NW Division Draft Preview

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 24: Taylor Hall is interviewed by a member of the media during NHL top prospect media availibilty prior to the start of the 2010 NHL Draft outside Staples Center on June 24, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Written by the Nation Network’s Special Correspondent at the Draft, Matt Bugg.

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LOS ANGELES – As on the ice, the teams that make up the Northwest Division represents both extremes at the draft table. Clubs who do not pick until the 3rd round will attempt to help their teams as much as those with double-digit picks, while emerging and elite teams will attempt to shore up already envious pipelines of talent as others continue to flounder in draft mediocrity. Any given draft can shape a team’s future, but just as important as how the Edmonton Oilers do, it’s who the other teams in the Northwest select that will shape the vision of future rivalries.

Vancouver Canucks (49-28-5, 5th NHL)

Picks: 25th, 115th, 145th, 172nd (PHO), 175th, 205th

First Round: Besides one notable hick-up- Patrick White in 2007- the Canucks have consistently drafted well in the first round. Mired in a mediocre slump that saw mercurial talents like Kirill Koltsov and R.J. Umberger make their into the organization early in the decade, Ryan Kesler was the start of the team’s turn-around at the 2003 Draft. It’s been hard to argue with the results since. In fact, only off-ice problems have really tarred the team’s record; there was no way to predict that Luc Bourdon would tragically lose his life at a young age, nor could anyone foresee a devastating back injury to 2008 tenth overall pick Cody Hodgson.

Nevertheless, the team’s stratgey is this: if you aren’t fast with ample amounts of game-breaking skill (Jordan Schroeder, Michael Grabner), you best be a high-character kid with a tremendous dedication to defensive play (Kesler, Hodgson).

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Second Day: Like many clubs, what consistently hurt the Canucks prior to Mike Gillis’ tenure was the lack of a goal with regards to the second day. Once the speedy or reliable kids run out, not having a game plan is as silly as an NHL coach running without a PK strategy. Enter Thomas Gradin; at least one and sometimes two home-run European picks that few hear much about prior to the Draft seem to find their way into a Canucks uniform- or at least ballcap- every year.

However, beyond Gradin find Alex Edler and speedster Mason Raymond, only one later-round pick since 2000 has played over 200 games: 2001 selection Kevin Bieksa. Recent draft classes have been a mish-mash of skill and projection, but what’s important is that the team come away with at least one NHL prospect a year from beyond the first round; in that regard, they’ve improved. Kevin Connauton and Anton Rodin (2009) both possess high-end potential, while gritty rearguard Yann Sauve has emerged as a stand-out from the 2008 group after being chosen 41st. Not-so-coincidentally, 2008 was Gillis’ first draft after the firing of Dave Nonis in April of that year.

DobberHockey Prospect Report Mock Draft:

  • 25th overall – D Jarred Tinordi (USNTDP)

With the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Cody Hodgson and eventually Jordan Schroeder, the Canucks are stocked at forward. And we needn’t mention goal. Next? A bigger, stronger defense that can shut down opposing forwards. 6’6 Jarred Tinordi is mobile and mean enough for the job, and could play in the league very soon.

Colorado Avalanche (43-30-9, 12th NHL)

Picks: 17th, 47th, 77th, 107th, 137th, 167th, 197th

First Round: Unbelievably, it’s not even the first round where the Avs do their best work, but they seem to do okay anyway. Matt Duchene was the obvious selection in 2009, but he was the team’s first pick in the top 30 since two-way rearguard Kevin Shattenkirk was selected 14th in 2007. Chris Stewart (18th overall, 2006) finally enjoyed a break-out year in 2009-10, and it was partially thanks to his success that 2004 first round Wojtek Wolski was shipped to Phoenix for Peter Mueller.

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Second Day: The Avalanche are quite easily the best in the league at finding talent in the second round. Ryan O’Reilly, the team’s top penalty killer, was selected 33rd overall just last summer. A couple spots above on the depth chart, Paul Stastny found his way into the organization after being skipped over once- and in Colorado’s case, twice!- during the 2005 Entry Draft. While part of that can be attributed to the fact the team had multiple 2nds in each case and could thus gamble a bit more, whoever the team selects at 47 is worth watching.

Summary: There is no template by which the Avalanche draft, save for selecting the kid with the highest total hockey IQ. No one would describe O’Reilly or Stastny as burners or majestic puck magicians, but they are nevertheless able to out-think most NHLers.

DobberHockey Prospect Report Mock Draft:

  • 17th overall – RW Emerson Etem (Medicine Hat WHL)

The Avalanche seemingly have a surplus of NHL forwards, with everyone from Matt Duchene to Brandon Yip experiencing coming-out parties in 09-10. But the pipeline is even more stocked on defense, so why not add another game-breaking winger in Emerson Etem? A long-term replacement for Milan Hejduk, Etem would look good next to Paul Stastny.

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  • 47th overall – C Ryan Martindale (Ottawa OHL)

If something’s working – namely drafting OHL centers- don’t mess with it. 6’3 Ryan Martindale won’t have the impact of a Duchene or even O’Reilly, but, then, no one expected both to be difference-makers from day one.

  • 77th overall – G Kent Simpson (Everett WHL)

Despite all their troubles in finding a warm body to put in place of Patrick Roy – never mind replace him – the Avs have been consistently lukewarm at the draft table when it comes to goalies. Anderson is it for now, but some depth is required to make sure this doesn’t happen again. 6’2 Kent Simpson – who boasted a 0.925 SV% and 2.26 GAA – is a potential gem.

Calgary Flames (40-32-10, 16th NHL)

Picks: 64th, 73rd, 103rd, 108th, 133rd, 163rd, 193rd

First Round: Uh, we’re just going to skip this and go right into it the…

Second Day: at about 11:00 or so when the Flames will finally make a pick, albeit by way of a PC and the dude with the microphone rather than on the podium. Stressing big, mean skaters early and often in previous drafts, GM Darryl Sutter finally realized it wasn’t 2003 anymore and promptly took a speedy, one dimensional forward with his first pick outside the first round in 2010. He followed that up with (gasp) a Swede before dipping back into familiar territory with two power forwards and a Finnish goaltender (Joni Ortio, 5th round). Still, it’s a sign that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks.

Summary: It’s tough to imagine a situation more helpless than the one in Calgary. Although boasting an impressive array of talent on paper, Darryl Sutter’s work has left the Flames with a core that is skilled yet past its prime at one end and young but lacking in game-breaking ability at the other. Even worse, both have something in common: cap hit. Unable to even promote young talent to fill holes simply because there is no good young talent- and unable to draft any more because they consistently trade picks for immediate help- there’s seemingly no way out.

Without a pick until the third round, the Flames will likely work the Draft the same way they did in 2009; the best individual talent to kick things off, a European here or there, some Tier II picks, and finally a big body or two just to round things out.

DobberHockey Prospect Report Mock Draft:

  • 64th overall – C Kevin Sundher (Chilliwack WHL)

Getting a 60-point, 100 PIM man in the third round is a good deal, and an even better one if your team has just one NHL-viable center prospect. An agitator rather than a pure forward, Kevin Sundher has the tremendous one-on-one ability necessary to make it to the show.

  • 73rd overall – D Matt MacKenzie (Calgary WHL)

The Flames rarely take advantage of the Hitmen pipeline that’s right under their nose, but they may not be able to pass up 6’1 Matt MacKenzie. The raw defender’s not an elite talent, but his hockey sense is top-end and he works the break-out like a pro.

Minnesota Wild (38-36-8, 22nd NHL)

Picks: 9th, 39th, 56th (WAS), 69th, 99th, 159th, 189th

First Round: When you do as poorly as Minnesota has in the latter rounds, it’s critical your first round picks consistently hit the mark. And they did- for a time. Early in their history, the Wild hit home-run after home-run with a run of Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns in consecutive drafts. But under ex-GM Doug Risebrough, even that became a weakness. Stressing size and over skill in order to fit the team’s demanding defensive scheme, the Wild followed up with the likes of A.J. Thelen, Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard and Colton Gillies.

Risebrough never realized the folly of his strategy, and earned the boot in April of 2009. It took just one draft for new GM Chuck Fletcher to make his mark; his first pick was Nick Leddy, an undersized puck-moving defenseman blessed with tremendous skill and mobility.

Second Day: For the worst-drafting team in the NHL outside the first round, it’s almost essential the team stock up on top sixty picks as they did this year. Don’t believe me? Between 2002 and 2009, the Wild have had just one player selected later the second round play over 100 games (Cal Clutterbuck). 2009 was a marked improvement, however, as pure ability began finding its way into the pipeline and the team began to (finally) utilize the vast talent pool in their own backyard with three selections out of Minnesota high school. Look to Fins – a draft habit that thankfully hasn’t changed – to also factor into the Wild’s picks as the second day progresses.

Summary: Although Fletcher is the right man for the job and was quick in beginning to undo the mess left behind by his predecessor, only several years’ worth of intelligent drafting can completely reverse the damage. However, unlike the Flames, Fletcher can continue to make his mark on the club in Los Angeles thanks to a respectable collection of draft picks.

DobberHockey Prospect Report Mock Draft:

  • 1st round (9th overall) – C/RW Mikael Granlund, HIFK
  • 2nd round (39th overall) – D Justin Faulk, USNTDP U-18
  • 2nd round (56th overall) – D Justin Holl, Minnetonka USHS
  • 3rd round (69th overall) – C Max Gardiner, Monnetonka USHS

Edmonton Oilers (27-47-8, 30th NHL)

Picks: 1st, 31st, 48th (NAS), 61st, 91st, 121st, 151st, 162nd (ANH), 166th (OTT), 181st

First Round: While 2004 is obviously a failure as a whole, it was the beginning of a shift in scouting philosophy. Rob Schremp had top-ten ability, but neither the skating ability nor the work ethic to make good on it. 2005 saw the team select Andrew Cogliano, an undersized forward with questionable offensive instincts but the best wheels in the Draft. 2007, 2008 and 2009 again saw an emphasis on pure offensive ability and skill. About the only criticism at this point is that the approach has led to too small a team, but using five first round picks to net four NHLers under 6’0 beats using five to get one over 6’1, as was the reality during the 90s.

Second Day: A deserved target of criticism for their draft habits prior to the Stu MacGregor era, the Oilers have refined their approach to rounds 4-7. Players who represent one or two NHL skills now take precedence over so-called Coke Machines, and while not every one of those lottery tickets will throw up a winning number, it’s impossible to find a future Pavel Datsyuk when you drat for size and fisticuffs. Already, Olivier Roy (5th round, 2009) Teemu Hartikainen (6th round, 2008) and Linus Omark (4th round, 2007) are out-performing their draft positions, proof-positive this strategy is working.

Of particular note is the presence of three sixth round picks. Expect the team to make some Hail-Marys in their quest to match the Detroit Red… err, Pittsburgh Penguins, err, whatever the model franchise is right now.

Summary: While it could certainly change, the Oilers are poised to enter Friday with the second-most picks in the Draft, just behind Carolina (11). Don’t you love being second-best to the Canes again?

The last time Edmonton boasted as many selections, it was 2004 when the Draft was still nine rounds and Devan Dubnyk, Rob Schremp, Roman Tesliuk and Geoff Paukovich signaled the, ahem, new wave of the future.

As the team boasting both the first overall selection and the most picks among Northwest Division clubs, it’s obvious that this upcoming weekend will- for good or bad- set the course for Edmonton’s future. There’s no excuse for the Oilers not to lap the field in terms of both quantity and quality- see the Avalanche last year- and as the recipient of some tough lessons (re: Parise/Pouliot) Stu MacGregor and staff are in the perfect position to take full advantage.

DobberHockey Prospect Report Mock Draft:

  • 1st round (1st overall) – LW Taylor Hall, Windsor Spitfires OHL
  • 2nd round (31st overall) – LW/RW Stanislav Galiev, Saint John Sea Dogs QMJHL
  • 2nd round (48th overall) – C Brock Nelson, Warroad High School USHS
  • 3rd round (61st overall) – LW/RW Victor Öhman, Malmö Allsvenskan