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2009 NHL Entry Draft: Players to Watch

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the Stanley Cup playoffs in the books, the focus has shifted to the 2009 edition of the NHL Entry Draft. This year's draft will take place in Montreal as part of the Canadiens' Centennial celebration, and it's still uncertain whose name will be called first on Friday evening at the Bell Centre.

Last year, Steven Stamkos was a no-brainer as the No. 1 overall pick for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the New York Islanders have a tougher decision to make this time around.

The Islanders won the draft lottery back in April after turning in the NHL's worst record in 2008-09 and they'll have to pick between forward John Tavares and defenseman Victor Hedman.

Tavares has been a household name in Canada for years and was always expected to be a No. 1 overall pick. However, Hedman - the 6-6, 220-pound Swede - has emerged as a challenger for the top spot over the course of the year.

While it's difficult to say who will go first, it's nearly a lock that Tavares and Hedman will be the first two players selected in this year's draft. The Isles have the tough task, but the Lightning, who have the second pick, can merely sit back and take whoever is left out of Hedman and Tavares.

After Hedman and Tavares, the next-best players available are mostly forwards. Canadian centerman Matt Duchene and Swedish winger Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson are the best of this group, and could both be top-five picks.

Once again there isn't a goaltender eligible for this year's draft that could be considered a can't-miss prospect. In fact, it would be surprising if any netminder is taken before the latter stages of the first round this year.

The NHL draft is usually loaded with trades, whether they come in the days leading up to the occasion or on the day of the draft. This year isn't expected to be any different in that regard.

Here is a look at some of the names, including those of Tavares and Hedman, that you will see called this weekend.

JOHN TAVARES - C - London (OHL)

Tavares has developed quite a following north of the border, thanks to his prolific scoring knack as a junior. His big breakthrough came during the 2006-07 season, when he potted 72 goals for Oshawa and broke Wayne Gretzky's OHL record for goals by a 16-year-old. Over four seasons in the OHL with Oshawa and London, Tavares averaged nearly 54 goals per year. Tavares also dominated the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa, as he was named tournament MVP in leading Team Canada to a fifth straight gold medal at the event. Most scouts expect Tavares to be an excellent player at the NHL level, but his lack of explosive speed could prevent him from becoming an elite player. Tavares also comes with a solid athletic pedigree, as his uncle, also named John Tavares, is the all-time leading scorer in the National Lacrosse League.

VICTOR HEDMAN - D - Modo (Sweden)

Unlike Tavares, Hedman was not being touted years in advance as a candidate for the top pick in the 2009 draft. The mammoth blueliner did, however, begin playing in the Elitserien, Sweden's top professional hockey league, as a 16- year-old. Slowly but surely, scouts realized that a player with Hedman's combination of size and skill could actually be even more valuable then a scoring prodigy like Tavares. Hedman made the All-Star team at the WJC in Ottawa, despite the fact that he disappointed with just two assists in the tournament. Still, scouts who have seen Hedman play for Modo are convinced that he will be a dominant player at the NHL level.

MATT DUCHENE - C - Brampton (OHL)

Duchene has the speed and offensive ability to be an All-Star in the NHL, but there are some concerns about whether his scoring ability will translate to the next level. In two seasons with Brampton of the OHL, Duchene has posted 30 and 31 goals, respectively. Not bad seasons, but those numbers aren't exactly eye-popping either. One of the reasons for this could be the fact that Duchene was playing behind Brampton's top centerman, Cody Hodgson, who was drafted 10th overall by Vancouver last year. Even if Duchene is unable to be a big- time scorer in the NHL, scouts still believe he will contribute as a strong two-way player.

MAGNUS PAAJARVI-SVENSSON - LW - Timra (Sweden)

This Swedish winger has speed to burn and used that quickness to create havoc and turn heads for Team Sweden at the 2009 WJC. Paajarvi-Svensson had seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in six games at the tournament and helped the Swedes earn a silver medal. He has not been as prolific for his club team, Timra, but that is to be expected since that assignment requires him to play against men at the top level of Swedish professional hockey. At 6-1, 201 pounds, Paajarvi-Svensson also has above-average size, but still needs to become a better finisher.

EVANDER KANE - C - Vancouver (WHL)

Kane was named after boxing great Evander Holyfield and just like the former heavyweight champ, he gets a great deal accomplished through grit and determination. He impressed at the 2009 WJC by posting six points (2g, 4a) for Team Canada and also turned in a superb sophomore season for Vancouver in the WHL. Kane notched 48 goals and 96 points for the Giants in 2008-09, doubling his goal total from the previous season when he was the WHL's rookie of the year. Kane has excellent speed and could develop into a strong two-way player at the NHL level.

BRAYDEN SCHENN - C - Brandon (WHL)

Luke Schenn had an excellent rookie campaign for Toronto last season, and it's quite possible that the Maple Leafs will get a shot to draft his brother Brayden this year. Luke, of course, is a defenseman, while Brayden is a centerman with a solid all-around game who has been compared to Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards. Schenn turned in a strong season for Brandon of the WHL in 2008-09, posting 32 goals and 88 points for the Wheat Kings, but isn't expected to be a prolific scorer in the NHL. Still, his hockey I.Q. and ability to play in all situations should make him a productive pro.

JORDAN SCHROEDER - C/RW - University of Minnesota (WCHA)

At just 5-9, 175 pounds, Schroeder is anything but a physical specimen but he's still caught the attention of scouts and NHL teams thanks to a combination of speed and playmaking ability. Those skills could make him the first American to be taken in this year's draft and he could go in the top-10. Schroeder had an excellent freshman season at the University of Minnesota in 2008-09, finishing second on the team with 45 points. He also turned in a strong performance at the 2009 World Junior Championships, posting three goals and eight assists in six games for Team USA. His size issues may prevent him from becoming a dominant player, but he could be very dangerous in the mold of a Patrick Kane.

JARED COWEN - D - Spokane (WHL)

Knee surgery to repair ligament damage cut his season with Spokane of the WHL short in February, but Cowen may still wind up being a top-10 pick in this year's draft. Scouts love his size (6-5, 220 lbs) and mobility, and some even believe he could someday challenge Hedman as the top defenseman available in this year's draft. Cowen still needs to polish his offensive skills, but indications are that he has the tools necessary to be an excellent blueliner at the NHL level.

DAVID RUNDBLAD - D - Skelleftea (Sweden)

Rundblad hasn't generated nearly as much hype as his countryman Hedman, but he still has the size (6-2, 189 lbs), skill and speed to be a top-tier defenseman in the NHL. Had a solid 2008-09 season for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League, posting 10 assists in 45 games while playing with men. Rundblad will likely remain in the Elitserien for a few more years which should help him develop the strength needed to compete at a high level in the NHL.

OLIVIER ROY - G - Cape Breton (QMJHL)

It's possible that the first round of the draft may come and go without a goaltender having been selected. However, Roy, who is not related to the legendary netminder Patrick Roy, could be the best of the bunch despite the fact that he is seriously undersized at 6-0, 165 pounds. He is years away from playing in the NHL, but his quickness and commitment to the butterfly technique could someday make him a premier puck-stopper at the next level.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo