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Tavares tops TSN rankings; Hedman still close

Bob McKenzie

4/14/2009 7:46:15 PM

At first glance, it looks anything but close.

Nine out of 10 NHL scouts surveyed last week - prior to the beginning of the Under-18 World Championship in Fargo, N.D. - told TSN they would take John Tavares over Victor Hedman as the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft.

So that settles it then, right? Tavares is the overwhelming favorite?

Not necessarily.

Many of the nine who designated Tavares as No. 1 said the difference between the London Knights' prolific scorer and the 6-foot-6 Swedish Elite League blueliner is not that great and their decision is far from certain at this point.

"Tavares was considerably better than Hedman at the World Juniors," one scout said, "but Hedman has played extremely well in the SEL after the World Juniors. Tavares has scored a lot of goals and points since then but his play has slipped, especially in the playoffs."

One scout said he thought Tavares has worn down a bit and has been nursing some injuries, but a lot of the scouts said they were eager to see Tavares and his London Knights go head to head with the powerful Windsor Spitfires in the OHL playoffs.

"Tavares' history has been that he steps up when it really matters most and this is a big-time showdown with Windsor," the scouts said. "I'll be interested to see (Tavares) respond. I have to be honest, I am not 100 per cent settled in my mind who's No. 1. If the draft were today, it would be Tavares. Next week? We'll see. I want to see how the rest of this season plays out."

Still, only one of the scouts surveyed by TSN had Tavares at No. 2. Hedman was No. 1 on that scout's list.

Hedman received eight second-place votes and one third-place vote. The only scout who voted for Hedman in the No. 3 slot opted for Brampton Battalion Matt Duchene as No. 2 behind Tavares.

It would be a shock if anyone knocked Tavares or Hedman out of the top two slots but if anyone merits consideration as a spoiler, it's the offensively-gifted Duchene.

Vancouver Giant forward Evander Kane, who is showing signs of developing into a power forward type, was a solid No. 4, behind Duchene but ahead of the No. 5 man, speedy Swedish winger Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson. No one doubts Paajarvi-Svensson's speed or ability to drive the net to create scoring opportunities but some scouts wonder if he has a goal scorer's touch.

Brandon forward Brayden Schenn checked in at No. 6 and could use his blend of physical play and offence to push his way into the top five.

Spokane's Jared Cowen hasn't played since blowing out his knee (ACL) on Jan. 30, but the big defensive defenceman has held firm in the top 10 despite not playing, which is a testament to his staying power in the eyes of the scouts.

Those seven players were the only players to be chosen as a Top 10 prospect on each and every one of the 10 ballots.

Swedish defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was No. 8 and he's something of a wild-card within the top 10. He didn't show up on three of the 10 ballots but was top five on two other ballots. If he were to skate his way into the top five overall, no one should be overly surprised.

Russian defenceman Dmitri Kulikov, who plays for Drummondville in the Quebec League, was No. 9 and scouts like his overall game and two-way presence.  He's a guy who is as good without the puck as he is with it. Kulikov appeared on eight of 10 ballots.

Rounding out the top 10 was Tavares' offensive running mate with the Knights, Nazem Kadri, whose season was derailed a bit by a broken jaw in November. Kadri showed up on five of the 10 ballots.

Those who just missed getting into TSN's top 10, which was revised to coincide with today's NHL draft lottery drawing, included Brandon offensive forward Scott Glennie at No. 11 and a pair of talented mighty mites – diminutive Windsor Spitfire offensive defenceman Ryan Ellis at No. 12 and University of Minnesota speedster/sniper Jordan Schroeder.

St. John defenceman Simon Despres was No. 14, with Chicago Steel (USHL) defenceman John Moore, rated by some scouts as the premier skater available in this draft, tied with Peterborough tough guy/power forward Zack Kassian for the 15th spot. If there were an honorable mention, it would have to go to Swedish defender David Rundblad.

"We'll see how it goes but I would be surprised if (TSN's) top nine aren't the first nine players selected," one scout said. "There's always a chance of someone jumping in there to break it up, but that's a pretty good group of nine."