Some promising kids were selected on the weekend, finally becoming official members of organizations after months of mock drafts and guesswork. I had my list of 20 forwards who I liked before the draft, but that list got shuffled around a little after their immediate future became a little clearer.
1. Taylor Hall, Edmonton (ranked No. 1 before draft) – Doesn’t matter which team drafted him, his upside along with Seguin’s is far and away the highest.
2. Tyler Seguin, Boston (ranked No. 2) – He may force Boston to trade a center (Marc Savard rumors are already swirling). This kid is NHL ready.
3. Nino Niederreiter, N.Y. Islanders (ranked No. 4) – Exciting winger finds himself in an organization still putting skilled, youthful pieces in place in its top six. In two years he’ll be a fixture on a line with either John Tavares or Josh Bailey. And by then, those two will be stars putting up big numbers.
4. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington (ranked No. 5) – A speedy, talented Russian right winger in Washington’s system? How can you not like that? Gee, who does he want to play with when he gets to the show?
5. Ryan Johansen, Columbus (ranked No. 8) – Niederreiter’s setup man finds himself in an organization flush with young talent up front (not unlike ‘El Nino’). I always like the prospects who have less of a veteran depth chart to climb.
6. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis (ranked No. 3) – I really like the exciting winger’s situation in St. Louis, though he’ll need seasoning for another two years in either the Kontinental League or the American League. His drop in the draft is more an indicator of the three players passing him than his own decrease in value. Tarasenko has high upside and could be a real gem.
7. Kirill Kabanov, N.Y. Islanders (ranked No. 7) – Fantasy owners don’t have to worry about attitudes and dressing room cohesion. All we need to see is the upside and Kabanov’s is the third-highest in the draft. Indications are he has learned from his mistakes and if he can get it together next season, he’ll be a star as early as 2011-12.
8. Mikael Granlund, Minnesota (ranked No. 6) – On one hand, the cupboard is so bare in the Wild’s pipeline of offensive prospects, that the road to a scoring line is paved in gold. On the other hand…it’s the Wild. The team still struggles to score, but with the old regime now out of the mix for a year, the ship is slowly turning around.
9. Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay (ranked No. 14) – Had he not been injured most of the season, Connolly would have been No. 3 on my list. All the same, he moves up quite a bit because the situation in Tampa Bay is extremely appealing right now under the new regime.
10. Nick Bjugstad, Florida (ranked No. 13) – He’s big, he’s fast, he boasts a good shot, but he needs to add strength. However, the Panthers are woefully thin up the middle so the wait on him will not be as long as you think.
11. Beau Bennett, Pittsburgh (ranked No. 16) – I think any talented offensive winger who gets drafted into the Pittsburgh organization moves up a bunch of spots on any fantasy owner’s list. Bennett’s 120 points in the British Columbia League are similar to the 121 points Kyle Turris put up in the league at the same age.
12. Calle Järnkrok, Detroit (ranked No. 9) – Detroit’s development system makes this talented Swede a lock to make it to the NHL, but that’s tempered with the fact the Wings are extra patient with their prospects. So the increase in likelihood he makes it is more than offset by the increase in wait time it’ll take to get there. He’ll be a good one, but in four years or even longer.
13. Alexander Burmistrov, Atlanta (ranked No. 10) – The potential second-line center fits nicely into Atlanta’s rather thin system. He may even sneak onto the roster as early as 2011-12. Much like Tarasenko, Burmistrov’s post-draft slip is the result of others moving up.
14. Austin Watson, Nashville (ranked No. 11) – Tremendous upside, especially after how he took off after he was traded to Peterborough (from a deep and incredible Windsor team) where he became “the guy.” But Nashville, which also has a history of drafting well, is patient with its players. Instead of using Watson in two years, it may be closer to four.
15. Jeff Skinner, Carolina (ranked No. 12) – An excellent young forward with high offensive upside, Skinner joins a team with a handful of players of that ilk. Carolina has been patient with every one of them (Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, etc.). The wait will be three or even four years.
16. Petr Straka, Columbus (not ranked) – The Quebec League’s rookie of the year found himself a nice organization. Youth in Columbus gets brought in relatively early and there should be room for Straka in their top six in two or three years. His agent, Allan Walsh, pegged his upside as similar to Martin Havlat’s.
17. Quinton Howden, Florida (ranked No. 17) – The Moose Jaw (Western League) pivot needs to add bulk, but he’s a skilled center in an organization that’s not deep at his position. Depending on how quickly he adds strength, Howden could be in the show sooner than you think.
18. Brock Nelson, N.Y. Islanders (ranked No. 19) – The budding power forward will join a skilled and young top six in about three years.
19. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis (ranked No. 15) – A smallish, skilled centerman, Schwartz will be given time to hone his game and add some much-needed size and strength.
20. Joey Hishon, Colorado (ranked No. 20) – Most analysts see him as a future checker with little upside. I see a sure-fire NHLer who was limited by injuries last season and thus unable to show his entire repertoire. Comparable to a Michael Peca in terms of his two-way play and tenacity. You will remember injuries also stifled Peca offensively, though he still topped 55 points twice.
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