TSN (The Sports Network) has conducted an unofficial poll with 10 NHL scouts to rank the top 10 prospects for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft as of right now. The player holding down the No. 1 spot may surprise some people.
Anyone who follows major junior hockey has been fully aware of John Tavares, who has been playing for the Oshawa Generals for the last two seasons . However, according to the 10 NHL scouts polled by TSN, Victor Hedman, a 6'7" Swedish born defenseman, has leap-frogged Tavares to take over the No. 1 spot.
This poll is not nearly as detrimental to Tavares as the Central Scouting Bureau reports that are published throughout the calendar year. Still, it is cause for concern for those who thought John Tavares would be a bona fide franchise cornerstone.
(Not this writer. I never believed Tavares displayed the type of qualities that players like Lindros or Crosby did at the same age).
Over the last decade or so TSN has become a true authority on major junior hockey and tends to be quite accurate with any assessments conducted by the network.
According to the article, some of the scouts are not only thinking there is a possibility that Hedman will take the No. 1 spot, but that Jared Cowen, a towering defenseman for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, could jump ahead of Tavares. This will depend on the needs of the team drafting second.
Matt Duchene a skilled forward for the Brampton Battalion of the OHL, could also surpass Tavares depending on the seasons they have this year.
In all fairness to Tavares, when a player is in the spotlight for as long as he's been the scouts do tend to get bored of praising and start picking at even the most minuscule faults. But one thing is for sure, there are now players considered comparable to him and that was not the case even as recently as the end of last year's Memorial Cup Championships.
Why should this ranking concern the Toronto Maple Leafs? Well, it shouldn't. It is actually a very good thing that four players seem to have risen to the top and thus allow the Maple Leafs some wider selection assuming they do not win the lottery and receive the No. 1 pick overall.
The concern should lie more with the Toronto Maple Leaf fan who's been hoping the team would clear as much cap space as possible, finish in the bottom three, and hopefully get the No. 1 pick. In other words, rebuild around the franchise player John Tavares.
Looking back historically over the NHL entry draft, the true-can't-miss-franchise-players who blossomed to be just that never fell from their No. 1 ranking at any point.
So what's Plan B? When Cliff Fletcher traded up in the draft to select future shutdown man Luke Schenn many fans and many of the media outlets began talking about the two cornerstones—Schenn on defense and Tavares on offense. And that could very well be how the Maple Leaf brass was hoping this scenario would play out.
Now, simply because Tavares' stock has dropped (in an unofficial poll) doesn't mean Toronto would not be wise to still select him if they have the first pick. But we should be wary of the possibility that he may not be the player we thought he was.
So if you are one of the supporters who had been hoping the Leafs would tank, if you would be more than happy to be there with your fingers crossed on lottery day, do you think Toronto takes the consensus top ranked player if it's Hedman or Cowen? That would mean the Leafs would be building from the back-end out.
Or do the Leafs go against the grain and use the first pick to select what their team requires most, which at this point looks to be an offensively gifted player, either Tavares or Duchene? This would keep with the assumed plan.
Nothing ever comes easy for Leafs fans. Not even the one year where the team's futility matching up with a highly touted franchise player being available is appearing to pan out.
I guess only the Pittsburgh Penguins are lucky enough to be abysmal at the exact right time.