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Most teams unsure which players have star quality in NHL draft

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Kyle Turris and Patrick Kane, expected to
be two of the top picks in the NHL draft, skated around the ice on
Thursday afternoon, trying to sidestep a collision with any of the
25 mites and pigtailed power forwards joining them at a hockey
clinic.

It wasn't all that long ago that the baby-faced Turris and Kane
were about the same size and skill level as the 10-year-old kids
who were flopping and teetering around them. Now they're about to
step onto the big stage and carry the hopes of a franchise.

Either the 17-year-old Turris, a puck-handling marvel of a
center, or the 18-year-old Kane, a sweet-shooting winger, will
likely be selected No. 1 in the draft on Friday night at Nationwide
Arena. Rounds two through seven will be on Saturday.

The Chicago Blackhawks have the top pick and they aren't tipping
their hand. Philadelphia is No. 2, followed by Phoenix, Los
Angeles, Washington, Edmonton (its first of three first-round
picks) and the host club, Columbus.

But unlike the past few years, when it was easy to pinpoint the
talents of No. 1 picks such as reigning MVP Sidney Crosby (2005),
Alexander Ovechkin (2004), Rick Nash (2002) and Ilya Kovalchuk
(2001), no one would be surprised if someone other than Turris or
Kane ended up being the first name called.

"I think it's the most puzzling draft in the last 15 years,"
said Tom Thompson, Minnesota Wild assistant general manager-player
personnel.

He said the Wild evaluate players on five criteria and that
"there are a number of players [at the top] of this draft that are
lacking in one of those five areas to the point that if they don't
overcome those shortcomings, they won't be impact players."

Front-office people around the league are trying to figure out
how good the available draftees are.

"There's not going to be many players out of this draft that
are going to step right in and play, which is not a bad thing --
[it] gives them more time to develop," Carolina GM Jim Rutherford
said. "But you really don't know. It's more of a first round once
you get past [picks] five and six where a lot of the players are
equal in talent at this point, and you just have to wait and see
who develops better than others."

Turris, a 6-foot-1, 170-pounder from Burnaby, British Columbia,
is rated the No. 1 North American skater by the NHL's Central
Scouting Service. Kane is No. 2.

"One of the self-admitted shortcomings of Central Scouting is
that we rank based on ability alone," said E.J. McGuire, director
of the scouting service. "We go to arenas and watch and see who
skates the fastest, shoots the hardest, plays the hardest and then
compile our lists from there. We leave it to the NHL teams to dig a
little deeper into these guys' backgrounds to see if their
personality is what's going to fit."

Some NHL teams reportedly are shying away from Turris because he
has already committed to play next year at the University of
Wisconsin.

"I've just told the teams, I'm going to be going in year by
year and seeing how I develop after each year and make a decision
each summer," Turris said Thursday, the stage, team draft tables
and media risers already set up on the Nationwide Arena floor
behind him. "I'll be listening to the NHL team to see if I'm
ready. It could be one year, it could be four years. It's up to
them."

Likewise, some teams have whispered that Kane, at 5-10, 160,
isn't big enough -- despite the production of smallish players such
as Daniel Briere and Chris Drury of the Buffalo Sabres and Pavel
Datsyuk
of Detroit.

"What are you going to do?" said Kane, who played last year
for London of the Ontario Hockey League. "Everybody has their own
opinion. The way I see it, with the new rules, I look up to the
Brieres and the Drurys and Datsyuks and try to pattern my game
after them. I'm my own player, but you see them having success and
you think it might be good for me."

There are rumors flying around. With no clear superstars in the
draft, the thinking goes that there could be several trades, with
teams packaging their top pick to grab a proven player.

Names floating around as trade bait include Flyers defenseman
Joni Pitkanen, Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez and Ottawa
defenseman Wade Redden.

Adding to the intrigue is a talented class of free agents:
Briere and Drury, Nashville's Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya, the
New York Islanders' Ryan Smyth and New Jersey's Scott Gomez.

Regardless of whether he goes No. 1, Turris already has had a
memorable week.

Turris and his parents had breakfast on Thursday morning with
Wayne Gretzky and others from the Phoenix Coyotes front office.

"I was kind of in shock and awe for an hour and a half," he
said.

Asked if Gretzky picked up the tab the incoming college freshman
grinned and said, "I can't comment on that because of NCAA
rules."