SUN Hockey Pool

Anybody's guess

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

How do you say one NHL team's crop of prospects is better than another's?

It's all a guessing game.

Sure, it's easy to say the Chicago Blackhawks drafted a couple of potential stars in Patrick Kane -- the first overall draft this year -- and last year's No.-3 pick Jonathan Toews.

But can anybody say the 'Hawks have a better group of up-and-comers than the Los Angeles Kings, who boast Jack Johnson, Thomas Hickey and Jonathan Bernier in their stable?

Or the Washington Capitals with Nicklas Backstrom, Semen Varlamov and Karl Alzner?

Who knows, maybe the Calgary Flames have the best group of horses in the stable. Maybe goaltender Leland Irving will become the next Vezina Trophy winner, while Daniel Ryder, Makael Backlund and Juuso Puustinen become a 130-goal line and John Negrin and Gord Baldwin become a Robyn Regehr/Jordan Leopold-level duo.

Claiming players under age 20 are destined for greatness is impossible. Anybody could have picked Sidney Crosby to be a star, but history is full of can't-miss kids who fell well shy of expectations.

Look back at the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and it's first round to see just how inexact of a science it is to predict the future.

The Sedin brothers, chosen second and third by the Vancouver Canucks now make up two-thirds of the team's top line, and 26th selection Martin Havlat is a standout.

But it isn't pretty from there. Top pick Patrik Stefan played 455 games but scored just 65 NHL goals before heading to Europe this summer.

The Calgary Hitmen's dynamic duo of Pavel Brendl and Kris Beech are busted out (Brendl) or battling to find a spot (Beech).

The top 10 also included Tim Connolly, Brian Finley, Taylor Pyatt, Jamie Lundmark and Branislav Mezei. None are the 'stars of the future' they were billed as back then.

But we can guarantee there wasn't near the hype over the 210th pick by the Detroit Red Wings, Henrik Zetterberg.

We can't guarantee the Flames have a Zetterberg-in-waiting among their youngsters. We can't guarantee they have a legitimate top-liner or best-pairing defenceman.

Still, it can be argued the prospects are much improved from six years ago, when the promising players were Rico Fata and Daniel Tkaczuk.


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