Like a hotly contested horse race coming down to the wire, the photo-finish at the 2010 NHL Draft will provide the winner between the two thoroughbred prospects battling to be named the top selection in this draft.
Much of the talk centered around this event over the past year had been focused on the "Taylor-Tyler" debate. The season began with left winger Taylor Hall of the OHL‘s Windsor Spitfires being touted by most as the top talent available in this draft. Then, after the calendar flipped to 2010, it appeared Hall’s main competitor and fellow OHL player, center Tyler Seguin, had wrested the top spot away from Hall heading down the stretch. But a second consecutive MVP performance at the Memorial Cup tournament in which he led his team to a second straight title seems to have given the edge back to Hall on the eve of the NHL’s annual prospect renewal rite.
The Edmonton Oilers currently hold the first pick overall in this draft. While rumors have been floated that they might be willing to move that selection, it seems unlikely that the team would be willing to pass up elite talents such as Hall or Seguin in favor of a quick-fix deal to make the team more competitive in the short term.
Sitting in the second position courtesy of the trade that sent Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs is the Boston Bruins. Unlike the Oilers, the Bruins already sport a competitive team and will be looking to bolster a lineup that could contend for a Stanley Cup very soon. Whether that player will be Hall or Seguin remains to be seen, but the Bruins could have a nice bargaining chip if the right team came calling to make a deal.
The remainder of the top five picks could be dominated by the selection of defesemen. Defenders Cam Fowler, Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Gormley all would be worthy choices this high in the draft, with Fowler, another member of the Memorial Cup champs from Windsor, being thought by some to be the most accomplished from this group. But each player offers their own style of game, so the order may be determined by the greatest need of the team selecting; a team seeking offense from the point might go with Fowler or Gormley, while a club looking for a tough customer with a strong, all-around game might lean towards Gudbranson.
Right now, the Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders hold picks 3 through 5, respectively. At least one of those clubs has been involved in rumors that they might be willing to move their pick, but it remains to be seen if the return would be enough to lessen the risk of passing on a very good prospect.
Story lines abound each year leading up to the draft, perhaps none more intriguing this year than the cacophony surrounding Russian prospect Kirill Kabanov. The talented forward was regarded by some as the top prospect heading into this year’s draft. But controversy and injury has reduced Kabanov to the status of ultimate wild card. Whether it was his Russian national team, the QMJHL‘s Moncton Wildcats, or his now former agent, it seems that Kabanov has pleased no one this season. Kabanov did show off some of the talent he had been known for during his short stint with the Wildcats, but it was only a teaser. It seems doubtful that a team will risk a first round pick on this fallen star, so it will be interesting to see where in the draft a team feels it is safe to roll the dice on this mercurial prospect.
Last year’s draft was the "Year of the Swede", with Sweden producing a class of prospects that had not been seen from that country in previous NHL Drafts. But the European flavor in the first three rounds of the draft may be a shadow of what was the case at the 2009 NHL Draft, with the possibility existing that the upper reaches of the draft could be dominated by North American prospects. Sweden once again has the top crop of prospects emerging from the European nations, but it won’t be the equal of last year’s showing for that country.
Bloodlines always seem to be prominent at the NHL Draft, and this year is no different. Prospects such as Nick Bjugstad, Brock Beukeboom, and Jarred Tinordi sport surnames that would be familiar to fans that have been following the sport over the past 20 years. But the talent that these players possess, rather than the name they carry proudly, will determine where they’ll be chosen in the draft.
Overall, the depth of this draft is solid. As always, the talent level tends to fall off a bit in the mid-teens. But even selections made in the third round of the draft could turn out to be good ones in 2010, more so than in years sporting a less talented crop of prospects.