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Southeast Notes: Forward Thinking at the Draft

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

Robert Picarello | NHL Correspondent

The five GMs from the Southeast Division were mostly forward thinkers last week in Columbus at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, selecting 24 front-liners out of the 36 players that were drafted by the division’s teams.

But don't let those numbers fool you. Defense was not forgotten. Nine defenseman – including two in the first round – were selected by those same clubs during the two-day affair.

As a matter of fact, 18-year old defenseman Karl Alzner the honor of being the highest-drafted player of any of the teams from the Southeast, going fifth overall to the Washington Capitals.

According to the report from the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, Alzner is a skilled stay-at-home defender, who has good skating ability and a calm and cool demeanor under pressure. The 6-foot-2, 206-pounder also possesses a strong shot from the point and reads the play very well.

Last season for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, Alzner was named a 2006-07 Eastern Conference Second Team All-Star after finishing the season with 47 points and a plus-16 rating. Alzner was also a member of Team Canada's gold medal-winning team at the 2007 World Junior Championships in Sweden.

"A player that I like to of compare myself to – I like to go after the best – is Nicklas Lidstrom. I think Nick Lidstrom is, by far, one of the best players in the League and I think I play pretty similar to him. I use my stick well, I try to be in the right positions and just [play] solid defensively," Alzner said.

The Florida Panthers also got defensive with their first-round pick, taking Keaton Ellerby at No. 10. Ellerby is considered a playmaking offensive defenseman that finishes his checks well. The 6-foot-4, 186-pound blueliner is a good skater with great mobility, who uses his long reach and his shot to his advantage.

Last season, the Kamloops defender won the hardest-shot competition at the 2007 CHL Top Prospects Game with his shots lighting up the radar gun at 94.2 and 95.6 MPH. Ellerby patterns his game after Anaheim's Chris Pronger and future teammate Jay Bouwmeester, who he considers "an unbelievable skater."

"I'm so excited about it," Ellerby said. "Having a guy like Jay Bouwmeester to look up to and that kind of thing is just unbelievable. So going down to Florida is going to be great for me."

Brandon Sutter was the highest drafted forward by Southeast clubs, taken 11th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes. Sutter netted 57 points off 20 goals and 37 assists in 2006-07, his second full season with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League.

The 18-year old became the ninth member of his family drafted into the NHL, joining his father Brent (1980, 17th overall, NY Islanders), uncles Brian (1976, 20th overall, St. Louis), Darryl (1979, 179th overall, Chicago), Duane (1979, 17th overall, NY Islanders), Rich (1982, 10th overall, Pittsburgh) and Ron (1982, 4th overall, Philadelphia) and cousins Shaun (1998, 102nd overall, Calgary) and Brett (2005, 179th overall, Calgary).

Brandon Sutter is considered a very versatile forward, who can be used and trusted in all situations.

"Brandon is a very smart player and a very good two-way player," said Jim Rutherford, the Hurricanes' President and GM. "He’s tall, he’ll fill in, and he’ll end up being a big man. He should end up being a very good two-way player."

Goaltending didn't seem to be high on any Southeastern Division team's acquisitions list, especially after the Panthers acquired veteran Tomas Vokoun from the Nashville Predators for a 2008 first-round draft pick, a second-round pick in '07 (No. 58 overall) and a conditional second-round pick.

The Washington Capitals made Dan Dunn the highest-drafted netminder in the division when the club took him in the sixth round, at No. 154.

Dunn played during the 2006-07 season with Wellington Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League, where he helped backstop the Dukes to the 2006-07 South East Conference championship and East Division Championship. Last season, Dunn registered a 19-4-2 record, with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. In the playoffs, Dunn went 12-7 with a 2.34 GAA and a .924 save percentage, leading his team to the league finals, where Wellington lost to Aurora in five games.

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