Defense won’t rest at 2008 NHL Draft

By Ken McKenna

While the leading man at the 2008 NHL Draft might be Sarnia Sting center Steven Stamkos, the supporting cast chosen behind him in Ottawa could be the main storyline when the first round has played out.  Stamkos will certainly be the shining offensive jewel in this year’s draft, but the defensive prospects will likely rule the early portion of the draft proceedings.

Stamkos has been the presumptive top prospect in this draft year for some time.  He was the top-ranked 2008 prospect for all of this season, as he did nothing to make the scouts think that he wouldn’t meet or exceed expectations after being chosen.  And the team sitting with the first pick, the Tampa Bay Lightning, appears to be a lock to make Stamkos the first selection.  Anyone familiar with the "Seen Stamkos?" advertising blitz taking place in Tampa would know that the Lightning are locked into selecting this very talented player.

But the crop of high-end defensemen available will be too enticing the some of the teams choosing after the Lightning.  The only thing left to decide is which one of the 3 or 4 top defenders will be selected first. It could be Drew Doughty of the OHL‘s Guelph Storm, who is said to be high on the list of the team holding the second pick, the Los Angeles Kings.  Or, it could be Zach Bogosian, who is the highest ranked defenseman according to both Central Scouting Services and International Scouting Services.  If one of those clubs is looking for a defenseman virtually ready to step into the NHL at this moment, then Luke Schenn of the WHL‘s Kelowna Rockets could have his name called ahead of the others.  But if long-term potential is the criteria for choosing the top defenseman in this draft, then Alex Pietrangelo may stand out above the others.  But regardless of when these four players are chosen, the general consensus is that the teams that choose them will be happy with the selection.

And there are a few wild card defensive prospects that could sneak into or close to the top 10.  One of those is Tyler Myers, a 6-7 tower playing for Kelowna.  Myers is not as awkward as one would expect someone of his young age and size to be, and he skates well for a big man.  If a team is looking for an extremely talented rearguard but isn’t concerned about a lack of size, then 5-10 Erik Karlsson out of Sweden could have his name called early in the draft.  Karlsson’s stock has been rising steadily in the past two months, and could continue rising right through the draft’s early going.

Other top offensive talents in this draft include the top European prospect, Russian forward Nikita Filatov, who, like Stamkos, has been regarded as the top European prospect this entire season.  Filatov may not be the all-around talent that Stamkos is, but he is arguably the most skilled player in this draft.  Another solid offensive player is Danish winger Mikkel Boedker of the OHL‘s Kitchener Rangers.  Boedker has been viewed as one of the elite forwards in recent months, and seems to be a lock to have his name called in the lower half of the top 10.  And Cody Hodgson, a center for the Brampton Battalion, could catch the eye of a team looking for a sniper.

The goaltenders in this draft have not received as much attention as the forwards or defensemen, but it is still a solid group.  Chet Pickard of the WHL‘s Tri-City Americans is viewed as the top netminder in this draft, but it may simply be a matter of choice when it comes to which goaltender will actually be the first one selected this year.  Guelph’s Tom McCollum is the OHL’s top goaltending prospect, while Jake Allen of the St. John’s Fog Devils is the QMJHL‘s top prospect in net.  Jacob Markstrom out of Sweden is considered the top European goaltender, although Finnish prospect Harri Sateri could be considered 1A.

As for players that could be sleeper picks, a couple of Junior A players might fill the bill.  One is Joe Colborne, a big winger playing for the Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL.  Colborne’s stock has risen to the point where he could be a top 15 selection, and he may even squeak into the top 10 if a team feels strongly about his ability.  Corey Trivino, a play making center from the OPJHL’s Stouffville Spirit, is another Junior A star that could have his name called in the top 20.

So there is plenty of intrigue as the 2008 NHL Draft approaches.  This is a talented draft class, one that could certainly be remembered as much for the depth of the defensive prospects as it will be for the skill of Stamkos or Filatov.