The following is a ranking provided by International Scouting Service, an independent scouting service with products available for both the hockey professional and the hockey fan. Their website can be found at www.internationalscouting.com .
Going into the 2004 Entry Draft, about the only controversy — if you can call it that — is who will end up being the second player selected in the talent lottery. With Russian phenom Alexander Ovechkin firmly entrenched as ISS’ No. 1 ranked prospect, the battle for second is wide open and at this early stage it is between three or four top end talents. The draft is scheduled for June 25-27, 2004, at the RBC Center in Raleigh, NC.
As of January 4th, here is an exclusive look at ISS top 15 ranked prospects for the 2004 NHL Entry draft.
1. Alexander Ovechkin LW 6’2” 205 09.17.85 DYNAMO
2. Evgeni Malkin C 6’3” 185 07.31.86 METALLURG
3. Rostilav Olesz C 6’2” 200 10.10.85 HC VITKOVICE
4. Robbie Schremp C 6’0.5” 200 07.01.86 LONDON
5. Wojtek Wolski LW 6’3” 188 02.24.86 BRAMPTON
6. Cam Barker LD 6’3” 206 04.04.86 MEDICINE HAT
7. Drew Stafford RW 6’2” 200 10.30.85 NORTH DAKOTA
8. Lauri Tukonen RW 6’2” 198 09.01.86 ESPOO BLUES JR.
9. Alvaro Montoya G 6’1.5” 193 02.13.85 U. of MICHIGAN
10. Evan McGrath C 6’0” 180 01.14.86 KITCHENER
11. Andrej Meszaros LD 6’2” 187 10.13.85 TRENCIN DUKLA
12. Devan Dubnyk G 6’5” 186 05.04.86 KAMLOOPS
13. Wes O’Neil LD 6’3” 205 03.03.86 NOTRE DAME
14. Enver Lisin RW 6’1” 183 04.22.86 DYNAMO-2
15. Andrew Ladd LW 6’2” 200 12.12.65 CALGARY
“Superstar” or “Franchise” or the “Next Great One”. Pick any one; they all apply to this young Russian star. Ovechkin was excellent last year in the World Championships in Halifax and expectations for this young super star were high, possibly too high for this year’s tournament. Already considered by many hockey experts to be the best player outside the NHL, Ovechkin is amazingly mature for his age. He simply loves to play the game. He has superstar potential and is ISS’ unanimous favorite to go first overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He stands at 6’2” and has the skill to dominate a game both offensively and physically. He is a player who can and will turn a franchise into a winner.
One of the top 2004 NHL Entry Draft top prospects, Malkin is a highly skilled, smooth skating, playmaking centerman. A bit overshadowed at times by Ovechkin, make no mistake; Malkin is an exceptional talent on his own, who will challenge for second overall. At the WJC he demonstrated world-class skills, in spite of the lackluster play of his team. Malkin was one of the few players on the Russian squad who brought his “A” game. Has the skill to handle the puck and read the game at top speed. He creates scoring opportunities for his teammates, but needs to work on his shot.
Olesz is a power forward with loads of skill. He plays both ways with a big heart and smart. He was injured in the semifinal against Canada and as a result the Czech team lost their leader. It is expected he will have a four-week recovery period from the concussion injury. Olesz is a very talented, highly skilled player, who has had the scouting community buzzing since he played 11 games in the Czech Elite League as a 15-year-old. A real team leader type, he doesn’t take shifts off and plays with lots of heart. Plays a rugged style of game and is very aware defensively.
It’s been a pretty interesting year for this American phenom to this point. Not logging nearly as much ice in London as he did in Mississauga, he continues to contribute to London’s high-powered offense. All trade talk aside, going on three years of observation; we’ve never seen attitude problems on the ice. If we’ve got the fifth pick and he’s still available, we’d select him. The most hockey smart player in the group, an absolute wizard offensively, to say this player sees the ice extremely well would be a total understatement. He is able to make scoring opportunities out of seemingly nothing. He’s an above average skater who can handle the puck both creatively and with ease at top speed.
The play of Wolski has been a real bright spot on what could be considered the most underachieving squad in the OHL this season. With the absence of key veteran players over the course of the holidays, Wolski has really stepped up to the plate and has emerged easily as Battalion’s single biggest offensive threat. It’s his ability to identify and react quickly to situations deep in the offensive zone that make him as big a threat as he is. Intensity and physical play is one facet of Wolski’s game that will be monitored closely by ISS scouts in the second half of the season.
Drafted in the first round fourth overall in the 2001 WHL draft, Barker has come accustomed to high expectations. Currently ranked sixth overall by ISS, he has the potential to be a top two NHL defenseman. He will be expected to continue to build on his strong first half play, not only offensively but also defensively. He’s a strong skater, very physical, with a good transition game. He makes a good first pass out of the defensive zone and is a hard guy to play against.
We’re very big on this player, and we probably nit pick at his game because we have high expectations and expect a lot from him. He was an early maturer who dominated earlier in his minor hockey career. Other players are now catching up to him. Barker needs to recognize that fact, take an inventory of his hockey abilities and areas needing improvement, and develop strategies to realize his incredible potential and complete his development as a hockey player. The area deserving most of the attention is a fairly common one for young defensemen, developing quicker feet. If improvement is realized in this area, the sky is the limit.
North Dakota’s Drew Stafford, who played at Shattuck last year, has really caught the attention of ISS scouts with his outstanding play so far this year. At the recent WJC, Stafford started on the fourth line but ended playing on the second line before too long. In six games, opponents did not score when he was on the ice. He worked hard, skated effectively and forechecked intelligently. He didn’t handle the puck very often but when he did, he showed good puck handling skills. Stafford has a terrific shot, has a great change of pace, drives hard and has a nose for the net. He has a nasty streak and exhibited it on several occasions in battles for the puck.
Tukonen started on the first line with Bergenheim (NYI) and All-Star Valtteri Filppula (DET), but after a few games he was moved to the fourth line. Tukonen continued to play on the first power play unit as a right-handed shooter known for his scoring skills. Although he worked hard, he experienced difficulty in scoring and did not get that many quality shots. Against a weak Ukraine he excelled but was unsuccessful against strong teams. However in his last game he scored an important goal for Finland. He has a world-class scoring skill, timing, soft hands, toughness in front of the goalie and a very quick release with uncanny precision.
Montoya has seen his draft ranking on the rise since a strong showing at the recent World U-20 Championships in Finland. Without a doubt, he was the best goalie in the tournament. He was very calm in tough situations, both in semifinal and in the final. Much of this comes from being focused in every situation and having a good understanding of the game. Uses his stick very efficiently, good decision maker and can make the long pass. Montoya has definitely helped himself with his WJC performance, it remains to be seen if he can continue to play at that level. Before he left for Finland, he was rather inconsistent for Michigan and looked shakier than he did last year.
At the half way point of the season, McGrath continues to roll right along. He took on a bigger role with the team in the absence of both Mike Richards and Petr Kanko, both of whom took part in the WJC’s this season. McGrath has loads of offensive weapons and when he is on his game, watch out. He is the type of player people will come to watch and is a potential game-breaker. He has explosive speed along with great puck handling skills. We’ll be expecting big things from this player in the second half of 2003-2004 as the playoffs draw closer.
A lot of people in the hockey industry were questioning ISS high ranking of Meszaros, as far back as October. Not anymore! Meszaros was the best defender in the Slovakian team. He had a lot of ice time, especially on power play. He possesses a heavy slap shot and wrist shot. Playing short-handed he played aggressive and physical on a steady basis. When playing Russia, Meszaros was on the ice each time superstar Alexander Ovechkin hit the ice surface. His strongest asset in the WJC was playing without the puck. He finished his checks, played very physical and was always ready for a quick transition play. Meszaros has always had a reputation of being good with the puck, however in this tournament he did not have the time to be as creative as his norm. Nevertheless, his play in this tournament strengthened his position as a NHL 2004 first round draft pick and as one of the best young defenders in Europe. He played in all types of situations, including the power play and penalty kill. His ability to slow the play down, make consistent good outlet passes and find the open options is a strength for him.
Currently ranked 12th by ISS, Dubnyk at 6’5” covers a lot of net and plays a strong positional game. He plays with a lot of confidence, and stays calm under pressure. With the trading of 17-year-old goaltender Dustin Slade, Dubnyk will be asked to carry the majority of the load in the second half. With Kirk McLean as his goaltending coach he has help with the mental side of his game. Endurance shouldn’t be a concern, extra weight lifting and cardiovascular work has increased his fitness. His athleticism, coordination and agility have progressed at every stage of his development.
O’Neil is enjoying a fantastic start to this his draft year. He’s a phenomenal defenseman with tons of potential. Playing as a regular for the University of Notre Dame this season, O’Neil will be a highly sought after commodity. An excellent skater with long smooth strides and has the offensive instincts to quarterback a power play effectively.
This young Russian sniper has a great combination of size and skill along with fantastic acceleration. He loves having the puck on his stick and can handle it at a very high tempo. Lisin possesses great speed and agility, very good puck skills and a quick hard shot. He is creative with the puck and works hard away from the puck. Lisin looks like he has grown an inch and added 10 pounds since we saw him last.
The best thing to happen to the Hitmen this year has been the emergence of Ladd, a rookie from Maple Ridge, B.C. Ladd has exceeded expectations and he is now projected to be an early-mid first-round draft pick in next summer’s NHL entry draft. With linemate Ryan Getzlaf off to the WJC, Ladd has picked up the offensive slack and proven to ISS western scouts that he is the real deal. As a result, he has climbed up ISS rankings to 15th. Ladd has many appealing features including skating, puck skills and perhaps most important, he competes hard along the boards and will drive to the net. Shows some good offensive instincts and playmaking ability.