Saturday, April 24, 2010

What is Boston to do in the second round?

Most futures watchers focus on the first round, and in Boston's case, the second overall selection as we get closer to June's NHL Entry Draft.

However, with the recent completion of the 2010 World Under-18 Championships in Europe, and with next month's Memorial Cup tournament looming, the second round draft picture is coming more into focus.

Now, given that Boston owns Toronto's first- and second-round picks, they could very well package that 32nd overall pick in the early second to move into the first round, which would give the B's three selections in the top-30. Now, if they stand pat, Boston is looking at picks at 32 and 47, so let's take a look at a few players who might be available to get the call there.

The falling stock factor.

Every year, you have at least one or more players who were ranked solidly in the first round all season, fall out of the top-30 for whatever reason. Sometimes, it happens because of injury, other times, it might be due to character concerns. And then there's always the inevitable overinflation that occurs via open source media and other scouting sources. "Lock" players in the first round turn out to be second-rounders simply because none of the NHL's top-30 agree with the public valuations of said prospects.

This year, the biggest faller is without a doubt, Russian winger Kirill Kabanov. The youngster had the misfortune of being compared to Alexander Ovechkin before the season began, and people jumped on his bandwagon, present company included. Unfortunately for Kabanov, he had an early season wrist injury (which was an aggravated wound from his previous season in Russia) that forced him to miss more than three months to have surgery. As if this wasn't enough of a red flag to take him where his talent might dictate, the teenager then got into hot water with his Moncton club for a series of selfish faux paus, which included missed practices, absences from the weight room during rehab and an unforgivable missing of the team bus to Halifax late in the season after he'd returned to action and every game he played was critical for him in establishing that he was healthy enough to warrant a first pick. Things came to a head in the first game of the WHL playoffs, when he took several bad penalties and was called out by his teammates, then benched by coach Danny Flynn and subsequently scratched and booted by his club.

Kabanov is definitely talented, but his immaturity has been his downfall this season, at a time when his wrist was already a going concern for teams thinking about investing an early pick on him. A lot of the fans out there who are politicking for Kabanov with Boston's pick at 17 or even 32 simply don't get it because they don't have skin in the game. To them, it's all about taking a talented player, nevermind the fact that if the Bruins were to do so, they would be on the hook for the invested money in signing and developing him (his skating needs work), dealing with his personality and demonstrated lack of maturity, and even ominously, his father, who hasn't gotten very nice reviews from a few of the scouts I've talked to who know him. All of this adds up to a player who is falling drastically out of favor and isn't worth taking any earlier than Boston's second second rounder at 47. And even then, depending on who is available, might simply not be worth the gamble.

In other words, Bruins fans are better off focusing on Alexander Burmistrov at 17 if they're going to get fixated on the team drafting a Russian. Burmistrov may not be as highly skilled as a fully healthy Kabanov is, but he's close. An outstanding skater who won over a lot of scouts with his hard work and character with the Barrie Colts of the OHL this season, if he's there at 17, he's much tougher to pass on because he's not damaged goods and comes off as someone who wants to be an NHL player and will put in the work necessary to get there, even if it means spending some time in the AHL. Now, he is Russian, and his obligation to the KHL team that owns his rights is still an issue. But, if Burmistrov and his handlers can convince the NHL teams who interview him of his sincerity, then he's the guy I think the B's are better suited to gamble on over the petulant Kabanov, who's played nowhere near the amount of games Burmistrov has. If Burmistrov somehow falls into the second round (highly unlikely) and is there at 32, then the Bruins picking him becomes a no-brainer in my view.

Other players whose stock has fallen off considerably and could be had in the early second round:

John McFarland, LW Sudbury (OHL)-- On pure talent, he's a top-10 candidate, but if my soruces are to be believed McFarland has burned his share of bridges this season with a lackadaisical, uneven season with the Wolves. The former first overal OHL pick two years ago showed terrific chemistry playing with Tyler Seguin last summer at the Ivan Hlinka tourney in Slovakia, but was mediocre and ineffective on Team Canada's relegation round entry in this month's under-18s. Still, if he is there at 32, he's one of those guys with the limitless upside that you maybe take that value pick/risk on simply because you hope that if he ever figures it out (the way Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry did after falling later than expected in '03) he could be an impactful NHL player. If the Bruins end up with Seguin at No. 2 overall, and McFarland is there at 32, the temptation will be there.

Ryan Spooner, C Peterborough (OHL)-- The bad news is that he's small and missed a lot of time with an injured collarbone. But, with Spooner's speed/explosiveness, offensive skills and character, he deserves to be a first-rounder, but may fall nonetheless. One of my scouting sources thinks that it is criminal for Central to have Spooner in the second round (39th) but he's not a bad value pick at 32, and he might even drop to 47. The Bruins like their players big and fast, and Spooner has just 50% of that equation, but he's a hard-working kid and losing him was a huge blow to the Petes' season. He's worth a look if someone doesn't surprise and take him at the end of the first.

Max Gardiner, C Minnetonka H.S. (HIGH-MN)-- Injuries and lack of footspeed have dropped this pre-season first-round fave into the second, but he's got very nice size, puck skills and upside. The Bruins are set up the middle, but again, it all comes down to value and best player available should Gardiner be on the board for the 32d and possibly even 47th selections. Remember, in Gardiner, he's set to go to play in the NCAA for a few years, so he's a longer-term developmental prospect with a potential bigtime return. So, even though his selection doesn't make sense for Boston from a needs standpoint, he's another wide-body with skill and strength who may appeal to them.

The meteoric rise factor.

Just as there are always those players who fall out of the first, there are those who start the year as third round or lower projections, but who simply play too well to be ignored and vault up to late 1st/early 2nd consideration.

Julian Melchiori, D Newmarket (CCHL)-- Tall and lean, the Ontario Jr. B product is one of the best-skating blue liners in the entire draft class. Raw, with a lot of developing to do, he rejected the OHL (Oshawa Generals) for the chance to go the NCAA route, and is currently committed to the River Hawks of UMass-Lowell for next season. An offensive savant, he's a prime puck mover /passer and power play guy who is rising on a lot of lists. He makes sense for Boston, even if he's more than a few years away from being NHL-ready.

Teemu Pulkkinen, RW Jokerit (Finland, Jr.)-- A European Jeff Skinner who is small and doesn't have the speed you want from an undersized forward, Pulkkinen had an electrifying under-18 tourney, leading all scorers with 10 goals and 15 points in just six games, including a hat trick in the bronze medal game over Russia. A wicked shooter who just knows where he needs to go on the ice to get into scoring position, he's kind of like Toni Rajala of last year, who tore it up in the same tournament, but found it wasn't enough to be a top-two round pick.

Justin Shugg, LW Windsor (OHL)-- Here's what one scout I talked to had to say about Shugg recently: "I love him. He's your classic up-and-down winger, but he works his bag off and has been so productive this season. He's got just average speed (not a bad skater), but he takes the puck to the net hard and has excellent hands. He's a classic underrated player who has the potential to be a lot more than the sum of his parts." There you go. Shugg may not have that speed Boston likes in its wingers, but he brings everything else in spades. Also of note, when Taylor Hall left Windsor to play in the WJC, Shugg became the team's offensive catalyst for the two weeks Hall was out of the mix, and then continued scoring when Hall came back.

As we get closer to the draft, there will be more potential second-rounders I'll address, but for now, that gives you a good start.

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