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Old 06-25-2007, 05:09 PM   #1659
Clockwork Orange
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SI's 5 Draft Winners

The winners and losers at the NHL Entry Draft? May as well ask for the Best Picture nominees of 2011 or the winning numbers for the Mega Millions lottery scheduled for four years from now. Really, it'll be at least that far down the line before we know which teams got it right in Columbus over the weekend.

Of course, everyone's got an opinion. Based on the post-draft thoughts of scouts who were asked to assess the proceedings based on which teams made the most of the day, five clearly impressed their peers with their choices.

5. San Jose Sharks

The Sharks entered the day with no first-round pick (having traded theirs to St. Louis in the Bill Guerin deal in February), but left with a pair: Logan Couture (#9) and Nick Petrecki (#28). GM Doug Wilson -- again proving himself to be a master of asset management -- acquired Toronto's first- and second-round picks in a draft day deal for Vesa Toskala, then packaged them with a third-rounder to St. Louis. That allowed him to move to the ninth pick and grab Couture, a smart two-way center from the Ottawa 67s. With Petrecki -- a massive and very ill-tempered blueliner -- still on the board, Wilson moved a pair of second-rounders to Washington for the pick needed to bulk up his defense.

The Sharks also grabbed a pair of goaltending prospects in the third round: Timo Pelmeier, the top-ranked German; and Tyson Sexsmith, a Canadian who led Vancouver to the Memorial Cup earlier this month.

4. Colorado Avalanche

The Avs came to Columbus hoping to address the two weakest areas in their system: defense and goaltending. They tabbed flashy Team USA captain Kevin Shattenkirk on Friday night, then used two of their three second-rounders to bag Colby Cohen, a 6-2, 200-pound bruiser whose 60 points led all USHL defenders in scoring, and Trevor Cann, who backstopped Canada to gold at the 2006 Under-18 championships. With their fourth-round selection, the Avs selected Kent Patterson, a very raw but promising 17-year-old who was ranked as the second-best goalie available by Red Line Report.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

Going by all the kind words, the Jackets were marvelous hosts for the draft, but that doesn't mean they let their guests have all the fun. Jakub Voracek, ranked by several scouts as the most NHL-ready player in this class, fell into their laps at No. 7 after the Los Angeles Kings shook up the order by selecting defenseman Thomas Hickey at No. 4. Voracek's downfall may have been the "safe pick" label he drew in the weeks leading up to the draft, but as one scout said, "What's wrong with a sure thing?" He looks like a winger the Jackets can pencil into their top six after his remarkable performance in the Quebec League playoffs (24 points, 12 games).

The Jackets also added good value picks with undersized OHL sniper Stefan Legein (No. 37), project defenseman Will Weber (No. 53) and Maxim Mayorov (No. 94), a first-round talent whose stock plummeted due to the lack of a transfer agreement with the Russian federations.

2. St. Louis Blues

Thanks to smart asset manipulation at the February trade deadline, the Blues had three first-rounders to play with on Friday night, and five picks overall in the first 44 when GM Larry Pleau added a pair of second-rounders by trading down from ninth to 13th. After failing, unsurprisingly, to package the trio of first-rounders for Chicago's first overall choice, the Blues still managed to meet their goal of focusing on the primary need in their system by acquiring four scoring forwards: their top choice -- Danish scoring sensation Lars Eller -- plus late-blooming sniper David Perron (No. 26), Swedish winger Simon Hjalmarsson, and American forward Aaron Palushaj (No. 44), who had 22 goals and 67 points in 50 games for Des Moines of the USHL. The Blues also added a steady defender. Two-way American blueliner Ian Cole was available at No. 18.

There was some concern voiced that this was a safe slate of picks, but it also appears that the Blues added more quality talent than every other team except for ...

1. Chicago Blackhawks.

Without a doubt, this was a bold draft by the Hawks, who appeared to get the most value possible based on when each pick occured. Forget for a moment about first overall selection Patrick Kane -- that was the consensus choice and no one really deserves a pat on the back for making it.

Where Chicago really made hay was with their follow-up selections, particularly in the second round. Bill Sweatt (No. 38) and Akim Aliu (No. 56) were considered first-round talent in several corners, and could one day team up as part of an impressive third line. Sweatt, possibly the fastest player in the draft, could be an elite checker and penalty killer. Aliu, the Nigerian-born multi-linguist, has the chance to become a hard-hitting, if light-scoring, power forward. Maxime Tanguay, the brother of Calgary Flames sniper Alex, was a solid gamble at No. 69. Team USA's Josh Unice (No. 86) was named the top goaltender at the 2007 Under --18s. Richard Greenop (No. 156) is all about accountability. The 6-4, 215-pound center earned 19 fighting majors this past season as a rookie with the Windsor Spitfires.

While other teams chose to play it safe, the Hawks swung for the fences. It's possible that four years down the road we'll have to hand them the golden sombrero, but as of this morning, no team appears to have made a greater impact on their future..

Honorable mentions:

The Pittsburgh Penguins may have made the steal of the draft when formerly top-ranked Angelo Esposito fell into their laps at No. 20. The Pens added hulking center Keven Veilleux at No. 51 and grabbed Alex Grant (No. 118), the first-overall pick in the 2005 QMJHL draft

The Detroit Red Wings, with just five picks, managed to acquire three players who are thought to have first-round potential: powerplay QB Brendan Smith (No. 27), checking-line center Joakim Andersson (No. 88), and Zach Torquato, a feisty, character forward (No. 178).
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