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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Grading the 2011 Draft Part 1

Now that the 2011 NHL Draft is in the books, it's time to assess each team's draft class based on what we know now.

The analysis is subjective and limited at the same time. There will be some picks who look great right now who will go on to have a minimal or no impact, just as there are those who don't look like a whole lot of anything but will pick up their developmental curve and become NHL players, perhaps even stars.

However, given what we have to go on, there's always time to reflect and at least make an initial assessment. In three-to-five years, we can go back and see how close we were. Until then, the jury will be out.

This is the first of three posts that will look at each team and analyze their draft day efforts.

Anaheim Ducks
Grade: B+
The Ducks traded down from 22 with Toronto (Tyler Biggs) and picked up Swedish forward Rickard Rakell with the final pick in the first round. B2011DW has liked Rakell since seeing him in the WJC. He doesn't have ideal size or elite skill, but he's a slick forward who is underrated on the offensive side of things. He plays a gritty, agitating game. With Toronto's second-rounder, they got excellent value with American goalie John Gibson, who has cornerstone-type potential. Unlike Jack Campbell, he won't have a lot of pressure on him as the 39th overall pick compared to being 10th. We also like the pick of undersized but plucky William Karlsson. The draft went off the rails a bit with the selection of Joe Cramarossa early in the third round. "Cram-berry" is a solid player, but his upside is limited. They could have done better. Andy Welinski generated some buzz in the USHL this season and is fine value in the third. Don't see a lot of upside in smallish Swedish forward (that's two with Karlsson) Max Friberg, but as a fifth-round selection, probably worth the risk. Sixth rounder Josh Manson did not get high marks from scouts we talked to beyond his size.

Boston Bruins
Grade: A
Stanley Cup champs and they land two high-end talents in Dougie Hamilton and Alexander Khokhlachev. That's not supposed to be how it works. Anthony Camara was a surprise and reach pick, but the same things were said about Milan Lucic in 2006, so it will be interesting to see if there is something more to this player skill-wise. His toughness even despite being average-sized is unquestionable. Ferlin, O'Gara and Volden are all developmental depth picks, but we keep going back to the team's two first picks in the top-40. From the looks of it, they could not have done any better, especially given that Marc Savard looks to be at the end of the line, with what could very well be a retirement announcement coming this summer.

Buffalo Sabres
Grade: A-
First pick Joel Armia was solid value at 16 where the Sabres got him and he has some real potential as a big scoring forward. Buffalo also got nice value with third-rounder Daniel Catenacci, who reminds us a lot of a Brad Marchand-type player. Terrific wheels, good hands and a real buzzsaw/agitating presence. We're not bullish on Colin Jacobs, who attended the draft with his arm in a sling after recent shoulder surgery and scouts didn't have great things to say about his long-term potential. The Sabres landed a homegrown product in the 5th round with West Seneca, N.Y. native and Barrie defenseman Alex Lepkowski, a shutdown guy with size who doesn't have any offensive upside but could be an effective bottom pair player one day. Big goalie Nathan Lieuwen, who had a terrific WHL season and playoffs in leading the Kootenay Ice to the Chynoweth Cup as WHL champs is a solid value pick and good story after being passed over twice previously because of concussion issues. Wisconsin high schooler Brad Navin has size, skill and is very raw but is an interesting project pick in the seventh round.

Calgary Flames
Grade: C
We like the Sven Bartschi pick, but, and we regret that Flames fans may be unhappy with the rest of the analysis, but new GM Jay Feaster and his staff took too many unnecessary risks the rest of the way. Bartschi won us over after a perimeter WJC, but we think Markus Granlund went way too high at 45- he's nowhere near the player his brother is. Tyler Wotherspoon is a good defensive player, but at barely over 6-foot, he simply doesn't have the size to be a shutdown D in the NHL, and his offensive upside/sense is pretty poor. We like John Gaudreau a lot- but not as a fourth-rounder. He's the smallest player ever on record to be drafted, and he's going to be hard-pressed to overcome that size deficit. Laurent Brossoit salvaged things in the sixth round- he's a big goalie with skill and potential, but it was too little, too late. This draft could haunt the Flames more for who they left on the board than anything else in about five years.

Carolina Hurricanes
Grade: A
The Hurricanes aren't getting enough credit for their draft- Jim Rutherford and company quietly cleaned up. Ryan Murphy at 12 and Victor Rask at 42 are excellent value picks. Murphy was a popular choice to go to the Bruins, but the thought of him working the power play with Justin Faulk in about three years...yikes. Watch out NHL! Rask underachieved, but to get him 12 picks into the second is good news for Carolina. Keegan Lowe was a tad high, but he is as steady and dependable as they come. Getting Swiss forward Gregory Hofmann was a steal in the fourth round, but unfortunately, he elected to stay in Switzerland rather than come over to Shawinigan, who was prepared to take him in the CHL Import Draft this week. Goalie Matt Mahalak and Brody Sutter (Duane's kid) are nice developmental project picks late. No flaws in this group.

Chicago Blackhawks
Grade: A
This is another team who gets high marks for their draft. Mark McNeill was a solid, solid pick at 17 just like his build. He's a perfect player for the blue collar folks in Chi-town. Phillip Danault was a bit of a surprise, but understand this- the kid is going to play and his intangibles- leadership, work ethic, desire- all rate him near the top of this class. He'll probably be a third-liner, but when you want to win hockey games, this is a guy who will do it for you. Adam Clendening AND Brandon Saad in the second round. Seriously? We like Mike Paliotta more than others in the third- he's a mobile, shutdown guy and winner. Klas Dahlbeck (overager) and Maxim Shalunov are solid value and risk/reward picks in the 3rd and 4th. Andrew Shaw is an overager who had a great playoffs in leading Owen Sound to the OHL championship. Sam Jardine, Alex Broadhurst and Johan Matsson are nothing to write home about, but this was one hell of a draft from the initial look.

Colorado Avalanche
Grade: A-
It's hard to argue with a draft class that headlines with Gabriel Landeskog. B2011DW absolutely loved this stud, and Colorado fans will too. We weren't as big on Duncan Siemens, but knew he'd go a lot higher than where we had him. If he can be the next Adam Foote, the Avalanche will have done just fine. Joachim Nermark had a disappointing season, but he has skill and upside. If he can get his development back on track, he'll be a good one for a fourth-rounder. Garrett Meurs slid down to the fifth round, but again- is decent value given that he was seen as a potential first-rounder coming into it. The Gabriel Beaupre and Dillon Donnelly picks don't do much for us, but for an organization needing grit and toughness, they at least meet that requirement.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Grade: C+
Boone Jenner is a good pick in the early second round for the Blue Jackets, but he's more likely a third-line character guy than a top-six stud. T.J. Tynan is a gutsy pick, but he was passed over a year ago, so can he thrive in the NHL with his lack of size? If his life is anything to date, he'll keep proving doubters wrong. Mike Reilly is a long-term project because of his lack of physical maturity, but has the tools to be an interesting project. Now, people will say Seth Ambroz is a great value pick in the fifth round, and on paper he is, but we're just not sold that he'll ever be the player he could be. More power to him if he can prove everyone wrong, but let's just say that his prodigious fall was not an accident. And we'll leave it at that. Lukas Sedlak and Anton Forsberg aren't much to speak of as legitimate NHL prospects. On paper, this draft class looks OK, but it lacks any real true high-enders, save for Tynan. And with his size, he's a risk until he can fight his way into the NHL and stay there. Columbus gets bonus points for landing Jeff Carter, but Brian Campbell's rejection in not waiving his no-trade to go there stings.

Dallas Stars
Grade: B
Jamie Oleksiak is a solid selection where they got him with major upside if he keeps developing and becomes more Zdeno Chara than Hal Gill. Sarnia power forward Brett Ritchie was also a solid value pick with upside at 44th overall in the second round. The rest of the guys, Emil Molin (not well known in Sweden), Troy Vance (another huge D but very raw), Matej Stransky and Jyri Jokipakka are some risky picks who may not return big dividends.

Detroit Red Wings
Grade: A
They did it again. After trading their first-rounder (23) to Ottawa (Matt Puempel) they still landed a first-round talent in Tomas Jurco, who looks like an absolute natural with that winged wheel crest on his chest. GM Ken Holland then worked the board like the draft pro he is, grabbing value picks like they were going out of style: Ryan Sproul in the second, Alan Quine in the third. Marek Tvrdon in the fourth, Philippe Hudon in the fifth. Alexei Marchenko could be better than any of them, and they got him in the seventh round. Seventh! Xavier Ouellet was a bit high for us, but with his smarts and puck skills, if anyone can thrive in that system it is him. Once again, the Wings prove that you don't need to have high picks to build your organization.

We'll be back with part two, commencing with the Edmonton Oilers, who are at the head of the class.

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