If need out-distances rank, odds are defenceman Cam Fowler won’t be around by the time the New York Islanders select fifth overall on Day 1 of the NHL draft Friday.
The fifth-ranked Fowler — according to the final Central Scouting North American ratings — is a rarity that at least a couple of the teams picking higher than the Isles covet. He is NHL ready and he’s thought of as the draft’s best puck-moving blue-liner.
Given that the defensively strapped Florida Panthers — at No. 3 — and equally needy Columbus Blue Jackets — at No. 4 — step to the podium in Los Angeles ahead of the Islanders, Fowler might not be around much past the consensus 1-2 selections of Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.
“He quarterbacks the power play, he sees the ice very well, he starts rushes himself and has a keen knack for when to pass it out of the zone and support the rush, and when to carry it out of the zone. Also, when to bang it off the boards and get it the heck out of there,” said Central Scouting director E.J. McGuire when asked to assess the native of Northville, Mich.
The one knock on Fowler is an underwhelming physical game.
At a shade under six-foot-three, the Windsor Spitfire is by no means a banging defenceman. His game is moving the puck with tremendous vision. A good comparison is Brian Leetch.
As much as Hall and Seguin get mulched by the comparison-makers, Fowler is in a similar grind with Kingston Frontenac defenceman Eric Gudbranson.
Scouts love Gudbranson’s nasty, edgy style — think Chris Pronger during his Peterborough Pete days — and Fowler’s lack of edge comes into focus.
“Sometimes you want him to engage more, but that’s not his game,” offered Windsor general manager Warren Rychel. “He’s not afraid by any means, but he’s not a strong physical, punishing D-man. Sometimes you have to engage down in front of the net in your own end and he’s really improved on that aspect of it. He’s not a guy that when a guy is coming down on the wall on him he’s going to put you through the boards. He’s going to get the proper body position, do the right thing and get the puck moving north. He’s not overpowering physical in that department. There’s always room for improvement there, he’s already shown tonnes of improvement already.”
Gudbranson edged past Fowler for the top defenceman ranking in Central Scouting’s final outlook.
Again though, it depends on need. If the Panthers or Blue Jackets (or perhaps the Islanders or Tampa Lightning, at No. 6) are after defensive help of the rambunctious variety, it’s going to be Gudbranson.
If the preference is a Leetch style over a Pronger style, it’s going to be Fowler.
“We both have different styles, different strengths to offer to a team. Eric’s going to play that nasty, Chris Pronger-type game, right in your face,” Fowler said to the Detroit Free Press. “I’m more of a . . . skating defenceman. I think it just depends on what a team needs and what they feel is missing in their game. He’s a great player and I’m happy to be where I’m at too.”
Fowler’s resume is stacked.
As a member of the U.S. squad at the 2010 world juniors, he won a gold medal. At the 2009 under-18 worlds, he was named the tournament’s top defenceman.
This past winter with Windsor, Fowler collected 55 points in 55 league games. In the post-season, Fowler was of course part of the back-to-back Memorial Cup champion Spits.
Wherever he lands on Friday, he’s looking ahead to starting on the path toward the NHL.
"I haven’t put my thoughts together about what’s next for me," Fowler told Canwest News Service.
"I’d like to think I’m ready (for the NHL). I’m going to give it my all and put it all on the line for the team that picks me.”
By all reports, that path is going to be a short one.
“If you don’t know a lot about him now, you soon will,” said McGuire.
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