Drafting Towards Victory: A Metro Hockey Update
While it never garners the attention of the NBA or NFL drafts, the National Hockey League draft is filled with just as much speculation and hype. On June 21st, general managers and scouts from all 30 NHL franchises will come together in Nashville to select those teenage Canadian Junior, American College, and European league players who are believed most able to achieve hockey greatness.
The draft this year has special significance, as it is considered by many insiders to be the most talent laden in years. Also, with the league’s collective bargaining agreement expiring in another year, many franchises fear an extended work stoppage, and see this year’s draft as the best means to stock up on young, inexpensive talent before any possible salary cap takes effect (thus limiting the acquisition of higher priced veterans).
All three metro area teams have picks in the first round. The Stanley Cup champion Devils were supposed to have the 30th and last overall pick in the first round, but will instead pick at the 22nd spot; New Jersey was awarded the right to exchange picks with the St. Louis Blues, who were punished by the league for attempting to acquire Devil captain Scott Stevens illegally nearly a decade ago.
The Islanders are scheduled to pick at the 15th spot, while the Rangers pick 12th. Since it is extremely unlikely that, barring a trade, any of the three teams will move up in the draft and acquire such top prospects as center Eric Staal (98 points in the Ontario Hockey League), or goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (.910 save percentage in
the Quebec Major Junior League), all three metro teams may have to become creative.
Here’s a look at each teams’ long-term needs, and who they’ll most likely pick on Saturday.
The New Jersey Devils
Draft Position in First Round: 30th choice. Director of Scouting: David Conte
In building their short-term success, the Devils have been very smart in sacrificing little of their long-term future. There is no crucial long-term need, but the team would benefit from an infusion of more size in the forward lines and more speed on defense.
THE DEVILS SHOULD PICK:
Mark Stuart – Defenseman, Colorado College (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) 6’1", 209 lbs.
A solid, albeit unspectacular, blueliner, Stuart can provide the Devils with strong play in the defensive zone and a good breakout pass on offense. While some may question the idea of the Devils acquiring another defenseman, the fact is that veterans Scott Stevens, Tommy Albelin, and Ken Daneyko are getting older. Also, since most of the snipers present on draft day will have already been picked, Stuart gives the team the ability to trade another blueliner for help at forward later on during the season.
The New York Rangers
Draft Position in First Round: 12th Choice. Director of Scouting: Tom Renney.
Wingers, wingers, wingers – and no, I’m not talking about another ‘80s metal reunion. That said, given the franchise’s fascination with ‘80s era freewheeling hockey, maybe it’s an appropriate choice of words. The team needs to put aside finesse and develop wingers who can either back check diligently or at the very least crash the friggin’ net on the power play. Defensemen who can make enemy forwards wet their pants in fear would also be very helpful.
THE RANGERS SHOULD PICK:
Steve Bernier – Right Wing, Moncton (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) 6’3", 233 lbs.
Now we’re talking. Yes, the right side is crowded with likes of Pavel Bure, Alexei Kovalev, Anson Carter, Jamie Lundmark, etc., but don’t forget that the draft is used to address needs that may/will arise in a few seasons, not right now. While most Ranger fans have stated a preference for Dion Phanuef, a potential star defenseman, the sad reality is that he will probably be gone by the time the Rangers are to make their pick.
The New York Islanders
Draft Position in First Round: 15th Choice. Director of Scouting: Tony Feltrin
First of all, we have to wonder aloud: will general manager Mike Milbury even keep the damn pick? He’s certainly not afraid to pull off big deals on draft day. That said, it’s unlikely than any big name talent will be coming the Isles’ way, especially with persistent rumors of a large scale salary dump. With the pick, the team should really think about acquiring some, ANY offensive talent. Sorry Fishstick fans, but your team isn’t deep enough; the offense it does have is uncreative, and very few potential power wingers exist within the system.
THE ISLANDERS SHOULD PICK:
Konstantin Glazachev – Yaroslavl (Russian Elite League) 6’0", 186 lbs.
Granted, he’s not very big by NHL standards. That said, he possesses and excellent shot and amazing stickhandling skills. His style would blend in well alongside fellow countryman Alexei Yashin. While he reportedly suffers from bouts of immaturity, the Islanders would look silly to let a creative player like Glazachev go merely because of a perceived "attitude problem." Beggars can’t be choosy, folks.
NHL DRAFT – Live from the Gaylord Arena in Nashville: Television Coverage: ESPN2 (First Three Rounds) Time: 1 PM EST Check local listings for changes.