay-at-home D . . . makes difficult plays look easy . . . power-play quarterback with strong shot from point . . . helped Canada win world junior gold last January . . . scouts would like to see him rush with the puck more and to throw his body around more often but agree he's got the talent to go in the top five . . . teammates call him Al . . . Washington picks fifth and needs defence prospects.
6. Sam Gagner, C, London Knights: 35 goals and 83 assists in 53 OHL games . . . 5-11, 190 pounds . . . good skater with impressive acceleration . . . keen anticipation of plays developing makes him an exceptional set-up man . . . youngest player on victorious Canadian world junior team . . . can be suspect defensively at times but one of those players that can rise to any occasion . . . son of former NHL forward Dave Gagner . . . nickname is Gons . . . could be going to Oilers, who have sixth pick.
7. Jakub Voracek, RW, Halifax Mooseheads: 23-63 for 86 points in 59 games made him top QMJHL offensive rookie . . . 6-2, 188 pounds . . . strength allows him to hold off checkers . . . good stickhandler . . . outstanding playmaker . . . battles hard for loose pucks . . . wore Czech colours at world junior tourney . . . sometimes makes risky plays resulting in turnovers . . . Central Scouting had him 15th in mid-season evaluation so Voraz, as his teammates call him, is steadily improving . . . Boston bound?
8. Angelo Esposito, C, Quebec Remparts: 27-52 in 60 QMJHL games . . . 6-1, 180 pounds . . . tons of natural ability . . . speedy and always dangerous in the offensive zone . . . too often avoids traffic in declining to battle for puck, which led to falling ranking as season progressed . . . competitiveness questionable to succeed at highest level . . . fell from No. 1 in mid-term Central Scouting rankings . . . Espo didn't make Canada's world junior team . . . could become Hab or Oiler.
9. Zach Hamill, C, Everett Silvertips: WHL's top scorer with 93 points (32-61) . . . 5-11, 188 pounds . . . nifty stickhandler who is dangerous offensively and strong defensively . . .can thread a pass better than most . . . good on special teams . . . zoomed up rankings with solid finish to season . . . good skater with knack of being in right place at right time . . nickname is Hams . . . Rangers looking hard.
10. David Perron, LW, Lewiston Maineiacs: 39-44 for 83 points in 70 QMJHL games . . . 5-11, 180 and so slick he's hard to hit . . . went through 2006 NHL draft without being selected while playing Jr. A but a sure first-rounder this time after vast improvement in major junior. . . speedy with good shot and good stickhandler . . . lax at times defensively . . . they call him Perry.
11. Ryan McDonough, D, Cretin-Derham High: 10-23 in 23 high school games . . . 6-1, 200-pound offensive D . . . named top high school player in Minnesota . . . strong along boards . . . good shot from point . . . bound for University of Wisconsin . . . other scouting services don't have him ranked nearly this high.
12. Tommy Cross, D, Westminster High: 8-12 for Connecticut high school team . . . 6-3, 195-pound stay-at-home D . . . strong . . . powerful skater . . . handles puck well . . . September birthdate makes him one of youngest teens available . . . has committed to Boston College for 2008.
13. Stefan Legein, RW, Mississauga IceDogs: 43 goals and 32 assists for 75 OHL points, and 115 penalty minutes . . . 5-10, 170 pounds . . . gritty, in-your-face style - an agitator a la Darcy Tucker . . . needs to improve his shot . . . ISS ranked him 133rd among North American skaters in its May report but Central Scouting was impressed.
14. Brett MacLean, LW, Oshawa Generals: made vast improvement this season with 47 goals and 53 assists . . . 6-1, 200 pounds . . . mucks in corners . . . good stickhandler with good shot . . . team player . . . not the best of skaters . . . type of character guy who has will to succeed at pro level . . . jumped up from No. 40 in mid-season rankings . . . good chance he'll go higher than this, perhaps ninth to Blues or 10th to Panthers.
15. Dana Tyrell, F, Prince George Cougars: 30-26 for 56 regular-season points in WHL . . . 5-11, 189 pounds . . . good speed . . . solid at both ends . . . exceptional work ethic with leadership traits . . . an unheralded nugget who jumped from No. 42 in the mid-season report.
1. Alexei Cherepanov, RW, Avangard Omsk: dynamic attacker . . . turned pro at 17 and set Russian elite league record for goals by a rookie with 18, surpassing Pavel Bure's record of 17 in 1988-89 with Red Army . . . six-foot, 183 pounder . . . named top forward at 2007 world junior tournament . . . great skater with rapid acceleration and good passer . . . will battle for loose pucks . . . nicknamed The Siberian Express . . . has two years left on his contract with Omsk . . . if he doesn't go third to Phoenix, he could go fourth to Los Angeles.
2. Mikael Backlund, C, Vasteras, Sweden: leading goal scorer (7) at world under-18 tournament . . . six-foot, 194 pounds . . . exceptional skater and good puckhandler . . . .good passer who can anticipate plays . . . effective forechecker . . . knee injury hampered his season . . . could go anywhere from 10th to 25th.
3. Lars Eller, F, Frolunda Jr., Sweden: 6-1 and 183 Danish forward has drawn a lot of interest despite lack of exposure to top-level competition . . . 19-40 in 41 games . . . fast, good puck skills and good shot . . . has to be stronger on the boards.
4. Maxim Mayorov, RW, Leninogorsk, Russia Div. 1: overshadowed by Cherepanov in Russia, the 6-2, 187-pound Mayorov opened a lot of eyes at the world Jr. A challenge in Yorkton, Sask., last autumn . . . top-flight skating and puck skills and good shot . . . big and hard to dislodge from puck . . . but scored only seven goals in 33 games . . . destined to play for Ak Bars in top Russian league next season . . . ISS has him No. 8 overall.
5. Joakim Andersson, C, Frolunda Jr., Sweden: 20-26 in 41 games . . . 6-2, 198-pounder is a rugged, two-way power forward strong at both ends of the ice . . . strong on faceoffs . . . physical play creates space for linemates . . . seen as best all-around European forward in draft . . . Senators are eager.
1. Jeremy Smith, Plymouth, OHL: major-junior rookie had a 2.59 GAA, which was second-best in league, and a .923 save percentage . . . lost only one of last 18 starts during regular season . . . six-foot, 160 pounds . . . covers bottom of net well with butterfly style . . . cuts good angles . . . handles puck well.
2. Trevor Cann, Peterborough, OHL: 3.69 GAA and .909 save percentage . . . 5-11, 200 pounds . . . Canada's starting goalie at world under-18 tournament . . . butterfly goalie who limits rebounds . . . doesn't lack confidence . . . needs to be more consistent.
3. Antoine Lafleur, P.E.I., QMJHL: .297 GAA was fourth-best in the Q, and he had a .909 save percentage . . . 6-4 and 188 pounds makes him a formidable obstacle . . . another butterfly goalie . . . plays angles well . . . limits rebounds . . . needs to improve lateral movement.
1. Joel Gistedt, Frolunda Jr., Sweden: 2.58 GAA and .897 save percentage . . . was on Sweden's world junior team . . . 5-11 and 174 pounds . . . another butterfly goalie . . . quick glove . . . good anticipation of developing plays.
2. Mark Owuya, Djurgarden Jr., Sweden: 1.83 GAA and .918 save percentage . . . 6-2 and 192 pounds . . . yet another butterfly specialist . . . plays angles well and has quick reflexes . . . flopper in the crease . . . Sweden's starting goalie at world under-18 tournament.
3. Marek Benda, Karlovy Vary Jr., Czech Republic: 1.94 GAA and .941 save percentage . . . butterfly . . . controls rebounds and quick to cover puck . . . determined and competitive . . . Czech netminder at world under-18.