The NHL Entry Draft begins on Friday. Montreal is a great host city for the draft and should be a lot like the NFL Draft in NYC with fans cheering and booing with each pick in the first round. The first two selections are on every fan’s radar. The debate of who deserves to be the #1 pick, John Tavares or Victor Hedman, has heated up over the last year.
If you’re unfamiliar with the NHL draft, here are a few basic facts:
- There are seven rounds. Each of the 30 teams receives one pick in each round.
- The eligible age to be drafted is 18 years old
- Players do not lose college eligibility if they are drafted
- If a player is in college when drafted or goes to college after being drafted, the team that drafted him retains exclusive negotiating rights with that player through August 15th after his graduation date.
- Entry-level Standard Player Contracts signed in 2009 must be for a term of three years and cannot exceed $900,000. This amount includes salary, signing bonuses, and games-played bonuses.
- The signing bonus cannot exceed 10% of the total salary.
Instead of the typical mock draft format, I’ll break down some key picks.
- The New York Islanders have the first pick in the draft. They really need help everywhere. Some scouts question Tavares’s skating ability, but the Isles would be stupid to pass up his scoring touch. After breaking Wayne Gretzky’s OHL single-season scoring record when he was 16, Tavares has never looked back.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning have the second pick. Hedman is the obvious choice, but it’s also a practical one. The ‘Ning have both young and veteran skill players at forward and a solid, young goaltender. They are missing a presence on the blueline. Scouts have said Hedman is the next Zdeno Chara because of his impressive 6’6” 220 pound frame, but I think Hedman has more agility than Chara. It might also be worth mentioning that he’s been playing in the Swedish Elite League, one of the best professional leagues in the world.
- The top American prospect is Jordan Schroeder of the University of Minnesota. He reminds me a lot of Patrick Kane because of his small size and exceptional playmaking ability. If Schroeder is still available when the Minnesota Wild choose 12th overall, they should take this Minnesota native.
- The top-ranked goaltender is Matt Hackett of the Plymouth Whalers, but Michael Lee of the USHL’s Fargo Force is my sleeper pick. They are about the same height, but Lee has already started filling out his 6’1” frame with 185 pounds. While Hackett played on one of the OHL’s best teams, Lee played on an expansion team that was outshot almost every game…and led them to the USHL Clark Cup finals. We’ll see more from Lee next year as he is expected to be the starter for the Americans in the World Junior Championships. Teams can take Lee even though they don’t necessarily have a need in net and let him develop for a couple years at St. Cloud State.
- Considering their domination of the NHL lately (all three Hart Trophy candidates were Russian), it would be wrong to leave out a Russian player in this preview. The Russian draft class is very sparse this year. Dmitri Orlov is the top-ranked Russian. He hasn’t done much statistically, but scouts like his puck handling skills and awareness on the ice. I’ve seen him play once, and it wasn’t a pretty game for him when USA picked apart the Russians 5-0 in the U-18 World Championship finals. I’d be surprised to see him go any higher than late second round.
- The Detroit Red Wings will draft a Swede.