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NHL Draft Part One: 1st Round Evaluation

NHL Draft Part One: 1st Round Evaluation

The first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft went… well, nothing like expected.  Granted, it’s never easy to predict what happens beyond the first few picks, but hockey pundits everywhere thought they had a better grasp on at least the first 5 or 6. 

Yet, that’s not how it went down.  Let’s take a look at what did go down and what it means for each franchise:

1. Edmonton, Taylor Hall (LW)- Hall went from top prospect to franchise player in a matter of moments on Friday.  The Oilers needed a center, but they made a smart move and took the best player available in Hall.  He won’t be able to save the Oil from the dregs of the Western Conference alone, but he’s an uber- talented building block that should kick-start them in the right direction.

2. Boston, Tyler Seguin (C)- Although flush at the center position, Boston made the right choice as well and went with elite offensive talent Seguin.  They’ll have to make some moves at center this summer, but Boston has come out on top with a center that should be a franchise staple for years to come.  There will be an added bonus for Boston every time Seguin scores on the Leafs, although it could get interesting if the “Savard to Toronto” rumors come true.

3. Florida, Erik Gudbranson (D)- It was Fowler or Gudbranson headed into the draft, and Florida went with the big kid from Orleans, Ontario.  Gudbranson should develop nicely into a complete defenseman and help fill the void Jay Bouwmeester left.  Gudbranson is good enough to jump right in and help the Panthers next season, but if they’re patient another year of seasoning could go a long way.

4. Columbus, Ryan Johansen (C)- This pick shocked everyone.  It was assumed that Columbus would bolster their thin defensive group by taking Cam Fowler 4th overall.  Instead they took the next best center available.  The only problem is NHL Central Scouting Bureau had 6 other players ranked before him.  This is a pick that could really end up haunting the Blue Jackets.

5. New York Islanders, Nino Niederreiter (LW)- Another surprise (and just a hint, every pick until Fowler was taken, was a surprise).  The Isles couldn’t pass up on the big talented forward that boosted his stock big time playing for the Swiss at the World Juniors.  He’ll add to some offensive talent the Isles have accumulated in Tavares, Moulson, Bailey, and Okposo.  It’s the Isles blue line that still needs work, but El Nino shouldn’t disappoint.

6. Tampa Bay, Brett Connolly (RW)- Connolly was surrounded by question marks heading into the draft due to hip problems, but Tampa Bay thought the kid was all right.  Connolly is a great offensive talent, as he exhibited at the 2009 World Juniors.  However, if his hip problems rear their ugly head again the Lightning won’t be happy they passed on Fowler.

7. Carolina, Jeff Skinner (C)- Have I mentioned it’s surprising Fowler wasn’t picked by this time?  Well it was less a surprise for the Hurricanes as GM Jim Rutherford has gone on the record saying he doesn’t think young defensemen hit their prime until they’re with their second NHL team.  The Hurricanes picked up what is considered the most gifted natural scorer outside of Hall in this draft, tallying 50 goals and 90 points with Kitchener in the OHL last season.  Expect him to get a real shot at the ‘Canes roster next season.

8. Atlanta, Alexandr Burmistrov (C)- Starving for offensive talent after the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk, the Thrash went out and grabbed another Russian superstar in the making.  While it was still puzzling they didn’t pick up Fowler, Atlanta actually has a decent defense corps.  Burmistrov put Atlanta’s fears of “Russian Flight” to bed, adamantly declaring his desire only to play in the NHL.  He should complement Evander Kane well.

9. Minnesota, Mikael Granlund (C)- While Grandlund is talented, passing on Fowler and Gormley was a swing and a miss for Minnesota.  Granlund could learn well from another Finnish center, Mikko Koivu, but this decision is still puzzling and plays to the idea that teams were dedicated to their plans and not to the best player available.

10. New York Rangers, Dylan McIlrath (D)- Oops.  The Rangers could use a nasty defenseman, but they messed up huge here.  With complete defensemen Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley still on the board, the Rangers picked a player ranked around 20th.  While I can justify a lot of the other teams passing on the highly rated defensemen, this is a resounding dud for the Blueshirts.

11. Dallas, Jack Campbell (G)- The plan seems to be pretty clear for Dallas.  With Kari Lehtonen signed for the next 3 seasons, Campbell is set to develop in the meantime and then probably take over for the oft-injured Finn at that time.  The departure of Turco has left Dallas in need of a franchise keeper, but they would have been better off filling the void Zubov left on the blue line.

12. Anaheim, Cam Fowler (D)- I’m sure Anaheim didn’t expect Fowler to be available for them at the 12th pick, but they didn’t hesitate in taking the blue-chip defenseman.  It’s a shrewd move that will pay off big time for the Ducks, especially with the loss of Scott Niedermayer to retirement.  Fowler has a good mentor in Lubomir Visnovsky and should make an immediate impact with the Ducks.  This pick wasn’t the only steal the Ducks made in the first round either.

13. Phoenix, Brandon Gormley (D)- Equally vexing was the drop of Gormley, so Phoenix made a steal as well grabbing the kid in the 13 slot.  He should make a good contribution to a team that could be losing Zbynek Michalek once Free Agency hits.

14. St. Louis, Jaden Schwartz (C)- St. Louis is loaded up front with Oshie, Perron, Boyes, Backes, and Berglund, so naturally they take… another forward.  A defenseman at this point in the draft wouldn’t have been able to step right in and help out, but it’s a cupboard St. Louis would have done well to restock.

15. Los Angeles, Derek Forbort (D)- LA moved up and traded for Florida’s 15th overall pick, obtained in the Horton for Wideman swap.  My money would have been on the Kings taking California native Emerson Etem, but they had defense on the brain.  While it would seem like a strength for the Kings, defense is always something worth building on.  Forbort is big, gritty, and a great passer and skater for a guy that’s 6’5″.  Could this move cue the departure of Jack Johnson or does it show the Kings frustration with Teubert’s slow development?

16. St. Louis, Vladimir Tarasenko (C)- When the Blues traded Ottawa for their 16th overall pick I was sure they would use it to shore up defense, but they yet again took a forward.  The confusion doesn’t stop there though, the Blues traded excellent defense prospect David Rundblad in order to get the pick, further weakening their defensive strength.  While Rundblad is a good addition for Ottawa, the Sens come up the real losers here.  Did Ottawa really think Rundblad was better than any of the remaining players?  They’ll be embarrassed if Tarasenko lives up to his great offensive potential.

17. Colorado, Joey Hishon (C)- Maybe the most unexpected pick of the first round, the Avs went way off the board to take Joey Hishon (he was ranked 56th among American skaters).  Maybe the Avs know something we don’t, but this pick looks like a major head scratcher.

18. Nashville, Austin Watson (RW)- The Preds did well to take a forward.  After all, it seems like every year they lose another skilled forward, yet have an incredibly strong defensive corps.  Austin Watson’s point totals weren’t mind blowing in Juniors, but he was ranked around 12th, which makes this a good nab.

19. Florida, Nick Bjugstad (C)- Florida come out big winners after the first round, picking up Gudbranson first, then filling a hole at center with Bjugstad.  The kid has great offensive potential, not to mention a 6’5″ frame.  He won’t be able to jump right in, but will continue to develop with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  The Panthers weren’t done yet either…

20. Pittsburgh, Beau Bennett (RW)- The Pens chose a winger with their first round pick, very much a need for the club one year removed from a Stanley Cup.  While the BCHL doesn’t produce a ton of prospects, Bennett should do well.  He’ll continue his development at the University of Denver, if the Pens don’t try to pry him away early that is.

21. Detroit, Riley Sheahan (C)- Riley is a big kid, listed at 6’2″, 200 lbs.  While Sheahan’s stock dropped quite a bit from the midterm rankings (from 5th to 22nd), he could turn out to be a steal.  After all, it seems like the later the pick, the better the Wings do.

22. Montreal, Jarred Tinordi (D)- Montreal swapped a 1st (27th) and a second, for this pick and a 4th.  Montreal did well too, picking up the towering American defenseman listed at 6’6″, 205 lbs.  Tinordi is headed to Notre Dame to hone his skills, but should be a physical centerpiece for the Habs in a few years.

23. Buffalo, Mark Pysyk (D)- Adding to a defense that could use some help (ask Ryan Miller), the Sabres nabbed Pysyk.  Pysyk say he models his game after Shea Weber, and if he can play like him the Sabres will be very pleased.

24. Chicago, Kevin Hayes (RW)- This pick originally belonged to the Devils, but made its way to Chicago, via the Byfuglien trade.  Hayes has NHL size already at 6’2″, 205.  He also is cousin to former NHLer Keith Tkachuk.  He’ll likely take a few years to be ready, but if the price is right he could help right away, given the Blackhawks’s cap crunch.

25. Florida, Quinton Howden (C)- Not only did Florida get a great prospect in Howden, they also swapped stick-swinging goat Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich for Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and this pick.  If Florida wasn’t already the big first round winner, this move blasted them over the top.

26. Washington, Evgeny Kuznetsov (C)- The third Russian in the first round, Kuznetsov couldn’t have gone to a better place.  He could use some bulking up, but has the frame for a good sized NHLer.  Not only that, but playing with Ovechkin should be tempting enough to draw him away from the KHL, where he already has 35 professional games under his belt.

27. Phoenix, Mark Visentin (G)- I have to admit I had to look at my draft rankings in order to find where Visentin was… way down at 91st.  Not only that, but the next best keeper available was Calvin Pickard.  Equally puzzling is that Visentin had a losing record last season with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL.  His save percentage was strong, even for a losing team, but if Pickard goes on to have a better career, this will be a major error.

28. San Jose, Charlie Coyle (C/RW)- Charlie is a big kid and is committed to playing for the BU Eagles next season.  He’s another prospect with famous hockey relatives, cousin to both Tony Amonte and Bobby Sheehan.

29. Anaheim, Emerson Etem (RW)- Using the pick they grabbed in the Chris Pronger trade, Anaheim got a steal in California Native Emerson Etem.  Etem was supposed to go much earlier, around the time of their first pick in fact.  Florida may be the first round winners, but Anaheim is a close second with Etem’s offensive talents to boast.

30. New York Islanders, Brock Nelson (C)- The Islanders traded a pair of 2nd rounders to get this pick and got a big forward in return.  If Nelson doesn’t pan out, it will be up for debate which is worse; the fact they didn’t draft defense to aid their weak blue line or that they passed up on the talented Tyler Pitlick.

Other notables:

-Carolina only had one 1st round pick, but left the weekend with three 1st rounders.  They traded picks to the Rangers to get Bobby Sanguinetti, whom the Rags soured on.  They also got Riley Nash from the Oilers, whom Edmonton felt was not developing fast enough, playing so few games in the ECAC.  Should those players work out for Carolina, Jim Rutherford will be praised.

-The Calgary Flames didn’t pick until the third round which could come back to bite them, considering the depth of this draft.

-Edmonton did well to pick the best player in Taylor Hall, and still got a great center prospect in Tyler Pitlick with the 31st overall selection.

-John McFarland’s alleged attitude issues dropped him to the second round, but Florida could have nabbed their 3rd strong center prospect if he get’s over his hang ups.

-The Avs curious pick of Joey Hishon could be forgotten with their 2nd round selection of Calvin Pickard.

-While the weekend was dominated by the drafting of Canadians and Americans, Sweden had a strong draft with 20 youngsters joining NHL clubs.

Part 2 of my Draft coverage will follow and I’ll share my incredible first live draft experience.

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Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney

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