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NHL Draft: RotoWire 2010 NHL Draft Preview

Jon Litterine

Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.

The 2010 NHL Draft takes place on June 25-26 in Los Angeles. The Edmonton Oilers hold the first overall selection. Below are our rankings for the top 30 prospects in the upcoming draft.

1. Taylor Hall (LW, Windsor-OHL): Hall is 18 years old and has already led his team to back-to-back Memorial Cup titles. He doesn’t project to be a superstar in the mold of Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, but there’s no doubt he has the ability to score anytime the puck is on his stick. He has real potential to be a 40-plus goal scorer in the NHL and something will have to go wrong between now and the start of the draft for Edmonton to select anyone other than Hall. Hall alone won’t turn around the Oilers franchise, but when you add him to a team that already has stud forward prospects in Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Oilers fans at least have hope that help is on the way.

2. Tyler Seguin (C, Plymouth-OHL): Seguin has had such a dominant year in the OHL (108 points in 63 games), that he has risen all the way to the top of the International Scouting Service’s (I.S.S.) final draft rankings. Scouts are always weary of players who seemingly come out of nowhere in their draft year to rise to the top of the rankings, but Patrick Kane did the same thing a few years ago and he has turned out just fine. Seguin is noted for both his all-around play and his consistency. Boston, who holds the second overall pick (from Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade), will almost certainly take Seguin unless they feel the need to take a defenseman to replace the aging Zdeno Chara down the line.

3. Cam Fowler (D, Windsor-OHL): Fowler can skate like the wind and good skating can make up for a lot of defensive shortcomings. Fowler won both a Memorial Cup with Windsor and a World Junior gold medal while playing for Team USA this year. His play in his own zone needs a lot of work, but he will be drafted by a team that is looking for someone to eventually quarterback their power play down the line. There will be times when Fowler will be caught out of position in the offensive zone and the puck will end up in his own net as a result, but the same thing happens to Mike Green and all the other elite offensive defensemen in the NHL. Fowler would be best served to return to Windsor for at least one more season.

4. Nino Niederreiter (LW, Portland-WHL): As a 17 year old, Niederreiter seemingly took the entire country of his native Switzerland on his shoulders and led his team to a gigantic upset of Russia in the World Junior quarterfinal. He finished the tournament with six goals and ten points in seven games and announced his arrival as a top prospect for the upcoming draft. At 6’2” and over 200 pounds, Niederreiter has the size and skill to turn into an elite offensive forward in the NHL if he continues to develop. The fact he decided to leave Switzerland and play this season in the WHL can only help his development in the long term.

5. Alex Burmistrov (C, Barrie-OHL): Burmistrov is 6’0, which is plenty tall enough to play in the NHL these days. Yet his 150 pound frame needs some serious work. Burmistrov had 65 points in 62 games with Barrie in his first season in the OHL. As always, it’s a good sign when any European player is willing to come over and play in North America at such a young age. Burmistrov works his tail off (which is sometimes a serious problem with young Russian players) and if he bulks up, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a solid point producer in the NHL. Just don’t expect to see him for a few seasons.

6. Brett Connolly (RW, Prince George-WHL): If Connolly didn’t struggle all season with hip injuries (he was limited to just 16 games), he would have been a lock for the top five and would perhaps have gone in the top three. He’s ranked 11th overall by the I.S.S., which is all but unheard of for a guy who played as few games as Connolly did. Teams are going to seriously review Connolly’s medical records, but he has the potential to be an elite sniper at the NHL level if he can shake the injury bug.

7. Erik Gudbranson (D, Kingston-OHL): Gudbranson is 6’4” and if he can get up to about 220 pounds (he’s 195 now), he can be a dynamic defender in both zones. He doesn’t skate as well as Fowler, but he’s far more polished in his own zone and his offensive game doesn’t get enough credit. Gudbranson struggled with a knee injury for much of the year that limited him to 41 games, but he tallied 68 penalty minutes, which translates to about 140 in a full season. If a team is willing to wait a couple years, they could have a heck of a defender on their hands.

8. Brandon Gormley (D, Moncton-QMJHL): Gormley is a defenseman who is known for having a solid all-around game. He does nothing great, but everything well. He had 43 points in 58 games this past season with Moncton, so he obviously has some offensive ability. Gormley will almost certainly go in the top ten and he could go as high as number five to the Islanders. He’s the type of defenseman that winning teams need.

9. Kirill Kabanov (LW, Moncton-QMJHL): The fact it says that Kabanov plays for Moncton is a little deceiving. After 22 games, Kabanov left the Wildcats for reasons that aren’t totally known. Most believe it was Moncton who asked Kabanov to leave. He’s been described as everything from selfish to lazy, but he‘s as talented as anyone in the draft. Moncton ended up winning the QMJHL and played in the Memorial Cup, so Kabanov missed a chance to play on junior hockey’s biggest stage. To be honest, there’s no real reason to expect Kabanov to come back to play in North America anytime soon, but someone is eventually going to take him and try to hit a home run. He’s ranked 7th by the I.S.S., but he could go as late as the third round.

10. Vladimir Tarasenko (RW, Novosibirsk-KHL): Tarasenko joins Kabanov as another Russian who may never come over to North America to play. The fact he plays for his hometown team in Novosibirsk doesn’t help the matter. Tarasenko is only 5’11”, but he has a wide base at over 200 pounds and he’s good in front of the net for a player his size. Tarasenko is another player who could drop big time if no team is willing to risk a high pick on a player who may never come here to play.

11. Derek Forbort (D, US NTDP): The combination of Forbort’s 6’5” frame and his puck moving ability will get him drafted in the top 15 and possibly the top ten. As many as three defensemen from the US NTDP program have a chance to go in the first round and Forbort is the best prospect of the bunch. He needs more experience but he has the chance to be a fantastic two-way defender.

12. Austin Watson (RW, Peterborough-OHL): Watson’s story has become pretty well known in the junior hockey circles. He began the season with OHL powerhouse Windsor, but when he was approached midseason about a possible trade to a weaker team in Peterborough, he agreed in hopes of raising his draft status. It worked. Watson plays as hard as anyone in the draft and he works his tail off in both zones. He may top out as a 20-goal scorer in the NHL, but he does enough other things well to be worthy of a mid-first-round pick.

13. Jeff Skinner (C, Kitchener-OHL): Many players like Skinner are being taken in the first round these days. Ten years ago, he never would have had a chance to play in the NHL, but with the rule changes he will get his shot. Skinner is listed at 5’10”, though he’s closer to 5’9”, but he has all the talent in the world. After scoring 27 goals with Kitchener in his last season, he upped that total to 50 in 2009-10. If a team has the guts to overlook his size, they could have quite a goal scorer on their hands in a few years.

14. Jack Campbell (G, US NTDP): After starting goalie Mike Lee struggled in the World Junior gold medal game this past January, Campbell came on in relief and helped lead his team to the victory. Campbell has good size at 6’2”, and he moves laterally very well. He’s heading to Windsor (OHL) next season, so he will get a chance to show his skills while playing for the defending back-to-back Memorial Cup champs. He’s head and shoulders above any other goalie in the draft.

15. Ryan Johansen (C, Portland-WHL): If Johansen can get from his current weight of 190 up to about 215, he has the chance to be a dominant forward. Consistency is an issue, but it is for many players at Johansen’s age. Some scouts say Johansen’s numbers were elevated because he centered Nino Niederreieter for the entire season, but there’s no overlooking his combination of size and skill.

16. Nick Bjugstad (C, Blaine H.S.-Minnesota): Scouts are having the same problem with Bjugstad that they had with Chris Kreider at last year’s draft. He played against inferior competition in high school, so it’s difficult to get a true read on how productive a season he truly had. Kreider ended up at Boston College this year and had a fantastic freshman year. Bjugstad will be off to the University of Minnesota next year. He’s clearly the top high school player in the draft and he almost certainly be drafted higher than his I.S.S. ranking of 24th.

17. John McFarland (C, Sudbury-OHL): Every year there seems to be a player with the issues McFarland currently faces. He played for a bad team and his production suffered. He played well for Team Canada at a couple of national tournaments when he was surrounded by better players, but he managed just 50 points in 64 games for Sudbury and looked bad and disinterested in doing so. His talent level is off the charts, but the commitment has to be a heck of a lot better for him to reach his full potential.

18. Mikael Granlund (C, HIFK-Finland): Granlund battles hard and has a good touch around the net; but he isn’t a great skater, which makes it more difficult for players his size to succeed in the NHL. Despite his shortcomings, Granlund had 40 points in 43 games with HIFK this season, which is extremely impressive for a player who played most of the season as a 17-year-old. He’s another player with a couple red flags that has the potential to be a steal.

19. Evgeny Kuznetsov (C, Chelyabinsk-KHL): Kuznetsov’s biggest issue on draft day will be the same one that Vladimir Tarasenko faces. He plays in the KHL for his hometown team and it remains to be seen if he will ever come to North America. The fact he had just a pair of goals and no assists at the World Junior Championships is a bit more forgiving considering how bad the entire Russian team was at the event. He has the talent, but the fact he may never come over and his inconsistency may make it difficult for Kuznetsov to sneak into round one.

20. Mark Pysyk (D, Edmonton-WHL): There isn’t much to write about when it comes to Pysyk’s style of play. He’s a very safe and steady defenseman who doesn’t stand out. He should easily play ten plus years in the NHL assuming he develops as predicted - players like that are hard to find these days.

21. Quinton Howden (LW, Moose Jaw-WHL): Howden’s 65 points in 65 games with Moose Jaw this season is a bit deceiving. He doesn’t project to score that much as a pro, but he does other things to help his team win. He’s a very good forechecker and he has good size at 6’2”. He could eventually be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL and will also help on the penalty kill.

22. Riley Sheahan (C, Notre Dame-WCHA): You don’t see many players like Sheahan taken in the first round. He projects as strictly a defensive forward in the NHL and most clubs think those are easier to find than scoring forwards; and as a result they aren’t taken very high in the draft. Sheahan had just 17 points this season with Notre Dame and his draft stock will likely drop as a result. Sheahan is very good at what he does; he just doesn’t score much.

23. Jon Merrill (D, US NTDP): Merrill is more developed physically than some of the other defensemen in the draft, and as a result he has a good chance to go in the first round. He’s 6’3” and already about 200 pounds, so he doesn’t need to bulk up as much as some of the other defensemen do. He skates pretty well for his size and his game has no glaring weaknesses.

24. Brock Nelson (C, Warroad H.S.-Minnesota): Nelson had 53 goals and 95 points in 31 games with Warroad this season. It’s just another indication of how difficult it is to get a read on high school players. You can teach a lot of things, but you can’t teach Nelson’s 6’3”, 205” pound frame. Teams will really have to rely on their scouting staff if they take a player like Nelson.

25. Jarred Tinordi (D, US NTDP): All you need to know about Tinordi is that he’s 6’5” and 205 pounds at age 18. He plays a hard physical game and has the ability to be a shut down defender as a pro. He also skates pretty well for a player his size. He should sneak into the second half of the first round.

26. Emerson Etem (C, Medicine Hat-WHL): Etem’s puck skills and scoring ability are just average, but he’s a brilliant skater and as a result will likely be a first round pick. But since he skates so well and battles hard, he creates tons of chances for himself and his linemates. The California native scored 37 times in his first season in the WHL.

27. Jaden Schwartz (C, Tri City-USHL): Schwartz is a more talented version of Ryan O’Reilly, who was selected with the first pick of the second round last year and proceeded to play the entire season in the NHL with Colorado. Schwartz will likely need another couple years to develop, but he’s talented and he works his tail off.

28. Tyler Pitlick (C, Minn. State Mankato-WCHA): Pitlick plays hard and is pretty talented, but it remains to be seen if he will score much as a pro. He had 19 points in 38 games this past season in the WCHA, but no one scores much in that league so it’s hard to get a read on his long-term scoring ability. It appears he will be leaving school and going to the WHL next season, which will give whoever drafts him a better idea of his offensive ability.

29. Beau Bennett (RW, Penticton- Jr. A): Scouts are so split about Bennett’s long term potential. He had 120 points in 56 games with Penticton this past season and he may not even be a first round pick. Bennett is good with the puck, but he’s virtually invisible without it. Bennett had 79 assists this past season and is seen as one of the best pure playmakers in the draft.

30. Alex Petrovic (D, Red Deer-WHL): Petrovic started the season with the potential to be a mid-first-round pick, now he may end up in the late second round. He’s 6’4 and 195 pounds at age 18, so he has the size to be an effective defender in his own zone. A lot of people think that by the second half of the year, his struggles were as much mental as they were physical. If he can get his game back together, someone is going to get a good player in Petrovic.