Hockey Chat with Bob McKenzie

The regular season is over and it's time to look ahead to the playoffs and the draft. Who better to answer your questions on those fronts than TSN's Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie?

McKenzie breaks news, files stories that take viewers inside the game, and is part of panel discussions and debates on TSN. He appears on the NHL on TSN, SportsCentre and Molson That's Hockey, as well as contributing regularly to TSN.ca.

Moderator: Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today for this question and answer session with TSN Hockey Analyst Bob McKenzie. Over the course of the next 60 minutes or so, Bob will answer your questions related to the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. So without further delay, let's get started...

Bob McKenzie: I should make one thing perfectly clear. While I put together these draft rankings, and I have found them to be an unbelievably accurate indicator of what range a player may be drafted, I'm not out there scouting and watching these prospects. My job as a Hockey Insider simply doesn't allow me that kind of time to invest in getting to know these prospects intimately. My base of information comes from the NHL scouts who watch them so as I make comments today, please understand the frame of reference. If I am giving a personal opinion of any kind, I will be sure to note that. Otherwise, a lot of what I have to say reflects what the NHL scouts are saying and thinking. I just wanted to be clear on that count. Thanks.

Peter in Westbank, BC: Hi Bob, I am an Oilers fan and am hoping that, if they select in the No. 10 spot, that Jordan Schroeder will be available. Do you think he would be a good fit, and are the comparisons Paul Kariya fair?

Bob McKenzie: Peter, I would be careful with the Kariya comparisons only because Kariya was an elite-level top five prospect who made a huge impact on his franchise (Anaheim) and Schroeder, as good as he is, isn’t thought of in those terms right now. But I understand where you are coming from in terms of the size, speed and skill Schroeder possesses. I definitely think Schroeder is a player who could be there at No. 10 and the Oilers’ pick. In some ways, Schroeder would make a prototypical Oiler – fast and offensively gifted – but I think the Oilers may be trying to get away from that a bit as they have some skilled but smaller young forwards in Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner. In a perfect world, I would imagine they would like to get bigger up front and harder to play against, but there’s no question that in and around No. 10, some of the best prospects available are likely to be under-sized skill guys such as Schroeder and Ryan Ellis. The way I see it, there are seven prospects virtually guaranteed to note be there when Edmonton is picking – Tavares, Hedman, Duchene, Kane, Paajarvi-Svensson, Schenn and Cowen. I can’t imagine any of them will still be there at 10, so the trick becomes figuring out which other two prospects go before the Oilers. They could be Kulikov or Kadri or Schroeder or Ellis or Glennie.or one of the many other Swedes such as Josefson or Rundblad. If the Oilers decide to go for a homegrown defenceman, John Moore from Chicago of the USHL and Simon Despres are possibilities in that range.

JP in New York: Bob, who do you think the NY Islanders should take with their pick?

Bob McKenzie: JP, I don't think the Isles can go wrong either way – Tavares or Hedman. Tavares is a pure finisher – he is going to score goals in the NHL and that’s never a bad thing to have – but to use a basketball analogy, he’s more of a half-court player than the other top offensive players who have gone No. 1 recently such as Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby, among others. He's not a dynamic full-ice player but he has amazing finishing ability and will go to the hard places to score goals and do so in pressure situations when his team needs a goal the most. The scouts do get frustrated at times that he doesn’t play a harder, more complete game but he’s better at that now than a year ago so there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to improve in that regard. As for Hedman, there’s nothing wrong with 6-foot-6 defencemen who can move the puck and Hedman has played well enough against men in the Swedish Elite League to indicate he’s likely going to develop into a top two defenceman in the NHL. Whether this comes into it or not for the Islanders I don’t know, but defenceman take a lot longer to develop than forwards. That’s why the Carolina Hurricanes traded Jack Johnson when they did. They couldn’t afford to wait for JJ to fully develop and took Tim Gleason to give them immediate help. If time frame isn’t an issue for the rebuilding Islanders, they go either way. I kind of think they have a little more up front in terms of youthful potential with Okposo, Bailey and Comeau than they do on the blueline, but the Isles are at the stage of their development where they still need “everything.” If it was me making the pick, I would go with Tavares.

From Nick: Hey Bob, many people have been saying that Oliver Ekman-Larsson is shooting up the draft boards similar to Erik Karlsson of last year - and he has even been compared to Nicklas Lidstrom. Is Larsson already better than Karlsson and could he even potentially be the next Lidstrom of the NHL?

Bob McKenzie: Nick - Honestly, not having seen Ekman-Larsson play in person and only having seen Karlsson at the world juniors this year, it wouldn’t be fair for me to compare them and judge who’s better. I can only tell you that I know of a couple of NHL teams who so highly value Ekman-Larsson as a poor man’s Nick Lidstrom that they have him ranked as the third best prospect in the draft. How Ekman-Larsson shows at the U-18 world championship in Fargo, N.D., will probably tell the tale, but I don’t think there’s any question he goes top 10 and I won’t be surprised if he’s top 5. One scout even suggested Ekman-Larsson could be a better bet than Hedman, but conventional wisdom is that Hedman is a step ahead in large part because of size. As for whether Ekman-Larsson is the “next Lidstrom” I can only quote Robert Downey Jr. from Tropic Thunder and say, “Pump the brakes, kid, that man is a national (Swedish) treasure.”

Derek in Sault Ste. Marie: As it stands now, the Leafs are picking 7th and could possibly fall to 8th - which would put them in the range of drafting a player like Nazem Kadri. Is this guy a top flight forward in the draft or would the Leafs be better to trade up to get a better player at this stage of their re-build? I have heard comparisons to Zach Parise and I was wondering if this was an accurate assessment.

Bob McKenzie: Hi Derek, nice to hear from someone in the Soo. I had some good times working at the Sault Star between 1978 and 1981. Too bad they tore down the Vic. LOL. As for the Leafs and Nazem Kadri, I would agree he’s a prospect who could be available when the Leafs are picking at 7 (or 8, depending on the draft lottery results tonight) and while he’s a skillful offensive player, I am thinking if the Leafs could get a prospect who reinforces Brian Burke’s philosophy on how he likes the game played – think adjectives such as truculent, bellicose, belligerent and the like – then that would be their first choice. I believe the Leafs are putting a great emphasis on getting bigger and tougher and more skilled. So the players who fit that bill who might be in their wheelhouse would Brayden Schenn from Brandon or defenceman Jared Cowen from Spokane. I know Cowen tore up his knee (ACL) at the end of January but he seems to be holding firm in the top 10 so that tells you scouts think highly of him. Peterborough power forward Zack Kassian is another guy who fits the mold of what Burke likes, although some would suggest his skills are a little more limited than, say, Schenn’s and he’s more suited to go between 11 and 20 and than 6 and 10, but I think you get the idea. I wouldn’t rule out Burke taking a European, specifically a Swede, if Paajarvi-Svensson or Ekman-Larsson are still there. Remember, as much as Burke likes North Americans, he’s not blinded by anyone’s passport and he drafted a couple of twins in Vancouver as evidence of that.

Allan Bailey in Eatonia, Saskatchewan: Hi Bob, with all the first rounders that stepped right into the NHL last season, how many can realistically be looked at to step into the lineup next season? I look at Brayden Schenn, who has had two dominant seasons in the WHL. Can he really benefit from one more season of the same competition level?

Bob McKenzie: Allan, good question. What we have seen since the lockout is an extraordinary number of players just drafted step immediately into the NHL and make an impact. This probably has a lot to do with the post-lockout NHL being a younger man’s game and the salary cap world that places a premium on players with lower-level salaries (although this season it was precisely the opposite because of the lack of the Performance Bonus Cushion). Really, the determining factors often have the most to do with the team that drafts the player. Do they have room on the roster for an 18 or 19 year old who is going to go through growing pains? Think about last year's draft – Stamkos in Tampa Bay, Doughty in L.A., Bogosian in Atlanta and Schenn in Toronto. All those were rebuilding teams that could afford to put an 18 or 19 year old in their lineup without being too concerned about wins and losses. Your example on Brayden Schenn is probably a good one. He’s physically mature and if drafted by the right team, he could probably step in and physically get by. But you never know about the mental makeup of a player and whether it’s in his best interests to leave junior early. Also, I think with each passing year, we're seeing more and more roster spots being filled up with talented young players and that means there may not be as many readily available. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of underagers who immediately make it starts to decrease in the coming years.

From David McDonald: Bob, what is your assessment of Magnus Svensson-Paarjavi, and where do you think he will fall in the Top 10?

Bob McKenzie: David, Paajarvi-Svensson - that apparently is now regarded as the correct order of his hyphenated last name – is a big, strong winger who skates like the wind and isn't afraid to drive the net to score a goal. The scouts I talk to think he's a bona fide top 10 prospect who could go in the top five. The question mark I’m hearing from scouts is whether he’s going to be a natural goal-scorer at the pro level. Otherwise, though, he has all the tools to be a big-time pro-style winger.

Bryan in Barrie, ON: Bob, how are the goalie prospects this year? I'm a Flyers fan and was hoping they drafted Chet Pickard last year, but he was taken one spot earlier. Any good ones this year?

Bob McKenzie: Bryan, I am not as up on the goalie prospects as I should be at this time of year. When I start canvassing scouts for their opinions in September and October, I’m primarily looking at the prospects they believe are sure-fire first-rounders and when I did the exercise with them last fall, they weren’t encouraged that any one goaltender was a lock or guaranteed to go in the first round. But I sense that is changing. A lot of scouts are raving about the performance of Finnish netminder Mikko Koskinen and I would suggest he’s rocketing up the charts right about now. Swedish netminder Robin Lehner, currently playing for Sweden at the U-18 world championships in Fargo, is another guy who’s getting a lot of interest and might sneak up into the first round. My sense is that those two European goalies are maybe a cut above the North American such as Edward Pasquale of Saginaw, among others, but I also find scouts are all over the map on goalies and there’s far less consensus on them than skaters. Koskinen, though, is the guy generating the most buzz right now. I’m sure the Flyers, like a lot of other NHL teams, will be knocking down the door to get at Jonas Gustavsson, the big free-agent goalie from Sweden who was born in 1984.

From Marc-Philippe L'Abbe: I would like to know if there's one player who could cause quite a surprise by getting picked inside the Top 10, like Thomas Hickey in 2007?

Bob McKenzie: If I really had the answer to that question then I don’t think we could call it a surprise on draft day, could we? I don’t know if Ryan Ellis, for example, would cause a stir if he were taken in the top 10 but it would definitely be a surprise if he went in the top five a la Hickey. I have to believe that Tavares, Hedman, Duchene, Kane and one of Paajarvi-Svensson, Ekman-Larsson or Brayden Schenn will be the top five picks when all is said and done. But like you said, Hickey was a major surprise when the Kings took him at No. 4 so anything is possible.

From Nathan Lajoie: Hey Bob, I was wondering where you see David Rundblad going in the draft? I was very impressed with his play at the WJC and I would love for the Habs to pick him up late in the first round if he's still available.

Bob McKenzie: Nathan, my sense is that the feelings on David Rundblad are all over the map. I know of teams that have him nestled just outside of their top 10 but others who see him later in the first round. The Habs are going to be picking at No. 17, I think, or thereabouts and I honestly have no clue if he'll still be there or not. The teams that like him believe he's a smart player with great instincts and hockey sense, maybe not on the same level as the best defensive prospects such as Cowen, Kulikov and Ekman-Larsson but right there with anyone in that second group that includes Ellis, Despre, Moore and a few others.

Ray Escasa in Sault Ste. Marie: Hi Bob, regarding Ryan Ellis of the Windsor Spitfires, do you think he has the potential to be a franchise-type player? Is he in the mold of an Ian White or Trevor Daley (stars in junior, but not quite reaching that same potential in the NHL). Or is he the Duncan Keith or Mike Green type of guy? Thanks Bob! Keep up the awesome work!

Bob McKenzie: Ray, nice to hear from another resident of the Algoma region. I would not go so far as to say Ellis is a “franchise” player but he certainly has some dynamic qualities to him. The obvious knock on him is size, which actually works in his favor when he has the puck. His combination of quick feet, quick hands and a quick brain give him a leg up on a lot of bigger, stronger players and he’s going to be a factor every time he has the puck. But when he doesn’t, there are concerns about his ability to defend in the NHL against the behemoths and power forwards. So there are some who believe he’s destined to be more a power-play specialist, but great players, and Ellis is a great junior player, often find ways to improvise and overcome any shortcomings. But at the end of the day, projecting him as a “franchise” player is probably a stretch.

From Jassi Bedi: As it stands, the Avalanche are slated to draft Matt Duchene. What do the scouts think of him?

Bob McKenzie: Jassi, the scouts love everything about Duchene. They like his size, strength, speed, skill and smarts. They see him as a character player, as someone who can score goals, make plays and work as hard without the puck as with it. There’s nothing not to like about the Brampton Battalion forward. Tavares and Hedman are heavy favorites to go one-two in this draft, but if there’s one player who could upset that scenario, it’s probably Duchene. Not to give it away just yet, but when we release a revised Top 15 draft ranking tonight on the NHL Draft Lottery show on TSN at 8 p.m. eastern, Duchene will be a rock-solid No. 3 but at least one of the 10 scouts we surveyed had him at No. 2, ahead of Hedman.

Bob McKenzie: Thanks to everyone who asked questions. For those who asked but didn’t get an answer, sorry about that. Maybe we can do this again the week before the draft and I’ll likely have a lot more detailed information by then. Again, thanks for coming out. Enjoy the playoffs.

Moderator: This concludes our question and answer session with TSN Hockey Analyst Bob McKenzie. Be sure to watch live coverage of the 2009 Scotiabank NHL Draft Lottery, tonight at 8pm et/5pm pt on TSN and TSN HD.


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