The 2010 NHL Draft weekend is shaping up to be a wild and woolly affair for the Thrashers franchise. Already the team has made a multi-player, multi-pick trade with Chicago. Then the team announced their new head coach--and the 1st round hasn't even begun yet!
While I think the Thrashers overpaid for the assets they received from the Blackhawks, the best news is that the deal didn't involve their #8 overall pick. This is a very deep draft at the top end and the Atlanta Thrashers will get a high quality hockey player at that spot. (Assuming they don't trade the #8 pick-there is some talk the Thrashers would be willing to move down for the right price.)
Who will the team take? That is a challenging question to answer considering that 7 other teams get to narrow the field before Rick Dudley steps up to the microphone. But the consensus is that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin will be the first two players taken. After that there are three defensemen who will be picked very quickly (Erik Gudbranson, Brandon Gormley and Cam Fowler). Those 5 players are almost certain to be gone when Atlanta picks at #8. So who could be left for Atlanta? The Thrashers will get a shot at three talented forwards from the WHL: Brett Connolly, Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Johansen. Each player has good size and a high level of offensive talent.
- I spoke to E.J. McGuire of Central Scouting and he compared center Ryan Johansen to "a modern day Jean Ratelle" a slick passing pivot who played for many years with the NY Rangers. As an organization the Thrashers are very deep with wings and shallow at center.
- Nino Niederreiter is a power forward who will bull doze his way to the net. He put on a show at the WJC and caused the Swiss team to be a Cinderella story. E.J. McGuire said "I was skeptical of him at the start of the season. I thought how will he handle the rough and tumble Western Hockey League--but he got off to a strong start. Then came the international WJC tourament and again he impressed really stepping up his game. He won me over with his play."
- Finally, we have Brett Connolly (who I took in the SB Nation mock draft for Atlanta). E.J. McGuire says "everyone talks about the 'Big Two' of Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, but years later we might talk about the 'Big Three' and people will say how did Brett Connolly slip out of the top three selections?" Connolly is a huge risk/reward pick after missing much of the regular season and a year of development.
With the 8th overall selection, it is almost certain one of these three WHL forwards will be available when Atlanta chooses. There is even a decent chance that Atlanta will have the luxury of having more than one to choose between if one of the top 7 teams makes a surprise selection. Some candidates to break into the top 7 picks include Alexander Burmistrov (a talented Russian who played junior hockey this year), American goalie Jack Campbell (Tampa is rumored to be interested), Jeff Skinner (who was a goal scoring machine in the OHL) and Derck Forbort (a rock solid defenseman for Team USA) and some team could shock the NHL by taking Austin Watson in the top seven.
I think the Thrashers want Nino Niederreiter the most out of that group of three WHLers, but I also suspect that Carolina or Tampa will draft him before Atlanta picks. So Ryan Johansen or Brett Connolly could be the guy slipping on the Thrashers blue on TV tonight.