- Gare Joyce
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Fourteen teams won't make the playoffs in the spring. Unless they've already unwisely mortgaged their future draft picks, they'll be trying to sort out what scouts consider a pretty decent draft year.
Those teams that do the make the playoffs might target one of these players, either trying to deal up in the draft or hoping the prospect falls to them.
So, without ado, here's our 2009 Draft Preview 1.0, The Lottery Edition.
This list takes into account performances at the world under-20 championships, which just concluded in Ottawa, where Canada won the gold, Sweden the silver and Russia the bronze.
1. John Tavares, C, Oshawa (Ontario Hockey League)
Tavares, a scorer, is a remarkably skilled player. He has worked diligently at his game -- he admits his attention to fitness was probably not what it should have been when he first came into the OHL at 15. Some have questioned his skating, but it looks as though his added strength has made him stronger on his blades than ever. He might not have an extra gear, but his puck skills more than make up for that. "You're never really safe against him," Windsor defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "He can make something out of nothing." That's what Tavares did when he scored two breathtaking goals in quick succession after the United States ran out to a 3-0 lead Wednesday against Canada at the world juniors. Some scouts like him more as a winger than as a center.
2. Victor Hedman, D, Modo (Sweden)
It's easy to look at the towering Hedman and see Chris Pronger. If anything, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Hedman is a little farther along than Pronger was at the same age, a better skater as a junior. He's also still growing. Hedman was on the ice for all the important shifts in Sweden's run to the world juniors final and has been a dominant player in under-18 play. Most scouts liked Hedman over Tavares a year ago, but there has been a shift in opinion since the start of the season. Hedman was sidelined with a shoulder injury in early December, though, and wasn't impressive at the under-20s.
3. Jared Cowan, D, Spokane (Western Hockey League)
Cowan was the top defenseman on Spokane's team last season -- and if you know of another 16-year-old who filled that role on a Memorial Cup championship team, let us know. Only an inch shorter than Hedman, Cowan wasn't invited to Canadian team tryouts for this year's world juniors. That's a head-scratcher. In the recent past, Jay Bouwmeester played as a 16- and 17-year-old on the Canadian under-20 squad, and Cowan compares more than favorably with J-Bo.
4. Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi, F, Timra (Sweden)
He's the best skater in the draft and, at 6-1 and 200 pounds, not a water bug type. As an under-ager at last year's world juniors in the Czech Republic, Svensson-Paajarvi was giving fits to the Canadian team early in overtime in the final -- it looked as if the Canadians would never get him off the puck. He looked like a short-track speedskater lapping pylons as he blew by defenders. The interesting question is whether he'll make the adjustment to the North American game -- will he skate so fast into heavy traffic? It sure looked that way at the U-20s. His stock shot up with his performance there.
5. Matt Duchene, C, Brampton (OHL)
Duchene was captain of the Canadian team that won the summer under-18s in the Czech Republic. More than a few scouts thought that, as an under-ager, he was Canada's best forward there, maybe even the best player/prospect. It's hard to pick out one strength from his game -- it's just a balanced overall game (needing better defensive awareness, like every other junior prospect). Duchene's hockey IQ is up in the top percentile, and there are no questions of his character and will.
6. Brayden Schenn, C, Brandon (WHL)
He's the younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn. Last season's numbers (28 goals and 43 assists in 66 games) only hint at his value. Playing for their respective teams, Matt Duchene (Ontario) and Brayden Schenn (Manitoba-Saskatchewan) were the best players at last year's under-17s, and it wasn't even particularly close for third. WHL fans will say Schenn's the best forward in the draft. He's in the conversation. He plays with a physical edge surpassed by none of the top forward draft prospects. Luke was drafted at No. 5 in June, and his little brother could easily fall in the same slot, or maybe one higher. Question: Can he be projected as a first-line NHL center?
7. Evander Kane, F, Vancouver (WHL)
At 6 feet and 160 pounds, Kane is smaller than the three forwards ranked higher than him here. He made a few cameo appearances for the Vancouver team that won the 2007 Memorial Cup and was billed as a wunderkind. His numbers last season (24 goals in 65 games, 1 goal in 10 playoff games) suggested that he was still a work in progress. Twenty-two goals in his first 27 WHL games indicate that the progress is on schedule. A late addition to the Canadian roster at the U20s, Kane filled a role on the third line and showed a lot of flash and toughness. He wheeled by Victor Hedman in the final without a glance in the rearview mirror.
8. Nazem Kadri, C, London (OHL)
Kadri was a point-a-game player for a deep Kitchener team that won the OHL title last season, then lost to Spokane in the Memorial Cup final. Traded to London (he was the "future considerations" in a deal to bring Steve Mason to Kitchener), Kadri figured to have even a lead role. Early on, it looked as if he might score 40 goals this season, but that went out the window when he broke his jaw. "I drank a lot of milkshakes," Kadri said. "I dropped only six or seven pounds, about half the weight they thought I would."
9. John Moore, D, Chicago Steel (USHL)
Out on a limb on this one, strictly on the say-so of a couple of scouts. I suspect they caught a game against Des Moines when he scored a natural hat trick -- a classic: one power play, one even-strength, one short-handed. A point-a-game defenseman, the native of Winnetka, Ill., has made a commitment to Colorado College. He has good size (6-2, 180 or so).
10. Olivier Bellavance-Roy, G, Cape Breton (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)
Roy was the Q's rookie of the year last season and the goaltender the league went with when its All-Stars took on the junior Russian touring team in November. He impressed in the opening game (stopped 17 of 18 shots, a few great glove stops in a 15-shot first period), earning POG honors. Not great size (5-11, 170 pounds), and his numbers so far don't blow you away (3.02 goals-against average, .902 save percentage), but setting a record for shutouts by a rookie in the QMJHL, that cradle of goaltending, has to count for something.
11. Jeremy Morin, C, USA Hockey Under-18s
An offensive player and the go-to player on the Ann Arbor team, he's playing it coy about which route he'll go next year -- NCAA or major junior. Question: Can you project him as a first-line NHLer, or does he max out as a second-liner?
12. Jordan Schroeder, C/RW, Minnesota (NCAA)
Tiny at 5-f8 and 160 pounds, Schroeder is an exciting skill player. He'd better be. Not many teams can afford two players in that profile, although New Jersey seems to collect them. Schroeder showed some impressive finishing skill early on at the world juniors, but, playing on Team USA's top line, his play tailed off in a crucial loss to Canada in the opening round and an almost unthinkable loss to Slovakia in the quarterfinals.
13. Jordan Caron, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Rimouski's first-round pick, eighth overall, in the 2006 draft, and a late '90 birthday, Caron is one of the more physically mature top prospects, already pro-sized at 6-2, 201 pounds. With twenty goals in 46 games last season, he's on pace for 40 this season. He projects out to second- or third-line center.
14. Scott Glennie, RW, Brandon (WHL)
It's been a steep learning curve for Glennie: one year of midget straight into a prominent role with the Wheat Kings last season. Glennie is a goal scorer more than a playmaker, and his numbers are fattened from playing next to Brayden Schenn. Fact is, they're frequently split up at even strength, though they'll get on the ice together on the power play.
Six Burning-Question Prospects
Stepan Novotny, RW, Kelowna (WHL): A much-traveled Czech teenager, Novotny put in some time at Shattuck-St. Mary's (where it seems few players were sad to see him go), in the USHL and at Kelowna. He looked like a comer as an under-ager at the world under-18s in 2007. Can he go all over the map without falling off it?
Ryan Ellis, D, Windsor (OHL): How small can an NHL defenseman go? Ellis might be 5-9 and 170 pounds, but his cannon shot, amazing puck skills and off-the-chart hockey IQ made him the OHL's best player through the first 20 games of the season.
Kyle Palmieri, F, US-18 (USA Hockey): All goals are not created equal. How much more important is scoring big goals than those that pad stats? Palmieri's game might not blow you away, but, at the end of the game, it seems he has a hand in deciding it.
Zack Kassian, RW, Peterborough (OHL): Can toughness transcend so-so skating? Kassian is no fun to play against; in fact, he's a lot less fun than a lot of skilled, swift guys.
Dmitry Kulikov, D, Drummondville (QMJHL): A dozen other names could appear here, but we might as well go with this pro-sized, offensively talented (better than point-a-game) blueliner who impressed all season with the powerful Voltigeurs and in games with the junior Russian touring team. How ready are NHL teams to bite on Russian players at the next draft? It wasn't easy, but a lot, if not most, major-junior teams were able to get Russian imports into the arena.
Zach Budish, C, Edina (Edina (Minn.) High School): How closely can you inspect a knee? In this case, it would be Budish's hinge -- after he committed to the home-state Gophers, Budish tore an ACL playing high school football. He might have been pro-sized for hockey shortly after birth. At 6-2 and a listed 229 pounds, he was practically pro-sized for the NFL (he was a linebacker) when he played what is almost certainly his last football game.
Gare Joyce is a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com.
How did the recent World Junior Championship affect the 2009 draft map? Gare Joyce ranks the top prospects heading into June.