There is a long way to go, an entire season actually, but it's not out of the question that the first two players taken in the 2010 NHL entry draft could be from the same team.
Windsor Spitfire teammates Taylor Hall, a forward, and Cam Fowler, a defenceman, are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on TSN's Pre-Season Top 10 for the 2010 NHL entry draft.
Taylor, a terrific goal-scorer with game-breaking abilities and dynamic speed, skill and tenacity, was ranked No. 1 by eight of the 10 NHL scouts surveyed by TSN. Fowler, an American from Northville, Mich., who played for the U.S. national development program last season, was ranked the top defenceman available this year by nine of the 10 scouts.
In the modern history of the universal NHL entry draft, teammates have never been chosen with the first two picks. In the days of the old amateur draft, the Montreal Canadiens in 1969 took Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif, teammates on the Montreal Junior Canadiens, with the first two picks. Since then, the closest was in 1999, when the Vancouver Canucks made twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin the second and third picks overall.
While it isn't out of the question that Hall and Fowler could go Nos. 1 and 2, the two Spitfires are going to face stiff challenges.
Hall is clearly the consensus No. 1 going into this season, but the gulf between him and the rest of the field is by no means insurmountable. Two other players – Sudbury Wolves' left winger John McFarland and Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko – received first-place votes, but Hall was no worse than No. 2 on any ballot. And while Fowler is the consensus No. 2, the gap between him and the other challengers is, at this point, rather miniscule.
Plymouth Whaler forward Tyler Seguin, for example, was right behind Fowler at No. 3 in the voting.
The high end of this year's draft is dominated by offensive forwards with elite-level skill and point production and how they perform over the course of the season will determine whether they have what it takes to knock Hall from the pre-season pedestal.
It's also a year when Russian talent will be front and centre.
The No. 4 prospect on TSN's list is Russian Kirill Kabanov. He is in Moncton, awaiting IIHF approval for a transfer that would permit him to play for the Quebec League's Moncton Wildcats. When, or whether, the approval is granted is anybody's guess, but the longer he doesn't play, the more ground he is likely to have to make up. Kabanov is one of three high-end Russian prospects this year. Tarasenko, who checks in at No. 9, and right winger Evgeny Kuznetsov, who didn't make the Top 10 but did get some honorable mentions, are the others.
If last year's draft was top heavy with Swedish talent, this year's has the potential for a noteworthy Russian flavor. That said, in the absence of a transfer agreement between the NHL and Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the financially viable alternatives for Russian talent in the Kontinental Hockey League, it's one thing to highly rate or rank Russian talent, it's another thing to follow through and make them a high pick in the draft.
“The ‘Russian factor' is real, we've seen it in the last few drafts,” one NHL scout said, “but if you're just evaluating on talent and forgetting about the business part of it, these Russians this year are very, very good. Kabanov and Tarasenko are outstanding, legitimate top 10 talents who might turn out to be as good or better than any of the others. There are a lot of other Russians who are first-round talents, too.”
But it's also a strong year for the Canadian Hockey League. In addition to Hall, Fowler and Seguin, there are four Canadians from the CHL rounding out the top 10.
Prince George forward Brett Connolly is No. 5, Sudbury's McFarland is No. 6, Moncton defenceman Brandon Gormley is No. 7 and Kingston defenceman Erik Gudbranson is No. 8. The support for the first eight players as top 10 picks was overwhelming. There was a significant gap between Nos. 8 and 9 in terms of voting points, although the No. 9 man, Tarasenko, did get one first-place vote. Small but talented Finnish forward Mikael Granlund rounds out the top 10 in the final spot.
The scouts are impressed with all four from five through eight – Connolly, McFarland, Gormley and Gudbranson -- to varying degrees and believe any one of them is capable of pushing into the top five. Several scouts went out of their way to say Gormley will mount a significant challenge to Fowler as the top defenceman and, of course, one scout had McFarland in the No. 1 slot.
While no goaltenders were included in the top 10, this is expected to be a much better draft class for goalies than last year. Several are said to have first-round potential, including American stopper Jack Campbell, Moncton's Louis Domingue and Seattle's Calvin Pickard, amongst others. Domingue was the only goalie who got a top 10 vote. One scout ranked him No. 7.
Outside of the top 10, only five other prospects (including Domingue) received votes. That group also includes Owen Sound forward Joey Hishon, Edmonton defenceman Mark Pysyk, Moose Jaw forward Quinton Howden and St. John's forward Stanislav Galiev.
Ottawa right winger Tyler Toffoli was a noteworthy honorable mention.
Here's a look at TSN's Pre-Season Top 10 for the 2010 NHL entry draft.