(originally published December 9, 2006)
We have good news and bad news on tap this evening. The bad news is the fact that the Blues seem destined for another sub-standard season this year. The good news, of course, is that a poor record means the Blues will probably have another lottery pick this year, and could even end up with the first-overall pick for the second year in a row.
The better news is that, even though this draft isn't considered particularly flush with first-line talent, the few blue-chip prospects that will be available are concentrated at the top of the draft. Here's a quick look at five players that the "Game Time" prospect department ranks as the best of the best right now. All statistics are as of December 8, 2006.
Jakub Voracek, RW, shoots L, 6’02, 190, born 08-15-89. Probably the consensus first-overall pick right now, Voracek has all the size, speed and skill necessary to be an impact player in the NHL. The first pick in last year's CHL Import Draft, Voracek has great offensive instincts and hockey sense, is a skilled passer and puckhandler, and is creative and tenacious in high-traffic areas in front of the net and in the slot. The native of Slany, Czech Republic was the NAPA Draft Prospect of the Month in the QMJHL for October, per the Canadian Hockey league website (www.chl.ca). Voracek spent the entire 2005-06 season with Kladno juniors (46 GP, 21-38-59, plus-17, 54) learning English and preparing to make the transition to North America.
International Scouting Services December 2006 Ranking: 1st
McKeen's Hockey Prospects Fall 2006 Ranking: 1st
NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Ranking (QMJHL): 7th
Current statistics: Halifax (QMJHL), 32 GP, 14-28-42, minus-12, 14 PIM, 6 PPG, 4 GWG
James van Riemsdyk, LW, shoots L, 6’03, 190, born 05-04-89. The native of Middletown, New Jersey is a player on the rise in the draft rankings, and was recently named to Team USA for the 2007 World Junior Championships to be held in Sweden starting December 26. Van Riemsdyk has a strong but sometimes-choppy skating stride, a long reach and good hands. His wrist shot is excellent, and he has a good slap shot as well. He has the size and strength to handle himself well in traffic. Van Riemsdyk was 26-16-42 with 62 PIM in 55 games for the USA U-17 team last year, and also saw time with the U-18 squad in 2005-06.
International Scouting Services December 2006 Ranking: 2nd
McKeen's Hockey Prospects Fall 2006 Ranking: 13th
NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Ranking (USNTDP): "A" Watch List Player
Current statistics: USA U-18 (USNTDP), 16 GP, 14-9-23, +/- NA, 20 PIM, 8 PPG, 2 GWG
Angelo Esposito, C, shoots L, 6'01, 185, born 02-20-89. For the last couple of season, Esposito was touted as the top player available for the 2007 Entry Draft. He's still very highly-ranked, and probably still at the top of more than one team's draft list, but players like Voracek and van Riemsdyk have caught up to, and possibly passed, the lanky teenager from Montreal. Skating is Esposito's best asset, with excellent top-end speed, an explosive first step, and first-class agility and lateral movement. Though not the biggest player out there, he is unafraid and doesn't back down from physical challenges. Esposito has top-notch hockey sense and is a better-than average passer and playmaker.
International Scouting Services December 2006 Ranking: 3rd
McKeen's Hockey Prospects Fall 2006 Ranking: 3rd
NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Ranking (QMJHL): 1st
Current statistics: Quebec (QMJHL), 29 GP, 15-36-51, plus-12, 41 PIM, 2 PPG, 1 GWG
Karl Alzner, D, shoots L, 6’02, 209, born 09-24-88. Alzner missed qualifying for the 2006 draft by a mere nine days, which makes him one of the older players available in 2007. Alzner is a big fan of Scott Niedermayer, and plays a similar game. Already showing signs of becoming one of the top blueliners in the 'Dub with his 2005-06 performance (4-20-24, plus-14, 28 PIM in 70 games), he has surpassed last year's scoring totals in only 33 games so far. Alzner is a smooth, composed blueliner who thrives on lots of playing time and has world-class hockey sense and instincts. He doesn't play a particularly physical game, but instead uses his positioning and skating skills to be effective on defense.
International Scouting Services December 2006 Ranking: 5th
McKeen's Hockey Prospects Fall 2006 Ranking: 4th
NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Ranking (WHL): 14th
Current statistics: Calgary (WHL), 33 GP, 5-23-28, plus-5, 20 PIM, 5 PPG, 0 GWG
Sam Gagner, C, shoots R, 5'11, 190, born 08-10-89. The son of former NHL great Dave Gagner, Sam has tremendous puckhandling skills and is an Adam Oates-class passer with incredible on-ice vision and patience, and the ability to thread the needle with a pass in traffic. A member of the London Knights juggernaut, Gagner sits third in Ontario League scoring right now, and can dictate the pace of the game when on the ice due to his passing and puckhandling ability. He also has the ability to make other players better, and is something of a power-play specialist. The chief knock on him is his choppy skating, but he skates well enough and fast enough to get the job done.
International Scouting Services December 2006 Ranking: 6th
McKeen's Hockey Prospects Fall 2006 Ranking: 6th
NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Ranking (OHL): 1st
Current statistics: London (OHL), 28 GP, 16-46-62, plus-15, 12 PIM, 8 PPG, 1 GWG
Other players to keep an eye on include Logan Couture (C/L, 6-00, 190, Ottawa/OHL, 18 GP, 7-15-22, -9, 8 PIM), James Petrecki (D/L, 6-03, 215, Omaha/USHL, 16 GP, 1-2-3, +1, 67 PIM), and Colton Gillies (C/L, 6-04, 195, Saskatoon/WHL, 24 GP, 4-9-13, -4, 26 PIM).
Until next time, check out archived "Tomorrow's Blues" articles and other prospect-related content on the "Future 'Notes" blog at http://futurenotes.blogspot.com, and remember... "if we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil." Auf wiedersehen.