1. Florida Panthers – Jay Bouwmeester, Defenseman, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Easily the best prospect available in this draft, there’s little doubt that Bouwmeester will be a Florida Panther come draft day. Bouwmeester has been heavily scouted for the past three years and it’s evident he is one of those defenseman that only come around once every 5 years or so. A three time Canadian World Junior team member, Bouwmeester combines speed, skill and amazing hockey sense to form a package that makes your mouth water.
2. Atlanta Thrashers – Rick Nash, Left Wing, London Knights (OHL)
A highly skilled power forward, Rick Nash is heavily coveted by many NHL teams. He has the size, the skill and the character to be a star in the NHL one day. Nash is viewed as not far behind Bouwmeester, and it’s almost a lock that he will be selected in the top three.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets –Joni Pitkanen, Defenseman, Karpat (Finland)
Joni Pitkanen is a big, skilled Finnish defenseman who is viewed by some scouts as better than Jay Bouwmeester. Whether that is the case or not won’t be known for at least a handful of years down the road, but there is no denying that Pitkanen should be an impact defenseman in the NHL. Expect at least a couple of teams to try and trade down into the top 5 to try and get this young stud.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning – Kari Lehtonen, Goaltender, Jokerit (Finland)
Kari Lehtonen is the next big thing to come out of Finland. At only 18 years of age, Lehtonen had a spectacular season in the highest league in Finland, the S-M Liiga. Top young netminders are rare to come by, and if you don’t get them early, chances are you won’t get them at all. Lehtonen is high on many team’s draft boards and possibly may even go as high as number 2 overall to the Atlanta Thrashers.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins – Anton Babchuk, Defenseman, Elektrostal (Russia)
Anton Babchuk is a highly talented and coveted stay-at-home defenseman. At 6’4 and about 200 lbs, Babchuk plays a steady and simple game . He very well could go as high as number 5 to the Penguins, or, according to who you talk to, could possibly drop out of the top 10. However, no matter where he goes, one team will be very happy to call his name come draft day.
6. Nashville Predators – Scottie Upshall, Center, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Scottie Upshall is a heart and soul type of player who would make a perfect fit for the Nashville Predators. Despite being considered small by today’s NHL standards, Upshall is a speedy player who doesn’t shy away from the physical contact and knows how to control the play in the offensive end. He has been a key force for the Blazers over the last couple of seasons and will get a chance to show his stuff in the NHL sometime in the future.
7. Anaheim Mighty Ducks – Joffrey Lupul, Left Wing, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Joffrey Lupul is definitely an interesting story. He came out of nowhere this season to score an eye-popping 56 goals while also leading the entire WHL in scoring during the regular season. Considering it was his draft yet, it definitely wasn’t a bad time to finally peep his head out from under that rock. He is one of a few players who have seen their stock rise tremendously this season. Since there appears to be a lack of true snipers in this draft, it’s a real possibility that a team will take their chances on Lupul in the top 10.
8. Minnesota Wild – Steve Eminger, Defenseman, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Steve Eminger is a hot prospect that saw a nice increase in his stock over the coarse of this season. An extremely skilled offensive defenseman, Eminger has the speed and the skating ability that just makes you sit there and say “wow.” He has suffered some injuries in the past, but has done a good job overcoming them and is ready for the next step in his hockey career. With the abundance of talented defenseman in the top half of this draft, Eminger will probably go anywhere from 5th to 12th.
9. Calgary Flames – Jiri Hudler, Center, Liberec (Czech Republic)
Jiri Hudler may lack size (only 5-9), but he makes up for that in speed and skill. Playing in the highest league in the Czech Republic since he was 15 years old, Hudler is more polished and ready for the pro game than most prospects in this draft. This year he averaged 46 points in 46 games, not too shabby considering he was playing against men sometimes more than twice his age. One team will be very, very happy to call his name. Whether he lasts to Calgary at 9 is unknown at this time, but based on potential alone, he could land in the top five.
10. Florida Panthers – Ryan Whitney, Defenseman, Boston University (Hockey East)
Ryan Whitney has been on the radar of many NHL teams for the past couple of years. Big and skilled, Whitney has the ability to control a game with his slick two-way play. Florida may look at a skilled forward at this position, but either way, Whitney has the potential to be a solid NHL defenseman.
11. Buffalo Sabres – Alexander Semin, Left Wing, Cheljabinsk (Russia)
Semin has seen a large increase in his stock over the coarse of the year thanks to his consistent solid play. He has caught the eyes of many scouts at a host of tournaments, and his performance at this past U-18’s may put him in the top 10. For now, we say he drops to the Sabres at number 11, who are in desperate need of a few more snipers.
12. Washington Capitals – Petr Taticek, Center, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Petr Taticek was a relative unknown to the Soo Greyhounds this past July when they selected him in the first round of the CHL Import Draft. Little did they know that Taticek would come over and be an effective player, let alone a player that would total 63 points in 60 games. It didn’t take much time for the Czech forward to adapt to the North American game, and as a result he has come from being a potential late round pick to a player that is highly coveted by many NHL teams drafting between 10 and 15.
13. Dallas Stars – Vladislav Evseev, Right Wing, HC CSKA (Russia)
No prospect has seen their stock drop faster than this young Russian. Coming into this year, Evseev was being touted as a potential top 3 pick and possibly even a player that could knock Jay Bouwmeester out of the number 1 spot. However, thanks to his inability to finish and poor showings at many of the tournaments, some scouts have changed their minds about this player. Even though, it is still hard to believe that he will fall as far as his 23rd overall ranking among European players by Central Scouting would indicate. Some team will take a chance on him relatively early in the draft.
14. Edmonton Oilers – Denis Grebeshkov, Defenseman, Yaroslavl (Russia)
A member of the Gold Medal winning Russian squad at the 2002 World Junior Championships, Grebeshkov is a solid all around defenseman who had a very consistent season. He has the potential to be a top four two-way defenseman who is steady and responsible in all areas of the ice.
15. Montreal Canadiens – Chris Higgins, Center, Yale University (ECAC)
Ranked 9th overall among North Americans by Central Scouting, Chris Higgins is a speedy forward who caught the eyes of many scouts at the 2002 World Junior Championships. He was a key player throughout the tournament for Team USA and proved to many that he was as good, if not better, than most of the prospects available for this draft. He’s the 2nd ranked American behind Ryan Whitney, and a good bet to go between 15 and 25 overall. If he does wind up in Montreal, that would make two straight years where the Quebec franchise drafted an American with their first selection after all those years of feeling pressured to draft French-Canadiens.
16. Ottawa Senators – Jakub Koreis, Center, Plzen (Czech Republic)
A solid all-around player, Koreis is a team leader and a physical presence. Splitting time with both the Senior and Junior Plzen squads, Koreis is coming off a productive season. Although not known for being a sniper, Jakub is a player with few weaknesses. The strengths to his game are his stickhandling and playmaking abilities. Although Koreis doesn’t have breathtaking speed, he succeeds to playing hard in front of the net and in traffic.
17. Washington Capitals – Eric Nystrom, Left Wing, University of Michigan (CCHA)
The son of former NHLer Bobby Nystrom, Eric started to make a name for himself among NHL scouts this past season with the Michigan Wolverines, recording 24 points in 32 games during his Freshman season. Eric was a key player for the Wolverines all year and had the faith in his coach, former NHLer Red Berenson, to play him in almost every situation. Eric has more speed and softer hands than his dad, but not quite the toughness. The younger Nystrom will need to work on his physical game as he matures. A very good pick for any team drafting in the middle of round one.
18. Los Angeles Kings – Alexander Shinin, Defenseman, Cheljabinsk (Russia)
Shinin is a slick, puck-moving blueliner with Chelyabinsk of Russia’s 1st division. A member of Russia’s U-18 team, Alexander is a solid all-around defenseman with good hockey sense. Shinin doesn’t have great size (5-11, 174), nor breathtaking speed, but possesses excellent vision and admirable hockey sense.
19. Phoenix Coyotes – Jim Slater, Center, Michigan State University (CCHA)
Jim Slater is a tough, well-rounded player who will be successful in the NHL. He displays character, skill and a very good amount of hockey sense. Slater had an excellent season for the Michigan State Spartans and is a solid prospect for this 2002 Draft. His game is very polished and he has no glaring weaknesses. If you want to play it safe in this draft, Slater easily is your man.
20. Dallas Stars – Sergei Anshakov, Left Wing, HC CSKA (Russia)
Anshakov is a skilled forward who is another to come into his own this season. Drives to the net hard, works hard at all times and is very competitive. Sounds very much like a Dallas Stars’ type of player. Expect to hear his name called anywhere from 20th overall to early in the 2nd round.
21. Chicago Blackhawks – Daniel Paille, Center, Guelph Storm (OHL)
There’s not much that you cannot like about Daniel Paille. He’s not flashy, but he’s hard working and he gets the job done on the ice. He plays a two-way game, and is a very good penalty killer. He’s a leader and a player that coaches love to have. He is one of those players that you could see having a very good relationship with Brian Sutter in Chicago.
22. New York Islanders – Johnny Boychuk, Defenseman, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Johnny Boychuk is a talented, two-way defenseman with a booming shot. Although he hasn’t scored much in junior, his shot is a nice weapon and has been clocked many times in the high 90’s. Boychuk sometimes plays a risky game, but overall he’s an excellent selection for any team picking in the last third of the first round.
23. Phoenix Coyotes – Martin Vagner, Defenseman, Hull Olympiques (QMJHL)
Martin Vagner is another player who made a smooth transition to North America this past season. Vagner was the Olympiques 1st round selection in last year’s CHL Import Draft, and he definitely has been what they had hoped for. He has good speed, skating ability, vision and hockey sense. He’s a smart player, but needs to shoot more. His shot is fairly good, but only when he has actually wound up and let it rip. He won’t be confused with Scott Stevens physically, but Vagner doesn’t shy away from the contact. He just needs to work on being more aggressive to become a top defenseman.
24. Toronto Maple Leafs – Kirill Koltsov, Defenseman, Omsk (Russia)
When it comes to pure ability, Koltsov could be considered a top 3 blueliner in this draft. However, for Koltsov, there have been issues concerning his consistency and attitude. His recent failure to make Russia’s U-20 squad in Czech Republic is alarming, but can be explained, as Koltsov and Russia’s coach Vladimir Plyuschev don’t seem to get along well. Nonetheless, Koltsov will be too hard to pass up for many teams. Although he stands at only 6 feet, 185 pounds, Kirill plays a very aggressive defensive style. Possessing excellent pucks skills and top-notch skating ability, Koltsov reminds many of a young Vladimir Malakhov.
25. Washington Capitals –Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Center, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
A highly skilled player, there is a lot of different opinions on Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Some say he reminds them of Wayne Gretzky in the way he controls the game, others say he’s just the usual high scoring Quebec league forward who can’t cut it in the big show. Bouchard lacks size (about 5-10 165 lbs) and he also doesn’t have that breakaway speed commonly found in most of the NHL’s big snipers. His skating is above average, but it can be better. He’s the reigning QMJHL Scoring Leader and CHL Major Junior Player of the Year, but will that help his draft status? According to who you talk to, Bouchard could go anywhere from 5th overall to late in the first round.
26. San Jose Sharks – Adam Henrich, Left Wing, Brampton Battalion (OHL)
The younger brother of Michael Henrich, the Oilers 1st round pick in 1998, Adam has stepped out of the shadow of his brother and has gotten the attention of many NHL scouts. Henrich still has some developing and maturing to do, as do most power forwards at this age. He put together a strong season with the Brampton Battalion and is considered a likely late first round pick. If he falls out of the first round, he’ll be scooped up early in the 2nd round by a team such as the Rangers, who can use a potential power forward.
27. Colorado Avalanche – Daniel Fernholm, Defenseman, Djurgarden (Sweden)
Daniel is a big (6-4, 210), talented defenseman with unlimited potential. Struggling with injuries and fighting off consistency for most of the year has lowered his stock, but the hulking blueliner remains a wildcard. One of his strengths is his exceptional mobility and creativity with the puck. Fernholm uses his size to his advantage along the boards and in traffic, as his all-around skills are well-developed for his age. Consistency is a bit of an issue with Fernholm, but once he’s healthy, that should be less of a problem.
28. Boston Bruins – Rob Globke, Right Wing, Notre Dame (CCHA)
A solid player, Rob Globke is a power forward with an accurate and powerful shot. He’s an excellent skater with good speed, especially for a player of his size. He’ll be 20 in October and could be only a year or so away from stepping into the NHL. He’s one of those players that could be considered a safe bet to some day play in the NHL, but whether it is a 4th line grinder or a 2nd line power forward will depend on how well Globke continues to develop.
29. Carolina Hurricanes – Tobias Stephan, Goaltender, EHC Chur (Swizterland)
This Swiss netkeeper left a huge impression upon scouts at last December’s U-20 World Juniors in Czech Republic. Despite a disappointing U-18 tournament, Stefan is still easily one of the top goaltenders in the draft. The first thing that jumps out at you when seeing Stephan play is his 6-4 frame – he covers a lot of the net. Stephan excels at stopping the puck down low and his lateral mobility is top notch. He has proven to be a money goalie with several outstanding performances in international competition so far in his career.
30. Buffalo Sabres – Ben Eager, Left Wing, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Ben Eager is a power forward who has improved noticeably each season he has played of junior. He has soft hands and good offensive ability, however 14 goals this past season is a cause for concern. Some scouts feel his scoring will come around while he grows and continues to develop, while others say he doesn’t have the offensive ability to be a top 2 line power forward and will wind up being a 3rd/4th line grinder and scrapper. Considering the lack of talent this late in the draft, selecting a project like Ben Eager is worth the risk. He will need three or four years to get accustomed to the pro game before cracking an NHL lineup, but the potential is there to be a good player.