The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victory and the Lightning’s valiant attempt to wrest the Silver Mug from the Windy City skaters produced some of the hottest hockey in memory.
Now that Jonathan Toews & Co. have had their names engraved on Lord Stanley’s gift to the game, it’s time for us to chill out.
That is chill out over the annual Entry Draft. It opens on June 26 and concludes the following day at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.
As far as our three metro area teams are concerned, each has particular needs. Significantly, the New Jersey Devils are the only of the trio to have a first round selection.
Picking sixth, behind Edmonton, Buffalo, Arizona, Toronto and Carolina, Devils new general manager Ray Shero will zero in on what his club egregiously is lacking — a sniper.
Both the Rangers and Islanders have no first-round picks which means the local focus will be on Shero’s initial selection as New Jersey’s new hockey boss.
Ray allows what everyone in the NHL universe, from Vancouver to Newark, knows, he needs scoring punch.
We also know who he will not get but there are other attractive choices down the line especially since New Jersey has the sixth pick.
After the two automatic selections — Connor McDavid to Edmonton and Jack Eichel to Buffalo — the next projected available forwards are as follows:
* DYLAN STROME: Center on McDavid’s Eric Otters, he’s the kid brother of the Islanders Ryan Strome. And with Garth Snow‘s pick so distant there’s no way the Brooklynites will get him. Nor the Rangers, also exempt from the first round. Dylan figures to be nabbed somewhere between the third and sixth pick; giving New Jersey an outside chance to call his name. There’s a lot to like about Strome, especially his playmaking ability and rocket shot.
* MITCH MARNER: The London Knights right wing is projected by The Hockey News Draft Preview to go fifth. But that’s close enough to sixth for Shero to have a shot at the Markham, Ontario product. The best thing about this Lighthorse Harry is that his size and style have him being compared to a young Claude Giroux or Patrick Kane; take your pick. Then again, the better news is that Mitch plays big and is still growing. And better than that, the The International Scouting Services list him in sixth position and that has to have Shero smiling.
* PAVEL ZACHA: On the assumption that Strome and Marner are plucked ahead of the sixth pick, the next best forward for New Jersey would be this Czech-born center who’s playing his Major Junior hockey in Sarnia, Ontario. At 6-3, 214 pounds, Zacha is a power forward ranked seventh by The Hockey News but tenth by International Scouting Services. “He looks like a pro,” said one scout. “He’s got skill and competes.”
* LAWSON CROUSE: A towering (6-4,212) left wing who skated for Kingston this past season, the London, Ontario product has possibilities for New Jersey. While The Hockey News ranks him in eighth place, International Scouting Services notched Crouse fourth. “Lawson is big and powerful,” said one scout. “A power forward like him is hard to find.”
Since the Blueshirts do not make their first selection until the 59th overall pick, and Islanders the 72nd, their situations demand that later options be considered. Two interesting forwards might lure either Glen Sather or Garth Snow to make them a pick, if available:
* JEREMY BRACCO: The right wing from Freeport, Long Island came out of the U.S. National Development Program and could be a third round steal, if he’s still around. While he’s only 5-9 172 pounds, Bracco is slick and skilled. One scout said he has “high-end hockey sense.”
* ADAM MUSIL: If you remember Bobby Holik of Devils, Rangers and Flames fame, then project this center as a latter-day Holik. At 6-3, 207 pounds, he has the tools to be a second line pivot on an NHL club in a few years. His hands and aggressive nature make him a well-rounded prospect.
Looking ahead, each one of the local general managers might be inclined to stock up on a goaltending draftee. The two best prospects are not high on the list but as Cam Talbot — among others — has demonstrated, a low ranking could bring high results. Try this pair of puck-stoppers on for size:
* ILYA SAMSONOV: Aggressive between the pipes, this 6-3, 201 pound Russian enjoyed a short stint in the KHL but mostly played on the Junior level in his home country. One scouting report notes: “He’s big, very focused, quick and technically very solid.” While 38th on The Hockey News list, International Scouting Services considers Samsonov the best goalie available in the Draft.
* MACKENZIE BLACKWOOD: Marc Staal must know this fellow from his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Playing his Junior hockey in Barrie, Ontario, Blackwood is an excellent physical specimen at 6-4, 205 pounds with above-average athletic ability. “He’s good at reading the play and getting into position,” says one scouting report. Another bird dog said his game is reminiscent of Roberto Luongo’s between the pipes. The Hockey News rated him directly behind Samsonov in 39th position.