Well, here we go.
For my money nobody does the entry draft better than the NHL, which is why, once again, I'm looking forward to this Friday's opening round like I do a Game 7.
From Commissioner Gary Bettman announcing trades, to the draft floor drama, to the GM's calling kids up to the podium (and occasionally players (see Alex Ovechkin at the 2006 draft in Vancouver picking Nicklas Backstrom on behalf of the Capitals), to nervous parents sitting with their kids in the crowd, to the traditional donning of the ball cap and jersey.
Everything about the draft hits home for me and many fans alike.
So, why not take a whack at putting together a mockup of what the first round might look like?
Thirty picks, twenty-six teams (Calgary, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Toronto do not have selections in the first round, unless they make deals to get in) and hundreds of kids hoping their names will be called.
In doing this exercise I looked at not just the best player available (which is what all teams claim to select), but also organizational depth at various positions, team needs, draft history of particular GM's and their teams, and also some good old fashion guessing.
By no means do I expect the draft to actually come out exactly like this, as one rogue pick can throw everything askew, but it's an interesting way to prepare for one of the most interesting hockey days of the year.
Here are some possible new homes for the first 15 picks.
To check out selections 16 through 30, CLICK HERE.
1. Edmonton: Tyler Seguin (C — Plymouth Whalers — OHL)
While Taylor Hall may be the better 18-year-old, the question the Oilers need to ask themselves is "who will be the better 25-year-old?" And while teams usually stick to the "best-player-available" mantra, in Edmonton's case, the team is also looking at position. Loaded with talented wingers in the prospect pipeline (Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Jordan Eberle) I expect the Oilers to select a franchise centreman who is also a right-hand shot, which every team covets.
2. Boston (from Toronto): Taylor Hall (LW — Windsor Spitfires — OHL)
If the Oilers get the guy they need then the Bruins get the guy they want. Able to step in right away and provide the Bruins with a scoring threat off the wing, Hall will finally allow Bruins fans to forget the productivity they lost after trading Phil Kessel to the Leafs. Hall is a big, strong, powerful winger who has proven that he can win at the top level, and moreover, craves that type of competition. In the first game of the Memorial Cup he got rocked by Islanders prospect Travis Hamonic on his first shift. Many thought it would knock him out of the tournament, but Hall came right back and won tournament MVP (his second in a row).
3. Florida: Erik Gudbranson (D — Kingston Frontenacs — OHL)
The big captain of the Frontenacs is the best all-around defenceman in the draft. He possesses great size and strength, can anchor a power play and is willing to drop the mitts when called upon. Florida's building from the backend out with Dmitri Kulikov and now this stud blue-liner. He'll make his Kingston coach, Doug Gilmour, proud.
4. Columbus: Cam Fowler (D — Windsor Spitfires — OHL)
Watch this guy skate and you think you're watching Scott Niedermayer. He has an effortless stride and gets to places quickly and efficiently. Fowler is the best skater in the draft — hands down. The only knock against Fowler is his compete-level at times, but it's tough to turn down this type of skill. Look for Fowler and John Moore to anchor the Jackets blue-line for years to come a duo that will be complemented by Cody Goloubef (University of Wisconsin) and David Savard (Moncton Wildcats).
5. N.Y. Islanders: Brett Connolly (LW — Prince George Cougars — WHL)
As one NHL insider told me recently, "it's the Islanders' goal now to surround John Tavares with as many skilled forwards as possible." And if so, then that guy is Connolly. Were it not for a hip injury this year, Connolly would be in the conversation with Hall or Seguin for first overall. He just has that much skill. But the injury does give teams cause for pause. The Islanders could hit a tape-measure home run if Connolly stays healthy.
6. Tampa Bay: Brandon Gormley (D — Moncton Wildcats — QMJHL)
Tampa GM Steve Yzerman will start to put his draft stamp on his new team by selecting the smartest defenceman in the draft. The Lightning already signed his Moncton teammate, defenceman Mark Barberio, and in Gormley, they will take a kid who plays as close to an almost perfect game as anyone in the draft. He's not flashy, but game in and game out, this kid seldom makes mistakes. He moves the puck really well too. This pick will solidify a blue-line that began with last year's second overall pick, Victor Hedman.
7. Carolina: Derek Forbort (D — USA Under-18 — USHL)
With more than a handful of skilled prospects up front (Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Jiri Tlusty) look for the Hurricane's to do something to shore up the backend. At 6'5, Forbort fits the bill. The big, strong defenceman turned heads this year, showing how well he could get around the ice with his huge frame. Described as still being "raw," Forbort reminds some scouts of Buffalo stalwart blue-liner Tyler Myers. Forbort is committed to North Dakota next season.
8. Atlanta: Nino Niederreiter (RW — Portland Winter Hawks — WHL)
Looking for more offensive pop in its lineup, Atlanta will do well to go back to the Western Hockey League (like it did last year in the first round when the team took Evander Kane) and select the Swiss star from the Portland Winterhawks. The addition of Niederreiter would add another promising young sniper to go along with Jeremy Morin (Kitchener Rangers) and Spencer Machacek (Chicago Wolves). Niederreiter became a household name at the world junior tournament last January. I don't expect him to fall out of the top 10.
9. Minnesota: Vladimir Tarasenko (RW — Novosibirsk — KHL)
The Wild need goals. Period. While they are very deep in net and the blue-line, Minnesota would love to draft a player who's close to stepping right in and helping out with its much-beleaguered offence. That's just what Tarasenko can deliver. He's described by some as Ovechkin-light. It's always a gamble drafting Russian kids because there is no guarantee they'll report, but Minnesota could hit a home run with this pick.
10. N.Y. Rangers: Jeffrey Skinner (C — Kitchener Rangers — OHL)
From the Kitchener Rangers to the New York Rangers, Skinner demonstrated this year that he can score in just about any situation. A linemate of Tyler Seguin as a youth in Toronto, Skinner put up 50 goals in junior this season and almost led his Kitchener squad to an improbable upset against the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires. Some scouting services have Skinner in their top 5. He'll join a young group of talented Ranger prospects up front that include Chris Kreider, Evgeny Grachev and Derek Stepan.
11. Dallas: Jonathan Merrill (D — USA Under-18 — USHL)
The Stars lost a promising young blue-liner in Ivan Vishnevskiy, who they surrendered to acquire goaltender Kari Lehtonen from Atlanta, so look for GM Joe Nieuwendyk to try and shore up that position by selecting the mobile defenceman who is off to the University of Michigan next season. Dallas needs to do something with their blue-line prospects because after Philip Larsen, it gets pretty thin, pretty quick. Merrill is a great first step.
12. Anaheim: Ryan Johansen (C — Portland Winter Hawks — WHL)
Johansen is a big centreman who still needs to fill out physically, but already possesses skills in all three zones. His compete-level is great, and can both distribute and finish. Johansen is not close to jumping into the NHL (he's at least two years away) but would be a perfect second-line centre behind Ryan Getzlaf.
13. Phoenix (from Calgary): Jack Campbell (G — USA Under-18 — USHL)
Although easily considered the best goaltender in the draft, Phoenix GM Don Maloney will be thrilled to find him still available at this spot. Campbell's already excelled in high-pressure situations, relieving another Phoenix goaltending prospect Mike Lee in the gold-medal game at the world juniors to lead the U.S to a gold medal. Campbell went back on a verbal agreement to attend the University of Michigan and will play for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL next season.
14. St. Louis: Alexander Burmistrov (C — Barrie Colts — OHL)
The highly skilled Burmistrov will complement an embarrassment of riches the Blues have up front. His speed is probably tops in the draft and everything he does happens "suddenly," which will fit into the up-tempo game the Blues hope to play under Davis Payne. His decision to leave the KHL and play Canadian major junior hockey indicates he is committed to a career in the NHL.
15. Florida (from Boston): Austin Watson (RW — Peterborough Petes — OHL)
And as we expected, a trade before the draft involving the seond of Boston’s two first round picks. Still, if available I expect new Florida GM Dale Tallon to take the forward best compared to Jordan Staal and that’s Watson. Perhaps the best two-way player in the draft, Watson's season was hampered by an ankle injury he incurred blocking a Brandon Gormley shot at the Top Prospects game.Watson blossomed after waiving his no-trade clause to move from a stacked Windsor Spitfires team to Peterborough where he played top minutes with the Petes. Great offensive numbers but his defensive play is what sets him apart.