Being or answering to the president of an NHL team is akin to working as or with a head of state in that there is negligible downtime on one’s agenda. The complexion of the present constantly commands meticulous planning for the future, which is associated with the annual entry draft more than any other event.
Most franchises have the means to address their immediate needs for this season by way of swapping established players. That luxury allows them to make the 2013 draft more about, if not entirely about, the long-term shape of the organization.
For at least a handful of others, draft planning should be accelerated by conceding that it may be best to sacrifice some of this year’s picks in order to shore up the current roster for either this season or 2013-14.
Naturally, with three months still to come in this season and the picking order yet to be determined, the exact routes a given franchise should take are subject to change. With that said, these are the areas each organization should be monitoring the most at the moment as they plan ahead to the first major event of the offseason.
It should not be too long before Emerson Etem, Peter Holland, Kyle Palmieri, Rickard Rakell and Devante Smith-Pelly have all permanently nailed down their pegs on the Ducks’ NHL roster. Or at least some of them will in the near future while one or two others hang out a little longer on the threshold as AHL scoring pilots.
With that batch of forwards in its current state, Anaheim management would serve its best long-term interest by restocking on high-end scorers. Reinforcements in the minors need to be available at all times in case of an injury bug.
The Bruins’ established NHL core of blueliners is fine right now, but the short-term and long-term supply of prospective reinforcements could stand to add a little more quantity and quality. That will be the case all the more if and when one or more pieces of that core is lost to free agency or otherwise relinquished for any reason.
Dougie Hamilton’s graduation to The Show means Boston no longer has any defensive prospects fostering their game in the Canadian major-junior ranks. College freshmen such as Matt Grzelcyk and Rob O’Gara are still eons away, and minor leaguers such as Matt Bartkowski, Tommy Cross and David Warsofsky―all NCAA alumni―have ambiguous futures.
The Bruins should use their first-round draft choice in 2013 to snag another defender who can be ready to at least serve as a stand-in after another year or two in the CHL.
In addition, Buffalo’s page on HockeysFuture.com cites “goaltending quality” as one of the franchise’s shortcomings in the prospects system.
The report card elaborates, with four prospective netminders in the professional, junior or international ranks, each of whom score unremarkable talent and potential ratings. They are all given a 6.5 talent rating or lower and a “C” grade in terms of “probability of success.”
Andrey Makarov is a possible candidate, but there are no guarantees based on his output with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades. Buffalo needs a broader safety net for its netminding stable, one that will ensure the simultaneous presence of a stable NHL backup and a dependable third-stringer/AHL starter.
Sooner or later, a void will need to be filled in the top-level goalie guild, more likely as a result of Enroth seeking thicker ice somewhere else. The Sabres had better be ready for that by acquiring the rights to a first-round-caliber netminder and fostering him without fail.
Calgary also has a decent distribution of goaltending prospects in a variety of circuits and developmental stages. They range from AHL All-Star Barry Brust and Abbotsford Heat colleague Danny Taylor―who boast some of the best numbers in the league―to major-junior player Laurent Brossoit to Providence College freshman Jon Gillies.
What is missing? Oh, yeah. A promising prospect that can instill confidence right at game time just by lining up at the blue line between those forwards and one of those stoppers, that’s what.
The Hurricanes have no shortage of players classified as offensive blueliners by The Hockey News. The not-so-short list from across the organization includes Joe Corvo, Justin Faulk, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Jamie McBain, Ryan Murphy and Bobby Sanguinetti.
However, that trophy’s list of past recipients does not yield many notable names―one exception being 2003 winner Doug Murray of Cornell, who proceeded to toil in the minors for three-plus years before finally becoming an impact NHLer.
Carolina may certainly hold on to Biega and Krueger. But to better ensure a future healthy presence of defensive-minded blueliners, they should dig for more players of that mold in the 2013 draft.
The Blackhawks waited too long to scoop up any stoppers in the 2012 draft, ultimately collecting Brandon Whitney and Matt Tomkins in the final round. As a result, their latest evaluation on Hockey’s Future highlights a single folly in that they “may not have a potential NHL starter among goaltending prospects.”
Right now Chicago boasts a still relatively young tandem at the top level in the 28-year-old Corey Crawford and 30-year-old Ray Emery.
They can still deliver what is asked of them or otherwise be replaced through external acquisitions, but it does not hurt to foster homegrown talent for the long run, either. It is, after all, a more cost-effective means of turning pages when the time comes.
Naturally, Hishon’s successor as Colorado’s top pick, Gabriel Landeskog, has emerged with a much brighter vibe, but the young captain will need more solid strikers working with him now and later on. The likes of summer 2012 import P.A. Parenteau help in the present, but the coming draft needs to play a role in transforming the Avalanche into a sustained, long-term threat built around the Landeskog nucleus.
Boone Jenner, a 2011 second-round pick who will soon max out his major-junior eligibility, can be an invaluable power-forward additive to the Blue Jackets’ ensemble cast in 2013-14. But if this franchise is to rise above mere respectability as a playoff contender in the post-Rick Nash era, they are advised to see another pure scorer.
The Boston Bruins have, in essence, done this before by selecting Tyler Seguin a little less than five years after Joe Thornton was exported. Depending on its draft order, which can even be controlled by trading up if need be, Columbus can follow the same pattern at a quicker rate.
Of the three netminders currently listed among the Stars’ prospects on the team’s official website, none are making much of an impression at their respective levels.
Jack Campbell, the first-year starter for AHL Texas, has not penned any promising entries to his transcript since the 2010-11 World Junior Championships. His OHL and AHL endeavors of the past two-and-a-half seasons have been marred by save percentages in the low .900-range and swollen goals-against averages.
The same basic assessment can be made about Tyler Beskorowany in Texas last season and in ECHL Idaho this season.
Overseas, Henri Kiviaho currently holds a sub-.900 save percentage, although his 2.68 GAA is the best he has had in recent memory. Still being a teen, he has a longer leash, but more preparation to replace Campbell and Beskorowany, if not pressure them a little more, is still a must.
With the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart in the last offseason compounded by a recent rash of injuries to current blueliners, the Red Wings cannot wait until after the trade deadline if they want to preserve any sort of consistent contender’s persona.
Seeing as their front office already knows how to make more out of less in the latter stages of the draft, they can afford to sacrifice some future picking for the present.
Naturally, the only way to do this at or leading up to the draft is to dangle one’s picks in hopes of acquiring at least one piece of established NHL talent.
If the Oilers find themselves in the upper echelon on the draft board yet again, they must refrain from loading up on prospects any further. It is high time they started reaping results from the No. 1 overall picks of the past three years—Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
Getting back into playoff contention would be nice, but why stop there? A greater veteran presence would be essential to thrusting this youth movement into springtime relevance sooner rather than later.
It could be a veteran forward to give additional exemplary guidance to those youthful strikers, a 30-something defenseman more reliable than Corey Potter or Andy Sutton or a goalie to replace the declining Nikolai Khabibulin in competition with Devan Dubnyk.
Edmonton can take its pick among any of those additives, but it should prepare to package one of its draft picks in the process.
They will have to continue to build on that, especially if a lack of playoff qualification yields a silver lining in the form of a high-end draft pick. But even if they are in the postseason and find themselves picking in the teens or 20s, they will still want a steady supply of scorers for now and later.
The Wild have plenty of worthwhile offense, highlighted by Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, and defense, highlighted by Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba, in their system. They also have sturdy goaltending duos both in the NHL, between Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, and AHL, between Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper.
One or both of the latter two will eventually be moving up or moving on, however. Now is the time to go picking prospects from the amateur ranks so they will be ready to step into the farm system sometime within the next two to three years.
It helps to have the 31-year-old Rene Bourque, who tips the scale at 6’2", 211 pounds. But the Habs can help themselves further for the not-too-distant future and the long run by going after a draft prospect who already has an impressive frame and a promising scoring touch.
Granted, younger players can bulk up in due time, but Montreal’s prospect scroll does not have much in the way of big-bodied, big-name forwards.
Depending on when they end up on the clock to make a selection, the Canadiens should monitor the likes of Aleksander Barkov, Frederick Gauthier, Bo Horvat, Valeri Nichushkin, Kerby Rychel and Valentin Zykov.
Seventh-rounder Patric Hornqvist aside, the Predators have yet to show they are comparable to the aforementioned Red Wings in terms of cultivating gold coins from the unknown depths of the latter portions of the draft. This means they are better off avoiding a repeat of 2011 and 2012, in which they did not make any selections until the second round.
In addition, Nashville has not chosen a defenseman until the fourth round of the past two drafts and has not picked up a blueliner in the first or second round since Ryan Ellis in 2009. That cycle is just about due to round out.
One would like to think that the sooner the Devils get this over with, the better. Yet New Jersey has so far passed over two of four opportunities to surrender a first-round draft choice, a sentence that was doled out for cap circumvention over the Ilya Kovalchuk contract.
Lehner is bound to outgrow the AHL in the near future, quite possibly no later than the start of 2012-13. In turn, the best approach for Ottawa may be to simultaneously swap out a pick as part of a package for a current minor-league netminder and draft a homegrown backstop as well.
Of the Flyers' top 10 prospects ranked and assessed by The Hockey News, there is only one right wing, Mike Testwuide. The late-blooming 25-year-old AHLer is ranked No. 8 on the list and described by the authoritative publication as “tough to take off the puck, but long-shot NHLer.”
All of that sums up the state of one area of the pipeline that is lacking in quantity and quality.
Of course, not unlike Detroit, it may also not be a bad idea for Philadelphia to see if they can package at least one pick to nab an established NHL blueliner. For what nine games are worth, the Flyers' loss of Chris Pronger and Matt Carle is showing in the form of 2.89 goals against per night.
Meanwhile, virtually every Coyotes’ minor-league forward with a detailed profile on The Hockey News website has the adjective “depth” included in their “career potential.” This applies to Chris Conner, Rob Klinkhammer and Andy Miele.
If any of them blossom as NHL players, along with 2012 first-round pick Henrik Samuelsson, they will be beneficial if placed in the right position. But Phoenix also needs to cultivate some genuine top-six strikers.
The Penguins’ enviable allotment of elite young talent is no secret, but about a handful of key supplementary forwards―Craig Adams, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz―are all well into their 30s.
They will not be declining or done next year or even the year after, but they will need to give way to new blood sooner than one might think. Pittsburgh’s front office needs to brace itself for that eventuality by padding on prospects that can smoothly and steadily evolve into depth contributors.
If the Pens can do that on top of last year’s defensive rebuilding project highlighted by Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta, they will have taken another step towards preserving top-notch status throughout Sidney Crosby’s protracted contract.
Vladimir Tarasenko has settled into The Show and the same ought to hold true in the not-too-distant future for fellow forwards Ty Rattie and Jaden Schwartz. When that happens, the balanced Blues should be ready to replenish their stock of high-end offensive prospects at both the amateur and AHL level so as to maintain the foundation rolled out last season by Ken Hitchcock long term.
The Sharks have not brought on any blueliners in the early rounds of any of the past three drafts. The most recent homegrown defenseman they have taken of any real note was Jason Demers, claimed in the seventh round in 2008.
For that matter, 2008 was the most recent draft in which any San Jose picks have seen a sliver of NHL action. With that trend, any more immediate needs within the depths of the organization may be best answered by way of a trade.
If patience can be practiced with prospects, though, a little more positional balance is in order after taking forwards with each of the team's past four first- or second-round selections.
With each passing day, the Bolts nudge closer to the point where 30-somethings Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone are all officially or virtually out of the equation. That will be when Steven Stamkos is the uncontested face of the franchise and will need a transfusion of new blood to build around him.
By drafting players for that role now, the Lightning will enable themselves to phase them in without any sense of rush.
Of the five Canucks prospects who are classified as left wingers by both Hockey's Future and the team's website (Steven Anthony, Matthew Beattie, Ludwig Blomstrand, Wesley Myron and Bill Sweatt), none boast the most flattering potential scorecard nor do they emit overwhelming vibes.
Sweatt is the only possible exception based on his decent AHL stats, but even those are slightly down this year from his first two professional campaigns. The rest are going to take substantial time to emerge, if they do at all.
Still waiting on Evgeny Kuznetsov and having nabbed a diverse duo of first-round forwards last year in Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson, the Capitals have much to look forward to up front. Now they need to seek prospects who, upon NHL entry, will be leaned on to clear their own zone and distribute the puck to those up-and-coming strikers.
The Jets have Evander Kane and captain Andrew Ladd on the left wing. They have prolific playmaker Blake Wheeler on the right wing. In the middle, they have Olli Jokinen's veteran presence and promising rookie Mark Scheifele working his way up.
Assuming they all continue on their respective courses, all but Jokinen should work into Winnipeg's long-term plans as offensive co-pilots. This year's draft should be a part of the process of ultimately giving them the supplementary scorers every contender needs.