The Toronto Maple Leafs have spent the past few years trying to pick up the pieces from a largely broken down franchise in the mid-1990′s. The management team, headed by President and General Manager, Ken Dryden, has decided to try to rebuild the team from the ground up, using the draft to add skilled prospects and the Leafs’ system to develop that talent.
Following the end of the Leafs’ magical playoff run in 98-99, Coach Pat Quinn earmarked a team need for more bigger, stronger, physical, forwards who have the speed and skills to be significant offensive threats as well. Associate GM, Mike Smith, then stated that the free agent route will most likely not be an avenue used by the team this year to “upgrade” their talent level. It appears that for the most part, the Leafs will use their own system to add to this “team need” as they enter a new season and a new milleneium in 1999-2000.
The Leafs went out, a bit, on the “proverbial limb” in the 1998 draft by selecting a largely unknown prospect in center, Nikolai Antropov from Kazakstan. Antropov has some potential as he is refining his game with the Moscow Dynamo team in Russia. Some in the Leafs’ system feel that Nikolai may push for a roster spot next season, but it is likely he will return to Russia for one more season and then may need at least a half of a season at St. John’s to acclimate himself to the North American pro game.
A clean slate. That is what the Avalanche will be looking for come this summer. Following a disappointment in the playoffs, the Lanche are faced with an interesting summer and new year. From a new arena to a new owner, this upcoming season will be one full of changes as the Lanche try to right what they feel to be a few “wrongs” in their system.
Let me first get a few things out before we even look at what the Lanche will go after this year in the draft, trades and free agency. Lacroix must stay, he’s made solid deals and wants to win. Kamensky, Lefebvre, Gusarov and their high salaries are all gone…unless they sign for less money. Fleury might not re-sign. He has less than a month till free agency and big money. Lacroix will be working overtime to get his lone big name FA signed. He does have a few plusses in his corner…Sakic and a team called the Avalanche. If or if not Fleury re-signs, Lemiuex, Donovan, and Sakic will be shopped around the league. Yes Sakic. Joe is in his last year of his contract and he has two things going for him…a cheap contract and star status, which means most teams will bite. Come next off season we could see Roy gone too as the expansion draft approaches and the Avalanche will be forced to decide on Roy or Denis. They can stop this by getting Atlanta to take Billington in the expansion draft hence preventing the Lanche from losing another goalie next year. My guess is the name Billington will be called on draft day. Now that the ground work is laid out, lets take a look at what the Lanche need and want.
As predicted, the Islanders house cleaning has already begun with the departure of team captain Trevor Linden to the Canadiens for the 10th overall pick. Linden didn’t produce on Long Island and this move frees up space down the middle. With two top ten picks for the second time in three years the Isles are expected to take a couple of forwards to bolster their goal scoring. At the 5 spot they are likely to pick one of two centerman, Jamie Lundmark or Kris Beech. It is reported that Milbury favors Beech’s size, speed, and two way game despite Lundmarks greater upside. At the 10th position the Isles will most likely selesct one of two wingers, Jani Rita or Taylor Pyatt. Pyatt is a huge left winger, however unlike Rupp he can actually score and is perhaps the fastest player in the draft. He won the CHL All-Stars lap skating competition with a faster time than Rico fata did last year. Jani Rita is also a likely possibilty if he is available at the 10th pick. He is a big fast right winger who plays a power game, however some question his scoring ability.
No this old adage was not referring to Rome Georgia, but the expansion team Atlanta Thrashers could benefit from this saying and hopefully some luck. The Thrashers would like to be able to draft a future star player and maybe have something to build their marketing around in the media Mecca of the south. This could be a possibility as this years draft assuredly contains 4 or 5 players of great potential.
The Thrashers draft 2nd and with this pick in any draft you are reactionary to the what the team picking first does. Atlanta’s GM Don Waddell seems to be very interested in Sweden’s 6’1″ Left Wing Daniel Sedin. When asked if he thought the Sedin twins would not do as well if they were split apart, Waddell answered that they should both be stars on their own and keeping them together may not be realistic. Waddell also stated that his scouting staff have seen the Sedin twins about 20 times. Pavel Brendl would also be of interest to Atlanta but the feeling seems to be that Tampa will use the first selection to draft him. When asked about Patrick Stefan, Waddell without hesitation expressed doubt about Stefan’s long term health due to multiple concussions. “The team that drafts Stefan must be satisfied through medical tests that Stefan is able to continue to play in the NHL at a high level”.
The Ducks may not have a high quantity of prospects but they certainly have the quality in Vitali Vishnevsky. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defenseman is very mobile for a big man. Vishnevsky who was picked by the Ducks fifth overall in the 1998 entry draft, has been called “a loose cannon” by some scouts, playing with the likes of Darius Kasparaitis, though he isn’t as physically imposing as Kasparaitis. Even though he’s not that big his still tough and can move the puck well. He has also been compared to New Jersey’s Scott Stevens, but with better skating. He impressed many of the scouts with his play in the 1999 World Junior Championship, being named the best defenseman. If the Ducks can sign him they would like to see him in camp next year.