Here's something to keep in mind about this weekend's NHL Entry Draft: it's unlikely to be a quiet affair.
The relatively small and surprisingly expensive free-agent market means that the event is sure to be dominated by news of trades as well as talk of young, unrealized potential. The host Ottawa Senators, looking to make a splash for their home fans, are in the market to move up. So are the Kings, who have 10 of the first 101 picks and 15 selections overall. The Blue Jackets, Bruins, Stars, Predators, Sabres and Panthers are among the teams rumored to be chatting about moving up or down in the draft.
As a result, the order of selection is guaranteed to differ from what you're about to read in our annual mock draft. Still, the research that went into this should offer a good idea of where players make sense, both in terms of their potential and the needs and philosophies of the teams making those picks.
The first round of the draft gets underway on Friday at 7 p.m. ET on Versus in the U.S. and TSN in Canada. Here's how I think it will play out:
Steven Stamkos, center, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "The team that takes Stamkos is going to get one of the fastest skaters in all of the draft. Steven goes to the net fearlessly with that speed and brings a bit of an edge and a bit of an aggressive attitude that every team wants ... [he is projected to play on] a top line in the NHL."
Our take: Use the pick or trade it for instant help? The Lightning took all the drama out of the equation by putting up a Web site (www.seenstamkos.com) minutes after winning the lottery. Not that there should have been any question about snatching Stamkos, who should fit nicely into the No. 2 center spot vacated by Brad Richards. He needs to fill out that 5-foot-11, 176-pound frame, but his character, speed and ability to think the game suggest he'll be in the NHL next season and will be a major star in short order.
Nikita Filatov, left wing, CSKA-2 (Russia)
Central Scouting says: "Nikita is a leader, has a great attitude, excellent work ethic and tons of talent. He has matured during the season and leads by example. He is an excellent skater who can change pace, even at top speed. Despite his size, he still plays aggressive, taking and giving hits."
Our take: The consensus choice here would be a defenseman like Drew Doughty, possibly Zach Bogosian. But Dean Lombardi's never been afraid to swing for the fences (see: Thomas Hickey last year at No. 4), and choosing Filatov gives him a chance to knock this pick right out of the park ... and the draft out of kilter. Filatov has 40-goal potential. Combine that with his fluency in English and stated desire to come over immediately, and this selection begins to make a lot of sense for the Kings, especially with 14 other picks with which to address organizational holes.
Drew Doughty, defense, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "A team is going to build its [blue line around him for the] next 10 years. A lot of his hockey experience translates into on ice intelligence; it's hard to find that in a young defenseman. Drew probably is one of the guys, most able to step into the NHL next year."
Our take: Desperate to rebuild the back end, the Thrashers would be thrilled to have Doughty or Bogosian fall into their laps at three, but Doughty makes the most sense. His play at the World Juniors demonstrated his smarts, his skating and his own-zone abilities. But he really set himself apart at the recent combine, where several scouts commented on his improved conditioning and his strong showing during the interview process. He's a leader who can become a Rob Blake-type in Atlanta.
Zach Bogosian, defense, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "Zach's combination of skating ability and size are what set him apart. There are some bigger, taller defensemen who have to grow into their body, but Zach is right there, fully proportioned and ready to make that step into the NHL very quickly."
Our take: You like Anaheim's blue line combo of Pronger and Niedermayer? This pick, along with the selection of Erik Johnson first overall in 2006, sets the Blues up to have their own dynamic duo in short order. He's a two-way threat who can be used in all situations, thanks to his size, speed, hockey sense and a well-earned reputation as perhaps the most consistently competitive player in the draft.
Luke Schenn, defense, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Central Scouting says: "A big strong defenseman [like Ed] Jovanovski. Luke can play a mean game and he plays a tough NHL-style defense."
Our take: Schenn's classic defensive style was showcased for the Canadian junior side at the Super Series and World Juniors last season, and he's been a highly coveted commodity ever since. He's miserable to go up against in his own zone, exacting a punishing physical toll shift after shift. Because that element of his game is so well developed, his offensive potential is overlooked. He'll never be a power-play specialist, but he makes smart, effective decisions with the puck to key the transition game. Alex Pietrangelo's also a possibility here.
Alex Pietrangelo, defense, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "He might have the best top-end [potential] ... in the entire 2008 draft. He has Pronger-like size and vision. A lot of scouts say that he might be playing better now than Pronger played in his last year of junior."
Our take: With so many premium forward prospects already in the fold, the Jackets will be thrilled to add Pietrangelo at this spot. His offensive game already suggests a Brian Leetch-like ability to read the play and make things happen with his feet, his shot or his passing skills. Despite all that, there are concerns about his capacity to apply the same passion and intensity to his defensive zone work, and that's why he's likely to fall out of the top five.
Mikkel Boedker, left wing, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "He's come a long way. He was skilled at the start of the season, but he's fine-tuned his game to the North American style. Playing the point on the power play hasn't hurt his statistics either."
Our take: He impressed all season long with his ability to make things happen at top speed, and a natural nose for the net that led to 29 goals in 62 games in the great Dane's first crack at North American hockey. But it was the way he raised his play for the OHL champion Rangers in the Memorial Cup -- nine goals and 35 points in just 20 playoff games -- that has scouts picturing him on the fast track to the NHL. A job next season isn't out of the question.
Tyler Myers, defense, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Central Scouting says: "Tyler is the tallest player among the top-rated players. As a defenseman, that height translates into a great poke-check and great stick work. At 6-foot-7, he still has a little bit of growing into his body to do. Obviously, comparisons are made to Zdeno Chara."
Our take: The Coyotes have loaded up on premium forward prospects in recent seasons, so a potential top pairing defender is the obvious call with Myers on the board. His up-and-down play with the Rockets suggests he's a bit of a risk at this spot, but there's undeniably a high-reward element that makes him irresistible. He's already a smooth skater and is reliable at both ends, but it's going to take some time, like it did for Chara, for him to grow into that body. He could become an elite shutdown defender.
Colin Wilson, center, Boston University (NCAA)
Central Scouting says: "Colin is a combination of skilled and power forward. He is very strong, has excellent hands and is a very good passer and playmaker. He is very reliable defensively, has incredibly quick feet and he can turn quickly while maintaining puck control."
Our take: With the nucleus of a great young blue line in place, forwards, preferably big ones, are at the top of Nashville's wish list. Wilson, who was dynamite for Team USA at the last WJC, may not be an ideal No. 1 center, but he's got such a well-rounded game that the lack of high-end offensive potential won't deter the Preds. He was a huge hit at the scouting combine, impressing with his strength in the testing and his maturity in the interviews. Think of him as a more consistent Jason Arnott.
Cody Hodgson, center, Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "He is a very skilled centerman whose hockey sense has him quarterbacking the power play from down at the half boards. He knows when to shoot and when to pass. He's also a good face-off guy. Quite an all-around asset to any team that drafts him."
Our take: Desperate for some help up front, the Canucks will be thrilled to see Hodgson slide to No. 10. Skating and size are the knocks against him, but everything else suggests he'll be a dynamic top-six forward. Reports from teammates suggest he's a true character player, and he's another one of those kids who seems to play his best in the biggest games. His performance at the Under-18 World Championships confirmed what his 40-goal season for the Battalion suggested: He has go-to guy potential.
Erik Karlsson, defense, Frolunda Juniors (Sweden)
Central Scouting says: "Erik is excellent on the power play. He makes smart passes and has great vision. He plays the game with confidence, has a natural hockey sense and is a consistent offensive threat. "
Our take: The draft's next big reach, Karlsson is exactly what the young Hawks need: a mobile, quick-thinking blueliner who can make the most of the speed and creativity of their blossoming forward corps. He won't be NHL-ready for a couple years -- he needs to pack some weight onto his 5-11 frame -- but Karlsson looks like someone who will slide effortlessly into a top-four role, with a real chance to be a top pairing guy.
Colten Teubert, defense, Regina Pats (WHL)
Central Scouting says: "He can skate the puck out of trouble and jump up the ice with it. I like his ability to take charge of the game. He projects as a support three or four defenseman, at least initially, with a good offensive upside who won't hurt you on defense."
Our take: What CS doesn't mention is that the 6-4 Teubert is the meanest S.O.B. in the entire draft, making him the ideal choice for a Ducks team that is preparing to replace a raft of older defenders. He's also a right-handed shot capable of making a smart transition pass and can eventually contribute to both special teams.
Mattias Tedenby, left wing, HV71 Juniors (Sweden)
Central Scouting says: "Mattias is excellent on every shift. He has outstanding speed, stick work and work ethic. He is small but fearless -- he takes hits and always comes back. He creates scoring chances with his outstanding skating."
Our take: The Sabres would probably like to add some size at this position, but tiny Tedenby (5-9, 161) is impossible to pass over. Earning comparisons to Saku Koivu thanks to his speed and competitive drive, he has the potential to mature into an impact scorer in the NHL.
Joshua Bailey, center, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "Josh is a really hard-working, up-and-down guy who has great puck skills and playmaking ability. He has the ability to pass through any type of traffic and is an energy guy for Windsor. He's not a fighter, but he's not one to be afraid of anyone or back down and he doesn't get knocked around."
Our take: GM Jim Rutherford has stated the 'Canes are looking for a forward in this draft, and his words didn't come off as a smokescreen. They'll be thrilled to nab Bailey, who projects to be a solid second-line center along the lines of Edmonton's Jarret Stoll. He's also got the ability of a Brad Richards to QB a power play. The value of this pick will become obvious when he leads to Spitfires to the Memorial Cup playdowns next spring.
Chet Pickard, goaltender, Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Central Scouting says: "He's very confident and very strong in his crease. His net coverage is very good and he reads the play well. He is very consistent and is able to put any bad goals behind him."
Our take: Taking another premium forward is a possibility with their second pick of the round, but the Preds need to rebuild in net as well, making the competitive Pickard impossible to pass up. Comparisons to Carey Price are being tossed around, primarily due to his size and cool demeanor, but Pickard's positioning and mental toughness might be even better than Price's at the same point in his development.
Kyle Beach, center, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Central Scouting says: "One of the top forwards in this year's draft, he is probably the most competitive. He's the power forward in this year's draft. He has good scoring skills and a very accurate shot, and from the blue line in, once he gets the puck, he almost owns it."
Our take: Boston GM Peter Chiarelli hasn't talked names before the draft, but he has stressed a desire to take players who "feel" like Bruins. Beach certainly fits the bill. Big (6-3, 203), mean and fiercely competitive, Beach loves to make things happen down low, either with his soft hands or his hard fists. His impact potential suggests he should be taken higher, but there's a sense that a number of teams will be scared off by a perception of attitude problems (not an issue) and at least two concussions (uh-oh). The Bruins will be thrilled to see him slide this far.
Zach Boychuk, center, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Central Scouting says: "He quarterbacks the power play and might be the best two-step quickness guy in all of junior hockey. In two steps he is at top speed. Zach is an all-around offensive player who sees the ice well and is just a treat to watch."
Our take: This is a best player available pick for the Flames after size concerns (5-9, 175) lead to Boychuk's slide. His late birthdate (Oct. 4, 1989) gave him an extra year of development (he already has three junior seasons to his credit), and he's scored 163 points over the past two, thanks primarily to speed, both physically and mentally. Boychuk has the intensity and just enough feistiness to make his size a non-issue for the Flames.
Luca Sbisa, defense, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Central Scouting says: "Luca is [so] poised that his calmness with the puck is misinterpreted as either slowness or laziness, but that's not the case. He is a smart player who moves the puck at the right time and carries it correctly, supports the rush and is adjusting very well to the North American game."
Our take: The Italian-born Swiss national impressed with his transition to junior hockey this season. His play in the postseason gave his stock a last-minute boost. If the Sens keep this pick, which seems unlikely, Sbisa would make for a low-risk choice who could quickly earn a top-four role.
Michael Del Zotto, defense, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "He is the new-breed offensive defenseman who jumps up into the rush effectively. He either follows up a rush to add a second dimension or is capable of leading the rush himself."
Our take: There's great value in this pick. Del Zotto's stock has dropped slightly over the course of the year, but more as a result of other defenders making greater gains than his game actually suffering. He's always had great offensive tools and a sturdy frame. The only question is, can he become more reliable defensively, or will he become a David Tanabe?
John Carlson, defense, Indiana Ice (USHL)
Central Scouting says: "A big burly defensemen who is a real strong skater. He runs the power play from the top of the umbrella and has a very heavy shot. He's very physically strong ...and has all the tools."
Our take: The Rangers could use help on the front lines, but Carlson's size and skills package will be tough to pass up. He's a Bryan McCabe-type who finished second among all USHL blueliners in scoring, and made life miserable for opposing forwards with his physical play. He's not afraid to drop the gloves either, a quantity absent from the corps currently patrolling Madison Square Garden.
Jake Allen, goaltender, St. John's Fog (QMJHL)
Central Scouting says: "He came from nowhere. All of a sudden, he started to play more and got more confidence. Jake is big and strong, athletic and his net coverage was very good. He's probably the best puck-handler among North American goalies."
Our take: Martin Brodeur may have won the Vezina this season, but at 36, he's getting a little long in the tooth. The Devils need to start thinking about his potential replacement, and current prospects Jeff Frazee and Jordan Parise don't look to have the goods. There are a number of goalies ranked higher by other organizations, but the Devils have always trusted their own counsel, and Allen's MVP performance at the World Under-18 championship established him as a big-game player.
Joe Colborne, center, Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
Central Scouting says: "He dishes the puck well and has really good on-ice awareness. If he can get his skating a little more energetic, he'll be a big, strong player down the middle. When he's at his best, he is a strategic player. He is very smart and his positioning is very good. He knows where to go at the right time."
Our take: The draft's biggest wild card? Maybe. Colborne seems to have as many detractors as supporters, with his fans suggesting he could mature into a Joe Thornton-type, and the rest saying he's too soft and lacks the intensity to match his impressive 6-5, 190-pound frame. All sides agree he's a project, but the Oilers, who could use an infusion of size, can't pass him up if he slides to this spot.
Tyler Cuma, defense, Ottawa 67s (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "An offensive defenseman who is adept at knowing when to pass the puck out of the zone or when to put the wheels on and carry it [himself]. He's equally adept at the defensive game as well as the offensive game."
Our take: A goaltender wouldn't be a surprise at this spot, considering the disappointing development of 2006 first-rounder Semen Varlamov, but the value of Cuma likely will lead the Caps to add to an impressive stable of young defenders. He's a character player who can slip into the No. 3 role behind Mike Green and Karl Alzner and contribute to both special teams.
Greg Nemisz, center, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "Greg is a big player, a power forward, two-way guy. He is good on the power play, in the sense that he sets himself at the front of the net; he's hard to move and he bangs in a lot of rebounds from there."
Our take: He'll never be an elite scorer, but the big-bodied Nemisz looks like a safe bet here. Think Joel Otto with maybe a touch more offensive upside.
Aaron Ness, defense, Roseau (USHS)
Central Scouting says: "Aaron is flamboyant and colorful. Everything about him is quick -- his hands, his feet. He'll step right in to you without fear. He's a little more polished than some of the other high-school defensemen with his passing and playmaking."
Our take: The Habs have shown an inclination for selecting smooth-skating, smart American defenders of late, and at this point, Ness makes for an interesting choice. He's a bit of a reach here, but Minnesota's Mr. Hockey looks like an ideal heir to Andrei Markov. He's earned comparisons to Brian Rafalski, another undersized defender who can be relied on to make insightful plays and provide character in the room. Ness will play for the Minnesota Gophers next season.
Jake Gardiner, defense, Minnetonka (USHS)
Central Scouting says: "He might be one of the best skaters in the draft. [A converted forward], he is smart with the puck, unselfish and careful. He is dynamic when he grabs the puck and goes. He has a very quick dangerous wrist shot -- he gets it away like Joe Sakic does."
Our take: After taking the BPA with their first pick, the Sabres can address an organizational need with Gardiner: size. Though he's got a lot of filling out to do at just 170 pounds, his build suggests he'll pack another 30-40 on his 6-2 frame in time. His hockey sense has been questioned by some, but it may simply be a matter of experience and coaching before it catches up with the rest of his tools. Gardiner will attend the University of Wisconsin next season.
Jacob Markstrom, goaltender, Brynas (Sweden)
Central Scouting says: "Jacob covers the net well and plays with a lot of confidence. He plays the butterfly, but sometimes has a tendency to go down too quickly. He has an impressive, quick glove and he uses his size to his advantage."
Our take: The Flyers could also use mobility on the blue line, but the lack of a premium goaltending prospect in the system and the impending UFA status for both Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki after next season makes Markstrom a smart choice. He's likely several years away, but his size (6-4, 180), calm demeanor and technical play set him up as a potential No. 1.
Colby Robak, defense, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Central Scouting says: A smooth-skating defenseman with the keen ability to skate the puck out of danger. He goes into scrums, comes up with the puck and almost effortlessly skates it up ice. He projects as a number two or three defenseman -- somebody who will work your power play."
Our take: After going offense with their first pick, the Kings can grab a big, mobile defender with their bonus selection. Robak's a risky choice, considered by some scouts to be a little soft for his size, but if he gets a little fire in his belly, he has the other tools to become an impact, second pairing blueliner.
Nicolas Deschamps, center, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
Central Scouting says: "He came out of nowhere to be the top-ranked player in the QMJHL. He is a very good skater who thinks the game well and has soft hands. He works hard, and the up side to his skills makes us think he is going to be a pretty good all-round player."
Our take: With the pick gained from the Penguins in the Marian Hossa deal, the Thrashers grab a solid two-way player with considerable offensive upside. Even if he does little to address an organizational need for size up front, that shouldn't deter his selection. The name that keeps coming up as an NHL comparable is Boston's Patrice Bergeron, and that's a supreme compliment to the Q's rookie scoring leader. Like Bergeron, he plays bigger than his size, and is smart and fiercely competitive with top-six potential.
Thomas McCollum, goaltender, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Central Scouting says: "[His] number one attribute is his net position -- it's second to none. There are rarely any holes and he has a great butterfly. When he is challenging and at the top of his game, he is very tough to beat. He has good net coverage and he is very competitive. He handles the puck well. He is definitely one of those franchise-type of goalies in the future."
Our take: There's a chance the Wings could go for a high upside European like Swedish center Anton Gustafsson or Tier 2 center Zac Dalpe, but a lack of netminding depth in the system makes McCollum a value choice. The top-rated netminder by Central Scouting, he's earned comparisons to Ed Belfour, thanks to his competitiveness and his dedication to his craft.