Here are the newest top 30 rankings for the 2009 NHL entry draft from North American Central Scouting. This year may prove to be one of the most exciting in the 15-plus years I’ve been working in the industry. There are a couple factors involved in this year’s process that will add to the interest level.
The first is the competitive battle for the top spot between Victor Hedman and John Tavares. It promises to be a classic fight between defense and forward, skill versus size, North American versus European, junior hockey against pro. As of now, it’s fair to say the gap between those two and the rest of the class is so great there won’t be any legitimate discussion of someone else usurping them. You may read stories about certain players being close, but unless something drastic happens, don’t believe the hype.
The second interesting factor will be the depth of this draft and the huge difference in opinions from teams about certain players. For example, our ranking of Louis Leblanc at No. 18 will be criticized, but when you factor in that one team has him in their top six to start the season, while another has him in the 20s, it shows how opinions vary.
As the season progresses, the difference in evaluations will make for an entertaining and intriguing draft day in Montreal.
#1 – John Tavares – 6-feet, 183 pounds – Oshawa Generals
Selecting Tavares at No. 1 was our first controversial decision of the year. As we spent the summer and early fall checking back on our reports and watching Tavares early this season, we came to the conclusion that we, like so many others, had grown overexposed to him. As a result, we stopped appreciating the immense ability this kid has. Now, we truly believe he will be a special offensive player at the NHL level, as early as next year. Though we still don’t love his skating, the fact remains his vision, scoring sense and ability to distribute the puck are unparalleled in this draft class and that dominance will carry over into the NHL. He still has work to do, but expect a monster year out of him in Oshawa (and potentially London). Fans should make a point of seeing him play this year because after June, you will have to pay NHL prices to marvel at his skills.
#2 – Victor Hedman – 6-foot-7, 220 pounds – Modo (SWE)
Our philosophy at NACS has always been that a stud defender is much more valuable than a stud forward. That thinking left us with Hedman in the No. 1 spot last spring and although that defense-first philosophy continues, we think Hedman is the second-best prospect in the 2009 draft class. He certainly has all the tools you love in a defender - good feet, size, reach, great passing and poise - but one factor that has crept into his game is a lack of nastiness he possessed as a teenager. He has become a little too passive, but we expect his physical play to re-emerge. However, it is a red flag that has been raised by a couple of our European guys and it will have to be corrected.
#3 – Jared Cowen – 6-foot-5, 220 pounds – Spokane Chiefs
The best of the rest begins with an exceptional defender from Spokane who has a chance to be a franchise defenseman. Cowen is just a notch below Hedman in almost every category, but that still gives him an unbelievable future. It will be interesting to watch his season with the Chiefs to see if he continues to progress and if that development results in a spot on the World Junior team at Christmas. It will also be intriguing to compare him and Hedman in the same event against the same opponents and to judge if Cowen can close the gap. He won’t catch Hedman, but Cowen is ahead of every other defenseman in the draft by a good margin.
#4 –Brayden Schenn – 6-foot-1, 197 pounds – Brandon Wheat Kings
The younger brother of Toronto’s first pick in 2008, Luke Schenn, Brayden was the Western League’s leading scorer among rookies last season and his performance at the World Under-17s was exceptional. Furthermore, he looks even stronger and more composed, as evidenced by his play at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August. There are so many things about his game to love that we have him ranked as the second-best forward available.
#5 – Matt Duchene – 6-feet, 190 pounds – Brampton Battalion
Another player who was outstanding at the Ivan Hlinka tournament was Matt Duchene. We have always gone by the philosophy that if you can get a kid who does something better than anyone else in his class, it’s a huge positive. In Duchene’s case, he leads the pack in skating and in the new NHL, that skill cannot be overestimated. He creates offensive opportunities using speed and vision and at the NHL level his burst will allow him to draw penalties at an alarming rate. Much like Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, Duchene can change gears so quickly defensemen have trouble adapting and end up hauling him down. Along with his speed, Duchene has a pro shot and vision that is advanced for his age. Lastly, he is being coached by Stan Butler in Brampton, where you know he will be continually pushed to be the best he can be.
#6 – Jordan Schroeder – 5-foot-10, 170 pounds – University of Minnesota
Although Schroeder lacks size, he has a high hockey IQ, much like Patrick Kane or Sam Gagner. Schroeder has the ability to get into scoring areas and create offense despite his size. It will be interesting to watch him play this season in the highly competitive Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the hockey factory that is the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Schroeder will be expected to hold his own against 22- and 23-year-old men and how he fares in those battles will establish where he fits into this year’s rankings.
#7 – Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi – 6-foot-1, 195 pounds – Timra (SWE)
Like Tavares, another kid who has been talked about for years is Svensson-Paajarvi. He holds the Swedish record for being the youngest competitor at the world juniors and when you factor in players such as Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin and Nicklas Lidstrom didn’t play in the event at that age, it says a lot about Paajarvi’s skill level. Most impressive was that he was a solid contributor on that silver medal team. His skill level is high and, quite frankly, if there is one guy we think will move up as the season progresses, it is him. The more viewings our guys get of him, the more they like. I expect him to be in the top five by the time June rolls around.
#8 – Nazem Kadri – 6-feet, 182 pounds – London Knights
If you were to draw up a game plan for a young prospect to ensure he would maximize his talent, what Kadri and his agent have done would be the example to follow. Firstly, they had him drafted by and playing for the Kitchener Rangers under Peter DeBoer in his first year. He topped his time off in Kitchener by playing in the Memorial Cup and when DeBoer left, Kadri moved to his hometown of London to play under another great coach, Dale Hunter. Kadri was an important factor in Kitchener last year and expect him to be one of the centerpieces in London too, as Mark and Dale Hunter look to take a run at the Memorial Cup this year. Although he has the usual prerequisite of skill and smarts, it is Kadri’s competitiveness we love most. He can be nasty to play against and isn’t afraid of the physical side of the game.
The following list outlines the rest of our Top 30. Check in regularly as we will be updating profiles, as well as finishing the rest of the potential first-rounders.
US Under 18's
US Under 18's
Red Deer Rebels
US Under 18's
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and check back often.
Mark Seidel is the chief scout for North American Central Scouting and appears as a host on Leafs Lunch on AM 640 radio in Toronto. Read his other blog entries HERE.