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Defense the strength of 2008 Draft

by Adam Kimelman

Zach Bogosian of the Ontario Hockey League is one of a handful of talented defenseman who could find himself among the top 10 of Central Scouting's final rankings for the best North American skaters when the list is released in late April.
TORONTO – If defense wins championships, there will be a lot of titles available when the 30 teams convene in Ottawa from June 20-21 for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Central Scouting had its hands full as it sorted through the talented blueliners during the first day of meetings that will determine the final draft rankings for the best North American skaters. Don’t be surprised to see as many as half of the top 30 slots filled by defensemen when the list is released in late April.

Among the multitude of choices are players like Zach Bogosian, Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo from the Ontario Hockey League, and Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn from the Western Hockey League, all of whom could rank in the top 10.

“I’ve never seen that many defensemen in the first round of a draft,” said Chris Edwards, a scout who primarily covers the OHL.

Edwards believes the number of defenseman is something cyclical, like seasons where there has been a preponderance of centers or left wings.

B.J. MacDonald, who scouts Western Canada with a concentration on the WHL, has a different opinion.

“For some reason we’re getting a crop of these guys, they’re all 6-foot-4, they skate really well, they all have good size and they all move the puck really well,” he said. “I don’t know if they all went to the same hockey school. Kids, when they’re at a really young age, the teaching techniques are a little better, they’re going to better hockey schools, getting more ice time, and as a result they’re developing their skills much quicker.”

And for every opinion on why there are so many quality blueliners expected to go so high, there are different thoughts on who are the best of the best.

“I like Myers,” said MacDonald, who ranked him just ahead of Schenn, his Kelowna Rockets teammate. “Out of the Western group, they’re both very good. Schenn and Myers are both very close and very good. … He’s 6-7¼ and he skates like he’s 5-foot-10. The agility and the movement that he has, it’s hard to find. You just don’t find big men at this stage in their lives have the coordination to move that way.”

John Carlson, who plays for the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League, garnered a lot of talk.

“He’s a puzzling kid at times because he has such an easy demeanor,” said Jack Barzee, who has scouted Carlson extensively. “I was wondering if he’s really that cocky. Is he that self-assured or bored? Sometimes he’ll let a guy get away from him and then he’ll catch him. He’s got an unbelievable shot from the point, running the power play, passes the puck, sees the ice. He’s a take-charge guy offensively. He’s always in position and looking for that slot, that hole, to create offense.”

Edwards favored Bogosian, the Peterborough Petes’ point-per-game blueliner.

“He’s a take-charge guy,” said Edwards of Bogosian, who led the Petes with 61 points in 60 games this season. “He goes with the puck, he makes a play every time he’s got the puck. He’s physical, and when he hits you, he hits you.”

While the thought is that it takes a young defenseman more time to develop than a player at another position, Edwards believes Bogosian and the Guelph Storm’s Doughty are best-equipped to make the jump.

“If I was going to bet, I would think Zach Bogosian and Drew Doughty could be the two guys playing in the National Hockey League next year,” said Edwards.

The pressure of being an 18-year-old NHL defenseman, though, might not be the best thing for the players’ future.

“These kids are all pretty good players, but they all need a little different time frame,” said Barzee. “Some need some tough coaching, some need another program, some need a bigger challenge. Some need to get stronger. … But their smarts, their skating ability, their hands, they’re fun to watch play because they’re really talented.”

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