Prospect Ramblings: After Leafs and Matthews, Finns will be in spotlight (May 14)

Mark Allan

2016-05-14

Columbus Blue Jackets' GM Jarmo Kekäläinen, a native of Finland and the first European GM in the NHL, would love to draft either of Finnish right wingers Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi on June 24 in Buffalo.

 

 

Wearing a Maple Leaf jersey, anticipated first overall pick Auston Matthews is on the cover of at least one of the regional versions of the Hockey News draft preview.

Along with DobberHockey’s sage advice, THN’s annual draft mag is one of the most-useful tools for serious NHL fantasy poolies.

Besides Toronto securing the true first-line center every team covets, other interesting storylines spring out of the next two highest-ranked prospects.

Picking second overall, Winnipeg is almost certain to add another ballyhooed Finnish right winger to the franchise to follow in the legendary skates of no-doubt Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne.

Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi have a long way to go to approach Selanne’s achievements as the highest-scoring Finn in NHL history and the highest-scoring player of any nationality in Olympic men’s hockey history.

It’s inconceivable that the Jets would not choose one of the Fabulous Finns.

The 6-4 Laine is a goal-scoring winger (sound familiar?) with 50-goal potential.

 

With a shot like this, who could doubt Patrik Laine has 50-goal potential?:

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Let’s say the Jets draft Laine, not necessarily to conjure fond memories of the high-scoring Finnish Flash, but because only nine teams scored fewer than Winnipeg’s 212 regular-season goals.

The 6-3 Puljujarvi is a two-way winger who nonetheless led the world junior championship in scoring, leading to him being named tournament MVP, top forward and an all-star. Not shabby for a two-way player.

The Blue Jackets hold the third pick. As the first European GM in NHL history (and the first Finnish one), Jarmo Kekäläinen must be itching to drape a Columbus jersey over Laine or Puljujarvi on the first day of the entry draft June 24 in Buffalo.

Predicting who will be the fourth overall pick is considerably harder.

The Oilers, whose fans could not be much more disgruntled after a succession of first overall picks crushingly led to still more first overall picks, are under intense pressure to rise in the standings – now.

Assuming Edmonton has solidified its goaltending (a huge assumption) by signing former Ranger backup Cam Talbot for another three seasons, the obvious area of concern is the blueline.

One option would be trading down to choose fast-rising, two-way Finn Olli Juolevi, offensive-minded Russian Mikhail Sergachev or Canadian Jakob Chychrun.

However, young defensemen take time to mature into NHL studs, and the Oilers don’t have much time before frustrated fans storm Rexall Place with pitchforks and torches like vengeful peasants in a B horror flick.

“There’s a real, legitimate chance” Edmonton trades the fourth-overall pick “to get bigger, to get a ‘D’ or to get something else (goaltending?),” GM Peter Chiarelli said recently.

The heat is on the Oilers (a potentially combustible situation) to do something dramatic, which could include packaging the No. 4 pick with a name that could include Eberle and Yakupov or even Nugent-Hopkins or Hall.

Chiarelli has no doubt mapped out several scenarios involving various players on opposing teams, and he will be on the telephone a lot leading to the draft.

What the Oilers do will potentially have profound spinoff effects on the futures of some hot young top-10 prospects who include two-way winger Matthew Tkachuk (son of former NHL power forward Keith Tkachuk), power forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, playmaking winger Alexander Nylander (younger brother of budding Maple Leaf star William) and scoring center Michael McLeod.

If the Oilers do act for short-term help, that would, of course have ramifications for teams below them. In descending order, the Canucks, Flames, Coyotes, Sabres, Canadiens and Avalanche round out the top 10 scheduled drafters.

Vancouver has its own bitter fan base (without Edmonton’s Cup-winning history), and cannot afford missteps. The Canucks’ history of drafting and developing does not inspire confidence.

Calgary has an intriguing mix of skilled young hotshots Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett) with veteran blueliners including Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie to greet as an-yet unnamed new head coach. Goaltending is a black hole.

Arizona is poised to strengthen an already outstanding group of prospects, as is Buffalo. Montreal must add skilled players to take the pressure off magnificent netminder Carey Price, while Colorado needs to shore up its wings and deepen its blueline corps.

Dynasties are made (or not) at the NHL’s 30 draft tables. Stay tuned.

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