The 2007 NHL Draft finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. On one hand, there is intrigue in respect that it is hard to get a handle on exactly which teams will draft which players – and that helps build excitement and anticipation. On the other hand, there is no Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin presence in the draft. Factor in the ongoing problem between the NHL and Russian Hockey Federation in reference to player transfers, and you have a draft that is ripe for a lot of trades as teams will jockey for position.

While the draft might be considered “weak”, that does not mean that there is not talent out there waiting to be discovered.

“There are good players out there, we just have to look harder to find them,” a scout told Bob McKenzie in a TSN.CA article. “There are a lot more projections in this draft. The good NHL players aren’t as obvious as now, but that doesn’t mean a lot of them won’t develop into good pros.”

So, f you want an impact player this year, the place to be is in the top third of the draft.

“As Red Line has stated before, the 2007 draft class is not a deep one, and if you want to be even mildly certain of getting a true blue chipper, you’ll need to be picking among the top 10 overall,” Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report wrote in a USA TODAY column.

Teams will be monitoring their draft boards to determine the slippage factor of their favorite players. GMs will be playing a game of chicken to see how low a player will drop before being selected. If a player you like at #11 is going to be available at #33, why not trade down and acquire extra draft picks and/or players because there will come a time where better value can be had by moving down.

“Of the 10 or so scouts we talked to for this project, most said the prospects you see in the 15 to 50 range are interchangeable, meaning a lot of teams will come out happy with their first and second round picks,” Alan Adams wrote in The Hockey News’ 2007 Draft Preview.

While he does have a horse in the race, so to speak, Central Scouting’s Bureau Director E.J. McGuire is quick to defend the 2007 Draft.

“Because there is no consensus No. 1 pick people are predicting it’s a poor draft,” McGuire told Dave Waddell of the Windsor Sun. “If three or four guys could go No. 1 then I don’t think it means it’s a bad draft.”

“There are some good players and I don’t think you’ll see a real drop off in talent level until you get into the late teens,” McGuire added.

Before we head into my 2007 NHL Mock Draft, I am going to give the last word to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

“In the more than 20 years [that] I have been doing rankings of this nature, there has NEVER been a year like this, where players ranked as low as 50 by some teams are getting serious first round consideration from others. It is a draft of highly interchangeable parts; personal preferences and organizational needs will come into play more than ever this year,” McKenzie wrote on TSN.CA.

“There has never been such a wide divergence of opinion on the prospects, even with the top 10, so whatever this draft may lack in marquee value will be more than offset by the intrigue of unpredictability.”

Each player has his Hockey News rating (THN), his Central Scouting rating (CSS) and his International Scouting Service rating (ISS), as well as his ISS player comparison. CSS divides their ratings between North Americans (NA) and Europeans (Euro). The draft positions used are as of June 20, 2007.

  1. Chicago Blackhawks – Patrick Kane (RW)

THN: #1 – CSS: #2 NA skater – ISS: #1 (Pavel Datsyuk)

What Kane lacks in size he makes up for in offensive ability, hockey sense and the best set of hands in the draft. Kane and Jonathan Toews are a great start to finally rebuilding this Original Six franchise.

  1. Philadelphia Flyers – James vanRiemsdyk (LW)

THN: #2 – CSS: #3 NA skater – ISS: #2 (Rick Nash)

This pick could just as easily be Kyle Turris, but the Flyers would be better off adding the size (6-3/200) and strength that VanRiemsdyk brings to the table.

  1. Phoenix Coyotes – Kyle Turris (C)

THN: #3 – CSS: 1 NA skater – ISS: 3 (Steve Yzerman)

Coach Wayne Gretzky is going to love his playmaking ability and excellent puck-handling skills – as well as his keen sense for the game.

  1. Los Angeles Kings – Karl Alzner (D)

THN: #8 – CSS: #5 NA skater – ISS: #6 (Francois Beauchemin)

While the Kings might be tempted by the offense that is still left on the boards, they learned from watching their California neighbors march to the Stanley Cup with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer leading the way. Alzner and Jack Johnson will give L.A. a formidable one-two punch on defense.

  1. Washington Capitals – Sam Gagner (C)

THN: #6 – CSS: #6 NA skater – ISS: #7 (Marc Savard)

The biggest need for the Capital is someone to set up Alexander Ovechkin. While they do have Nicklas Backstrom in the fold, Gagner gives them another top center – freeing one of them to center a second line with Alexander Semin.

  1. Edmonton Oilers – Jakub Voracek (RW)

THN: #7 – CSS: #7 NA skater – ISS: #5 (Ales Hemsky)

Voracek might not be the physical player Ryan Smyth is, but he fits in well with their other forward prospects. While he has goal scoring talent, he is even better as a playmaker.

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets – Keaton Ellerby (D)

THN: #11 – CSS: #4 NA skater – ISS: #9 (Jay Bouwmeester)

Much like the Kings, they could very easily draft a scoring forward – especially with Nikolai Zherdev on this ice. However, a 6-4/190 blueliner is hard to pass up – especially when he is a tough, good skating defenseman who can handle/move the puck and play on special team units.

  1. Boston Bruins – Logan Couture (C)

THN: #7 – CSS: #19 NA skater – ISS: #13 (Rod Brind’Amour)

The Bruins could use the explosive power of an Alexei Cherepanov, but owner Jeremy Jacobs is not going to empty his pockets and buck the Russian Hockey Federation. Instead, Boston will select Couture who was one of the top players entering the draft before injuries and mono slowed him down.

  1. St. Louis Blues – Alexei Cherepanov (RW)

THN: #5 – CSS: – #1 Euro skater – ISS: #4 (Alexei Kovalev)

With three first round draft picks, the Blues can afford to be aggressive and take chances – hence the selection of Cherepanov who might be the most talented offensive player in the draft. With that said, it would not surprise me to see the Blues trade out of this spot for immediate help – especially if someone truly fancies Cherepanov.

  1. Florida Panthers – Ryan McDonagh (D)

THN: #30 – CSS: #11 NA skater – ISS: #19 (Dan Boyle)

If Cherepanov drops, the Panthers would have to jump on him. If not, they will draft the reigning Mr. Hockey (i.e. Minnesota’s best high school player). They have some depth among their young forwards and the offensive defenseman is solid in all facets of the game and will be a great addition to Jay Bouwmeester on the blue line.

  1. Carolina Hurricanes –Kevin Shattenkirk (D)

THN: #18 – CSS: #34 NA skater – ISS: #27 (John Michael Liles)

It is possible that Shattenkirk and McDonagh might end up switching draft slots. Shattenkirk is more advanced offensively, but McDonagh is the better defensive player at this point. Even though they acquired Tim Gleason, Carolina could use a big-time prospect on defense.

  1. Montreal Canadiens – Angelo Esposito (C)

THN: #9 – CSS: #8 NA skater – ISS: #11 (Pierre Turgeon)

Another player who has seen his stock drop from this time last year. Esposito was unable to raise his play with a sub par Quebec team. The Habs can address their needs on defense later in the first round because of Esposito’s offensive game. He will need to work on his consistency and he must not be such a finesse player.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs – Mikael Backlund (C)

THN: #37 – CSS: #2 Euro skater – ISS: #10 (Mike Sillinger)

While the Leafs have a need to add depth on defense, they will go for Backlund who struggled through a tough season due to a knee injury. Also thought of as one of the best players a year ago, Backlund flashed his brilliance in the Under-18 Tournament. After all, Toronto has done pretty well with another Swedish center named Mats Sundin.

  1. Colorado Avalanche – Thomas Hickey (D)

THN: #22 – CSS: #26 NA skater – ISS: #17 (Brian Rafalski)

Joe Sakic is not going to play forever, so Colorado might look to a Lars Eller, Zach Hamill or Backlund if he dropped. If not, they will look to add some help for John-Michael Liles on the blue line and Hickey is an offensive defenseman. He fits the profile of most of the offensive d-men at this point in the draft – about 5-11/180-ish. However, he is earning his stripes playing in the physical WHL so he should be able to handle life in the NHL.

  1. Edmonton Oilers – Alex Plante (D)

THN: #16 – CSS: #72 NA skater – ISS: #28 (Kyle McLaren)

While his father Cam was more offensive (22 goals and 118 assists in his final year in the WHL in 1983/84), Alex towers over his father (6-4/225 as compared to 6-0/185). Alex is a solid two-way d-man whose stock has risen as the year progressed – even though he missed the last three weeks with an ankle injury.

  1. Anaheim Ducks – Nick Petrecki (D)

THN: #15 – CSS: #21 NA skater – ISS: #14 (Ed Jovanovski)

With Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne considering retirement, the Ducks have a choice to make in reference to which player they try and replace. If they need a forward, they could look to Eller or Maxim Mayorov. I have a feeling they will look at a blueliner and Petrecki is a nice fit – pun intended. He combines skill, size and a mean streak and will eventually prove to be a worthy replacement for Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.

  1. New York Rangers – Maxim Mayorov (LW)

THN: #14 – CSS: #4 Euro skater – ISS: #8 (Nikita Alexeev)

If Petrecki drops to the Rangers, they should snatch him up immediately because the organization does have a d-man who plays as physically as he does. If he is not there, Jim Dolan can raise Cablevision’s rates and use that money to secure a transfer release for Mayorov. At 6-2/187, he combines size and skill into an offensive weapon the Rangers don’t have in their system. While some worry about him not playing up to his opponents, he is a potential top-six forward the Rangers need in to replace the age they have among their top forwards.

  1. Calgary Flames – Lars Eller (LW)

THN: #35 – CSS: #3 Euro skater – ISS: #18 (Michael Nylander)

Darryl Sutter will surely feel some pressure to draft his nephew Brendon Sutter, but will settle on Eller who brings a solid offensive game and is a player who might be ready sooner rather than later when it comes to playing in the NHL. Some scouts are concerned about drafting a Danish-born player, but Eller has been playing with Frolunda in Sweden.

  1. Minnesota Wild – Jonathon Blum (D)

THN: #17 – CSS: #17 NA skater – ISS: #20 (Brent Seabrook)

With the Wild passing on signing former 2004 first rounder A.J. Thelen, the team could use an offensive d-man in the organization. If Anaheim decides to draft the California native Blum, look for the Wild to look at Petrecki, if he is available, or Mark Katic. He has all of the offensive tools you want, but he is a bit undersized at 6-0/160.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Colton Gillies (C)

THN: #13 – CSS: #30 NA skater – ISS: #12 (Erik Cole)

The Penguins are loaded with young offensive talent and depth on the blue line. Gillies adds even more speed to a strong skating club and brings a physical presence and solid two-way game to a team that can use both.

  1. Phoenix Coyotes – Zach Hamill (C)

THN: # 12 – CSS: 9 NA skater – ISS: 16 (Ray Whitney)

While the Coyotes can use some help on defense, look for Gretzky to talk new GM Don Maloney to continue to add more offense and address their defensive needs later. While Hamill is small (5-10/180), there is no denying his ability to score as he led the WHL in scoring. Not the fastest of skaters, Hamill simply gets the job done and is not afraid to work in the trenches. He is one of those players who is better than the sum of his parts.

  1. Montreal Canadiens – Mark Katic (D)

THN: #26 – CSS: #59 NA skater – ISS: #50 (Brian Campbell)

With the Habs facing losses on the defense – especially power play specialist Sheldon Souray, Katic fills the bill as the PP QB. While there are concerns about his size (5-9/180) and strength, the NHL’s crackdown has opened up a new avenue for players with Katic’s offensive skills.

  1. Nashville Predators – David Perron (RW)

THN: #31 – CSS: #10 NA skater – ISS: #15 (Ales Hemsky)

No player has seen his stock rise like Perron has in the second half of the season. ISS did not even include him in their October 2006 ratings and he ended up 15th in their final assessment. While he is more playmaker than pure goal scorer, the knock on him is that he is easily knocked off the puck. However, he is a highly skilled player who has proven scouts wrong previously. He was an undrafted high school player who went on to score 39-44-83 in his rookie year.

  1. St. Louis Blues – Brett MacLean (LW)

THN: #32 – CSS: #14 NA skater – ISS: #21 (Jeff O’Neill)

MacLean has proven he knows how to finish by virtue of his 47 goals last year in the OHL. However, naysayers point out that his center was the great John Tavares. He is the prototypical power forward and has a chance to be a special player if he can improve his skating.

  1. Vancouver Canucks – Oscar Moller (RW)

THN: #19 – CSS: #20 NA skater – ISS: #25 (Daniel Alfredsson)

The Canucks might go for a player in their own backyard, Michal Repik who plays for Vancouver in the WHL. Moller is on the smallish side (5-11/180) and is an average skater, but he is the type of player every team wants. Despite playing in the WHL, he captained Sweden’s Under-18 team. In addition to his leadership, Moller’s main assets are his puck handling and hockey sense.

  1. St. Louis Blues – Brandon Sutter (C)

THN: #10 – CSS: #28 NA skater – ISS: #30 (Rob Niedermayer)

There is no way the Blues can pass up a legacy player when they have three first round picks – assuming they don’t move one of them for immediate help. John Davidson will pass on Logan MacMillan (his father Bob was a member of the Blues) to draft Brandon, the nephew of fan favorite Brian Sutter. While Brandon is more of a player in the mold of Uncle Ron as opposed to father Brent, he is sound all-around player with superb hockey sense.

  1. Detroit Red Wings – Joakim Andersson (C)

THN: #21 – CSS: #5 Euro skater – ISS: #36 (Shane Doan)

Andersson is a solid two-way player who projects out to be a power forward in the NHL. He is a hard worker who will battle for the puck and is a physical player who is not afraid about going to the net. The one concern is how much will his offensive game develop. If his offensive game comes close to his physical game, the Red Wings will have one of the steals of the draft.

  1. Washington Capitals – Max Pacioretty (LW)

THN: #24 – CSS: #16 NA skater – ISS: #34 (Taylor Pyatt)

Pacioretty has made steady progress going from high school hockey to the USHL and should continue that progression at the University of Michigan. He has power forward size (6-1/203) and is a good skater and has good hands. He is hard worker, who is not afraid to shoot the puck (238 shots in 60 games) and is not afraid to mix it up (119 PIM).

  1. Ottawa Senators – Tommy Cross (D)

THN: #45 – CSS: #12 NA skater – ISS: #29 (Adam Foote)

With talk circulating that the Senators might move Wade Redden, the 6-3/195 Cross is a solid defensive defenseman who will get a chance to work on offensive game at Boston College. While not a big offensive producer, Cross is a good skater and has the ability to make that first pass out of the zone. Even though he is one of the youngest players in the draft, he displays a nasty streak that belies his youth. However, with Ray Emery out three months with hand surgery, new GM Bryan Murray might be tempted to take a long look at the top goaltender in a weak netminder draft – Jeremy Smith.

  1. Edmonton Oilers – Akim Aliu (RW)

THN: #50 – CSS: 41 NA skater – ISS: #41 (Todd Bertuzzi)

After going offense and defense with their first two picks (assuming GM Kevin Lowe doesn’t move one of them for established player(s), the Oilers have a lot of ways they can go. As a result, they will take a chance on a player who has all the tools of a power forward – now he just needs a box to put them in. He has everything you want in a forward – size (6-2/200), strength and solid skating skills. However, fairly or not, he has received criticism for off-ice incidents. He was involved in a fight with them Windsor teammate Stephen Downie (a Flyers prospect) that stemmed from a hazing incident. Sudbury coach Mike Foligno sent Aliu home for the final two games of the regular season because of Aliu’s undisciplined play. Despite the negatives, he has the natural ability to be one of the best power forwards in the NHL.

First Round Draft Pick Transactions

Pick 15 – EDMONTON traded LW Ryan Smyth to the NY ISLANDERS for C Robert Nilsson, C Ryan O’Marra and the Islanders 2007 1st round draft pick.

Pick 18 – ANAHEIM traded D Shane O’Brien and the Ducks 2007 3rd round draft pick to TAMPA Bay for G Gerald Coleman and the Lightning’s 2007 1st round draft pick.

Pick 21 – DALLAS traded LW Mathias Tjarnqvist and the Stars 2007 1st round draft pick to PHOENIX for LW Ladislav Nagy.

Pick 22 – MONTREAL traded D Craig Rivet and the Canadiens 2007 5th round draft pick to SAN JOSE for D Josh Gorges and the Sharks 2007 1st round draft pick.

Pick 23 – (1) PHILADELPHIA traded C Peter Forsberg to NASHVILLE for D Ryan Parent, LW Scottie Upshall and the Predators 2007 1at and 3rd round draft picks. (2) – NASHVILLE traded the rights to F Scott Hartnell and D Kimmo Timonen to PHILADELPHIA for the Predators 2007 1st round draft pick that was previously traded to the Flyers.

Pick 24 – ST. LOUIS traded LW Keith Tkachuk to ATLANTA for C Glen Metropolit, the Thrashers 2007 1st and 3rd round draft picks, 2008 2nd round draft pick and a 2008 conditional 1st round draft pick if Atlanta re-signs Tkachuk for 2007-08.

Pick 26 – (1) NEW JERSEY traded D Vladimir Malakhov and the Devils 2007 1st round draft pick to SAN JOSE for D Jim Fahey and LW Alexander Korolyuk. (2) SAN JOSE traded LW Jay Barribal, LW Ville Nieminen and the Devils 2007 1st round draft pick to ST. LOUIS for RW Bill Guerin.

Pick 28 – BUFFALO traded C Jiri Novotny and the Sabres 2007 1st round draft pick to WASHINGTON for D Timo Helbling and C Dainius Zubrus.

Pick 30 – EDMONTON traded D Chris Pronger to ANAHEIM for RW Joffrey Lupul, D Ladislav Smid and the Ducks 2007 and 2008 1st round draft picks.

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