I must apologize for the wait between Parts 2 and 3 of the draft grades. I took July off after a long season and when I got back it was one thing after another and I couldn’t get this report finished.
I appreciate all the notes urging me to finish it and I promise not to have a gap nearly that long between posts from now on. With that said, here are the final two divisions and their grades:
C+, Montreal Canadiens – Although the Canadiens secured the tallest player in the draft with the selection of 6-foot-8 goaltender Jason Missiaen, the theme for Montreal’s weekend was small players. Their first pick - 56th overall - was U.S. NDTP scorer Danny Kristo who stands 5-foot-11, but plays like he’s 6-foot-5 and at NACS, we love his willingness to compete. Kristo has good offensive skills and has shown flashes of being a natural goal-scorer. He still has time to develop these attributes as he is headed to the hockey factory in North Dakota to play for the Fighting Sioux, so don't expect to see him in the NHL for a few years. In the third round, the Habs went out on a bit of a limb by taking previously passed-over right winger Steve Quailer from the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. After that, the Habs took the aforementioned Missiaen who hasn’t become the stud that many, including us, predicted he would be after joining the Peterborough Petes. Like many big kids, though, his size is an asset and it’ll take a while for his coordination to catch up to his frame. Missiaen has all the tools to become a good goaltender down the road. The Habs finished off the draft by taking a couple more smallish forwards who have overachieved in their careers so far: Maxim Trunev and Patrick Johnson. It will be a stretch to see either play at the NHL level and we at NACS feel their highest upside is a career in the American League.
B+, Toronto Maple Leafs - In the past, the Leafs may have had the most highly-criticized drafts and, for the most part, that criticism has been warranted. However, this may be the year they begin to turn it around. The decision by GM Cliff Fletcher to move up and select Luke Schenn was smart because he was the last of the franchise defensemen available. The Leafs scooped him just ahead of the startled Blue Jackets who had Schenn’s jersey ready, but were forced to settle for Nikita Filatov (a very good consolation prize). After the Leafs picked Schenn, they took a little gamble by selecting the enigmatic Jimmy Hayes who has the tools to become a star, but hasn’t put it all together yet. The Leafs were then fortunate enough to nab underrated Mikhail Stefanovich in the fourth round. They followed that pick with the physical Greg Pateryn from the USHL in the fifth round. Pateryn wasn’t a Leaf for long though, as he was later shipped to the Canadiens for center Mikhail Grabovski. After Pateryn, Toronto took another potential stud in Joel Champagne who, much like Hayes, has been terribly underwhelming in his career thus far, but certainly has all the tools. The Leafs finished off their productive weekend with a big winger – Jerome Flaake - and a couple Jr. A studs in goaltender Grant Rollheiser and defenseman Andrew MacWilliam. If Hayes or Champagne ever figures it out, the Leafs have selected one of the best classes in the 2008 draft, but history suggests the possibility is relatively low.
C, Boston Bruins – As soon as the Bruins took our whipping boy, Joe Colborne, with the 16th overall pick we knew they weren’t going to be rated highly in this report. However, Colborne does have the tools to become an NHL stud if he figures it out. His indifferent play all year drove us crazy, but his skills are undeniable. For the Bruins’ sake, we hope he puts it all together at the University of Denver over the next four years. Boston’s next pick, Maxime Sauve, had a solid year in the Quebec League and 77th overall pick Michael Hutchinson finished the year on an incredible high with his play in the playoffs for the Barrie Colts. They then secured one of the most underrated kids in the draft by selecting Jamie Arniel. Great value at 97th overall, Arniel flew beneath the radar all year, but has a lot of tremendous abilities. Boston finished the draft by taking a couple flyers on a Jr. A star – Nicholas Tremblay – and a high school scorer in Mark Goggin. When it was all said and done, the Bruins’ draft will rest on the broad shoulders of Colborne. If he takes his game to the next level they will be satisfied with the pick, but at this point he certainly isn’t a lock.
B, Ottawa Senators – The Senators kicked off their draft in front of the hometown fans by selecting late-riser Erik Karlsson. The slick-moving offensive rearguard started the year off slowly, but jumped up the board as the season went along. The Sens used three picks on players out of Canadian Jr. A and the USHL, which can always be a risky proposition given the lower level of competition those prospects play against. These leagues can artificially inflate the perceived talent and future of the players involved. In this case, the Sens took Patrick Wiercioch who has good size and offensive skills, but his skating was just average for a USHLer and the speed of that game is far from the pace of the NHL. In the third round they took a flyer on Zack Smith who had already gone through a couple of drafts, but saw his game mature last year; it was a selection we applauded. In the later rounds, they scooped a smallish, but exceptionally skilled Swede – Andre Petersson - along with the aforementioned Jr. A players who need work, but certainly have the size to play pro. All in all, it was a good effort by the Sens, but when you have three out of your seven picks coming from inferior leagues it’s always a risky move, especially in a draft that had so much depth.
B, Buffalo Sabres – As much as we detest the Sabres’ decision a few years back to cut their staff and rely on video scouting – and in the process getting rid of some great people – this year’s selections were generally good. They started by taking the huge man-child Tyler Myers who will take some time to develop, but has a chance to be a solid NHLer. They followed up that selection with dynamo Tyler Ennis. What he lacks in size he makes up for in skill and guts; the Sabres may have found another smallish player who will make a legitimate contribution at the NHL level, much like they did with Derek Roy. After Ennis, they took another big body in Luke Adam who has to work on his skating, but has an incredibly high upside. Cory Fienhage, their third-round pick, was one of our favorite Minnesota high school players because of his skill and nasty disposition, which bodes well for his development at North Dakota. He is difficult to play against and loves the physical side of the game, a style that may lend itself better to major junior. Fienhage’s stay at North Dakota won’t be any longer than two years because the Sabres will want to get him in their system soon. As the draft continued, Buffalo looked to add size, with the exception of fire hydrant Jacob Lagace from Chicoutimi who will be hard-pressed to be anything more than an AHLer. Despite short-cutting the scouting process, the Sabres seemed to have had a good draft in 2008, but in my opinion if they continue to scout by video the results will eventually start hurting the organization.
B, Tampa Bay Lightning – When the Lightning won the draft lottery you knew its draft was going to be a good one. Quite frankly, they could have gone home after selecting Steven Stamkos and still called it a success. After the obvious choice of Stamkos, the Lightning took a few good reaches, but overall the tone was underwhelming. With their second pick – which didn’t come until the fourth round - Tampa Bay took James Wright who, despite having a high potential, had a mediocre year and has a lot to improve on. The Lightning then went with Dustin Tokarski, the goalie who led the Spokane Chiefs to a Memorial Cup title. Tokarski played well in the playoffs, but his lack of consistency kept him far down on our list of goaltenders. The pick we really liked was Kyle De Coste from the Brampton Battalion of the OHL. Brampton coach Stan Butler raved about De Coste all year and at first blush we thought it was much ado about nothing, but the more we saw him play, the more his ability to do the little things won us over. Late round picks are always long shots, but we must applaud the class of the Tampa Bay organization for using their final pick on David Carle, who has a physical ailment that will prevent him from playing hockey anymore. Carle’s dream of being drafted was fulfilled, despite having no chance of making it to the NHL.
A-, Florida Panthers – Despite not having a first-round pick, we really liked what the Panthers did with their limited selections. Their draft started in the second round with the selection of Swedish goalie Jacob Markstrom. They followed it up with defenseman Colby Robak, a favorite of ours who we thought was a steal at No. 46 overall. After Robak, the Panthers took the big, physical defenseman Adam Comrie and got even more great value by taking A.J. Jenks at No. 100. There was a time when some figured Jenks would be a top 10 pick and although those forecasts were wildly off course, he certainly represents value in the fourth round; we expect him to play in the NHL someday. Even though they only had five picks in the entire draft, the Panthers added four players we think will play, which is more than can be said for a number of teams that had far more selections over the weekend.
B+, Washington Capitals – The Caps started things off with Anton Gustafsson, a guy who caused as much internal divide at NACS as any player in this year’s draft. Some of our staff loved him, while others thought he was completely overrated. While there was no consensus on Gustafsson, we liked the Caps’ selection of John Carlson from Indiana of the USHL. It’s no secret we are critical of players selected out of the USHL, but there’s no doubt Carlson will become a very good player as his career progresses. Their next pick, Eric Mestery, is a purely defensive defenseman who has to improve his puck skills if he is to play at a high level. In the middle rounds, the Caps’ picks were underwhelming with the exception of their last pick, Stefan Della Rovere, who we think has a chance to make a lot of teams look silly for passing on him. If Gustafsson and Carlson turn out the way we think they can, the 2008 draft will be remembered as a successful foray for Washington.
A-, Carolina Hurricanes – The Canes hold the distinction of drafting the smallest class in 2008. They picked up a lot of skill, but will need some bigger players to complement these guys down the road. Their first pick – 14th overall – was Zach Boychuk, the 13th forward on the Canadian world junior team who exploded in the second half. They followed that up by selecting another skilled forward, Zac Dalpe, in the second round. Dalpe played Jr. A in Penticton last season and had a great year, but expect him to play with the Plymouth Whalers for the 2008-09 season (right now he’s committed to Ohio State). After the two Zs, Carolina took Michal Jordan, who already plays for Plymouth, but had a disappointing 2007-08 campaign after coming in with high expectations. Canes GM Jim Rutherford knows as much about goaltenders as anyone in the business and we think he may have got a steal when he took the diminutive Mike Murphy in the sixth round. Murphy will certainly have to work harder than most because of his lack of size, but he led Belleville to the Memorial Cup tournament and has the ability to steal games.
A, Atlanta Thrashers – The Thrashers needed to bolster their defensive prospects and the addition of Zach Bogosian will certainly help, but we were surprised they didn’t go back to the rearguards until the seventh round when they decided on 1988-born Zach Redmond. In between, the Thrashers made some quality picks in Daultan Leveille, Chris Carrozzi and Vinny Saponari, but they also had some questionable choices in Danick Paquette and Nicklas Lasu. Admittedly, we didn’t have a great read on Lasu, but the selection of Paquette was curious at best. Although we don’t question Paquette’s toughness, we felt there were better players still on the board when he was taken at No. 64. Carrozzi fell in the draft and the Thrashers were the beneficiaries of that slide. The Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors product has been dominant at times and has a chance to become an NHL-caliber goaltender once he fills out. The Leveille selection was impressive because we felt he was the top skater in the entire draft so picking him up at No. 29 is almost a steal. At the end of the weekend, Dan Marr and his staff should have been pleased with the overall effort, but should also cross their fingers and hope Paquette validates their faith in him.