COLUMBUS, Ohio — Within the next day or so, the lives of a number of young men will change significantly. Sure, the NHL Entry Draft sees nearly 200 players become “property” of one of the 30 NHL clubs, but the truth is that most of those players still have plenty to prove before they’ll skate in the show.
Still, for the top 10 draft choices, which for the first time ever will be announced in a first round broadcast nationally in the U.S. and Canada in prime time, this weekend’s Draft is certain to have impact.
But as much as the player’s lives will be impacted, so too will the teams who choose them. All of the top ten teams are looking to pick the right “impact” player. This year being a somewhat down year in terms of blue-chip talent, most teams will have to be patient in developing their prospects. But there’s no doubt that all 10 of these clubs hope to find the player who will be just the right fit.
With that in mind, here’s a look at how this writer thinks the top of the first round will shake out:
No. 1 Chicago
Needs: The Blackhawks are a pretty solid team defensively and in goal, so if there’s any hole they’d like to fill, it’s up front. The team lacks speed and a go-to goal scorer and at this point would likely want to take advantage of winning the Draft Lottery and pick a player who can step in right away. That likely will force Chicago to pass over James vanRiemsdyk and Kyle Turris, who will likely spend the next couple of years developing at their respective colleges.
Pick: Patrick Kane (USA), RW, London, OHL
No. 2 Philadelphia
Needs: The Flyers’ biggest hole is on defense. But with such an offensive crops of talent dominating this year’s Draft, and given the fact that the Flyers picked up defensive prospect Ryan Parent at the trade deadline, it’s more likely that Philly will look long-term and grab a talented forward, most likely a center.
Pick: Kyle Turris (CAN), Burnaby, BCHL (i-Wisconsin)
No. 3 Phoenix
Needs: With Ed Jovanovski, Zbynek Michalek and Keith Ballard all manning the Phoenix blueline, the biggest need for the Coyotes and head coach Wayne Gretzky is up front. The team is equally in need of wingers and centers, which gives vanRiemsdyk, who has developed on the left wing, the inside track.
Pick: James vanRiemsdyk (USA), U.S. NTDP (i-New Hampshire)
No. 4 Los Angeles
Needs: The Kings have holes at every position, but the biggest need is in goal. Unfortunately, the Draft will not solve that problem this year. BC’s Brian Boyle and Michigan’s Jack Johnson may step in on defense, so it’s likely they’ll turn to a top-notch forward who has development potential.
Pick: Alexei Cherepanov (RUS), Avangard Omsk, Russia
No. 5 Washington
Needs: The Capitals have rights to two goaltenders currently developing, so backing up Olaf Kolzig won’t be a concern Draft day. One bonus would be to find a forward to support the talented Alex Ovechkin and an even bigger bonus would come if that player can step in immediately.
Pick: Jakub Voracek (CZE), Halifax, QMJHL
No. 6 Edmonton
Needs: The Oilers are still looking to fill the hole left by the departure of Chris Pronger, but that is not likely something that the Draft will address. Still, it might be prudent to pick a blueliner who can develop. Since Edmonton has three first-round draft picks, the Oilers will look to build their crop of young talent that will pay dividends down the road.
Pick: Kari Aizner (CAN), Calgary, WHL
No. 7 Columbus
Needs: Being the host city, there will be plenty of eyes on who Columbus picks up on Friday. And if the team can do itself a favor, it will grab someone who can develop for a couple of years and then step in to support and then replace aging forwards. The blueline is also a concern, as Adam Foote only has so many years left, so if Aizner is still available, he may be the choice.
Pick: Logan Couture (CAN), Ottawa, OHL
No. 8 Boston
Needs: There’s no doubt that the Bruins’ biggest needs are at forward. With Tuukka Rask developing in goal and players like Zdeno Chara and Andrew Alberts solidifying the B’s blueline, Boston needs to find a player to support Glen Murray and Phil Kessel up front.
Pick: Angelo Esposito (CAN), Quebec, QMJHL
No. 9 St. Louis
Needs: The St. Louis minor league system has plenty of talented forwards and goaltenders, so look for the Blues to seek defensive talent. The Blues system does have Minnesota’s Erik Johnson, but that’s really the only solid blueline product.
Pick: Keaton Ellerby (CAN), Kamloops, WHL
No. 10 Florida
If there’s anything that the Panthers need, it’s goaltending, as the minor-league pipeline lacks a solid prospect. The only problem is that this Draft is so light in prospects, Florida will either opt for a talented center or trade its first-round pick. My thought is that the Panthers will take someone who will either develop in the system or be trade bait down the line.
Pick: Sam Gagner (CAN), London, OHL