For the second straight year, I’m going to wade into the waters of draft prognostication. And while mock drafts are teeming out there, this will once again be more of a bullet point affair, based on observations and insider information about what is likely to occur. Last year, I went five for 10 on my predictions and I’m still kicking myself for not seeing that it was going to be the Islanders taking a swing at Kirill Kabanov. Here we go:
• One of the loudest rumblings this year involved Philadelphia and Columbus. The Flyers were desperate for cap space (needed for free agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalov) and the guillotine was looming for Columbus GM Scott Howson after two seasons without playoffs and no post-season wins in franchise history. The Jeff Carter trade naturally shook up both teams, but the fallout on draft day will be intriguing. If the Jackets had used the eighth pick overall, it was believed they would go with a “safe” pick, such as a Sven Bartschi or Mika Zibanejad. But the Flyers can be a little more risky with the pick, meaning offensive defenseman Ryan Murphy is an option now.
Speaking of Philly, according to one prominent source, the Mike Richards trade to L.A. was based largely on off-ice issues and the Flyers wanting a change of atmosphere in the dressing room.
• The Memorial Cup, no surprise, did wonders for the draft stock of several players. And while it’s no shock to see Jonathan Huberdeau now getting top-three consideration – Florida seems like a great fit, doesn’t it? – two defensemen may be going earlier than expected. Saint John’s Nathan Beaulieu is getting legitimate top-10 consideration now and Boston looks to be a suitor with the ninth selection. On the other side of the ice, Mississauga’s Stuart Percy has been all the rage in the Toronto press lately, particularly since he’s from the suburb of Oakville. But it’s not just the Maple Leafs who are impressed with the kid – Detroit is another option with the 24th selection.
• The top of the board is a mess right now, particularly since the Oilers are torn between center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defenseman Adam Larsson. Colorado would take Larsson if Edmonton passes, but would the Avs grab another center when that’s their deepest position on the depth chart, or would they tab Kitchener winger Gabriel Landeskog instead? Edmonton trading down to No. 3 and still landing Larsson is also still a possibility, with Florida sending a prospect (Drew Shore would be a good one) the other way for the privilege of nabbing Nugent-Hopkins.
• Another bellwether team is the New Jersey Devils. While they are playing things tight this year, Drummondville center Sean Couturier is apparently a favorite. If the Devils pass on the big pivot, however, look for him to slide down a couple spots. If Murphy doesn’t go to Philadelphia, look for a slide there, too.
• Ottawa has a lot of love for the top of the board, but unfortunately picks sixth, meaning their favorite may not be around anymore. The Senators would like to trade up, while the Islanders (who pick fifth overall) have been very public about trading down.
• Toronto has also made noise about moving up, perhaps by packaging its two late first-rounders or its early second round selection (39th overall) together. The fact the Maple Leafs just hired Northeastern University’s Greg Cronin as an assistant coach lends credence to the idea GM Brian Burke has his eyes on towering, punishing defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who is from Toronto and was a freshman star at Northeastern this season.
• Finally, in a biting piece of irony, no Minnesota high-schoolers will be taken in the first round, despite the draft taking place in the State of Hockey. It will be the first time since 2003 this has happened. Day 2 will boast Mario Lucia, Joseph LaBate and a host of other local kids, however.
• If you want a feel-good story this weekend, Owen Sound’s Andrew Shaw is apparently in Minneapolis. The leading scorer at the Memorial Cup has been passed over in the past two drafts, but has interviewed with enough teams to warrant the plane trip.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.