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Deep Draft May Benefit Bolts

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning
Brett Connolly was named the WHL and CHL Rookie of the Year in 2008–09 after becoming the first 16-year-old to score 30 goals in the WHL in 13 years.

Some NHL drafts seem to have a major theme. Some have a special player or two at the top who stamp their names on it forever. Other classes won’t show their strength or weakness until several seasons down the road.

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6th Overall Picks in the Past Decade

  • 2009: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix – Expected to start NHL career in 2010-11
  • 2008: Nikita Filatov, Columbus – Six goals, 21 NHL games
  • 2007: Sam Gagner, Edmonton – 44 goals, 87 assists in 223 games
  • 2006: Derick Brassard, Columbus – 63 points, 127 games
  • 2005: Gilbert Brule, Columbus – 72 points, 222 games
  • 2004: Al Montoya, NY Rangers – Five NHL games
  • 2003: Milan Michalek, San Jose – 248 points, 383 games
  • 2002: Scottie Upshall, Nashville – 138 points, 279 games
  • 2001: Mikko Koivu, Minnesota – 255 points, 362 games
  • 2000: Scott Hartnell, Nashville – 358 points, 679 games

Other Notable 6th Overall Picks

  • 1994: Ryan Smyth, Edmonton - 713  points
  • 1993: Viktor Kozlov, San Jose - 537 points
  • 1992: Cory Stillman, Calgary - 688 points
  • 1991: Peter Forsberg, Philadelphia - 885 points
  • 1986: Vincent Damphouse, Toronto - 1,205 points
  • 1983: John MacLean, New Jersey - 842 points
  • 1982: Phil Housley, Buffalo - 1,232 points
  • 1980: Paul Coffey, Edmonton - 1,531 points

Lightning Draft News

The 2010 NHL Draft, being held in Los Angeles June 25-26, appears to have a little bit of everything.

There are two players who have distinguished themselves above the rest, there are less Europeans prominent at the top of the draft than many other years, injuries make certain players a major gamble and the experts have said the immediate reward from this class is likely lower than last few seasons.

“All of that is part of the drafting mosaic,” said E.J. McGuire, the director of the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. “That’s what makes it a lot of fun, but very difficult.”

The 2008 Draft has produced 13 players who have played at least 40 games in the NHL since, led by Steven Stamkos (141 points) and Drew Doughty (86). Six of 2009 draftees played at least 66 games last season, with four more playing at least one.

A More Immediate Impact

This class may prove to have as much depth, but may be lacking in teenage star power.

“You saw a lot of guys, especially in the top end of the draft the last few years, who were ready to step in right away,” said Jim Hammett, the Lightning’s director of player personnel. “I don’t see the number of guys that potentially have the ability to be impact guys next season. That’s not to say it’s not a good draft. But, overall, this group is going to need a little more time to grow and mature.”

The Lightning own the sixth pick in the draft and five picks between 63 and 118-120, followed by one selection each in the sixth and seventh rounds.

McGuire said there are enough quality players projected in the third and fourth rounds that keeping all those picks would be just as good – maybe better – than packaging a few to move up into the second.
If the Lightning stay put at No. 6, they won’t have a chance to make the difficult choice between Taylor or Tyler.

2010 Draft at the Top

Taylor Hall, 18, is a dynamic left wing who won his second consecutive Memorial Cup MVP award recently in leading Windsor to the title. Hall has 280 points in 183 games the previous three regular seasons for Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League and tremendous playoff runs the last two. Tyler Seguin, 18, is a smooth, smart, pure center who had 48 goals and 58 assists in 63 games for Plymouth this season and was named the OHL’s most outstanding player.

Seguin edged Hall for the top spot in the final Central Scouting Bureau rankings for North American skaters.

“Both of them are going to play a long time and will be stars in the NHL,” McGuire said. “Every vote we took on the two guys went 5-4 and always with a different guy on top. It’s a good thing that we had an odd amount of days [seven] that we met and an odd number of scouts [nine].”

Edmonton has the first pick and Boston, from Toronto, has the second. McGuire said Hall is a bit more flashy, but Seguin is a right-handed centerman – a very valuable commodity.
“Who goes first?” McGuire said. “It might depend on what Edmonton needs the most.”

Beyond Taylor and Tyler

After the top two, the draft becomes a bit harder to predict. Florida, followed by Columbus and the New York Islanders, pick before the Lightning.  Many mock drafts have three defensemen going after the top two.
Erik Gudbranson, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder from Kingston of the OHL is a shutdown defenseman with a mean streak, but also is known as a good passer. Gudbranson missed one third of the season with mononucleosis. McGuire compares his style to Dion Phaneuf and Chris Pronger.

McGuire calls Cam Fowler, a teammate of Hall with Windsor, a power-play specialist at 18. Fowler had 55 points in 55 games for Windsor this season after spending three seasons with the U.S. Under-18 national team. McGuire said Fowler has the ability to play like a young Brian Leetch.

Brandon Gormley helped lead Moncton to the Quebec Junior League Championship and a Memorial Cup appearance, with solid two-way play on defense. McGuire describes Gormley as a good decision maker, who reminds of Shea Weber.

Other top defensemen include rangy Derek Forbort from Minnesota, outstanding skater Mark Pysyk from Edmonton of the Western Hockey League and 6-5, 215-pound monster Dylan McIlrath from Moose Jaw of the WHL, who McGuire said no one wanted to fight this season. Michigan’s Jon Merrill, 6-3, 205 from the U.S. National team program, has also been getting plenty of interest.

The forwards are a tougher read, led by Prince George left wing Brett Connolly. The talented 6-2, 181-pound player, who had 30 goals and 60 points in 2008-09 as a 16-year old, was limited to 16 WHL games this season because of a hip injury. He is a gamble to pick, but could bring a huge reward.

“Our scouts have said, we would be talking about a threesome at the top of the draft if he had been healthy,” McGuire said.

The tests and medical reports at the scouting combine May 24-29 in Toronto were a key for Connolly.

Another forward to watch is 6-2, 205-pound winger Nino Niederrieter, nicknamed “El Nino,” from Switzerland. El Nino scored 36 goals in 65 games and eight in 13 playoff games for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL this season and McGuire said he was outstanding in the World Juniors (six goals and four assists in seven games).

Other top forwards include Niederrieter’s Portland teammate Ryan Johansen, a center, and Kitchener (OHL) center Jeff Skinner. Finnish wing Mikael Granlund of Peterborough (OHL), wing Austin Watson from Ann Arbor, Michigan and Medicine Hat (WHL) center Emerson Etem are also highly regarded.

Niederrieter might be the only European player in the top 10. Last year, seven Swedes went in the first round and 14 in the top 62. The only time in the last 10 years that a European player hasn’t gone in the top 10 is 2005, when Anze Kopitar went 11th and just one year when only one went in the top 10 (Jakub Voracek – 7th in 2007). That’s quite a difference from 2000-2004, when 20 Europeans went in the top 10.

Teams have been hesitant drafting Russians since the KHL began play. Center Alex Burmistrov, who played with Lightning prospect Alex Hutchings at Barrie of the OHL and recorded 65 points in 62 games, and left wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who played in the KHL this season, are the top-rated Russians.

No goalies were picked in the first round last year. Two are likely to be picked in the top 30 this time around.

Jack Campbell has now won the past two Under-18 World Championships and led the U.S. to the World Junior title last winter. He will play at Windsor next season.  Calvin Pickard, whose brother Chet was picked by Nashville in the first round in 2008, from Seattle of the WHL is also likely to go in the first round.

Plenty will change in the next month. The results won’t be known for quite a while.

“We always go in really excited,” said Darryl Plandowski, the Lightning’s head amateur scout. “Every team comes away on Monday morning thinking they did a really good job. Usually, by Christmas the next year we kind of figure who has done a good job and who hasn’t.

“Some years, I have thought it was going to be a real good draft and you look five years back and barely anybody made it.  Then some years you thought it was just an average class and a whole boat load of guys make it. I don’t think there’s the amount of guys that are going to step into the NHL like last year. But there’s depth this year and that’s where having draft picks allow you to at least have a kick at the can.”

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