Lighting It Up – 2007 draft edition

By Glenn Gawronski

Some last minute thoughts as we get ready for the 2007 NHL draft:

If I were sitting here with the No. 1 overall draft pick, I would take just about whatever I could get to drop down to No. 2.  There’s simply not much separating my top two prospects. 

Having been involved in scouting and player evaluation for the past 15 years, I can’t remember when I’ve had two prospects ranked as evenly as Patrick Kane and Kyle Turris.  They have similar strengths, similar weaknesses and similar upside.  I’d love to be able to give a definitive answer as to who the better prospect is, but it’s too close to call.

If I had to make a choice, I would probably take Kane No. 1.  But it’s tough to make a convincing argument for it.  And as we’re getting closer to the draft, putting Kane ahead of Turris is starting to emerge as a minority opinion.  Turris has gained an awful lot of late-season and post-season momentum.  That may not necessarily be the case with Chicago picking at No. 1, but a consensus may be building toward Turris.  But my comfort level with Kane is a little bit higher.

Admittedly, my ranking of Kane at No. 1 may be the result of having seen him significantly more than Turris.  I’ve seen Kane develop, improve and dominate for the last three seasons, while my first-hand views of Turris are far more limited.

There are a couple of interesting things that I’ve noticed in the past few weeks.  A lot of the talk about Kane during the course of the season centered around how he would thrive in the new, more wide-open, finesse-friendly NHL.  And now that the NHL playoffs have once again reminded us that size, strength and physical play are still important factors, Kane supporters don’t seem to be as vocal.

Another item I’ve noticed is that those who like Kane better than Turris still have them ranked pretty evenly, but give a slight nod to Kane.  But the scouts who have Turris ranked ahead of Kane seem to feel that Turris will be noticeably better.  As scouts are getting more and more comfortable with Turris, they’re starting to see a much higher upside.

This will probably sound like a real politically correct approach, but I don’t think you can go wrong with either of the two.

With all the talk about Kane and Turris, don’t lose sight of the fact that there are several other terrific prospects.

There’s a lot to like about Jakub Voracek.  He made a fairly smooth transition to North America this year and he continued to progress in all aspects of his game.  I’ve talked to more than a few people who have Voracek as the top prospect in the draft.  That might be just a bit optimistic, but I can definitely see how good Voracek can be.  When he’s on his game, he is a special player

James van Riemsdyk is a classic work-in-progress.  He has the raw tools to be a dominant force at both ends of the ice.  But the key word there is raw.  He’s likely to need two or three years in college before he’s close to being NHL ready.  But if he puts all the tools together, he’ll be a first liner with size and skill.

There always seems to be one or two wild cards in every draft.  One of the guys filling that role this year is Russian winger Alexei Cherepanov.  It’s safe to say that every team in the NHL is intrigued by him.  His talent level is top-notch and he may be the best pure goal scorer in the draft.  Cherepanov is an explosive player, but he’s also capable of looking disinterested at times.  When he wants to play, he’s a game-breaker.

They may not develop into stars, but forward Sam Gagner and defenseman Karl Alzner are solid, safe picks.

Gagner really emerged in London this season.  His offensive numbers may be inflated due to playing alongside Kane, but don’t underestimate Gagner’s skills.  He has soft hands, excellent vision and anticipation, and despite lacking great size, he gets involved and is willing to take a hit.  Gagner is the type of player who can anchor a second line, excel on special teams and provide leadership.

When you talk about Western League defensemen, there’s a certain image that always comes to mind.  A big, strong, solid blueliner who does the little things well and knows what it takes to make it in the pro game.  And this describes Alzner perfectly.  NHL clubs know exactly what they’re getting.  A guy you can plug into your lineup for a decade and not have to worry about.

One thing to remember this year is that things will not go according to form.  Expect to see a lot of surprises in this draft with some guys falling and others going a lot earlier than predicted.  This may be the year where the so-called experts are left wondering what’s going on.

Back in the Ontario Hockey League, there are a few intriguing storylines worth following.  Logan Couture is a legitimate top-10, maybe top-15 prospect.  But after a season with some injuries and illness, has he fallen in the eyes of the scouts?  And will he be a victim of over-scouting and unreal expectations?

How early will a club take a chance on Akim Aliu?  He has size, strength, speed, toughness, and decent enough puck skills.  But it’s the intangibles that have teams concerned.  Aliu has had his share of off-ice issues.   He’ll have another change of scenery this coming year as London has acquired his OHL rights from Sudbury.  If there’s a team that thinks it’s just a matter of maturity and that playing for the Knights will be just what he needs, Aliu could go higher than expected.

Are Brett MacLean‘s impressive numbers in Oshawa the result of playing with John Taveres, or is MacLean a top prospect who can provide size and scoring punch?  And where will smooth-skating offensive defenseman Mark Katic wind up?  He’s a mobile defender who can generate offense, but he lacks size and seemed to plateau this year.

Over in the WHL, Alzner headlines a strong group of defensemen.  There are probably a dozen or so future NHL blueliners coming out of the ‘Dub’ this year.  There’s certainly a drop-off after Alzner, but don’t underestimate the other blueliners.  Alex Plante, Keaton Ellerby. John Negrin, John Blum, Thomas Hickey, Nick Ross, and Eric Doyle will all be heard from.

Two of the more underrated prospects in the draft are Vancouver winger Michal Repik and Prince George center Dana Tyrell.  Repik is a scoring threat with a good shot and above average offensive skills.  Tyrell meanwhile, posted decent numbers, but I like him more for the intangibles.  He works hard and has emerged as a team leader.  He’ll be an ideal role player.

As impressive as the Western League defensemen may be, the crop of forwards coming out of the Quebec League may be just as good.  There may not be a lot of can’t-miss, top-end talent, but there is very good depth and good overall potential.

Angelo Esposito is one of the more frustrating prospects in the draft.  You know he’s capable of dominating games, but all too often this season, he looked like a very talented underachiever.  That being said, if I had a chance to take him in the bottom part of the top-ten, I’d seriously consider him.  I still think he has first line potential.

One of the better puckhandlers in the draft, David Perron makes plays without losing a step and is able to create and finish.  He works hard in the offensive zone and keeps his feet moving.  But he’s still pretty raw and needs to work on winning the one-on-one battles.  If he adds an extra gear, he could be very effective.

Keven Veilleux is a lanky center with decent hands, a long reach and a nice passing touch.  He has the frame to add a lot more muscle and once he does, he should be stronger on the puck.  He has a potential power forward build with a style that doesn’t yet match.

A couple of other prospects worth noting are Max Gratchev, Ruslan Bashkirov and Maxime Tanguay.  They’ve all shown flashes of ability and are worth second round consideration.

Elsewhere around North America, there’s not a particularly strong group of players coming out of the US high school or US Development ranks.  There’s some talent, but not much star potential or tons of depth. 

Defenseman Tommy Cross has above average size and is fundamentally sound, but he really needs to show more offensively.  He’s a long-term project.  Fellow blueliner Ryan McDonagh has better offensive skills and instincts than Cross, but he has a lot more to learn in the defensive zone.  He too has yet to be tested on a nightly basis, but the tools are there.

Kevin Shattenkirk from the US U-18 squad is a finesse blueliner with speed, quickness and excellent vision.  I really like his ability to join the rush and get the transition game going.  He also has the speed to get back into position in the defensive zone.  He doesn’t have ideal size and he can get outmuscled, but his long-term potential is pretty high.

Junior A players to look for include forwards Casey Pierro-Zabotel (Merritt), Riley Nash (Salmon Arm), Ben Winnett (Salmon Arm), Brendan Smith (St. Michael’s) and Paul Thompson (Jr. Monarchs).

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.