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Darryl's Dispatch: Western Conference Draft Grades

Darryl Houston Smith

Darryl is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. Follow him on Twitter at @dhoustonsmith.

It takes a few years to really assess a draft, but with the NHL free agent season upon us and development camps set to open across North America, here is a down a dirty look at how things shook out in the Western Conference after the conclusion of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Of course, only time will tell just how well these teams really did, but there is something we can be certain of: Although the power of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) over player development remains supreme (with 107 of the 210 players taken at the draft being trained in the CHL), with the U.S. currently holding the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, 2010 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, and 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship titles, the American influence on the new NHL is stronger than ever. In the final tally of the 210 players selected in the draft, 59 (28%) were American-born; including 21 in the first two rounds. GM’s throughout the Western Conference drafted accordingly and for those of you about to begin your summer drafts in keeper and dynasty leagues, you should too.

Anaheim Ducks: A-

I really like the Ducks' draft. They picked up three players with high hockey IQs, upside offensive games and natural toughness that have become a hallmark of the Ducks. The trio of Cam Fowler (12th overall), Long Beach, California native Emerson Etem (29th overall), and Devante Smith-Pelly (42nd overall) are very solid picks and will add much-needed depth to the organization.

Chicago Blackhawks: A-

Focusing on adding players with both high-end skills and high hockey IQ with their first two picks, Kevin Hayes (24th overall) and Ludvig Rensfeldt (35th overall) worked out well for the Blackhawks. I think Rensfeldt is a lot closer to NHL-ready than Hayes and could prove to be a steal. The skills and brains approach continued in the second round with Justin Holl (54th overall) and Keith Seabrook-clone Stephen Johns (60th overall). The Blackhawks also sent a second-round pick to Toronto for the brother of Hayes and a decent prospect in his own right -- Jimmy Hayes. Including the Atlanta trade where Chicago picked up fast-rising prospect Jeremy Morin, the Blackhawks certainly made a nice haul on draft day.

Edmonton Oilers: A-

Edmonton got the player most likely to become the NHL’s next superstar in Taylor Hall (first overall) and came up with Tyler Pitlick (31st overall), who has the right mixture of brawn and skill that makes for a solid pick. Hall left Minnesota State University at Mankato after his freshman year to sign with Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL) for this coming season. "Tyler plays with a lot of offensive skill and confidence. He wants to make a difference and we feel he will be a tremendous fit with our club," said Tigers' GM/head coach Willie Desjardins. Pitlick has also been invited to the USA Hockey National Evaluation camp. The Oilers also dealt a sixth-round pick for restricted free agent (RFA) Colin Fraser from the Blackhawks. Once signed, Fraser will become the high-energy and experienced fourth-line center that the Oilers have been lacking.

St. Louis Blues: A-

Few 2010 draftees had a more compelling background story than Jaden Schwartz (14th overall) but he is also a very talented player who has the potential to delight Blues fans for a long time. Vladimir Tarasenko (16th overall), still has two years left on a prior commitment to Novosibirsk Sibir (KHL), but look for Tarasenko and his agent Mike Liut (an ex-Blues player) to get him signed to a Blues contract as soon as possible. Sure, I would be surprised if he leaves the KHL for the comforts of Peoria (AHL), but with talent like Tarasenko keeper leagues have to pounce -- just figure two years minimum before he can actually suit up for the Blues. "If he wasn't Russian, we wouldn't have had any chance to get him at 16," Blues scouting director Jarmo Kekalainen said of Tarasenko. "We would have never seen him there. We were aware of him and we accepted the risk." St. Louis also added Vladimir Sobotka, T.J. Hensick and Jaroslav Halak in recent trades.

Columbus Blue Jackets: B+

The Blue Jackets went for the player that impressed them the most -- which is not always as easy as it sounds -- in Portland C Ryan Johansen (fourth overall). Dalton Smith (34th overall) brings toughness and a game that should translate well to the NHL. Petr Straka (55th overall), Brandon Archibald (94th overall), and Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault (102nd overall), give this draft the depth that Columbus needed. Like Phoenix, Columbus was a team that also stayed away from non-domestically trained talent, a wise move after the Nikita Filatov affair.

Dallas Stars: B+

I love the ability of Jack Campbell (11th overall) and believe that given time he will develop into a No. 1 NHL goaltender, but I can’t help but wonder if Dallas made the right choice to fit its team. Sure, I had Campbell on my big board as my No. 3 overall player, but to get him, Dallas passed on both Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley (who were both in my Top 7) and Dallas really needs to improve the defensive depth. Adding either Fowler or Gormley to Patrick Nemeth would have been a stronger play. Speaking of Nemeth, the Stars got the big and powerful Swedish defenseman at the 41st overall pick. Potential deep sleeper LW Alexander Guptill (77th overall), is a nice long-range gamble with some offensive upside. Guptill has committed to Michigan (CCHA) for 2011.

Los Angeles Kings: B+

The Kings only had five picks -- including three in the top 100 – for the entire draft. But they added a huge and mobile defenseman in Derek Forbort (15th overall) and a trio of snipers in RW Tyler Toffoli (47th overall), C Jordan Weal, and at 158th overall Alexander Frolov-clone LW Max Kitsyn, all of whom look to be able to help the Kings in two or three years. Their other pick was used on a solid long-range prospect with size and a good hockey IQ -- defenseman Kevin Gravel (148th overall). Gravel has committed to St. Cloud State (WCHA) for 2011.

Minnesota Wild: B+

Four solid picks out of four, but could have done a little better since they were all in the first 60 selections? It’s hard to see how, since the Wild made sure that they got at least one guy who can step in for them next year in C Mikael Granlund (ninth overall) and their next three picks were wingers with upside -- RW Brett Bulmer (39th overall), LW Johan Larsson (56th overall) and LW Jason Zucker (59th overall) -- which addressed their biggest weakness coming into this draft; the need for more talented wingers in the pipeline.

Colorado Avalanche: B+

I like both Joey Hishon (17th overall) and Cal Pickard (49th overall). Hishon, if he can remain healthy, could be a real steal and I feel Pickard has the makings of a future No. 2 goalie. Colorado’s work with the next four picks is also impressive. Michael Bournival (71st overall), Stephen Silas (95th overall), Sami Aittokallio (10th overall), and Troy Rutkowski (137th overall) are all long-range players with decent upside.

Detroit Red Wings: C+

The Red Wings took a few gambles with their picks but it’s hard to argue with their track record. Sure, C Riley Sheahan (21st overall), had a lost season at Notre Dame but as I often say once you develop a skill you own that skill and the kid is a magician with the puck. A highly motivated Sheahan is bound to hit the ice next season. If he improves his desire level and can lift his skating a notch, then look out. Speaking of skills, Calle Jarnkrok (51st overall) has everything but height but he can make it in the new NHL. Back on the motivational front, the Wings also have their work cut out in getting the best out of both Louis-Marc Aubry (81st overall) and Teemu Pulkkinen (111th overall), but the payoff could be big.

Calgary Flames: C+

Having only four picks in the first 108 selections can put some serious pressure on a scouting department. Still, the Flames made the most of them, as Calgary went for a pair of teammates from Kootenay (WHL) -- C Max Reinhart (64th overall) and D Joey Leach (73rd overall. Both are long-range prospects who have continued to improve their games and now have pretty decent upside. The long-range prospecting continued with the selections of University of Wisconsin’s John Ramage (103rd overall) and Bill Arnold (108th overall) of the U.S. National Team Program. Both Reinhart’s and Ramage’s fathers played for Calgary back in the day. Better still was the cagey move Calgary made in picking up Henrik Karlsson from San Jose for a sixth-rounder. Karlsson is a deep sleeper currently on loan to Färjestad (SEL) who will make an ideal backup for Miikka Kiprusoff in 2011.

Nashville Predators: C+

Austin Watson (18th overall) is going to be a prototypical Predator -- a gritty player with a good solid two-way game and great hockey sense. Long-range sleepers Taylor Aronson (78th overall) and Patrick Cehlin (126th overall) are also in the Nashville mold and represent good gambles. Sergei Kostitsyn is a fair return for both Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd and could really develop in Nashville.

Phoenix Coyotes: C+

They went for overall depth and used their four picks in the top 57 well. D Brandon Gormley (13th overall), is going to give them the offensive catalyst they were looking for while making some teams unhappy that they passed on him – yes, I’m looking at you New York. With G Mark Visentin (27th overall), they went for the goalie they liked best and he may or may not have been there later on. I had him on my big board at 60 but the kid has the heart of a lion and can play. RW Philip Lane (52nd overall), C Oscar Lindberg (57th overall), and G Louis Domingue (138th overall) round out a more than decent haul for the Coyotes. Focusing on North American talent was also a wise move for the Coyotes in the long term.

Vancouver Canucks: C+

Vancouver gets the help it needed right away when it picked up a top-4 defenseman in Keith Ballard. There were not a lot of draft picks left after the Ballard deal. In fact, zero picks in the top 100. Canucks GM Mike Gillis still picked a nice gem in Massachusetts high school star D Pat McNally, who is a steal at 115 and projects to be a regular NHLer a few years down the road. McNally has committed to Harvard (ECAC). “Our commitment to draft and development hasn't changed,” Canucks GM Gillis said. “We have the same plan [for building the team] but it has been accelerated by a year in our minds. We didn't think we'd be this close. And we feel like we're even closer now.”

San Jose Sharks: C

The low grade is for only grabbing long-range U.S. high school prospects with their first three picks and for having little trade activity outside of a small return from the Evgeni Nabokov deal. In light of Nabokov moving on, I feel the Henrik Karlsson trade with Calgary could really come back to haunt them. The Sharks did things a little differently than most of the teams in the days leading up to the draft and made some pretty major decisions on their impeding free agents, but that is not what I’m grading here. I do like two of the three long-range choices made by the Sharks. Incoming BU freshman Charlie Coyle (28th overall), could develop into a solid player in about four years with a nice offensive upside. The same could be said of incoming Minnesota State freshman and deep sleeper Max Gaede (88th overall), who has size and has shown good playmaking ability and a high hockey IQ. Both picks are a decent gamble for the Sharks since they appear very deep at the forward position (as long as they can sign their remaining RFA forwards), so they don’t have to rush these two to develop.