Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - 2009 NHL Draft Surprises

With the 2009 NHL Entry Draft behind us, it is time to take a look at the draft a little more closely. All in all, it was an incredibly successful one for the OHL with 45 players selected in the weekend's 7 rounds. For those number crunchers out there, that's just over 20%. One fifth of the players selected were from the Ontario Hockey League.

For me, it was a bit of a strange draft. A lot of interesting things happened, and there were a lot of surprises and disappointments. Thus, today's Top 10 will take a look at those interesting things, surprises, and disappointments. Obviously, since this is an OHL blog, the list will focus on the surprises for the Ontario Hockey League as it relates to the draft. However, the list can also serve as my commentary on the draft as a whole.

So here we go, the top 10 2009 NHL Draft surprises...

10. Calvin de Haan Goes 12th to the New York Islanders
For any other follower of the NHL draft, this occurrence would probably be up near the top 3 of draft surprises. But for me, it's only a mild surprise. Obviously, I've been a big supporter of Calvin this entire season. I had him ranked 4th ahead of the likes of Kadri, Kassian, and Holland (2 of which he went before). His intelligent play with and without the puck obviously caught the eye of the Islanders too, since they traded up to make sure they got him. Calvin was ranked in the 20's by pretty much every scouting agency, so I'm sure this comes as more of a shock to them. But it's why it made this list, even though it failed to shock me. Congrats to Calvin in finally getting the attention he deserves.

9. Jamie Devane Who?
At the beginning of the third round, the Toronto Maple Leafs took Jamie Devane with the 68th overall pick. This had a lot of people scratching their head, me included. It also had a lot of people, in particular Leafs fans, asking the question, "who exactly is this guy?" Devane is a big OHL rookie winger from Plymouth who failed to crack my top 50 OHL players eligible (and quite frankly didn't even get consideration). One thing is clear about Devane, he loves to fight. He had 19 fights this season and is definitely one of the tougher customers in the OHL (here is a fight against Brian Shaw of Erie). That being said, I'm not sure I see the offensive upside, at least to warrant a top three round selection. I generally have a problem when NHL teams take heavyweights with high selections, because every year good prospects cut from the same cloth can be found as free agents. Just look at the Sharks signing of Brandon Mashinter as proof. But we all know that Brian Burke likes size and physical tools, and it's obvious his scouting staff sees more in Devane than just another George Parros for Burke.

8. Casey Cizikas Goes in the Top 100
Consider this a good surprise. You've got to be happy for Casey to be the first pick of the 4th round at 92, again to the New York Islanders. You have to wonder if Garth Snow and his scouting staff have been reading my blog! Cizikas has been heavily scrutinized after originally being touted as a potential high selection at the beginning of the season. Most scouts had a lot of problems with his consistency and effort level. However, I've been a big supporter, probably one of the few. He's always impressed me when I've seen him play and I think he has a lot to offer to an NHL team. That being said, this is a surprise because for all intents and purposes, I expected him to fall at the NHL draft, regardless of how high I personally was on him. There has to be a huge weight lifted off Casey's shoulders now that he's gotten drafted, and drafted fairly high.

7. Darren Archibald Goes Undrafted
Come on Garth Snow, you grab the other two guys I've been high on, but not Mr. Archibald? Surely Darren would have been a better 5th round pick than Anton Klementyev! All kidding aside, it surprised me greatly that Darren went undrafted. I had him as the 2nd best draft re-entry from the OHL heading into the draft. Then 11 OHL draft re-entries went instead of him! To me, Darren has all the qualities NHL teams usually look for. He's a big guy who moves well, has good hands, and is developing a sense of using his size. I thought he looked very good for an OHL rookie playing his first season from Tier 2. Had an excellent playoff series. I see a lot of potential in him and I'm not the only one. Redline had him in the mid 100's if I'm not mistaken. ISS was high on him, as I heard an interview with Mike Oke where he stated Archibald was his late round sleeper. With Barrie apparently loading up for a run next year, Archibald could have a really good season in 2009-10. He can only hope then that he can be among those drafted. Fortunately there are many routes to the NHL.

6. The Fall of Ethan Werek
I know I was higher on Werek than most, (having him ranked 5th for OHL eligibles), but I still expected him to be a late first or early second round pick. However he ended up lasting till mid way through the 2nd, where the Rangers finally took him off the board. Sure the skating could use a bit of improvement, but it's not terrible. If you read his blog over at Coming Down the Pipe (here), you'll notice how well spoken he is. A smart and goal oriented kid, it's pretty clear that Werek will continueto devote himself to improvement. I see a kid who scored the third most goals among draft eligible players (behind John Tavares and the undrafted Chris DeSousa), and I wonder how some fail to see his potential as a top 6 forward. I think it's pretty obvious to say that I think the Rangers got one heck of a steal in round 2 with this talented young man.

5. Bryan Cameron = No Such Luck
I was incredibly surprised when the Los Angeles Kings didn't sign him to a contract before the June 1st deadline. I was even more surprised when no one took him on Saturday, as he re-entered the draft (along with 6 others from the OHL failing to a receive a contract from the OHL). Look, I know he's undersized at 5'10. And I realize that the type of game he plays will be hard to translate to the NHL due to his size. But how many players have scored three straight 30 goal seasons, and have been to two straight OHL all star games? He brings a lot of things to the table. I'm sure he gets an invite to an NHL training camp and he needs to show that team he's worth a contract. If not he'll be back in the OHL as an overager, however not likely in Belleville as they go full blown into a rebuild. I think it'd be a real shame for him to fall through the cracks after being such a high NHL pick originally, considering the OHL career he's had thus far. The four guys he's posing with in the picture, all got NHL contracts, which has to make him feel left out.

4. Kyle Neuber Gets Drafted
I mean no offense to Kyle Neuber when I mention him in this article. But for him to get drafted, it surprises me greatly. This goes back to my rant before about teams spending picks on heavyweight prospects, when so many are available as free agents. Kyle is an excellent fighter, one of the top heavyweights in the OHL (here's a clip to show you why). But how much of an NHL future does he have? His offensive skills aren't good enough to make him a regular contributor at the OHL level, let alone the NHL level. His skating isn't great. Basically, he brings little to the table save being an enforcer. And I thought the NHL was getting away from putting "true" enforcers on their 4th line. Yet, this NHL draft we saw a large number of enforcer type prospects being drafted, including Neuber to Columbus in the 7th round. It all seems odd to me.

3. No Love for Undersized Forwards
Somewhat related to the rant on heavyweight prospects, comes the surprise that so few skilled, undersized forwards were drafted. And those that were, were drafted late. Undersized defenseman seemed to be at a premium, Ryan Ellis, de Haan, Tyson Barrie, Sami Vatanen all went well. But the talented undersized forwards? Alex Hutchings, whom many had pegged as an NHL second rounder, falls to the 4th round. Phil Varone, one of the best players in the OHL playoffs, to the 5th round. Chris DeSousa, who scored the 2nd most goals behind John Tavares among OHL draft eligibles, undrafted. Brett Parnham, the OHL's goal leader and draft re-entry, not drafted. Andrew Agozzino, William Wallen, Jordan Mayer, Daniel Erlich, all undrafted. OHL players weren't the only ones effected. Kellan Tochkin, the WHL's rookie scoring leader for Everett, also fell victim to the undrafted list. So in an era when undersized forwards are excelling like never before in the NHL, why are so few being drafted?

2. OHL Goaltenders Get Knocked Down
While the goaltending crop for this years NHL draft didn't have a great reputation for being excellent, there were several OHL goaltenders slated to be high picks. OHL netminders occupied 3 of the top 5 spots on the Central Scouting's top NA goalies ranking. However, Plymouth Whalers goaltender Matt Hackett ended up being the 5th netminder taken in the draft (77th to Minnesota), despite being touted as possibly the top goalie available. The fall was more dramatic for the others. Edward Pasquale, who was so good for Saginaw this year, fell to the end of the 4th round, while Scott Stajcer and Michael Zador fell to the end of the 5th round. Barrie's Peter Di Salvo, Ottawa's Chris Perugini and Guelph's Brandon Foote all went undrafted. On the positive side, Erie netminder Jaroslav Janus finally heard his name called in the 6th, after being passed over in previous NHL drafts. For whatever reason, NHL scouts must have been down on North American goaltenders, as despite going 77th, Hackett was actually the first North American goalie taken. Four European netminders went before him, as early as the first pick of the 2nd round (the gigantic Mikko Koskinen to Long Island).

1. The Number of 1989 Born Players Drafted
While I'm not going to do the math, all it takes is one glance at the full NHL draft list to see the sheer volume of players drafted with a 1989 birth date. These players had been passed over in two previous NHL drafts, yet there progression caught the eye of NHL scouts enough to warrant a draft pick. To me, it seems like more 1989 born players went in the last 100 picks, than first year eligible 1991's. This is truly bizarre, as most years no more than a dozen of these types go. Just to give you an idea. Last year for the OHL, 3 1988's went (Andrew Campbell, Justin Azevedo, and Justin DiBenedetto). This year, 9 1989 players went (Janus, Kolomatis, Kennedy, Macdermaid, Neuber, Timmins, Cowick, Nolan and Pelech). That's quite the large jump. Perhaps we're seeing a shift in NHL draft philosophy. With the three year window to draft players, perhaps teams are going to start looking more at those late bloomers as draft options. Or maybe this year is an outlier.

Just like to say, Congrats to those 45 OHL players drafted. And to the many more who didn't hear your named called, take a good look at those nine 1989 born players drafted. They are the reason to not give up. They are the reason to push harder and improve, because NHL scouts are always watching.

Big day on Tuesday as the CHL Import Draft goes, where teams will look for the next Evgeni Grachev and Andrei Loktionov. I'll have coverage of that. Also stay tuned for next Sunday's Top 10, where I'll be profiling my early look at the top 10 for 2010!

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