- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The NHL draft took on a little different look this year. The league opted to push its first round into prime time for Canadian television. The draft, held in Columbus' Nationwide Arena, began a little after 7 p.m. local time Friday night. The clubs would come back at 10 a.m. Saturday to draw Rounds 2 through 7.
The new wrinkle seemed to be a good one. I would make one change, however. I'd start the second-day festivities at noon. It allows everyone to get a little more rest before the four-hour grind of the second day.
There was a ridiculous amount of speculation leading into the two-day event. If you kept up with the different modes of information (or misinformation), you would have thought each team was going to make five or 10 deals. Still, there were a couple of interesting trades that went down in the hours leading up to the draft.
• The Flames, for some reason, worked a deal with the Blackhawks for oft-injured defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who still has two years and $8 million left on a free-agent deal he signed in August 2005. In return, Chicago received less-expensive D-man Andrei Zyuzin.
The Hawks probably were thrilled to be able to move Aucoin's contract. They probably figured they were stuck with it. The Flames, meanwhile, have to be hoping Aucoin can stay healthy and regain the form he showed on Long Island before the lockout. That seems like a lot to hope for.
• For the second consecutive draft, the Leafs made a deal for a goalie. This time, they acquired No. 2 Sharks stopper Vesa Toskala along with forward Mark Bell for a first- and a second-round pick in 2007, as well as a fourth-rounder in 2009. The Leafs, who were somewhat disappointed with last year's trade pickup, Andrew Raycroft, were looking to strengthen the position. Coincidentally, the two clubs talked about a goalie deal at last year's draft before the Leafs consummated the deal for Raycroft.
Toronto missed the playoffs by a single point in 2006-07. The addition of Toskala could put the Leafs back in the postseason for the first time since 2004. The Sharks, meanwhile, seem to be opening up salary-cap room in preparation for Sunday's opening of the free-agent market. They re-signed defenseman Craig Rivet to a four-year deal, and they're interested in chatting with several unrestricted free agents when the window opens.
• The other big deal also involved a goalie. The Predators sent Tomas Vokoun to the Panthers for a first-round pick in the highly touted 2008 draft and a pair of second-rounders (one this year and one next year).
Last June, the Panthers made a huge blunder by dealing star stopper Roberto Luongo to the Canucks. They tried to correct that grievous error by picking up Vokoun, who is a legit No. 1 stopper. The Czech-born goalie is under contract for the next four years, and the move allows the young Panthers to have a realistic shot at the playoffs in 2007-08.
On the other side of the deal, the Predators clearly are looking to shed salary. The ownership situation is in flux, and current owner Craig Leopold is no longer willing to incur multimillion-dollar losses. With Vokoun gone, the club will promote Chris Mason to the top job. Mason was very good last season, but it's hard to tell whether he can be a guy who plays 55-60 games. I guess we'll find out.
• When the draft finally started, seven clubs (Islanders, Leafs, Thrashers, Sabres, Stars, Devils and Lightning) didn't have a first-round pick. Five other teams (Oilers, Blues, Canadiens, Coyotes and Capitals) began the round with multiple selections.
The first three picks were predictable. After that, things were more difficult to figure out. With the help of several scouts, here's my take on each of the first-round selections:
1. Chicago, Patrick Kane, RW, London (OHL)
Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon surprised no one when he grabbed the Buffalo native with the top pick. Kane led Canadian junior players with 145 points in just 58 games for Dale Hunter's London Knights. The 5-foot-10, 162-pound winger wowed scouts with his quickness and overall terrific play for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Although some might be concerned about his size, most scouts believe he's much too talented for that to be a problem. One scout said: "He has great vision, and he isn't afraid to go the net." Kane will get a look in training camp. If he doesn't make the big club, he'll return to London.
2. Philadelphia, James vanRiemsdyk, LW, U.S. U-18 (U.S. Development Program)
When the New Jersey native stood on the draft stage next to Flyers GM (and former power forward) Paul Holmgren, you quickly realized just how large vanRiemsdyk is. As one scout put it, "He's 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and still growing." It's among the many reasons Holmgren passed on several trade proposals and kept the pick. VanRiemsdyk has high-end skill, which is hard to find on the left wing, and his willingness to get physical should make him a fan favorite in Philly. He will be attending the University of New Hampshire in the fall.
3. Phoenix, Kyle Turris, C, Burnaby (BCHL)
Coyotes managing partner/coach Wayne Gretzky didn't waste any time getting to the podium to announce the club's selection of Turris, the No. 1-ranked North American skater on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's list. The first center taken in the draft, Turris opted to bypass Canadian major junior, instead playing in the British Columbia Hockey League, so he could keep his NCAA eligibility and attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall. One scout called Turris "a dynamic player that can set the tempo of a game." In Madison, the 6-foot, 165-pound pivot will focus on honing his skill and bulking up his frame.
4. Los Angeles, Thomas Hickey, D, Seattle (WHL)
Kings GM Dean Lombardi pulled the first shocker of the evening by selecting the 5-foot-11, 186-pound defenseman from Calgary. Figuring he could get Hickey a little later in the draft, Lombardi made several attempts to trade back (most notably with Columbus, which had the seventh pick); but when he couldn't seal a workable deal, Lombardi grabbed Hickey, the top prospect on L.A.'s list. "He was definitely on everybody's radar," one scout said, "but I never figured he'd go that high." The Kings see Hickey as someone who can develop into a puck-moving defenseman/power-play quarterback.
5. Washington, Karl Alzner, D, Calgary (WHL)
Stunned by the Kings' decision to pass on Alzner, Caps GM George McPhee started to call another name (London forward Sam Gagner) from the podium before correcting himself and taking the 6-foot-2, 210-pound defender. Clearly, McPhee figured Alzner would be off the board by pick No. 5. "I think he's the most well-rounded player in the draft," one scouting director said. "He's strong and steady, and he reads the play well." Although Alzner might be able to make the jump to the NHL next season, the club would be wise to return him to the Western Hockey League for more seasoning.
6. Edmonton, Sam Gagner, C, London, (OHL)
After almost getting selected by the Caps, Gagner was taken off the board by the Oilers with the very next pick. Kane's linemate at London, Gagner is another gifted offensive player. "I think he has the best hands in the draft," one scout said. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound center put up 118 points in just 53 games for the Knights in the OHL. Gagner's willingness to play a less-glamorous checking role landed him a spot on Canada's gold-medal World Junior Championship team. He was the youngest player on the team. Gagner is a second-generation first-round pick. In 1983, Dave Gagner, Sam's father, was selected with the 12th overall pick by the Rangers.
7. Columbus, Jakub Voracek, F, Halifax (QMJHL)
New Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson, resisting a couple of trade offers, happily selected 6-foot-1, 188-pound Voracek. Last summer, versatile Voracek opted to travel from the Czech Republic to Halifax to continue his development in the QMJHL. He enjoyed a good season with the Mooseheads, totaling 86 points in 59 games. "He's a playmaker," one scout said. "He'd rather pass than shoot." Hopefully, Columbus' new leadership won't rush Voracek to the NHL. He should return to Halifax for the coming season.
8. Boston, Zach Hamill, C, Everett (WHL)
On the defensive-minded Everett Silvertips (coached by former NHL bench boss Kevin Constantine), Hamill managed to lead the WHL in scoring with 93 points in 69 games. That says something about Hamill's ability to make things happen. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder is viewed as a solid two-way player with good hands. Like most in this draft, he'd benefit from another year of development.
9. San Jose, Logan Couture, C, Ottawa (OHL)
Clearly, Sharks GM Doug Wilson and his scouting staff liked Couture. Wilson moved up four slots (via a trade with St. Louis) to select the 6-foot-1, 188-pound pivot. The Sharks, led by scouting chief Tim Burke, have done a great job at the draft. So, when they move up to get a player, you take notice. Couture battled through two separate injuries and a bout with mononucleosis in his draft year. Still, he managed 78 points in 54 games. Most scouts don't view Couture as a great skater, but he makes up for that with hockey smarts and competitiveness.
10. Florida, Keaton Ellerby, D, Kamloops (WHL)
Panthers GM and coach Jacques Martin filled a significant hole by acquiring goalie Tomas Vokoun from the Predators on Friday. A few hours later, he tabbed long, tall Ellerby. The 6-foot-3, 182-pound defenseman is a solid citizen and a strong skater. In some ways, he's similar to current Panthers D-man Jay Bouwmeester, although one scout warned, "He's not as good." He doesn't provide much offense, totaling just 25 points in 69 games. Ellerby is a cousin of Coyotes winger Shane Doan.
11. Carolina, Brandon Sutter, C/RW, Red Deer (WHL)
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford tabbed one of the scouts' favorites when he selected the lanky (6-foot-3, 174 pounds) Red Deer center. "That's a great pick," one scouting director said. "He's not flashy, but he's smart and he can play any way you want." Another scout added: "He does what it takes." In Red Deer, Brandon plays for his father, Brent Sutter, a longtime NHLer who was a first-round pick (17th overall, Islanders) in 1980. He figures to stay with the Rebels to continue his development and bulk up his long frame.
12. Montreal, Ryan McDonagh, D, Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn. High School)
Although many fans expected the Habs to tab Montreal native Angelo Esposito, GM Bob Gainey stuck to the club's scouting list and selected the Minnesota high school defender. The veteran GM believed McDonagh was a better fit for the club's needs. "I really like that kid," said one scout who has a good feel for the prospects in the Minnesota area. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound defenseman can rush the puck or move it with an accurate pass. He won Minnesota's prestigious "Mr. Hockey" for his play last season at Cretin-Derham.
13. St. Louis, Lars Eller, C/LW, Frolunda Jr. (Sweden Jr.)
When the Blue Jackets grabbed Voracek with the seventh pick, the Blues decided to trade back four slots (from 9 to 13) and take the Danish-born pivot. Team president John Davidson said the club liked Eller's size (6-foot-0, 198 pounds) and speed. "We see him as a center who could work on our top two lines," Davidson added. Eller totaled 55 points in 39 games for Frolunda in the Swedish junior league.
14. Colorado, Kevin Shattenkirk, D, U.S. U-18 (U.S. Development Program)
The Connecticut native impressed scouts as the captain of the U.S. under-18 team. "He's a born leader," one scout said. "He's a real take-charge type of guy." The 5-foot-11, 193-pound puck-moving defenseman has good vision. Some scouts believe he could be more physical and a bit more consistent. He'll attend Boston University in the fall.
15. Edmonton, Alex Plante, D, Calgary (WHL)
With the second of the Oilers' three first-round picks, GM Kevin Lowe opted for the oversized defender from Manitoba. Six-foot-4, 225-pound Plante, who had 38 points and 81 penalty minutes in 58 games with Calgary of the WHL, is a stay-at-home guy and says he patterns his game after Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr. Some scouts question his skating; others aren't impressed with his hockey sense. He figures to be a long-term project.
16. Minnesota, Colton Gillies, C/W, Saskatoon (WHL)
Wild GM Doug Risebrough jumped up three spots, dealing with Anaheim, to land the 6-foot-4, 194-pound power forward. The second cousin of Islanders legend and Hall of Famer Clark Gillies, Colton is a good skater who works hard and plays a physical game. "This kid is going to play in the league," one scout said. "He can definitely be a third-line guy. If he improves his offensive skills, he can be a top-six forward." Gillies had 30 points in 65 games for Saskatoon.
17. N.Y. Rangers, Alexei Cherepanov, RW, Omsk (Russian Superleague)
Rangers head amateur scout Gordie Clark was amazed the top Russian prospect was still on the board at No. 17. "He's a high-skill guy," Clark said. "Those guys aren't easy to find." Six-foot, 183-pound Cherepanov remained on the board because many teams were concerned they'd encounter several hurdles in getting him to the rink in North America. The Rangers believed he was well worth the risk. "He's a real smart kid," one scouting director said. "He thinks the game, and he's very good with the puck." Last season, Cherepanov scored a Russian League rookie record 18 goals in 46 games with Omsk, breaking the mark set by Pavel Bure in 1988-89.
18. St. Louis, Ian Cole, D, U.S. U-18, (U.S. Development Program)
The Blues opted to jump up six slots (via trade with Calgary) to grab the Michigan native. At 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, Cole is viewed as a stay-at-home defender with good hockey smarts. Many scouts believed Cole's game had shown steady improvement during the year. "I wasn't surprised he was picked in the first round," one scout said. "He really pushed his way onto the radar screen in the past few months." Cole says he patterns his game after Senators star Wade Redden. In 49 games with the U.S. National under-18 team, he posted 20 points and 57 penalty minutes.
19. Anaheim, Logan MacMillan, F, Halifax (QMJHL)
After trading back three slots, the Stanley Cup champions picked a "Ducks" type player. "He's a hardworking kid who has some skill and isn't afraid to stick his nose into the play," Anaheim GM Brian Burke said. Logan, son of former NHLer Bob MacMillan, saw his stock rise significantly throughout the season. The league's Central Scouting Bureau ranked him 92nd among North American skaters at midseason. Four months later, MacMillan was 42nd in the final ranking. In 68 games with Halifax of the QMJHL, he had 55 points and 82 PIM.
20. Pittsburgh, Angelo Esposito, C, Quebec (QMJHL)
Esposito's Brady Quinn-like, first-round free fall came to end when the Penguins grabbed the talented pivot with the 20th overall pick. Despite the longer-than-anticipated wait, Esposito was thrilled to end up with Team Crosby. "To end up with a team like the Penguins, I couldn't be any happier," Esposito said. One scout didn't really understand why Espo's stock dropped so dramatically. "He's a good player," the scout said. "He has good speed, hands and vision." The 6-foot-1, 180-pound pivot likes to work off the rush. In the NHL, he'll have to recognize the different situations and chip the puck into the offensive zone when necessary.
21. Edmonton, Riley Nash, C, Salmon Arm, (BCHL)
Lowe and his staff moved up nine slots (via a trade with Phoenix) to select the B.C. Junior A standout center. At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Nash is a good skater who handles the puck well. He was named the BCHL Rookie of the Year after posting 83 points in 55 games. Nash will join his brother, Brendon, at Cornell University next season.
22. Montreal, Max Pacioretty, LW, Sioux City (USHL)
With their second pick in the first round, the Canadiens selected a second American-born skater. The 6-foot-2, 203-pounder is a hard-driving, up-and-down winger who doesn't mind the physical play. "The Canadiens did well with those two kids," one scout said. "I really liked both of them." Pacioretty totaled 63 points and 119 PIM for Sioux City. The Connecticut native will attend Michigan in the fall.
23. Nashville, Jonathon Blum, D, Vancouver (WHL)
Predators GM David Poile took some time out from his salary-dumping campaign to make a little history as defenseman Blum became the first California-born player to be chosen in the first round. "This kid has really good hockey sense, and he's good with the puck," one scout said. "But his skating is average and his size (6-foot, 160 pounds) is a question." Still, Blum was a key part of Vancouver's Memorial Cup-winning effort. He posted 51 points and was a plus-37 in 72 games for the Giants.
24. Calgary, Mikael Backlund, C, Vasteras, (Sweden N-2)
The Flames, who traded back six spots, surprised some onlookers when they grabbed the Swedish-born center. Under GM Darryl Sutter, Calgary has focused more heavily on North American prospects. In this case, they might have found a little bit of sleeper in Backlund, who missed a good portion of his draft year because of knee surgery. Six-foot, 194-pound Backlund said his knee is fine. He looked just fine in April, when he scored a tournament-high seven goals at the Under-18 Championships. Backlund needs another year or two of development before challenging for a roster spot in Calgary.
25. Vancouver, Patrick White, C, Tri-City (USHL)
After being unable to move up to the top of the draft to get local product Turris, Canucks GM Dave Nonis used the 25th pick to tab a strong forward from Minnesota. The selection received a mixed review from one scout, who said, "White has first-round talent, but I was a little concerned about his consistency." The 6-foot, 186-pounder was surprised to be selected in the first round. "I thought I'd go on the second day," he admitted. "I definitely slept better on Friday night." White will attend Minnesota in the fall.
26. St. Louis, David Perron, LW, Lewiston, (QMJHL)
With the last of their three first-round picks, the Blues chose the Quebec-born left wing. Perron went through last year's draft but wasn't selected. During the 2006-07 season, he attracted scouts with a breakout campaign in Lewiston, posting 39 goals and 44 assists in 70 games. He sees himself as a playmaker who also can finish around the net. Perron figures to return to Lewiston next season.
27. Detroit, Brendan Smith, D, St. Michaels (OPJRA)
The Red Wings reached into Junior A to grab the 6-foot-1, 170-pound defenseman. "We see him as a great skater and puck mover," said Detroit assistant GM Jim Nill, who oversees the draft for the club. Smith pushed his way onto the Wings' list with a strong second half of the season. He figures to be a long-term project and will attend Wisconsin in the fall.
28. San Jose, Nicholas Petrecki, D, Omaha (USHL)
The New York native won't turn 18 until July 11, but one scout said he already "looks 26." At 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, Petrecki is a stay-at-home defenseman who hits hard and likes the physical game. In 54 games with Omaha, he totaled 177 PIM. Petrecki also possessed a heavy shot, which helped him score 11 goals. Some scouts don't believe he thinks the game very well. Still, if the usually savvy Sharks scouting staff likes him, he might just be a player. Petrecki will attend Boston College in the fall.
29. Ottawa, James O'Brien, C, Minnesota (WCHA)
The 6-foot-2, 184-pound Minnesota native -- born Jan. 29, 1989 -- was the youngest player in Division I college hockey this past season. With limited ice time, he totaled 12 points and 51 PIM in 36 games at Minnesota. Scouts believe O'Brien is a smart, skilled player with a strong work ethic. The Senators, who were pushed around by the Ducks in the finals, were happy to add some size with their first-round selection. O'Brien figures to stay in Minny for another year or two.
30. Phoenix, Nick Ross, D, Regina (WHL)
With the final selection in the first round -- a pick they acquired from the Oilers -- the Coyotes opted for a playmaking defenseman. Six-foot, 188-pound Ross, who doesn't mind throwing his body around, totaled 31 points and 87 PIM in 70 games for Regina. "He's an interesting prospect," one scout said. "I think there's some potential there, but he's still a little too inconsistent." Ross likely will continue with the Pats next season.
13dScott Burnside and Craig Custance