Looking Beyond the Top Three

Friday June 26 will mark the occasion of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in the hockey mad city of Montreal, Quebec. In the 100th anniversary of the storied bleu, blanc et rouge, it is only fitting that the draft be held in the home of Les Canadiens.

Much of the anticipation for this draft has centered around the battle for number one overall between London forward John Tavares, Brampton forward Matt Duchene and Swedish Elite League defenceman Victor Hedman. However, there is a whole list of other players in this draft who should also go on to have promising NHL careers.

Outside of the consensus top three in Tavares, Hedman and Duchene, players like Brayden Schenn, Landon Ferraro, Dylan Olsen and Nazem Kadri are all projected first round picks who should hear their names called in Montreal on Friday night. While not projected to be a first rounder, another player who may also hear his name called at the draft is Calgary Hitmen forward Kris Foucault. Let’s now take a look at some of the players not named Tavares, Hedman and Duchene who will likely be trying on an NHL sweater Friday night in Montreal.

More Than Just the Son of Ray Ferraro

As a forward playing for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, Landon Ferraro has some good genes in being the son of former NHLer turned broadcaster, Ray Ferraro. In his 18 year NHL career, Ray Ferraro would amass over 400 goals and almost 900 points. After recently having the opportunity to speak with Rebels Assistant coach Bryce Thoma, I quickly came to realize what makes Landon Ferraro a player to watch out for in Friday’s draft. In his final year with the Rebels, Landon would improve on his 13 goal performance in 2007-2008 by notching 37 goals the following season. Bryce quickly made it clear to me that the Rebels were a rebuilding team last year, especially after star player Brandon Sutter ended up making the Carolina Hurricanes and therefore did not end up returning to Red Deer.

Bryce states that “When Brandon was gone, Landon was automatically forced into the role of number center. Landon then had the difficult task of playing against the top shut down defensive pairings against every team and despite this, he still managed to score 37 goals.” In his first year as assistant coach in Red Deer, Thoma is quick to point out that some of Landon’s best attributes are his speed and his quick release of the puck. Despite being the son of Ray Ferraro, you definitely get the feeling that Landon is not phased by the pressures of being the son of an NHLer. While the accomplishments of his father are impressive, Thoma is quick to point out that Landon is his own player who brings a great deal of effort night in and night out when he plays the game.

Another name that was also helpful in speaking of Landon Ferraro was journalist for the Red Deer Advocate, Greg Meachem. By covering the Rebels since day one in 1992, Meachem has witnessed many players from the Rebels like Dion Phaneuf, Colby Armstrong, Cam Ward and others continue to progress in having prosperous NHL careers. When speaking of Landon Ferraro, Meachem is quick to complement the forward by saying “He’s a pretty good two way player. As soon as he gets stronger, I think he’ll be an effective NHL player. Landon possesses a pretty good shot and he will probably be one of the fastest skaters in the entire draft.” While Meachem feels that Ferraro will end up being a great player in the NHL one day, he also feels that another year in junior for Landon would be best for his development as a player. Meachem expects a very good year for Landon in 2009-2010 as he projects the forward will improve on his 37 goal campaign from last season by notching between 40-50 goals next year.

Another Kodiak

We will stay in the province of Alberta to look at our next player in AJHL defenceman Dylan Olsen. While there will likely be a lot of players from the WHL drafted in the first round on Friday, there is also another league in Western Canada that may also produce another first rounder. Junior A hockey in Canada is a great way for hockey players who wish to pursue their studies in the United States to get good opportunities at hockey scholarships at places like the University of Wisconsin, Boston College and other US schools. While the league in no way produces the amount of NHLers like that of the Western Hockey League, it is nonetheless a great game to watch with some entertaining hockey being played. Last year alone saw Junior A player Joe Colborne selected 16th overall by the Boston Bruins. During his draft year, Colborne played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Camrose Kodiaks.

While Colborne is now playing hockey at the University of Denver, a former teammate of his in defenceman Dylan Olsen heads into Friday’s draft as the top rated player coming out of Junior A hockey this year. It would not be surprising to see Olsen head to the stage on Friday as a first round pick. I recently caught up with Camrose Kodiaks broadcaster and CFCW personality Tim Ellis to speak about the talented young player. Ellis is quick to point to the size of Olsen as the defenceman already stands at 6’3″ and over 200 pounds as an 18 year old. As far as having some grit to go along with that strength, Ellis states “In his second season he developed a mean streak to him. He went from 45 penalty minutes last year to over 123 this season.” However, the Kodiaks broadcaster is quick to note that Olsen’s strengths go beyond his size and tenacity as he makes a great first pass out of the zone to his forwards and is the type of defenceman that can be a shutdown guy or even an offensive guy.

Last year in the AJHL, Olsen had an impressive 29 points in 53 games and has also shown some offensive flair while playing for Canada at prominent tournaments such as the World Under-18 Championships. I recently had the opportunity to speak to sportsnet.ca CHL columnist Patrick King who also had some positive things to say about Olsen. Of Olsen’s performance against top level competition while playing for Canada, King states “He broke out at the Under-18s in April of 2009 as he quickly emerged as Canada’s best defenceman in the tournament.” Olsen led all team Canada defencemen with 4 points in 6 games. To say that Olsen was the best defenceman for Canada at the Under-18s is very high praise for the young player as there were a number of other talented blueliners playing for Canada at the tournament.

Some of the defencemen that Olsen played alongside when wearing the Canadian maple leaf included Simon Despres from the QMJHL and product of North Vancouver, BC, Stefan Elliott. Despres is ranked 8th among North American skaters according to NHL Central Scouting while Elliott is likely to be selected somewhere in the late first or early second round of the draft. There are also a number of other defencemen on that Under-18 team for Canada who will hear their names selected at the draft over the next few days. To see Dylan Olsen play so well against such prestigious competition should only enhance his reputation amongst NHL scouts as he goes through the process of getting to the National Hockey League. This will be Olsen’s last year playing Junior A hockey for Camrose as he has committed to play for the University of Minnesota-Deluth for next year.

The Younger Schenn

Our tour of Western Canadian prospects transitions to perhaps the most highly touted of the players mentioned to this point in Brayden Schenn of the Brandon Wheat Kings. Former NHLer and now head coach and general manager of the Wheat Kings Kelly McCrimmon was nice enough to give me a few minutes to speak with him about his highly touted prospect in Brayden. Unlike his brother in Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn, Brayden instead plays at the forward position. He is projected by most scouts to be a very early first round selection in the NHL draft.

Schenn’s head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon is quick to commend Brayden on the strong effort level that he brings to the game every night. “He competes real hard” McCrimmon says. The coach is also quick to praise Schenn’s attitude off the ice by stating “he is mature beyond his years.” When asking McCrimmon about some players either past or present that Schenn reminds him of, he is once again quick to complement his young forward as the two players he mentions are future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg and hard nosed Flyers captain Mike Richards. As a basis for his comparison, just like Richards and Forsberg, McCrimmon says of Schenn that “He is physical, he competes well at both ends of the ice and he is very talented.” Ranked sixth overall by International Scouting Services, Brayden Schenn should be one of the first names we hear called to the stage on Friday night.

Nazem Kadri

We now take a detour from our Western Canadian trip as the focus now shifts to OHL forward Nazem Kadri. A member of the London Knights, Kadri comes from an organization that has seen a lot of players jump to NHL stardom under the helm of General Manager Mark Hunter and his brother and head coach Dale Hunter. In recent years alone, the Knights have seen an impressive list of their former players make the NHL in Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner, Corey Perry, Steve Mason and David Bolland. If all goes well, Nazem Kadri will soon be part of this impressive list of alumni as well.

I had the opportunity to speak to Sun Media columnist and journalist for the London Free Press, Ryan Pyette about Kadri’s tenure as a London Knight. Pyette has a great deal of experience with junior hockey and most recently covered the 2009 Memorial Cup in Rimouski, Quebec. When speaking of some of the many skills that make Kadri a great player, Pyette is quick to point to one significant attribute. The Sun Media columnist says of Kadri that “He is not the biggest kid in the world and not the most physically imposing but he does have the balance.” When continuing to speak of Kadri’s balance, Pyette praises the player by making a nice comparison by saying “In a lot of ways he reminds me of David Bolland of the Blackhawks who played for the Knights a few years back. Bolland was also known for his strong sense of balance on the ice.”

As a member of the Knights, Kadri also played alongside perhaps the most highly touted player in Friday’s draft, John Tavares. In comparing Nazem with the top rated player in North America, Pyette says “The only difference between him and Tavares is Nazem is more of set up man and I think that is what he will become when he becomes a pro. He was like that with Boedker in Kitchener.” Mikkel Boedker is a Danish forward who is recently coming off a 28 point rookie campaign with the Phoenix Coyotes. Prior to being traded to the Knights last year, Kadri and Boedker proved to be a strong tandem together while playing for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Kadri will likely be best served by going to an NHL team where he can be a complimentary player towards a trigger man on his line.

To Pyette, Kadri might be one of the most intriguing players in the draft because his projections have been all over the place. One of the biggest concerns with Kadri is his tendency to overhandle the puck. Kadri has acknowledged this problem however and has stated in interviews that at times he needs to work on simplifying his game. NHL Central Scouting has him ranked 15th amongst North American skaters while International Scouting Services has him ranked 8th overall. As far as some potential destinations are concerned, Pyette noted that Phoenix might be a good possibility in order to reunite Kadri with Boedker. According to Pyette, he will be very surprised if Kadri goes beyond the 14th pick that belongs to the Florida Panthers. Pyette has this belief because the Panthers coach is Kadri’s former coach in Kitchener, Peter DeBoer. Both Kadri and DeBoer got along very well during their time in Kitchener as Kadri progressed very well in his hockey career under the head coach.

Player to Watch Out For

Outside of the players already mentioned, there is also another player out there who will likely hear his name called well after the first round is completed. CHL columnist for sportsnet.ca Patrick King indicated to me that Calgary Hitmen forward Kris Foucault could be one of those players to watch out for. Foucault is projected to be a third round pick and would probably be ranked higher if he had found himself in a Hitmen uniform much earlier in his career. The native of Calgary played with the Kootenay Ice in 2007-2008 where he was unable to find success as he managed only 3 assists in 33 games.

Even though Foucault’s rights remained with Kootenay for 2008-2009, Foucault instead saw himself playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Canmore Eagles. Patrick King states that “Foucault got a lot of confidence playing in the AJHL. It was Calgary Hitmen head coach Dave Lowry who noticed that Foucault was improving his game and wanted to take a chance on him with the Hitmen.” While the AJHL is a path for many players pursuing the NCAA route, it is also an opportunity for players like Foucault to improve their game and work towards getting back into the CHL.

Kootenay would trade Foucault to Calgary and after having 0 goals the year before in 2007-2008, Foucault would have 9 goals and 16 points in 22 games with the Hitmen the following year. He was also successful in the 2009 WHL playoffs as he managed 11 goals in 18 games during the post season. According to King, “Going to Calgary was the best thing for him. He is good defensively and a very hard worker.” If Foucault was able to have success in the WHL earlier on, his draft stock would likely be a bit higher. It will be really interesting to see where he is selected come draft time.

Much of the anticipation and hype for the draft in Montreal has belonged to John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene. Unlike last year with Steven Stamkos, there are many question marks surrounding what player will be picked number one overall With Landon Ferraro, Dylan Olsen, Brayden Schenn and Nazem Kadri, fans now find out about another group of projected first round picks who will hopefully go on to promising NHL careers in the years ahead. With Kris Foucault on the other hand, there is the story of a player who may not be ranked very high in the draft but has definitely improved his stock after playing in the AJHL and then moving over to the Hitmen.

By speaking to the coaches and the media involved in covering these teams, you really get the impression of why these players are projected to be future NHLers. Even more so, speaking to all these people has allowed me to realize that all of these players I have discussed are also quality people off the ice. As the hockey world descends on Montreal for the next few days, one can only hope that the names of Ferraro, Schenn, Olsen, Kadri and Foucault are names that will eventually find themselves as regulars on an NHL roster. The unfortunate problem is that we may have to wait a few years until we actually find out what becomes of these players.

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