Toews deflects pressure

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Jonathan Toews could have a big day here at GM Place in late June at the 2006 NHL entry draft but all he is thinking about is the next 36 hours.

The Canadian centre is one of a handful of players eligible for the draft who were chosen to play at the world junior tournament by their respective countries. Toews, a Winnipeg native who plays at the University of North Dakota, is fully aware scouts are tracking his every move at the world junior. It's of no concern to him, however.

"It helps to have a big tournament here, but it is not make or break," the 6-foot-2, 185-pound forward said. "It's a long season, and I can (go) up or down considering how I am ranked for the draft. It's not really a big deal. All I am worried about here is my team."

Toews had two assists in four games going into play last night, but has demonstrated a knack for defensive play. He needs to put some weight on his frame before he plays in the NHL, but that will come naturally.

Many are expecting Phil Kessel of the U.S. to be the first pick overall, yet it is not a slam dunk as Sidney Crosby was a year ago. Toews is a threat, as is defenceman Erik Johnson, Kessel's U.S. teammate. Kessel led the tournament in scoring before the U.S. played Russia last night in a semi-final. Kessel had one goal and nine assists in five games. Johnson, whose command of the ice is excellent, had a goal and three assists.

Czech Republic forward Michael Frolik, considered the best prospect in Europe for the draft, has one assist in five games here.

NHL scouts don't attend this tournament prepared to make hard decisions on prospects, but use it as a tool for many purposes.

"Given the new rules, economic conditions and number of contracts and payroll distractions, you have to keep tabs on kids who have been drafted," Maple Leafs scout Dave Morrison said. "The kids who are eligible for the draft, I think this is a gauge for them, but it is just one of the things you use as part of your information process. I don't think it is something that can put a guy over the edge."

Teens such as Toews, Kessel, Johnson and Frolik are in a class by themselves to an extent. Collectively, the crop for the 2006 draft is not seen as strong.

"I would say this year will be about an average year," Morrison said. "But even though it may not be as strong as other years, it will play itself out in the end."


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