Draft Chatter Heating Up
|COLIN MCCONNELL/TORONTO STAR|
|It appears that all other prospects are looking up at Victor Hedman as the top pick in this year's NHL draft.|
With the entry draft just 25 days away, and with GMs from all NHL clubs meeting in Pittsburgh today during the Stanley Cup final, there's all kinds of rumour and speculation going around about the intentions of various teams.
Most clubs have now decided there is, like last year, a Big Five of prospects that includes centre John Tavares, defenceman Victor Hedman, winger Evander Kane, centre Matt Duchene and forward Braydon Schenn, brother of Leaf defenceman Luke Schenn. All five prospects are also in Pittsburgh today for media interviews.
The Islanders own the first pick and are now apparently leaning towards Hedman. After that, the order of players is up in the air, as are the intentions of teams holding the top picks.
The Leafs and GM Brian Burke hold the seventh pick, and if the draft were today would like end up looking at either 6-foot-5 defenceman Jared Cowan, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, or talented winger Nazem Kadri in the No. 7 slot. Forwards like Sweden's Magnus Svensson-Pajaarvi and University of Minnesota forward Jordan Schroeder are more remote possiblities.
But Burke has said repeatedly he wants to move up and has already talked to the teams holding the top five picks. After Long Island, the order is Tampa Bay, Colorado, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
Colorado is a wild card at this point because the Avalanche don't even have a GM after failing to come to terms with Patrick Roy to be GM/head coach. Players the talent-thin Leafs are being asked about by other clubs likely include Mikhail Grabovski, newly signed prospect Viktor Stahlberg and mobile defenceman Anton Stralman, who had a strong world championships tournament for Sweden and attracted offers at the trade deadline. Luke Schenn, at this point, is apparently still an untouchable in Burke's eyes, but the Leafs might have to think about including next year's first round pick in a package to move up this year.
While there have been suggestions some teams are concerned about the quality of Tavares' skating, the Leafs have no such concerns and will likely increase their efforts to do a deal with Tampa. Knowing Burke's past history of draft dealings, he could well try to move up in stages, first acquiring the third, fourth or fifth pick, then trying to use that to get to No. 1 or 2. A little known fact is that when Burke drafted the Sedin twins for Vancouver, he was actually trying to position himself to draft Patrik Stefan as well, who went first overall.
At the same time, the Leafs are furiously trying to outbid Dallas and San Jose for the services of Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, with Colorado apparently no longer a consideration for "The Monster." The bidding for Gustavsson has been on hold after the death of his mother but is expected to pick up in the next 10 days when he comes to North America for interviews.
Right now, Burke's priorities are signing Gustavsson, moving up to get one of the Big Five and adding one or more enforcer-type players through the draft or free agency. If Burke has his way, the Leaf depth chart will look very different by this time next month.
Burke also met with members of his Team USA staff for next year's Olympic Games last night in Pittsburgh.