Last year was slim pickings for the Ducks; this year, they hit the
jackpot. If he finds a fifth gear to go with his Bure-like hands,
small-but-deadly winger Stan Tchistov (5-9, 165) could team up with Paul
Kariya to form the top scoring tandem in the league. If he doesn’t,
he’s still a can’t-miss electrifying talent. Defenseman Mark Popovic
(35th overall) is as reliable as they come, and could soon find himself
paired with Vitaly Vishnevski on the top unit. Joel Stepp, with speed
and grit, was a good third round pick.
Looking at Patrik Stefan after two years, it’s understandable why the
Thrashers were nervous about having the #1 pick again this year. But
they played it safe, refrained from making a hasty trade, and took the
best 18-year old hockey player in the world. Ilya Kovalchuk is head and
shoulders above Stefan, clearly the top talent this year. He should
make the roster this fall, and he could be an 80-point player by age
21. Little to shout about in the later rounds, though. Defenseman
Brian Sipotz was a nice pick at #100, he’s huge (6-7, 230), sturdy, and
could be a solid defensive defenseman down the road.
There’s a lot to like about rugged defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (6-3,
190), but he had better pan out in order to justify picking him ahead of
Tim Gleason, Jeff Woywitka, and Lukas Krajicek. On the flip side, they
absolutely stole bruising forward Darren McLachlan (6-1, 230) with the
77th pick, and big winger Jiri Jakes (6-4, 225) is a solid fifth round
The Peca trade aside (which landed budding all-star center Tim Connolly
and prospective power winger Taylor Pyatt), it looks like the Sabres had
a strategy going into this draft: pick four promising forwards with the
first four picks, and hope that at least one, possibly two pan out.
Many scouts were high on hard working center Jiri Novotny (22nd
overall), but several had real doubts about his upside. Second round
picks Derek Roy (32nd) and Chris Thorburn (50th) are good junior players
with different styles, but both have decent pro potential. Jason
Pominville, taken in the fifth round, is clearly the most talented of
the bunch, but a bit on the small side (5-11, 170).
They should have made out better in the deal with Florida for third line
center Rob Niedermayer, but the Flames were sharp at the draft table,
nabbing several bona fide NHL prospects. Was right wing Chuck Kobasew a
steal at 14th overall? If he winds up anything like Chris Drury, you
bet. He’s a clutch player with tremendous talent and hockey sense.
Two-way center Andrei Taratukhin might have been the safest second round
pick in the draft, and portly Andrei “Gump” Medvedev (6-1, 225), despite
a weight problem and a reputation for being lazy, is a very good goalie.
The Canes didn’t hesitate to take rugged defenseman Igor Knyazev (6-1,
195) with the 15th pick, and for good reason: he’s good enough to make
the roster in September, and he shows some of the character and style of
Vladimir Konstantinov. Center Mike Zigomanis and goaltender Rob Zepp
were both re-entry picks, and both still show good potential. Third
rounder Kevin Estrada is as skilled a forward as they come, and talented
defender Carter Trevisani was neglected and fell into Carolina’s lap
with the 244th pick.
Having snared two excellent forward prospects in last year’s draft, many
thought the Hawks would take a goaltender or defenseman in the first
round this year. But they disregarded positional needs and took the
player they thought was the best overall at the ninth spot – center
Tuomo Ruutu. He’s mature, polished, and plays a sharp two-way game, but
they passed on Dan Blackburn and Dan Hamhuis to get him, so he’d better
not disappoint. They did manage to get a good netminder in Adam Munro
at #28; some scouts had him very highly rated.
Landing OHL goalie Peter Budaj with the 63rd pick was a steal in most
books; he played very well for St. Michael’s in the OHL and shows a lot
of pro potential. Scouts were up and down about inconsistent power
forward Colt King (130th), and sixth round forward Charlie Stephens
(6-3, 230) is a re-entry who went from good prospect two years ago to
long shot in 2001.
Many observers questioned selecting goaltender Pascal Leclaire (6-1,
185) at the #8 spot, but he’s a good choice if you’re serious about
taking a goalie early in the first round. He’s a solid prospect at the
position, in the same class as Dan Blackburn, and he has a great
attitude – not to mention wicked skills and good size. Big, talented
right wing Tim Jackman (6-2, 195) is a love-him or leave-him prospect;
the Blue Jackets obviously think he has a decent shot. Center Kiel
McLeod (6-5, 200) was a very good pick at #53, and highly skilled
defenseman Aaron Johnson was a steal with the 85th pick. This should
pan out to be a good second year draft for the young club.
A lot of teams besides Dallas loved goalie Jason “Cash” Bacashihua, but
the Stars put the their money on the table when they took him with the
26th pick. A star in the NAHL, he plays great under pressure and has
excellent mobility, but the real test begins next year when he steps up
to the OHL. If he continues to develop, the Stars will have hit a home
run with this kid. Dallas played it safe in the third round, landing
big, hard-working center Yared Hagos (6-2, 200), but not much to write
home about in the later rounds.
Let’s face it, after the first round the Wings were praying that
defenseman Fedor Tjutin would slide to the 62nd spot, but alas, the
Rangers, with the 40th pick, spoiled their hopes. He would have been a
perfect fit for a gray defense corps. They settled for small winger
Igor Grigorenko (5-11, 180), and then landed a solid goalie prospect
with Drew McIntyre in the fourth round, but overall this was not an
inspiring draft for the aging Wings.
I love their second round picks of defenseman Doug Lynch (6-3, 205) at
#43 and U.S. prep school center Eddie Caron (6-2, 220) at #52, but the
real story is first rounder Ales Hemsky (6-0, 170), whose speed and
golden puck skills offset a slight frame and a reputation for being soft
at times. Fact is, the Oilers traded Bill Guerin to land the option of
moving up in this draft, and they passed on college stars Chuck Kobasew
and R.J. Umberger to pick him, so there’s a whole lotta pressure riding
on Hemsky. But remember how Jason Williams came through for
Philadelphia last year as an 18-year old rookie? Hemsky has the
potential to do the same.
Last year’s draft was a dud; this year, the Panthers made out like
bandits, walking out of their home arena with no less than five good
prospects, and winger Valeri Bure in a trade. Stephen Weiss was an
excellent pick at the #4 slot, he has everything you want except size,
and that really isn’t an issue with a center of his caliber. Defenseman
Lukas Krajicek was a steal at #24, and center Greg Watson (34th overall)
could be Florida’s third line center in two or three years. Defensemen
Tomas Malec (6-2, 185) and Grant McNeill (6-2, 200) were excellent third
round picks, Malec has underrated skills and McNeill might be the
toughest kid in the draft.
Los Angeles B
I’m not so sure about Jens Karlsson (6-4, 200) at the #18 slot, he has
great size, plays tough, and drives to the net, but he had a poor
season, showing a good deal of inconsistency and struggling with the
puck at times. Big center Dave Steckel (6-5, 205) was an excellent pick
at #30; he has good wheels and handles the puck very well. Center Mike
Cammalleri (5-9, 180) makes up for a lack of size with terrific hockey
sense and great versatility, and center Jaroslav Bednar (51st) is an
excellent overage player with good speed and a laser shot.
They did pretty well with winger Marian Gaborik as their first pick last
year, so the Wild figured “Why not?” and went with a European forward
again this year, highly touted center Mikko Koivu (6-2, 185), the bigger
little brother of Saku Koivu (with Montreal). He’s a can’t-miss
prospect, combining size, skill, and outstanding hockey sense.
Minnesota followed at #36 with reentry Kyle Wanvig, a highly touted
right wing who could make the roster in September.
With Serge Savard at the helm, you expect something different in
Montreal. But taking no French Canadian players in the draft? Wow.
Regardless, they landed a solid physical defenseman with the 7th overall
pick in Mike Komisarek (6-4, 230), he’s a bone rattler with decent
skills, and would be hard pressed not to make this lineup in two or
three years. Truth is though they really wanted Mikko Koivu. With the
25th pick they snared speedy Russian winger Alexander Perezhogin, a pick
most scouts thought was a heckuva stretch, considering he’s more like
Sergei Krivokrasov than Sergei Samsonov. Forward Duncan Milroy was a
good pick at #37, as was stocky winger Tomas Plekanec at #71.
Is it a shock that Dan Hamhuis (6-0, 195) was still available at the #12
spot? You bet – he’s only the best defenseman and hardest working
player in the draft. The Predators must have been thrilled that he was
still available; he’s exactly what they need. Tim Shishkanov at #33 is
a very interesting pick, he’s an enigmatic winger who shone in
tournament play, but looked disinterested in season action. Defenseman
Tomas Slovak is a solid prospect at the #42 spot, and small but fiery
Jordin Tootoo (5-8, 185) was a nice pick in the fourth round, he is the
first Nunavit player ever taken in the draft – and a pretty entertaining
player to boot.
New Jersey C+
Who is Adrian Foster? And why was he picked in the first round? That’s
Lou Lamoriello for you, never following the hype, sticking to his
instincts. Foster, a WHL forward, has been so injured that he has only
played in 12 games the past two years. But the Devils love his
character and perseverance, and have high hopes. As usual they used
later round picks on project players, including Igor Pohanka (6-3, 185),
a big, talented center with a lot of room to improve, and Victor
Uchevatov (6-4, 210), a big defenseman that most scouts know very little
NY Islanders C
Now, this grade reflects the draft picks only, not the trades that
landed the Islanders two top-notch forwards in Mike Peca and Alexei
Yashin. Essentially, they traded Jason Spezza for Yashin (which factors
a little into the grade) but it’s a move many GM’s in the league would
not have made. But wheelin’ and dealin’ at the craps table, er, draft
table never spooked Mike Milbury. Hard to believe center Cory Stillman
(6-2, 210) was still available at the 101st spot, he was the first
player taken by the Islanders, and as good as one could hope for in the
fourth round. They took a nice gamble in the sixth round on St.
Michael’s goalie Andy Chiodo, he’s a very good prospect who overshadowed
netmate Peter Budaj down the stretch.
NY Rangers B+
When the draft was over many observers were praising New York to no end,
but this was a good – not great – draft for the Blueshirts. Dan
Blackburn is an excellent goalie, but honestly, you always hold your
breath when picking netminders high in the first round (Exhibit A: Jamie
Storr). Still, he’s a great one to take a chance with, and they did
land a decent prospect on defense – where they desperately need help –
with Fedor Tyutin (40th). He has good size and nice skills, and could
fit into the Rangers system down the road. An alternate scenario would
have been Dan Hamhuis with the 10th pick, and Peter Budaj or Andrei
Medvedev at #40.
The draft couldn’t have been much better for the Senators, who finally
unloaded problem child Alexei Yashin. Center Jason Spezza (2nd
overall), despite a poor playoff, possesses tremendous talent and has a
great disposition. He’ll be a good NHL player by age 21, and his
wingers will benefit enormously from his passing ability and hockey
sense. Defenseman Tim Gleason (6-0, 205), Spezza’s junior teammate, is
the fastest defenseman in the draft, and a quality young man to boot.
He, too, struggled in the playoffs but still retains outstanding talent
and potential, a great pick at the #23 spot. And rangy Ray Emery (6-2,
185) is a nice goalie prospect, taken at the 99th spot.
Landing big, solid, pro-style defenseman Jeff Woywitka (6-2, 200) with
the 27th pick raises this grade for the Flyers, who had only two picks
in the top 100. Jussi Timonen, taken with the 146th pick, is a solid
prospect who shows a knack for scoring from the blueline. But there
doesn’t appear to be a Jason Williams in this crop. Trading with
Florida for the rights to Czech star center Jiri Dopita, if he signs,
will help salvage this lackluster draft for the Flyers.
They went for pure speed with winger Frederik Sjostrom, the fastest
player available in the draft. He has good skills to boot, but
projecting him as a first line player is a stretch in some books.
Still, there’s definitely a spot for him in the NHL. Taking huge
defenseman Matthew Spiller (6-5, 210) with the 31st pick could pay off
handsomely if he can manage to upgrade his skills. Phoenix showed some
guts with later picks, securing Swiss defensemen Beat Schiess-Forster
(78th) and Severin Blindenbacher (273rd). Both are decent prospects
with very good transition skills.
The Penguins shocked just about everybody when they took winger Colby
Armstrong with the 21st pick. They desperately need depth on defense
and in net, but went with the kid they thought was the best player
available. To his credit, Armstrong has the skills and attitude you
look for in a two-way forward. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, they still
landed a couple of good defensive prospects – big Noah Welch (6-3, 215)
in the second round and Drew Fata in the third – and the wildcard player
of the draft, goaltender Tomas Duba. He was the top rated European
netminder coming into the draft, but fell to #217.
St. Louis C
Once again, no first round pick for the Blues, who have the most
underrated scouting staff in the league. They always manage to find
really good prospects that everyone else overlooks. Center Jay
McClement (54th) is a rugged sort and plays well in tough situations;
with improvement he could be a third or fourth line NHLer in a few
years. Later round picks don’t look especially promising; goalie Tuomas
Nissinen was the best choice at #89, he was rated fifth among European
San Jose B
Looks like the Marco Sturm influence is starting to show. Give the
Sharks credit for not shying away from one of the top prospects in the
draft, German forward Marcel Goc (6-1, 195). It’s easy to dismiss a
player from a sub-prime developmental system, but Goc really does have
the look and feel of a pro forward with size, skill, intelligence, and
intensity, and the bloodlines are good, too – his older brother Sascha
is a prospect in the Devils system. He was a good choice at #20. They
kept the German train rolling, picking defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and
highly regarded goaltender Dimitri Patzold with the 106th and 107th
picks. Gifted center Tomas Plihal was a very good fifth round pick, he
should have gone higher.
Tampa Bay B
They love their top pick – big, rugged center Alexander Svitov (6-3,
205), and why not? Even though his skills aren’t world class, he will
definitely play in the NHL. He’s nasty and he plays with serious
determination. The Lightning landed another big Russian forward at #47,
Alexander Polushin (6-3, 200), who is a better offensive talent than
Svitov. They loaded up on a slew of project players in later rounds.
The reason for the high grade is simple: they took four good, solid
defensive prospects – Carlo Colaiacovo (17th), overager Karel Pilar
(39th), Brendan Bell (65th), and big Jay Harrison (82nd) – with the
first four picks, then landed small but highly skilled forwards later in
the draft. Forget the chatter about “best player available” – that only
applies in the first round or two. This is a very smart way to manage a
draft when you don’t pick high in each round. The organization is much
deeper today than it was a week ago. Colaiacovo (6-1, 185) is the best
of the bunch; he could become a very reliable rearguard in short time.
Plus, he’s a hometown kid. Can’t beat that.
I’m a big fan of forward R.J. Umberger (6-2, 205); I think he should
have gone higher. He has too much power forward upside. The Canucks
were very pleased to land him with the 16th pick. Fedor Fedorov (6-3,
175) is an interesting pick at #66. He’s tall and lanky with good
skills, but nowhere near the caliber of big brother Sergei. The Canucks
only had two picks in the top 100, and six overall, which lowers the
grade – if Umberger falters, this draft will likely be a bust.
Not the best draft Washington has ever had. With no first rounder and
picking late in the second round, they were fortunate to land defenseman
Nathan Paetsch at #58. He’s solid and moves the puck very well. They
drafted for speed in later rounds with the likes of forwards Owen Fussy
and Jeff Lucky, but it comes at the expense of scoring prowess, which
neither has yet shown. No one had ever even heard of their final two
picks, Rob Muller and Viktor Hubl.
Strongest Overall Draft