After the Big 3, it's open season

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:55 PM ET

No curve balls are expected from the pitchers throwing out the first three names at the NHL draft.

There's a slim chance the pitchers could change -- the Islanders, Lightning and Avalanche may yet be overwhelmed by a trade offer for their first pick on Friday night -- but a much better bet is they will choose John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene, respectively.

"The first three picks have separated themselves," says Michael Oke, the chief scout for International Scouting Services. "Then, the next five to seven, everybody has a different opinion (as to where they'll go), but everybody thinks they'll be there."

In putting together a mock draft for Sun Media, Oke and ISS director of scouting Dennis MacInnis took into consideration teams' needs and draft trends. Then they used information from the scouts ISS has across Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

They also made some last-minute adjustments to keep up with recent news.

For instance, Oke and MacInnis have slotted Brandon Wheat Kings winger Scott Glennie into the ninth hole, putting him with a Senators team that is trying to trade sniper Dany Heatley.

And they have defenceman Ryan Ellis going to Edmonton with the 10th pick, because the power-play quarterback has a junior Team Canada association with new Oilers head coach Pat Quinn.

First-round wild cards are puck-moving defenceman John Moore, a USHL product they have going 16th to Columbus, but would not be surprised to see him selected higher, and Minnesota native Zach Budish, a winger they have going 29th to the Red Wings. Budish is an all-around athlete who was going to give up football and focus strictly on hockey after this season -- then suffered a knee injury in his first football game, limiting him to less than 20 hockey games.

"Had he played a lot more, people would be talking about him," said Oke. "The hockey community knows all about him."

But there should be no infiltrators into the top three territory inhabited by Tavares, Hedman and Duchene.

"John is a special player," said Oke, who coached Tavares in Oshawa before joining ISS three years ago. "It's human nature to put a kid on a pedestal, saying that he does this, and this is what he doesn't do, but I think they've started to pick him apart a little.

"I don't think there's another kid in this draft who has played as much as he has the last two years. And every time he's been challenged, he's met the challenge."

The 6-foot-6, 212-pound Hedman is a unique specimen who, because he played well and scored 21 points in 43 Swedish Elite League games this season, should be NHL-ready.

"Maybe he had a disappointing (world junior) tournament in Ottawa, but the season he had speaks for itself," said Oke, who thinks Hedman can become another Chris Pronger if he can develop a nasty streak.

Oke calls Duchene "a dynamic two-way player."

"The big question is, how many of these guys can play (in the NHL) next year," said Oke.

"With the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it seems every year guys are making the jump. (Duchene) is a guy that could potentially be at that next level next year. If he goes to Colorado, where they potentially have some holes to fill, because he can play in his own end, he's not going to be a huge gamble."

All in all, Oke calls it an "okay" draft year.

"There are some players who will be picked at the end of the first and in the second rounds that teams are going to be happy to get. That's the mark of a draft. Not so much what happens with the top five picks, but what's after that."

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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