NHL Draft Preview

At one time, there was a popular ad campaign that touted the state of Massachusetts using the slogan, “Make it in Massachusetts.”

For a while, you might actually have thought that slogan referenced a successful path to the NHL with the likes of Tony Amonte, Keith Thachuk, Jeremy Roenick and Chris Drury all either growing up or setting foot through the Bay State on the path to successful NHL careers.

It’s certainly been a while since that’s held true, particularly in the world of college hockey, where the best of the best have seemingly come from the west in recent years, particularly the WCHA.

That may all change this Friday night as the 2008 NHL Entry Draft gets underway.

It seems almost certain that the top collegiate pick will be Boston University’s Colin Wilson, picked by many as a top 10 selection and some feeling he could go as high as four or five.

Add to Wilson defenseman John Carlson, who hails from the Indiana Ice in the United States Hockey League and is also slated to be a first-round draft pick. Carlson was originally planning on attending Massachusetts to play for head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon, but recently announced he has signed with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

Suddenly the Hub of New England is once again looking like a hockey hotbed.

Not so fast. Without taking anything away from Wilson or Carlson, the 2008 crop of draftees with college ties is, at best, weak. Following a year when 11 collegians were taken in the opening round of the NHL Entry Draft, we could be looking at as few as one or two first round selections with college ties this weekend, one of the worst years in draft history.

After a wave of American players making their way into the draft’s opening round for the past half-decade or more, we can expect 2008 to return to the year of the Canadian. When Friday’s made-for-TV opening round kicks off from Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, expect that it will be the players from north of the border making their way to the podium much more often than their American brethren.

Leading the way will be Steven Stamkos, a Unionville, Ont., native who played his junior hockey for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. Considered an absolute consensus number one, you can find out a little about this prospect simply by typing “Steve Stamkos ridiculous goal” into the search box on YouTube.

Listed a just 5-foot-11 and 176 lbs., this offensive forward is compared by one scout to Steve Yzerman. In capturing gold for his country at last year’s World Junior Championship, Stamkos registered a goal and five assists in seven games.

While Stamkos is considered a lock for the top pick, held this year by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the remainder of the top 10 is up in the air according to many pundits.

That may leave room for an American to jump to the top of this year’s Canadian festival, most notably Massena, N.Y.-native Zach Bogosian. The 6-foot-2 defenseman, though, won’t be gracing the campus of any of the top colleges next season as he already has chosen the major junior route (he played for Peterborough of the OHL for the last two seasons after playing at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass.). Still this smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman is considered solid in all aspects of the game and, in the mind of many scouts, could follow Stamkos to the stage.

As for the collegians, those with the highest hopes of taking home first round honors include Zac Dalpe, an incoming freshman at Ohio State ranked 16th by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service (CSS), though 29th by the also-popular International Scouting Service (ISS). It might be short lived for the college hockey world to take credit for Dalpe though as, according to The Hockey News, rumors are swirling that this 6-foot center might be shunning the Buckeyes in favor of the Ontario League’s London Knights.

It’s highly likely that this trio of Wilson, Carlson and Delpe may be the only players with college ties drafted in Friday’s first round, meaning that it will be a very long night for highly-ranked players like Minnesota-native Jake Gardiner, who is headed to Wisconsin in the fall to play for head coach Mike Eaves.

If there’s one person to watch of as an early round mover, though, keep an eye on David Toews, brother of the talented and well-proven Jonathan Toews. Like his brother, David will be heading to North Dakota in the fall to play for head coach Dave Hakstol. Though ranked 60th among American-born skaters by CSS, the ISS is betting on his bloodlines and tagging him as a potential first rounder and ranking him 27th.

That, though, sums up the reason why the draft happens in the first place. The unpredictable nature of the event is why people tune in, why we’re all interested, and most importantly why the hopes and dreams of so many players will be realized this weekend in Ottawa.