Winnipeg 2011 draft preview

By Kyle West
Photo: Hockey’s Future has Ryan Strome going as the first ever draft pick by the new team in Winnipeg. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

Top 10 prospects

1. Carl Klingberg, RW
2. Patrice Cormier, C
3. Spencer Machacek, RW
4. Paul Postma, D
5. Arturs Kulda, D
6. Ivan Telegin, C
7. Ben Maxwell, C
8. Eric O’Dell, C
9. Daultan Leveille, C
10. Julian Melchiori, D

Organizational Needs

An organization that was laboring under the stress of needing to make the playoffs every year, the Atlanta Thrashers are starting over in Winnipeg and will enjoy an extended honeymoon. With the pressure to see immediate results lessened and the GM and Coaching staff undergoing an overhaul, draft predictions for Winnipeg are going to be hard to pin down

A lack of an elite goal scorer is one organizational need that could be addressed through the draft. Selecting at seventh overall in the first round, Winnipeg will need to look past the “Big 5” prospects for 2011, a group which includes shifty center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Swedish workhorse Adam Larsson, combative all-rounder Gabriel Landeskog, slick playmaker Jonathon Huberdeau, and QMJHL star Sean Couturier. At seventh overall, Winnipeg could target Finnish power forward Joel Armia as one player who could grow into an elite scorer. Other options are likely to include Niagara’s powerhouse scoring center Ryan Strome and Mikka Zibanejad who plays a physical game with a lot of enthusiasm.

Organizational Strengths

At defense, Winnipeg inherits a group of established veterans which includes Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, and Johnny Oduya as well as 2008 top five pick Zach Bogossian. “Big Bogo” was a bit of a mitigated disaster last year for Atlanta, struggling with his defensive assignments and apparently feuding with the coaching staff. An expensive RFA, the 20-year old Bogossian has been the subject of persistent trade rumours and might be dealt to acquire scoring help.

Organizational Weaknesses

Although centers make up half of Winnipeg’s Top 10 prospects, the quality is not equal to the quantity. Aside from the flashes of brilliance from rookie Alex Burmistrov, selected eighth overall in the 2010 entry draft, there is little to get excited about from the centers imported from Atlanta. Ben Maxwell and Daultan Leveille are slick passers but play too much on the perimeter while Patrice Cormier and Ivan Telegin project better as wingers. Eric O’Dell seems to have recovered fully from last season’s scare when he underwent surgery to correct a heart defect, but Angelo Esposito and Akim Aliu are distressingly regressing.

Draft Tendencies

The past few drafts saw the Thrashers get bigger and meaner, a draft tendency which has yielded the type of crash and bang wingers that should become fan favorites in Winnipeg. In 2009, Atlanta added winger Evander Kane at fourth overall, already a respected scrapper who can score a bit and Carl Klingberg at 34th overall, a hulking Swede with a gap-toothed grin who terrorized defenders at the recent WJC tournament. In 2010 6’4 Russian Ivan Telegin was added to the roster in the fourth round as a player with ideal size and some skill to go with it.

With the move to Winnipeg and overhaul of the management, the draft tendencies of the Thrashers seems like a moot point to consider. The Thrashers have shown a preference for the CHL as a source, especially the WHL, which is not a trend the new Winnipeg management would be likely to overturn.

Having traded their second rounder to Chicago, Atlanta grants the new Winnipeg brass their picks in the third, fourth and sixth rounds as well as two picks in the fifth and two in the seventh.
With good depth in goal, the focus for this first Winnipeg draft will likely be the continuing acquisition of skilled forwards in the early rounds and dependable defenseman in later rounds.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:

No. 7: Ryan Strome, C

Strome was a revelation this season, finishing third in OHL scoring with 33 goals and 106 points in 65 games with the Niagara Ice Dogs. Acquired from Barrie in the Alex Pietrangelo trade late last year, Strome went from virtual unknown to potential top 10 pick in the space of a season. He has also become a YouTube sensation with his regular exhibition of devastating speed and dazzling playmaking skills. A solidly built 6’1 and 185 lbs, Strome has the skating skills to stay out of trouble and may challenge for an NHL spot right away. With Burmistrov and Strome as a one-two punch down the middle, Winnipeg would look well set-up at the center position.