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THN.com Blog: Center of the hockey universe needs center help

Brayden Schenn may not be around at No. 7 if the Leafs aren't able to trade up in the draft order. (Jamie Hodgson/THN)

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Brayden Schenn may not be around at No. 7 if the Leafs aren't able to trade up in the draft order. (Jamie Hodgson/THN)

The NHL’s perennial possessing of prospects draws near and between all the selections and dealing, the news will surely be flying fast and furious.

There’s a lot of specific speculation about what Toronto – which currently owns the seventh overall pick – will do in the early stages of the first round. (The only thing you can be certain of is the Habs faithful booing the living daylights out of GM Brian Burke when he steps to the podium.)

It’s no secret the Buds would love to move up in order to snag potential hometown hero John Tavares, but looking at their depth chart it’s hard to imagine what would possibly titillate the Islanders, Lightning or, even, Avalanche enough to swing a deal.

Many Hogtown faithful view Burke as the team’s savior, but getting Tavares for any combination of Toronto’s picks, prospects or players would be act on par with turning water into wine.

Burke has shown a penchant in the past for brother combos (moving up with Vancouver to select the Sedins in ’99), but there’s no guarantee Brayden Schenn, Luke’s lil’ bro, will be around when it’s Toronto’s turn. Brayden is ranked No. 6 in THN’s Future Watch ’09 and No. 5 by ISS. 

Toronto moved up last year to get Luke in the five slot and don’t be surprised to see the same in ’09. After all, as Ryan Kennedy pointed out recently, the Kings, who hold the fifth pick, should be looking to swap, anyway.

Brayden, who scouts compare to the Flyers’ Mike Richards, was better than a point-per-game player in both seasons with the Western League’s Brandon Wheat Kings and would give Toronto some flair up the middle, where the existing talent has an odor similar to the city itself, which is currently in the midst of a garbage strike.

Toronto’s top three centers consist of Matt Stajan, a serviceable skater indeed, but one who has no business playing anywhere above the third line; Mikhail Grabovski, whose inconsistency and size won’t endear him to Burke or coach Ron Wilson; and John Mitchell, who had 29 points and a minus-16 rating in his first NHL season this year.

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Things aren’t much rosier on the farm, either. The only potential bright spots are 23-year-old Tyler Bozak, a undrafted free agent the Leafs signed out of the University of Denver; Christopher DiDomenico, a 20-year-old world junior grad who put up solid numbers in the Quebec League; and Mikhail Stefanovich, Toronto’s fourth round pick in ’08, who put up 76 points in 56 games with the QMJHL’s Remparts this season. Not one of the three is a sure thing to pan out.

If Burke and the Buds aren’t able to pad their pivot supply at the draft, there’s always free agency, with Toronto-area native Mike Cammalleri – who plays center and wing – and Henrik Sedin both rumored to end up in blue and white.

So, with the middle soon to be shored up, all Toronto has to do is solve their problems on the wing, defense and in goal…

GRILLING THE PROSPECTS
While in Toronto for the NHL draft combine, THN.com’s Rory Boylen caught up with four of this years top prospects in the upcoming NHL entry draft. He asked Brayden Schenn, John Tavares, Evander Kane and Jordan Schroeder, which current NHLer their game most resembled and what they need to do to improve and take the next step. Producer: Ted Cooper.


Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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