For the first time in three years there is some actual intrigue and mystery attached to the top of the National Hockey League’s entry draft.
Last season, John Tavares had long been anointed as the No. 1 choice, months before the event took place; the year before it was Steven Stamkos in a landslide.
Next Friday in Los Angeles we’re headed for a two-horse race, as well as the furlongs of debate that has preceded the call.
Taylor or Tyler?
Depends on what you’re looking for.
The consensus appears to be this: With Taylor Hall you get plenty of sizzle, style and spark, while with Tyler Seguin you get a complete, mature package.
NHL Central Scouting has been back and forth on this one for nearly a year, and as director E.J. McGuire will tell you, things didn’t get any clearer this spring when the group attempted to pick one above the other.
“Central Scouting is a group of nine full-time scouts that met for seven days (in May) and each day I asked that group of nine who would they take: Hall or Seguin. Each day the vote was 5-4 and each of the seven days it was a different player,” McGuire said.
The Edmonton Oilers, barring a last-minute trade, head into draft day with the No. 1 pick and the heat that goes with it.
The Boston Bruins, barring another swap, get to kick back and cross their T’s . . . landing whomever the Oilers do not.
“Taylor Hall is more of a grab the puck and go to the net type with blind determination,” said McGuire, outlining the pair.
“He is light on his skates, he is speedy and darting and fleeting and brings people out of their seats with his moves.
“(Seguin’s) got size, he’s got a shot, he’s a scorer, he’s got skill and speed — and for teams that build through the middle, if that adage is true that you build through the middle, he might have an edge in that respect.”
For the record, Seguin was Central Scouting’s top North American skater in the year-end rankings. Hall was No. 1 in the midterm rankings. Hall also finished No. 1 in the International Scouting Services final ratings.
The fact that the ongoing comparison was played out in some pretty tight corners — Hall plays for Windsor, about a 15-minute drive across the Detroit River from Seguin’s Plymouth rink — might suggest Taylor and Tyler engaged in a fractious rivalry.
If they did, no one’s admitting to it. Seguin shrugs off the inevitable question with: “It was more a media thing than anything else. We know each other pretty well. We’re not buddies or anything, but we talk quite a bit.”
The drop-off after the top two is not steep, but it’s there.
“These two are a bit of a notch ahead of the next group (of prospects),” offered McGuire.
Rolling into Los Angeles at No. 3 is Prince George right-winger Brett Connolly, who’s viewed as something of a wild card.
An injury-plagued season limited Connolly to just 16 games in 2009-10. Connolly would be part of the top pick discussion if injuries to both his hips hadn’t ruptured his season.
“He’s got high-end skill, there’s no question, and when you talk with our western scouts they’ll tell you without the injuries we’d be talking about three at the top instead of two — Hall, Seguin and Brett Connolly,” said McGuire.
It’s back to the Ontario Hockey League for prospect defencemen Erik Gudbranson (No. 4) and Cam Fowler (No. 5).
Admirers of Dion Phaneuf’s game are going to like the look of Gudbranson.
The Ottawa native stands six-foot-four and checks in at around 200 pounds and, like Phaneuf, loves to hit.
“He is a prototypical big, mean NHL defenceman,” said McGuire.
Kingston Frontenacs longtime general manager Larry Mavety said the Phaneuf comparison is valid.
“I think Erik tries to pattern himself a bit after that,” said Mavety. “I think he gets a bit overzealous, trying to hit people in the corner. He’s got that mean streak in him and he loses it now and again. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. People in the league know now they can’t take liberties with him.”
Fowler’s game with the Windsor Spitfires is much different.
“Tremendous offensive defenceman,” McGuire said in his analysis. “The only criticism of him is that he is an offensive defenceman and while he is by no means a defensive liability, (he needs) to add that layer of expertise to his game. I think he will.”
Warren Rychel, the general manager of the Spitfires, already saw improvements in Fowler’s game.
“He’s closing in faster on guys and getting to use his stick a lot better than he did earlier in the year,” said Rychel. “So he’s really improved and you can just see when he’s a finished product, when he’s 23 or 24 years old, he’s going to be a phenomenal player.”
NHL Central Scouting final rankings 2010
1) Tyler Seguin, centre, Plymouth (OHL)
2) Taylor Hall, left-wing, Windsor (OHL)
3) Brett Connolly, right-wing, Prince George (WHL)
4) Erik Gudbranson, defenceman, Kingston (OHL)
5) Cam Fowler, defenceman, Windsor, (OHL)
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