Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It's been almost two weeks since the Chicago Blackhawks were center stage of the hockey world, but on Friday night in Los Angeles, the Edmonton Oilers will get to take a turn in the spotlight.
The Oilers hold the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and will cash in that chip at Staples Center. All signs point to Edmonton nabbing Taylor Hall with the No. 1 selection and Boston taking Tyler Seguin with the second pick. After that, there's not much certainty about how the rest of the draft will unfold.
The most intriguing unknown heading into every draft is how actively teams will pursue or entertain trades. Let's face it, the majority of the players selected this weekend won't be making any kind of impact for NHL teams over the next few years, but there is proven professional talent to be had at the draft.
That trade-market talent can wind up paying off big in next year's playoffs. Just ask Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, who pulled off a draft-day deal with Anaheim last year to land mammoth defenseman Chris Pronger.
Of course, Pronger was exceptional at the back end this spring in leading Philly to a Stanley Cup Finals berth, but there is a price to pay, as the Flyers, who are currently without a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, can attest to.
It's hard to do anything other than make wild guesses about what kind of trades may happen this weekend, and it's even more difficult to truly gauge what type of draft-eligible players are available. We know who the scouts think are the most talented kids at this stage, but at 17 and 18 years old, some players are just too raw to know anything definitive about them.
Still, last year's draft provided impact players like John Tavares and Matt Duchene for the New York Islanders and Colorado Avalanche, respectively, and this summer's crop likely has a few NHL-ready players for the taking.
Here's a closer look at some of the best players available this weekend in southern California:
TAYLOR HALL - LW - Windsor (OHL)
Taylor Hall has the best chance of becoming an elite scorer at the NHL level.
Hall is quite simply the player with the best chance of becoming an elite scorer at the NHL level, and he fills the Oilers' desperate need for a top- line sniper. Edmonton's leading goal-scorer over the last three seasons has averaged just 26 goals per season. Enter Hall, who poured in 57 goals in 76 games, including the playoffs, for Windsor last year. He has the type of world-class speed that could make him an extremely dangerous offensive player in the NHL. Also, the Calgary native has shown the ability to play his best hockey at playoff time, winning the Stafford Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Memorial Cup for the triumphant Spitfires in both 2009 and '10. All told, Hall amassed 76 points (35 goals, 41 assists) in 44 postseason games during his career with Windsor, which is now likely over since there is nothing left for Hall to accomplish at the junior level. The Oilers were dead last in the NHL in points last year and the franchise has missed the postseason in each of the last four years, so Edmonton clearly needs a lot more than Hall to turn things around. But, it's a good place to start and the speedy youngster should make the hockey played at Rexall Place a bit more interesting next year.
TYLER SEGUIN - C - Plymouth (OHL)
Hall is a pretty sure thing at No. 1, and that's despite the fact that Seguin is the top-rated North American skater by Central Scouting, the NHL's official scouting bureau. Seguin, a Brampton, Ontario native, is a pure centerman who has drawn comparisons to the likes of Steve Yzerman, but Hall trumps the Plymouth star for sheer offensive firepower due to his quickness. Seguin may not be a pure burner like Hall, but he did score the most goals in the OHL during the regular season last year, hitting the net 48 times in 63 games. Boston is the likely destination for Seguin, as the Bruins are picking second this year due to their pre-season trade of Phil Kessel to Toronto. The Bruins made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals this spring, where they infamously blew a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia. Boston's biggest need is scoring, and with 173 points in 124 career regular-season games with Plymouth, Seguin is an excellent way to address the lack of offense in Beantown.
ERIK GUDBRANSON - D - Kingston (OHL)
If the Oilers and Bruins snatch up Hall and Seguin as everybody expects them to, consensus opinion agrees the Florida Panthers will try to land a defenseman to replace Jay Bouwmeester at No. 3. The Panthers dealt Bouwmeester to Calgary at last year's draft and Gudbranson appears to be the best draft- eligible blueliner out there. At 6-4, 195 pounds, Gudbranson has a suitable frame to be a dominant NHL defenseman and, according to scouts, he has just about everything else too, including poise, offensive ability, a booming slapshot and the desire to mix it up physically with the opposition. The Ontario native missed a large portion of the 2009-10 season due to a bout of mononucleosis, but still managed to record 23 points and 68 penalty minutes in 41 games for Kingston in 2009-10. Gudbranson is still likely a few years away from contributing at the NHL level, but projects as a No. 1 defenseman if he is developed properly.
CAM FOWLER - D - Windsor (OHL)
Just as Hall and Seguin are basically considered to be 1A and 1B at this year's draft, Gudbranson and Fowler share the same dynamic as the top-two defensive prospects available this summer. Fowler is slightly smaller than Gudbranson at 6-2, but is said to possess even better offensive skills and is considered to be one of the strongest skating prospects overall at this year's draft. The Windsor, Ontario native holds dual citizenship from Canada and the United States, but has chosen to play for the U.S. internationally and helped Team USA win gold at the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships. Fowler should at least be an asset on the power play at the NHL level, and could possibly develop into a solid two-way defenseman.
BRETT CONNOLLY - RW - Prince George (WHL)
Connolly is worth keeping an eye on this year, even though his 2009-10 campaign was basically ruined by injuries. After posting 30 goals and 60 points to win the WHL's Rookie of the Year in 2008-09, Connolly managed to skate in just 16 games for Prince George this past season. He did notch 10 goals and 19 points in his limited role with the Cougars, but the hip injury that sidelined Connolly for most of the 2009-10 campaign could scare some teams off come Friday night. Then again, it's also very possible that he could go in the top-five. Connolly's exceptional 2008-09 season, when he became the first 16-year-old to score 30 goals in the WHL since Patrick Marleau did it in 1995-96, and his natural leadership ability make him a safe top-10 bet, even with the injury concerns.
NINO NIEDERREITER - RW - Portland (WHL)
This Swiss winger effectively announced himself to the hockey world at the 2010 World Junior Championships, recording 10 points in seven games with Team Switzerland and making the all-tournament team. Niederreiter also turned in a strong season as a WHL rookie in 2009-10, posting a team-high 36 goals in 65 games for the Portland Winterhawks. His size and playmaking skills are Niederreiter's best assets, but he plays a strong overall offensive game and is a tireless competitor.
MIKAEL GRANLUND - C/W - HIFK (Finland)
The top-rated European skater by NHL Central Scouting, Granlund is somewhat of a risky pick. He is undersized at 5-10, 180 pounds and is not an especially impressive skater. However, where the Finnish forward does excel is with his innate ability to create scoring chances for his teammates. He played at the top level of Finnish professional hockey in 2009-10 and was named Rookie of the Year in the SM-Liiga, leading all rookies with 40 points (13 g, 27 a) in 43 games. Granlund was described as a "Saku Koivu clone" by Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting, but draft experts are divided about whether he will be picked in the top-five or last into the 20s.
VLADIMIR TARASENKO - RW - Sibir (KHL)
Unlike Granlund, this Russian winger has the size to step into the NHL right away and has spent the last two seasons skating in the KHL -- the world's best professional league outside of the NHL. He had a solid sophomore season in the KHL in 2009-10, posting 13 goals and 24 points in 42 games for HC Sibir Novosibirsk -- one year after finishing second in voting for the league's Rookie of the Year. He also turned many heads for Team Russia at the 2009 World Under-18 Championships, posting 15 points (8 g, 7 a) in seven games for the silver-medal winners. Tarasenko boasts an all-around offensive game, and has a an excellent hockey pedigree as his father, Andrei, who also coaches HC Sibir, had a long hockey-playing career and represented the Russians at the 1994 Winter Olympics. He could go somewhere between picks 5-to-10 and won't last into the 20s.
EMERSON ETEM - RW - Medicine Hat (WHL)
Etem gets to return home for the draft and the Long Beach, California native is expected to get picked on the first night, but the lack of an extensive junior pedigree will likely drop him to the latter stages of the first round. Etem was a WHL rookie with Medicine Hat in 2009-10 and he notched 65 points (37 goals, 28 assists) in 72 games, leading all WHL rookies in goals. He also comes from an athletic family, though the rest of the Etems are known for their work on unfrozen water. Etem's mother, Patricia, rowed for the U.S. at the 1984 Summer Olympics and his father, Rick, rowed for the Naval Academy in college. Etem has great speed and soft hands, skills that help him get to the net and score from in close.
DEREK FORBORT - D - U.S. NTDP
A player who keeps rocketing up mock drafts, Forbort's combination of size and skating ability are making him a hot commodity. The Duluth, Minnesota native has been listed at 6-5, 198 pounds and knows how to use that size for positioning and to cut off passing lanes. In the fall he'll be headed to the University of North Dakota, where he will likely add more bulk to his big frame and further develop as a two-way player.
CALVIN PICKARD - G - Seattle (WHL)
As is normally the case at the NHL draft, there are no can't-miss goaltending prospects available. Netminders traditionally take much longer to develop, and, at 17 or 18 years of age, they are generally still too young to warrant using an early pick to get one. In fact, Pickard could be the lone goalie selected in the first round on Friday. The Winnipeg native is not a particularly big goaltender, but scouts love his positioning. Pickard played for a poor WHL team in Seattle last year and showed that he could handle a heavy workload, posting a .914 save percentage in 62 games for the Thunderbirds in 2009-10. Pickard can walk in his older brother's footsteps if he's the first goaltender to be picked at this year's draft. Nashville made Chet Pickard the first goalie to be selected when it grabbed him with the 19th overall pick at the 2008 draft.