Hall, Californian prospects take draft spotlight

By David A. Rainer

A fitting beginning to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft involved Luc Robitaille tipping his cap to Wayne Gretzky for awakening hockey in this sleepy little southern California town decades ago. The two names have been linked many times in the history of the Kings, but tonight, in front of a modest yet dedicated gathering of fans in downtown Los Angeles, Gretzky was recognized for perhaps his longest lasting contribution to the host of this year’s entry draft – changing hockey from an afterthought to a legitimate interest to millions of California homes. The glitz and glamor of the Gretzky-led Kings struck gold in the hearts of area children that only recently is being recognized as more and more California-born prospects hear their name called out on draft day.

But before the “local kids” would have their day, yet another organization enormously impacted by Gretzky would kick off the festivities with the first overall selection of the draft. With little surprise, the Edmonton Oilers selected Taylor Hall in what could be the beginning of a resurgence for the Oilers, long since lost with the departure of Gretzky many years ago. “It’s such a great organization, with all their history”, a subdued Hall extolled as he contemplated the goal of adding another Stanley Cup to their trophy case. It seems fitting, then, that a resurgence of the once great organization should begin in a hockey town built by Gretzky around a player that may one day be mentioned in the same breath as the Great One.

In the first surprise selection of the evening, the Columbus Blue Jackets chose center Ryan Johansen with the fourth overall pick, a player many expected to be selected anywhere between 8th and 18th. But organizations are always on the lookout for skilled skaters with a prototypical 6’3 frame that can handle a power forward role and Johansen fits this need for the Blue Jackets.

While players like Johansen heard their names called early in the first round, consensus top five pick Cam Fowler sat patiently as others around him strode excitedly from the stands and up to the podium to be welcomed into the NHL. “I was viewed as a top pick, but then a slide, that’s tough,” explained Fowler. His patience was rewarded with a chorus of boos as the crosstown rival of the hometown crowd selected Fowler with the 12th overall pick. With many Kings fans in attendance holding out hope to land him later in the draft, Fowler instantly went from darling to goat once the Ducks management called out his name. “It’s great to see, especially out here on the west coast,” Fowler responded in reaction to the jeers. In contrast, Brandon Gormley’s selection by the Phoenix Coyotes immediately after Fowler’s occurred in relative silence. “Definitely a roller coaster ride,” stated Gormley. Both join organizations fairly well stocked with defensemen.

The first trade of the night fittingly came from the hometown organization. The Kings moved up four spots to select towering defenseman Derek Forbort. Like Fowler and Gormley, Forbort joins an organization already deep in defensemen. Forbort will have time to wait for the defensive depth chart to thin out while playing for the University of North Dakota. He claims to model his game after Chris Pronger, which is just the type of defenseman the Kings need alongside Drew Doughty.

Receiving a standing ovation was Beau Bennett, the first of the “local kids”, who was selected 20th overall by Pittsburgh. Bennett hails from Gardena, a town just a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles, a testament to the impact Gretzky had on California hockey. Likewise, Emerson Etem of Long Beach, CA, received an ovation despite being selected by the Kings main rival’s, the Ducks.

The Florida Panthers had the most selections in the first round with three, trading Keith Ballard to Vancouver as the basis of acquiring the 25th overall selection. The Panthers selected Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden with their three choices.

Jaden Schwartz and Kevin Hayes were possibly the largest first day climbers. Expected to be a bottom of the first round choice, the St. Louis Blues selected Schwartz out of the USHL, while Hayes, expected to be a late second round choice, heard his name called by the Chicago Blackhawks 24th overall.