TSN scouting poll has Tavares back on top

Bob McKenzie

12/23/2008 8:47:20 PM

On the eve of their much anticipated showdown at the World Junior Championship, John Tavares has jumped out in front of Victor Hedman in the race for top spot in the 2009 NHL entry draft.

That is in somewhat stark contrast to the pre-season sentiment, when six of 10 NHL scouts polled by TSN in September said they would take the Swedish blueliner Hedman ahead of the Oshawa General sniper Tavares.

Now, the week prior to the WJC, eight of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN have Tavares ahead of Hedman.

"I'll admit it," one scout said, "I have flip-flopped. I had Hedman at No. 1 to start the season. Tavares has been exceptional this season. He's skating better, he's playing harder, he's been outstanding and that isn't to take anything away from Hedman. Hedman hasn't done anything to disappoint at all. Tavares has just stepped up. These two have separated themselves substantially from the rest of the field."

"Night and day" is how another scout compares Tavares' play from last spring's OHL playoffs to this season's efforts in the OHL and at Canada's national junior team's training camp.

"There's just a lot more intensity there," the scout added. "He's focused. He was dominant, absolutely dominant, in that (ADT Challenge) game against the Russians in St. Catharines."

Nevertheless, scouts are eager to see how each responds to the big stage at the WJC. TSN will survey the same 10 scouts after the tournament is over to see if their views have changed on the basis of WJC play.

"Both are very good prospects," another scout said. "I am sure it will be an interesting race all season long but in the end it won't surprise me if the No. 1 pick is dictated by positional preference. If the team drafting No. 1 needs a forward, it will be Tavares. But if the team drafting first needs a defenceman, it will be Hedman. It may be that basic."

The scout suggested, for example, that if the Tampa Bay Lightning – with Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, amongst others, up front but bereft of talent on the blueline – are picking first overall, Hedman may be the obvious choice no matter what Tavares and Hedman do the rest of this season.

What is undisputable at this point is that Tavares, with his play to this point in the season, has won over a lot of scouts.

TSN not only surveyed 10 NHL scouts on the Tavares-Hedman matchup, but also asked them for a current "if the draft were held today" ranking of draft-eligible prospects who will be playing in the WJC. Which means top prospects such as Spokane's Jared Cowen and Brampton's Matt Duchene, amongst others, were not considered or eligible for this exercise.

Ten points were awarded for a first-place vote, nine for a second-place vote and so on.

Tavares finished with 98 points, six more than Hedman's 92.

Swedish winger Magnus-Svensson Paajarvi was third with 74 points, followed by Team USA speedster Jordan Schroeder with 64 points and late Team Canada addition Evander Kane with 50 points.

Russian defenceman Dimitri Kulikov, who plays in Drummondville of the Quebec League, was sixth with 39 points. Swedish forward Jacob Josefsson was seventh with 32 points and Team Canada mighty-mite defenceman Ryan Ellis was eighth with 30.

Swedish blueliners David Rundblad and Tom Erixon (son of former NHLer Jan Erixon) rounded out the top 10 at ninth and 10th respectively with 23 and 21 points.

Finnish forward Joonas Nattinen just missed the cut, as did the other three prospects who received votes in the top 10: Swedish forward Marcus Johansson, Slovak forward Richard Panik, and Finnish blueliner Tommi Kivisto, who plays in Red Deer of the WHL.

There's no question scouts are eager to check out the draft eligible talent in this year's WJC.

The general rule of thumb is prospects can only help themselves in this event, which is to suggest it's not held against a prospect if he doesn't light it up against older, more experienced talent. But a strong performance in the WJC can vault a prospect up the rankings.

TSN's Top Ten Prospects at the WJHC

1. John Tavares (CAN) 98
2. Victor Hedman (SWE) 92
3. Magnus-Svensson Paajarvi (SWE) 74
4. Jordan Schroeder (USA) 64
5. Evander Kane (CAN) 50
6. Dimitri Kulikov (RUS) 39
7. Jacob Josefsson (SWE) 32
8. Ryan Ellis (CAN) 30
9. David Rundblad (SWE) 21
21. Tom Erixon (SWE) 30