“Are yinz ready for da NHL Draft?”
That’s a question that has been on the lips of many Pittsburghers over the past week, as that city and their NHL club, the Pittsburgh Penguins, prepare to make the most anticipated selection of a hockey player since a certain QMJHL star was selected by these same Penguins some 21 years ago.
While last Friday’s lottery result has taken some of the drama away from Saturday’s proceedings, the selection of CHL Player of the Year and top prospect Sidney Crosby will remain the major topic of discussion even after the last name has been called in the 2005 NHL Draft. The 17-year-old Crosby has earned this type of attention by virtue of both his boundless talent and his ability to handle, and even revel in, the media spotlight that has been fixed on him over the past couple of years.
But there will be plenty of other stories to be told after the Penguins cash their winning ticket. One bit of intrigue that has been developing over the past week is the fate of the second overall selection, currently held by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. It is said that new Ducks GM Brian Burke is entertaining offers for that pick, one that could eventually be used to select U.S. National Team Development Program defenseman Jack Johnson. The consensus has been building that Johnson is the second-best player in this draft, and a blue-chip defensive prospect, to boot. So teams eager to add a near impact defender might be willing to pay Burke’s price.
After Crosby and Johnson, however, the picture becomes a bit foggier.
There are as many as five players that have a realistic chance of having their name called when the third pick comes up, a pick currently held by the Carolina Hurricanes. For much of the 2004-05 season, the name called at No. 3 seemed certain to be Vancouver Giants forward Gilbert Brule. But, as the season wore on, names like that of OHL Rookie of the Year Benoit Pouliot and potential power forward Bobby Ryan have gained in stature. One player who could sneak in at the third pick is the top European prospect, Slovenian center Anze Kopitar. Even Carey Price, the top goaltending prospect in this draft, could have his name called should the team that ultimately holds this pick view Price as the best player available.
Another plot line that could develop is the emergence of a Blake Wheeler-type of selection, that being a player drafted much higher, say in the top 5, than was expected. While it seems unlikely that a player will make the kind of jump that Wheeler did at last year’s draft, there are a couple of players whose stock has been rapidly climbing in recent months.
One is Czech Martin Hanzal, the gangly center that International Scouting Services currently has ranked 12th. Hanzal had a solid showing against many of his peers at the Under-18 WJC earlier this year, which no doubt has contributed to his rise in the rankings. But the true left-field pick could be towering defenseman Joe Finley out of the USHL. The 6-7, 233-pound Finley isn’t just a big body, as he has shown steady improvement in his overall skills while playing for the Sioux Falls Stampede. And Finley should only improve further, as he will be joining one of the top NCAA programs this fall at the University of North Dakota.
So, while “Crosbymania” will reign supreme in Pittsburgh, there should be plenty of plot twists at the 2005 NHL Draft to keep all hockey fans interested through the first round.
Or, maybe it will be time to fire up the Phil Kessel hype machine in anticipation of The Next, Next, Next One.