There are no guarantees that any of this year's first-rounders will step up to the National Hockey League for the 2007-08 season ... But there are some that have an outside chance, and others that fantasy owners need to know now and start keeping track of.
1. Patrick Kane, RW, Blackhawks: He has the most overall offense of any player in this draft and was basically a no-brainer here. Could he play in the NHL right away? Yes. Is he big enough? Probably not. He's a bit older than the rest of the draft class and the Blackhawks have more openings for their young players than most teams, but at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Kane could probably use a year in the American Hockey League to add some pounds before he plays full time in the big league. He definitely projects as a first-line winger, so keeper leaguers looking for the quickest/biggest impact player want Kane.
2. James vanRiemsdyk, LW, Flyers: He'll be big and he'll be strong, but he's a couple years away. VanRiemsdyk will play at the university level in 2007-08 and is not even a consideration for playing in Philadelphia. He has power, grit, speed, stick skills and a great shot. If he develops a knack for getting penalty minutes, he will have excellent fantasy value down the road. He should not be on many owners' fantasy radar yet; stash his name away for 2009.
3. Kyle Turris, C, Coyotes: Turris is a future leader with great hockey sense and a terrific shot. Again, Turris needs some size before he will even be considered for a promotion. He'll be off to college next season, but has the upside of a Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman as far as leadership and skill goes. Turris is a project and won't likely be playing NHL hockey until 2009 or even 2010.
4. Thomas Hickey, D, Kings: Huh? The Kings really went off the board here. Hickey is considered less skilled in his own zone than other defenseman in the draft, but also has a bit more offense than most. He is undersized, but has enough experience that he could step into the NHL right away. More likely, Hickey spends time in the AHL to work on his defense and get a bit more size. Hickey is not a typical Western Hockey League defenseman and will end up being in the mold of a Jaroslav Modry, with a good shot and decent power play skills. Fantasy owners can feel free to ignore him for now.
5. Karl Alzner, D, Capitals: Alzner is a smooth-skating defenseman who plays strong defense ahead of everything else. He doesn't take penalties and can defend against anyone he's been matched up with. He is almost ready for the NHL, but does not offer very much fantasy-wise.
6. Sam Gagner, C, Oilers: Another strong playmaker joins the ranks of Robbie Schremp, Robert Nilsson, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and others in a very impressive Edmonton farm system. There are so many of them fighting for spots with the club next year, Gagner will most surely stay in the Ontario Hockey League. The son of Dave Gagner, Sam will be one heck of an assist man on an Oiler team that might have another dynasty going by 2009. He's one to grab in keeper leagues.
7. Jakub Voracek, RW, Blue Jackets: He wasn't supposed to be available this late, and Columbus is more than happy with this pick. He may not step into the league right away, but he is going to be very, very good when he does. Voracek scores, passes, hits and does it all. Fantasy owners will want to gamble on him in late rounds as the Jackets have few offensive stars. He may be just what Rick Nash needs to step his play back up after an off year.
8. Zach Hamill, C, Bruins: He's another all-around player, just a little less flashy than some of the others here. There are concerns about his skating and size, but Hamill should be a solid player. He has had a long career in the Western Hockey League and may transfer to the AHL right away. He should bounce up to the NHL by the 2008-09 season. He is not a player fantasy owners need to be incredibly excited about, but he could be a solid mid-rounder for most of his career.
9. Logan Couture, C, Sharks: The Sharks dealt up to get this pick, so they really wanted Couture. There have been concerns about his attitude over the years, but he is the complete package. Couture plays in every situation and plays a lot of minutes. He had an injury-plagued season with the Ottawa 67's (OHL) and he needs another year of seasoning. He should be a perennial 75-point player when he is ready and, as early as the 2008-09 season, may be the permanent fixture at what is now a revolving door on Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo's right wing. Keeper leagues should quietly target him.
10. Keaton Ellerby, D, Panthers: He's a tough, rough-and-tumble defenseman who very well could be a Panther next season, with a good training camp. He is not going to be prolific as far as scoring goes, but he has a wicked shot and should get his fair share of points via the power play. Fantasy owners should be interested in him because of a nice mix of points and penalty minutes from the blue line.
11. Brandon Sutter, C, Hurricanes: Another Sutter gets drafted into the NHL. He is the son of Brent, so he is bound to have some amazing hockey sense. He'll play with the trademark physicality of all the Sutters before him, while putting up decent points. Look for him to continue in the WHL for another year before making the leap, and fantasy owners shouldn't be making any investment here yet. Down the road, he may remind you of Scott Walker.
12. Ryan McDonagh, D, Canadiens: He's a strong puck-moving defenseman and he'll be an asset for the Canadiens in two years. He has already filled out his frame and will help the Canadiens replenish their defense. With his skills at both ends of the ice, McDonagh could be a plus/minus factor for fantasy teams when he makes the NHL. No reason to stash him away just yet though.
13. Lars Eller, LW, Blues: How cool would it be to draft a Danish player? He's got terrific skill and good size, but has a history of injury. He could make the unexpected leap like Anze Kopitar did last season; but again, he'll probably need some time to acclimate himself to the North American game first. Fantasy owners should be excited once he gets the call to St. Louis.
14. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Avalanche: This kid's got offense, and because of that, he has a chance to jump in next year. He plans to head off to college, but we know that plan can change quickly. If he does break camp with the Avalanche, he could be a third or fourth defenseman on most fantasy teams. Shattenkirk is adept at joining the rush and makes great breakout passes. He would be a great defense partner for John-Michael Liles.
15. Alex Plante, D, Oilers: He's tall and plays solid defense. That's it. Plante won't offer too much to fantasy teams, as he lacks offensive skills. Look for Plante to be much like new teammate Steve Staois.
16. Colton Gillies, C, Wild: Minnesota traded up for this pick and got what they needed. Gillies is a tough, hard-working player and he should give the Wild some much-needed aggressiveness. He skates hard and fast and plays in the corners. He won't be anything that fantasy owners will want to look at. Gillies projects as a checking-line player.
17. Alexei Cherepanov, RW, Rangers: He might be the best player in the draft; it's that simple. He has committed to play one more season in Russia, but we saw what happened with Evgeni Malkin last season. Either way, Cherepanov will probably play one more year for Omsk before making the trek across the pond. Work ethic is a concern, but he has as much upside as anyone here. Keeper leaguers want to stash him away immediately and re-draft leagues might want to take a last-round flier, just in case.
18. Ian Cole, D, Blues: Cole is a stay-at-home defenseman who is several years away from having making an impact, and a minimal one at that. He plays decent offense, but isn't considered to be a game changer in the offensive zone. He'll need the perfect situation to contribute to fantasy teams.
19. Logan MacMillan, C, Ducks: The run on role players continued, as MacMillan slots in as a two-way player who is more valuable to his hockey team than to a fantasy team. There shouldn't be much impact here.
20. Angelo Esposito, C, Penguins: The Penguins managed to get a top draft pick down at number 20. This is insane. Esposito has enough talent to be among the best players in this draft, and now he gets to play with Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal. The main knock on Esposito was that he had troubles scoring once Alexander Radulov left the Quebec Ramparts, but, if you'll pardon the understatement, he has landed with some pretty good players in Pittsburgh. Fantasy owners will want to keep their ear to the ground about Esposito jumping to the NHL right away. If he does, he'll have the biggest impact of anyone in this draft next season.
21. Riley Nash, C, Oilers: Nash is a bit of a long-term project, like Turris. He needs to put in a couple years against better competition after dominating the British Columbia Hockey League. Edmonton has the luxury of waiting on a player like Nash because of their strong system. Nash is not someone fantasy owners have to worry about for a long time.
22. Max Pacioretty, LW, Canadiens: This Montreal team certainly likes their Americans. Pacioretty is going to be a strong power forward who can really contribute everywhere for fantasy teams. He'll at the college level next season and the Habs have no reason to rush him along, so it will be a while before he contributes.
23. Jonathon Blum, D, Predators: Blum needs to pile on some size, but he has offensive instincts. He skates well and should be on a solid Nashville blue line in a few years. He is not worth fretting over in any fantasy league yet.
24. Mikael Backlund, C, Flames: The Flames founds a finisher in Backlund, as he has a nose for the net. He plays the kind of game that transfers well to North America, so he could be here sooner than later. For the foreseeable future, he is a 60-point NHL player, but has more career upside than that.
25. Patrick White, C, Canucks: White projects as a role player; a tough,hard-in-the-corners centerman. He reminds me of Mike Fisher, so he might be useful in deeper leagues down the road. He's one or two years away from joining the Canucks.
26. David Perron, RW, Blues: Perron has hands that have to be seen to be believed. His offensive skills rival anyone's in the draft, but he lacks the ability to go into the corners and play tough. Big defenders will be able to push him around. He needs more time in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and maybe a year in the AHL, too, as he has been a late-bloomer to this point in his career. Fantasy owners should cross their fingers hoping he has a good attitude and is able to develop, because he has the hands of Alexei Kovalev.
27. Brendan Smith, D, Red Wings: Smith hasn't faced much competition yet, playing in Junior A, but he'll learn quite a bit at the University of Wisconsin. He plays hard, skates well and has some very big offensive upside (if it develops). He is not an immediate guy for fantasy owners to consider.
28. Nick Petrecki, D, Sharks: The Sharks traded up again to get the Dion Phaneuf of this year's draft. Petrecki plays some punishing defense and has the decent offensive skills that Phaneuf has. In fact, he may have gone higher if he hadn't played in the United States Hockey League last season. He's also going to college next year and doesn't warrant fantasy consideration for a few more years.
29. James O'Brien, C, Senators: There isn't much data on this guy. He played very few minutes in Minnesota, but based on his skill-set, he could be very good. He's not going to get a whiff of the NHL for a while, so fantasy owners will be able to watch and see if he is the package Ottawa envisions. There is a slight chance that O'Brien will be slipped back to defense, as he played there until recently.
30. Nick Ross, D, Coyotes: Ross has all the tools to become a very good defenseman in the NHL. Fantasy-wise he projects as another Phaneuf-style mix of toughness and skill. Definitely a guy fantasy owners need to know for the future, but that is likely not until 2008, when he debuts, and 2009, when he will be effective.
Nashville receives: first-round and two second-round picks.
Florida receives: Tomas Vokoun.
Vokoun drops down in the goalie rankings for next year as Florida consistently allows more shots on net than do other teams. He'll be a good goalie on a Florida team that will be better than last year, but it's still not an ideal situation. Vokoun definitely drops out of the top ten rankings; probably into the top fifteen. Chris Mason, on the other hand, vaults into the top fifteen as he inherits the Predators' starting job from Vokoun. I'm hesitant to put Mason into the top ten as Nashville is clearly dismantling the team (Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Vokoun). If enough good players remain Predators, Mason could very well be a top-five goaltender. Don't forget Mason had the second-highest save percentage among goalies that played at least 40 games last season (.925).
I actually spit coffee out of my mouth when I heard this one on the radio. Who knew the Maple Leafs would finally make a move to better themselves? Of course, head coach Paul Maurice is rambling about how both Toskala and Andrew Raycroft will compete for time, but he is just being nice. This team is now Toskala's and that is a very good thing. Toskala is late top-ten goalie heading into next year. San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov also vaults into the top five thanks to a lack of competition for playing time now that Toskala is in Toronto. The quality goaltending also means a boost in plus/minus for all Maple Leafs skaters. Mark Bell failed in his chance to play with Joe Thornton and Jonathon Cheechoo last year, but he may get a chance to be Mats Sundin's wingman, for a lack of better options. Bell is not a strong draft pick for your 2007 fantasy team, but he'll make a decent gamble in the mid to late rounds.
Sean Allen is a fantasy hockey and baseball analyst for ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. He can be reached at alla_rino@TalentedMrRoto.com.