Is there a future Hall of Famer available to the Devils, Islanders or Rangers in the NHL Entry Draft to be held on Friday night and Saturday in Buffalo?
Each of our Met Area teams has a history of draftees who’ve made it into hockey’s Pantheon.
Brian Leetch, Scott Niedermayer and Pat LaFontaine, did the trick for the Blueshirts, Devs and Isles, respectively, but they all were plucked no lower than ninth overall. So, let’s not fly off to Dreamland about the current crop.
The chances of the contemporary Draft roster producing a future Hall of Famer when the plucking takes place at First Niagara Center range from slim to none.
But, then again, you never know.
What we do know is where our Locals are slotted for their first moves and precisely who they are not going to nab. Namely wunderkind Auston Matthews who indubitably will be taken by Lou Lamoriello for his Maple Leafs.
Figure that the Finnish phenoms, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, will go two and three — or three and two, if you will.
Among the Devils, Isles and Blueshirts, New Jersey at Slot No. 11 is in the best position for a goodie.
Brooklyn — alias Islanders — is next at Slot No. 19 while the Seventh Avenue Sextet — barring a last-minute change — will have to wait until Round Three before making a move.
Hey, that’s not the worst thing in the hockey universe when you consider that Henrik Lundqvist had to wait until the seventh round, 205th overall in the 2000 Entry Draft before he got the nod.
What follows is a review of each club’s needs, most likely player available in the Draft and realistic secondary and tertiary choices. Also, just for review purposes, I’ll add our Locals’ top selections from June 2015.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS (PICKING IN 11TH POSITION)
PRIORITIES: “The immediate need is scoring,” notes the New York Hockey Journal‘s Devils beat reporter Leo Scaglione Jr. “Their offense took a small step forward last season, but in terms of the pipeline, not many names come to mind in terms of changing the dynamic of the team’s offense.”
Finding a few gems who could energize the offense is a must. This is especially true, considering how much the club improved last season. General manger Ray Shero also could draft one or two blue liners for depth purposes.
With defense prospects such as Steve Santini and Seth Helgeson possibly making the jump to the big club, New Jersey should restock defensively.
MOST LIKELY PLAYER AVAILABLE: MICHAEL MCLEOD, CENTER
Since International Scouting Services pegs the Mississauga, Ontario forward at 13, there’s every possibility for Shero to corral McLeod. At 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, Michael has the goods to be a New Jersey change-maker.
“McLeod is a big, strong skater,” enthuses one scout, “and with skill to boot.”
In 57 games this season, McLeod amassed 61 points, a 32-point upswing from his rookie season. Described by The Hockey News as “a difference-maker,” Michael provides the entire package from an offensive standpoint.
McLeod could be a positive addition to the franchise’s youth movement alongside Pavel Zacha who was drafted sixth overall in 2015. The Hockey News figures McLeod could go at 10, one before Shero’s move.
SECONDARY CHOICES: TYSON JOST, CLAYTON KELLER
Tyson Jost, who skated for Penticton in the Western League, is another center who fits the Devils future template. At 18 years old, standing 6-foot, 194 pounds, Jost is an excellent skater armed with a good shot. Proof that Tyson is the real deal is that International Scouting Services lists him at ninth while The Hockey News figures 11 is more like it.
“The kid is the real deal,” one birddog insists. “He has man strength; skates well and has phenomenal hands to go with a great shot.”
Clayton Keller out of Swansea, Illinois, is another solid center. Scouts have him at 12, and why not? The 17 year old, standing 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, has a skill set above average; arguably one of the best in the Top 20.
TOP SELECTIONS FROM 2015:
PAVEL ZACHA: Zacha was selected sixth overall by the Devils and last season found himself in The Show for a game. His two assists and plus-4 speak for his promise.
He further showed why New Jersey should be excited about him after he totalled 64 points in 51 games in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting.
MACKENZIE BLACKWOOD: Blackwood was portrayed as one of the best net-minders the 2015 class had to offer, and the Devils jumped at that opportunity, selecting him 42nd overall.
The Devils struck gold with Blackwood who continued to shine for the OHL’s Barrie Colts. His record, 28-13-0. was good enough to earn him the OHL’s Goaltender of the Year award.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS (PICKING IN THE 19TH POSITION)
PRIORITIES: The Isles have a choice — go offense or defense. Picking 19th four behind the “Mike Bossy Level,” the high command has a number of possibilities.
Over the past few years, the Draft has been good to the Islanders, but with prospects finding their way closer to joining the big club and with Kyle Okposo an unrestricted free agent, the case for another wingman in the system could be made.
Then again, if there’s a superior defenseman available, why not go for the best talent? Yes, why not? With the defensive pipeline shrinking, the Islanders and GM Garth Snow have an opportunity to re-enhance the back end.
MOST LIKELY PLAYER AVAILABLE: DANTE FABBRO
Fabbro, a defenseman who skated for the WHL Pentiction Vees, is regarded as the safe pick at 19 according to International Scouting Services. “There’s a lot to like,” says one scout. “From his heavy shot to his offensive prowess, Fabbro brings a lot to the table.”
In Juniors last year, Fabbro notched 67 points in 45 games, while also putting on a good show for Team Canada at the World U18 Championships.
Standing 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, he betrays one obvious weakness — skating. But being committed to Boston University next season will allow him the time to finesse that aspect of his game. (A power skating course with guru Laura Stamm wouldn’t hurt either.)
SECONDARY CHOICES: CHARLIE MCAVOY, KIEFFER BELLOWS
Defenseman Charlie McAvoy would make a solid addition to the Isles’ system. A local kid from Long Beach, Long Island, standing 6-0, 205 pounds, McAvoy brings the blue-collar grit style that the Isles prefer from their D-men. Ranked 23rd overall by the International Scouting, McAvoy has the look of a steal.
Kieffer Bellows, a left wing, is the son of former NHL-er Brian Bellows. At 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, Kieffer is one of the best scoring talents in this class. Another BU commit, Bellows will have time to hone his game to sharpness and has the ability to be a solid NHLer.
TOP SELECTIONS FROM 2015:
MATHEW BARZAL: Selected 16th overall, the center made noise at training camp last Fall before the Isles sent him back to Seattle.
That didn’t stop Barzal from having a superior 2015-16 campaign where he totaled 88 points in 58 games. In the playoffs, he scored 26 points in 18 games helping lead the Thunderbirds to the WHL Championship.
ANTHONY BEAUVILLIER: After trading back into the first round again at 28, the Isles swooped up Beauvillier who quickly became noticeable in both the prospect camp and training camp.
After being sent back to Shawiningan, the left wing revealed why the Isles were right to take a gamble on him. In 47 games, he recorded 79 points, including his second 40 goal season. Beauvillier also shined in the playoffs with 30 points in 21 games as his club made it all the way to the President’s Cup Championship.
NEW YORK RANGERS (FIRST PICK IS IN ROUND THREE)
Here’s the how, why, and where the RANGERS will pick in Buffalo.
Barring any trades, GM Jeff Gorton‘s first selection won’t be until the third round.
Why? Because the Blueshirts traded their first and second-round picks for Keith Yandle and Eric Staal, respectively.
After Gorton makes his first pick, he’ll have Arizona’s fourth-round pick, acquired along with Yandle. Their fourth-round pick was traded to the Sharks for James Sheppard.
The Blueshirts have their own picks in the fifth, two sixth-round picks, and a seventh-round selection.
Because of their positioning, the Manhattanites will be looking for future role players. In last year’s draft, they picked five forwards, so I expect them to pick three defensemen in this year’s draft, with a forward and a goalie mixed in for good measure.
Examining the Rangers’ long-term roster, you’ll notice that the defensive prospect group could use bolstering. Right now we don’t know who will be available in Round Three, but past drafts revealed that diamonds can be found with some deep digging.
TOP SELECTIONS FROM 2015:
RYAN GROPP: The Rangers acquired the 41st overall selection — and Emerson Etem — in the trade that sent Carl Hagelin to Anaheim. With the second round selection, the Rangers selected left wing Ryan Gropp.
He played alongside the Islanders’ Barzal in Seattle over the last several seasons.
The now 19-year-old Gropp has improved his numbers in the WHL in three consecutive seasons.This year he finished with 34 goals ad 36 assists for 70 points in 66 games and tacked on another nine points in 11 playoff games for the Thunderbirds.
ROBIN KOVACS: With their first third-round selection the Rangers plucked left winger Robin Kovacs. The 19-year-old Swede also found success last season as he scored 21 goals and notched 13 assists in 44 games for AIK in the Hockey Allsvenskan League. He finished as the second-highest scorer on his team behind teammate Malte Stromwall.
ALEKSI SAARELA: The Rangers traded their best draft pick of 2015. The 19-year-old centerman was the centerpiece of what Carolina got in return for former captain Eric Staal.
Saarela scored 20 goals and collected 13 assists for Assat in Finland’s top league. He also went on to win gold with Finland at the World Juniors Tournament. He was a point per game player scoring four goals and distributing three assists in seven games.
Players like Anthony Duclair, Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Graves — among others — were also drafted by the Rangers in the third round or later and are believed to have the ability to play and stay in the NHL.
Hidden talent lurks on lower rungs in the Draft. It’s just a matter of finding the hidden aces. The Rangers have been able to find such talent.
With the upcoming Entry Draft regarded as one of the deepest in recent memory the Blueshirts should be able to uncover some buried treasure.
Exhibit A from the past, of course, is King Henrik, himself!