The quality of the draft
"Anything can happen." -Minnesota Wild scout Guy Lapointe
A wide-open field in 2004
By Alan Adams | NHL.com columnist
June 11, 2004
Guy Lapointe pretty well summed it up for everybody.
"Anything can happen," said Lapointe, who scouts for the Minnesota Wild.
Lapointe was talking about the 2004 Entry Draft that is set for Raleigh, N.C., on June 26-27 and the context of the conversation was in regard to a) the depth of the draft and b) how he thinks the draft will evolve once teams start picking their "assets."
And while you can say "anything can happen" about every draft, Lapointe's comment paints a more accurate picture of the Class of '04.
When you talk to scouts, the consensus is the draft tails off in terms of top-end talent a lot sooner than last year. The 2003 Draft was considered one of the best in a decade.
Russians Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are highly touted this time around and are expected to go first and second overall to the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins respectively.
Complete Entry Draft coverage
Cam Barker of the Medicine Hat Tigers is the best defenseman and there are a handful of goalies who could be taken by the time the first round concludes.
As for the rest of the pack, the feeling is you could throw all their sticks in a pile, divide them up, play shinny and wait patiently for a star to emerge.
"I think No. 10 could be 40 or even 80. It is a little bit all over the map," says Don Maloney, the vice-president, player personnel of the New York Rangers.
"I want who will turn out the best player but sometimes, and the draft has proven it, it is not always the first guy," says Greg Malone, the head scout for the Penguins.
It's not that the Class of '04 is weak, but it's more average quantity over top-end quality.
"You might get a player in the second round that might be as valuable as somebody after the first five (overall)," says Dale Talon, the assistant general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks who pick third overall. "We have four second-round picks and we are excited about our positioning. ... We have 16 picks in the draft and we think we will get a couple of good players."
It's also a draft where Europeans are projected to be stronger than North Americans in the first round.
"Europe is a little better than North America," says Jarmo Kekalainen, the chief scout for the St. Louis Blues. "There are more good players in Europe and last year it was the other way around."
Draft choices are the lifeblood of a franchise and the Stanley Cup Playoffs were proof of how a team can build impact players from within.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were powered by Vince Lecavalier (1st overall in 1998), Brad Richards (fifth overall in 1995) and Pavel Kubina (179th overall in 1996). The San Jose Sharks advanced to the semifinals on the strength of the 14 draftees in their lineup.
Russians Alexander Ovechkin, above, and Evgeni Malkin are expected to go first and second overall.
The trick is to find the players.
Scouting is not an exact and NHL teams have a much larger talent pool to choose from. A scouts' passport is filled with immigration stamps from all corners of the hockey map.
If Ovechkin and Malkin grab the top two spots as expected, they will make NHL history as the first two Russians to go 1-2 overall.
The last time Europeans went 1-2 was in 1999 when Atlanta made Patrick Stefan the top pick and Vancouver followed with Daniel Sedin. The only other time in NHL history when NHL teams looked overseas for the top two talents was 1992 when Roman Hamrlik was chosen by Tampa Bay and Alexei Yashin got the nod from the Ottawa Senators.
But that is assuming the Capitals will not trade the coveted first overall pick and they will take Ovechkin, and history has shown that "anything can happen" as Lapointe aptly put it.
Pittsburgh's Malone is preparing for two scenarios.
"Washington could trade the pick or we could trade the pick," he says. "Obviously I think we will look at the second pick being just as good as the first pick overall and there are few teams out there who would like to have 1 or 2 so it all depends on what they want to offer."
And you know teams won't make their best offer until the day of the draft.
"You can't sit here and say we will take this and this and that but you have to wait and until somebody comes and says here is what we will offer," says Malone.
Because so many players are fairly equal in terms of skill level, what could happen is teams will look to fill holes in their roster rather than pick the best player.
"The first round or two you draft the player and then after that we will start looking at our depth chart and see what our needs are," says Talon. "A couple of years ago we addressed our (needs on) defense and in net and maybe we need to look at up front this year. Who knows? It depends on what happens in the first couple of rounds."
That's easy to do when you have 16 picks, however.
"You draft the player. You never draft for position," says Lapointe. "If you are drafting 15th or 25th, you try to get the best player available and if you feel like there are three guys who are almost the same now you might chose by position. But most of the times it is how skilled the player is."
Going into the draft, each team has compiled its depth chart on the prospects and how they think the draft will unfold. Everyone is anxious to see how close their lists are.
"It is not as deep as last year, but at the end of the day it will still be a good draft," says Lapointe. "There are 30 teams and it is hard to predict who is going to be fifth or sixth so you might have some surprises this year. The bottom line is if you believe the kid is going to play, you should not wait to the third or fourth round and you should take him."
The last word goes to Sharks GM Doug Wilson.
"I think it is a solid draft and the research we have done indicates it is a good draft. There are a couple of top players, but there is another level of player in there that is a little closer.
And remember, anything can happen.
Please just post a link to articles.
Bolts took Daymond Langkow 5th overall in 95.
Richards was taken 64th overall(3rd round) in 98, that was they're next pick after Vinny. Trivia - 2 picks later we took LaBarbera.
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