Written by Anthony Stevens
The NHL Entry Draft has been likened to gambling. Trying to forecast what kind of a NHL player someone might turn into three to four years later is like gambling. Teams hire scouts who observe teenage players all over the world to try and predict what 18 year old will develop into an NHL player and will hopefully bring a Stanley Cup to that city. The 2002 NHL Entry Draft cannot be described any more accurately than a roll of the dice by Gretzky and Co. in some back ally craps game.
It is not a secret that this draft is not very deep. Yet, there are a few players involved that will be prized possessions once the teams hear Gary Bettman announce their pick. Unfortunately, barring a last minute trade the Phoenix Coyotes are not likely to get any of those prize possessions picking #19 and #23 overall. Yet, the players they will draft in two weeks will have enough talent and desire to hopefully skate around the yet to be named Coyotes Arena with the Stanley Cup overhead one day.
Since Steve Ellman and Wayne Gretzky took over the operation of this NHL franchise their goal was to eventually bring a Stanley Cup to its history. The new front office personnel believed that this team needed to become an all around tougher, more physical, faster and better 2-way playing team. Last season’s draft saw Cliff Fletcher still laying the foundation of re-stocking a neglected farm system. When Fletcher saw an opportunity to grab a fast skater with a great desire to become a star player at the next level, a trade had to be made. The Coyotes willingly gave up a 2nd round pick to move up 3 spots in the 1st round. On the same day of the draft, the Coyotes again surprisingly saw a player they coveted and traded away a 4th round pick in 2001 and a 3rd round pick in this year’s draft just to have New Jersey’s 3rd round pick in 2001 and the rights to Swiss defenseman Beat Schiess-Forster.
What does that mean for the upcoming draft? What can the fan expect the Coyotes to do in Toronto on June 22nd and 23rd? Expect the Coyotes to take a player who will eventually make it to the NHL if not on talent than on desire, heart and blue collar effort. Look for the Coyotes to value skating, physical play and defensively responsible forwards while also keeping an eye out for that fast skating, potential power play quarterback defensemen.
The following will hopefully give everyone an idea of which players the Coyotes have a realistic idea picking at the numbers 19 and 23. Of course, the prize entrees like Jay Bouwmeester, Rick Nash, Kari Lehtonen and a few others will not be included. Any player expected to be taken before the 10th pick will be excluded from this article. Sure some player always slips down to a spot that seems too good to be true, but rarely does a player slip nine spots to the 19th overall pick.
If Lady Luck is looking towards the Coyotes in two weeks, Michigan Wolverine LW Eric Nystrom will be available at #19. Nystrom has great hockey roots with his father being NY Islanders great Bobby Nystrom. Eric plays like his father as well. He works hard at both ends of the ice while getting the job done and not shying away from the physical aspect of the game. He may not be a future 50-goal scorer, but he should be a key piece to some Stanley Cup winning team … much like his father was.
Another player from the Wolverine State of Michigan who will most likely e gone before the 19th pick is Jim Slater. But, unlike Eric Nystrom, Slater played for the Michigan State Spartans. Slater’s game is very similar to that of Nystrom’s with only one exception. Slater keeps himself in great shape, skates well and can be extremely physical but unlike Nystrom, Slater can also take and win face-offs. Being deep at center is something the Coyotes believe is a key ingredient to winning the Stanley Cup.
Last year at this time it was unthinkable that Russian RW prospect Vladislav Evseev would be anything other then a top 10 pick. Although with only 2 weeks before the draft, Evseev has slipped and could find is way onto the Coyotes prospect list. After being an early high 1st round pick, Evseev proceeded to have a disappointing 2001-2002 season. Evseev has the potential and talent to be amore gifted offensive player than either Slater or Nystrom but although hard working in his own end is not quite as accomplished defensively.
Center Daniel Paille has potential to become a solid contributor to any NHL team. He has the ability to be a solid 2-way playmaker. He could stand to be a little more refined in either end of the rink, but his attitude is solid and he finer points of the game should find their way into his game eventually.
Another prospect with good bloodlines is Adam Henrich. Adam’s brother, Michael, is a highly touted prospect in the Edmonton Oilers organization. Adam is an interesting combination of size, strength and skill. He may not be able to skate like Ladislav Nagy, but skating isn’t the weak link in Henrich’s game. He may not be able to skate with the puck like Danny Briere or Krys Kolanos, but stick handling is not the weak part of his game. He may not even be able to hit like Brad May or Landon Wilson, but hitting and playing physical hockey is not the weak part of his game. Henrich may not even be able to shoot like Shane Doan … actually Henrich may be able to shoot like Doaner already. He has a very heavy slap shot which he needs to be encouraged to use more often. Henrich has a lot of potential to become an impact NHLer. He has the size and ability to stay in front of he oppositions net and takes the punishment that comes with that territory. So why is Adam Henrich a candidate for the 19th and/or 23rd overall selection? Henrich has shown a propensity for a lack of concentration, which leads to a lack of consistency. Maybe the concentration and consistency will come with maturity. Maybe Gretzky and Co. can break through the thick skull of a teenager and reach Henrich enough to be able to mentor him into becoming a consistent threat on Phoenix Coyotes ice.
A defensive prospect that may find his way to the 19th pick if the Coyotes are lucky is Johnny Boychuck. Boychuck’s skating is slightly above average, but is a big hitter who brings true grit to the blue line. His slap shot is one of the best in this year’s draft and combined with his tough physical play and big hits could turn into a NHL fan favorite.
Another potential defensive prospect for the Coyotes is Martin Vagner from the Czech Republic. Vagner is a terrific skater who relies on defensive positioning. He has a big body and doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff in the corners or in front of the net but should be able to play more physical. Vagner is not poor offensively, but he could be better. It is said he has a good shot from the point but would prefer to pass the puck. Vagner has already had a year of North American hockey in the QMJHL with Hull. He should be able to develop quickly and earn a spot in the NHL soon.
The final realistic defensive prospect that might fall into the Coyotes lap is Kirill Koltsov of Russia. His game and intensity resembles that another Russian defensemen already on the Coyotes, Danny Markov. Koltsov has good speed and stick handling skills. End to end rushes through traffic is not an uncommon sight when Koltsov is on the ice. He is one of the better skaters available in the upcoming draft. He likes to play physical, but needs to become more disciplined and stay out of the sin bin if he is to help whatever team drafts him. His point play should continue to improve and hopefully earn his way onto a team’s #1 power play unit. But much like Adam Henrich, concentration and consistency are Koltsov’s biggest enemies and is what is keeping him from being a top 10 pick.
Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, a goalie with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi has garnered a lot of talk around the entire league. He put up decent numbers this season as he managed to shock everyone and become his team’s starting goalie. Deslauriers is a goalie with nice size but an awkward game. He covers a lot of net, but has not stopped growing. The scouts seem to agree that Deslauriers’ statistics are not as a result having great goalie skill. If drafted in the 1st round, it would be a big surprise and a real project … that just might pay off down the road in a few years.
If the Coyotes were to take me to Toronto with them, I would not only allow them campout at my family’s cottage in Northern Ontario but also advise them to risk it all on Vladislav Evseev and Adam Henrich. But, a more likely scenario is the team drafting Martin Vagner and Daniel Paille. Could any Coyotes fan be unhappy with that pair of prosepects?
On June 22nd in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, home of hockey heaven, every Coyotes’ fan will find out on whom the Coyotes are willing to risk their roll of the dice. This draft may not be deep, but it could be productive for many future Coyotes teams. With Gretzky hiring Draft Mastermind Dave Draper to oversee the drafting production for the team, fans should have no worries that when the Coyotes through the dice at numbers 19 and 23 the team will come up with snake eyes and crap out.