RED LINE REPORT
Red Line Report chief scout and publisher Kyle Woodlief, a former NHL scout with the Nashville Predators, will analyze different players and scouting issues each month.
Red Line Report is an independent scouting newsletter widely used by general managers and chief scouts around the NHL. RLR also has a full-service Junior scouting edition for the OHL Priority Selection draft in May.
By Kyle Woodlief, special to USA TODAY
The forward group is the clear strength of this year’s draft crop with offensive talents occupying the top four spots overall and 10 of the top 13 on Red Line Report’s list. Teams drafting in the top 20 should be able to add a solid forward prospect to their stables.
There’s not a lot separating the top four talent-wise, but tops on our chart is Pat Kane. We give him the edge based on his explosive, game-breaking goal-scoring abilities, and his history of outstanding production at every level. Kane’s speed, quickness and lateral agility give defenders fits, and he dominated the tough OHL as a rookie with surprising ease, bombing his way to the league scoring title with 62 goals, 83 assists and 145 points in just 58 games. He’s always ready to pounce on the slightest mistake and turn it into instant offense and terrorizes goalies with a deadly accurate shot.
The other three forwards Red Line Report has bunched together in the “Big Four” offer a variety of styles.
For Red Line Report’s money, Jakub Voracek is the safest pick and most complete two-way forward of the bunch. He’s a good-sized winger at 6-1, 180 and plays a tenacious, grinding style. Constantly exerts pressure on the puck and when he doesn’t have it, he will go and get it. Voracek is driven. He wants to make plays and be the best player on the ice every shift. Plus, he’s responsible defensively and plays with high character and intelligence.
Kyle Turris may have the best pure offensive skill and most upside of any player in the draft and could possibly be the first player ever selected No. 1 overall from the Tier II ranks. He has a phenomenal shot that he pinpoints to the corners with laser-like accuracy. His anticipation is excellent and the puck just always seems to find him. Though he’s reed-thin and lacks upper-body strength, he’s willing to battle for loose pucks and compete in all three zones. His ability to be exactly where he needs to be at all times is uncanny.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Red Line Kyle Woodlief Pat Kane Alexei Cherepanov Jakub Voracek
James van Riemsdyk offers the best combination of the three S’s: size, strength and skill. That size-skill ratio gives him as big an upside as any forward in the draft. He has a great release on a wicked snap shot and the vision and passing touch to create chances off the rush. When he comes roaring down the wing like a freight train run amok, he’s difficult for any contender to contain – and he’s got soft, quick hands that allow him to dangle at speed.
Red Line’s list of the top forward prospects for the NHL’s 2007 Entry Draft in Columbus on June 22-23
1. Pat Kane 5-10 / 167 left 11/19/89 London Knights
2. Jakub Voracek 6-1 / 178 left 8/15/89 Halifax Moose
3. Kyle Turris 6-0 / 170 right 8/14/89 Burnaby (Tier II)
4. James van Riemsdyk 6-3 198 left 5/4/89 U.S. NTDP U-18
5. Sam Gagner 5-10 187 right 8/10/89 London Knights
6. Logan Couture 6-0 191 left 3/3/89 Ottawa 67’s
7. Zach Hamill 5-11 182 right 9/23/88 Everett Silverbacks
8. Alexei Cherepanov 6-0 176 left 1/15/89 Avangard Omsk
9. Angelo Esposito 6-0 189 left 2/20/89 Quebec Rempart
10. Oscar Moller 5-11 180 right 1/22/89 Chilliwack Bruins
Sam Gagner is Kane’s running mate in London. He has wonderful vision and creativity and a variety of touch passes that he can make through traffic. He is also the son of former NHL standout Dave Gagner and has acquired his father’s intuitive offensive instincts and general hockey sense. Gagner’s lateral quickness and variety of shifty moves create problems for defenders.
Logan Couture had the toughest season of any of the elite prospects and has been downgraded on a few NHL lists for questionable first-step quickness and lack of a top-end gear. But we think it was just bad luck to get mononucleosis that sapped his strength early in the season. Plus, he was expected to be the focal point of the offense in Ottawa every night with very little help from any skilled wingers. He carried that burden well. He may have the softest hands and most imaginative playmaking skills in the draft.
Slick Zach Hamill is this year’s most consistently underrated forward. He is constantly knocked for being either too slightly built, too much a perimeter player or not fast enough for a little guy. But all he does is produce. Hey, he must have done something right to lead the WHL in scoring at 18 years old. But to hear some scouts talk, you would think he was a big disappointment. He is very intelligent on and off the ice and a real character kid, too. He has soft hands and reads the whole ice beautifully with great anticipation.
Alexei Cherepanov is this draft’s biggest wild card. Cherepanov has top -five talent, but is also a leading candidate to become a bust. He doesn’t have a good work ethic or on-ice attitude and shuns the defensive end entirely. But he has game-breaking offensive talent with a big-time wrist shot and is a natural finisher who wants the puck on his stick at crunch time. Cherepanov is supremely skilled with the puck and could be a home run if he learns to work consistently. But we’ve seen this pattern before from some highly skilled Russians who never panned out in North America and wound up back in the Russian Super League in a couple of years.
The most disappointing year among this group was turned in by Angelo Esposito, who entered the season as the odds on favorite to be selected first overall in the 2007 draft after a superb rookie season in the Quebec League last year by winning a Memorial Cup. But his Quebec Remparts club suffered major graduation losses, and Esposito never stepped up into a leadership role. He still scored well. But he didn’t play with passion or fire and his development seems to have stalled. He does have fabulous skating ability and superb hands, but he must compete harder and bring more effort and intensity to the rink on a nightly basis.
And rounding out the top 10 is Oscar Moller. This is one feisty little Swede who came over and excelled right off the bat in the tough battles of the WHL. He always plays at full throttle with high energy and rips one of the most wicked shots in this draft class. He’s also very strong on the puck and involved physically, always driving hard through checks to get to the net for scoring chances.
Maxime Tanguay and Nico Sacchetti
Tanguay is easily the most overlooked high-end offensive talent this year. He had some minor injury problems (knee) that cost him some time and exposure. Plus, he’s small and on the slight side. But he’s a deadly performer on the power play, and if allowed any time and space in the offensive zone, he’s going to find the back of the net. He played for a talented but extremely young team in Rimouski and really came up big as an offensive leader.
Sacchetti is a smallish, but gritty Minnesota high schooler. He is feisty and owns a wicked shot. He is an extremely smart, creative center who always makes the right play with the puck. He’s also a very good stickhandler, patient and always around the action. His quick feet make him elusive in traffic. Sacchetti has really flown under the radar.