With the NHL draft just over three months away, the strength of this year's class is starting to take shape. Here are my top prospects, in order by position, along with which NHL player each kid emulates.
Check back next month for our NHL mock draft!
1. Patrick Kane (London Knights, OHL)
His World Junior performance showed he can score against the big boys and his size isn't a factor. His rookie season in London has been amazing and the new rules pave the way for him to go first overall.
NHL comparable: Daniel Briere, Buffalo Sabres
2. Jakob Voracek (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)
Another player with a high hockey IQ who finds his teammates and creates offense. His development has been good, and by coming to North America this year, he has expedited the transition that all European players have to go through.
NHL comparable: Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers
3. Sam Gagner (London Knights, OHL)
A linemate of Patrick Kane in London, Gagner has led the OHL in scoring for most of the season. Despite a tough World Junior Championship, he has returned to become just as dominant in the OHL. He is a phenomenal set-up man and has a tremendous hockey IQ.
NHL comparable: Marc Savard, Boston Bruins
4. James Van Riemsdyk (U.S. under-18, NAHL)
Van Riemsdyk has been touted by some as a potential No. 1 overall candidate by some services and for good reason, but he still needs to improve in a number of areas, including strength, defensive-zone awareness and play away from the puck. At times, he has been the best player on the under-18s, and his physical skill set is intriguing.
NHL comparable: Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres
5. Angelo Esposito (Quebec Remparts, QMJHL)
The biggest knock on Esposito has always been his inability to play hard all of the time. He certainly possesses the skills to become a big-time player and his consistency has been getting better.
NHL comparable: Alexei Yashin, N.Y. Islanders
6. Logan Couture (Ottawa 67's, OHL)
A bout with mono took its toll early, but he is starting to show the form that made him an early favorite to be a No. 1 pick. His offensive game always has been very good, but his overall game also has impressed.
NHL comparable: Tim Connolly, Buffalo Sabres
7. Brandon Sutter (Red Deer Rebels, WHL)
The next line of Sutters is on his way and this one is very special. He has the traditional Sutter traits of grittiness, hard work, leadership and passion, but he also has a lot more skill then most of his uncles had.
NHL comparable: Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes
8. Alexei Cherepanov (Omsk, Russia)
The flashy Russian winger made a huge impression at the World Junior Championship by leading Russia to the silver medal; but all those good feelings went away with his performance at the 5 Nations Tournament. Despite the inconsistency, his speed, offensive sense and scoring ability have teams very intrigued to the point where he will be a top 10 pick.
NHL comparable: Nikolai Zherdev, Columbus Blue Jackets
9. Kyle Turris (Burnaby Express, BCHL)
A tremendous skater with excellent acceleration who also works hard and scores a lot despite being the big fish in a small pond in the BCHL. He also has performed well in big games and is one of the most underrated players available for the draft.
NHL comparable: Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks
10. James O'Brien (Minnesota Golden Gophers, WCHA)
A tall lanky player who has just started to fill out and has the potential to become a big-time player. Has excellent anticipation and a solid understanding of the game despite a tough freshman season at Minnesota.
NHL comparable: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
11. Maxim Mayorov (Leninogorsk, Russia)
A highly skilled winger that has the ability to do things at high speed. His size (6-foot-2) is also very inviting because he should fill out at 200 pounds and become a tough guy to move off the puck.
NHL Comparable: Marco Sturm, Boston Bruins
12. Michal Repik (Vancouver Giants, WHL)
Repik has proven to be a deadly scorer in Junior and uses his ability to find seams in the offensive zone. Also has a deadly shot to score some big goals in the WHL.
NHL comparable: Glen Murray, Boston Bruins
13. Keven Veilleux (Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL)
Veilleux has exceptional size and strength, but he has not used that to his advantage on a regular basis all year. Our concern is he will have trouble at the higher levels. He plays like a smaller player and tries to use his skill instead of powering by opponents. It is a trait that must change.
NHL comparable: Nik Antropov, Toronto Maple Leafs
14. Akim Aliu (Sudbury Wolves, OHL)
Aliu has an incredible assortment of skills and abilities but it is his attitude and personality that give teams the greatest pause. He has dominated games at times, but his off-ice problems (he fought with former Windsor teammate Steve Downie during a practice) and his lack of consistency have thrown up some red flags.
NHL comparable: Shayne Corson
15. Zach Hamill (Everett Silvertips, WHL)
Hamill has some of the best natural hockey sense of any player in the draft and uses that ability to create offense on a consistent basis. His size is a slight concern (5-11), but his high hockey IQ and ability to find teammates should make him an intriguing prospect on draft day.
NHL comparable: Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
16. Mikael Backlund (Vasteras, Sweden)
Backlund has all of the traits that you like in natural center, including competitiveness, intelligence with the puck, excellent vision and good puck distribution. There have been a few concerns with his knees, but overall, we are very confident he will become a solid NHL player.
NHL comparable: Mike Cammalleri, Los Angeles Kings
17. Zack Torquato (Erie Otters, OHL)
Torquato was traded in his draft year from the Saginaw to Erie as the centerpiece of the rebuilding Otters because of his character, skill and leadership. Although his skating is still a bit awkward, he has tremendous offensive abilities and has proven to be a consistent scorer.
NHL comparable: Mike Sillinger, N.Y. Islanders
18. Colton Gillies (Saskatoon Blades, WHL)
The nephew of N.Y. Islanders great Clark Gillies, Colton plays the game in much the same way as his uncle. He uses his size and strength tremendously well, and although his skills need to improve, he fills the role of the prototypical power forward.
NHL comparable: Chris Gratton, Florida Panthers
19. Max Pacioretty (Sioux City Musketeers, USHL)
Pacioretty is our highest-ranked USHL player. Although we have significant concerns about the level of competition, he has proven that he possesses a rare combination of size, skill and skating.
NHL comparable: Taylor Pyatt, Vancouver Canucks
20. Nick Palmieri (Erie Otters, OHL)
Palmieri is another combination of size and solid skating ability. The second-year OHL star has competed internationally for the United States and has shown he has a promising future. He still needs to become far more involved physically, but he has a lot of skills that make him an intriguing prospect.
NHL comparable: Mike Knuble, Philadelphia Flyers
1. Karl Alzner (Calgary Hitmen, WHL)
Alzner is clearly the top defender in this year's class because of the completeness of his game and the general assurance he will become a very good NHL defenseman without much "bust" potential. He understands the game and does all things very well, thus should be a very high pick.
NHL comparable: Wade Redden, Ottawa Senators
2. Keaton Ellerby (Kamloops Blazers, WHL)
Ellerby has developed into a very steady, but not flashy, defenseman who will have a long productive career in the NHL. His offensive game is pretty limited, but he understands the game and makes very solid decisions. Much like Alzner, the chances of him being a bust are very remote. He might not be the sexiest choice on the board, but teams need defensemen like him to win.
NHL comparable: Chris Phillips, Ottawa Senators
3. Jonathon Blum (Vancouver Giants, WHL)
Blum has been key for the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League for a couple years now; he has the offensive sense to create another dangerous component for the powerhouse defense. He loves to jump into the rush and effectively quarterbacks the power play, while being very sound defensively. Huge upside.
NHL comparable: Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens
4. Nick Petrecki (Omaha Lancers, USHL)
Nick Petrecki has been one of the most talked about prospects over the past couple years; but while his abilities are breathtaking, he has, at times, not been able to put it all together. That, combined with his desire to play in a less competitive league, has concerned scouts. Still, there is no doubting his overall skill-set. He combines solid skating with a punishing physical game that intimidates opponents. It's a combo that could intrigue teams into thinking he has the most upside in this year's draft. His offensive game has yet to develop, but our bet is he will become an excellent NHL defenseman for years to come.
NHL comparable: Barret Jackman, St. Louis Blues
5. Mark Katic (Sarnia Sting, OHL)
Every few drafts, a player or two comes along who receives completely divided reviews; some scouts love them, others question whether they'll ever play. Katic is one of those players. We happen to love his ability to skate fast and create offense from nothing while using very good technique. His size (5-9) is a major issue, but he makes up for it with good strength and genuine passion. The new NHL was made for this type of defenseman, and we think Katic will turn into a very good player for a long time.
NHL comparable: Brian Rafalski, New Jersey Devils
6. Alex Plante (Calgary Hitmen, WHL)
Alex Plante is a more traditional type of defenseman -- he possesses a huge frame (6-4, 220 pounds) and absolutely punishes forwards in the defensive zone. The interesting part is his feet have continued to improve to the point where he is now able to handle speedy opponents. He will become a solid but unspectacular defenseman in about five years.
NHL comparable: Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia Flyers
7. Tommy Cross (Westminster, USHS)
Tommy Cross has the size of a prototypical NHL defenseman (6-3, 210 pounds), but he moves very well for a kid that big. A solid puck-handler, he is another dark horse we believe could turn into a major steal on draft day.
NHL comparable: Mattias Ohlund, Vancouver Canucks
8. Kevin Shattenkirk (U.S. under-18, NAHL)
Shattenkirk is another defenseman who will go higher in the draft compared to 10 years ago because his offensive abilities benefit from the new rules. He possesses tremendous vision and the unique ability to find breaking forwards. Although his defensive game still needs to become more complete, we believe his leadership and offensive skills make him a late first-round value in June.
NHL comparable: Dan Boyle, Tampa Bay Lightning
9. Thomas Hickey (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL)
The 2007 draft is filled with smallish defenders that possess exceptional offensive skills and Thomas Hickey is next in line in that category. He too plays a very heady game and makes solid decisions while employing excellent technique in the defensive zone to make up for his lack of size (5-11, 186 pounds). He also plays with an intense passion that has elevated him above most of the defensemen in the class.
NHL comparable: John-Michael Liles, Colorado Avalanche
10. Joe Lavin (U.S. under-18, NAHL)
Joe Lavin's most positive assets are his leadership and natural athletic ability. Along with being a very important piece of the under-8 team, Lavin is also a tremendous baseball player and golfer. That athletic ability makes him above average in all aspects of becoming an NHL defenseman -- skating, defensive play, offensive abilities and physicality. Lavin has no distinct weaknesses as a prospect, and although it's doubtful he will ever become a superstar, he should become a solid NHLer.
NHL comparable: Mike Van Ryn, Florida Panthers
11. David Stich (Saint John Seadogs, QMJHL)
In the summer of 2006, David Stich chose to come to North America to further develop his game. The result: the Czech was the first choice in the CHL's European Import Draft. His game has matured nicely, and although he isn't a natural offensive defenseman, his size, strength and mobility should allow him to become a solid NHL prospect.
NHL comparable: Marek Malik, New York Rangers
12. Ian Cole (U.S. under-18, NAHL)
Ian Cole is another player who has received divided reviews; some love him, others hate him. We again fall on the positive side. He combines excellent size and strength, with just enough nastiness and offensive abilities, to become a big-time player after the appropriate seasoning in the American Hockey League.
NHL comparable: Rob Blake, Los Angeles Kings
13. Niklas Torp (HV71, Sweden)
A personal favorite of ours, Niklas Torp's effort is consistently high and he is very difficult to play against. He is a very good skater who plays with an edge. Despite the fact he will never lead the league in points because of his limited offensive abilities, we strongly believe he will find a way to become a useful part of a winning program.
NHL comparable: Steve Staios, Edmonton Oilers
14. Teddy Ruth (U.S. under-18, NAHL)
Teddy Ruth is another product of Ron Rolston's under-18 program. Although his offensive output is never going to be very high, Ruth's character is off the charts. Ruth possesses all of the necessary skills to become an NHL defenseman, but we believe his work ethic and leadership are what will guarantee his success in the NHL.
NHL comparable: Adam Foote, Columbus Blue Jackets
15. Ryan McDonagh (Cretin-Durham, USHS)
McDonagh is a solid defensive prospect who skates pretty well for a kid his size (6-1, 200 pounds) and he also possesses a bomb from the point on the power play. He is far from a sexy pick, but will become a steady defender after spending four years at Wisconsin and a couple seasons in the AHL.
NHL comparable: Keith Carney, Minnesota Wild
16. Colby Cohen (U.S. under-18, NAHL)
Colby Cohen is a kid who might go much higher than our ranking. There has been plenty of talk about him because of his size (6-3) and skill -set. Still, our major concern is his decision-making. He always has had good skills, but as the speed and intensity has picked up, we question whether he thinks the game well enough to become a solid prospect.
NHL comparable: Paul Mara, New York Rangers
17. Eric Doyle (Swift Current Broncos, WHL)
Eric Doyle is another defenseman we are not completely sold on yet. He skates pretty well for a big kid and his poise and hockey IQ are fine, but we just don't see a ton of upside for him. He ultimately might become a solid NHL contributor, but we think we'd be looking at others before we called his name at the draft.
NHL comparable: Bryan Allen, Florida Panthers
18. Radim Ostrcil (Vsetin, Czech Republic)
The biggest knock on Ostrcil has been his skating, but in all fairness, it has continued to improve and he has shown he can use his smarts to overcome the liability. His biggest asset is his complete understanding of the game; his biggest detriment is his lack of physical play and poor feet, causing him to drop down our list.
NHL comparable: Joe Corvo, Ottawa Senators
19. Brendan Smith (St. Michaels Buzzers, OPJHL)
Entering the Ontario Hockey League draft in the summer of 2005, Smith was arguably the best defenseman available, and, as such, the St. Michaels Majors took him in the first round. But Smith's decision to head the NCAA (Wisconsin) has prevented him from playing in the OHL, slowing his development. Although he has been a dominant defender in the Tier 2 League, questions remain as to whether he will become the stud defenseman many saw him becoming a couple years ago.
NHL comparable: David Tanabe, Carolina Hurricanes
20. Robert Bortuzzo (Kitchener Rangers, OHL)
Bortuzzo was heading in the same direction as Brendan Smith until the Kitchener Rangers traded for his rights and Bortuzzo headed to the OHL. Since then, he steadily has improved and become a legitimate prospect. His offensive production hasn't been where it should be because he has played behind some very good defensemen, but we believe he could become a hidden jewel that someone can scoop up in the second round.
NHL comparable: Fedor Tyutin, New York Rangers
1. Jeremy Smith (Plymouth Whalers, OHL)
Jeremy Smith tops our list of goaltenders in this year's class because he is very sound technically. More important, he has shown he can elevate his game during key moments as witnessed at the Junior World Cup in the Czech Republic this past August.
NHL comparable: Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
2. Mark Owuya (Djurgarden, Sweden)
Owuya is a very good young goaltender and, in our opinion, the best Swedish goaltending prospect in a long time. He possesses excellent reflexes and his size allows him to take the top part of the net away while down in the butterfly. Despite the limited viewings some teams have had, we would suggest they get to the Under-18 World Championships and circle the Swedish games -- this kid has a chance to be great.
NHL comparable: Nikolai Khabibulin, Chicago Blackhawks
3. John Murray (Kitchener Rangers, OHL)
Many teams don't even have Murray on their list because he already has been through two drafts, but we don't think he should go through a third without being selected. He has taken the OHL by storm in supplying the Kitchener Rangers with exceptional goaltending throughout the season. He combines tremendous size (6-5) with a good technical base and a pinch of arrogance that infuriates opponents and pumps teammates.
NHL comparable: Olaf Kolzig, Washington Capitals
4. Trevor Cann (Peterborough Petes, OHL)
Trevor Cann has had an exceptional start to his career and became the final goaltender cut by the powerful Canadian World Junior team as a 17 year old. He is very adept at cutting down angles and has a thorough understanding of how to play the position while being very strong mentally.
NHL comparable: Marty Turco, Dallas Stars
5. Brad Phillips (U.S. under-18, NAHL)
Brad Phillips has been the main 1989-born goaltender for the USA and continues to be very reliant in the role. After being heavily recruited by all of the major colleges, he has committed to Notre Dame for the 2007-08 season.
NHL comparable: Marc Denis, Tampa Bay Lightning
6. Linden Rowat (Regina Pats, WHL)
Rowat has been the premier draft-eligible goaltender in the WHL this season by using his size (6-2, 190 pounds), traditional butterfly technique and lightning-quick hands. He has gone through a couple tough stretches, but overall has had a very solid season. A team should be excited about bringing him into its organization in June.
NHL comparable: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim Ducks
7. Andrew Engelage (Windsor Spitfires, OHL)
Another one of our favorites who might not be on some teams' lists. He possesses tremendous size (6-5, 200 pounds) with exceptional fundamentals that no other goalie in the draft can match. He's faced a lot of rubber over the course of the season with the cellar-dwelling Spitfires, so his numbers are not great. Still, his size and technique make him an exciting prospect to watch going forward.
NHL comparable: Kari Lehtonen, Atlanta Thrashers
8. Tyson Sexsmith (Vancouver Giants, WHL)
Tyson Sexsmith was sharing the workload with Dustin Slade for a while until Slade left the team to pursue his professional aspirations. As a result, the Giants will have to rely on the young netminder. Along with his solid foundation of fundamentals, Sexsmith possesses the ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. These two traits should serve him well, not only heading into the Memorial Cup, but also as he ventures into his professional career.
NHL comparable: Manny Fernandez, Minnesota Wild
9. Sergei Gayduchenko (Yaroslavl, Russia)
Gayduchenko is a huge specimen who has a surprising amount of flexibility. He is a favorite of ours because of his competitive nature and ability to steal games. His mobility is his biggest question mark and he has played sporadic at times at the international level, but his size and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect in the middle rounds of the draft.
NHL comparable: Sean Burke, Los Angeles Kings
10. Kurt Mucha (Portland Winterhawks, WHL)
The Winterhawks had an envious situation this season. Having two potential starters in net, Portland chose to keep the 17-year-old Mucha over a 19-year-old veteran because of the Mucha's promise. He has good size and exceptional competitiveness, which will serve him well as he moves forward. Still, his inconsistency is something that concerns us, making him our 10th-ranked goaltender for the upcoming draft.
NHL comparable: Mike Smith, Dallas Stars
Mark Seidel, a former scout for International Scouting Services and the Minnesota Wild, is currently the assistant general manager of the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters.