The Blue Line Draft

With the 2008 NHL entry draft less than a week away, this article previews five of the top-ranked defenders and looks at why defense is in such high demand. Zach Bogosian is one defender in this draft that boasts a rather high number of blueliners.

In the post-lockout era, the game values innovative point-scorers, explaining why Steven Stamkos, who earned 105 points with the Sarnia Sting in the OHL, is the hot pick in this year’s draft. Stamkos’ ranking is no surprise, however the unusual number of top ranked defensemen is unprecedented.

In the 2007 entry draft only three defensemen were ranked in the top ten. Number one draft pick Erik Johnson was the only top-ten ranked defender in 2006, preceded by only three top-ten ranked blueliners in the 2005 entry draft. And the 2005 draft crop has really proved itself this season with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jack Johnson and Marc Staal, demonstrating just how clutch top draft picks are these days.

Also, Pittsburgh proved that young talent is thriving in the NHL with its gutsy – although failed – title attempt. But the fountain of youth doesn’t end in Pennsylvania. The Capitals and the Black Hawks are great examples of teams with young talented players, fresh from recent drafts, helping to revamp their otherwise floundering clubs.

When it comes to defensemen in the draft, Kyle Woodlief, a former NHL chief scout and editor of the Red Line Report, is one of the experts. In an USA Today article from October Woodlief said that, “Overall, this is one of the deepest defense groups we’ve seen in the draft in quite a few years.”

In another USA Today article from this week, Woodlief said, “it’s clear that defense is the strength of this year’s crop.”

Young players are learning a new game of hockey. Any talent scout or coach will testify that skating is improving across the board. Most young prospects even hire private skating coaches to ensure they have the edge to make it in the Pros.

Many of the top-ten ranked defenders in the 2008 draft have been described as offensive-defensemen who are big physically, and very good on their skates. Number two ranked Zach Bogosian is one such prospect at 6’ 2” and 192 pounds; he earned 62 points this season for the Peterborough Pirates.

The high number of defenders begs the question: Why is there a sudden demand for young defensemen? One reason is because of the way defense has been broken into two epochs: the pre-lockout era, which contained defenders who thrived on the old system, and the post-lockout era. Many of the pre-lockout players will be remembered for the force they brought to the ice, but are fading out of today’s game. Derian Hatcher is one such defender; since the lockout Hatcher has had a combined total of 33 points. This coming from a guy who earned an average of 30 points a season prior to the lockout.

The post-lockout era requires a generation of offensive defenders. Guys who can hit hard, break up plays, and score goals. The game itself has been redesigned for higher scores, so it makes sense that blueliners would be expected to step up their games and contribute goals. The newly designed game explains why guys like Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara are doing so well. It is also the reason why many teams who choose players in the first round on June 21 in Ottawa will choose defenders. They need offensive-defenders to compete in the post-lockout league. Teams need clutch goal scorers and when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if that player is listed as a C, RW, LW or D on the roster, so long as he can put the rubber in the net.

A Quick Look at the Top Five Defensemen:

1. Zach Bogosian: Is the “most complete package” according to Woodlief. He is a 6’ 2” Massena New York native and led his OHL team on the season with 61 points.

2. Drew Doughty: Is hailed as the most offensively talented defender in this draft. He is also known for his hard work ethic.

3. Tyler Myers: Is a 6’ 7” giant with surprisingly good skating skills for his size. His height gives him a huge reach and makes him particularly good at the poke-check.

4. Luke Schenn: Is reported to have remarkable game smarts and an ability to read plays. On Schenn’s coach, Ryan Huska, describes Schenn as, “the guy that we look to settle things down and to play with composure.”

5. Alex Pietrangelo: Is already 6’ 3” and still growing. The scouts expect him to grow into his talent. According to several scouts, he has good intuition with the puck in his zone and he works hard on the back-check.


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