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Throwback Thursday: Uncertainty around a weak draft class in 2002

Back in 2002, The Hockey News had a hard time ranking the draft class, which turned out to be as shallow as anticipated.

Welcome back to Throwback Thursday, where we comb the THN archives to bring you something from our past.

This week, a look back at the 2002 draft preview. Just like the upcoming 2017 draft, the 2002 edition was considered to not be very deep. There was no consensus No. 1 prospect and outside of the top three or four players there was a lot of uncertainty. Now 15 years later we know the pundits were, for the most part, correct. Here's a look at the draft results. No. 1 turned out pretty well -- after a big draft-day trade -- but you could make a case for the best player in the draft being a defenseman who went in the second round, not the one THN pegged as the No. 1 prospect.

'Expect anything in poor draft year'

June 30, 2002 -- Vol. 55, No. 37

By Alan Adams

To hear scouts tell it, there’s no such thing as a bad draft. Some are just better than others. The 2002 draft may change that thinking.

Weak is one word frequently used to describe the 2002 draft while some prefer to say the talent pool is the shallowest in memory.

“The scouts have had to work their asses off this year,” said Jim Nill, the Detroit Red Wings’ assistant GM.

Draft picks are supposed to be the building blocks of contenders and champions. This year is challenging conventional wisdom that draft choices are considered prized possessions. Little wonder, then, that scouts have been agonizing over the thin pool of talent available.

Once the draft order gets by the first 10 to 12 picks, the players look eerily similar. No. 20 could be No. 60. There are precious few blue-chip stocks to invest in.

“The draft is not very defined and is very immature,” said David Conte, New Jersey’s director of scouting.

“It could be all over the board. You might have to be more forgiving and take the guys who have done something, be they flawed or not.”

The consensus top prospect is Jay Bouwmeester of the Medicine Hat Tigers, although some teams, if they had the first pick, would be nervous about taking the shy and lanky defenseman with the great wheels. In compiling the top 60 picks, The Hockey News surveyed dozens of people involved in the draft and not everybody had Bouwmeester as their top pick.

Bouwmeester is one of the best skating defensemen scouts have ever seen, and at 6-foot-3 ½, 206 pounds, he moves the puck with skill.

Kari Lehtonen is No. 2 on THN’s list and the Finnish goalie is pegged to be a franchise netminder. No. 3 is Rick Nash of the London Knights and he is considered a can’t-miss forward, while No. 4 goes to Finnish defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who some scouts say has the skill and upside to be No. 1.

Florida has the first pick and they need help everywhere but in net, where Roberto Luongo rules the nest. Atlanta follows and the Thrashers are woeful in net. But they can’t expect Lehtonen to step in right away.

Columbus picks third and GM Doug MacLean is on record saying he wants the player he picks to suit up for the Blue Jackets next season. Tampa Bay is fourth and given its history of draft errors, the Lightning have to get it right this time.

After the top four, the field becomes muddled and the crystal ball is fogged.

Adding to the haze is the fact two potential first round picks, Michal Barinka and Slovak defenseman Richard Stehlik, missed the deadline to make themselves available for the draft. Their agent faxed notification his clients were going to opt-in when the forms had to be mailed by May 1.

In the event teams will look at bloodlines for guidance, there are three players of note -- Eric Nystrom is the son of former New York Islander grinder Bobby Nystrom, Gregory Campbell calls NHL senior vice-president Colin Campbell dad and Alexander Steen of Sweden is the son of former Winnipeg Jet Tomas Steen.

As always, the draft will have plenty of intrigue. Teams are more interested in an instant upgrade than in a long-term promise and it appears every team has a For Sale sign hanging over their first round pick.

“Right now, we’re intending to take both picks, but if someone wants to blow our socks off, go ahead and try,” said Florida GM Rick Dudley, who has the No. 1 and 10 picks. “You never say never.”

Washington GM George McPhee has 15 picks in the draft and each one is available.

“We’re open-minded,” McPhee said. We are going there prepared to draft 15 players and if something comes along that makes sense, we’ll do it.”

The challenge in a draft lacking depth is to find the diamond in the rough. A check of any roster will produce a player who fits this category.

Nill says the onus is on the scouts to have done their homework.

“You can really get some players out of this draft if things work out for you,” Nill said. “They’re all there. It comes down to your local people knowing these kids inside out and knowing something special about these kids. That is how you will get a player out of it.”



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