Thursday, 14 June 2012

What You Can Expect at the 2012 NHL Draft


 In just 10 days the NHL will change their focus from the newly crowned Stanley Cup Champions, the L.A. Kings, to the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh. This draft is some what of a toss up. Some believe this is a strong and deep draft, whereas others believe it is a weak draft that lacks top tier talent. Only time will tell, but we're nearing the big day and there's a lot of expectations heading into it. What seems to be a common theme for the past few years, the big question will be "What will the Edmonton Oilers do with the first overall pick?". Unlike the past few years the Oilers have the ability to be more flexible with the pick, and go after more organisational needs rather then the "Best player available approach". With former first overall picks Taylor Hall (2010) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) proving they can play in this league and the emergence of 2008 22nd overall pick, Jordan Eberle, the Oilers are stacked up front. With that said their defence is very much lacking and this draft happens to be rich in defencive talent. Other notable issues that will likely be addressed at the draft are : "Will Rick Nash be traded?", "Where's Roberto Luongo going?", "Will pending UFA'S Zach Parise and Ryan Suter be traded?","Will season underachievers Eric Staal,Ryan Getzlaf, James VanRiemsdyk be traded?", "Will Jordan Staal be traded?" and less notable things such as "Who will be trading up or down in the draft?". I will try to touch base on all of these topics below so I hope you enjoy and remember to follow us on twitter! @PuckCentralHQ

       The biggest question heading into the draft is the Edmonton Oilers. Will they select Russian fire-power Nail Yakupov?, which will undoubtably make them one of the deepest offensive teams in the league(Hall,RNH,Eberle,Gagner,Paajarvi,Hemsky,Smyth,Omark), or will they trade down and take a defenseman, or even take a defenseman with the first overall pick?. In my opinion I would trade down to another spot in the top 10 and take one of the following three defenseman: Ryan Murray,Morgan Rielly, or Mathew Dumba. Ryan Murray would likely be the best choice of the three because he can come in and help right away whereas the other two will take more time to develop but could have higher ceilings or could bust completely but you run that risk with every player. The issue with trading down is if you want a player like Murray you likely have to trade down to Columbus at the 2nd overall pick because Murray won't be around for long and Columbus doesn't exactly have a lot to offer the Edmonton Oilers. So you could make an off the board pick and take Murray with the first pick but if it doesn't work out then the team will be forever haunted and scrutinised for not taking the consensus first overall pick Nail Yakupov and if they take Nail Yakupov, and he doesn't work out at least they the pick was justified because. But in the grand scheme of things that doesn't matter, a team will draft who ever they want. To throw my own "two-cents" in, I would say they should trade down to a pick where they can get Morgan Rielly. He's a great defenseman, with great puck moving abilities. Rielly missed most of the season with a torn ACL so he may have been able to challenge Murray more as the top defenseman available had he played the whole season.

      Next up, I'm going to talk about the big guns "Rick Nash" and "Roberto Luongo". For years Rick Nash trade rumours have been going around and we all thought that would be the end of them when he signed that big long-term contract with Columbus, the team that drafted him first overall, ten long years ago. However, the Blue Jackets continued to struggle and it seems Rick Nash has had enough. It has been publicised that Nash is concerned with the direction the Blue Jackets are heading in and doesn't seem to want to go through another rebuild (Has the rebuild ever stopped?), and rightfully. Nash isn't getting any younger and he's hitting the prime of his career, he deserves a chance to compete. Scott Howson at the trade deadline added more fuel to the fire when he publicly announced that Rick Nash had requested a trade. So I don't blame Nash for wanting out. With all that said, it won't be easy to move Nash. He has a no-movement clause in his contract to he ultimately dictates where he wants to go and it's reported that his list of teams is very small. It also appears that Howson is asking for a lot, and when I say a lot, I mean a lot. So I'm not sure teams are going to be willing to pay the price for him. With that said I think he'll most likely end up in San Jose. I know it doesn't appear that San Jose is on his list, and it's somewhat of a bold statement but I think he'll end up there because the team is a team that's ready to compete and he already has ties with a few of their top players. San Jose must then decide if they're willing to lose some key pieces to their future to acquire a player like Nash. Next we move onto Roberto Luongo. After years of fans pointing the finger at him he's had enough. It looked as though he had been demoted to the back-up role in Vancouver,behind Corey Schneider, after Vancouver's early exit in the 2012 Playoffs. It's rumoured that he submitted a short-3-5 team list of teams he'll go to and it seems that Florida,Tampa,Chicago, and Toronto are on that list (Not sure on this exactly, no one is). Luongo and Canucks GM Mike Gillis are suppose to meet sometime before the draft to discuss how Roberto is feeling and if he still feels a trade is in the best interest of himself and the team. The Luongo situation is an interesting one because of Roberto's age and the length of his contract(He's 33, and has 10 years left on it). Teams don't expect him to play the full 10 years but with a 5.5 million cap hit, teams are going to be uneasy about acquiring a goalie who's best days are behind him. Luongo has 2-3 years of good hockey left in him so it could be worth the risk to some teams, plus he'd be great for mentoring young goaltenders. Where I believe he'll end up is a bit of a toss up. I think Toronto or Tampa Bay are his two most likely destinations. I think the Leafs will go hard after him and have a lot of prospects and depth players they can offer Vancouver but will not be willing to give up first round picks to get him and Tampa Bay is the opposite. Tampa doesn't have a whole lot of prospects in the cupboard, and the ones they do have aren't exactly high calibre outside of Vladislav Namestnikov, their 2011 first-round pick, but they will likely be willing to part with first round draft picks because they're a team that's ready to compete, they're just lacking a goaltender who can compete as well. It also helps that they have two first round picks in this draft (the 10th overall pick and 19th overall pick from Detroit). If Luongo is going to get moved though, Mike Gillis will have to accept the fact that he won't get a huge, team changing package for Roberto Luongo. What it's going to come down to with these two players is whether teams are going to be willing to pay the price to get these two players, and I'm not sure if anyone is going to be.

     We move onto a couple of pending UFA'S. No doubt the big fish in this years sea of "Free Agents" are Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Both players were taken in the first round of the famous 2003 draft, and they've both been loyal to the teams that took them in that draft but now it looks like they'll be testing the market to see what else is out there. The Nashville Predators tried to acquire as much depth and skill as they could at the deadline to try and prove to Ryan Suter and Shea Weber (UFA next summer) that they were serious about competing, but they still found themselves with an early playoff exit after losing to the Phoenix Coyotes in the second round. The Preds have three big guns in Suter,Weber, and Rinne but can't afford to keep all three at market value. They signed Rinne to a long term deal earlier in the year so they're goal now is to try and lock Suter and Weber up long term but it doesn't seem likely, and there seems to be a good chance they lose both in the next couple years. The Parise situation is a bit different. He's been the top offensive player on the Devils for awhile and they even brought Kovelchuck in to help him out but a bad season last year that saw them finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and then a heart-breaking loss in the Stanley Cup finals a few days ago might have Parise in search of a change of scenery. Parise also will have to take a bit of pay-cut to stay in New Jersey because of the high salary of Ilya Kovelchuck. Both players appear as though they're heading to the open market to see what their worth is, so the Predators and the Devils must decide if they want to risk keeping them to negotiate longer, and possibly lose them for nothing, or trade their rights and get something for them. There's no better place to trade their rights then at the draft when teams often overpay for players of their calibre. My personal opinion on this situation is both teams should look at trading their rights because I don't see them resigning with these teams, I actually see them both signing in Detroit, as many people are speculating on.

     Next up we have "Underachievers who found their way into trade speculation" category. This season will feature such names as Ryan Getzlaf,Bobby Ryan,Eric Staal, and James VanRiemsdyk!. The likely hood of these players getting traded are very slim but there names continue to pop up due to a poor season. This happens every year at the draft, great players on teams who underachieve more then they achieve, finding themselves in non-stop trade speculation right up until the draft, then they don't get traded and it dies down a bit. That's the way it always worked, until last season when Philadelphia traded not just one of those players but both (Jeff Carter and Mike Richards of course). I believe the Philadelphia Flyers have paved the way for teams to unload some of their top players in order to "rebuild" or "reload" depending on how you want to look at it. Do I think a team like Anaheim will trade Getzlaf AND Ryan, no probably not but I think it might be more likely that one of them goes, as for which one I'm not sure. I don't think the Hurricanes will trade Eric Staal either but he seems to be struggling as of late and the Hurricanes aren't exactly a team that's in "compete mode" but I also wouldn't say they're in "rebuild mode" either, also the emergence of Skinner as their top offensive threat could make Staal more expandable. Next we move onto James VanRiemsdyk. He had a big coming out party in the playoffs a few years ago but hasn't really lived up to the hype quite yet, but he's on the right track and injuries can be partly to blame for it as well. The Flyers blew up their roster to give guys like Giroux and VanRiemsdyk a chance so I don't know why they would trade him soon after that but with their captain and top defenseman Chris Pronger likely finished in the NHL they need a top defenseman and VanRiemsdyk could be the cost. It also doesn't help that they could lose defenseman Matt Carle to unrestricted free agency. If they were to trade VanRiemsdyk the return price would have to be very high. There's obviously more players that will fall under this category but these were just some names that were thrown around a lot this season.

     Another interesting story line is Jordan Staal. He's obviously better then his role in Pittsburgh shows, and he proved he can be top center in the NHLwhen Crosby and Malkin have been hurt, however he'll always be stuck behind those two when they're healthy. After next season he'll be set to become an Unrestricted Free Agent and so will Sidney Crosby and a couple years after that Malkin becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent, so it's safe to say the Penguins are at cross road with their 3 stars and unfortunately Staal is the odd man out. In a perfect world they retain all three as they have for so many years but Staal is going to be looking for a larger salary then his 4 millions a season now and Crosby and Malkin will be looking increases on their 8.7 million as well. But outside the money Staal will also be looking for an increased role that the Penguins simply won't be able to provide. I don't know if Staal will be traded at this draft but you can almost be certain that he will be traded at some point between now, and the draft next year. There will certainly be a market for someone like Staal but the Penguins must decide if they'll trade him now or later, both sides have their ups and downs. I guess we'll find out soon.

     There's always teams that decide to move up and down in the draft, and I don't expect this year to be any different. It's an interesting year since the draft is so "defence" heavy and there aren't a lot of players that will be able to jump in and make an immediate impact so teams might be more likely to trade up or down depending on their situation. Teams that I could see moving around picks are the constant "bottom dwellers" the Oilers and Islanders. They're both teams that have made a lot of top 10 picks the past few years and have taken forwards with all of those picks, so they might want to look at trading down to later in the top 10 where they can still get a really good defensive prospect and the teams moving up can get one of the top ranked forwards. With that said that's just my opinion. I also think teams in the bottom 15 picks could trade those picks for roster players as opposed to selecting a player. Like I said before most players in this draft need more time to develop so teams who are "rebuilding" might consider giving up a roster player to get a second or third pick in the first round. I should also add that New Jersey has recently announced that they will be keeping their first round pick this year (29th overall) instead of forfeiting it due to the Kovelchuck contract. That likely means New Jersey will be attempting to draft one of the "Big Three" goaltenders, Subban,Vasilevski, or Dansk.

     As usually the draft will be a very exciting time for hockey fans. It's a time where fans and teams are given a new hope for the future or a piece that could put them over the top for next season. Regardless of what your team does it's a day we'll all be watching closely.

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