Funny the way the puck bounces sometimes, is it not?
The 2012 NHL entry draft, slated for this Friday and Saturday at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center, figures to be defined by defensemen. Both the International Scouting Service’s top 50 leaderboard and the Central Scouting Service’s list of top North American skaters have six blueliners among their 10 highest picks.
As it happens, at least six or seven of the first 10 teams to select in the first round could stand to shore up their defensive corps, preferably sooner rather than later. Nearly all of them ought to have an NHL-ready prospect still available and ready to fill that need when their front office personnel approach the stage.
For everyone else, the more realistic means of plugging one’s gaps over the weekend of the draft will be to make a trade or two, whether or not that involves swapping picks and prospects.
In order of their first turn to select, the most immediate necessities for each team to address in Pittsburgh and/or beyond this weekend are as follows.
Between Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers have more than enough young forwards, including each of the last two No. 1 overall picks, to last them a while.
If they want to round out their foundation for long-term success after repeat finishes in the basement, they might as well make the most of another down year and select a defenseman with the first pick of 2012.
Club president Kevin Lowe himself has told the Edmonton Journal that he believes WHL and Team Canada sensation Ryan Murray is ready to step into The Show without much delay. The net is wide open and the puck on their stick to nab the sharp, 200-pounder, so the Oilers should go for it.
Since their last and only postseason appearance in 2009, the Blue Jackets defense has steadily slipped. They finished 24th overall with a 3.03 GAA in league defense in 2009-10, 26th overall with a 3.05 GAA in 2010-11 and third-to-last with a 3.13 goals-against average in 2011-12.
Regardless of what the Oilers do, there will be a decent spread of defensemen Columbus can choose from and incorporate with little or no hesitation.
Of the teams within the top echelon of the 2012 draft board, Nail Yakupov may actually make the most sense with the Canadiens.
Since finishing first in the Eastern Conference in 2007-08, one of Montreal’s missing elements has been a reasonable deep and balanced strike force. And in 2011-12, a team that relied far too much on Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole finished at the other extreme in the Eastern cellar.
Long Island is the Edmonton of the East in that of a multitude of young guns are still fostering their game while the blue line begs for a facelift.
If three of the four teams picking ahead of the Leafs serve their best interest and pursue a defenseman, Toronto’s task will be all the more doable.
Whether it is Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko or another high-ranking prospect, they should take the opportunity to acquire an NHL-ready forward out of the Canadian League and use him to supplement the top echelon of the offense.
If the Ducks can assemble a more fruitful third line to pick up the scraps left by the formidable top six, Bruce Boudreau’s first full season as head coach should be that much easier.
Tyler Cuma was apparently going to give the Wild solid two-way play from the point, but he is about to enter his fifth season in the Minnesota system and has been thoroughly unspectacular.
In two professional seasons, he has seen action in one NHL game and logged one goal and 12 assists over 104 appearances with the Houston Aeros.
The Wild, slated to have the seventh overall selection, can only give Cuma so many stabs before they need to think about fostering a new two-way defenseman for themselves.
In each of the last two years, the hapless Hurricanes have allowed the NHL’s highest nightly average of opposing shots on goal. They allowed 33.2 per game in 2010-11 and 32.4 this past year.
Lucky for them, they have the eighth overall pick in a defense-laden draft, meaning they have a reasonable chance to nab a new blue-line body to come aboard and promptly improve the moat in front of Cam Ward.
In their inaugural season in Manitoba, the Jets had nine forwards crack double digits in the goal column while blueliners Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian were fairly prolific playmakers.
Nothing wrong with any of that, but perhaps an extra defensive-minded defenseman is in order.
Having the 10th and 19th overall picks should give the Bolts a fair chance to add some immediate defensive depth to their roster. That will be especially vital if Mattias Ohlund is unable to return, let alone replenish his old game, after a season-long injury.
The latest postseason run proved that one can only subsist on soccer-like scores for so long. But with the 11th and 16th overall pick this weekend, the Capitals have two chances to potentially enlist a young gun who could shore up their strike force within a short period of time.
Players like Brendan Gaunce of the OHL’s Belleville Bulls and Radek Fausk of the Kitchener Rangers come to mind.
Word has it that the Sabres, who go into the weekend with the 12th overall pick at their disposal, plan to be buyers in at least one prospective draft-day deal.
With a year-in, year-out shortage of goal-scoring beyond Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford, few ideas would be shrewder at this time.
Steve Ott could give the Stars a little more tangible and intangible output with a little less ice time if they found someone to supplant him among the top six.
Ott is meant to be more of a third-liner and special teams’ specialist while the likes of Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn and Michael Ryder need someone to complement them.
In each of three consecutive non-playoff campaigns, the Flames have looked primarily to Jarome Iginla and no more than two other skaters for offensive output. This past season, Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross were Calgary’s lone 20-plus goal-scorers, each tallying no more than eight apiece on the power play.
Midseason acquisition Mike Cammalleri and a generally healthy lineup might lend some remedy in the coming season. But the Flames need to take every reasonable measure to ensure their strikers flex more strength at even strength.
For the last two-plus seasons, Daniel Alfredsson has been the closest any Senators forwards has come to complementing Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.
But he will be 40 by the end of this calendar year.
Whether Ottawa uses the 15th overall pick to put someone in the wings or trades for an established professional, it should seek to embolden the strike force over draft weekend;
The Sharks penalty kill has finished below 80 percent success each of the last two regular seasons and was a top-most blemish in the last two playoff series losses to Vancouver and St. Louis. New personnel to specialize in that department are a must heading into the next campaign.
Odds are there will not be any NHL-ready goalies to be found at this draft, let alone by the time the Hawks are on the clock with the 18th overall pick. They can address their most pressing need by trying to trade a pick or two, and other items if need be, for a goaltender currently on the market.
Chris Pronger may never recover his entire game, and that’s assuming he even plays again. Meanwhile, the Flyers have left everyone unsure if they can get by with the likes of Ilya Bryzgalov in net and if they can even bank on Sergei Bobrovsky as the goalie of the future.
Their current farm system may or may not have what they need to start filling those voids, but it’s best for the Flyers to use this draft as best they can to remedy the blue line and blue paint.
Jordan Staal or not, the Penguins could use a new winger to lend them a little more depth beneath the top six. This past season, the top six combined to score 168, or 61.5 percent, of the team’s 273 regular-season goals. In their six-game playoff series loss to Philadelphia, they inserted 12 of Pittsburgh’s 26 goals while Staal led the way with six.
Someone needs to come on board for the Penguins to fall back on when the opposition finds a solution for the likes of Staal, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. In the Flyers case, the solution was more a case of superior offensive output than anything, but it was a Pittsburgh downfall nonetheless.
And Neal, in particular, should be hyped with caution, for he might or might not follow up on his 40-goal campaign.
Between the bipolar Capitals, the injury-riddled Lightning and the travel-weary Jets, the Panthers were rather fortunate to end their 12-year playoff drought, let alone finish as Southeast Division “champions.”
But they cannot bank on their top-most adversaries languishing for them again. They must proactively embolden the front end of their depth chart if they want to become playoff regulars.
With the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 draft, Florida might as well pursue a deal before the first round to export at least one pick. In exchange, they should ask for an established NHL scorer who can complement the likes of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann.
If the Bruins are not going to trade for an elite scorer or pursue one via free agency, which would be a helpful addition to their core, the next best thing is to do what they can with the 24th pick and groom one for themselves.
General manager Peter Chiarelli, now six years and counting into his tenure has, for the most part, been commendably meticulous about not trying to fix what isn’t broken. But if the 2011 champions are going to become perennially certifiable contenders, they will need to foster a double threat on offense between Tyler Seguin and someone who has yet to sport a Spoked-B.
Having traded Ben Bishop to Ottawa at the trade deadline, the Blues are lacking a dependable AHL goaltender. Therefore, they are lacking a viable reinforcement in case of injury to Brian Elliott or Jaraslav Halak, which is precisely what happened during the recent postseason.
This year, they ended up resorting to Jake Allen, who has yet to post a goals-against average better than 2.50 and save percentage of .920 or higher in two professional seasons.
In 2006, the Canucks imported Roberto Luongo from Florida as part of a blockbuster draft day deal.
Six years later, most recently marred by a Stanley Cup Final meltdown and another on-the-fly benching en route to Vancouver’s first-round exit this spring, it’s high time the Luongo era ends in a similar fashion.
Any team in need of a goaltending upgrade and potentially willing to bank on Luongo benefitting from a change of scenery should be personally approached the general manager Mike Gillis at the Consol Energy Center this weekend.
Cory Schneider deserves to assume the starting job full time and to have a few new skating mates, whether they come by way of a 2012 draft pick acquired in a Luongo trade or in the form of an established NHLer.
Shane Doan and Ray Whitney can’t copilot the offense forever. And other leaned-on scorers such as Radim Vrbata and Daymond Langkow are both in their 30s. Whitney may have another year or two ahead of him, assuming the organization retains him, and Doan could have three or four.
But by the same token, there is no time like the present to use the 27th overall pick to bring on a promising producer and let him foster in the system until the need for new blood arises.
The Rangers’ depth problem, which was the originator of other problems that brought on their demise in the Eastern Conference finals, could solve itself after rookies Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin underwent their baptismal fire.
Although, the blue line is also relatively young with Dan Girardi being the only regular who will be older than 26 and no one at age 30 yet.
Their position on the draft board and among Stanley Cup contenders calls for the Blueshirts to worry a little less about their fresh new picks and more about pursuing a piece of veteran presence among the defense.
The Stanley Cup finalists list of top priorities will be swayed heavily by the fate of free agents Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise. Plain and simple.
Just like their predecessors in Boston, the incumbent Stanley Cup champions will have to find a way to shore up their power play if they want any chance to defy the odds in defense of their title.
The top forward line of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams was not exactly reprehensible in that department during the last regular season, but the Kings still need at least one more productive twig on special teams.
Of course, per the nature of the draft, which automatically gives them the last pick in every round, they aren’t going to find the solution in the pool of free prospects.
The Predators are one of three teams without a first-round pick in 2012, but their focus should revolve more around the established core.
It seems they are ahead in the game when it comes to ensuring all of their players are committed to taking the franchise to new heights as Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn are both on a path to the egress.
In terms of on-ice aptitude, those two naturally should and can be replaced. But Nashville really only needs to ensure its roster, trade deadline imports and all, is gelled and raring to build on the 2011-12 season.
The Avs will not be summoned to the podium until the 41st pick. If they are to make any jutting headlines at the 2012 draft, it will have to be in the form of a trade for a reasonably seasoned scorer.
Jimmy Howard may have cemented his status as the long-run starting goaltender, but he cannot be there for all 82 games. And in his three years as the No. 1 goalie, Detroit has been no better than two games above .500 when someone else scrapes the blue paint.
Without Howard in net, the Wings were 13-11-2 this past year, 10-10-0 in 2010-11, 7-9-4 in 2009-10. And with the Central Division as competitive as it has ever been, every regular-season point is more vital than it may have been before.
Accordingly, while he may not find any solution to this with their first draft choice at 49th overall, general manager Ken Holland should get on the search for a dependable backup. No time like this weekend to at least begin the preliminary phases as he and his 29 counterparts are all assembled under one roof.