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Draft day steals

Jeff Skinner scored 50 goals and 90 points in 64 games for the Kitchener Rangers last season. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

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Jeff Skinner scored 50 goals and 90 points in 64 games for the Kitchener Rangers last season. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

There were surprises aplenty at the NHL draft on the weekend and with them came a lot of good value picks. For kids who dropped, they can at least take solace in the fact that when they become NHL stars, folks will constantly crow about how their team could have snapped up such a hot talent earlier. And based on some photos I’ve seen since the draft, Don Cherry is right when he cautions that only highly-rated teens should attend in person, lest you be left in the stands heartbroken. Here’s a look at some of the savvier picks from the weekend and, hence, the players we can’t wait to see in the NHL some day.

1. Jeff Skinner, C – Kitchener Rangers (OHL): Skinner’s goal-scoring prowess vaulted him into the spotlight during the playoffs when his Rangers nearly upset the Windsor Spitfires in the third round. Skinner hit the 50-goal mark in the regular season, then added one per game in the playoffs.

“I’d like to think I have a pretty good shot and pretty good hockey sense,” he said.

Slight at 5-foot-10, 187 pounds, Skinner knows he must get bigger and stronger to make an impact in the NHL, where he’ll eventually meet up with minor hockey teammate Tyler Seguin. Back then, they never thought they’d be where they are today.

“It was more of just a dream,” Skinner said, “coming to the rink and having fun.”

Along with his proclivity for putting pucks in the net, Skinner is also best known for his past athletic achievements in another winter sport, figure skating. In fact, as a 12-year-old he was ranked third in Canada for his age group. He believes the figure skating helped his hockey edgework and balance, even if it has opened him up to some good-natured trash talk.

“My teammates all know,” Skinner said. “They give me the occasional chirp every once and a while.”

But as a top-10 pick in the NHL draft, Skinner’s the one with something to chirp about now. Drafted seventh overall by Carolina in 2010.

2. Quinton Howden, C – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Eventually, Howden will be the answer to a trivia question involving the Keith Ballard trade, but right now he just looks like a solid future NHLer. A two-way threat with a big frame, Howden was good on a bad Canada under-18 team after a very successful campaign in Moose Jaw that saw him more than double his point total from the year prior. Drafted 25th overall by Florida in 2010.

3. Greg McKegg, C – Erie Otters (OHL):
Another player who excelled at the under-18s despite Canada’s dismal end, McKegg was lightning in the faceoff circle, operating at a 70 percent clip in limited duty. He also ranked second on the squad with seven points in six games after a massive 85-point campaign with Erie, which represented a nearly five-fold jump from the previous season. Drafted 62nd overall by Toronto in 2010.

4. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, D – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL):
The first French-Canadian taken in the draft this year, Gauthier-Leduc has decent size and all the makings of a prototypical NHL puckmoving defenseman. His vision and shot are his strong suits and he pumped in 46 points in 68 games to lead all Huskies blueliners. Drafted 68th overall by Buffalo in 2010.

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5. Teemu Pulkkinen, LW – Jokerit (Fin.): Injuries may have shortened Pulkkinen’s season, but his dynamic play is difficult to overlook. Ironically, that’s what a lot of teams did at the draft, where the Finnish teen slipped to the fourth round. A pure sniper who needs to learn how to battle more, Pulkkinen looks like another Red Wings steal. Drafted 111th overall by Detroit in 2010.

6. Troy Rutkowski, D – Portland Winterhawks (WHL): It was a great draft for the Winter Hawks, with Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter going in the top five, but Rutkowski was still on the board in the fifth round for Colorado to snap up. With both size and offensive hops, Rutkowski has a bright future ahead of him. Drafted 137th overall by Colorado in 2010.

7. Tom Kuehnhackl, RW – Landshut Cannibals (Ger.): The son of Germany’s best hockey player ever (Erich Kuehnhackl) will get a lot more ice time with the Ontario League’s Windsor Spitfires than he did with the Cannibals, so expect his stock to take off next season. In the meantime, the Penguins can congratulate themselves on getting value in the fourth round. Drafted 110th overall by Pittsburgh in 2010.

8. Kevin Gravel, D – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL): A lanky 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, Gravel certainly has some work to do on his build, but at least he has the NHL frame to hang it on. A defensive defenseman with athleticism on his side (not to mention a killer wingspan), Gravel will hone his skills at St. Cloud State next year and there’s no telling what his NHL ceiling may be. Drafted 148th overall by Los Angeles in 2010.

9. Maxime Clermont, G – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Eventually the New Jersey Devils will need another goaltender and since the province of Quebec did them right last time around, why not go back to the well? Clermont posted the best stats of his ‘Q’ career last season and though his numbers aren’t eye-popping, they rarely are for netminders on that circuit. The NHLers the league has turned out, however, prove the pedigree. Drafted 174th overall by New Jersey in 2010.

10. Nick Mattson, D – Indiana Ice (USHL):
A product of the U.S. NTDP, Mattson made the switch over to Indiana last year and didn’t miss a beat. His totals in the regular season were decent for a defenseman, but it was his six assists in nine playoff games that really impressed. Mattson is committed to the University of North Dakota. Drafted 180th overall by Chicago in 2010.

The Hot List, a weekly roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears regularly throughout the off-season only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.

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