With just a little over two weeks until the draft, it’s time to turn our attention towards some of the favourites to go off the board first. Last year, a small group of about six players (Stamkos, Doughty, Bogosian, Pietrangelo, Schenn and Filatov) managed to distinguish themselves from the rest of the class, leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to pay a hefty price to move up. As we inch closer to the twenty-sixth, a trend is beginning to emerge that has the same five players at the top of every team’s draft board. Let’s meet the candidates.

1. John Tavares, Center, London Knights

Strengths: There’s really not much more that needs to be said about Tavares, as he’s been on everyone’s radar for a long, long time. John combines a deadly shot, soft hands and outstanding offensive instincts to make him one of the most prolific goal scoring prospects to enter the draft in some time. He is going to be an absolute force on an NHL power play, and has shown a penchant for coming through in the clutch.

Weaknesses: The only issue that may slow down Tavares’ ascension into the elite class of the NHL is his so-so skating ability. Aside from that, there is still plenty of room for improvement in his two-way play, but to his credit, he has put in the effort to make strides in that department.

The Verdict: A potential franchise forward, perennial 40-50 goal scorer; NHL Comparison: Dany Heatley

2. Victor Hedman, Defense, Modo Hockey

Strengths: While perhaps unfairly dubbed the next Chris Pronger, Hedman comes with a boatload, scratch that, a fleetload of potential. He is the entire package of great size, fluid skating ability, a strong point shot, excellent puck skills, and a lengthy track record of success. The added bonus is that unlike the rest of the names here, Victor has been playing and excelling in a men’s league since the age of 16.

Weaknesses: The one knock against Hedman is that he doesn’t quite possess the mean streak that scouts had hoped, and as such isn’t as physically dominant as someone his size should be. Tall, lanky defenseman tend to take longer to develop and get fully accustomed to their growing bodies, but the honor of being an elite pick in a very strong draft class comes with the added pressure to contribute right away.

The Verdict: A potential franchise defenseman and perennial Norris candidate; NHL comparison: Less physical Chris Pronger

3. Matt Duchene, Forward, Brampton Battalion

Strengths: Matt Duchene is the typical Canadian franchise player, offering an exciting package of skill, dazzling speed, a true understanding of the game, and the heart of a winner. Duchene is one of the brightest players of the draft class, displaying outstanding hockey sense that helps him create chances offensively as well as anticipate plays defensively. He has greatly benefited from being in the same dressing room as OHL Player of the Year, Cody Hodgson.

Weaknesses: As the one of the more complete players in the draft, there’s very little to criticize about Duchene. While he’s a little bit undersized, he makes up for it with a low center of gravity and is very strong on his skates. Playing on a very strong Brampton team, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to being the #1 offensive option further down the line.

The Verdict: A potential point-a-game forward and NHL Captain; NHL Comparison: Jonathan Toews

4. Evander Kane, Forward, Vancouver Giants

Strengths: Aside from Tavares, Kane is hands down the next best goal scorer in the class. He is a dynamic offensive player who combines a quick and accurate shot release, excellent offensive instincts and strong physical play to get the job done. Kane’s ability to anticipate plays in the offensive zone and read the defense are second to none, and as such is almost impossible to cover, especially on the power play. Kane’s physical play and tenacity proved invaluable to the Canadian Junior team’s triumph at this year’s U-20 tournament.

Weaknesses: As a formerly undersized player growing into his new tall and lanky frame, Kane needs to continue to get stronger in the upper body. He is a streaky scorer, who can pot 3 or 4 goals on any given night, and then go scoreless for a few games at a time. The Kelowna Rockets showed that Kane could be slowed down by tough, tight checking teams so he will have to demonstrate the ability to “bring it” every night and step up in the clutch at the NHL level.

The Verdict:  A potential 40+ goal scoring power forward; NHL comparison: Jarome Iginla

5. Brayden Schenn, Forward, Brandon Wheat Kings

Strengths: Brayden displays excellent characer, leadership potential and a level of maturity well beyond his years. He is a physical player who will win the corner battles, lay out big hits, and is not afraid to drop the gloves. Offensively, Schenn shows great vision and playmaking ability, as well as a silky smooth skillset of dangles. He plays the game with unparalled passion and determination and will quickly become a fan favourite at the next level.

Weaknesses: While truly gifted in his own right, Schenn doesn’t quite possess the same offensive ceiling as the other members of the Fab Five. With a build of 6′ 200 lbs, there isn’t as much projection there physically as someone like Hedman or Kane. A little undersized for a power forward, it may be tough for Brayden to sustain his physical style of play for a long time at the NHL level, though Dustin Brown, a player of similar build, seems to be having no problem thus far.

The Verdict: A potential point-a-game NHL captain; NHL comparison: Mike Richards

That concludes Part Two of the ’09 Draft Preview. Keep an eye out for my list of mid-round sleepers and mock draft as we get closer to the draft. No promises yet, but I anticipate an interview with one of the premiere names in NHL scouting for the draft, so feel free to post any questions that you a feel a burning desire to get answered.

Always a pleasure,

Alex Tran

[email protected]

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Alex has been a part of the original MLHS team since way back in 2008. He has contributed to the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals with a special interest in junior hockey and player development.