Friday, July 8, 2011

Been Away for too Long

Sorry I haven't been keeping posts up-to-date over the past two weeks... since joining The Hockey Writers, I've been pressing really hard to get as much content posted as possible. I hope to return with a lot more content following Bruins Development Camp with my top Bruins' Prospects and several other articles....

Thanks for your patience, and hope to be back very soon with new content!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bruins Top Draft Options at 9th Overall

This post was originally published at The Hockey Writers

Assuming the Boston Bruins retain the 9th overall pick, here are the five young men who are the most likely players available and desirable to B’s GM, Peter Chiarelli and Bruins’ management.

In all probability, the Bruins won’t get the opportunity to select Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Couturier, and Gabriel Landeskog. However, if any of those names manages to find his way down to 9th, assume the B’s will draft him.

Ryan Murphy, D [5’10, 176] Kitchener Rangers (OHL) – Despite putting up a lackluster performance at this year’s Draft Combine, Murphy is one of the most highly-sought young men in the upcoming NHL Draft.

On talent alone, Murphy is a top-5 pick. He’s certainly a risk, with his concussion history and diminutive stature. If he had a spotless injury history and two or three more inches in height, you’re probably looking at a top-three or even number one overall pick. Scoring more than a point per game with Kitchener this season (24-55-79), Murphy is scorer whose explosive potential from the blueline is so valuable in today’s NHL.

That being said, there are certainly several players of his height and weight playing defense at a high level in the NHL. Look at Erik Karlsson, Tobias Enstrom, Brian Rafalski and Lubomir Visnovsky; all offensive defensemen with size issues who’ve performed excellently in the NHL. Sure, Murphy needs to put on some pounds and strength to hold up to the rigors of League play. That being said, while his defense is a work in progress he’s made significant strides over the past year.

Murphy has elite skating ability both laterally and north-south. He possesses a plus-plus shot with excellent power and release. His puck skills are top notch as is his ability to create offense for himself and others. Murphy is a dynamic player whose floor is a potent powerplay specialist and whose ceiling is a dynamic and dominant offensive defenseman.

Murphy fits with the Bruins, not only because of his ability to instantaneously take over as top defensive prospect and down the line become the type of potent blueline talent the B’s haven’t had since Raymond Bourque wore the captain’s “C”.

Why the Bruins Take Him: Because his upside is ridiculous; Because they think his risk factors are overstated; Because he fills an organizational need and is the best player available; Because he’s dynamic with a unique skillset.

Why the Bruins Pass: Because they worry about hid concussion history; Because they find his Draft Combine performance worrying; Because a faller is just too good to pass up.

Chance of him falling to the Bruins: 40%; Chance of the Bruins taking him if available: 80%

Ryan Strome, C [6’1, 183] Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) – The talented forward from Niagara was one of the major climbers this season, rocketing up draft boards to be a borderline top-5 pick by the start of the Ontario Hockey League postseason. However, a mediocre performance in those playoffs has allowed some doubts to creep into the minds of scouts, and his value has taken a bit of a hit....

To continue reading the remainder of this post, please head over to THW.

Bruins Off-Season Strategy

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs concluded, the Boston Bruins have the enviable task of retooling their Cup Champion Club before the 2011-2012 season. Whether through re-signing players like Michael Ryder, Brad Marchand and Tomas Kaberle , picking through what looks to be a relatively barren free agent market, or delving into some risky trades, B’s General Manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins management team have begun a challenging offseason.

Brad Marchand appears to be first on the Bruins’ list of must-have re-signs. Recent RFA contracts handed out to Michael Grabner, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrick Berglund elucidate what Marchand could expect to receive. Expect the Bruins to get him done by the Draft or soon afterward, with a 2-to-5 year deal with an average annual value (AAV) close to three million dollars.

Michael Ryder might have played himself into a contract with his solid (if inconsistent) performance in the 2011 postseason. Ryder will find it difficult to match the 3-year, 12 million dollar deal he signed with Boston in 2008 after two consecutive seasons where he couldn’t top 20 goals or 45 points. He probably won’t sniff 3 million AAV with the B’s, but if he wants to take a hometown discount and stay with a Cup Contender, the Bruins’ management could see his frequent chemistry with wunderkind Tyler Seguin as reason enough and re-up Ryder with a 2 year, 4-5 million total contract.

Tomas Kaberle presents Chiarelli with perhaps his most difficult decision of the offseason. Kaberle cost the B’s quite a bit when they acquired him in February… top Prospect Joe Colborne, the B’s own 2011 1st round pick and a 2012 conditional second rounder that has already vested due to the B’s qualification for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Kaberle’s mediocre play has earned him the ire of many Boston fans who find his price too rich for his production (1 goal and 19 assists in 48 regular season and postseason games with the B’s). But since his value has fallen precipitously since putting on the spoked-B, the Bruins’ Brass might be able to finagle the Czech defender’s contract demands to under 4 million per annum and under 4 years. It would be difficult for Chiarelli to turn down a puck-mover of Kaberle’s stature at that wage given the likely exorbitant prices the premier offensive defensemen on the market will garner.

Should the B’s fail to hail Kabs (awful, I know) there are several premium puck-moving offensive defenders available in the unrestricted free agent market. Among the names being bandied about include Christian Ehrhoff, James Wisniewski, Joni Pitkanen and Andrei Markov. Wisniewski would probably be the best-fit but signs point to him re-joining the Habs; or this Michigan native could hook up with the Red Wings. Pitkanen has been the supposed darling of Boston’s management for a long while now, but his lack of grit and low point production raise red flags which won’t be assuaged by his presumed steep contract demands. Markov’s injury history is enough to send shivers down the spine of any who offer him a contract, despite his high-end abilities. Ehrhoff’s generally “soft” play has earned the disdain of more than a few respected B’s insiders and the massive contract he’s likely to command will likely dissuade the Bruins from making all but the most cursory inquiries.

Another option for the Bruins’ management team is to pursue is a trade for one of the better-fitting (and perhaps less pricey) offensive defenders on the RFA market. Earlier this season Bostonians heard rumors of the B’s interest in RFA Keith Yandle, former BU Terrier and current Coyote. However, Yandle is an excellent young player whose rights are controlled by Phoenix and may cost more than the B’s are willing to pay. Zach Bogosian is another option, and might be available considering his dissatisfaction with the Thrashers/Jets organization and placement on the depth chart behind Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien.

Other RFA options abound, but since Toronto owns the Bruins’ second-rounder, they’ll need to make a trade or offer-sheet the player in question with a specific annual salary where the compensation wouldn’t include that second-rounder (Only Offer Sheets under 1.5 million, between 3 and 4.5 million or over 7.5 million AAV can be advanced by the B’s this year without that aforementioned 2nd round pick).

With the UFA market for forwards seemingly bleak, there are only a few options to fill the holes left by Mark Recchi and possibly Ryder. Ville Leino, Jussi Jokinen, Tomas Fleischmann, and Brooks Laich are all viable options, but none being a significant upgrade over either Rex or Ryder. With the dearth of available forwards, expect at least a few of those guys to be significantly overpaid by the time the 2011-12 season rolls around.

The minimal options in the UFA market might provoke the B’s into trading for a sniping winger, one of their two primary institutional needs. Look for the Bruins to make a concerted effort to acquire someone with 35+ goal potential.

Marian Hossa has been one guy B’s followers have focused on, and his considerable talents would be a welcome addition to the Boston lineup. Unfortunately, Chicago may not be fielding offers for the Slovak Sniper with the projected increase in the salary cap. Other options include pricey guys like Dany Heatley, Marian Gaborik, Ales Hemsky and even David Booth.

Expect the B’s to test the waters during the Brad Richards sweepstakes. If they get indications that Richards would take a decent pay cut to play for potentially the best team in the East, expect them to be aggressive and make a significant play to sign the best available forward. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from a certainty, but it’s also significantly more likely than some would consider. With Marc Savard perhaps calling it a career, the B’s could be a dark-horse contender for the talented soon-to-be former Dallas Star.

In any case, despite the elation following the Bruins sixth Stanley cup victory, the Boston Bruins are looking at a very short and busy offseason. The B’s drive to repeat as Champs starts now.

Boston Bruins - Underdogs No More

This post was originally published at The Hockey Writers

As Cup Champions at last, the Boston Bruins are on top of the world. They emphatically deserve the title of victors, the best team in the land, but arguably not the most talented. The B’s were overstated as underdogs in skill by many who cover the game, but they played with the hearts of lions and were rewarded with Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Considered by many to be a team whose talent level was underwhelming at the best, and certainly not the equal of the Western Conference Champion Canucks, the Bruins raised the Cup Wednesday night in Vancouver. With no players in the top-35 regular season scorers, and team speed that could best be described as “mediocre”, experts around the league found it hard to believe that this squad could compete at the highest levels.

In recent years, Stanley Cup Champions had pinnacle skill guys like Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with Chicago in ’10; Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with Pittsburgh in ’09, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom with Detroit in ’08. In fact, no team has won the Cup since the lockout (till the Bruins) with fewer than two top-35 scorers.

Each Cup-winner since the lockout has had a player in the top-ten in league scoring, save for Anaheim in ’07, which had Teemu Selanne sitting just outside at 11th. The Bruins top scorers were Milan Lucic and David Krejci, whose 62 points each were good for a tie for 39th in the NHL. The B’s did have several sterling postseason performances, including Krejci’s playoff-leading 12 goals and 23 points.

One can understand the reticence of many to label the B’s as prime Cup contenders. Their perceived talent gap when facing three of the top seven offenses (Philly, Tampa and Vancouver) is well documented. However, the pundits and experts failed to account for the magnificent heart and indomitable drive of the Bruins.

It takes considerable effort and will to come back from 2-0 deficits in two challenging series, to face elimination in three game sevens and win them all, to overcome the losses of Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton, and to silence the myriad critics and skeptics throughout the season.....

For the complete article, please head over to THW, thanks!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Game 7 Tonight, Can You Believe It?!

Game seven, tonight, fans.

Holy s*#%!

Did anyone expect this scenario to unfold when just last season the B’s were unable to close out their opponent, the Flyers with four opportunities to do so? In their failure, becoming the third NHL team and fourth in all of North American professional sports to lose a best-of-seven series they’d started with three victories.

Did anyone see last year’s least potent NHL offense turning it all around?

Did anyone expect a Marc Savard-less Bruins to charge all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals with a power-play percentage in the single-digits?

Did anyone predict such an absolute monster year for goalie Tim Thomas? A year where he would be the obvious Vezina winner by Mid-December? A year that Thomas would set the record for highest save percentage?

Did anyone foresee Thomas’ lights-out postseason performance? Anyone who would have argued that Thomas would be affirmed by most credible pundits as the Conn Smythe trophy winner with three games to go in the Cup final?

Did anyone believe that Nathan Horton after serving a six-year sentence with the Florida Panthers would erupt in his first taste of postseason action? Becoming the virtual embodiment of clutch by scoring two game-seven, series-clinching goals – in one postseason?

Did anyone think that Tyler Seguin, the B’s 19-year-old rookie, would step up in the absence of Patrice Bergeron to score three goals and six points in the first two games of his postseason career in the Eastern Conference e Final?

Did anyone imagine the slow-footed and diminutive ancient, Mark Recchi would contribute at such a high level, when he’s closer to cashing Social Security checks than being in Seguin’s draft class.

Did anyone fathom that the underdog Bruins would manage to shut down the high-flying Canuck powerplay through six games; that the B’s would be able to limit the production of Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler to two goals and six points total through today; and that the B’s would outscore the ‘Nucks by eleven goals, 19 to 8 through six games, setting up a historical game seven?

It’s been an unreal season for the Bruins. I sincerely doubt there were many who predicted that this team would get to the Cup Final, let alone be one win away from hoisting sports’ most revered trophy in 2011. Even at the beginning of the postseason naysayers from within and without regarded the B’s as an also-ran.

This analyst admittedly was one of the many whose enthusiasm for the Bruins’ chances was tempered by honest acceptance of their many flaws and perceived understanding of their limited chances. How wrong we all were. Oft-maligned coach, Claude Julien, steered his team through the gales of the season and playoffs and is now one step, one win, perhaps one bounce of the puck away from the Stanley Cup –truly a remarkable accomplishment.

Game seven is upon us, folks. Bruins’ and hockey fans in general are going to be witness to a rare treat – a winner-take-all match tonight in Vancouver, the fifteenth such game in Stanley Cup Finals history. I suggest that you pull up a chair, grab a beer and enjoy. All the numbers, all the breakdowns, all the factoids mean nothing. The Bruins and Canucks meet in one game to determine the outcome of a season of effort. It should be a clash for the ages. I can’t wait.

I, at last, believe in the Bruins.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Diving and Embellishing: A Fool's Lament

The Stanley Cup will be at the rink, ready to be delivered to the waiting hands of Henrik Sedin should the Vancouver Canucks finish off the Bruins Monday night in Boston. The Cup, a shining representation of the talent, commitment and heart evinced by NHL champions through the years would then belong to the ‘Nucks and their exceedingly skilled club. Unfortunately, this analyst will feel no admiration for these would-be champions. Their pinnacle accomplishment will be forever marred by their pathetic and contemptuous attitudes and actions. Even prima donnas around the world will ridicule the unbelievably pitiful manner with which these purported champions displayed their character on and off the ice in this Stanley Cup Postseason.

There are those who will scoff at my disdain for the Canucks and ask “My, what sour grapes are these?” However partisan my opinion sounds, I can only assure that it is not. Those who have heard my labored rants on-air recognize my contempt for diving, feigning injury and the entire filthy rainbow of “gamesmanship”. If the Bruins I have loved since I was a mite decided it was in their best interests to become the most successful American divers since Greg Louganis, I would reject them as readily as I reject the Canucks – please do not doubt that. Unfortunately, the spectre of “gamesmanship” hangs over hockey like the Sword of Damocles, and I cringe as the meager threads preventing what would be (to me) the doom of the game I love appear at risk of snapping.

Now, just because I am calling out the diving and faking in the potential champs, doesn’t mean I haven’t found it elsewhere… at this point it has become a nearly ubiquitous practice among some teams, and worming its way into the hearts of others. Earlier this postseason, as Boston fans will no doubt recall, there were several egregious examples of it during the series with Montreal, as the talented but ill-mannered P.K. Subban unleashed some of the most heinous flops since Spider-Man the musical. A simple Youtube search yielded excellent if atrocious results, with Mike Ribero’s infamous “Flailing Mary” moment in the ’04 playoffs leading the way. Even Hub of Hockey favorite Brad Marchand is visibly guilty with two obvious embellishments this postseason (both of which were called).

Why is diving so prevalent? First of all, it’s an illegal act that’s rarely punished in-game, and even more rarely the recipient of supplemental discipline. Simultaneously, these acts of “gamesmanship” – even if they aren’t fruitful in producing a penalty, provoke opponents to rough and occasionally illegal actions, thereby raising the inherent value in diving. Simultaneously, the defenders of embellishers claim that divers and their ilk are often provoked into their actions at the hands of opponents whose cheap and/or rough activities go unnoticed or are tacitly permitted by league officials. In any case, even if provoked, this sort of cowardly “gamesmanship” only serves to diminish the game and the toughness and physicality supposedly extolled by the NHL and hockey as a whole. Divers and embellishers may give their team a better chance to win, but their antics are slowly drawing the life out of the game.

How does the NHL deal with this? A majority of the time, the diving/embellishment is missed entirely and the play will go on or the “victim” of the dive will be penalized. Only a fraction of the dives get called, and a majority of these will result in “matching minors” and 4 on 4 hockey (which usually rewards one team over another), even though a solid majority of these incidents are little or no fault of the non-diving party. Especially rare is the unattached embellishment minor, a call I’m not sure I’ve seen more than once in years of watching professional hockey. What else comes of rampant diving? Supposedly (according to rules 64.1 and 64.3 of the NHL rulebook) the player who is judged by the NHL’s board of supplementary discipline to have embellished, is to receive a written warning for a first offense, a $1,000 fine for a second offense and a one-game suspension for a third in a single season. I cannot find one instance of a player being suspended for embellishing, and only one instance of a player being fined for it.

In any case, it’s not enough. Diving is too prevalent in today’s game. I’ll venture a guess that in this postseason, between ten and twenty potential diving/embellishment calls go without punishment. This evinces an obvious problem in policy. The punishments for diving need to be stiffer, without question. As my compatriot and fellow diving-hater, Bill Ladd suggests, an effective way to combat the issue in-game would be to assess a double-minor in the case of a diving penalty being called, even in the event of an obstruction call being assessed in the other direction. Simultaneously, the league disciplinarians need to come down much harder on the offenders much the same way they plan to continue cracking down on hits to the head. If harsher penalties aren’t enacted, we can only look forward to more and more diving as the lax discipline encourages more offenders to try to push the system’s limits.

Now, plenty of the Bruins’ detractors will suggest that the B’s chippy and rough antics invite diving as a response to illegal physical play. This may be true, yet the league has already begun to crack down on cheap hits, it only seems fair play that diving should come under the same intense scrutiny. Physicality has always been a part of the game, always factored significantly in the soul of hockey, and however we may look at the sport now, players have policed themselves throughout hockey’s history. What’s now considered “dirty” might very well have been considered tame and commonplace in hockey’s past. The league must find a middle path, to eliminate the most unnecessary and dirty activities in the modern game while simultaneously preserving the physicality and brutality that makes the game endlessly entertaining. Likewise, there’s never going to be a 100% effective method of eliminating embellishment from the game, but the current system is just not working.

I hate to play this card, perhaps the last bastion of this dedicated hockey appreciator though it seems like the lamenting whimper of someone whose cause is lost. I’m not trying to use this soap-box for the purpose of decrying and diminishing the (at this point) potential Vancouver victory. I simply desire to call-to-arms those who would fight to prevent hockey’s descent into the realm currently occupied by soccer and basketball where diving, faking and embellishments are so unquestionably omnipresent. We’re not there yet, but a Vancouver victory as Champions not only of the NHL, but of the embellishment and dive, could be the final blow heralding in an age where this “gamesmanship” will not be admonished, but coveted and commended. Should diving become so prevalent amongst hockey’s players that its seen as a nearly ubiquitous act around the League, this magnificent game will find itself less one fan, certainly.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mock Draft One, Part Three, Picks 26-50

26. Washington Capitals: Vladislav Namestnikov, C – London (OHL) – The slick young Russian center is all kinds of talented. He’s one of the most talented skaters in the draft – he possesses a high-end top speed, excellent acceleration (seems to blow by defenders at will), and a top-notch agility level. He’s got Datsyukian puck skills and is exceptionally shifty in tight places. He’s got great vision, and can look off defenders to find the guy he wants, open. His shot is merely above-average, but he’s got a quick release and as he gets stronger he’s only going to have a more potent weapon. He’s still very unfinished in the defensive end and sometimes plays ‘weak’ even for his 6’, 165 lbs. frame. However, he sets his edges to gain leverage well, and gets to the nasty areas of the ice despite his physical shortcomings. If he fills out, he could become a very dominant offensive player. Washington sees an opportunity to add to their Russian talent pool, and does so, grabbing a guy I see with the talent of a top-10 pick…and one of the big steals in this draft.

Projects at Prime as: 22-43-65 (Best-Case 30-50-80) (Worst-Case 15-40-55)

Playstyle Compares to: Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Samsonov

ETA: 2013

Wild Card Selection – Victor Rask

27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Joe Morrow, D – Portland (WHL) – This talented, young puck-moving defenseman Kirk Leudeke described as “flying under the radar” could shock many by being a first-round selection in the 2011 draft. With the much-sought-after ability to make excellent first passes out of the defensive zone, and excellent skating ability, Joe is one guy not likely to be available past 40. He’s not a plus defensive player, though he will throw his body around and drop the gloves; but expect that to improve with time. After a nine-goal, 49-point season with Portland, bet on seeing Morrow’s name called in the first day or very early on the second. Tampa snatches him up to bolster their defensive prospect corps and hopefully one day anchor a second pairing or join Victor Hedman on the first.

Projects at Prime as: 10-30-40 (Best-Case 15-40-55) (Worst-Case 5-25-30)

Playstyle Compares to: Mark Giordano, Cody Franson

ETA: 2013-14

Wild Card Selection – Connor Murphy

28. San Jose Sharks: Ty Rattie, RW – Portland (WHL) – Surprisingly being the third Winterhawk taken, the Alberta native might look like no more than a project pick to some. His outstanding upside in the offensive zone will no doubt garner serious looks from teams earlier in the draft, with his superb playmaking, puckhandling, offensive acumen and vision being very potent selling points. However, Rattie has made his money so far as a perimeter player; and without game-breaking skating ability that is no easy task in the new NHL. His shot is only a bit above-average and while he doesn’t shy away from the physical aspects of the game, he frequently takes the path of least resistance. Still, he’s probably a great value selection in the late 20s, and San Jose picks him up to fortify their future.

Projects at Prime as: 15-40-55 (Best-Case 20-50-70) (Worst-Case 10-30-40)

Playstyle Compares to: Loui Eriksson Jason Spezza-lite

ETA: 2014

Wild Card Selection – J.T. Miller

29. Vancouver Canucks Tyler Biggs, RW – USNTDP (USHL) – Biggs certainly is worthy of his surname, at 6’3”, 210 lbs., he’s a two-way power-forward with soul. He may not have the offensive upside that’s sought in a first-rounder but at worst he’ll be a third- or fourth-line grinder who can put up 10-20 goals a year while providing a great physical two-way game and excellent leadership. At best, we could be seeing a Lucic-type power forward who gets to the dirty areas and can drop ‘em. He displays very good skating ability and a great cycling game. He would be a no-doubter for the top-20 if he was a bit more creative, but perhaps that will develop in time. Vancouver snatches him up here late in the first round due to his indisputable NHL future and physical tools, adding some significant sandpaper to their organization.

Projects at Prime as: 15-25-40 (Best-Case 25-30-55) Worst-Case (15-20-35)

Playstyle Compares to: Nathan Horton without the creativity and plus shot, smaller Dan Boyle

ETA: 2013-14

Wild Card Selection – Scott Mayfield

30. Toronto Maple Leafs: J. T. Miller, C – USNTDP (USHL) – Another sterling young product of the U.S. National Development Program, Miller has the makings of an excellent two-way center. While he may not have first-round upside (this analyst estimates his career high for points will probably be in the mid-fifties) he’s the type of guy you need to be a successful team. With a plus-shot and strong skating, he’s no slouch offensive prospect either and will probably develop into a Ryan-Kesler-type netfront presence. When his head’s screwed-on right, he can be even better, but all too often he seems to lack the offensive awareness to be a future top-line player. Toronto wisely gobbles him up at 30, hoping he reaches his high-end after some years with North Dakota.

Projects at Prime as: 20-25-45 (Best-Case 30-30-60) (Worst-Case 15-25-40)

Playstyle Compares to: Patrice Bergeron (with more net-front presence and worse acumen)

ETA: 2014

Wild Card Selection – Victor Rask

31. Edmonton Oilers: John Gibson, G – USNTDP (USHL) – It’s a growing trend in the NHL to shy away from using high draft picks on young goalies, which is probably the only reason I don’t have the number one goalie in the draft going in the late teens or 20s. Gibson has the talent to be a starter in the NHL, but the drive and poise to challenge for all-star teams. He’s got plus athleticism, a big 6’3” frame, and quickness to react to today’s quick-strike offenses. He played particularly well in the World U-18s, greatly solidifying his value to scouts. With prospects Oliver Roy and Tyler Bunz failing to live up to their potential thus far, and Devin Dubnyk improving but far from a bona fide #1, Edmonton would be wise to select this rising star (should he be available here) as their goaltender of the future. His value even in the early second round is very high, so should he fall, the Oil should have no qualms about taking him.

Projects at Prime as: 2.45-.915-35 (Best-Case 2.15-.925-40) (Worst-Case 2.75-.900-20)

Playstyle Compares to: Jonas Hiller

ETA: 2015-2016

Wild Card Selection – David Honzik

32. St. Louis Blues: Connor Murphy, D – USNTDP (USHL) – The Blues make it four straight from the U.S. National Team Development Program with their selection of defender Connor Murphy with the 32nd overall pick. The second Murphy defenseman taken is a big, talented guy with both offensive and defensive promise. The son of former NHL (and Bruin) blueliner Gord Murphy, the young man has a powerful slapper, strong skating and excellent defensive positioning for a kid his age. On the downside, Murphy is not extremely physical and lingering injury concerns might keep him on the outside of the first round. As a result, he’s a risky selection at 32 for the Blues, but unless they like Mayfield significantly better, Murphy has the ability to be a top-pairing guy for their future defense.

Projects at Prime as: 10-30-40 (Best-Case 15-40-55) (Worst-Case 10-20-30)

Playstyle Compares to: Smaller and less physical Victor Hedman; Joe Corvo with better size

ETA: 2014

Wild Card Selection – Scott Mayfield

33. Florida Panthers: Nicklas Jensen, LW – Oshawa (OHL) – While I may have Jensen far lower than most draft boards, I am not suggesting he is without first round size and talent. The Great Dane scored at just under a point per game during his rookie OHL season with the Generals, and owns a rifle of a shot with a lightning-quick release. His physical tools are impressive and he plays as big as his frame. He’s not an exceptional skater but that shouldn’t matter given how outstanding his offensive potential is. His primary problem is inconsistency and effort. And it’s a pretty considerable and widely-known problem that could keep this mid-1st talent out till the early second. If he is available here, Florida will snatch him out without much worry and hope the character issues work themselves out.

Projects at Prime as: 25-25-50 (Best-Case 35-30-65) (Worst-Case 20-20-40)

Playstyle Compares to: Erik Cole, Less Gritty Scott Hartnell

ETA: 2013-14

Wild Card Selection – Shane Prince

34. New York Islanders: Gregory Hofmann, C – Ambri-Piotta (SUI) – Perhaps a reach here in the early second round, Hofmann played his first full season in the Swiss A League against men, tallying a respectable twelve points in 41 games. He’s a very skinny 6’0” 165, but he has top-end puck skills and is capable of extremely creative play. He’s capable of bursty speed and has nice moves in close. His English has improved significantly and outwardly described his desire to play in the NHL, which may have upped his stock significantly and bumped him out of the late and into the early-mid second. The Isles already have a Swiss presence in Nino Niederreiter, so they may feel more confident in bringing him in.

Projects at Prime as: 15-30-45 (Best-Case 20-45-65) (Worst-Case 10-25-35)

Playstyle Compares to: A Skinny Travis Zajac, Andy McDonald

ETA: 2015

Wild Card Selection – Dmitri Jaskin

35. Ottawa Senators: Scott Mayfield, D – Youngstown (USHL) – At 6’4”, 200 lbs., the defenseman from the USHL is really raw and there are some huge questions about his awareness and general hockey acumen. However, with outstanding size, strong all around offensive capabilities (plus shot, plus breakout and plus playmaking) and a strong defensive abilities; someone’s bound to take him, and sooner rather than later. Ottawa hopes their strong development program can effectively teach young Scott so that in a few short years he’ll be sharing a defensive line with Erik Karlsson.

Projects at Prime as: 10-20-30 (Best-Case 20-35-55) (Worst-Case 10-10-20)

Playstyle Compares to: Anton Babchuk, Keith Ballard

ETA: 2015-16

Wild Card Selection – Rickard Rakell

36. Chicago Blackhawks: Stuart Percy, D – Mississauga (OHL) – Percy is not the flashiest defenseman in this year’s draft. He doesn’t have any real high-end physical abilities or puck skills. He’s not the most punishing hitter or a top outlet passer. However, he’s one of the smartest kids available, plays sound all-around hockey and very rarely makes critical mistakes. He projects very solidly as the anchor of a second defensive pair with his decent mobility and overall acumen. With a few more years under his belt and a bit more mass to face the rigors of NHL play, he’s a virtual lock to make it. The Blackhawks understand the need for intelligent and mobile d-men in today’s NHL and snag Percy a little earlier than most would project.

Projects at Prime as: 8-22-30 (Best-Case 10-30-40) (Worst-Case 5-20-25)

Playstyle Compares to: Kevin Bieksa-lite (and more Cerebral)

ETA: 2013-14

Wild Card Selection – Adam Clendening

37. Columbus Blue Jackets: Shane Prince, LW – Ottawa (OHL) – The small winger from Ottawa has excellent playmaking abilities and a quick wrist-shot that is as sneaky as it is underutilized. He isn’t fast, certainly not for his size, but he’s strong on his skates and uses his low center of gravity to shield the puck and maintain possession against bigger and stronger opponents. His 88 points this year with the ‘67s make him one of the more prolific guys this far down. Some have questions about his compete level and consistency, I see a kid who needs some time to grow but is undeniably a NHL-caliber talent capable of being an effective second-line forward… particularly if he learns to more effectively use his shot.

Projects at Prime as: 15-30-45 (Best-Case 25-45-70) (Worst-Case 10-30-40)

Playstyle Compares to: Alex Tanguay; a less flashy Ales Hemsky

ETA: 2014

Wild Card Selection – Phillip Danault

38. Nashville Predators: Daniel Catenacci, LW – Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) – The former no. 1 overall pick in the OHL priority selection had a disappointing first season with the Greyhounds in 09-10, only scoring 10 goals and 30 points – pretty underwhelming for a guy with so much promise. However, in his second season he put up 26 goals and 71 points, not exactly earth-shattering numbers, but far more in-line with what we perceive as his potential. He’s got excellent speed and agility, can be ridiculously creative and is the type of player an offense can run through. However, he gets in trouble by taking too many dumb penalties and by trying to do too much himself (and his size certainly leaves a good deal to be desired). He could just as easily be a bottom liner as an all-star at the next level, so grabbing in the second is a risky gambit. Nashville needs some productive forwards in their system so a guy like Catenacci is a good bet to wager on at this point.

Projects at Prime as: 20-35-55 (Best-Case 30-55-85) (Worst-Case 10-25-35)

Playstyle Compares to: Claude Grioux (at his best), a less smart (but faster) Patrice Bergeron

ETA: 2013

Wild Card Selection – Shane McColgan

39. Toronto Maple Leafs: Victor Rask, C – Leksands (Sweden-2) – Equal parts dynamic and infuriating, the young Swede came into the year topping many Euro draft rankings, and was believed to be a dark-horse candidate by some for a top-3 pick. How things have changed. Rask is now probably likely to be the fifth or even sixth Swede taken, and unless someone really liked what they saw last year or at the U-18s this year, he won’t be picked up until the second day. He’s got great hands, size and a good shot but his compete level is often significantly lacking. If he puts it all together he’d be a slam-dunk top-15 pick but as it stands he’ll be a nice value pick for a team like the Leafs in the early second round. Could be the steal of the draft if he gets his head on straight.

Projects at Prime as: 15-25-40 (Best-Case 35-45-80) (Worst-Case 15-15-30)

Playstyle Compares to: Olli Jokinen

ETA: 2014

Wild Card Selection --Seth Ambroz

40. Boston Bruins: David Musil, D Vancouver (WHL) – Musil was projected by some to be a top-10 pick before the season started. While he hasn’t regressed, the plethora of smooth-skating offensive defenseman ahead of him illustrates the Giant defenseman’s shortcomings. He might be one of the two or three best blueliners in the draft when it comes to in-zone play, but his heavy feet and lack of high-end offensive capabilities make him much less desirable as a first-round selection. His excellent athletic pedigree (son of a former NHL-er and nephew of Bobby Holik), excellent size (6’4”, 200+ lbs.) and powerful shot make him hard to pass up into the second round. Boston adds another top defender to its prospect corps, with the hopes that Murphy and Musil will one day form a dynamic duo wearing the spoked-B

Projects at Prime as: 10-15-25 (Best-Case 15-25-40) (Worst-Case 5-15-20)

Playstyle Compares to: Mike Komisarek (but less of an offensive liability)

ETA: 2014-15

Wild Card Selection – Dmitri Jaskin

And that does it for my top-40. Future updates of my draft board will discuss player movement within these ranks, (risers and fallers) and any additional info I come across. I leave you with ten picks to round out my top-fifty overall, which will presumably be part of future updates to the board.

41. St. Louis Blues: Rickard Rakell, C – Plymouth (OHL)

42. Carolina Hurricanes: Dmitri Jaskin, RW – Slavia Praha (Cze.)

43. Chicago Blackhawks: Michael St. Croix, C – Edmonton (WHL)

44. Dallas Stars: Adam Clendening, D – Boston University (NCAA)

45. Calgary Flames: Lucas Lessio, LW – Oshawa (OHL)

46. St. Louis Blues: Seth Ambroz, RW – Omaha (USHL)

47. Florida Panthers: Shane McColgan, RW – Kelowna (WHL)

48. Chicago Blackhawks: Matthew Nieto, LW – Boston University (NCAA)

49. Los Angeles Kings: Phillip Danault, C – Victoriaville (QMJHL)

50. New York Islanders: Colin Jacobs, C – Seattle (WHL)