Players to Watch on Draft Day

By Darryl Dobbs

The annual NHL entry draft is this Saturday, June 24. Those of you in keeper league hockey pools will be very interested in which of the players drafted in the early rounds will make an early impact in the NHL, and which ones are long-term projects.

Goaltenders
The top drafted goaltender in the upcoming draft will be Jonathan Bernier. He is the only netminder that will go in the first round, and he is pegged to go 15th to 30th. The fact that he is the only consensus first round pick amongst goalies may see him drafted as high as the Top 10. However, as things stand right now, his upside is that of your average No. 1 starter. There’ll be no Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur here. Bernier is a butterfly goalie who has great rebound control, but sometimes reverts to a paddle-down style which sometimes hinders as much as helps.

Other goalies that will go in the early rounds:

Leland Irving – put up stellar numbers in the WHL and could sneak into the first round.

Jhonas Enroth – the Swedish goaltender’s diminutive size may push him lower in the draft than he deserves to be, but his consistency could make him a steal. Riku Helenius – Finnish goaltender is at least five years away from ever making an impact in the NHL. Unless your keeper league is as deep as they come, no goaltender in this year’s draft is worth picking up this summer. The wait would be too long. Defensemen

As a general rule of thumb, I do not recommend picking up any defensemen for a keeper league unless they have either played some games in the NHL, your pool stipulates that there be a certain amount of defensemen on your squad. Bear that in mind.

The player chosen first overall in the entire entry draft will be Erik Johnson, a two-way defenseman who is 6-4, 222 pounds and still growing. He will not be in the NHL next season, as he intends to go to the University of Minnesota, and he will likely not play in the NHL for the following season either. His offensive upside in the NHL is about 55 points, and you won’t see that for at least four years. Other defensemen to watch:

Bob Sanguinetti – a point-per-game rearguard for Owen Sound of the OHL, and performed even better in the playoffs. His slight build will not be as much of a liability in the new NHL, as it was pre-lockout. Ivan Vishnevsky – all offense, in the same ilk as Sergei Gonchar. It is possible that he could be taken ahead of Sanguinetti if a team desperately wants the best power-play quarterback in the draft. Forwards

I like Jordan Staal the best out of these forwards. He is the one forward who is a lock for the NHL. His bloodlines will see to it that he gets every opportunity. His offensive upside is limited to about 80 points, but the fact that he is so low-risk makes him very desirable. Furthermore, I can see him potting 55 or 60 points in the NHL at the age of 20.

The best of the best (offensively speaking) amongst the forwards:

Nicklas Backstrom – he may have the best hockey sense in the draft. He could be in the NHL within two or three years, too, depending on who drafts him. If it’s the Capitals, he’ll be in the NHL by 2007. Imagine his vast hockey sense at center, feeding pucks to a certain electrifying winger.

Derick Brassard – he’s a pure goal-scorer who has 50-goal potential in the NHL. He needs to add some bulk, and he’ll be several years in coming, but he looks good. Chicago could pick him up as early as third, or he may slip to Boston, Columbus, or even the Islanders. On any of those teams, he’ll be at least three years away. Phil Kessel – he has slipped a little in my books, as his heart is sometimes not in it. He is the most talented of the forwards, but doesn’t use it as much as one would like. He draws comparisons to Jeremy Roenick, so it would be ironic if Chicago picked him up third overall. Wherever he ends up, he’ll get a chance to crack the lineup within a year or two. His lack of intensity makes me half expect him to slip further down in the draft than rankings would indicate. Jonathan Toews – he is ranked very high because he is the complete package. Leadership, offensive talent, defensive a*****en, and a great attitude. His upside in the NHL is limited to about 75 points, but will take a little while getting there. He could be a Blackhawk, come Saturday. Pittsburgh, Washington, and Boston are other possibilities.

Bryan Little – he lacks speed and size, but that’s about all. He dominates games enough to make you think that the speed is there. Little is a leader (captain of the Barrie Colts) and has a lot of hockey sense. He would be a nice fit in Phoenix or Florida in a few years. He could also slip out of the Top 10, bringing other teams into mix like Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Toronto. The Leafs could do worse than draft him. He would be entering the NHL just as Mats Sundin was leaving it.Michael Frolik – his stock has slipped dramatically, but I liken him to Petr Sykora, whose stock also slipped and the Devils snatched him up later in the first round. Frolik could be a steal, and he’s not that far away from an NHL roster spot.

Patrick Berglund – if you like taking big risks, and you’re a boom-or-bust type of keeper league owner, Berglund’s your man. He lacks bulk, and consistency, but there is no questioning his offensive talent. He could pot 90 points in the NHL in five or six years, or he could never crack the lineup.

One last player I would like to bring to your attention is Nikolai Kulemin. He was passed over by all the teams in last year’s draft, but has really stepped up his game this year. Besides Evgeni Malkin, Kulemin was the most impressive forward on the Russian Team at the WJC, and his ranking has gone up steadily ever since. He is now ranked around 60th. If Pittsburgh grabs him in the second round, or he manages to slip to them in the third round, he will step onto the roster immediately. He has built-in chemistry with Malkin, so he could step in approach 60 points right away. In the even that another team picks him up, my interest in him will slip a little, but I will still watch how he performs in training camp.