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Sven Baertschi and NHL Draft Watch 2011

April 25, 2011

Highlight reel worthy.

Perhaps it’s too soon to discuss the NHL draft. It’s only the first round of the playoffs, after all. But for the fourteen teams that failed to make the post-season this year, it’s a big deal. Indeed, it could be your only hope. For a team like the Oilers, who seem ascendent despite their 30th place finish, another first round pick goes a long way to put a damper on the rage and upset. For perennial cellar-dwellers like the Islanders and Panthers, it’s another piece in their rebuilds. The Devils, Senators and Avalanche (excepting Matt Duchene) are less familiar with choosing in the top 10, but that’s where they’ll be this year. It’s fascinating how the draft works in the post-lockout. Entirely logical, and yet seemingly counter to player development in some instances. Save for trades involving draft picks, the most promising players head to the most weak teams. Talk about a challenge. But the assumption is that these players can succeed anywhere, overcome adversity, and that they will benefit from oodles of ice-time and opportunity. All fine.

Then there’s the Bruins, picking at number nine courtesy Phil Kessel and the Maple Leafs. After selecting Tyler Seguin last year in the Taylor v. Tyler derby (wherein the Bruins clearly had their eyes fixed on Taylor), this draft is bound to be less enthralling, receive less attention. Last year the Bruins’ abysmal post-season defeat shifted the fan-base’s focus to the the draft, too. Let’s hope that’s not the case this year. But there’s also the fact that there’s no definitive number one. Indeed, there are about four number ones, maybe more.

Let’s look at who might go where and why, and what the Bruins will do when it comes to number nine (or what they are able to do). I admit to not being an expert of any sort when it comes to major junior hockey, World Juniors or any of that stuff. But I am trying to learn.

1. Edmonton Oilers. It seems like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has become the lock for this. Even though Adam Larsson seems like a very sensible choice, I think the Oilers will be inclined to opt for the franchise center–the one for the long-term, the one with the hockey IQ, the one with the Western Canadian heritage and the bevy of intangibles the lesser known Larsson offers. Right or wrong, the scouting staff seems hot on Nugent-Hopkins. Also, love that the kid has a hyphenated name. Hope he doesn’t shorten it.

2. Colorado Avalanche. Gabriel Landeskog, for the win. The Avalanche need a defining player, and from his time with the Kitchener Rangers, Landeskog seems to be one of those defining players. One of those players that can be a leader, has character, won’t wobble, and can step right in. The Avalanche are not in a rebuild. But they’re picking number two. It’s an odd situation. And I think Landeskog’s NHL “readiness” is tops for this draft, so he seems like a sound option.

3. Florida Panthers. The Panthers, despite their trade deadline house-cleaning, still have Weiss and Reasoner, both centers, both players that have been mainstays on the squad. They snatched Erik Gudbrandson (D) and John McFarland (C) last year, both pieces that will help immensely. Bold prediction: they grab Jonathan Huberdeau. His Saint John Sea Dogs are still in the playoffs in the QMJHL and they are poised to go even deeper if they beat the Lewiston MAINEiacs.

4. New Jersey Devils. Devils. Defense. Two words that are synonymous. But lately, not so much. With Jacques Lemaire gone, it’s unclear who the Devils’ next coach will be and what direction it will take the team in. I think Adam Larsson is a good pick. Strong, steady, long-range. That fits with management. The Devils are loaded at left wing and could use more help at center, especially, but hopefully without injuries next year, there will be more bodies. But again, a franchise defenseman is ideal for an organization that was sent spinning as their $100 million dollar man struggled (and rebounded) and as Martin Brodeur is in his waning days.

5. New York Islanders. This is difficult. The Islanders have had the chance to reload the last few years in a big way. At all positions. They’ve been stymied by injuries, which have only really helped their draft situation. They picked Nino the Swiss kid last year at this spot, and they’ll look to cash in. Larsson would really help re-enforce the Islanders’ defense, but I really doubt he’ll be around. Dougie Hamilton seems like a safe bet. He’s demonstrated poise and really excelled this year. And let’s face it, the Islanders need some defense as long as their goaltending situation continues to be flukey, unstable.

6. Ottawa Senators. Poor Senators. I wish there was more in store for them–maybe a higher draft pick. But after their house-cleaning, they’ll have loads more chances in the first and second round than they had before. So, there’s hope. Despite the fact his draft stocking plummeted, I think Sean Couturier would be a great choice, assuming he’s still available. They are desperate for centers beyond Spezza, and he fits nicely, has the bilingual thing, it’s great.

7. Atlanta Thrashers. Another difficult one, like the Islanders. They made a steal of Alexander Burmistrov, who jumped into the NHL, in last year’s draft. They didn’t draft at all in the second round, they could use some re-stocking. I see them taking another centerman, Ryan Strome. More points, more playmaking, more action. Done.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets. You’d think it’s between Ryan Murphy and Nathan Beaulieu here. Both defensemen. But I think they’ll want to go bold, a la Tyler Myers. I think Jamieson Oleksiak is their man.

9. Boston Bruins. Here we go. The Bruins are stacked with centers in the system. Stacked. They took the best player available the last couple of drafts–that included lots of centers. Not a bad thing–they can be traded if there’s insufficient room, as with Joe Colborne. I think the Bruins will not go for another center here, even if it’s the best player available. I know that contradicts conventional wisdom, but, I think it’s the right decision. What do we have left then. Let’s start with defense. Ryan Murphy or Nathan Beaulieu, as with Columbus one pick before, seem like the right pick-ups. But I think as much as the blue-line needs help (and the depth chart is not that promising either), I think they’ll steer clear. Shane Hnidy probably won’t be resigned, leaving Steven Kampfer as the only extra man and one that looks to make the big club next year. Next up is Matt Bartkowski, who looked like a project in his NHL appearances this year. He could be a long way off, but, he’s got potential. Next up, there’s Colby Cohen and David Worsofsky will bring great things too, though perhaps not next year. All that said, I think the Bruins like their defense corps, and I think Kaberle will be resigned (though perhaps he won’t fetch much given his dull play, unless it drastically improves). So, no defensemen. Goalies? Not a single listed in the top 30 of most mock drafts. Plus, there are a bevy in the system, of middling quality, admittedly. But goalies take so long to pan out, it’s probably safer taking one in a later round. Which brings me to the wing position. This is where the money’s at. But it comes with caveats. Since Kessel’s departures, cries for a true sniper have bellowed loud, clear. The 2009-2010 saw few goals scored, compounded the problem. 2010-2011 was slightly better, another 40 goals scored by the team in 82 games net. Back to the scoring sniper. The Bruins need a reliable goal-scorer. We’re rife with playmakers, defensive forwards, power forwards, tough men, and, well, Michael Ryder, the “sniper” (his playoff performance notwithstanding). Not to draw on stereotypes, but a lot of snipers are of European stock. Why is this relevant to the Bruins? There isn’t a single Swede or Russian on the Bruins’ roster, and there hasn’t been for a few years now. Why? I don’t know. Is there some kind of bias, some kind of fear? I don’t know. All I can say is that the drafting of Russians (excepting Yury Alexandro) and Swedes (heck, Scandinavians as a whole) tapered off after 2002, with less than a handful in there–the last of which was right wing Mikko Lehtonen in 2005, and he was shipped out to Minnesota this past February in the deal for Anton Khudobin (a fine deal, I might add, and a Russian!). It all shifted over to Canadians, Americans and Czechs. Why? I don’t know. What’s up with Bruins’ scouting in Europe? I don’t know. These are things I don’t know. But here’s an idea: Sven Baertschi. Yes, he’s Swiss, but he played in the WHL this season. He’s had time to adjust to the North American game and demonstrated a commitment to playing here. He’s a left wing. We could use some of that. It would be something new. He’s quick, he’s got finesse, great hands. He may not be an overly big or gritty player, but the Bruins could use some diversity. It looks like he’d pair nicely with Seguin or Krejci. I’m a fan.

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