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It's hard to argue with NHL bloodlines

by Larry Wigge

Edmonton's Sam Gagner graduated from sixth-overall pick in the '07 Entry Draft to producing for the Oilers.
Sam Gagner video
There's something to be said for growing up in a hockey environment -- in the dressing room of an NHL team and having the bloodlines of a famous father to help with the right words.

Last year, we saw how quickly Sam Gagner picked up the pace and graduated from junior center and sixth-overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft to productive performer with the Edmonton Oilers after getting some pretty good advice along the way from his dad, Dave, a former NHL center for more than a decade.

Hockey bloodlines, you see, are notoriously accurate in predicting which players you might take a harder look at in the annual draft. This year is no different. For instance:

* Alex Pietrangelo will be the first player picked in this draft who has ties to the game. His dad's second cousin is Frank Pietrangelo, who was a goaltender in the NHL for many years with Pittsburgh and Hartford.

* Colin Wilson is the son of former NHL center Carey Wilson.

* Philip McRae is the son of former NHL winger Basil McRae.

* Maxime Sauve is the son of former NHL winger J.F. Sauve. His uncle Bob Sauve was a pretty fair goaltender in the NHL, as was his cousin Philippe Sauve.

* Anton Gustafsson is the son of former NHL center and current Swedish national team coach Bengt Gustafsson.

* Viktor Tikonov is grandson of former Russian coaching legend Viktor Tikhonov.

* Samuel Groulx is the son of Denis Groulx, who attended a Penguins training camp.

* Brett Theberge is the son of former NHL player Greg Theberge and great grandson of Hall of Famer Dit Clapper.

They come in twos -- Last year, we marveled at how the London (Ontario Hockey League) Knights connection of Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner went first and sixth overall to Chicago and Edmonton, respectively.

This year, we have another pair of teammates that have top-10 potential -- Kelowna defensemen Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers.

Other teammates selected at the top in recent years include: Jack Johnson (third overall) by Carolina and Jack Skille (seventh) to Chicago from USA U-18 in 2005; Jay Bouwmeester (third) by Florida and Joffrey Lupul (seventh) by Anaheim from Medicine Hat in 2002; Alexander Svitov (third) by Tampa Bay and Stanislav Christov (fifth) by Anaheim from Avangard Omsk in Russia in 2001; Rusty Klesla (fourth) by Columbus and Raffi Torres (fifth) by the New York Islanders from Brampton in 2000. In 1999 we had two pairs of teammates in the top 10 of the draft -- Daniel and Henrik Sedin (second and third overall) by Vancouver from MoDo Ornskoldsvik and Pavel Brendl (fourth) by the New York Rangers and Kris Beech (seventh) by Washington from Calgary of the WHL.

Defense, defense, defense -- Scouts have been talking about defensemen Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers as high first-round picks for months. Those same scouts say that there could be as many as 15 defensemen selected in the first round.

The record is 13 defensemen taken in the first round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft in which Chris Phillips and Andrei Zyuzin went 1-2 to Ottawa and San Jose, respectively. More recently, there were 12 defensemen selected in the first round of the 2005 Entry Draft.

The last time 50 percent of more of the players taken in the first round were defensemen was 1987, when 11 of the 21 picks in the opening round in each of those drafts were defensemen.

Ryan Getzlaf was picked during the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Remembering 2003 -- There are those who say that the depth in this draft is as strong as it was in 2003, when Marc-Andre Fleury was first, followed by Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Nikolai Zherdev, Thomas Vanek, Milan Michalek, Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn, Dion Phaneuf, Andrei Kostitsyn and Jeff Carter, who have all made an impact in the NHL already. In what could arguably been considered the strongest draft in NHL history, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Robert Nilsson, Steve Bernier, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves all came from the first round of that draft.

Lightning does strike twice in the same place -- The Tampa Bay Lightning have been pretty good at making the first-overall pick in the NHL draft. This year, they'll get a chance to score a pretty unique hat trick.

In 1992, Tampa Bay selected defenseman Roman Hamrlik No. 1, and in 1998, the Bolts took center Vinny Lecavalier first overall. Both are still playing today.

A Kingly court -- For those who don't buy the theory that picking high can level the playing field, we only have to look at the success that the Pittsburgh Penguins had in getting to the Stanley Cup Final just a few short years after selecting in the top five of the draft for five consecutive years and building a core around defenseman Ryan Whitney (fifth overall in 2002), goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (first in 2003), center Evgeni Malkin (second in 2004), Sidney Crosby (first in 2005) and Jordan Staal (second in 2006).

One could argue that Los Angeles (with the second pick this year) taking defenseman Thomas Hickey (fourth in 2007), goaltender Jonathan Bernier (11th in 2006), Anze Kopitar (11th in 2005) and Dustin Brown (13th in 2003) has them headed on the same Yellow Brick Road as the Penguins in the near future.

Go for the Danish -- Last year, Lars Eller was the highest-selected Danish-born player ever when the St. Louis Blues picked him 13th overall. This year, Brondby, Denmark-born Mikkel Boedker, who plays for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, should go in the top 10 to take that highest-born Dane designation away from Eller.

Multiple ... and none -- The Los Angeles Kings, Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres all have two picks in the first round. San Jose, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Colorado and Florida have no first-round picks.

Russian roulette -- Even though we saw Washington's Alex Ovechkin, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk in the NHL's top five scorers this past season and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk second in goal scoring to Ovechkin and San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov among the league's best goaltenders, there has been a big drop off of high-end Russian players picked in the annual draft since there was a high of 44 Russian picked in 2000, including eight first-round picks -- Nikita Alexeev, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev, Alexei Smirnov, Artem Kryukov, Alexei Mikhnov, Alexander Frolov and Anton Volchenkov.

This year, scouts predict that Central Army right winger Nikita Filatov could perhaps go as high as No. 1 on talent alone. But the fact that only Frolov and Volchenkov haven't really done anything at the NHL level and subsequent Russian players have either had problems with the language, lifestyle and the fact that there is no transfer agreement between the NHL and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation means that it is becoming more and more difficult to find and sign a Russian player. Or convince him to play for an entry level salary of $850,000 when they can make more at home.

Filatov's spot in the first round is guaranteed. Just how high he goes, however, is no cinch, especially after seeing Alexei Cherepanov, the top Russian draftee last year, slip from the top 10 to the 17th pick by the New York Rangers. This predicament also affects another group of potential high-end Russian draftees like left winger Kiril Petrov, who scouts say has first- or second-round talent, plus defenseman Vyacheslav Voinov, winger Viktor Tikhonov and center Evgeni Grachev.

Net gains -- We all know how important having a top goaltender in the playoffs has become. But, last year, there were no goalies picked in the first round. The last time that had happened was the 1992 NHL Entry Draft.

This year, Sweden's Jacob Markstrom, Winnipeg's Chet Pickard, Finland's Harri Sateri and Sanborn, N.Y.'s Thomas McCollum all have their supporters for a team looking for goaltending help high in the draft.

The last time we've gone two years in a row without having a goalie picked in the first round? It happened in 1991 and '92. The record is three consecutive drafts without a goalie -- 1984, '85 and '86.

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