18 April 2019
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Chiller Instinct’s

NHL Top Prospects Guide 2008-09

 

 

The compulsion of hockey franchises to supply their rosters with impact and economically sensible options is one to mind.  Well-scouted prospects could be the edge a team needs to bring both a winning dynamic and enthusiasm to the club. 

 

From Anaheim’s defenseman Brian Salcido to Washington’s young sniper Francois Bouchard, we’ve taken into account all 30 team’s circumstances and the development of the budding minor league talents.  Of course, players such as Mikael Backlund (Calgary), Viktor Tikhonov (Phoenix), Bobby Sanguinetti (NYR), Brad Marchand (Boston), and Max Pacioretty (Montreal) are a few that could turn heads quickly as well.  Ages are calculated by the player’s age at the beginning of the NHL season.

 

Bring your attention to the following 30 players that will provide real impacts this year in their organizations and the NHL:

 

1)      Kyle Turris (F) – Phoenix Coyotes (19 yrs old, 6’1”, 178 lbs)

 

Wayne Gretzky and company in Arizona are so high on the prowess and gifts of Turris that his services are all but a foregone conclusion this fall in Arizona.  The U20 World Junior Gold Medal winner has turned pro after just one season in the NCAA ranks with Wisconsin, leading the Badgers with 35 points.  Turris told the Capital Times, “….it was a tough decision because I love Wisconsin. I wouldn’t have traded this year in for the world. It was incredible. The college atmosphere, the lessons I learned. I couldn’t have had a better coach than coach (Mike) Eaves. He taught me so much.”

 

The Coyotes are beginning to bring along an enviable array of forwards that possess speed, ingenuity, and character.  In bringing in All-Star centre Olli Jokinen to harness the first line and powerplay, pivots Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller and Turris will all be afforded time to develop further.  Captain Shane Doan, Todd Fedoruk and Daniel Carcillo will keep the opposition honest and could prove to be the ideal situation for the youngsters.

The New Westminster, British Columbian-born Turris has bloomed in every situation hockey has presented him with.  Premature whispers (should you listen) tell you that he has a real shot at making the Canadian Olympic Team for 2010.  In all fairness, projections like that are not fair but his gifts are something special.  Former coach and NHL player Rick Lanz states, "The talent is already there. That's what makes him so special. Unknowingly, he has surrounded himself with everything one would look for in a player. It all comes naturally to him. He gets it."  Kyle was the leading goal scorer at the Canada/Russia Super Series with seven markers.  His aptitude for displaying elite talent at top speed is something all scouts look for and has been on display both at the BCHL level in Burnaby and at the NCAA level.  The Vancouver Giants held his rights should he have advanced to the WHL at one point and assured him of a roster spot the year the Giants hosted and won the Memorial Cup.  That is a very solid indicator indeed.

 

2) Ryan Parent (D) – Philadelphia Flyers (21 years old, 6’2”, 205 lbs)

 

As the Sioux Lookout, Ontario product advances in his career, the Philadelphia Flyers’ fortunes will undoubtedly follow suit.  Parent led the Guelph Storm to recognition and an OHL Championship during his four year career and was brought in to accomplish World Junior Gold for Team Canada twice (2005 and 2006). 

 

As Nashville fostered him along to join a flourishing young defense; the Flyers recognized the talent and the Predators were forced to part with Scottie Upshall, a 1st and 3rd round draft pick, and Parent when they wished to have the services of Peter Forsberg.  With a complete team rebuild in brief and successful fashion, the Flyers certainly see Parent as a stabilizing force for years to come.  Never a large point producer, it is his defensive game that make him such a team player.  GM Paul Holmgren notes that “He’s a tremendous defender.  He’s very competitive in puck battles, but there are things in the offensive side that can improve.”

 

With 23 NHL games under his belt and another 59 games of seasoning in the AHL, Parent seems ready to assume his place in Philadelphia. A cool demeanor and superb conditioning make him a strong candidate to win the Calder Cup as the NHL’s top rookie this year.

 

 

3) Kyle Okposo (RW) – New York Islanders (20 years old, 6’ 1”, 201 lbs)

 

When Kyle Okposo left his University of Minnesota career to turn pro and vault himself into the NHL picture at an accelerated rate, critics had their say.  Well, taking matters into his own hands is part of life and it is up to Kyle to turn critics into boosters. 

 

Okposo joined the Islanders’ affiliate in the AHL on 11 January 2008 for a contest against Binghamton and registered two assists and four shots, immediately impacting the outcome.  In his first nine games he recorded nine points, including one game-winner, and was +2.  Okposo finished the AHL season with 28 points, 4 powerplay goals, 2 game-winning goals, 12 penalty minutes, and ended-up with an even +/- rating.  These numbers are misleading as Okposo also began his NHL tenure in March and April, impressed for five points including one game-winning goal in a nine game stint with the Islanders.  The Minnesota native’s focus was clearly on Long Island near the end of the season.  Okposo returned to Bridgeport after the NHL season came to an end on 4 April 2008 and scored a goal for the Tigers the next day. 

 

The very first goal of Okposo’s NHL career was a one-timer that eluded Martin Brodeur.  A very accurate wrist-shot on a pass from Blake Comeau was his second tally.  Big things are expected from Okposo in the coming years.  During this summer’s development camp the Islanders were delighted by a wealth of chemistry between 2008’s first-rounder Joshua Bailey and Okposo.  Both players would benefit from a renewed, enthusiastic approach on Long Island.  Okposo’s potential is very encouraging. 

 

 

4) Claude Giroux (F) – Philadelphia Flyers (20 years old, 5’11”, 175 lbs)

 

The dynamics that Giroux brings to the Flyers’ organization are tremendous.  With R.J. Umberger traded on draft day to make a forward roster spot available, it is likely that the Philly brass was paving the way for a certain adept winger from the Gatineau Olympiques.  After a QMJHL career in which the Hearst, ON native compiled a staggering 321 points in only 187 games, it was punctuated by an astounding 51 points in 19 playoff games earning him playoff MVP honours last year.  His offensive skills are complimented by a responsibility to the defensive aspect; thoughts around the league view Giroux as a future superstar. 

 

With depth up the middle and a mobile defense, the Flyers will look at young forwards such as Steve Downie, Jeff Carter, Scottie Upshall and Giroux to provide even more offense to the sixth-ranked offense in the NHL.  Giroux was added to the lineup late in the season and Chris Pryor (Director of Flyers’ Hockey Operations) had this to say about Claude: "He's a kid that's getting bigger and stronger.  He's still a kid, but he's becoming a man. He's a hockey player. He can play both ends of the rink, he knows the game, and he’s competitive. You saw him when he came up for a couple games last year, he stepped right in and I don't think he looked out of place."

 

As a smaller player in the NHL, the only question about Giroux is his size and scouts report that he is shifty enough to avoid most contact and does not mind taking hits to make plays.  Once passed over in the OHL draft, Giroux headed east to the Quebec Juniors to ply his trade.  He could be playing top line minutes for the Flyers in no time.

 

 

5) Shawn Matthias (C) – Florida Panthers (20 years old, 6’2”, 213 lbs)

 

In the wake of a blockbuster trade that sent career Panther and team Captain Olli Jokinen to Phoenix, Shawn Matthias’ grooming has been for this very gateway.  In what may seem as a devastating move by Florida, it may actually prove to be fortune in disguise.  The disguise is mostly in regards to other brutal decisions for the Panther organization you may recall.  This choice has some validity under the surface.

 

Shawn Matthias has an opportunity to take the reigns of his team.  Undervalued by most NHL teams in his draft year, the Detroit Red Wings understood what he could bring to a team, spending their 2nd round pick to obtain his rights.  Florida then acquired him in the deal that sent Todd Bertuzzi to Detroit.  Since then, Panthers’ management certainly must be pleased with the development of the versatile forward.  The Hockey News’ Future Watch 2008 commented that Matthias was “a complete player who can beat you with both power and finesse.” 

 

With hands that are known for finishing plays on a Belleville Bulls (OHL) team that grew better along with the centre, Matthias will be given every opportunity to stick in the NHL and flourish.  Most noteworthy was the fact that Matthias never once looked out of place with players of high caliber (Stamkos and Tavares) in the World Junior Championships in Pardubice, Czech Republic and was named as one of the Top 3 forwards for Team Canada.  Expect big things from the kid, he was skating sturdy minutes and occasionally on the top line in a four game call-up last January.  Matthias scored the first two goals of his career on January 19th, 2008.

 

 

6) Bobby Ryan (RW) – Anaheim Ducks (21 years old, 6’1”, 213 lbs)

 

The Ducks are banking a lot on the notion that another of their top round picks will come through and provide an impact this season.  Still early on in their careers, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf need running mates to spark an offense that may be without some world-class members in Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne.   

 

Still considered a rookie as he has only been involved in 23 contests, Bobby Ryan has the complete package.  Immediately drafted behind Sidney Crosby, the native of Cherry Hill, New Jersey will be expected to bring exuberance and flair to the lineup every night.  Ryan certainly has the knack.  In his junior career with the Owen Sound Attack (OHL) he established franchise marks for points (325) and goals (133) and was named the league’s ‘Best Playmaker’ and ‘Best Stickhandler’ in 2005-06, as voted on by the coaches.  Ryan’s first three games with the Portland Pirates (AHL) in 2006-07 saw him collect two assists in each game, followed up by one goal each in the next three contests.  His deft scoring was evident all of last season when voted to the AHL All-Star Team, as the right-winger recorded 49 points in his 48 games.

 

In the 23 matches that Ryan laced-up for Anaheim last season, the Ducks won 15 and lost 8 times.  Voted a second star in one game and a third in another, the Ducks will be giving Ryan more of an opportunity than the little over 11 minutes per game in ice-time he received last year.  Look for big things to be generated, especially his time with the man-advantage.

 

 

7) Mike Weber (D) – Buffalo Sabres (20 years old, 6’2”, 199 lbs)

 

Weber is on the cusp of breaking into the Sabres lineup on a regular basis.  His shut-down mentality is perfectly suited to being paired with a defenseman such as Andrej Sekera; the Sabres utilized the pair last year.  Never a big point producer, Buffalo is confident that he will be a top four defender and perhaps wear a letter on his jersey in the future.  An OHL career with the Windsor Spitfires was important for Weber, as he himself is grateful for the opportunity to stay in the same billet home as Steve Ott once had. 

 

The effectiveness of certain members of the defensive corps will be a factor in Mike’s ice-time, as the Sabres are high on his character.  His willingness to drop the gloves against tough customers and the courage he provides as a spark to team-mates is considerable.  For example, in a 7-1 drubbing of the Hurricanes on March 13, 2008, the native of Pennsylvania was paramount in shutting down the rolling team and was +4 in the game.  The ‘Canes only score came on a first period goal by Scott Walker, whom Weber later fought in the third period.  James Patrick, a former defenseman for both Team USA and the Sabres and now an Assistant Coach with Buffalo has been a mentor to the youngster.  "James was always pushing me and I'm grateful because I want to be the best I can be," Weber said. "No matter how many minutes I played or in what situations, he was there with advice and encouragement and challenges. He's always there to help me out and teach me the little things that can make me a better player.” – Weber, on Patrick’s tutelage.

 

 

8) Rob Schremp (C) – Edmonton Oilers (22 years old, 5’11”, 200 lbs)

A media circus follows Rob Schremp’s every game as his lacrosse-style stick-handling and flair for the dramatic has enraptured fans.  Enjoying a tremendous beginning to his OHL career after winning Rookie of the Year, Schremp was traded to the London Knights.  London went on to compile what stands as the single best junior hockey record in CHL history with a 59-7-2-0. Rob was an enormous part of an offense that scored 310 times while surrendering just 125 goals.  The Knights went on to bring the Memorial Cup home.  Schremp tallied 384 total points during 247 OHL contests and in his finest year, deposited 57 goals in 57 games.  The Fulton, N.Y. native’s international career with Team USA saw him put up an additional 11 points in 14 games on the world stage.

 

In two years on the Oilers’ farm teams, Schremp has brought his talent to the forefront and was eventually the go-to-guy that could bury the puck when needed.  Last season in Springfield (AHL) he was named to the Western Conference All-Star Team on the strength of 76 points in 78 games.  While not the fastest skater, a quick acceleration, deft passing and shooting skills make him extremely dangerous in the offensive zone. 

 

Schremp seems to have a winner’s mentality despite criticism that he is showing off.  The Hockey News’ “Future Watch 2008” proclaims that, “His work ethic and attention to detail have improved.  All that’s left is to make the jump.”  Craig MacTavish has openly criticized Schremp’s speed and strength.  Rob has done an interview series on the website ‘illegalcurve.com’ that explains his dedication to improving his fitness and strength levels.

 

Oilers fans are rejoicing these days.  Bringing in exquisite talent and concentrating on drafting quality young men will do that for an organization.  The product on the ice has improved and some key additions through trades especially and Schremp provides them with further depth.

 

 

9) Brian Lee (D) – Ottawa Senators (21 years old, 6’2”, 205 lbs)

 

On what amounts to a thinning backend, Lee will definitely add a grounding element to the Senators’ lockeroom.  It is rare thing to say about a 21 year-old, yet Lee has demonstrated his professionalism on every level.  The former University of North Dakota defenseman understands the aspects of high competition levels.  A member of the 2006-07 Fighting Sioux that won a berth into the Frozen Four, the right-handed defender skated with Team USA Captain Taylor Chorney as his partner.  The company does not drop off there as Johnathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, and Capitals’ prospect Joe Finley helped to comprise one of the top NCAA teams.  A bronze medal from the U20 World Championships surely amounts to just another stepping stone for the budding superstar.

 

Ottawa Assistant GM Tim Murray commented recently on a Senators’ outlook feature, “He stepped right into the AHL with both feet on the ground. He was very poised and showed veteran qualities that you don't expect in a young guy out of college. He contributed right off the bat. He moved the puck very well and he sees the ice well. Right from the start, he was playing an intelligent game.”

 

In a startling off-season move, GM Murray sent puck-moving defenseman and RFA Andrej Meszaros packing in a trade with Tampa Bay.  In return the Senators receive added defensive toughness in Filip Kuba that will help right away.  Also added was young defender Alexandre Picard who has size and enthusiasm to compliment a reasonable skill set.   

 

Lee was named an AHL All-Star last year after collecting 25 points in 55 games in 2007-08.  This earned him a late-season call-up to the Senators in which he registered an assist in six games.  The North Dakota native has an outright shot at making the big club this year and will need to challenge outright for a spot.

 

 

10) T.J. Oshie (F) – St. Louis Blues (21 years old, 5’11”, 195 lbs)

 

The incredible play of T.J. Oshie has many organizations checking their own pipelines for such a ‘sure-fire’ prospect.  Scouts rave about his work ethics and it shows up in both his personal statistics as well as his team’s fortunes.  Head Scout Jarmo Kekalainen on his prize prospect, "He's been one of the best college hockey players in the country. He has taken his team to the Frozen Four twice in a row as one of the best players on that team. Those are the things that build the expectation and I think he has those expectations for himself. We definitely have them, but it does come down to how he does in September."

 

Size may be an issue in the minds of some.  T.J. has suffered only a minor thumb injury during college and habitually eludes and initiates contact with blistering speed and acute awareness.  The Mount Vernon, Washington-born Oshie not only led his team to Division Championships but a Finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as well.  John Davidson (owner) commented that "He's a dogged hockey player and a smart hockey player," Davidson said. "He can make plays at top speed. He can play the wing or center ice. There is nothing not to like about him."

 

Oshie’s point production includes 142 points in 128 career games at the University of North Dakota, but he means so much more to the Blues.  Oshie could very well spearhead the attack in St. Louis for some time with his dynamite playmaking offsetting a sniper’s mentality.  With Eric Brewer as Captain and Davidson stockpiling the prospect system, the Blues have a number of high profile young players to build with.  Eric Johnson will be a star on the blue-line for ages, David Perron shows all the earmarks of a top-end finisher, and David Backes is a determinable force. 

 

The Blues have open spots on the roster with the departure of Doug Weight, Jamal Mayers and Ryan Johnson.  The St. Louis offense is a major concern.  Fine prospects Patrik Berglund, Lars Eller and defenseman Jonas Junland could provide modest upgrades on the docility of the departed.  Oshie is a top-shelf talent and may be turning heads in no time.

 

 

11) Steven Stamkos (C) - Tampa Bay Lightning (18 years old, 6’1”, 196 lbs)

 

The undisputed number one pick overall this summer has the hands that teams dream about.  Those dreams are usually seen in a red glow with the goal lamp lit.  Stamkos is a break-away talent that can accept passes at top speed and work magic from there.  For example, the OHL’s leading scoring defenseman just happened to be Ryan Wilson of the Sarnia Sting and running-mate Justin DiBenedetto also put up great numbers, eventually nabbed in the 6th round by the Islanders.  “He only needs one (chance) to make a difference," ex-NHL defenseman and Co-owner/Coach of the Windsor Spitfires Bob Boughner told The Windsor Star.  Stamkos scored 197 points in what will most likely amount to his junior career, a mere 124 games. 

 

The Hockey News Draft Preview 2008 listed the flaws in Stamkos’ game and character “akin to finding a golf ball in a snowstorm.”  The product of Unionville, Ontario has had many comparisons made about him, the most notable by scouts that he reminds them of Steve Yzerman on the ice.  Something not trumpeted enough is the fact that besides his World Junior Gold Medal and the OHL All-Star teams he has been selected to, Steven was also selected last year as the OHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year.  The award is given to players combining the highest level of play with academic excellence.

 

The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the 2007-08 campaign in a sorry state.  New ownership and an overload of new players will place a lot of stress on the situation.  Of course, having a few All-Star players around could ease the onset of Stamkos’ career.  Bringing in Gary Roberts, Olaf Kolzig and Jeff Halpern may prove to make sandy loam out of the compressed, packed earth the Lightning find themselves in right now. 

 

 

12) Brian Boyle (F/D) – Los Angeles Kings (23 years old, 6’6”, 220 lbs)

 

Skating on the west coast for a lowly Kings franchise in a handful of games last year, Boyle gave the Los Angeles hopefuls a glimpse of his potential.  This monster centre collected the first 4 goals of what promises to be a productive career and with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jack Johnson leading the way, the Kings have certainly pointed the ship in the right direction.

 

In the Frozen Four tournament with Boston College in 2006-07, Boyle was converted mid-season from the team’s top pivot to a minute munching defenseman.  Hollywood Hill’s brass must like the flexibility, brawn, and depth that Boyle presents on a nightly basis for the club and his ability to play on the boards, in front of the net, and with players of superior talent is indicative of enormous upside.

 

It seems as if Boyle saves his most inspired play for the latter stages of seasons and games; his numbers pile on during those stretches.  Los Angeles may not have enough patience for that type of demeanor at the onset but it could prove to be the work of a team player earning his ice-time and benefiting the team in other manners along the way.  The Kings should profit in the long-run from allowing Boyle to grow with the team as a whole.  A culture of winning may just result.

 

 

13) Fabian Brunnstrom (LW) – Dallas Stars (23 years old, 6’1”, 203 lbs)

 

Many teams had their eyes fixed upon the blazing speed and deft stick-handling of the Swedish Elite league star.  It seems that the Stars’ tradition and current roster was most appealing to Brunnstrom.  With depth at the centre and defense positions, the Stars have set-up a situation in which Brunnstrom will likely succeed.

 

Brunnstrom’s inclusion into the Swedish Elite League ranks last year brought fans to their feet and his top 20 scoring touch as a 22 year-old has executives NHL-wide interested.  The native of Helsingborg, Sweden tallied 37 points in 54 games and missed just one contest during his rookie campaign.  The previous year with Boras HC in Division 1 he was a legitimate superstar, netting 73 points in just 41 games.  The left-winger was held pointless in minor duties with Team Sweden last spring in the World Hockey Championships.  According to Co-General Manager Brett Hull on whether or not Brunnstrom was at development camp in July, "he didn't need it."

 

 

14) Jakub Voracek (RW) – Columbus Blue Jackets (19 years old, 6’1”, 187 lbs)

 

Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has been looking for a way to bolster his team’s lineup and help is being groomed to provide just that.  Talents such as R.J. Umberger and Kristian Huselius have been brought in to take some heat from Rick Nash.  Young second-year pro Derick Brassard could turn heads this year by sticking with the Jackets, though many wonder if his injury problems are going to become a recurring theme.  2008 first-round pick Nikita Filatov is likely to bring an immediate impact, though a short stay with the Sudbury Wolves (OHL) may be in order.  The perplexity of the Stefan Legein retirement certainly throws a wrench into what GM Scott Howson had planned this fall.  Finally, that brings me to the exceptional 19 year-old, Jakub Voracek.

 

In expunging the frustrating Nikolai Zherdev, Howson is clearing a prize prospect some landing room to nestle into the top six forwards.  The talent level of Voracek is outstanding and an already crowded trophy room attests to that.  "When you have skill level like he does, it's really impressive," Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He does things at top speed for a big guy who's growing into his body."  As a member of the past two Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) teams, the Czech Republic-born winger has made an impression both on the score-sheet and with astounding physical play when the occasion warrants.  Sports Illustrated Online Video Vault has some footage on Jakub that exhibits the many facets of his game.

 

The capricious nature of the Blue Jackets may be changing under the watch of Howson but many questions still beleaguer the mediocre Columbus franchise.  If Voracek is able to penetrate the forward ranks and win the favour of his coach, expect the start of his brilliant career to start at this year, before he turns 20 years old.

 

 

15) Brandon Sutter (C) – Carolina Hurricanes (19 years old, 6’3’’, 170 lbs)

 

Lineage or no lineage, Sutter has all the tools and leadership qualities to be a ‘Canes mainstay in a defensive aspect, at least.  As it stands, the former Red Deer Rebel centre can skate with the best of them and disable threats with positional play and savvy. 

 

Sutter’s experience with the Canadian Gold Medal Junior Team, the Canada/Russia Super Series and a stint with the Albany River Rats of the AHL after his WHL season came to an end, can be piled onto his background and has Carolina excited.  Sutter may not be a great factor on a nightly basis to begin with in the NHL, but the learning curve is short and the dressing room presence of Rod Brind’Amour will prove invaluable.

 

Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford recently said that Sutter would be given a great opportunity to earn the Canes’ open spot at center – an opportunity he hopes to take advantage of this fall.  ”I think coming in, obviously I want to play here this year, so if that’s the case it would be great,” said Sutter in an interview on NHL.com.  “It’s a good spot to develop as a player and it’s such a good organization.  I wouldn’t really want to be anywhere else.”

 

With the Canes developing Memorial Cup Champion Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk of Lethbridge in the WHL, Carolina has a few outstanding forward prospects on the horizon.  Sutter could be laying the foundation.

 

 

16) Karl Alzner (D) – Washington Captials (20 years old, 6’2”, 209 lbs)

 

Alzner has been a strapping defender for the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) and Team Canada, earning World Junior Gold twice, once as an Alternate Captain and most recently as ‘Leader of the Leaf’ in Pardubice, Czech Republic.  The Burnaby, British Columbia-born defenseman also finished his junior career in a tie for 4th place in the club’s playoff history with 59 games played and was named the WHL’s top defenseman and the most valuable player.  The intangibles that Alzner brings to the lockeroom will bring prosperity to the Washington franchise. 

 

“He has few apparent flaws,” The Hockey News reported in May of 2008.  If you’ve been paying attention, the consensus is in the positive.  George McPhee, longtime GM of the Capitals is a believer in the Capitals’ system, “It becomes even more critical to be able to replace someone with a younger, cheaper player.”  Ovechkin’s new $9M+ contract will place substantial pressure on offensive players to come through even earlier in their careers.  With top-flight forwards such as Francois Bouchard, Mathieu Perreault, and Oskar Osala putting pressure on the lesser rungs of the Washington forwards, Alzner’s no-nonsense game is invaluable.

 

Decisions of course must be made for today and in the future, as the Caps are one of the NHL’s most promising franchises.  Milan Jurcina, Jeff Schultz, and John Erskine will all need new deals to shore up the defense before the trade deadline in March of 2009.  It would not be surprising to see Josh Godfrey’s right-handed rocket-launcher force his way into the Washington line-up from Hershey (AHL) before long as well.  This would compliment Alzner’s overall game; Alzner and Godfrey were exhibited together in the Canada/Russia Super Series last summer.

 

 

17) Mikkel Boedker (LW) – Phoenix Coyotes (18 years old, 5’11”, 201 lbs)

 

The Phoenix Coyotes set out to the 2008 Entry Draft with some very specific and realistic players in mind to engage.  Most of the scouting services out there foretold that the likes of Mikkel Boedker (and Viktor Tikhonov) would be around when Gretzky would take the stage in Ottawa.  The native of Brandby, Denmark was beaming as he was interviewed by the press afterwards, but so was Gretzky.  “He has an opportunity to play for the Coyotes next year….he’s a character guy who will fit in nicely with our organization.”  GM Don Maloney was once a Kitchener Ranger himself and was present at many Kitchener games, scouting.  The International Scouting Service had this assessment of Boedker, “….good puck pursuit, takes away time and space of the man with the puck well - takes a good angle on the man.  Shifty and very agile – moves well in all directions.  Moves the puck hard – finds the open man and gets the puck to him.”

 

Boedker kept the Kitchener Rangers’ (OHL) fans on the edge of their seats last year with a constant forecheck and a gritty style of play that enhanced his outstanding passing and scoring abilities.  Peter DeBoer, General Manager and Head Coach of Kitchener have likened Boedker’s spirit second only to Mike Richards in the character department.  Most often on the second line for the OHL’s supreme team, Boedker deflected interest away from the top line and was instrumental in the team making the Memorial Cup Final.  The young Dane’s 29 goals, 73 points and only 14 penalty-minutes during his only season in Kitchener were impressive, as were his 35 playoff points in 20 games.

 

Despite being added to a very deep prospect pool in Phoenix, the Coyotes’ brass certainly feel that Mikkel can jump in right away and contribute.  Playing with excellent talents up front and issuing Gretzky’s forecheck pursuit with two men in deep, things look bright for Boedker as a desert dog in the very near future.

 

 

18) Alex Goligoski (D) – Pittsburgh Penguins (23 years old, 5’11”, 180 lbs)

 

The 61st pick overall in the 2004 Entry Draft needed shoulder surgery last summer.  It was shortly before his first pro season in Wilkes-Barre (AHL) and it took Goligoski a while to really implement his game.  The results are in, and circumstance is providing him with a well-timed opportunity; Penguins’ defenseman Ryan Whitney will sidelined a few months recovering from foot surgery.   After a slow start, the talented right-handed defenseman Goligoski earned his way to the AHL All-Star Game last year.

 

I hate comparing kids to stars, but he reminds me of Brian Leetch – not overly big, but real slippery,” says Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins’ Director of Player Development.  Goligoski’s 10 goals and 38 points were a fine rookie campaign for the baby-Pens.  A career at the University of Minnesota saw him earn the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award in 2004-05 before winning the ‘Team MVP’ award in 2006-07.  Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins’ Director of Player Personnel told Adam Kimelman of NHL.com that “He's an exciting talent. Pittsburgh really covets him. He's a guy that's knocking on the door."

 

Called-up for a game in mid-February last year, Goligoski logged under ten minutes of ice-time and was held off of the score-sheet.  In two subsequent contests in which Alex faced the Senators in Ottawa and then the Thrashers in Pittsburgh the next night, he tallied an assist in each game while skating for 16+ minutes.  Goligoski projects to have a fine career and his strengths in the puckhandling and skating areas only reinforce the idea.

 

19) Blake Wheeler (RW) – Boston Bruins (22 year old, 6’4”, 220 lbs)

In his time in the Phoenix organization, the relations between Wheeler and management varied from strained to jubilant with shades of optimism thrown in at times. 

The large winger was selected 5th overall in 2004 but struggled shortly after and headed into this summer yet to agree on a deal with the Coyotes.  July 1st, 2008 saw Blake hit the open market as a free-agent, but he had already all but signed in Beantown.    "More than 20 NHL teams were interested in Blake, and this was a very tough decision," agent Matt Keator told the Boston Globe. "And ultimately it came down to a few things for Blake, but mostly that he was comfortable with where the Bruins were headed as an organization — how this year they brought along kids like David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Mark Stuart."

A three year career at the University of Minnesota saw Wheeler ring up four game-winners, pot 42 goals, 54 assists, and sat in the box for 155 penalty minutes in 127 games.  Work ethic has never been an issue for the right-winger and he has battled throughout his tenure to develop playmaking skills.  Scouts feel that he has accomplished as much and could challenge for an NHL roster spot very soon.  Wheeler’s statistics at the U of M were decent in 2007-08, despite the Golden Gophers limited offense and led the team in goals (tie with Ben Gordon at 15), assists (20) and points (35).  His penalty minutes were appalling at 72, he skated to an even +/- rating, and he registered no game-winning goals last season, so there are mixed reviews.

Questions that have arisen about Wheeler’s integrity can, and only will be answered by the kid himself.  The Bruins have afforded the native of Robbinsdale, Michigan an opportunity in the fall.  "Anytime you can get a young player of Blake's caliber with that blend of size and skill, you are very fortunate," said Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli to the Boston Globe.

 

 

20) Ryan Jones (F) – Nashville Predators (24 years old, 6’2”, 215 lbs)

 

As the Predators dealt defenseman Marek Zidlicky to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a 2009 draft pick and a prospect forward, most people shook their heads and turned the page.  What seemed to escape most people’s attention is that 24 year-old Ryan Jones was coming to Nashville as that prospect.  Bringing size, skill and a quality of attitude that may in some small way burnish the dent left from Alexander Radulov’s departure.

 

Jones was a quiet keeper property of the Wild that enjoyed a stellar career with the Miami University Redhawks.  Scoring heaps of points in the CCHA (147 in 161 games) while leading the team to victorious seasons earned Jones national accolades.  In this past season, the Redhawks’ Captain was a Finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and was honoured by the National Strength and Training Association for dedication.  "Ryan is a true leader who has never missed a game in his Miami career. Through his hard work in the weight room, he became a force on the ice and amassed 100+ points in his career. His leadership and work ethic have contributed to Miami's ongoing success and back-to-back seasons with NCAA Tournament victories." –Matt Cady, Miami Strength and Conditioning Coach.  Ryan was also named as an All-American nationally.

 

Miami Coach Enrico Blasi also had this to say about the time he spent with his veritable leader.  “He’s a player who will go into the areas no one else really wants to go into. He’s a big power forward. Good goal scorer; led us in scoring last year. He skates well and can contribute in all aspects of the game. Has a knack for getting into those areas to score those ugly goals. He’s willing to bang and crash in the corners and in front of the net.”  Jones was voted Team MVP (a tie) with Kings’ goalie prospect Jeff Zatkoff.

 

GM David Poile must be pleased with the character and resolve Jones will bring to his roster.  With so much focus on the defense and a determined top line, Jones’ timely scoring (he finished second in Division 1 history with 21 game-winning goals) will be welcomed to help add scoring in Nashville.

 

 

21) Kevin Porter (LW) – Phoenix Coyotes (22 years old, 5’11”, 195 lbs)

 

Kevin Porter was a leader both on and off the ice for the Michigan Wolverines.  His illustrious college career was punctuated by winning the Hobey Baker Award, the most prized individual award in College hockey.  Porter scored 33 goals this season (183 points in 162 games), led the Wolverines to the Frozen Four for the first time in five years, and received scores of letters in praise of his collegiate career.  One of such letters was from Wane Gretzky.  "Kevin came back with supposedly an empty cupboard," Michigan’s Red Berenson said. "He came back on a mission. I've never seen a player take the whole team in his grasp, put them on his back and make it happen. He's been a tremendous leader."  The Northville, Michigan product was also a key member of Team USA’s U20 and U18 programs.  Porter won a Silver Medal in 2003-04.

 

Line-mate and fellow Coyotes’ draft pick Chad Kolarik is keeping pace, joining Kevin with the San Antonio Rampage (AHL) for the playoffs last spring.  Porter tallied four assists in the club’s seven games.  Versatility is the key for Porter as he is joining a large group of top-notch young players in Phoenix.  None of which may be as NHL-ready, display tangible leadership qualities, and be as grounded as the remarkable Porter.  The left-winger has every chance to make a lasting impression on the Coyotes by bringing his game to the desert this fall, with the intention of making the squad and sticking.

 

 

22) Matt Smaby (D) – Tampa Bay Lightning (23 years old, 6’5”, 222 lbs)

 

Matt Smaby may go unnoticed with all the action up front for the Lightning.  With 14 games under his belt last season and few veterans on the backend, the Minneapolis native’s no-nonsense game pleases management and steadies a goaltender. 

 

To begin the season with Tampa Bay in October, the coaching staff sprinkled Smaby over the ice with an average of eight shifts and roughly six minutes per game.  Matt was -1 over the four games, registered just one shot and was sent to the Norfolk Admirals (AHL).  Plying his trade in the minors, Smaby collected 66 PIMs and six points including his first professional goal in 58 games before being called-up to the Lightning for the remainder of the season in mid-March.  The coaches leaned much heavier on the shoulders of Smaby, giving the kid nearly 20 shifts and 15 minutes per game.

 

Never a huge point-producer in the AHL or in the college ranks with the University of North Dakota, Smaby’s no-nonsense game is unheralded but reliable.

 

 

23) Jack Skille (F) – Chicago Blackhawks (21 years old, 6’1”, 198 lbs)

 

One of the fastest skaters ready to hit the NHL, Jack Skille will be bearing down on flat-footed defensemen for years to come.  The Blackhawks have been trimming their roster over the past couple seasons to make way for skilled, tough youngsters. Chicago has something of a difference-maker in the Wisconsin native, though he will have to work on his awareness on the ice.  This was something that is painfully evident in an injury he suffered from a shoulder-check thrown by Capitals’ prospect Joe Finley in which Skille was dropped by the large defenseman’s shoulder as he came around the side of the net from behind.

 

A collegiate career saw Skille put up moderate production with 38 points in 65 games over two years and also witnessed him add a U18 Silver Medal, a U18 Gold Medal, and U20 Bronze Medal with the Team USA Development program.  Skille is a player that the Hawks believe will add hustle, tenacity, and eagerness.  "He's one of my projects," Denis Savard said of the seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft. "I'm going to continue to show films to him and continue to show the good things he does to build his confidence because he's going to be a Hawk for sure someday … for good."

 

Skille seems to be on the right track.  In his first full professional year, the enthusiastic Skille rang up 16 goals and 34 points in 59 games with Rockford in the AHL. "Skille has great wheels and he's learning the pro game," GM Dale Tallon said. "He had a real solid rookie year. He's going to be a good power forward, who is hard to stop with his speed and strength."  Chicago has room on the roster and it seems only a matter of time before the up-tempo game Skille brings to the table, is under the spotlight.

 

 

24) Drew Doughty (D) – Los Angeles Kings (18 years old, 6’1”, 219 lbs)

 

Drew Doughty definitely has all the skills and make-up to affirm his selection 2nd overall behind Stamkos this past June.  Examining the entire package the exceptional blueliner possesses, the Kings signed Doughty to an entry-level contract this summer believing he can crack the lineup in the fall. 

 

As Doughty’s OHL career unfolded with the Guelph Storm, the rave reviews and press followed.  Ever the offensive threat, Doughty proved he was a physical presence as well.  "When he puts his mind to it he can also play a physical game; he's capable of crunching people but didn't see it that much this year," said Grant McCagg, publisher of McKeen's Hockey Draft Guide.  An elite passer and outstanding skater, Doughty was paired up with Karl Alzner on Canada’s first defensive pairing for the World Juniors in Pardubice, Czech Republic.  The right-handed shooting, London, Ontario-born Doughty was an immense part of the Canadian success.

 

The fact that Doughty may lace up for L.A. could very well be disastrous for his development and I hope that L.A. does not force the issue with a lack of NHL-ready defensive depth.  Peter Harrold has been given spot duty the past couple years and Jack Johnson is coming along nicely.  But the overall depth is just not there yet.  Matt Greene is a stabilizing force with a no-nonsense approach and Tom Preissing is a serviceable defenseman.  The Kings are headed in the absolute right direction with depth in the defensive prospects with Thomas Hickey, Colten Teubert and Zack Martinez in the pipeline.  Doughty has been drafted to be the centerpiece of the defense that could be the envy of the NHL in a few years.

 

 

 

25) Zach Bogosian (D) – Atlanta Thrashers (18 years old, 6’2”, 201 lbs)

 

The OHL All-star’s chances to make one of the NHL’s most porous defenses are considerable.  Bogosian is a physical specimen that scouts in Tampa Bay and Los Angeles may rue the day they passed on.  Conditioning and a methodical approach are very strong assets.  Grant McCagg of McKeen’s Hockey Draft Guide had this to say:  "He's perhaps the strongest skating defenseman in the draft.  He's just a naturally strong, aggressive player with above average physical play. He has a mean streak in him which scouts like to see.  He has good passing skills and he's competitive. As far as his weaknesses, he's only been playing competitive hockey for a few years so he still needs to learn things in his own zone position-wise and instinct-wise."

 

No shortage of zeal was evident from the 18 year-old who led Atlanta’s development camp in Duluth from July 8th to 13th shortly after being drafted 3rd overall in June.  The team’s homepage is reporting that he delivered the first big hit of camp and scored in the first scrimmage.  The Massena, New York-born defenseman said this about his chances at camp, “It gives you a little sniff of what it’s all about.  I’m just going to keep working hard and hopefully be able to crack the lineup”. 

 

Cerebral right-handed defenders, with grit and the well-rounded upside that Bogosian displays are infrequently available as an option at draft day.  Atlanta management made a wise choice to select last season’s leading point producer (61) on a mid-rate Peterborough Petes (OHL) club.

 

With that said, the Thrashers have gaping holes at defense and Bogosian may be forced to learn on the fly.  Convention wisdom places his strength with ‘NHL Young Star’ Tobias Enstrom as an extremely mobile, if inexperienced duo.  With only five d-men on the official roster at the close of August, opportunities are available and Zach will undoubtedly compete.  Super-hulk Boris Valabik is also a bonafide prospect and could load up on minutes as well.  Ron Hainsey was brought in via unrestricted free-agency, adding 244 games of experience at both the NHL and AHL levels.  Ken Klee and Niclas Havelid are the elders on the blueline at 37 and 35 respectively. Neither Klee or Havelid nor Garnet Exelby offer offensive flair, so management and fans alike must be crossing their fingers that Bogosian sticks.

 

 

26) Kyle Beach (RW) – Chicago Blackhawks (18 years old, 6’3”, 214 lbs)

 

The upside of the much-discussed Kyle Beach was certainly enticing for teams in the 2008 Draft.  In the end, Chicago selected Beach 11th overall and perhaps this will turn out to be the ideal situation for the emergent power-forward.  The Blackhawks have one, of if not the best pool of young players.  As a result the Hawks brass will have choices to make on the forward ranks and can afford to bring the dominant Everett Silvertips (WHL) along at the pace best suited to his development.

The native of Kelowna, B.C. has all the skills and mindset of a top-flight talent and has the potential to be an assertive force for years to come in the best hockey league on the planet.  That capability alone had teams checking their draft lists over and interviewing Beach multiple times at the Draft Combine in Toronto this summer.  “Scouts love his combination of grit and skill and see him as a prototypical power forward at the next level. He already plays a complete game at both ends of the ice.” – Blackhawks’ feature on Beach on NHL.com. 

Beach’s numbers in junior are impressive and consistent.  Last season Beach battled in 65 games and lit the lamp 29 times (61 points) adding 196 penalty-minutes.  This season, on a worsened Everett team, the superb forward notched 27 goals (60 points) and 222 penalty-minutes in just 60 games.  It is likely he’ll cut his teeth in the American Hockey League at first, but a Calder Cup for Beach before long is a definite possibility.  Do not count him out for opening day; Chicago loves his two-way game and edge.  They are not the only ones.

 

27) Cody Hodgson (F) – Vancouver Canucks (18 years old, 6’0”, 185 lbs)

 

Some scouts have expressed concerns over Hodgson’s skating abilities but all of them rave about his hockey smarts.  "He's the ultimate team guy in this draft," said Grant McCagg, publisher of the McKeen's Hockey Draft Guide. "Every other junior kid picks him as a leader if you want someone leading your team. He's led every team he's ever played on. He has a consummate pro attitude. His skating is the only thing that's holding him back from being a top seven (pick in the draft)."  With that and the creativity he shows with the puck consistently, it was no wonder that many likened his skills in the draft behind only that of Steven Stamkos. 

 

Brampton Coach Stan Butler (also a former Canadian World Junior Coach as well) glowed when talking about his ‘go-to’ centre (in an interview on Vancouver’s TEAM 1040 Radio just days after the draft).  “I compare him to a guy like Chris Drury,” emphasizing that he is much better than a safe pick.  “He is extremely focused and leads by example.  He’s not boisterous….and has confidence in all situations.  He picks up points all by himself like a former player I coached, Mark Savard.”  Cody’s 85 points for the Battalion this past year were second on the team and he was used in any and all circumstances.  Hodgson’s 16 powerplay goals were one shy of Bobby Sanguinetti’s lead and he also tallied three short-handed markers to lead the club.

 

The Brampton Battalion centre looks forward to being a vital cog in a hockey market.  “There are only six Canadian teams, and I think it would be pretty special to have a chance to play for one of them. Hockey’s everything here, and you’re always in the spotlight, but I’m looking forward to that.”  With a positive outlook and top-notch skill-set, the Vancouver Canucks are hoping that the resident of Markham, Ontario translates into a player that can make their team now.  Hodgson’s prowess would be a great addition to the starved offense and his two-way commitments are widely respected as he was named ‘Smartest Player’ by the OHL Coaches this past year.

 

 

28) Patric Hornqvist – Nashville Predators (21 years old, 5’11, 185 lbs)

 

This tremendous prospect holds an exceptional chance to make the Predators right out of camp. Hornqvist may have escaped the attention of the mainstream fans, but that does not seem probable for long.  His future coach Barry Trotz is anxious to plug Hornqvist and newly-acquired Wild prospect Ryan Jones into the lineup, in the wake of Alexander Radulov’s departure.  “I’m also leaning toward Hornqvist and Jones and those other guys,’’ Trotz said of possible Radulov replacements. “I think they’ll bring a certain amount of exuberance. I’m actually very anxious to see how they do.’’

 

The Swedish National Team has put their faith in the youngster, handing a roster spot over to Patric. They were delighted with Hornqvist’s 6 goals in 9 games in the World Championships in Halifax.

 

The 21 year-old Swede does not dazzle on the highlight screen often, but has sound defensive capabilities and is a threat both with playmaking and a deceptive shot.  It goes well with a willingness to drive to the net.  GM David Poile stated, "We have him signed and he'll be in training camp," Poile said. "I really believe he will make the Predators this year. I think he can really be on our team."  Furthermore, Steve Sullivan returning from injury should solidify the forward aspect of a strong defensive team.  Hornqvist can play anywhere up front and that versatility bodes well for his career.

 

 

29) Jonathan Bernier (G) – Los Angeles Kings (20 years old, 6’0”, 177 lbs)

 

Many, many people were pulling Jonathan’s way to earn the Kings’ starting job last year.  Bernier opened the season in London, England with a win against the defending Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks that was mere moments from being recorded as a shut-out.  That romance was quickly reduced to a hope for the future after his next three starts were far from spectacular, and Bernier was sent back to juniors. 

 

A fine junior career in which his maturation matched the Lewiston MAINEiacs’ successes, Bernier was often outstanding.  In 2006-07 Lewiston charged through the QMJHL playoffs and the stopper from Laval, Quebec was a major reason for a league championship.  His 16-1 record, a 2.34 GAA and a .919 save percentage literally handed Lewiston a berth in the Memorial Cup Tournament in Vancouver.  The 11th overall pick in 2006 again provided the MAINEiacs with reliable goaltending and earned a stint with Manchester (AHL).   Bernier was fantastic between the pipes for the Monarchs earning a 1-1-1 record, a 1.63 GAA, a sparkling .946% in the regular season, and was voted a second star once, and a third star in the Bruins’ final match.  During the playoffs, the Providence Bruins proved far mightier, dispatching the Monarchs quickly and Bernier took three losses, though he posted a 2.76 GAA and .908%.                                

 

The Kings are going through many changes and have a surplus of burgeoning young talent.  Possibly more than any other of the young, up-and-coming teams, Los Angeles has a franchise goaltender ready to join the ranks at the same time.

 

 

30) Joshua Bailey – New York Islanders (19 years old, 6’1”, 190 lbs)

 

The Bowmanville, Ontario-born Bailey erupted with a 96 point campaign for the Windsor Spitfires last season and was second only to Stamkos in points league-wide.  Selected to play in the past two OHL All-Star games, scouts also love his leadership qualities and defensive awareness as well.  The death of team-mate and close friend Mickey Renaud shocked the community and grounded Bailey.

 

Bailey may just fast-track himself right onto the Islanders’ club this year with an outstanding development camp and positions on Long Island up for grabs.  Consensus has the Isles pitting Bailey with Kyle Okposo to build chemistry from the July camps and expedite a very anemic offense (Isles were one of only two teams that did not score 200 goals in 2007-08).  It may be reaching slightly, because the Islanders have many forwards committed to for the upcoming season.  That said the current seems to be shifting on Long Island to favour youth over a star-studded or invaluable contract.

 

Robin Keith Thompson

© Chiller Instinct 2008

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