Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The National Hockey League will hold its annual Entry Draft this weekend at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and the Chicago Blackhawks will get first crack at this year's pool of talented youngsters.
The Blackhawks, who ended last season tied for the third-worst record in the Western Conference, have never had the first overall pick since the draft began in 1963.
This year's draft is expected to be a wide-open affair, and fans should be prepared for surprises beginning with the very first pick. None of the players are considered to be a can't-miss prospect in the mold of Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, but there is still plenty of talent available.
The No. 1 pick will likely be right wing Patrick Kane or centerman Kyle Turris, but even that's not a certainty.
Kane is the top-rated skater by International Scouting Services after turning in an unbelievable rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League. The Buffalo, NY native led the OHL in 2006-07 season with 145 points (62 goals, 83 assists) while playing in 58 games for the London Knights.
Kane also tallied five goals and four assists as member of Team USA's bronze- medal winning squad at the 2007 World Junior Championships. Has good speed, but his scoring prowess is primarily a result of his excellent stickhandling. At 5-9, 160 pounds, Kane has always had something to prove and so far he's exceeded expectations every step of the way.
Patrick Kane is expected to be the first pick.
Turris could be the best prospect to ever come out of the tier II British Columbia Hockey League. It was his size that originally kept Turris from playing in the major junior leagues, but his six-foot frame shows that he has since grown into his skill. He is the top-rated North American skater by NHL Central Scouting after notching 66 goals and 55 assists in 53 games for the Burnaby Express last season. Turris has blazing speed, a hard shot, excellent vision in the passing game, and may be the first BCHL player to go first overall in the NHL Entry Draft.
The best of the rest includes Russian winger Alexei Cherapanov, who set a Russian Super League rookie record by scoring 18 times for Avangard Omsk, breaking the mark set by Pavel Bure during the 1988-89 RSL campaign. Cherapanov is the top-rated European skater by Central Scouting.
After Kane, the next American expected to go in the draft is James Van Riemsdyk, a left wing prospect from Middletown, NJ. Van Riemsdyk, who played last year with the U.S. National Team Development Program, is already 6-3, 205 pounds and could fill out that frame and become a big-time power forward in the NHL. He will attend the University of New Hampshire in the fall of 2007, and should hone his game with the Wildcats.
The top defenseman this year is widely considered to be Karl Alzner, a 6-2, 206-pound blueliner from Calgary of the Western Hockey League. He is the sixth-ranked overall skater by the ISS after registering 47 points (8 goals, 39 assists) and posting a plus-16 in 63 games with the Hitmen in 2006-07. Alzner was also the youngest defenseman on the gold medal-winning Team Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championships.
This Burnaby, BC native is an excellent passer and strong skater who also knows how to use his 6-2, 206-pound frame. Alzner projects as at least a solid two-way defenseman in the NHL.
There isn't expected to be much in the way of goaltending talent this year and the first round could roll by without a single netminder getting drafted. NHL Central Scouting has named Jeremy Smith of Plymouth (OHL) as the top North American goaltender and Sweden's Joel Gistedt as the best European backstop available.
The lack of a standout name may also lead to a rush of trades, as teams near the top of the draft consider helping their team by swapping a high pick for more established players.
The first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft will begin Friday evening at 7 p.m. (et) and rounds 2-7 will start on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. The entire first-round order is as follows:
1. Chicago; 2. Philadelphia; 3. Phoenix; 4. Los Angeles; 5. Washington; 6. Edmonton; 7. Columbus; 8. Boston; 9. St. Louis; 10. Florida; 11. Carolina; 12. Montreal; 13. Toronto; 14. Colorado; 15. Edmonton (from NYI); 16. Anaheim (from TAM); 17. NY Rangers; 18. Calgary; 19. Minnesota; 20. Pittsburgh; 21. Phoenix (from DAL); 22. Montreal (from SJS); 23. Philadelphia (from NAS); 24. St. Louis (from ATL); 25. Vancouver; 26. St. Louis (from NJD via SJS) 27. Detroit; 28. Washington (from BUF); 29. Ottawa; 30. Edmonton (from ANA).