Al Muir's Blog
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I'll be blogging the first round of the NHL Entry Draft live tonight. Already a lot of action in Columbus, with the Leafs grabbing Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell from the Sharks for a trio of draft picks including, potentially, the 13th overall pick tonight. My knee-jerk reaction to that deal is already up at www.si.com. The Vokoun deal that just went down was another pretty fair deal from the perspective of both sides. The Panthers picked up a legitimate top-10 goalie--maybe top-five--to help replace Luongo. He'll play a huge role in stabilizing that young but rapidly improving squad, and he's under contract for the next four years, which gives them stability at that position and may make Florida a more appealing destination for free agents. The Preds get three picks, including a first in next year's draft--with a much deeper talent pool than this year--and based on what we've seen from Chris Mason, they probably won't experience a significant drop off in the net.

 Lots of talk about the Flyers moving the No. 2 overall pick. I'd bet on it happening.

 ***

Word's going around about the Nashville sale and it appears the Balsillie deal is dead. Not quite sure what's up, but the rumour is that Craig Leipold has killed it. I speculated in a column a couple weeks ago that the league would slap him down for his overly aggressive approach to moving the team to Hamilton, but it sounds like it was Leipold who pulled the plug for that very reason. Great day for the fans of Nashville, but they still have a lot of work to do if they want to keep this struggling franchise in place.

***

Biggest penalty kill of the night will be all the perfunctory thanking of Columbus for the hospitality and congratulating Anaheim for the Cup win. I'm setting the over/under for each at 20. I figure I'll be stepping into my dress blues and polishing the revolver by the fifth mention.

Chicago's on the clock. First time they've ever selected first. Has to be Kane, doesn't it?

***

 Tallon just mentioned that there are 3,500 fans in Chicago at a draft party. That's pretty close to what they get at the rink most nights, isn't it? Well, at least on the nights when they've got a decent giveaway ...

And there it is...it's Kane. This kid was amazing at the World Juniors. Every time he was on the ice, you held your breath waiting for something spectacular to happen. Tiny? Yeah, he really is small, and he's going to need some size playing with him, but there are a lot of guys playing in the league at his size these days. It has to be energizing for Hawks fans to imagine this kid playing on a line with Jonathan Toews, maybe as soon as 2008-09. And even though I grew up hating the London Knights, I really have to respect that organization. You look at the talent they've developed over the past couple years--Rick Nash, Rob Schremp, Corey Perry--they're unmatched in junior hockey. No wonder Dale Hunter's name is starting to pop up when NHL coaching jobs open up. He obviously deserves a lot of credit both for attracting and developing top talent.

***

Looks like I was wrong about that trade talk. The Flyers just grabbed James Van Riemdsyk. No surprise with that choice. Big banging winger, prototypical power forward. Classic Flyers player. Great skater for his size and has above-average hands. He's probably a couple years away--he needs time to fill out, learn how to play away from the puck, but when he's ready, he'll be an excellent second liner. I'm a bit concerned about his plans to attend New Hampshire next year. US college hockey has developed a lot of talented players over the years, but the last quality power forward to come out was, who? Bill Guerin, maybe? It wouldn't surprise me to see him head to the OHL after his first year of school. I'll have to see who owns his rights.
Just found out it's Brampton. Makes a lot more sense for his development to go to the O. 

The Coyotes just took Turris. That's as good a fit for him and his talents as Philly was for Van Riemsdyk. Another smallish guy--he's six foot-- but he's paper thin. Looks like he'd fall down if you skated by him, but he's got an amazing shot that has everyone comparing him to Sakic. I think Kariya is a better comparison, same size, thinks the game the same way, very composed, mature kid. Lot of fun to watch. He's going to Wisconsin next year and he'll probably be there for at least two years, so as much as Phoenix needs a quick fix, he's not it. In time, though, they might have picked up a really special player...and someone who's game really seems in sync with coach Gretzky.

***
This is going on a lot quicker than usual today. Guess that's the power of American TV at work. And there's the first off-the-board pick. Thomas Hickey to Los Angeles. Absolute shocking pick by the Kings. I talked to a couple scouts who really like him, but both thought he'd be available when they selected in the 20s. Hard to believe that Karl Alzner didn't appeal to them more based on what I've seen of these guys. Obviously the Kings think his skating and his offense were too good to wait on, and they wanted to make sure they got the player they had ranked highest on their list, but I'm thinking they could have traded down and still managed to grab him. This really shakes things up for the next few picks. Washington could certainly use a blueliner like Alzner, and as much as they have a need for a creative center like Gagner, it's hard to imagine them passing on the Calgary Hitmen star. Remember, this is a kid who made Team Canada at 17, and though he didn't get a lot of ice, it tells you all you need to know about his maturity, his composure and his hockey sense that he was given a chance at a tournament dominated by 19-year-olds. Now wait, I can see WAS GM George McPhee talking to Kevin Lowe, who has three picks to play with. Maybe something's up...

***

Washington's keeping the pick. If you haven't seen the new Washington sweater, have to say, it's pretty sharp. Pretty simple, but I like the clean look.

Funny flub by McPhee, who started out by saying "proud to select from the London..." Had to give Gagner a heart attack when he corrected himself.

 
Alzner was their choice. This is a great pick by the Caps. He's close to being NHL ready by all accounts. Probably only a year away. Smart, disciplined kid. Nothing fancy, makes very few mistakes. The sort of kid you can count on for 25-plus minutes for 15 years. Oilers are on the clock. I'm betting on Gagner.

***

And there goes Gagner to the Oil. Smart pick. Little undersized, but his hockey sense is off the charts, and hey, when in doubt, go with the Canadian kid, right? He has the chance to be an elite second liner. Voracek's still on the board thanks to the Hickey pick.  I think Columbus is going to be hard pressed to pass on Voracek even though they really need to add some talent for their blueline. The obvious choice there would be Ellerby, but not everyone is sold on his upside. Everyone loves his size, but there are questions about his hockey sense, so Voracek is the safer choice.

Always fun when the home team gets to make their first rounder. Only reason for most of these fans to be in the building, at least if they're not related to, dating or representing a player. And it's Voracek. Had to make that pick--clearly the best player available at this point. Just a solid all-around player, great two-way game, but has a lot of offensive potential. Another guy who looks like he could be a solid second liner. And wait til you get a look at him. He looks exactly like Peter Parker's landlord in Spiderman 3. Columbus' new jersey looks sharp, too. Really sharp logo.

This pick puts the Bruins in a tough spot--they've bombed with Russian picks in the past, but can they pass on Cherepanov at this point? Kessel fell into their laps last year, and this might be another great break for them with another high-end player plummeting. And what's Cam Neely doing up there  making the pick? Did I miss a hiring? Anyway,  the Bruins grab Zach Hamill. I had him rated a little lower, but  it's a safe pick. He's a great offensive player, led the Western League in scoring so he knows how to put the puck in the net. I'm really concerned about his size (5-10, 180, if that) and his feet are slow. Kind of reminds me of Kyle Wellwood. I suppose the Bruins would be happy with that kind of development, but Hamill doesn't strike me as a guy who has the upside of Couture or Cherepanov. This pick may come back to haunt them. And more fashion talk: the new Boston jersey looks pretty much like the vintage sweater they've worn over the past couple years. Little change on the spoked B was the only obvious diffrence. Not sure that's enough to convince their fans to shell out a couple hundred bucks to upgrade, but I guess you don't want to mess too much with an Original Six jersey.

***

Alright, we have our first deal of the night! The Blues just traded their pick (9th overall) to the Sharks. The Blues move down to 13, which means the Sharks exercised their option on the Leafs first rounder that they acquired this afternoon in the Toskala deal. Couple additional picks went to the Blues, including a second rounder tomorrow. Have to think they really like someone to give away two assets like that. Is it Cherepanov? 

***

Nope, it's Couture. Good choice--very safe pick. Great offensive instincts. Great two-way player, outstanding leadership skills. Might have gone higher if not for that bout of mono earlier in the year. Probably shouldn't overlook that he's from the Ottawa 67's. Along with the Knights and the Petes, they've got the best track record for developing prospects in the OHL. Brian Kilrea just has that ability to push talent. Couture could turn out to be a Mike Fisher type. 

***

Don't think the Cats will take Cherepanov with this pick....nope, they went with Ellerby. Great bloodlines. This kid is huge, plays a mean game, real physical, but also a very nice skater which makes him ideal for the new NHL.  Doesn't have much of an offensive game, and there are concerns about his hockey sense but if you're happy with a guy who can be a solid No. 4, Ellerby's a good choice.

***

Can Carolina afford to pass on Cherepanov? I know Carolina likes Esposito a lot, and while there are questions about his mental toughness and his desire, hard to imagine they won't take one of these two.

For the reader who asked, nope, no word on Montoya of yet, and at this point, I'm thinking he's out of play today. I still expect him to be moved, but it probably won't be today.

***

Well, screw me. It's Sutter to the Hurricanes. Lot of mixed reads of this kid. Nobody questions his heart or his desire, and he's a very clever hockey player. This kid is a lock to play, but what's his upside? He was dead in the water offensively during the second half and you have to wonder if he'll be anything more than an elite third liner. Not a bad thing, but you can find guys like that later in the draft. And man, look at how huge that sweater looks on him!! He looks like he's wearing his dad's clothes up there. You have to know he'll gain some weight over time, but man, he's like a rail.

This pick leaves Esposito up there for the Habs at 12. They always seem to take the francophone player when there's a good one on the board (the Denis Savard memory still evokes tears in Montreal)...but they go with Ryan McDonagh. The defenseman was Mr. Hockey in Minnesota. Someone told me earlier that he's related to Steve Walsh from the 49ers. Don't know if that's true or not, so don't quote me. If so, you have to love those bloodlines, don't you? Good day for the Wisconsin Badgers--that's two of their incoming freshmen going in the top 12. He's a smart all-around defender--one scout told me he reminded him of Chris Chelios. Good offense, nasty edge to his game. He's going to need some work though...it's not like he faced elite talent in high school, so he's got a bit to prove.

 

Surely someone is going to make a move to jump up and snag Cherepanov or Esposito at this point, aren't they? The Blues are up now and they've come out and said they want offensive talent in this draft...and they go with Lars Eller. Guess that's not a huge surprise. Head scout Jarmo Kekalainen loves European players. Highest selection ever for a Danish-born player. Everyone loves his offensive game. He was a top scorer in the Swedish junior league, and he's got dynamite hands, but all I've heard is questions about his ability to handle the physical game. Still, this is exactly the sort of player St. Louis said they wanted to grab today, and if Kekalainen likes him, I'm inclined to go with it. His rep as a talent hound is growing.

*** 

Kevin Shattenkirk goes 14th to the Avs. The word today was that they wanted defense, and this kid was clearly the best available at this point. Everyone talks about his impressive play at the U-18 tournament. He's a prototypical PP QB, a great puck mover, nice shot from the point. A lot of poise--he's like ice when he's under pressure with the puck. He's a lot like John-Michael Liles. Might be his replacement in the next few years.

And there's a bit of a surprise by the Oilers at 15--Alex Plante. I thought he might go around this point, but didn't think he was the sort of player Edmonton was looking for. Still can't believe that Esposito and Cherepanov are on the board, but I guess the Oilers were swayed by Plante's size, strength and efficiency. Not a real sexy description, but that's pretty fair. Kind of reminds me of Boston's Andrew Alberts. Just does his job without attracting much attention. And don't expect much offense from him, either.

 

Alright...another deal. The Ducks drop down to 19 (and add 42) and give 16 to the Wild. After watching them get manhandled by the Ducks, you can imagine they want some size and strength. Colton Gillies, maybe? Or will someone finally pull the trigger on the sliders?

***

Halfway through the draft, looks like everyone who took the over on the Columbus hospitality remarks will collect, but there haven't been many shout outs to the Ducks. Bunch of sore losers, eh?

***

And it's Gillies to the Wild. Have to think that the Ducks success weighed heavily into this decision. I compared him to Travis Moen in another article, and that makes me think this pick is completely crazy. Size and speed are highly desirable qualities, but his hands are stone. You can find guys like this later on. I think the Wild will rue the day they called his name with Cherepanov on the board. 

***

Man, I was starting to think I was the only one who had a mancrush on Cherepanov, but the Rangers finally grabbed him. What a value pick for New York at this point. The kid broke Pavel Bure's rookie goal-scoring record in the RSL, and outscored Malkin, Kovalchuk and Ovechkin at the same age, so clearly he's a high end talent. More I think of it, it could be a nice break for the league that he ends up there. The NHL needs exciting players in major markets, and Cherepanov is that. He'll be with Omsk in Russia next season, but he's got the tools to grab a spot in New York as soon as 2008-09.  This pick reminds me of Martin Havlat who slid to 26th in 1999--lot of teams regret that they took "safer" picks that day, too.

****

Another trade--this time the Blues and Flames swap picks. Looks like the Blues had their eyes on Ian Cole. Yet another American-born defender--there's your theme for this draft. That US NTDP hothouse is doing some great work, aren't they? Cole's a big kid--he's 6-1, 210 or thereabouts. Good skater, makes nice outlet passes, keeps his game pretty simple. Another guy who won't be a star, but he could be a very useful second pair guy.

***

Ducks are up and they grab Logan MacMillan. Didn't impress me when I saw him--the guy's a painful skater and his play away from the puck was brutal--but I had a couple scouts tell me they thought he'd go in the first. Obviously he's got good bloodlines--his dad is former NHLer Bob MacMillan--and he's got a decent physical game for his size (6-1, 172). You have to think he'll play some day, but like Gillies, he's a guy who probably tops out as a third liner if all goes well.

Man, I'm starting to feel bad for Esposito. Surely the Pens can't pass on him... 

Finally!  There he goes to the Pens at 20. What a tremendous pick for Ray Shero and what an ideal landing spot for this kid. Remember, going into the season he was the No. 1 prospect, but the more scouts watched him, the more holes they picked in his game--fairly or not. The main knock on him was that he simply wasn't as effective on his own in Quebec as he was when he played with Radulov on the Memorial Cup- winning Remparts back in 2006. So maybe he's not a guy capable of carrying a team on his back, but he clearly knows what to do with talented linemates. He just adds another dimension to an already scary offense. Hard to imagine him ending up with better linemate options than he'll get in Pittsburgh. He could develop into an impact player as the Pens move toward Stanley Cup contention.

***

Another deal...it's a swap of picks between the Oilers and Coyotes. The Oilers move up to grab Riley Nash of Salmon Arm of the BCHL. The Coyotes get the #30 and #36 picks in return. Good deal for a rebuilding team, grabbing two good assets at a point where this draft is wide open. For the Oilers, they used their third pick of the first 21 selections to grab a guy who had 38 goals and 83 points this season. Not everyone was as impressed--he was ranked 64th in North America by CSB, but those who like Nash see him as someone who'll find a place in the league one way or another. He's a center with good size (6-1, 175) who impressed with his consistency, his skating and his smarts. 

 ***

The Habs just grabbed Max Paccioretty (don't quote me on the spelling). Lot of people like this kid. Big, strong power forward body with great hands who could develop into a nice second line scorer. I've heard good things about his temperment. He's willing to put in the work to become a better player, and he's a team-first guy. I'm betting those last two qualites were what swayed Bob Gainey to tab him at this spot. He's the sixth American taken in the first 22 picks... I think the record is 10, so another great year for the Americans. Make it seven. Jon Blum --from the hockey hotbed of Rancho Santa Margarita, California--just went to the Preds. (Wait a minute--Rancho Santa Margarita--isn't that where Marge Simpson went on a spa vacation?) Blum's stock rocketed thanks to his play with the Vancouver Giants in the Memorial Cup. Everyone loves his toughness, his smarts and his puck skills, but man, how much smaller can this guy be? The guy's a waif. He's hockey's version of Kate Moss. His height is fine--he's six foot--but man, he disappears when he's holding his stick. He's listed at 160, but I'd be shocked if he's 150. I don't care how good a player is, there's no way he can survive the punishment in the NHL at that size.

***

Good value pick here for the Flames-- Swedish forward Mikael Backlund. I thought he'd go higher, but it looks like teams had concerns about his health after midseason knee surgery. Word is he's healthy, and he certainly looked it at the U-18 tournament that he led with seven goals. Decent size (6-0, 191) and world-class wheels suggest he'll be a second line type.

Wow, there's a shocker.  Seemed like there were safer options on the board (I would have tabbed Brett MacLean or David Perron at this point), but the Canucks liked Patrick White. Big center who plays with an edge...and that's the eighth American of the night. Perron just went  26th overall to St. Louis--man, they've really maximized the return on their three picks tonight. He was overlooked in last year's draft, but as a rookie in the QMJHL he was one of the the top offensive players. He had 39 goals and 83 points in the regular season, but really turned it on for Lewiston in the playoffs. scoring 12 goals and 28 points in just 17 games to lead the Maineiacs in scoring.

***

Man, did they just boo Steve Yzerman? No doubt they're not fond of the Red Wings in Columbus, but after the reception Gretzky got, you'd think Yzerman would get the same. This is just Detroit's second first rounder in six years thanks to their history of activity at the trade deadline, and they went with Brendan Smith. He's another kid who's headed to Wisconsin--that's their third first rounder. I talked to one scout who was hoping his team would be able to steal Smith in the second round. Sorry, Charlie. Smith is a highly skilled player who dominated with St. Mike's Jr. A squad. High-end skater, great hands, good puck skills. He has to work harder away from the puck, especially in his own end, but those are areas you can address with good coaching.

****

Washington just dealt their 28th overall pick to San Jose for a pair of second rounders. The Sharks came to Columbus without a first rounder, and walk out with two. Man, Doug Wilson does it again. Has to be to pick up Nick Petrecki, a defenseman who has dropped well below where he was expected to go. 

 

***

Yep, it's Petrecki. The ninth American to go in the first. He's just a nasty, physical beast. One scout described him as the strongest player in the draft. He's 6-3, 213, and the thought is he'll fill out to 225-230 in a couple of years. He skates pretty well at that size, but his value is demonstrated in the corners and in front of the net. Has a good shot, but you have to think he won't be doing much scoring at the next level. He's headed to Boston College.

 

Is Wilson the best GM in the West? Seriously, who's better right now?

***

Who's dropping? Kept hearing Dana Tyrell would slip into the first round. Akim Aliu is another guy who I thought might get nabbed. Oscar Moller's a real surprise--guess everyone's scared off by his upside (or lack thereof). Safe is death after all, even in the draft. There was a wide mix of opinions on Bill Sweatt, but I thought he'd be gone by now for sure. John Negrin's another guy who's falling.

 

With the 29th pick, the Sens grabbed Jimmy O'Brien out of Minnesota--the 10th American of the first round. I've double checked, and that ties the record. He was the youngest player in US college hockey last year.  Word is he's a tweener, not unlike Ottawa's Christoph Schubert. He's a big kid, 6-2, 185, but he's not very strong at this point. I've heard Minnesota wants to play him at D next year. I'm guessing the Sens will have something to say about that now.

 

***

Sorry guys--just noticed my pithy comments on Phoenix's selction of Regina D Nick Ross disappeared into the ether. I gotta run and make some calls, but I'll sum up by saying he's a heavy hitter who plays a smart defensive game and could develop into a depth player. Really, nothing special, but he has the work ethic to find his way to the NHL. I'll be back in a bit after I get some reactions. 

***

Sorry for the delay...got stuck in the middle of a radio rant on the Toskala trade. Sounds like Leafs fans already are suicidal over missing the chance to take Cherepanov. I still like the deal, and it's not a sure thing the Leafs would have taken him even if they'd kept the pick. Four other teams passed on him after their spot in the order, after all.

It's a bit of a buzz kill to have to stop down after just one round, but the talk suggests there won't be a lot of down time before the actual drafting resumes in the morning. Expect some action on the trade front to keep things percolating over night. Pretty obvious at this point that there's a wide array of opinions on player values this year, and that means there should be a lot of movement with teams trying to move up to grab their favorites--or down to add assets--before tomorrow morning. I already mentioned a few of the kids I think will go early in round two: Tyrell, a Darcy Tucker clone; MacLean, a Rob Brown starter kit; Aliu,  the troubled physical winger; Moller, the vanilla ice cream of the draft; and Sweatt, the stone-handed speedster. A couple others who I've heard mentioned tonight include Michal Repik--look for the Bruins to call his name and reunite him with Vancouver Giants linemates Wacey Rabbit and Milan Lucic-- Mark Katic, Luca Cunti and Maxim Mayorov, another talented Russian whose stock was impacted by the lack of a transfer agreement.

 

Writing these names, it reminds me that, for some reason, the second round's always a bit more fun than the first. I think it's that there are always guys like these that fans have targeted in the hope that they'd slip to their team's next pick.  When they do, you really come away feeling like your team got a steal. Now that I think of it, that's one thing I didn't hear much of tonight: "We were thrilled he was there when it was our turn to pick. We didn't think he'd still be there." Guess everyone recognized the truth of this thing: Once they got past the first three picks, it was even money their guy would be there.

One final note before I close for the night: there's a rumour making the rounds that the agent for 16-year-old CHL player of the year John Tavares has put in an official request to have his client declared draft eligible next summer, one year early. Don't have the dates handy, but I think he only misses the official cut-off date by a couple weeks, so the request isn't completely off-base. Still, hard to imagine the league and PA signing off on this, even though the PR it would generate would be a boon to the sport. Make this exception and they'll be dealing with these requests every year from here on out. It won't happen.

Thanks for stopping by. I'll have a draft recap up later this weekend on SI.com. 

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