VANCOUVER, B.C. — Everyone loves prognostications. In the past couple of decades, companies have made big money making predictions in sports, and we’re not just talking gambling. With the explosion of fantasy sports, anyone who can make and sort of educated prediction about outcomes concerning one player, one team or one game can make a heck of a good day’s earning.
Yours truly enjoys being a prognosticator. Throughout my nearly decade-long career as a writer, I’ve had my ups and downs. In 2002, I picked every single game of the NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament correctly. That, though, was tempered this past year when I picked only two of the 15 games correctly and didn’t have a single Frozen Four team correct.
With the draft rolling around this Saturday, though, I figured maybe it’s time to once again to have a go at the prediction business and have a guess at how the top of the draft might go.
Here, then, are my best guesses at the top 10 in this year’s NHL Entry Draft.
1. St. Louis Blues
Needs: Simply put, St.Louis needs scoring. This is a team that last season struggled to put the puck in the net. And though there are some talented forwards available, it seems almost sure that the Blues will go with Erik Johnson, the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. Johnson is not only a steady blueliner, but he’s able to produce offensively and down the road could be an impact player on the Blues’ special teams.
Pick: Erik Johnson, D, U.S. National Team Development Program
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Needs: The Penguins have done a nice job stocking the shelves in the past few seasons and will get another chance to add to that this year. Sidney Crosby proved that he’s a great playmaker last year, firing off plenty of his patented behind-the-back 360-degree passes. The issue was that often, there wasn’t anyone to finish for him . If the Pens are looking for someone to step in right away, Minnesota’s Phil Kessel might be the man. If they feel they can wait a year or two, you might see them grab North Dakota’s Jonathan Toews. The one wrench that could get thrown into the equation is Jordan Staal, brother of Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal. Pittsburgh might look to Staal for his solid scoring touch and ability to win faceoffs.
Pick: Phil Kessel, F, Minnesota
Needs: Similar to St. Louis and Pittsburgh, the Blackhawks desperately need scoring. But with the third pick, that’s likely nothing that this year’s draft will address immediately. The team lacks much depth in goal but it’s unlikely with the crop of goaltenders available in this year’s draft that they’ll use an early first-round pick on a netminder. My guess is that whichever of the Kessel/Toews duo doesn’t get picked up by Pittsburgh will land in Chicago.
Pick: Jonathan Toews, F, North Dakota
4. Washington Capitals
Needs: The Caps caught lightning in a bottle with Alexander Ovechkin in the 2004 draft. The talented Russian immediately proved he’s Washington next franchise player. The team also has some talented young forwards in the minors, including former Boston University Terrier Chris Bourque. What Washington is lacking is solid defense. Unless the Caps want to trade up to number one (that’s how they got Ovechkin, remember, so it’s not out of the question), it doesn’t seem like picking a blueliner is an option. The next best defenseman after Johnson is U.S. NTDP teammate Nigel Williams, a solid enough player but not someone upon who you’d expect a club to spend the fourth overall pick. That leaves Staal (or Kessel, if he’s still available) or possibly even Swedish-born Nicklas Backstrom.
Pick: Jordan Staal, F, Peterborough (OHL)
5. Boston Bruins
Needs: The question for Boston isn’t what the team needs, but rather what don’t they need? The Bruins traded away their top two forwards last season in Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov and also lost talented players like Brian Rolston to free agency. The fact that former Providence Friar Hal Gill is considered one of the club’s top defensemen is downright scary. The only area where the Bruins are deep is in goal, and even there none of the trio of Hannu Toivaonen, Tim Thomas and Andrew Raycroft have proven consistent from season to season. With the solid crop of forwards available in the opening round, the likely guess would be for the B’s to pick up a scorer. Any of the aforementioned players will fit the bill, and if the Black and Gold’s propensity to chose Europeans is any indication, look for Backstrom to be the choice
Pick: Nicklas Backstrom, C, Brynas (Sweden)
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
Needs: The Blue Jackets could use considerable help up front, particularly given that many of their top forwards are free agents this season. If they’d like a player to step in almost immediately, this might be the right draft. It’s likely that a handful of major junior players will be available in the six slot, including American-born Peter Mueller and Canadians Derick Brassard and Bryan Little. If the Blue Jackets are willing to develop a player, Minnesota freshman-to-be Kyle Okposo might be a sensible pick.
Pick: Derick Brassard, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
7. New York Islanders
Needs: Similar to the Capitals, the Islanders could use some help on the blueline. Their issue, though, is that addressing that need in this draft means either trading up or settling on a prospect who won’t be ready for two to three years. That, though, might be the best route for the Isles, meaning that Nigel Williams could see a major bump in his stock. If New York stays away from Williams, it’ll become a “When in Rome…” situation and the club will likely pick one of the talented forwards still available. The team’s history of picking Europeans might make Jiri Tlusty from the Czech Republic a sensible choice.
Pick: Jiri Tlusty, LW, Kladno (Czech Rep.)
8. Phoenix Coyotes
Needs: If the Coyotes will look to pick up anything in this year’s draft it will be talent that can be developed. Wayne Gretzky has had a history of picking players who need one or two additional years (and sometimes more, as was the case with Blake Wheeler in 2004). The issues that the team has now are depth and veteran leadership, neither of which will be addressed with a first-round pick. And a defenseman seems out of the question given the fact that the Phoenix blueline is already one of the youngest in the league. This might be a good place to expect American Peter Mueller to land.
Pick: Peter Mueller, C, Everett (WHL)
9. Minnesota Wild
Needs: It feels like a broken record at this point, but similar to many other teams, the Wild need some offensive firepower up front. The team has perennially been among the league’s lower-scoring teams and in the new NHL, that doesn’t cut it. Goaltending also could be an issue after off-loading Massachusetts-Lowell grad Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton. But if Minnesota picks up a goaltender in this draft, don’t expect it to happen in round one.
Pick: Michael Frolik, Kladno (Czech Rep.)
10. Florida Panthers
Needs: Florida could use a bit of a bolster on defense but may address that through trades or free agency instead of the draft. If that’s not the case, except either the aforementioned Nigel Williams or fellow American Bob Sanguinetti to be the pick of choice. With either player being anywhere from one to three years away from NHL play, though, expect Florida to choose a forward that it can develop.
Pick: Bryan Little, C, Barrie (OHL)