With the release of the Central Scouting Bureau’s Final Rankings, I’ll take this opportunity to run my eye over a few of the seemingly can’t miss prospects people will hear so much about prior to the June Draft. Also included are the early indications of where each player may end up and with what pick.
There is one player who should go to the Florida Panthers with the 1st overall pick. At 6’3, 206lbs, Medicine Hat defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, is the top prospect in the 2002 Draft. Bouwmeester is the most complete defenseman the Draft has seen available, since defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Chris Phillips were the first selections in the 1995 and 1996 drafts respectively.
The book on Bouwmeester is simple, he’s a great skater and does everything well at both ends of the ice, in other words exactly the type of player every NHL team wants as part of it’s blueline night in night out. He registered an impressive 12-goal, 49-assist and 61-point season with the Tigers while staying out of the Penalty Box for all but 42 minutes. This shows scouts one thing, he can perform at both ends of the ice while not losing his head and taking excessive stupid penalties trying to ‘assert his dominance’. That is a trait seen particularly in Detroit’s Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. While it is far to early to call Bouwmeester the ‘next Lidstrom’, he definately has the physical tools to play the kind of excellent two-way game Lidstrom is the master of. With Bouwmeester likely heading to Florida he will likely endure a tough first NHL season in 2002-2003 and he may be criticised for not ‘saving’ the franchise in his first season. Great defensemen, however, evolve not through physical ability alone, they learn how to play the game in their head and thus be a step ahead of the play. Bouwmeester is something special.
Finnish goaltender Kari Lehtonen enters the 2002 NHL Entry Draft as the top goaltending prospect available. He has used a stand-up style (currently considered the less flashy technique compared to the Butterfly) to build a name for himself not only in his homeland but his talent has caught the attention of the people that count – the NHL scouts. Given the Panthers already have the best young goaltender in the game patrolling the nets in Roberto Luongo, Lehtonen is unlikely to wrest the top spot in the draft from Bouwmeester. Lehtonen however is a puck-stopping machine and with the Atlanta Thrashers picking 2nd overall, he will be one player very hard to pass on. With the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning picking at 3 and 4 respectively, it wouldn’t be inconceivable to see Lehtonen possibly fall to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the #5 spot. Wherever he ends up, Lehtonen has the potential to be a quality starting netminder in the NHL.
Rick Nash of the London Knights is arguably the best forward in the 2002 Draft Class, but that is no guarantee he’ll go with within the first two picks of the draft. While Florida and Atlanta are by no means locked in with Bouwmeester and Lehtonen, Nash is probably a good bet to end up with the Columbus Blue Jackets with the 3rd overall pick. Nash has excellent size at 6’3, 188lbs, and has been advertised as a strong two-way player with an edge. While Nash may go in the top 3, the feeling here is that he will evolve into a high caliber 2nd line winger in the Chris Drury mold. Which in reality is probably not worth such a high selection, but at the same time a quality investment.
Jiri Hudler is a craft Czech playmaker that has tremendous upside if he can adapt to playing against men who dwarf his 5’9, 176lb frame. Even though listed as a center, Hudler’s future is probably on the wing in the NHL in a similar role to Boston’s Sergei Samsonov. If he can take the grind of the regular season, Hudler has the potential to record 50-plus assists, with skilled linemates. Could fall to the bottom half of the Top 10 if general managers shy away from his lack of size, he may end up with the Nashville Predators or Minnesota Wild if that is the case.
There are three defensive prospects that could also go in the Top 10 if NHL clubs go in the direction of defense. Finn Joni Pitkanen, Russian Anton Babchuk and American Ryan Whitney are all considered the kind of defenders that make life difficult for forwards in the defensive zone. All are at least 6’3, 194lbs and are known for their strong physical play. The appeal of these three hulking defensemen is their ability to play a simple yet effective game; a quality that general managers love, mainly because a player can always be coached and developed if they have strong basics.
Given the offensive talent that went early in the 2001 Draft, it is somewhat of a surprise if defense would dominate the early picks of the 2002 Draft. Some forwards to keep an eye on come draft time include:
Vladislav Evseev, Alexander Semin, Jonas Johansson, Scottie Upshall, Petr Kanko and one ‘roughie’ in particular the University of Michigan’s Jason Ryznar.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the 2002 Draft will not be who is selected but who hangs onto those coveted Top 10 picks. Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Nashville and Anaheim in particular have drafted high for the past few years, which means they are not improving at the rate they should be. Thus these teams may well be ‘swayed’ by ownership to trade their high picks for the impact players that take an average team into playoff calculations.
At any rate, the 2002 NHL Entry Draft should be a beauty.
By Warrick Nicolson