COLUMBUS, Ohio — When scoring was down in the NHL before the 2005 lockout, maybe instead of changing rules, the owners should have simply looked ahead to June of 2007.
By the end of this weekend, one of the more offensively talented NHL Entry Draft crops in recent history will all be the property of member clubs.
In what promises to be a first round that balances American, Canadian and European prospects, the opening round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft — to be held in prime time Friday night — will likely be remembered for turning out goalscorers rather than defensive players.
From a collegiate perspective, the two names leading the way are both freshmen-to-be: James vanRiemsdyk, who will attend New Hampshire in the fall, and Kyle Turris, who plans to arrive at Wisconsin come September.
Both are considered top prospects in a Draft that doesn’t have a clear-cut number-one pick just days before that selection will be made.
When each of these, along with a handful of other soon-to-be or current collegians, hear their name on Friday evening, they’ll actually be making league history.
For the first time since the NHL Entry Draft began in 1963, the opening round will be televised across the United States and Canada in prime time.
The NHL will host only the first round on Friday night at 7 p.m. ET from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, in an attempt to bring extra attention to an event which in the past has been reserved for Saturday afternoon television. Rounds 2 through 6 will be held beginning Saturday morning at 10 a.m.
After vanRiemsdyk and Turris hear their names called, it may be a while before another player with college ties makes his way to the Nationwide Arena stage.
Those with strong chances to be first-round picks include Boston College-bound Nick Petrecki, a two-way defenseman who registered 23 points in 44 games last season for Omaha in the USHL.
Max Pacioretty, though ranked 68th by the International Scouting Service (ISS), seems poised to be a potential first-round pick as well. The Michigan-bound power forward spent two years at Taft School in Connecticut before playing last season with Sioux City of the USHL. His 55 points in 42 games opened eyes at the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau (CSB), which ranked him 16th among North American forwards eligible for the Draft.
Current Minnesota Golden Gopher Jim O’Brien is likely to be the top collegiate player chosen. Ranked 38th by the ISS, O’Brien ended up 25th among the top 100 Draft-eligible players published by The Hockey News.
Other players with college ties and first-round potential include Mike Hoeffel (i-Minnesota), Kevin Shattenkirk (i-Boston University), Ryan McDonagh (i-Wisconsin), Joe Lavin (i-Providence) and Tommy Cross (i-Boston College).
As for vanRiemsdyk and Turris, where they’ll end up could be a matter of seeding. Chicago won the NHL Draft Lottery and holds the number-one overall pick.
Turris is best known for his offense, having put up 121 points in 53 games last season for Burnaby in the British Columbia Hockey League (along with five points in six games playing for Canada at the World Junior Championship).
vanRiemsdyk also can put the puck in the net, but is known for playing on the defensive side of the puck as well. In addition to scoring 63 points in 42 games with the U.S. Under-18 team, vanRiemsdyk potted 12 points in seven games at the World Under-18 championship.
Still, American-born Patrick Kane, who opted for major junior hockey over college, is thought to be the frontrunner for the number-one pick. With Chicago featuring a sputtering offense that requires an immediate boost, the Blackhawks may opt for Kane, who can be shuffled between London in the OHL and the big club in the Windy City, rather than Turris or vanRiemsdyk, both of whom will likely take a year or two of college hockey to mature.
That makes the future Badger and Wildcat more ideal picks for Philadelphia, which holds the second overall selection in the opening round. The Flyers will need to fill holes on both sides of the puck, but without a stud defenseman available will likely turn towards a player they can develop — either Turris or vanRiemsdyk.
With Wayne Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes picking in the third spot, you have to think they’ll take a chance on whomever of the duo remains. Gretzky and Co. proved that they’re patient three years ago when they picked then-high school junior Blake Wheeler with the fifth overall selection. Taking a chance on another collegiate player shouldn’t be out of the realm.
Still, that’s the reason the Draft happens — for upsets, surprises and plenty of excitement for the crop of talent that just days from now will have some idea of where their hockey futures may lead.