Who will the Atlanta Thrashers choose at 8th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft? Brett Connolly is a popular choice, but what of a contingency plan?
Falconer over at Birdwatchers Anonymous was asked to participate in the annual SB Nation NHL Mock Draft. In it, he makes the solid selection of Brett Connolly, the 6'2" right wing who is currently playing for the WHL's Prince George Cougars. Connolly is ranked third overall by NHL Central Scouting when looking at North American forwards. He had 19 points in 16 games this year, and while impressive, that statistic should direct you to a bit of an issue that Connolly has. He injured his hip playing in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, and this knocked the former WHL rookie of the year down a few pegs in International Scouting Services rankings. Before the CHL All-Star game, ISS had him ranked as high as 5th overall amongst North American skaters. As recently as May 3rd, he's down to 13th. The hip injury might've soured teams on a player who was once considered almost as good as Hall and Seguin, and could mean he could fall a little lower in the draft for a team with time to take a chance on him. The Thrashers have time to develop the right winger.
Of course, the Thrashers draft 8th overall, which puts 7 teams ahead of them. While the top two picks are all but ordained, the other five are a crapshoot before the Thrashers. Connolly impressed before his injury, and there's little reason to think that the 18 year old won't bounce back. Getting your hopes up for a particular player, unless your team chooses in the top five, is never a good idea, and there's a good chance another team will snatch Connolly before the Thrashers can. So, who's next?
The Thrashers are in need of a forward, seeing as how their prospects are almost defensively top-heavy. Dudley likes to see a "best available" drafting philosophy in action, so why not combine need with talent? Might I suggest Ryan Johansen? This Portland Winterhawks (WHL) forward is scrappy and a goal-scorer all in one package, scoring 25 goals and racking up 44 assists in 71 games. He also had 18 points (6-12-18) in 13 playoff games played this past season. The 8th ranked skater by ISS, the soon-to-be 18 year old is a puck mover, and at 6'3" might wind up being a gritty power forward with a nose for the net.
Unlike the past two seasons, the Thrashers' draft choice this season will more than likely not make the NHL out of camp, which will give him an additional year in Juniors before making the jump to the pro level. Time to develop strength and muscle to keep on the puck would be beneficial, but at 188 lbs, he seems to be not that far removed from an impressive career as either a 2nd line or checking line center. While that might not seem as exciting as drafting Hall or Seguin, keep in mind that power forwards are there for secondary scoring - and that is something that the Thrashers need to look at for the future.