Doesn’t it seem like an eternity since we first heard the name “John Tavares” mentioned as the next hockey wunderkid? Even before Sidney Crosby was drafted, we were already hearing about the “Next, Next One.” Well, this Friday Tavares will finally become affiliated with a professional team in the National Hockey League and all I can say is, it’s about time.
I’m not sure if I’m more tired of hearing about John Tavares or Brett Favre at this point, but one thing is for sure – one team is about to get their hands on a future fantasy stud, and no, I’m not talking about the Minnesota Vikings. Attention-seekers aside, here are my predictions regarding the top 5 picks in the upcoming NHL entry draft.
1. New York Islanders – C John Tavares
There’s probably not a lot I can say about Tavares that you haven’t already heard at some point in the last five years. He’s the youngest ever to play a game in the OHL, only after some chap named Bobby Orr. He set the OHL career goals record and often compares his own style of play to Dany Heatley.
The only major drawback surrounding Tavares is his skating, which is often described as mediocre. While I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see the Islanders grab a defenseman at number one, I can’t see them passing on Tavares. Though the initial screams of generational talent have quieted somewhat, John Tavares’ finishing ability is far and beyond the best in the draft, and he should realistically be capable of potting 25 to 30 goals in the NHL in 2009-10.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning – D Victor Hedman
A 6’5″ Swede who has garnered comparisons to Chris Pronger and Jay Bouwmeester, Hedman has already played at the professional level in Sweden for two seasons, with increasing success. The Lightning showed with their 66 point showing last season that shipping Dan Boyle out to San Jose in the offseason was a huge mistake. They desperately need a big, mobile, puck-moving defenseman that is ready to step in right away and Hedman is the best player in the draft that fits that description.
3. Colorado Avalanche – C Matt Duchene
Simply put, Duchene is a speed demon and a magician with the puck. Though he could benefit from another year in junior getting stronger, Duchene has all the tools to make the jump to the NHL at the start of the season. If I were a GM with the first overall pick in this year’s draft, Duchene would likely be my pick, so he may already be donning Islander blue or Lightning black (grey?) by the time the Avs get their selection in the 3rd spot.
4. Atlanta Thrashers – C Evander Kane
Picks 4 and 5 are little bit less certain and any of six or seven different names could get picked in these slots. I like Kane at the 4th spot, for his grit and determination. A power forward who plays a similar game to Jarome Iginla, Kane might be NHL ready but could stand to gain 20 lbs or so.
5. Los Angeles Kings – LW Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson
This Swede has blazing speed and has even been compared to Peter Forsberg, which is enough for me to put him in the 5th spot. Though some have questioned his ability to finish, his strong play at the World Juniors this year bodes well for his future. He may spend another season or two rounding out his craft in Sweden before making the trip across the pond to play in the NHL.
While many are calling this an average-talent draft year, there are a number of sleepers who could surprise. Which player are you hoping your team takes a chance on?